The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling Summary and Analysis of Book 12


Chapter 1

The narrator discusses his use of allusions, references, and quotes in the work. He notes that it could be seen as cheating, since learned readers would already have such texts in their collections. For the less learned, these repeated allusions could come off as cruel by making the work difficult to understand, and by requiring the reader to use other texts for explication.

However, he defends himself from charges of plagiarism by comparing himself to a poor parish citizen, and the great literary minds of antiquity to squires. He argues it is okay for him to poach from these great squires, so long as he does not poach from his equally poor peers, contemporary writers.

Chapter 2

Squire Western leaves Upton to pursue Sophia. He in a terrible mood. Parson Supple comforts the squire, who he thinks is distressed at the loss of his daughter. In fact, Squire Western is actually distressed that he is losing the chance to hunt on what has turned out to be a beautiful morning. Fortune intervenes, and a pack of hounds crosses their path. Squire Western joins the pursuit, then a second chase, and finally dinner with his fellow squire. After such a wonderful time, he decides to return home, but sends his staff on to pursue Sophia.

Chapter 3

Tom Jones and Partridge leave the same inn, but on foot. The narrator avoids description of Tom’s behavior as he takes his grief out on Partridge. From desperation, Tom decides to become a soldier again, and Partridge suspects he has gone mad. Partridge claims he is ill-equipped to be a soldier as he cannot fire a gun, he is afraid of cannons, and he believes it unchristian to shed another’s blood. Tom teases him for both his cowardice and his poor Latin.

Chapter 4

Tom and Partridge pass a beggar, whom Partridge rebukes until Tom reminds him of the Christian duty he had referred to (in the last chapter). Tom gives the man a shilling, and the man then offers to sell Tom a gilt pocketbook which he had found. The pocketbook has Sophia’s name in it, as well as the banknote Squire Western had given her. Tom offers the man a guinea, explaining that he knows the owner and will return it to her. The pocketbook is only worth a few shillings, but the beggar is now disappointed; his illiteracy kept him from realizing the value of the banknote. Tom offers to take the beggar’s details so that Sophia can later reward him, but the beggar leaves, grumbling over how his parents did not send him to school to learn to read.

Chapter 5

As they walk, Tom and Partridge hear a drum beat. Partridge is besieged by thoughts of the supernatural, but the sound is merely a herald to a puppet show. It overtakes him and the parties talk. The owners of the show have comically elevated their material, removing Punch and Joan to make the entertainment more high-brow. Tom points out that removing the most memorable characters has spoiled the puppet show, but the conceited puppet-master believes it is much improved, since he has removed all base material and now teaches morality through his entertainment.

Chapter 6

At the inn where the show is to be performed, there is a disturbance when the landlady’s maid is discovered in a compromising position with the Merry Andre, or clown, of the show. The landlady throws the puppeteers out, bemoaning how entertainments no longer tell Bible stories about how the wicked are punished by the devil. Partridge, who wants to get drunk, convinces Tom to rest at the inn, since the young man is exhausted.

Chapter 7

Partridge boasts at the inn of Tom’s position and wealth, but also says he believes Tom to be mad. The men discuss having Tom committed, and the puppet-master recalls a story wherein a family tried to have a relative declared mad in order to inherit his money.

A message comes that the Jacobite rebels are on their way to London. The men debate the effect of Catholic rule, and the puppet-master decides that anything would be better than the Presbyterians, who would ban puppet shows.

Chapter 8

Tom intervenes when he hears the puppeteer beating the Merry Andrew for his liaison with the maid. The Merry Andrew says that the puppeteer had voiced licentious thoughts about a lady only the day before, and that the maid had been a willing party. The Merry Andrew further reveals that he had seen Sophia the day before, and he takes Tom to the spot where he saw her. There is a storm, and Tom and Partridge are forced to stop at another inn. There, they meet the boy who had brought Sophia to London.

The narrator notes that Sophia remains more annoyed that Tom used her name in public than at his sexual indiscretions. (Of course, Tom has never done this - only Partridge has.) The narrator makes no apology for her reaction, reminding the reader that he is recalling a history, not inventing the way people really behave.

Chapter 9

The boy brings Tom and Partridge to London, and Tom sits in the side-saddle where Sophia had sat.

Later that night, they meet Mr. Dowling, the lawyer Tom once met when living with Allworthy, and they decide to dine together even though Tom wants to keep moving.

Chapter 10

Tom tells Dowling of Blifil’s schemes to ruin him. He recites his tale in a way that is compared to Shakespeare’s Othello, while Dowling’s captivated response is compared to that of Desdemona's.

Chapter 11

Back on the road, Partridge, Tom and the boy again lose their way. Partridge worries they are being taunted by supernatural forces – a concern that is exacerbated when the horse unexpectedly falls over.

Chapter 12

Tom and Partridge hear voices singing in the distance, and Partridge is greatly worried that these voices could belong to witches. The narrator says he cannot keep up the suspense of the supernatural, since that device has been exhausted by dramatists.

The assemblage is revealed to be a group of gypsies celebrating a wedding. The King of the Gypsies is present, ad Tom treats him with great respect. The king explains how well governed his people are, because they have abandoned the system of lords and made everyone equal. He explains that their society does not use capital punishment, instead relying on shame as a deterrent. While they talk, Partridge becomes tempted by the solicitations of a gypsy woman, whose husband notices the exchange and then demands he be punished. The king wisely deduces that the whole affair was a trap to elicit money from Partridge, and the husband is condemned to wear horns on his head for a month, while his wife is labeled a whore. The king explains how gypsies and non-gypsies operate – “my people rob your people, and your people rob one anoder [sic]” (596).

The narrator extols the virtues of an absolute monarchy, and states that the necessary qualities for an effective monarch are moderation, wisdom and goodness. He concedes that it is hard to find a man who holds all of these qualities. He says that the happiness of the gypsies is founded on their lack of pretensions between each other.

Chapter 13

Partridge and Tom leave the gypsy camp, and receive another report of her when they stop at St. Albans; she had left two hours before. Both the horses and Tom need to be fed, so they stay at the inn, although Tom says that Sophia's pocketbook gives him enough sustenance. The two men argue, when Partridge says they should spend some of Sophia’s money to facilitate the journey. Tom’s anger, though aroused, dissipates equally quickly.

Chapter 14

As they ride, they meet a genteel looking man on a shabby horse, and he asks to ride with them. He then pulls out a pistol and demands Sophia’s banknote, which Partridge had mentioned at the inn. A struggle ensues and Tom overpowers the robber. Embarrassed, the man explains that this was his first attempt at crime, and that he only attempted it because he has a pregnant wife and five children to support. The gun is not even loaded. Tom returns his gun and gives the man two guineas. Partridge chides Tom, saying the man will probably try to rob them again further along the route. He says all criminals should be hanged. Tom reminds Partridge that this would include people who take horses (as they have) or misuse found money when they know the real owner. Partridge is silenced by this argument.


The narrator’s observations on his use of allusions are interesting. Fielding was known to use quotations and references within his work incessantly and almost unconsciously. His frequent use of classical reference reveals his own education, and those allusions add a richness to the depth of his work. The range of textual reference is diverse, and he clearly respects modern talent (as his use of Samuel Boyse’s work testifies) as well as that of the classic writers. In other words, he uses these references not just to represent his work as sophisticated, but also because he pulls from a wide range of knowledge. However, he is concerned about plagiarism, and refers to an unfortunate incident of it in James Moore Smythe's play Rival Modes. Moore Smythe used lines from Alexander Pope without consent, and he was later satirized in Pope’s 1727 work, The Dunciad.

Fielding's respect for education is manifest in his representation of Partridge. Tom's mockery of Partridge's inaccurate Latin is played for humor, and we are meant to mock the latter's constant attempt to inflate himself through unnecessary (and inaccurate) uses of Latin. Further, Partridge's superstition remains a source of ridiculous humor. Compared to Tom, who deals with each situation logically, Partridge's worries have an air of ignorance. In Chapter 5, when Tom reproaches Partridge for cowardice, he does so with lines from Horace, which would later serve as the inspiration for English war poet Wilfred Owen’s 1917 poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est.”

The puppet show offers Fielding a chance to comment on his work through the story (as opposed to through his authorial interjections). The puppet show uses the common Punch and Joan comic tropes, but has removed the recognizable comedy in favor of a more 'moral' show. It intends to teach children good manners, rather than to entertain. Tom makes the rational argument that a story needs its main characters, but such concerns mean nothing in the face of a moral imperative. The argument that everything low should be driven from the stage is meant to criticize Robert Walpole’s 1737 Licensing Act, which brought Fielding’s drama career to a sudden end. However, the criticism also speaks to Fielding's intent in Tom Jones - he wishes to educate and entertain by featuring both high and low characterization and story. Entertainment and truth require such honesty about human behavior. This point is doubly made when the Merry Andrew is caught in licentious behavior with the maid; all men are capable of low behavior, most of all those who profess to be above it. Finally, the fact that the landlady chastises the puppet show - already so devoted to moral entertainment - for not being moral enough reminds us that when morality is the only concern, there will always be reasons to criticize it as not moral enough.

There are key events in this book which have a major bearing on the unfolding of the plot. Dowling the lawyer is mentioned, and his significance will later be apparent. Tom’s faithful adherence to preserving Sophia’s money will later lead him to compromise himself for the sake of her virtue. Equally, his compassionate treatment of the unsuccessful highwayman endears him later to an important ally in Mrs. Miller. In other words, the seeds of Tom's ultimate success are not planted by fortune, but by his ability to remain kind and virtuous in ways that will pay off for him.

Fielding makes some social criticism through the gypsies. The power of shame is touted as a stronger deterrent than physical punishment, and that society's lack of pretensions is due very much to their sense of equality. Fielding's ideas on monarchy seem to suggest the potential for such a happy society, though he is simultaneously too cynical to believe that a properly virtuous man could be found to facilitate such a place.

Finally, this Book continues to employ contrast, particularly through Tom and Partridge. Their different approaches to superstition are detailed above. Partridge also acts as an effective foil to his companion through his desire to use Sophia's money, and his desire to punish the highwayman. As noted above, Tom's kindness will prove to be more lucrative than any cruelty or selfishness ever would have been.