HOME | About | Surprise! | More ≡

The History of
Tom Jones,
a Foundling

by Henry Fielding
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes

(London, 1749)

The aristocratic Fielding of Glastonbury was a lawyer and playwright whose fiercely satirical pamphlets (some under the name of 'Hercules Vinegar') and plays were instrumental in an irritated government restricting them through the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737.
Abridged: JH

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

Mr. Allworthy Makes a Discovery

In that part of the country which is commonly called Somersetshire there lately lived a gentleman whose name was Allworthy, and who might well be called the favourite of both nature and fortune. From the former of these he derived an agreeable person, a sound constitution, a solid understanding, and a benevolent heart; by the latter he was decreed to the inheritance of one of the largest estates in the country.

Mr. Allworthy lived, for the most part, retired in the country, with one sister, for whom he had a very tender affection. This lady, Miss Bridget Allworthy, now somewhat past the age of thirty, was of that species of women whom you commend rather for good qualities than beauty.

Mr. Allworthy had been absent a full quarter of a year in London on some very particular business, and having returned to his house very late in the evening, retired, much fatigued, to his chamber. Here, after he had spent some minutes on his knees - a custom which he never broke through on any account - he was preparing to step into bed, when, upon opening the clothes, to his great surprise, he beheld an infant wrapped up in some coarse linen, in a sweet and profound sleep, between his sheets. He stood for some time lost in astonishment at this sight; but soon began to be touched with sentiments of compassion for the little wretch before him. He then rang his bell, and ordered an elderly woman-servant to rise immediately and come to him.

The consternation of Mrs. Deborah Wilkins at the finding of the little infant was rather greater than her master's had been; nor could she refrain from crying out, with great horror, "My good sir, what's to be done?"

Mr. Allworthy answered she must take care of the child that evening, and in the morning he would give orders to provide it a nurse.

"Yes, sir," says she, "and I hope your worship will send out your warrant to take up the hussy its mother. Indeed, such wicked sluts cannot be too severely punished for laying their sins at honest men's doors; and though your worship knows your own innocence, yet the world is censorious, and if your worship should provide for the child it may make the people after to believe. If I might be so bold as to give my advice, I would have it put in a basket, and sent out and laid at the churchwarden's door. It is a good night, only a little rainy and windy, and if it was well wrapped up and put in a warm basket, it is two to one but it lives till it is found in the morning. But if it should not, we have discharged our duty in taking care of it; and it is, perhaps, better for such creatures to die in a state of innocence than to grow up and imitate their mothers."

But Mr. Allworthy had now got one of his fingers into the infant's hand, which, by its gentle pressure, seeming to implore his assistance, certainly outpleaded the eloquence of Mrs. Deborah. Mr. Allworthy gave positive orders for the child to be taken away and provided with pap and other things against it waked. He likewise ordered that proper clothes should be procured for it early in the morning, and that it should be brought to himself as soon as he was stirring.

Such was the respect Mrs. Wilkins bore her master, under whom she enjoyed a most excellent place, that her scruples gave way to his peremptory commands, and, declaring the child was a sweet little infant, she walked off with it to her own chamber.

Allworthy betook himself to those pleasing slumbers which a heart that hungers after goodness is apt to enjoy when thoroughly satisfied.

In the morning Mr. Allworthy told his sister he had a present for her, and, when Mrs. Wilkins produced the little infant, told her the whole story of its appearance.

Miss Bridget took the good-natured side of the question, intimated some compassion for the helpless little creature, and commended her brother's charity in what he had done. The good lady subsequently gave orders for providing all necessaries for the child, and her orders were indeed so liberal that had it been a child of her own she could not have exceeded them.

The Foundling Achieves Manhood

Miss Bridget having been asked in marriage by one Captain Blifil, a half-pay officer, and the nuptials duly celebrated, Mrs. Blifil was in course of time delivered of a fine boy.

Though the birth of an heir to his beloved sister was a circumstance of great joy to Mr. Allworthy, yet it did not alienate his affections from the little foundling to whom he had been godfather, and had given his own name of Thomas; the surname of Jones being added because it was believed that was the mother's name.

He told his sister, if she pleased, the newborn infant should be bred up together with little Tommy, to which she consented, for she had truly a great complaisance for her brother.

The captain, however, could not so easily bring himself to bear what he condemned as a fault in Mr. Allworthy; for his meditations being chiefly employed on Mr. Allworthy's fortune, and on his hopes of succession, he looked on all the instances of his brother-in-law's generosity as diminutions of his own wealth.

But one day, while the captain was exulting in the happiness which would accrue to him by Mr. Allworthy's death, he himself died of apoplexy.

So the two boys grew up together under the care of Mr. Allworthy and Mrs. Blifil, and by the time he was fourteen Tom Jones-who, according to universal opinion, was certainly born to be hanged-had been already convicted of three robberies-viz., of robbing an orchard, of stealing a duck out of a farmer's yard, and of picking Master Blifil's pocket of a ball.

The vices of this young man were, moreover, heightened by the disadvantageous light in which they appeared when opposed to the virtues of Master Blifil, his companion. He was, indeed, a lad of remarkable disposition-sober, discreet, and pious beyond his age; and many expressed their wonder that Mr. Allworthy should suffer such a lad as Tom Jones to be educated with his nephew lest the morals of the latter should be corrupted by his example.

To say the truth, the whole duck, and great part of the apples, were converted to the use of Tom's friend, the gamekeeper, and his family; though, as Jones alone was discovered, the poor lad bore not only the whole smart, but the whole blame.

Mr. Allworthy had committed the instruction of the two boys to a learned divine, the Reverend Mr. Thwackum, who resided in the house; but though Mr. Allworthy had given him frequent orders to make no difference between the lads, yet was Thwackum altogether as kind and gentle to Master Blifil as he was harsh, nay, even barbarous, to the other. In truth, Blifil had greatly gained his master's affections; partly by the profound respect he always showed his person, but much more by the decent reverence with which he received his doctrine, for he had got by heart, and frequently repeated, his phrases, and maintained all his master's religious principles, with a zeal which was surprising in one so young.

Tom Jones, on the other hand, was not only deficient in outward tokens of respect, often forgetting to pull off his cap at his master's approach, but was altogether unmindful both of his master's precepts and example.

At the, age of twenty, however, Tom, for his love of hunting, had become a great favourite with Mr. Allworthy's neighbour, Squire Western; and Sophia, Mr. Western's only child, lost her heart irretrievably to him before she suspected it was in danger. On his side, Tom was truly sensible of the great worth of Sophia. He liked her person extremely, no less admired her accomplishments, and tenderly loved her goodness. In reality, as he had never once entertained any thoughts of possessing her, nor had ever given the least voluntary indulgence to his inclinations, he had a much stronger passion for her than he himself was acquainted with.

An accident occurred on the hunting-field in saving Sophia from her too mettlesome horse kept Jones a prisoner for some time in Mr. Western's house, and during those weeks he not only found that he loved Sophia with an unbounded passion, but he plainly saw the tender sentiments she had for him; yet could not this assurance lessen his despair of obtaining the consent of her father, nor the horrors which attended his pursuit of her by any base or treacherous method.

Hence, at the approach of the young lady, he grew pale; and, if this was sudden, started. If his eyes accidentally met hers, the blood rushed into his cheeks, and his countenance became all over scarlet. If he touched her, his hand, nay, his whole frame, trembled.

All these symptoms escaped the notice of the squire, but not so of Sophia. She soon perceived these agitations of mind in Jones, and was at no loss to discover the cause; for, indeed, she recognised it in her own breast. In a word, she was in love with him to distraction. It was not long before Jones was able to attend her to the harpsichord, where she would kindly condescend for hours together to charm him with the most delicious music.

The news that Mr. Allworthy was dangerously ill (for a servant had brought word that he was dying) broke off Tom's stay at Mr. Western's, and drove all the thoughts of love out of his head. He hurried instantly into the chariot which was sent for him, and ordered the coachman to drive with all imaginable haste; nor did the idea of Sophia once occur to him on the way.

Tom Jones Falls into Disgrace

On the night when the physician announced that Mr. Allworthy was out of danger Jones was thrown into such immoderate excess of rapture by the news that he might be truly said to be drunk with joy-an intoxication which greatly forwards the effects of wine; and as he was very free, too, with the bottle, on this occasion he became very soon literally drunk.

Jones had naturally violent animal spirits, and Thwackum, resenting his speeches, only the doctor's interposition prevented wrath kindling. After which, Jones gave loose to mirth, sang two or three amorous songs, and fell into every frantic disorder which unbridled joy is apt to inspire; but so far was he from any disposition to quarrel that he was ten times better-humoured, if possible, than when he was sober.

Blifil, whose mother had died during her brother's illness, was highly offended at a behaviour which was so inconsistent with the sober and prudent reserve of his own temper. The recent death of his mother, he declared, made such conduct very indecent.

"It would become them better," he said, "to express the exultations of their hearts at Mr. Allworthy's recovery in thanksgiving, than in drunkenness and riot."

Wine had not so totally overpowered Jones as to prevent him recollecting Blifil's loss the moment it was mentioned. He at once offered to shake Mr. Blifil by the hand, and begged his pardon, saying his excessive joy for Mr. Allworthy's recovery had driven every other thought out of his mind.

Blifil scornfully rejected his hand, and with an insulting illusion to the misfortune of Jones's birth provoked the latter to blows. The scuffle which ensued might have produced mischief had it not been for the interference of Thwackum and the physician.

Blifil, however, only waited for an opportunity to be revenged on Jones, and the occasion was soon forthcoming when Mr. Allworthy was fully recovered from his illness.

Mr. Western had found out that his daughter was in love with Tom Jones, and at once decided that she should marry Blifil, to whom Sophia professed great abhorrence.

As for Blifil, the success of Jones was much more grievous to him than the loss of Sophia, whose estate, indeed, was dearer to him than her person.

Mr. Western swore that his daughter shouldn't have a ha'penny, nor the twentieth part of a brass farthing, if she married Jones; and Blifil, with many sighs, professed to his uncle that he could not bear the thought of Sophia being ruined by her preference for Jones.

"This lady, I am sure, will be undone in every sense; for, besides the loss of most part of her own fortune, she will be married to a beggar. Nay, that is a trifle; for I know him to be one of the worst men in the world."

"How?" said Mr. All worthy. "I command you to tell me what you mean."

"You know, sir," said Blifil, "I never disobeyed you. In the very day of your utmost danger, when myself and all the family were in tears, he filled the house with riot and debauchery. He drank, and sang, and roared; and when I gave him a gentle hint of the indecency of his actions, he fell into a violent passion, swore many oaths, called me rascal, and struck me. I am sure I have forgiven him that long ago. I wish I could so easily forget his ingratitude to the best of benefactors."

Thwackum was now sent for, and corroborated every circumstance which the other had deposed.

Poor Jones was too full of grief at the thought that Western had discovered the whole affair between him and Sophia to make any adequate defence. He could not deny the charge of drunkenness, and out of modesty sunk everything that related particularly to himself.

Mr. Allworthy answered that he was now resolved to banish him from his sight for ever. "Your audacious attempt to steal away a young lady calls upon me to justify my own character in punishing you. And there is no part of your character which I resent more than your ill-treatment of that good young man (meaning Blifil), who hath behaved with so much tenderness and honour towards you."

A flood of tears now gushed from the eyes of Jones, and every faculty of speech and motion seemed to have deserted him. It was some time before he was able to obey Allworthy's peremptory commands of departing, which he at length did, having first kissed his hands with a passion difficult to be affected, and as difficult to be described.

Mr. Allworthy, however, did not permit him to leave the house penniless, but presented him with a note for £500. He then commanded him to go immediately, and told Jones that his clothes, and everything else, should be sent to him whithersoever he should order them.

Jones had hardly set out, which he did with feelings of agony and despair, before Sophia Western decided that only in flight could she be saved from marriage with the detested Blifil.

Mr. Western, in spite of tremendous love for his daughter, thought her inclinations of as little consequence as Blifil himself conceived them to be; and Mr. Allworthy, who said "he would on no account be accessory to forcing a young lady into a marriage contrary to her own will," was satisfied by his nephew's disingenuous statement that the young lady's behaviour to him was full as forward as he wished it.

Sophia, having appointed her maid to meet her at a certain place not far from the house, exactly at the ghostly and dreadful hour of twelve, began to prepare for her own departure.

But first she was obliged to give a painful audience to her father, and he treated her in so violent and outrageous a manner that he frightened her into an affected compliance with his will, which so highly pleased the good squire that he at once changed his frowns into smiles, and his menaces into promises.

He vowed his whole soul was wrapped in hers, that her consent had made him the happiest of mankind.

He then gave her a large bank-bill to dispose of in any trinkets she pleased, and kissed and embraced her in the fondest manner.

Sophia reverenced her father piously and loved him passionately, but the thoughts of her beloved Jones quickly destroyed all the regretful promptings of filial love.

Tom Jones's Restoration

After many adventures on the road Mr. Jones reached London; and as he had often heard Mr. Allworthy mention the gentlewoman at whose house in Bond Street he used to lodge when he was in town, he sought the house, and was soon provided with a room there on the second floor. Mrs. Miller, the person who let these lodgings, was the widow of a clergyman, and Mr. Allworthy had settled an annuity of £50 a year on her, "in consideration of always having her first floor when he was in town."

Tom Jones's fortunes were now very soon at the lowest. Having been forced into a quarrel in the streets with an acquaintance named Fitzpatrick, and having wounded him with his sword, a number of fellows rushed in and carried Jones off to the civil magistrate, who, being informed that the wound appeared to be mortal, straightway committed the prisoner to the Gatehouse.

Sophia Western was also in London at the house of her aunt; and soon afterwards Mr. Western, Mr. Allworthy, and Blifil all reached the city.

It was just at this time that Mr. Allworthy, consenting to his nephew once more offering himself to Sophia, came with Blifil to his accustomed lodgings in Bond Street. Mrs. Miller, to whom Jones had showed many kindnesses, at once put in a good word for the unfortunate young man; and, on Blifil exulting over the manslaughter Jones was alleged to have committed, declared that the wounded man, whoever he was, was in fault. This, indeed, was shortly afterwards corroborated by Fitzpatrick himself, who acknowledged his mistake.

But it was not till Mr. Allworthy discovered that Blifil had been arranging with a lawyer to get the men who had arrested Jones to bear false witness, and learnt further that Tom Jones was his sister Bridget's child, and that on her death-bed Mrs. Blifil's message to her brother confessing the fact had been suppressed by her son, that his old feelings of affection for Tom Jones returned. Before setting out to visit Jones in the prison Mr. Allworthy called on Sophia to inform her that he regretted Blifil had ever been encouraged to give her annoyance, and that Mr. Jones was his nephew and his heir.

Men over-violent in their dispositions are, for the most part, as changeable in them. No sooner was Western informed of Mr. Allworthy's intention to make Jones his heir than he joined heartily with the uncle in every commendation of the nephew, and became as eager for his daughter's marriage with Jones as he had before been to couple her to Blifil.

Fitzpatrick being recovered of his wound, and admitting the aggression, Jones was released from custody and returned to his lodgings to meet Mr. Allworthy.

It is impossible to conceive a more tender or moving scene than this meeting between the uncle and nephew. Allworthy received Jones into his arms. "O my child!" he cried, "how have I been to blame! How have I injured you! What amends can I ever make you for those unkind suspicions which I have entertained, and for all the sufferings they have occasioned you?"

"Am I not now made amends?" cried Jones. "Would not my sufferings, had they been ten times greater, have been now richly repaid?"

Here the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Western, who could no longer be kept away even by the authority of Allworthy himself. Western immediately went up to Jones, crying out, "My old friend Tom, I am glad to see thee, with all my heart. All past must be forgotten. Come along with me; I'll carry thee to thy mistress this moment."

Here Allworthy interposed; and the squire was obliged to consent to delay introducing Jones to Sophia till the afternoon.

Blifil, now thoroughly exposed in his treachery, was at first sullen and silent, balancing in his mind whether he should yet deny all; but finding at last the evidence too strong against him, betook himself to confession, and was now as remarkably mean as he had been before remarkably wicked. Mr. Allworthy subsequently settled £200 a year upon him, to which Jones hath privately added a third. Upon this income Blifil lives in one of the northern counties. He is also lately turned Methodist, in hopes of marrying a very rich widow of that sect. Sophia would not at first permit any promise of an immediate engagement with Jones because of certain stories of his inconstancy, but Mr. Western refused to hear of any delay.

"To-morrow or next day?" says Western, bursting into the room where Sophia and Jones were alone.

"Indeed, sir," says she, "I have no such intention."

"But I can tell thee," replied he, "why hast not; only because thou dost love to be disobedient, and to plague and vex thy father. When I forbid her, then it was all nothing but sighing and whining, and languishing and writing; now I am for thee-(this to Jones)-she is against thee. All the spirit of contrary, that's all. She is above being guided and governed by her father, that is the whole truth on't. It is only to disoblige and contradict me."

"What would my papa have me do?" cries Sophia.

"What would I ha' thee do?" says he, "why gee un thy hand this moment."

"Well, sir," said Sophia, "I will obey you. There is my hand, Mr. Jones."

"Well, and will you consent to ha' un to-morrow morning?" says Western.

"I will be obedient to you, sir," cries she.

"Why, then, to-morrow morning be the day," cries he.

"Why, then, to-morrow morning shall be the day, papa, since you will have it so," said Sophia. Jones then fell upon his knees and kissed her hand in an agony of joy, while Western began to caper and dance about the room, presently crying out, "Where the devil is Allworthy?" He then sallied out in quest of him, and very opportunely left the lovers to enjoy a few tender minutes alone.

But he soon returned with Allworthy, saying, "If you won't believe me, you may ask her yourself. Hast not gin thy consent, Sophy, to be married to-morrow?"

"Such are your commands, sir," cries Sophia, "and I dare not be guilty of disobedience."

"I hope there is not the least constraint," cries Allworthy.

"Why, there," cried Western, "you may bid her unsay all again if you will. Dost repent heartily of thy promise, dost not, Sophy?"

"Indeed, papa," cried she. "I do not repent, nor do I believe I ever shall, of any promise in favour of Mr. Jones."

"Then, nephew," cries Allworthy, "I felicitate you most heartily, for I think you are the happiest of men."

Mr. Allworthy, Mr. Western, and Mrs. Miller were the only persons present at the wedding, and within two days of that event Mr. Jones and Sophia attended Mr. Western and Mr. Allworthy into the country.

There is not a neighbour or a servant, who doth not most gratefully bless the day when Mr. Jones was married to Sophia.

MORE FROM The Hundred Books...

Surprise A Christmas Carol A Study in Scarlet A Voyage to the Moon Aesop's Fables Alice in Wonderland An English Opium-Eater Anna Karenina Antarctic Journals Arabian Nights Aristotle's Ethics Barnaby_Rudge Beowulf Beyond Good and Evil Bleak House Book of the Dead Caesar's Commentaries Crime and Punishment Dalton's Chemical Philosophy David Copperfield Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Descartes' Meditations Dombey and Son Don Quixote Dulce et Decorum Est Einstein's Relativity Elements of Geometry Fairy Tales Father Goriot Frankenstein Gilgamesh Great Expectations Gulliver's Travels Hamlet Hard Times Heart of Darkness History of Tom Jones I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud If - Ivanhoe Jane Eyre Jekyll and Mr Hyde Kant Lady Chatterley's Lover Le Morte D'Arthur Le Repertoire de La Cuisine Les Miserables Little Dorrit Lysistrata Martin Chuzzlewit Meditations Metamorphosis Micrographia Moby-Dick My Confession Newton's Natural Philosophy Nicholas Nickleby Notebooks Of Miracles On Liberty On Old Age On The Social Contract On War Our Mutual Friend Paradise Lost Pepys' Diary Philosophy in The Boudoir Piers Plowman Pilgrims Progress Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect Pride and Prejudice Principles of Human Knowledge Principles of Morals and Legislation Psychoanalysis Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs Robinson Crusoe Romeo and Juliet Songs of Innocence and Experience Sorrows of Werther Sovran Maxims Tale of Two Cities Tess of the d'Urbervilles The Advancement of Learning The Adventures of Oliver Twist The Analects The Ballad of Reading Gaol The Bhagavad-Gita The Canterbury Tales The Communist Manifesto The Confessions The Decameron The Divine Comedy The Gospels of Jesus Christ The Great Gatsby The Histories The Life of Samuel Johnson The Magna Carta The Motion of the Heart and Blood The Odyssey The Old Curiosity Shop The Origin of Species The Pickwick Papers The Prince The Quran The Remembrance of Times Past The Republic The Rights of Man The Rights of Woman The Rime of the Ancient Mariner The RubaiyƔt Of Omar Khayyam The Torah The Travels of Marco Polo The Wealth of Nations The Wind in the Willows Three Men in a Boat Tom Brown's Schooldays Tristram Shandy Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Ulysses Uncle Tom's Cabin Utopia Voyages of Discovery Walden Wilhelm Meister Wuthering Heights