Squire Western: Character Analysis in Tom Jones

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      Introduction. Of all the characters in Tom Jones the most original is Squire Western, father of the exquisite Sophia. It is possible that in creating this supremely humorous figure, Fielding had a definite contemporary personage in mind. If so, his model was probably Carew Hervey Mildmay—Horace Walpole's old Mildmay, whose lungs and memory and tongue will never wear out—who died in the eighties at the age of ninety-four. This bluff old Tory sportsman was a friend of Bolingbroke and Pope, and, at one time, represented Harwich in the House of Commons. Fielding may well have been acquainted with him, and have taken amused note of his eccentric traits. It is likely, however, that, for his delineation of Mr. Western, he did not confine himself to a single model, but gathered hints from the personalities of several other rural gentlemen whom he had met on his hunting excursions in Somerset and Dorset.

      A Typical Squire of His Age. Western was a sportsman of the old school. All his thoughts and interests were centered 'either in the field, the stable, or the dog-kennel'. Every morning he was engaged with hunting or some violent outdoor exercise; after his two o'clock dinner he passed the time in deep potations with some boon companion and when he went to bed, he 'was generally so drunk that he could not see'. Apart from sport (in which 'no man was more expert'), and the business of conversing and augmenting his fortune (in which he was perfectly versed), he was singularly destitute of knowledge and understanding. He was a justice of the peace; but he knew little or nothing of the law which he was supposed to administer, and, on account of the reckless exercise of his magisterial authority, had 'had two pieces of information exhibited against him in the King's Bench'. On almost every subject that could interest an intelligent being, he displayed 'more than Gothic ignorance'.

      An Unreasonable Man. He was the most excitable, the most emotional, and the most unreasonable of men. Everything that he said or did was violent and extravagant 'for he had not the least command over' any of his passions, and that which had, at any time, the ascendant in his mind hurried 'him to the wildest excesses'. Thus when a partridge was shot by trespassers on his estate, he stormed and raged 'in as high terms and as bitter language as if his house had been broken open, and the most valuable furniture stolen out of it'. When a maid servant was insolvent, he swore twenty oaths he would sent her to Bridewell, and was only deterred from this illegal proceeding by the expostulation of his clerk. His irrationality is best exemplified by his treatment of his daughter. He was really devoted to this girl; yet, because she refused to acquiesce in his plans for her welfare, he did not hesitate to use her cruelly. The very fact of her daring to fall in love, without his permission, enraged him. 'How! in love!' he cried in a passion, in love, without acquainting me! I'll disinherit her; I'll turn her out of doors, stark naked, without a farthing. Is all my kindness, favor, and fondness of her come to this, to fall in love without asking me leave? When he learned that the object of her affection was Tom Jones, he boiled over with fury. I will turn her outdoors; she shall beg and starve, and rot in the streets. Not one ha'penny, not a ha'penny shall she ever have of mine.' He was revolved that she should marry Blifil, whether she would or not. The match, which involved the ultimate joining of two rich estates, was a sound business proposition, and his whole heart was set upon it. 'I tell thee it will preserve me,' he vociferated to Sophia, it will give me health, happiness, life, everything. Upon my soul, I shall die if dost refuse me I shall break my heart I shall, upon my soul. Then, when she still resisted, he clenched his fist and bit his lips, and bellowed his determination that the marriage should take place, though she should hang herself the next morning.

      A Barbarian. The man was a barbarian. His landlady considered him a very hardish kind of a gentleman; his sister pronounced him absolutely a perfect Groat; Lady Bellas ton honored him with the appellation of 'Hottentot'. Yet, with all his boorishness and brutality, he was not altogether disreputable. He was capable of a rough sort of kindness; and his love for his girl—which, though oddly exhibited, was absolutely genuine—did, to some extent, humanize and civilize him.

      His Inglorious Encounter with Captain Egglane — His Drawbacks. In the story of Squire Western there is one incident—his inglorious encounter with Captain Egglane—which has been censured by Scott. As an English Squire, wrote that critic, Western ought not to have taken a beating so unresistingly. We half suspect that the passage is an interpolation. It is inconsistent with the Squire's readiness to engage in rustic affrays. But the account is certainly not an interpolation, nor is Western's behavior, as here described, really inconsistent with his character. It is true that he was apt to bluster about lending 'a flict' or 'a douse' to anyone who annoyed him; that he threatened to 'tick' Tom Jones, to 'whip in' parson Supple, and even to 'lick the jacket' off Lord Fellamar, if he would lay by the 'spit' that was dangling at his side; also, that he did once fight parson Thwackum, and beat him, though the clergyman had been a champion boxer in his youth. But though Western talked big, and was ready enough, when roused, to use his fists, there is no evidence that he was a particularly brave man. Moreover, on this occasion, he was completely disconcerted by the strangeness of his surroundings and tlie unexpectedness of the event. He was in London; where he had been only twice in his life before, and the manners and customs whereof were absolutely unknown to him. It does not seem to have entered his mind that he could not affront a peer of the realm, and give the lie to an officer of the army, with the impunity with which he was wont to browbeat country boys and parsons. Suddenly, he was confronted by a professional soldier—probably one of those military bullies that were often retained in the service of persons of station—who addressed him in language of ceremony which he could not comprehend, and then, Without warning, assaulted him with a cane while he himself had no weapon at hand. It is not unnatural that, in these circumstances, he should have fallen momentarily into a panic. Even so, however, he did not show himself quite a coward; for, notwithstanding his agitation, he managed to splutter out a challenge to a fight with bare fists, or with single stick in the yard. In the ludicrous scene, there is nothing incredible.

      A Burlesque Character. Western is the greatest among Fielding's burlesque characters. Like the caricatures of Dickens, he exists in his brilliant dialogue; in this way, the dramatist became the novelist. Whenever he talks, he comes to life. But he differs from the caricatures of Smollett in that he does not remain flat and static. He is always changing, revealing new facets of himself. E. M. Forster said of Dickens's caricatures, that their immense vitality suggests 'there may be more in flatness than the severer admit' (Aspects of the Novel); and Western, even if he is a caricature, is one of the most vital characters in English fiction. What is extraordinary to us, is that we can dislike him so profoundly, and then love him. In this respect, he illustrates Fielding's thesis that men are rarely entirely bad or entirely good. Here, for example, in Book VII, Chapter 4, we see Western at his worst:

For this last, and many other good reasons, Western at length heartily hated his wife; and as he never concealed this hatred before her death, so he never forgot it afterwards, but when anything in the least soured him, bad scenting day, or a distemper among his hounds, or any other such misfortune, he constantly vented his spleen by invectives against the deceased, saying, "if my wife was alive now, she would be glad of this."

      Sophia had tenderly loved her mother, whom the Squire had treated like a 'faithful upper servant.' His treatment of his daughter veers wildly from the maudlin to savage brutality, That he' un? Shat ha' un?' he shouts at her in Book XV, Chapter 5. After an earlier scene, Jones finds her with the tears trickling from her eyes and the blood dripping from her lips. In contrast to this is his feeble performance before Fellamar's emissary, calling with a challenge to a duel in Book XVI Chapter 12, or his weak surrender to his sister when she seems in danger of leaving her fortune to somebody else in Book VII, Chapter 5.

      He has a Joy of Life. But at other times, he is delightful. In Book XII, Chapter 2, as he proceeds on the high road after Sophia, he begins to 'bemoan himself most bitterly. When Parson Supple starts to sympathize he says, "Pogh! Den the slut I am lamenting the loss of so fine a morning for hunting." A few moments later, he hears the 'melodious throats' of a pack of hounds and we know he is out of the chase for Sophia and Jones. We love him for his eagerness, and his childish impulsiveness. He wants to get on with the marriage as he wants to commit Mrs. Honour to Bridewell for her ill-breeding. His clerk has to dissuade him gently from the latter. There is at least one occasion when he threatens to 'lend a flick' as he puts it, to Allworthy. He has a joy of life which is wonderful on small occasions. "I can tell you, the landlord is a vast comical bitch; you will like him hugely" he says to Allworthy in London, and at moments like this, we seem to breathe the spirit of the 18th century. At other times, he can be strangely moving:

Here Blifil sighed bitterly; upon which Western, whose eyes were full of tears at the praise of Sophia, blubbered out, 'Don’t be chicken-hearted, for shat ha' her; d-n me, shat ha' her, if she was twenty times as good.'

      Weak more than demoniac. Basically, of course, he is weak; as he says revealingly to Allworthy, "I do not know how 'tis, but d—n me, Allworthy, if you do not make me always do just as you please."

      But we remember him finally from the scene in Book XVI, Chapter 2:

'D—n me if. shat Un. D—n me if shat un, though dost hang thyself the next morning.' A repeating which words he clenched his fist, knit his brows, bit his lips, and thundered so loud, that the poor afflicted, terrified Sophia sunk trembling into her chair.

      Western, like Thwackum, is a demoniac character. He is an adult from a child's nightmare, given to elemental fury - 'the froth bursting forth from his lips the moment they were uncorked. Laughter prevents us from being horrified by him.

      Conclusion. Squire Western, as has already been said, is very diffeient from Allworthy. Mr. Western is given to fits of violent temper, and to cursing. Even as he loves his daughter very dearly, he cannot understand, for less approve of her deep dislike of Blifil and her emotional attachment to Tom Jones. He wants her to marry Blifil even against her wishes, and when in Book VI, Chapter 7, Sophia pleads with him:

"Can the best of fathers break my heart? Will he kill me by the most painful, cruel, lingering death ?" — he snaps, very cruelly —"Pooh pooh !.....all stuff and nonsense; all maidenish tricks; I am resolved upon the match."

      Thereby he only makes himself miserable. Squire Western "was a great lover of music" but, true to his character, he liked only light music. Anyway, whatever little strain of music he had, lay submerged in the roar of his violent actions and temperament, as Hamilton Macallister remarks.

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