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Tom Jones

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TOM JONES. 'The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling,' a novel by Henry Fielding, was published 28 Feb. 1749— a red-letter day in the calendar of English fiction, for this work in the opinion of many stands at the head of all novels ever written in our lan guage. It succeeded several most interesting experiments in the novel of contemporary man ners such as Richardson's 'Pamela' and Harlowe,' Smollett's 'Roderick Random,' and his own 'Joseph Andrews.' When Fielding wrote Jones,' his intel lect, wonderfully observant and penetrative, was in full maturity; his pen had been long prac tised in the drama and the essay and in fiction; his mind was highly cultivated in the ancient and modern literatures; he had associated with all classes of people, the high and the low, and he had thereby gained a knowledge of the men and women of his time unsurpassed by any one then living. His aim was to present the very form and pressure of the age, and on the effort he expended "some thousands of hours' Having in mind the ancient epics, he divided his novel into 16 books, each with an initial chapter on the art and morality of that "new province of writings which he claimed to be introducing to the British public. In its orig inal form, (Tom Jones' filled six volumes, containing, all told, about 350,000 words.

For his comprehensive view, Fielding began his delineation of character in the country with two Somerset gentlemen—Mr. Allworthy and Squire Western, the one a Hanoverian and the other a Jacobite. Into the household of All worthy he placed a sister, Bridget, her maid, Deborah, a pair of nephews, Tom Jones and Master Blifil and their tutors, Square the Deist and Thwackum, the orthodox divine. Into the household of Western he placed a sister, Diana, a daughter, Sophia and her maid and former nurse, Mrs. Honour. Then, after describing life in the country while Tom and Sophia were growing up, he brought most of his characters tip to London for contrast and interaction with more highly-seasoned men and women of the town. The manner in which Fielding con ducted his story, concealing until the end the mystery of Tom's birth has received the high est praise ever since the novel first appeared down to the eulogy by the late W. E. Henley. Scott, for example, likened the narrative to the easy flow of a river through lands affording wide prospects; Coleridge thought the nice structure of the plot was equaled only by that in the very greatest dramas, such as the '(Edipus' of Sophocles. And in general, little exception has ever been taken to Fielding's craftsmanship beyond his introduction of the tale of the 'Man of the Hill,' the matter of which a modern novelist would manage differ ently. It is not to be inferred that Fielding laid out a, plot by compass and rule. At the outset, he probably had in mind his conclusion, but nothing more. He wrote at leisure, rel membering what he had seen and heard, let ting his story develop as he proceeded, casting his mind backward and forward and gathering up at the end all the threads of his narrative into a consistent and impressive whole. This is the way that literary genius; in distinction from mere literary talent, works, and achieves its ends.

Apparently Fielding drew his characters in the main from real life. Where he followed his model too closely or where he deviated too far from it, his success was only partial. Allworthy, who had an original in Ralph Allen, the philanthropist of Bath, is altogether too good for this world; he lacks those elements which really make a man, lovable and humorous as he is. Likewise Blifil, for whom no orig

inal was ever claimed, is hardly more than a stage villian, whose hypocrisy is so transparent that it should have been detected long before it had a chance to work its mischief. Tkwackum and Square, though rather artificial creations, are always entertaining, for they have enough of reality to support their humorous preten sions. Partridge, the schoolmaster and barber, superstitious and afraid of his dreams, inter ested Voltaire greatly. Minor characters, like Diana Western, Mrs. Honour and Bridget worthy, are almost always admirable. For a superb creation we turn to Squire Western --I the fox-hunting squire who goes to bed drunk and gets up in the morning before daybreak to follow the hounds, who loves his daughter better than all other creatures except his kennel, who quarrels with his sister, swearing oaths referential. Under the excitement of Sophia's refusal to marry Blifil, he develops into a veritable whirlwind of contending pas sions. The height of the storm is reached in certain scenes with his sister, which, brutal as they are, have never been surpassed for humor in this language of ours. His daughter, Sophia, for whom Fielding's own wife, Charlotte Cra dock sat, is a portrait of unusual charm. She is a real woman depicted in all her beauty, fine breeding, self-poise, modesty, vivacity and independence when the inevitable struggle comes between paternal tyranny and the promptings of her own heart. She wins the first great battle in our fiction for the enfranchisement of her sex.

The crux of the novel has always been the hero, who resembles Fielding himself in tem perament hut not in the incidents of his career. He is kind, generous, chivalrous and perfectly honest, but he is lacking in practical sense, and so falls into all sorts of mistakes ih conduct. He loves Sophia desperately and would win her at all hazards. This passion, however, does not protect him against the allurement of other women, and herein lies the trouble. Generous critics overlook the boy's affairs with Molly Seagrim and Mrs. Waters, but they halt at the intrigue with Lady Bellaston. Had Fielding thrown in a word of explanation over that in trigue, Coleridge would have excused all. Here arises a question that may be interminably de bated. Fielding himself thought no explanation necessary. He depicted the young man of his time as he was without comment. In thus keep ing his art true to nature he acted rightly.

The influence of 'Tom Jones) cannot be well considered apart from the influence of Fielding's other works. The novel was im mediately translated into French, Dutch and German, and subsequently into Spanish, Italian, Polish and Russian. The French imitated it, dramatized parts of it and turned it into a comic opera. The Germans appropriated its disquisitions on the art of fiction and to some extent wrote novels in its style. has probably been reprinted in English a hun dred and fifty times. To pass by a host of imi tations, it suggested the general outline of plot to Scott for his first novel; its spirit permeates the best work of Thackeray, and was written in direct imita tion. In short, to Jones' nearly all suc ceeding novelists are indebted who have aimed to depict life, not as it ought to be, but as it really is. Since Fielding's day fiction has ex tended its scope to include things never dreamed of by him; but for method, manner and pro cedure his art is the source. Scott called him the Father of the English