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Henry Fielding


FIELDING, HENRY English novelist and playwright, was born at Sharpham Park, near Glastonbury, Somer set, on April 22, 1707. The family removed later to East Stour, Dorset. His father, Lieut. Edmund Fielding, was a grandson of the earl of Desmond, who belonged to the younger branch of the Denbigh family. Sarah Fielding was Henry's sister. Up to the time of his mother's death Fielding was educated by a clergy man named Oliver, and then went to Eton, probably as an oppi dan. If we may believe his first biographer, Arthur Murphy, he left Eton "uncommonly versed in the Greek authors, and an early master of the Latin classics"—a statement which should perhaps be qualified by his own words to Sir Robert Walpole in 173o: Tuscan and French are in my head; Latin I write, and Greek—I read.

Winnington and Hanbury-Williams were among his friends at Eton. The chief, however, was George, later Baron, Lyttelton, of Frankley.

When Fielding left Eton is unknown. But in Nov. 1725 he 'as staying at Lyme and apparently bent on carrying off, if necessary by force, a local heiress, Miss Sarah Andrew, whose fluttered guardians promptly hurried her away, and married her to some one else (Athenaeum, June 2, 1883) . He consoled himself by translating part of Juvenal's sixth satire into verse as "All the Re venge taken by an injured Lover." After this he must have lived the usual life of a young man about town, and probably at this date improved the acquaintance of his second cousin, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, to whom he inscribed his first comedy, Love in Several Masques (Drury lane, Feb. 1728). Almost immediately afterwards (March 16), Fielding entered himself as "Stud. Lit." at Leyden university. He had apparently left before the annual registration of Feb. 173o; and in Jan. 173o he brought out a second comedy at the newly-opened theatre in Goodman's Fields. Like its predecessor, the Temple Beau was an essay in the vein of Congreve and Wycherley. His chief dramatic successes, from a critical point of view, the Author's Farce (173o) and Tom Thumb (173o, 1731), were burlesques; and he was also fortunate in two translations from Moliere, the Mock Doctor (173 2) and the Miser • On Nov. 28, 1734, he married Charlotte Cra dock of Salisbury, at St. Mary Charlcombe, near Bath (see Mac millan's Magazine, April 1907), and early in 1735, he seems for a time to have retired with his bride to his old home at East Stour. Early in March, 1736, he was back again managing the Hay market theatre with a so-called "Great Mogul's Company of English Comedians." This new enterprise opened well. The first piece (produced on March 5) was Pasquin, a Dramatick Satire on the Times. Its success was unmistakable; and its author fol lowed it up by the Historical Register for the Year 1736, of which the effrontery was even more daring. But the Licensing Act of 1737, which restricted the number of theatres, rendered the lord chamberlain's licence an indispensable preliminary to stage representation, and—in a word—effectually put an end to Fielding's career as a dramatist.

As a means of support he reverted to the profession of the law and, in Nov. 1737, he entered the Middle 'Temple. He also did a good deal of literary work, the best known of which is contained in the Champion, a "News-Journal" of the Spectator type, under taken with James Ralph, whose poem of "Night" is made noto rious in the Dunciad. On June 20, 1740, Fielding was called to the bar, and occupied chambers in Pump Court. He travelled the Western Circuit, and attended the Wiltshire sessions. Although, with the Champion, he professed, for the time, to have relinquished periodical literature, he still wrote at intervals, but whether he actually wrote the famous Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741), a parody of Pamela, as Richardson certainly thought, is quite uncertain.

In any case it is certain that the reading of Pamela was the point of departure of Fielding's first novel, Joseph Andrews, which made its appearance in Feb. 1742. Professing, on his title page, to imitate Cervantes, Fielding set out to cover Pamela with Homeric ridicule by transferring the heroine's embarrassments to a hero, supposed to be her brother. Fielding saw in Pamela's virtue a certain interested quality, and he set out to parody her in the person of Joseph. But the element of parody fell speedily into the background as its author warmed to his theme. His secondary speedily became his primary characters, and Lady Booby and Joseph Andrews do not interest us now as much as Mrs. Slipslop and Parson Adams—the latter a personage who ranks in literature with Sterne's "Uncle Toby" and Goldsmith's "Vicar." By the time he had reached his second volume, he had convinced himself that he had inaugurated a new fashion of fiction; and in a remarkable "Preface" he announced his discovery. Postulating that the epic might be "comic" or "tragic" prose or verse, he claimed to have achieved what he termed the "Comic Epos in Prose," of which the action was "ludicrous" rather than "sublime," and the personages selected from society at large, rather than the restricted ranks of conventional high life. His plan was happily adapted to his gifts of humour, satire, and above all, irony. That it was matured when it began may perhaps be doubted, but it was certainly matured when it ended. Indeed, except for the plot, which, in his picaresque first idea, had not preceded the con ception, Joseph Andrews has all the characteristics of Tom Jones.

Fielding's next important publication was the three volumes of Miscellanies issued by subscription in April, 1743• These com prised some early poems, some essays, a Lucianic fragment entitled a Journey from this World to the Next, and, last but not least, occupying the entire final volume, the History of the Life of the late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great. It is probable that Jonathan Wild was actually written before Joseph Andrews. Tak ing for his ostensible hero a well-known thief-taker, who had been hanged in 1725, Fielding proceeds to illustrate, by a mock heroic account of his progress to Tyburn, the general proposition that greatness without goodness is no better than badness. He will not go so far as to say that all "Human Nature is Newgate with the Mask on"; but he evidently regards the description as fairly applicable to a good many so-called great people. Irony (and especially irony neat) is not a popular form of literary art; and the remorseless pertinacity with which Fielding pursues his demonstration is to many readers discomforting and even dis tasteful. Yet—in spite of Scott—Jonathan Wild has its softer pages; and as a purely intellectual conception it is not surpassed by any of the author's works. It will always remain a master piece of that irony which is based on understatement.

The events of Fielding's life, both before and after the publi cation of Jonathan IVild, are obscure. He had become early a martyr to gout, and his wife died of fever in his arms, leaving him for the time so stunned and bewildered by grief that his friends feared for his reason. In Nov. 1747 he married his wife's maid, Mary Daniel, at St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf ; and in Dec. 1748 he was made a principal justice of peace for Middlesex and Westminster, an office which put him in possession of a house in Bow street, and f 30o per annum "of the dirtiest money upon earth." Meanwhile he had intermittently occupied himself in composing his second great novel, Tom Jones; or, the History of a Found ling, published in June 1748, with a dedication to Lyttelton. In Torn Jones Fielding systematically developed the "new Province of Writing," in which he had made a beginning in Joseph An drews. He paid closer attention to the construction and evolution of the plot; he elaborated the initial essays to each book, which provide part of its unending interest, and he compressed into his work the flower and fruit of his forty years' experience of life. He has, indeed, no character quite up to the level of Parson Adams, but his Westerns and Partridges, his Allworthys and Blifils, his parson Thwackum and his philosopher Square, have the inestimable gift of life. He drew pictures of ordinary human ity with absolute truthfulness, neither extenuating nor disguising defects and shortcomings. The bill of fare he provided for his readers he himself describes in the introduction of Book I. as "human nature" pure and simple. As for his purpose and method he says in the Dedication : "I have employed all the wit and hu mour of which I am master, in the following history; wherein I have endeavoured to laugh mankind out of their favourite follies and vices." Incidentally he produced a "document" of unrivalled excellence on the social life of the England of his time. Tom Jones follows the picaresque method of Joseph Andrews, but its plot, in spite of great diversity of its characters, the amazing vari ety of its incidents, and its vast canvas, has a unity and coherence which is new.

Henry Fielding

Much of Tom Jones has become classic. Take the dispute be tween Thwackum and Square on the definition of honour. "Hon our," says Thwackum, "is not therefore manifold, because there are many absurd opinions about it ; nor is religion manifold, be cause there are various sects and heresies in the world. When I mention religion, I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only the Protestant religion, but the Church of England. And when I mention honour, I mean that mode of Divine grace which is not only consistent with, but dependent upon, this religion; and is consistent with and dependent upon no other. . . ." Square in his reply says : "I have asserted that true honour and true virtue are almost synonymous terms, and they are both founded on the unalterable rule of right, and the eternal fitness of things; to which an untruth being absolutely repugnant and contrary, it is certain that true honour cannot support an untruth." Meanwhile Fielding was taking his duties as a magistrate seri ously. His novels provide abundant evidence of his view of the unsatisfactory state of penal law and administration. In May 1749 he became chairman of quarter sessions at Westminster, and in 1751 he wrote an Enquiry into the Causes of the late Increase of Robbers, etc. These preoccupations left their mark on his next novel, Amelia (1752), which is more concerned with social problems and popular grievances than its forerunners. Amelia herself, in whom, as in the Sophia Western of Tom Jones, he reproduced the traits of his first wife, is certainly, as Johnson admitted, "the most pleasing heroine of all the romances," and the drawing of Dr. Harrison and Col. Bath is admirable. But in he had been dangerously ill, and his health was visibly breaking. The f 1,000 which Millar is said to have given for Amelia must have been painfully earned. Pamphlets, and an unsuccessful newspaper adventure, the Covent Garden Journal (1752) followed. He resigned his post as magistrate, and tried various specifics to restore his health. Finally he tried change to a warmer climate. On June 26, 1754, he accordingly left for Lis bon, in the "Queen of Portugal." The protracted discomforts of the sick man and his family on this voyage are narrated at length in the posthumous tract entitled the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, which, with a fragment of a comment on Bolingbroke's then recently issued essays, was published in Feb. 1755 "for the Benefit of his (Fielding's) Wife and Children." Reaching Lisbon at last in Aug. 1754, he died there two months later (Oct. 8) and was buried in the English cemetery, where a monument was erected to him in 183o. Luget Britannia gremio non dari fovere natum is inscribed upon it.

There is but one absolutely authentic portrait of Fielding, a familiar outline by Hogarth, executed from memory for Andrew Millar's edition of his works in 1762. It is the likeness of a man broken by ill-health and affords but faint indication of the hand some Harry Fielding, who in his salad days "warmed both hands bef ore the fire of life." Fielding has a great place in the history of the English novel. If the Spectator is to be credited with foreshadowing the char acters of the novel, Defoe with its earliest form, and Richardson with its experiments in sentimental analysis, it is to Henry Field ing that we owe its first accurate delineation of contemporary manners. He owed much to Don Quixote, something to the best of the French picaresque novels, but his own creation was different from that of any of his predecessors. Fielding drew a large and varied picture of life, of people neither good nor bad, but human, with a tolerance and a humour and penetrating in sight which are rare enough. Fielding is the master from whom Dickens and Thackeray and the great school of the English Victorian novelists descend.

Among the many editions of Fielding's works may be mentioned those edited by A. Murphy (1762), G. Saintsbury (1893) , E. Gosse (1899) ; the Harvard University edition (1903) , etc. For Fielding's life-work see A. Dobson, Fielding (1907) ; G. M. Godden, Henry Fielding (i9to) ; W. L. Cross, The History of Henry Fielding (Yale, 1918) ; F. T. Blanchard, The Novels of Fielding (Yale, 1926).

life, religion, joseph, fieldings, andrews, time and jones