The Man of the Hill’s long story may seem digressive enough, but in its early stages, Fielding interrupts it with another tale. Partridge, ever ready further to dilate this dilatory novel, insists on telling “a very short Story” (458) about a trial for horse theft that he had witnessed years before. The interruption occurs at just the moment when we learn that the Man’s own trial, for the theft of forty guineas from his Oxford friend, has been dismissed because the victim did not show up to testify. That testimony would have meant, the old eccentric tells us, certain conviction and—given the law—a death sentence. Partridge intends his story as a kind of complement to the Man of the Hill’s tale of failed prosecution: he recounts a trial where such testimony was given, with dire consequences, not only as we might expect for the accused, but also for the witness. These two instances—the indictment and near-trial of the Man of the Hill, and Partridge’s account of the court where the horse thief is tried and condemned—are, in fact, almost the only two formal legal proceedings in Tom Jones.
KeywordsCriminal Justice System Eighteenth Century Police Force Legal Practice Real History
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