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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Shannon Andrew Walsh
Bio: Shannon Andrew Walsh
Date:  December 30, 2011
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Topic category:  Secession - Formation of a New Constitutional Republic

The Virtuous Turk

Dissident Whig Henry Fielding suggests morality deserves to be spoken of outside of church in his Joseph Andrews.

"It was blasphemy to talk Scripture out of church; that such things were very proper to be said in the pulpit, but that it was profane to talk them in common discourse." Henry Fielding Joseph Andrews, (p.274)

Henry Fielding makes one character complain "'The law makes us provide for too many already. We shall have thirty or forty poor wretches in red coats shortly.''My dear,'cries Tow-Wouse, 'this man hath been robbed of all he hath.' 'Well then,' said she, 'where's his money to pay his reckoning? Why doth not such a fellow go to an alehouse? I shall send him packing as soon as I am up, I assure you.' 'My dear,' said he, 'common charity won't suffer you to do that.' 'Common charity a f--t!' says she,'common charity teaches us to provide for ourselves, and our families; and I and mine won't be ruined by your charity, I assure you.' 'Well,'says he, 'my dear, do as you will when you are up; you know I never contradict you.''No,' says she,'if the devil was to contradict me, I would make the house too hot to hold him.'"(p.40) Thus Fielding depicts the public as seeing government charity as obviating the need for private charity in the same way as the following quote from Daniel Defoe's Roxana,"'Tis the business of the parish to provide for them; they shan't cry at our door. If they do, I'll give them nothing(p.17-18)." Joseph Andrews's companion Parson Adams tries in vain to get financial assistance he would have seen it as his Christian duty to provide were conditions reversed. The boorish curate Trulliber refuses Adams, saying, "'I shall not learn my duty from such as thee; I know what charity is, better than to give to vagabonds.''Besides, if we were inclined, the poor's rate obliges us to give so much charity,' cries the wife. 'Pugh! Thou art a fool. Poor's rate! Hold thy nonsense,' answered Trullliber; and then turning to Adams, he told him,'he would give him nothing.' 'I am sorry,' answered Adams,' that you do not know what charity is, since you practice it no better; I must tell you, if you trust to your knowledge for your justification, you will find yourself decieved, though you should add faith to it, without good works.' 'Fellow,' cries Trulliber, 'dost thou speak against faith in my house? Get out of my doors: I will no longer remain under the same roof with a wretch who speaks wontonly of faith and the Scriptures.' 'Name not the Scriptures,' says Adams. 'How! not name the Scriptures! Do you disbelieve the Scriptures?'cries Trulliber. 'No, but you do,' answered Adams, 'if I may reason from your practice, for their commands are so explicit and their rewards and punishments so immense, that it is impossible a man should steadfastly believe without obeying. Now there is no command more express, no duty more frequently enjoined, than charity. Whoever, therefore, is void of charity, I make no scruple of pronouncing that he is no Christian.'"(p. 134) Another person ironically opines, "Folks might be ashamed of travelling about, and pretending to be what they were not(p.136)."

The rich are of two types in Joseph Andrews, the entrepreneurial and the landed aristocracy. The landed aristocracy, whom the people of Fielding's time would have associated with Toryism, are above the law. Lady Booby is told by Justice Frolick, "The laws of this land are not so vulgar as to allow a mean fellow to contend with any of your ladyship's fortune (p.238)." Lady Booby reciprocates by praising the alacrity with which Frolick sends poor men to prison. The entrepreneurial rich, whom the same public would have associated with Whiggery, are represented by Peter Pounce, who resents both the landed aristocracy and the poor. "The greatest fault in our constitution is the provision made for the poor, except that perhaps made for some others. Sir, I have not an estate which doth not contribute almost as much again to the poor as to the land-tax; and I do assure you I expect to come myself to the parish in the end. . . .I have not an estate like Sir Thomas Booby, that has descended in my family through many generations; but I know heirs of such estates who are forced to travel about the country like some people in torn cassocks {Adams}, and might be glad to accept a pitiful curacy for what I know. Yes, sir, as shabby fellows as yourself, whom no man of my figure, without that vice of good-nature about him, would suffer to ride in a chariot with him (p.228-29)." Fielding simeotaneously mocks the Whig poet laureate Cibber Colley and attacks the distortions of society made by the rich. "Not the great Rich, who turns men into monkeys, wheelbarrows, and whatever else but humours his fancy, hath so strangely metamorphosed the human shape; nor the great Cibber, who confounds all number, gender, and breaks through every rule of grammar at his will, hath so distorted the English language, as thou dost metamorphose and distort the human senses(p.23).

Fielding seems to defend the free-thinkers by having pseudo-pious hypocrites attack them. Like Defoe's remarks about how nonconformists like Baptists were only tolerated under crisis in his Journal of the Plague Year, even the dissident Whig Fielding attacks the Church of England. Parson Adams has a conversation with a printer about the Methodist divine Whitefield. The printer starts by saying,"'I am no enemy to sermons but because they don't sell: for I would as soon print one of Whitefield's as any farce whatever.' 'Whoever prints such heterodox stuff ought to be hanged,' says Barnabas. 'Sir,' said he, turning to Adams, 'this fellow's writings (I know not whether you have you seen them) are levelled at the clergy. He would reduce us to the example of the primitive ages, forsooth! and would insinuate to the people that a clergyman ought to always be preaching and praying. He pretends to understand the Scripture literally, and would make mankind believe that the poverty and low estate which was recommended to the Church in its infancy, and was only temporary doctrine adapted to her under persecution, was to be preserved in her flourishing and established state. Sir, the principles of Toland, Woolston, and all the free-thinkers, are not calculated to do half the mischief, as those professed by this fellow and his followers.' 'Sir,' answered Adams, 'if Mr. Whitefield had carried his doctrine no farther than you mention, I should have remained, as I once was, his well-wisher. I am, myself, as great an enemy to the luxury and splendour of the clergy as he can be. I do not, more than he, by the flourishing estate of the Church, understand the palaces, equipages, dress, furniture, rich dainties, and vast fortunes of her ministers. Surely those things, which savour so strongly of this world, become not the servants of one who professed his kingdom was not of it: but when he began to call nonsense and enthusiasm to his aid, and set up the detestable doctrine of faith against good works, I was his friend no longer; for surely, that doctrine was coined in hell, and one would think none but the devil himself could have the confidence to preach it. For can anything be more derogatory to the honour of God than for men to imagine that the all-wise Being will hereafter say to the good and virtuous, 'Notwithstanding the purity of thy life, notwithstanding that constant rule of virtue and goodness in which you walked upon earth, still, as thou didst not believe everything in the true orthodox manner, thy want of faith shall condemn thee'? Or on the other side, can any doctrine have a more pernicious influence on society, than a persuasion that it will be a good plea for the villain at the last day: 'Lord, it is true, I never obeyed one of thy commandments, yet punish me not, for I believe them all.' 'I suppose, sir, said the bookseller, 'your sermons are of a different kind.' 'Ay, sir,' said Adams, 'the contrary, I thank Heaven, is inculcated in almost every page, or I should belie my own opinion, which hath always been, that a virtuous and good Turk, or heathen, are more acceptable in the sight of their Creator than a vicious and wicked Christian, though his faith was as perfectly orthodox as St. Paul's himself (p.60-61).

Henry Fielding was a true satirist who spared neither Whig nor Tory. It seems that the point that Fielding was trying to make about charity is that the English people thought the Poor Laws obviated any responsibility for personal generosity. When forced generosity becomes the only generosity, charity is dead.

Shannon Andrew Walsh
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Biography - Shannon Andrew Walsh

Shannon Walsh holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Master's degree in History from Western Illinois University. A lifelong Catholic, Mr. Walsh is a student of philosophical history.


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