Squire Allworthy: Character Analysis in Tom Jones

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     Introduction. In this personage, the novelist aimed at picturing an ideally good man. Unfortunately, he attempted to do this by means of presenting a glorified portrait of his friend and patron, Ralph Allen of Bath. The result is not successful. No doubt, he was hampered by the necessity of painting such a likeness as would be acceptable to the living original. But whatever the reason of the failure may have been, the figure of Allworthy is stiff and wooden, and lacking in lifelikeness—though R. L. Stevenson of somewhat exaggerated when he described it as 'only ink and paper'.

      Even as a type of consummate virtue, Squire Allworthy is hardly satisfactory. He is represented as the very incarnation of kindliness and goodness. But he is too dull and unintelligent to be altogether admirable. Though 'replete with benevolence' and 'ever ready to relieve the distresses of others', he has not the sense to confine his benefaction to deserving objects. He thus becomes the dupe of plausible hypocrites and adventurers, whom a man of moderate perspicuity would easily have seen through. Under their influence, he is led away to perpetrate even so great an act of injustice as the expulsion of Tom from his home without a full and thorough examination of the charges brought against him. And, as he is wanting in sagacity, so also he is deficient in humor. He takes himself always with solemn seriousness. In his gravely decorous behavior and ponderous, high-toned discourses, he seems to be aping the style of the perfect philosophical man, as conceived by the stoic writers. Allworthy, in short, is an upright and honorable country gentleman, whose character commands respect; but, as an ideal of human excellence — an earthly pattern of heavenly goodness—'the glory of the human species'—he is inadequate.

      A Godlike Figure. If we compare Squire Allworthy to the other characters in Tom Jones, we see that he seems to exist in another dimension. He is a god, a dues ex machina (like the gods in Greek epics who descend to sort put the complications), whose every move is all-powerful. But he never sees the world he inhabits; he uses his reason, like a blind man reaching out for something. From the beginning, his decisions are liable to be misunderstood. His decision to harbor the mysterious infant is interpreted, by the villagers, as a confession that he is the father of it, taken along with his mild treatment of Jenny Jones. When he is apparently near death, his will, revealed by him in faltering voice, provokes Tom to excesses born of gratitude; though with others—this is Fielding at his most acid—the reaction is different:

"The servants will find some token to remember me by", his housekeeper, Mrs. Wilkins, repeats indignantly in Book IV Chapter 8. "This is my reward for taking his part so often when all the country have cried shame on him for breeding up his bastard in that manner; but he is going now where he must pay for all."

      His Generosity and Obstinacy. Allworthy's will, drawn up before he was seriously misled about Tom, was a fair one so it was generally reviled. All the Squire's fair actions were reviled by the world, but his important decisions were never fair, or at least never wise. He ruined the innocent Partridge, sheltered Doctor Blifil and then Captain Blifil, gave his approval to a marriage which was to give his sister no pleasure, took into his household more rogues, Square and Thwackum, gave them absolute power which was only limited, if it was limited, by their own rivalry and personal enmity, expelled Jones, encouraged Blifil's manifestly absurd pretensions to Sophia, and so on. It is true that in a dim way, he seems to see sometimes what he is doing. He had his 'doubts' about Thwackum. In Book I Chapter 12, when Doctor Blifil begins a careful softening up process for his brother's romance, he discovers that Allworthy has already seen it and decided to accept it because his sister is a spinster of thirty, and seems to want the captain. In Book VI Chapter 3, Allworthy's attitude to the proposed marriage of Blifil and Sophia is distinguished by a complete absence of passion. His calm acceptance of the idea irritates the warm-blooded Western though, when Blifil responds in a similarly calm and controlled way, Allworthy is 'not greatly pleased'. Fielding finds it necessary to defend Allworthy here: 'for he had possessed much fire in his youth and had married a beautiful lady for love'. You may notice how often Fielding's praise of Allworthy, or tributes to him are defensive. But eventually, Allworthy was pretty well satisfied with what Mr. Western and Mr. Blifil told him, and the treaty was now, at the end of two days, concluded. But once he has blinded himself to the merits and demerits of Jones and Blifil, he sticks to his self-deception with all the obstinacy of a man determined not to let himself see the truth. In Book XVII, Chapter 2, he reproves Mrs. Miller for championing Jones:

"Upon my word, Mrs. Miller", said Allworthy, I do not take this behavior of yours to my nephew kindly; and I do assure you, as any reflections which you cast upon him must come only from that wickedest of men, they would only serve, if that were possible, to heighten my resentment against him.

       The reasoning in this statement is not good reasoning, one examines it. One is left to assume that Allworthy, in these weeks when Jones has been on his travels, has fallen completely under the spell and into the power of life.

      His Sense of Justice. In the end, confronted with Blifil's deception, Squire Allworthy shows one of his rare moments of emotion. He stared and turned pale and he decides to punish Blifil as he punished Partridge, Molly Seagrim and Jones. It is Jones who persuades him (as he did with Molly) to use mercy and Allworthy is astonished. In Book XVIII Chapter 6, Partridge's tale of woe is the real indictment of the 'Allworthy system' of administering justice. It is interesting that it should be put at this stage in the novel. But during the final chapters, Allworthy seems to be learning a lot.

Fielding's Comments on Allworthy

      So, we might ask two questions. How far was Fielding critically aware of Allworthy, and how far does Allworthy's weakness become a weakness in the book?

      To answer the first question, we might look at some of Fielding's remarks about Allworthy. Toni Jones is not a book which leaves things unsaid. Everything and everybody is explained, many times. We will notice that Allworthy is the most praised character in the book. From the name itself, on to his actions, he is praised. He is referred to as 'that good man this worthy man'; we are treated to short digressions—'Mr. Allworthy was in reality as great a pattern of timeless wisdom as he was of goodness'—a tendency in Fielding, but Allworthy gets more of it by far than anybody else. His benevolence is insisted upon, and there are real examples of it, such as his annuity to Mrs. Miller, with regard to which Fielding says in Book XV Chapter 10: 'He contrived on all occasions to hide his beneficence not only from the world but from the object of it'. There is no doubt that Allworthy's intentions are good; but it is his fate always to be taken by surprise. 'It may by wondered that a story so well known,' Fielding says of Partridge's quarrel with his wife and the rumour that he was the father of Jones, 'and which had furnished so much a matter of conversation, should never have been mentioned to Mr. Allworthy himself, who was perhaps the only person in that country who had never heard of if. He goes on to explain, 'as always in a defensive way: 'Scandal, therefore, never found any access to his table.' Is Fielding being ironic because all the Squire's crucial actions are dictated by malicious gossip, or falsehood maligning the innocent, who are, in fact, condemned before they can defend themselves? Partridge, Jones and even Mrs. Miller are under this threat.

      Allworthy's Views. There is a passage about Allworthy, couched in 'the tone, half-ironic, half-defensive, which Fielding so often uses, which suggests that Fielding may have been to some extent aware of the weakness of this attempted portrayal of the 'good man':

.....for the reader is greatly mistaken if he conceives that Thwackum appeared to Mr. Allworthy in the same light as he doth to him in this history; and he is as much deceived, if he imagines that the most intimate acquaintance which he himself could have had with that divine, would have informed him of those tilings which we, from our inspiration, are enabled to open and discover. Of readers who, from such conceits as these, condemn the wisdom and penetration of Mr. Allworthy, I shall not scruple to say that they make a very bad and ungrateful use of that knowledge which we have communicated to them.

      And after this, we are given a rather appalling insight into Allworth's ideas of how the boys should be educated. He agreed on the principle that two bad teachers would cancel each other out. He thought, indeed, that the 'different exuberances of these gentlemen would correct their different imperfections'. When Allworthy decides to commit Molly to Bridewell, the House of Correction, Fielding has this to say:

A lawyer may, perhaps, think Mr. Allworthy exceeded his authority a little in this instance. And to say the truth, I question, as here was no regular information before him, whether his conduct was strictly regular. However, as his intention was truly upright he ought to be excused in for conscientious; since so many arbitrary acts are daily committed by magistrates who have not this excuse to plead for themselves.

      'His intention was truly upright'— that is precisely the theme that runs through Fielding's explanations and excuses for Allworthy. Added to this, there is another one. He says (in Book II chapter 6) that Allworthy's 'natural love of justice' was added to 'his coolness of temper'. Allworthy is cold:

Allworthy gave a patient hearing to their invectives, and then answered coldly ...
Mr. Allworthy was not one of those men whose hearts flutter at any unexpected and sudden tidings of worldly profit. He received therefore, Mr. Western's proposal without any visible emotion, or without any alteration of countenance. (Book VI, Chapter 3)
It was Mr. Allworthy's custom never to punish any one, not even to turn away a servant, in passion.

      Final Judgement on Allworthy. Allworthy always behaves coldly, and this is in contrast to Tom, who always, however foolishly, behaves warmly. We do not believe Fielding is being ironic when he calls Allworthy a 'good man' though we know from elsewhere, for example, his remarks about Square (in Book V Chapter 5) that when a character knows very well how to subdue appetites and passions, he is not usually approved of by Fielding. No, Allworthy's ultimate goodness is essential to this novel and we must accept it. But he is cold; he lives in a world or abstractions, and because of this, he is deceived. Reason, Fielding argues thereby, is no substitute for warmth of heart.

      Allworthy: A Weakness in Tom Jones. Is Allworthy a weakness in the novel? He is because he is essentially a 'dead' character. Living in a world of abstraction, he is an abstraction himself. He has no 'instinctive judgment' of the Lockean kind, and only at the end of the book, when, at last, he sees the real goodness of Tom, does he come to life. No wonder the bad characters scheme and plot so much; at the center is a man who is as blind as the 20th-century computer. At the end, it is relieving to note that, under Tom Jones's care, he is moving into semi-retirement.

      Allworthy is an extremely benevolent man, incapable of doing any wrong. Neither his house, nor his heart, was shut against any part of mankind and he was easily imposed upon by everybody. An excellent compound of Lyttleton and Allen though he be, Allworthy remains always a little stiff and cold in comparison with the 'veined humanity' around him. He is a type rather than a character, and too idealized to be human. We do not care for him half so much as we do for Parson Adams.

      The character of Squire Allworthy brings it home to us that the mere goody-goody' can never convince.

      The higher classes are represented, among others, by the two country squires—Allworthy and Western. They present a fine contrast to each other. Allworthy is gentle, generous, quiet and forgiving. Western is a hunting squire; easily excitable and boisterous. He lacks the refinement of Allworthy.

      Allworthy's gentle care of Tom rouses secret suspicions in the minds of many, but, truly speaking,

      This worthy man had never indulged himself in any loose pleasures with women, and greatly condemned the vice of incontinence in others. (Book IV, Chapter 2)

      We are told in Book VI, Chapter 2, that it was his custom "never to punish any one, not even to turn away a servant, in a passion". True, he turns Tom out of his house, in a fit of moral indignation, but it pained him greatly to do so; and, even as he sends Tom out, he gives Tom a sum of five hundred pounds, to help the young man settie in an honest livelihood.
Allworthy, like Sophia, has been drawn a little sentimentally. In his sick-bed, we find him not only giving his people, including his servants and friends, a fairly long lecture on death, but dividing his belongings among them. Tears flow out of his eyes, on slight provocations. Tom Jones tells him how he had to sell the little horse, which Allworthy had presented him, in order to help the poor game-keeper's family. The good Squire, we are told,

...stood silent for some moments, and before he spoke the started from his eyes.

      Towards the close of the novel, we find him wiping his eyes as he learns' of Tom's parentage, and expresses his happiness at the idea of Tom's union with Sophia.

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