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Abstract

In the flood of reversals and recognitions that marks the closing chapters of Tom Jones, one act of restoration can easily be lost. Given that Tom, in a matter of hours, goes from prison and the prospect of the gallows to a triumphant place as Allworthy's heir and Sophia's husband, the recovery of the £500 in banknotes he lost on the day he was exiled from Paradise Hall seems like a small matter, no more than a precise balancing of the books in this, the most symmetrical of novels. But among the few brush-strokes that Fielding employs to conclude this business, there is one odd comment--odd, at least, for anyone with a knowledge of eighteenth-century criminal law. Allworthy, having discovered the money and identified Black George as the culprit, asks Lawyer Dowling what legal recourse he has. The question is a tricky one, and Dowling is cautious. George did not, after all, directly steal the money; he found it on the ground and kept it. The lawyer answers that George "might be indicted on the Black Act; but said, as it was a Matter of some Nicety, it would be proper to go to Counsel." A few chapters later, he reports that no criminal charges are possible, only an action of trover, by which the banknotes could be recovered as lost property.

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