Friday, 27 August 2010

18th Century Literary Wrestling

Henry Fielding, one of the least snotty of the 18th century novelists, includes an anecdote of a brawl in an inn in his novel Joseph Adams. It is reminiscent of modern wrestling matches with their highly choreographed moves and introduction of ever more colourful characters. The excerpt features the protagonist's friend, parson Abraham Adams, the host, his wife and the camber maid of Lady Booby, Joseph Andrews' former employer, who is satirically named Mrs. Slipslop. Joseph himself does not partake in the squabble, but is the occasion for it. He has fallen off parson Adams' horse and has his bruised leg tended to. The host enters the room and deprecates him for a weakling, whence the excerpt continues. Enjoy!
"Upon these words, Adams fetched two
strides across the room; and snapping his fingers over his head,
muttered aloud, He would excommunicate such a wretch for a farthing, for
he believed the devil had more humanity. These words occasioned a
dialogue between Adams and the host, in which there were two or three
sharp replies, till Joseph bad the latter know how to behave himself to
his betters. At which the host (having first strictly surveyed Adams)
scornfully repeating the word "betters," flew into a rage, and, telling
Joseph he was as able to walk out of his house as he had been to walk
into it, offered to lay violent hands on him; which perceiving, Adams
dealt him so sound a compliment over his face with his fist, that the
blood immediately gushed out of his nose in a stream. The host, being
unwilling to be outdone in courtesy, especially by a person of Adams's
figure, returned the favour with so much gratitude, that the parson's
nostrils began to look a little redder than usual. Upon which he again
assailed his antagonist, and with another stroke laid him sprawling on
the floor.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The hostess, who was a better wife than so surly a husband deserved,
seeing her husband all bloody and stretched along, hastened presently to
his assistance, or rather to revenge the blow, which, to all appearance,
was the last he would ever receive; when, lo! a pan full of hog's blood,
which unluckily stood on the dresser, presented itself first to her
hands. She seized it in her fury, and without any reflection, discharged
it into the parson's face; and with so good an aim, that much the
greater part first saluted his countenance, and trickled thence in so
large a current down to his beard, and over his garments, that a more
horrible spectacle was hardly to be seen, or even imagined. All which
was perceived by Mrs Slipslop, who entered the kitchen at that instant.
This good gentlewoman, not being of a temper so extremely cool and
patient as perhaps was required to ask many questions on this occasion,
flew with great impetuosity at the hostess's cap, which, together with
some of her hair, she plucked from her head in a moment, giving her, at
the same time, several hearty cuffs in the face; which by frequent
practice on the inferior servants, she had learned an excellent knack of
delivering with a good grace. Poor Joseph could hardly rise from his
chair; the parson was employed in wiping the blood from his eyes, which
had entirely blinded him; and the landlord was but just beginning to
stir; whilst Mrs Slipslop, holding down the landlady's face with her
left hand, made so dexterous an use of her right, that the poor woman
began to roar, in a key which alarmed all the company in the inn.

There happened to be in the inn, at this time, besides the ladies who
arrived in the stage-coach, the two gentlemen who were present at Mr
Tow-wouse's when Joseph was detained for his horse's meat, and whom we
have before mentioned to have stopt at the alehouse with Adams. There
was likewise a gentleman just returned from his travels to Italy; all
whom the horrid outcry of murder presently brought into the kitchen,
where the several combatants were found in the postures already

It was now no difficulty to put an end to the fray, the conquerors being
satisfied with the vengeance they had taken, and the conquered having no
appetite to renew the fight. The principal figure, and which engaged the
eyes of all, was Adams, who was all over covered with blood, which the
whole company concluded to be his own, and consequently imagined him no
longer for this world. But the host, who had now recovered from his
blow, and was risen from the ground, soon delivered them from this
apprehension, by damning his wife for wasting the hog's puddings, and
telling her all would have been very well if she had not intermeddled,
like a b--as she was; adding, he was very glad the gentlewoman had paid
her, though not half what she deserved. The poor woman had indeed fared
much the worst; having, besides the unmerciful cuffs received, lost a
quantity of hair, which Mrs Slipslop in triumph held in her left hand.

Fielding, Henry: The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams, London 1912, 118-120
(Transcription from, last visited 27.08.2010
Image:, last visited 27.08.2010

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