Summary and Analysis
Book II: Chapters 16-17
On the road again, the travelers meet a gentleman who appears to be all openness and magnanimity. He invites them to share some refreshment with him in the inn of the parish — where he owns a large mansion — and offers Adams the living of this particular parish upon the death of the present incumbent. In addition to other generous offers, the gentleman suggests that they avail themselves of his hospitality for a couple of days; Adams is overcome, but no sooner have Adams, Joseph and Fanny accepted than the gentleman suddenly "remembers" that his housekeeper is away. Next morning, he also finds himself unable to provide the horses he had promised; it is, he says, the groom's fault, and Adams is aghast at the way this good-natured gentleman is abused by his servants. Joseph is more concerned about how they are going to pay the bill for their night's lodging at the inn. They send a boy for the gentleman, who, it appears, has departed on a month's journey. The host confirms the suspicions that Joseph has entertained for some time about the sincerity of this gentleman. The host relates previous examples of the emptiness of this gentleman's promises and scoffs at Adams' remark about the sweetness of his countenance, for the travels of the host as a seafaring man have taught him never to trust a man's face. Adams, as usual, takes up the argument and claims to have traveled also, but it turns out that his traveling has been entirely in books, "the only way of traveling by which any knowledge is to be acquired." The host briskly retorts that experience is the best teacher, and extends his argument to defend the practice of trade, which, he claims, provides clothes, wine and other necessities of life. These to Adams are luxuries; the necessities are provided by the learning of the clergy, who clothe and feed people in a more valuable. way. Fortunately for the peace of all, Joseph and Fanny, who have been conversing in the garden, interrupt the argument and the three renew their journey.
Fielding continues to stress the themes of hypocrisy and true charity. Adams eternally innocent once, again judges man at face value and is naively ecstatic at the hollow offers of the gentleman believing his charity to be of the true primitive kind. It is a sign of Joseph's increasing maturity that his estimation of the gentleman is more acute his perception is based on experience which never seems to remain with Adams. Indeed, Adams' argument with the host represents two kinds of learning — one nursed not merely on books, but narrowly on "Plato and Seneca for that," and the other, the robust practicality of a seafaring man. The host has learned from his own unfortunate experience with this gentleman, and his down-to-earth attitude is reflected in his views on trade. Although Adams convincingly expands his metaphor to emphasize the importance of spiritual nourishment, we should remember that the host has just demonstrated the essentially practical nature of charity in which Fielding believes so strongly. Both Adams and the host are fine men but it is their failings which give a sense of life to this particular conversation.