Summary and Analysis
Book I: Chapters 14-15
Evening falls, and "a grave person" arrives at the inn. On hearing what has happened to Joseph — whose identity he does not yet know — he is immediately concerned for Joseph's health and safety amongst such uncharitable people. He inquires of the surgeon, who would rather talk in medical jargon than communicate. But the surgeon is interrupted — one of the thieves has been taken and, to the great joy of Joseph, a little piece of broken gold — a memento of Fanny — is found on him; the bundle of clothes stripped from Joseph is found shortly afterwards. The livery is recognized by the "grave" gentleman, who turns out to be none other than Parson Adams. Meanwhile, the mob that has gathered searches the captive, and the surgeon and Barnabas enter into a dispute as to which parties have the best legal claim to the recovered articles. The prisoner almost gains his freedom by continually protesting his innocence, but Betty reminds the company of the evidence of the piece of gold, and the prisoner is secured for the night.
Betty tells her mistress that she believes Joseph to be "a greater man than they took him for," as he seems to be on intimate terms with Parson Adams; Mrs. Tow-wouse immediately changes her attitude. Adams tells Joseph that he is on his way to London to publish three volumes of sermons, but insists on staying with Joseph and offers him the contents of his pockets — less than ten shillings. Joseph is overcome with gratitude; fortunately, he is in better shape than the opportunist surgeon will admit.
The next morning, Barnabas and the surgeon return to see the thief conveyed before the justice. They have spent the night arguing over legal procedures, and Fielding concludes the chapter with an apostrophe to vanity to underscore their behavior — and to "lengthen out a short chapter."
Adams soon perceives that hunger is Joseph's most pressing ailment, and it is the gibberish of the surgeon which is the real example of "a rhapsody of nonsense." In legal and other matters, both Barnabas and the surgeon are motivated by vanity rather than by any sense of duty; their concern is for the advertisement of their own assumed abilities rather than for public justice. Contrasted to this pretense is Adams' "perfect simplicity," hinted at by the fact that all he knows comes from books; Adams is serious and simple — but sincere. His immediate concern for the plight of the footman, whom he does not know at first to be Joseph, testifies to this. He is willing to delay a journey which is important to him and his family, and his offer to give his entire "fortune" of less than ten shillings to Joseph contrasts with the selfish change in the attitude of Mrs. Tow-wouse. Where Adams' sympathies are truly Christian, Mrs. Tow-wouse considers a person worthy of Christian compassion to be the opposite of a vagabond; in other words, a Christian is someone who is likely to be able to pay his bill.
Fielding continues to amplify his theme of getting to the heart of true good nature and, in his concluding remarks on vanity, stresses the difficulty of penetrating the disguises which vanity tempts people to assume. His tone mocks even himself, for far from being carried away by his own indignation, with his several paragraphs deploring vanity, he confesses that he is really only lengthening out his chapter.