Summary and Analysis
Book I: Chapters 17-18
Much to Adams' delight, the friend of Barnabas proves to be a bookseller, to whom he proceeds to offer his sermons. The bookseller, who says that he dislikes sermons only because they don't sell, adds that he will take them to London with him. A discussion develops between Adams and Barnabas over the Methodist doctrines of George Whitefield. Barnabas reviles Whitefield because he advocates continual preaching and praying for clergymen rather than more pleasurable pursuits, while Adams, though agreeing with Whitefield that the business of clergymen should not be with things which savor strongly of this world, strongly criticizes the "detestable doctrine of faith against good works." On hearing that Adams' sermons inculcate the opposite opinion, that virtuous heathens are more acceptable to God than are vicious Christians, the bookseller immediately backtracks, saying that he will take on no book which the clergy would be certain to denounce. Talking of the restoration of the true use of Christianity, Adams mentions a book which sets Barnabas to spluttering, though he has read not one syllable of it.
Their altercation is interrupted by an uproar in the inn. Mrs. Tow-wouse has caught her husband making love to Betty, the chambermaid, and the two women are at loggerheads. Mrs. Tow-wouse arms herself with the kitchen spit, but is restrained by Mr. Adams.
Betty, though generous and compassionate, has a constitution "composed of those warm ingredients which, though the purity of courts or nunneries might have happily controlled them, were by no means able to endure the ticklish situation of a chambermaid at an inn." Heretofore, she has succumbed to the amorous advances of many, though not to those of Mr. Tow-wouse, who has long languished for her. She conceives a passion for Joseph, which on this occasion reached such a height that the modest Joseph was forced to shut her out of his room; but, on retiring to make Mr. Tow-wouse's bed, she came across Mr. Tow-wouse himself and in her heightened state of passion, she submitted to his will. At this point, Mrs. Tow-wouse entered the bedroom. Betty is dismissed, and Mrs. Tow-wouse hangs the albatross of adultery round her husband's neck for the remainder of his life.
Adams again reveals his simplicity in financial matters. He explains his impoverished state in all honesty to the bookseller, completely undermining his own bargaining position. But the commercial world is not the one in which Adams lives; he states that an honest mind would rather lose money by conveying good instructions to mankind than gain by propagating evil. Adams' real concerns emerge in his comments on the Methodist doctrine which puts faith before good works. Adams considers that nothing can have a more pernicious influence on society than last-minute repentance; active virtue is always more important than faith.
This again bears on how the novel "rectifies" real life. Were the results of Adams' ecstatic moments confined to smoking a pipe, snapping his fingers, and taking a turn or two about the room, one might argue that he lives on a quite separate plane. But the strength with which he restrains Mrs. Tow-wouse is part of Adams' own doctrine of good works, to be fully implemented in the present.
The same theme emerges in Fielding's tolerant treatment of Betty and Mr. Tow-wouse. Fielding proposes more realistic alternatives to vice. "I have done nothing that's unnatural," Betty exclaims, and the violence of Mr. Tow-wouse's passion, "like water, which is stopt from its usual current in one place . . . naturally sought a vent in another." Even when describing the venereal disease, Fielding's tone is light as he puns that Betty's charms set soldiers and squires afire in more ways than one. The strong effect of environment on both Betty and Mr. Tow-wouse again indicates Fielding's concern with the possibility of implementing higher standards in the here and now. Inclination and environment bear upon one another closely.
Fielding's comments on Joseph's chastity in the face' of Betty's passionate embrace soar to the level of the mock-heroic and there is no concern on Fielding's part that Betty's passions are sated by the first man who comes along. The behavior of Betty and Mr. Tow-wouse reminds the reader not to take Joseph's rigid chastity too seriously. Their lapse is not wholly condoned, but Fielding's tone emphasizes that Betty's good nature and compassion are more important than prudish hypocrisy.