Ellis Washington
On Henry Fielding's Tom Jones
By Ellis Washington
January 25, 2015

Love is the beauty of the soul.

Neither great poverty nor great riches will hear Reason.

~ Fielding

Biography of Fielding

Henry Fielding (1707–1754) was an English novelist and dramatist recognized for his deep unpretentious comedy and satirical proficiency, and the writer of the classic novel, Tom Jones (18 volumes). In addition to his prolific literary triumphs, he has an important place in the history of law-enforcement by utilizing his authority as a magistrate, having founded (with his half-brother John) the Bow Street Runners (1742), a precursor to London's first police force.

Fielding's passionate support to the cause of justice identifies him as a notable humanitarian in the 1750s. For example, his assistance the Elizabeth Canning case where an English maidservant alleged to have been kidnapped and held prisoner in a hayloft for almost a month. Aided by magistrate Fielding, she eventually became a primary figure of one of the most famous English criminal mysteries of the 18th century. However, his association with the Canning case coincided with a rapid deterioration of his own health. This led to a trip abroad to Portugal in 1754 in search of a medical treatment for his growing number of afflictions including: gout, asthma and other physical ailments which necessitated the aid of crutches in order for him to walk. He died in Lisbon two months later. His tomb is in the city's Cemitério Inglês (English Cemetery), which is now the graveyard of St. George's Church, Lisbon.

Fielding's censorship battles

Like America's Benjamin Franklin, Fielding was a passionate-blooded man of the flesh. He had a scandalous romantic affair with a young woman that led to a public disgrace which almost got him thrown in prison. Frustrated at censorship laws that made writing for the theatre increasingly impossible, he fled to London and resumed his career in law as a barrister in order to support his wife Charlotte Cradock and two children. The public reaction to his shocking acts supposedly led to Parliament passing the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737. The specific play that caused the Licensing Act was The Golden Rump, but in reality it was Fielding's collective satires which led to this show down with the English government to censure his theatrical works. This blow to his vocation together with his poor economic decisions meant that he and his family frequently suffered times of poverty, however he was assisted by Ralph Allen, a rich patron who Fielding later created the character of Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones. Allen provided for the education and care of his children after Fielding's death.

In January 1752, writing under the pseudonym of "Sir Alexander Drawcansir," Fielding began a monthly publication titled The Covent-Garden Journal, where in a cynical move declared he would be "Knt. Censor of Great Britain" until November of the same year. In this journal, Fielding openly confronted the "armies of Grub Street" and the contemporary newspaper writers of his time in a battle that would ultimately become the Paper War of 1752–3.

Fielding's Tom Jones

Fielding's magnum opus was Tom Jones (1749), a methodically constructed satirical novel narrating the convoluted and hysterical story of how an orphan became rich.

Allworthy, a well-known country nobleman, lives in Somersetshire with his unmarried sister Bridget Allworthy, and comes home from a trip to London to see a baby boy in is bed. Allworthy tries to discover who the mother and father of this child which Fielding calls a "foundling," and learns that the parents are a resident woman Jenny Jones and Mr. Partridge, her teacher. Allworthy directs Jenny out the county, and the destitute Partridge soon immigrates on his own decision. Ignoring the unanimous criticism of the community, Allworthy decides to raise the child as his own son. Afterward, Bridget marries Captain Blifil, a guest at Allworthy's estate, and soon births a son named Blifil. Captain Blifil dislikes Tom Jones and views him as a threat since he desires his son to be the primary beneficiary of Allworthy's grand estate. Ironically, while plotting his evil intent against Tom Jones, Captain Blifil suddenly dies of an apoplexy (internal bleeding).

Now the narrative shifts ahead twelve years. Blifil and Tom Jones are raised together, but are treated very differently by the household staff. Allworthy is the only person who displays consistent love for Tom. However, since Blifil is religious and Tom impetuous, the boys' teachers, the philosopher Square and the reverend Thwackum favor Blifil and dislike Tom. Yet Blifil is duplicitous and hypocritical and when Tom confides in him his deepest secrets, Blifil tells them all to Thwackum or Allworthy. Nevertheless, Tom has some redeeming qualities: Although Tom often gets into trouble like stealing apples, he secretly gives provisions to the family of Black George, one of Allworthy's servants. When the people of the community learn of Tom's kindness to Black George, they change their opinion of Tom while criticizing Blifil for his duplicity.

Fascinated by Tom's outdoor nature, he spends much time with Squire Western – Allworthy's neighbor. Squire Western's daughter, Sophia Western, falls in love with Tom, however, Tom has feelings for Molly Seagrim, the poor but spirited daughter of Black George. After Molly becomes pregnant, Tom prevents Allworthy from sending Molly to prison by claiming he was the child's father. Tom now falls in love with Sophia, and begins to hate his relationship with Molly, nevertheless, for honor's sake, he stays with Molly. Tom's obligation to Molly ends after he learns that she has been having many affairs which presumes Tom isn't the father of her child, thus allowing him the freedom to aggressively pursue Sophia.

Soon, Allworthy becomes very sick and calls his family and friends to the reading of his will, where he declares that Blifil will inherit the majority of his estate. Thwackum and Square are angry because they will only inherit a thousand pounds. Demonstrating great piety, emotion and honor, Tom is truly upset at Allworthy's sickness and remains at his bedside. Later Tom celebrates by getting drunk at the news of Bridget Allworthy and not Allworthy who died prompting Blifil to call Tom a "bastard"; Tom then strikes Blifil in retaliation. After swearing loyalty to Sophia, Tom, by chance comes upon Molly and has sex with her.

When Sophia's aunt and mother-figure, Mrs. Western comes to visit, Sophia and the Squire argue all the time, but they come together regarding Mrs. Western's decision to marry Sophia to Blifil. Mrs. Western agrees not to disclose Sophia's affection for Tom if Sophia agrees to date Blifil. Sophia accepts this proposal but Blifil boasts so much about his relationship that Allworthy thinks that Sophia must love Blifil. Sophia, conversely, is against the courtship, while trying to defend herself against the violence by Squire Western. Allworthy banishes Tom from the county when Blifil tells him that Tom is a rogue who was frequently drunk inside his house, yet Tom decides to be honorable even though he anguishes at leaving Sophia.

In despair, Tom wanders around the countryside. In Bristol, he chances upon Partridge, who becomes his ally. Tom also saves a Mrs. Waters from being a robbed, and she repays him with sex at a local inn. To avoid marrying Blifil, Sophia escapes from Squire Western's estate, stops at this inn and learns that Tom is cheating on her with Mrs. Waters. Sophia travels to London with her cousin Harriet who is Fitzpatrick's wife. There she stays with Lady Bellaston a relative. Later Tom and Partridge arrive in London and lodge with Mrs. Miller, a young gentleman called Nightingale and her daughters, one of whom is named Nancy whom Tom falls in love with. Soon Nancy is pregnant and Tom persuades Nightingale to marry her. Although Tom continues to court Sophia, he and Lady Bellaston start an affair that he ends once Tom and Sophia are reunited. Lady Bellaston is still resolute about prohibiting Sophia and Tom's relationship to blossom and plots to have Lord Fellamar rape Sophia.

The conclusion of Tom Jones is reminiscent of scenes of human carnage in Shakespeare's Hamlet or Macbeth, but with a general good ending. Squire Western locks Sophia in her bedroom, after Mrs. Western, Blifil, Allworthy and Squire Western travel to London. Mr. Fitzpatrick initiates a duel with Tom suspecting Tom is his wife's lover. Tom is arrested and jailed after defending himself he stabs Fitzpatrick with a sword. Partridge visits Tom in jail with the shocking news that Mrs. Waters is Tom's mother, Jenny Jones. Mrs. Waters tells Allworthy that Fitzpatrick is still alive, and has confessed to instigating the duel. She also conveys to Allworthy that a lawyer working as an agent for an anonymous gentleman tried to coax her to collude against Tom. Allworthy now recognizes that Blifil is indeed a scoundrel, and he determines to remove him from his life. Yet, Tom, takes mercy on Blifil and gives him a pension.

Mrs. Waters likewise discloses that Tom's real mother was not her but Bridget Allworthy. Square gives Allworthy a letter clarifying that Tom's behavior throughout Allworthy's sickness was moral and compassionate. Tom is freed from prison and he and Allworthy are reunited as nephew and uncle. Mrs. Miller tells Sophia the motives for Tom's marriage proposal to Lady Bellaston, and Sophia is contented. However, Tom is Allworthy's heir, Squire Western zealously encourages the marriage of Tom and Sophia. Sophia reprimands Tom for his lack of judgment, but decides to marry him anyway. They live on Western's estate with two children, and live happily ever after.

Fielding's legacy in modern times

In the mid-eighteenth century, Fielding published a treatise, Examples of the interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder (1752), a brilliant work that strongly criticized Enlightenment Age worldviews based on deistic, atheistic and materialistic ideas. Fielding argued instead for moral ideas and natural law public policies that fostered the belief in God's omnipresence and holy judgment, arguing that the rise of murder rates and other crimes in London and plaguing all of England was directly attributable to abandonment of the Christian religion. In 1753 he would write Proposals for making an effectual Provision for the Poor.

Contrary to how FDR wasted billions of dollars in New Deal programs of the 1930s and 40s and LBJ's "War on Poverty" programs of the 1960s wasted trillions even into the present time, this aid was supposedly were enacted under altruistic reasons of helping the poor by making them comfortable in their economic despair for generations. On the other hand, Fielding's innovative ideas and path-breaking work written 300 years before Welfare Socialism was well-established in America, instead applied transcendent Christian principles of hard work, entrepreneurship, industry, personal discipline and morality as the foundations of economic security. This moral, rational worldview of Fielding anti-crime policies rooted in natural law and natural rights philosophy, promoted self-reliance and reminds me of his famous aphorism: "He that can heroically endure adversity will bear prosperity with equal greatness of soul; for the mind that cannot be dejected by the former is not likely to be transported with the later."

In the Age of Progressivism where since the early 1960s millions of public school children are purposely taught to be functionally illiterate and incapable of deductive reasoning which continues under the latest educational deceit, the Common Core Curriculum, Fielding's admonition to avoid adversity and embrace prosperity in life is more imperative than ever. Fielding succinctly declared the antidote to adversity, ignorance and slavery to government welfare, "Read in order to Live."

*N.B.: This essay is based in part on ideas from Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor-in-Chief (University of Chicago, 1952), Vol. 2, Chap. 40 – Infinity; Vol. 3, Chap. 56 – Memory and Imagination; Vol. 37 – Fielding.

Book Notice

Please purchase my latest opus dedicated to that Conservative Colossus, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Here are the latest two new volumes from my ongoing historical series – THE PROGRESSIVE REVOLUTION: History of Liberal Fascism through the Ages (University Press of America, 2015):
However, before the book is officially released to the public, I have to place 100 pre-publication orders (50 orders per each volume). I need your help to make this happen ASAP. Please place your order today for Volume 3 & Volume 4. Of course, if you can order all 100 copies today, the book will become official tomorrow.

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Invitation for manuscripts

I am starting a new a program on my blog dedicated to giving young conservatives (ages 14-35) a regular place to display and publish their ideas called Socrates Corner. If you know of any young person who wants to publish their ideas on any subject, have them send their essay manuscripts to my email at ewashington@wnd.com.

© Ellis Washington


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Ellis Washington

Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review (1989) and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute (1992). Currently he is an adjunct professor of law at the National Paralegal College and the graduate school, National Jurisprudence University, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, American History, Administrative Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Real Property, and Advanced Legal Writing, among many other subjects... (more)


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