The History of Sandford and Merton Summary

Thomas Day


(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Little Tommy Merton was a headstrong, ill-tempered, and weak lad when he returned with his family to England from Jamaica. His first years had been spent in the company of slaves who pampered his whims, and his mother, who could see no wrong in her child, condoned everything he said or did. The child had no inclination to study, and so he could not read, write, or do arithmetic when he arrived in England. Mr. Merton, who was very wealthy, wished to improve his son, but he was at a loss to know where to begin.

Thanks to a lucky chance, Mr. Merton’s problem solved itself. When Tommy Merton was walking through the fields one day, a snake coiled itself about his leg. Only the timely appearance of a farmer boy, who tore the snake from Tommy’s leg, prevented serious injury. As a reward for his brave action, the farm boy, Harry Sandford, was invited to the Merton mansion for dinner. During the meal, he greatly displeased Mrs. Merton, for he refused to believe that the artificialities of the Merton home and all the paraphernalia of the rich were really worthwhile. Nevertheless, his philosophic attitude interested Mr. Merton, who, upon inquiry, learned that Harry Sandford was under the tutelage of the local clergyman, Mr. Barlow. Mr. Merton felt that his son needed some training to make him a better social being, and he made arrangements for Tommy to be boarded at Mr. Barlow’s vicarage and educated with little Harry.

The first few days at the vicarage were trying ones for Tommy. When he refused to help with the gardening, Mr. Barlow refused to let him eat. Then, when he went into tantrums, no one paid attention to him. Gradually, he learned that getting on in the world took greater abilities than simply demanding whatever one wanted. Under the tutelage of Mr. Barlow and with the example of Harry, he began to take an interest in what was going on about him. He became ashamed that he did not know how to read, and with great effort, he taught himself to do so. His desire was to read stories aloud, as Harry did. By means of these stories, Mr. Barlow imparted a great deal of information to the children.

From their reading, the boys also got ideas for various projects. They embarked, for example, on the building of a hut, to see if they could build one that would protect them from the weather, after they had read of sailors being cast away on uninhabited islands. Tommy also became interested in gardening after he learned that bread did not simply happen on the table at mealtimes. From the gardening, he went on to visit, along with Mr. Barlow and Harry, a mill where the grain was ground to make flour. He had never even heard of these processes in his earlier years when he was pampered as a rich man’s son.

The first sign of generosity on the part of Tommy came when he and...

(The entire section is 1149 words.)