Reverend Roger Thwackum: Character in Tom Jones

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      The Reverend Roger Thwackum is one of the inmates of Allworth's household. The original idea of this character is believed to have been furnished by an ecclesiast who was almost certainly known to Fielding—the Reverend Richard Hele, Vicar of Britford, Prebendary of Salisbury, and Master of the school in the Cathedral Close. He was a prominent member of Salisbury society, and was connected by marriage with Fielding's friends, the Colliers. He died at the age of seventy-seven, in 1736. According to the tables erected to his memory in the cathedral, he was a man of strict integrity, diligent in the discharge of his duties, both as a clergyman and as a schoolmaster. One may conjecture, however, that, if he was really the model for Thwackum, he was further distinguished by certain peculiarities which lent themselves to burlesque.

      Roger had a great reputation for learning, religion, and sobriety of manners. He maintained, with the dogmatism of a religious fanatic, that the human mind since the Fall, was nothing but a sink of iniquity, till purified and redeemed by grace. In all his discourses on morality, he never even mentioned that the world is good. He decided all matters by authority, but in so doing, he always used the scriptures and their commentators, where the comment is of equal authority with the text He was a selfish hypocrite, who deserved to be whipped. With all his professions of religion, he understood the real meaning of it as much as a jackdaw. With his eye upon this dignitary, Fielding proceeded to paint the highly colored figure of the tutor of Tom Jones. Parson Thwackum is allowed to be "an excellent scholar, and a most indefatigable" teacher, with a great reputation for 'sobriety of manners' and 'devout attachment to religion'; but he is also pictured as a hardhearted, narrow-minded, violent-tempered man, a fierce maintainer of the doctrine of the total corruption of human nature, and in practical matters, a stern advocate of the principle of 'doing justice, and leaving mercy to Heaven" — though he seems to have thought that little enough of the latter grace can be expected even from that quarter. He comes before us as a pedagogue of harsh Orbillian type whose meditations are full of 'birch', and who has constantly on his lips the old 'flogging line', "Castigo to non guod odio habeam, sed quod amem." As a theologian, he is intensely and intolerantly dogmatic, deciding all matters by authority (i.e. by the pronouncements of the Scriptures and their commentators), and prosecuting his controversies in rigid accordance with the formula: "When I mention religion, I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion, and not only the Protestant religion but the Church of England."

      Thwackum's exuberances are certainly overdrawn; but the figure, as a whole, is not so exaggerated as to be incredible. At any rate, this reverend gentleman never fails to be entertaining, and his volcanic eruptions and explosions in the story are invariably welcome.

      In Parson Thwackum and Mr. Supple, the curate, we have interesting specimens of the clergy. Thwackum has a narrow concept of religion. He is a crook and bears great ill-will for Tom, whose manliness and large-heartedness he could never appreciate. Mr. Supple is delightfully different.

Mr. Supple, the curate of Mr. Allworthy's parish was a good-natured worthy man, but chiefly remarkable for his great taciturnity at table though his mouth was never shut at it. In short, he had one of the best appetites in the world. However, the cloth was no sooner taken away than he always made sufficient amends for his silence; for he was a very hearty fellow; and his conversation was often entertaining never offensive. (Book IV, Chapter 10)

      If Parson Thwackum stands for orthodox religion, philosopher Square stands for free thought, or deism. The former believed in man's Original Sin, ('The human mind a sink of iniquity', III, 3) and in redemption through Grace; the other (philosopher Square) "held human nature to be the perfection of all virtue, and that vice was a deviation from our nature, in the same manner as deformity of body is" (Book III, Chapter 3).

      The two—the parson and the philosopher — rarely met 'without disputation'. Square was an enlightened philosopher; but:

Philosophers are composed of flesh and blood as well as other human creatures; and however sublimated and refined the theory of these may be a little practical frailty is incident to them as to other mortals. (Book V, Chapter 5)

      Our philosopher's 'little practical frailty' is seen in his secret affairs with Molly, the game-keeper's daughter.

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