Summary and Analysis
Book III: Chapter 2
Night overtakes the travelers as they take a rest by the road-side but before long, they see some "vanishing" lights and hear voices conspiring to murder someone. Adams thinks it must be ghosts but is nevertheless determined to battle their ethereal matter with his crabstick Joseph however persuades him that it would be wiser to flee. Finally they arrive at a house where they are courteously treated by a plain kind of man and his hospitable wife. They talk for a while then are startled by a loud knocking on the door. Adams mutters about spirits being abroad, but their host returns, saying that the "murderers" are no more than sheep stealers, now apprehended by some shepherds. The master of the house, uncertain of the relationship between the three, sounds out Adams, and his questions lead to a panegyric from Adams (after a lament for his lost copy of Aeschylus) on Homer's Iliad. In concluding, Adams thunders out a hundred verses in Greek. The host wonders if he might not have a bishop present and offers them food and lodging, and later, when his wife and the exhausted Fanny have retired, produces a bottle of his best beer as the men draw their chairs round the fireside. Adams then recounts Joseph's life history and asks their host to return the favor with the story of his own life.
This chapter both increases our understanding of Adams and introduces us to Mr. Wilson, whose account of his own life contains many of the major themes of the book. Adams is comically superstitious, but brave; he does not fully understand what is confronting him in the night, but advances to the attack anyway. Joseph's pragmatism is in contrast to Adams' immediate, sincere, but mistaken responses: A penknife is more practical than a prayer and retreat is safer than attack; Adams falls head over heels down a hill, while Joseph walks down it firmly and safely; and Adams would swim across a river while Joseph quietly suggests walking farther along to a bridge. All this low comedy cannot match the gem of the chapter — Adams' sensitive and inspired discussion of Homer's Iliad. His profound appreciation of the Iliad is pertinent to Joseph Andrews itself, Adams remarks particularly on Homer's achievement in terms of the "Harmotton, that agreement of his action to his subject: for, as the subject is anger, how agreeable is his action, which is war; from which every incident arises, and to which every episode immediately relates." It is this same unity of theme which characterizes Joseph Andrews. Mr. Wilson is as fortuitously introduced into the narrative as was Fanny, but already his character is filling out some of the main themes of the book. He is a "plain kind of man" whose instincts are warm toward the travelers, but who is nevertheless prudent enough to make sure of the facts that lie beneath their appearance. His generosity is sincere and complete, and is akin to the charity of Adams. His life story relates closely to the book as a whole, and Adams' eagerness to hear it (one remembers his rapt attention to the story of Leonora) is a ripple of curiosity on the surface of the narrative that indicates the deep satisfaction and fulfillment which Adams gains from books and which has been so well revealed in his appreciation of the classics.