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.
Stevenson, John Allen
"Black George and the Black Act,"
3, Article 7.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol8/iss3/7