Amelia by Henry Fielding - HTML preview

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In Which Two Strangers Make Their Appearance

Booth went to the doctor's lodgings, and found him engaged with his country friend and his son, a young gentleman who was lately in orders; both whom the doctor had left, to keep his appointment with Amelia.

After what we mentioned at the end of the last chapter, we need take little notice of the apology made by Booth, or the doctor's reception of it, which was in his peculiar manner. "Your wife," said he, "is a vain hussy to think herself worth my anger; but tell her I have the vanity myself to think I cannot be angry without a better cause. And yet tell her I intend to punish her for her levity; for, if you go abroad, I have determined to take her down with me into the country, and make her do penance there till you return."

"Dear sir," said Booth, "I know not how to thank you if you are in earnest."

"I assure you then I am in earnest," cries the doctor; "but you need not thank me, however, since you know not how."

"But would not that, sir," said Booth, "be shewing a slight to the colonel's invitation? and you know I have so many obligations to him."

"Don't tell me of the colonel," cries the doctor; "the church is to be first served. Besides, sir, I have priority of right, even to you yourself. You stole my little lamb from me; for I was her first love."

"Well, sir," cries Booth, "if I should be so unhappy to leave her to any one, she must herself determine; and, I believe, it will not be difficult to guess where her choice will fall; for of all men, next to her husband, I believe, none can contend with Dr Harrison in her favour."

"Since you say so," cries the doctor, "fetch her hither to dinner with us; for I am at least  so  good  a  Christian  to  love  those  that  love  me--  I  will  shew  you my daughter, my old friend, for I am really proud of her--and you may bring my grand-children with you if you please."

Booth made some compliments, and then went on his errand. As soon as he was gone the old gentleman said to the doctor, "Pray, my good friend, what daughter is this of yours? I never so much as heard that you was married.”

"And what then," cries the doctor; "did you ever hear that a pope was married? and yet some of them have had sons and daughters, I believe; but, however, this young gentleman will absolve me without obliging me to penance."

"I have not yet that power," answered the young clergyman; "for I am only in deacon's orders."

"Are you not?" cries the doctor; "why then I will absolve myself. You are to know then, my good friend, that this young lady was the daughter of a neighbour of mine, who is since dead, and whose sins I hope are forgiven; for she had too much to answer for on her child's account. Her father was my intimate acquaintance and friend; a worthier man, indeed, I believe never lived. He died suddenly when his children were infants; and, perhaps, to the suddenness of his death it was owing that he did not recommend any care of them to me. However, I, in some measure, took that charge upon me; and particularly of her whom I call my daughter. Indeed, as she grew up she discovered so many good qualities that she wanted not the remembrance of her father's merit to recommend her. I do her no more than justice when I say she is one of the best creatures I ever knew. She hath a sweetness of temper, a generosity of spirit, an openness of heart--in a word, she hath a true Christian disposition. I may call her an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile."

"I wish you joy of your daughter," cries the old gentleman; "for to a man of your disposition,  to   find   out   an   adequate   object   of   your   benevolence,   is,   I acknowledge, to find a treasure."

"It is, indeed, a happiness," cries the doctor.

"The greatest difficulty," added the gentleman, "which persons of your turn of mind meet with, is in finding proper objects of their goodness; for nothing sure can be more irksome to a generous mind, than to discover that it hath thrown away all its good offices on a soil that bears no other fruit than ingratitude."

"I remember," cries the doctor, "Phocylides saith,

Mn kakov ev epens opens dpelpelv ioov eot evi povtw [Footnote: To do a kindness to a bad man is like sowing your seed in the sea.]

But he speaks more like a philosopher than a Christian. I am more pleased with a French writer, one of the best, indeed, that I ever read, who blames men for lamenting the ill return which is so often made to the best offices. [Footnote: D'Esprit.] A true Christian can never be disappointed if he doth not receive his reward in this world; the labourer might as well complain that he is not paid his hire in the middle of the day."

"I own, indeed," said the gentleman, "if we see it in that light--“

"And in what light should we see it?" answered the doctor. "Are we like Agrippa, only almost Christians? or, is Christianity a matter of bare theory, and not a rule for our practice?"

"Practical, undoubtedly; undoubtedly practical," cries the gentleman. "Your example might indeed have convinced me long ago that we ought to do good to every one."

"Pardon me, father," cries the young divine, "that is rather a heathenish than a Christian doctrine. Homer, I remember, introduces in his Iliad one Axylus, of whom he says--

--Hidvos o'nv avopwpoloi

pavras yap tyeeokev [Footnote: He was a friend to mankind, for he loved them all.]

But Plato, who, of all the heathens, came nearest to the Christian philosophy, condemned this as impious doctrine; so Eustathius tells us, folio 474."

"I know he doth," cries the doctor, "and so Barnes tells us, in his note upon the place; but if you remember the rest of the quotation as well as you do that from Eustathius, you might have added the observation which Mr. Dryden makes in favour of this passage, that he found not in all the Latin authors, so admirable an instance of extensive humanity. You might have likewise remembered the noble sentiment with which Mr. Barnes ends his note, the sense of which is taken from the fifth chapter of Matthew:--

[Greek verse]

"It  seems,  therefore,  as  if  this  character  rather  became  a  Christian  than  a heathen, for Homer could not have transcribed it from any of his deities. Whom is it, therefore, we imitate by such extensive benevolence?"

"What a prodigious memory you have!" cries the old gentleman: "indeed, son, you must not contend with the doctor in these matters."

"I shall not give my opinion hastily," cries the son. "I know, again, what Mr. Poole, in his annotations, says on that verse of St Matthew-- That it is only to heap coals of fire upon their heads. How are we to understand, pray, the text immediately preceding?--Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you."

"You know, I suppose, young gentleman," said the doctor, "how these words are generally understood. The commentator you mention, I think, tells us that love is not here to be taken in the strict sense, so as to signify the complacency of the heart; you may hate your enemies as God's enemies, and seek due revenge of them for his honour; and, for your own sakes too, you may seek moderate satisfaction of them; but then you are to love them with a love consistent with these things; that is to say, in plainer words, you are to love them and hate them, and bless and curse, and do them good and mischief."

"Excellent! admirable!" said the old gentleman; "you have a most inimitable turn to ridicule."

"I do not approve ridicule," said the son, "on such subjects."

"Nor I neither," cries the doctor; "I will give you my opinion, therefore, very seriously. The two verses taken together, contain a very positive precept, delivered in the plainest words, and yet illustrated by the clearest instance in the conduct of the Supreme Being; and lastly, the practice of this precept is most nobly enforced by the reward annexed--that ye may be the children, and so forth. No man who understands what it is to love, and to bless, and to do good, can mistake the meaning. But if they required any comment, the  Scripture itself affords enow. If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing. They do not, indeed, want the comments of men, who, when they cannot bend their mind to the obedience of Scripture, are desirous to wrest Scripture to a compliance with their own inclinations."

"Most nobly and justly observed," cries the old gentleman. "Indeed, my good friend, you have explained the text with the utmost perspicuity."

"But if this be the meaning," cries the son, "there must be an end of all law and justice, for I do not see how any man can prosecute his enemy in a court of justice."

"Pardon me, sir," cries the doctor. "Indeed, as an enemy merely, and from a spirit of revenge, he cannot, and he ought not to prosecute him; but as an offender against the laws of his country he may, and it is his duty so to do. Is there any spirit of revenge in the magistrates or officers of justice when they punish criminals? Why do such, ordinarily I mean, concern themselves in inflicting punishments, but because it is their duty? and why may not a private man deliver an offender into the hands of justice, from the same laudable motive? Revenge, indeed, of all kinds is strictly prohibited; wherefore, as we are not to execute it with our own hands, so neither are we to make use of the law as the instrument of private malice, and to worry each other with inveteracy and rancour. And where  is  the  great  difficulty  in  obeying  this  wise,  this  generous,  this  noble precept? If revenge be, as a certain divine, not greatly to his honour, calls it, the most luscious morsel the devil ever dropt into the mouth of a sinner, it must be allowed at least to cost us often extremely dear. It is a dainty, if indeed it be one, which we come at with great inquietude, with great difficulty, and with great danger. However pleasant it may be to the palate while we are feeding on it, it is sure to leave a bitter relish behind it; and so far, indeed, it may be called a luscious morsel, that the most greedy appetites are soon glutted, and the most eager longing for it is soon turned into loathing and repentance. I allow there is something tempting in its outward appearance, but it is like the beautiful colour of some poisons, from which, however they may attract our eyes, a regard to our own welfare commands us to abstain. And this is an abstinence to which wisdom alone, without any Divine command, hath been often found adequate, with instances of which the Greek and Latin authors everywhere abound. May not a Christian, therefore, be well ashamed of making a stumbling- block of a precept, which is not only consistent with his worldly interest, but to which so noble an incentive is proposed?"

The old gentleman fell into raptures at this speech, and, after making many compliments to the doctor upon it, he turned to his son, and told him he had an opportunity now of learning more in one day than he had learnt at the university in a twelve month.

The son replied, that he allowed the doctrine to be extremely good in general, and that he agreed with the greater part; "but I must make a distinction," said he. However, he was interrupted from his distinction at present, for now Booth returned with Amelia and the children.