Henry Fielding: A Memoir by G. M. Godden

Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Robert Connal and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. HENRY FIELDING _A MEMOIR_ INCLUDING NEWLY DISCOVERED LETTERS AND RECORDS WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM CONTEMPORARY PRINTS BY G. M. GODDEN “I am a man myself, and my heart is interested in whatever can befall the rest of mankind.” JOSEPH ANDREWS. PREFACE New
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  • 1909
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Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Robert Connal and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.





“I am a man myself, and my heart is interested in whatever can befall the rest of mankind.”



New material alone could justify any attempt to supplement the _Fielding_ of Mr Austin Dobson. Such material has now come to light, and together with reliable facts collected by previous biographers, forms the subject matter of the present volume. As these pages are concerned with Fielding the man, and not only with Fielding the most original if not the greatest of English novelists, literary criticism has been avoided; but all incidents, disclosed by hitherto unpublished documents, or found hidden in the columns of contemporary newspapers, which add to our knowledge of Fielding’s personality, have been given.

The new material includes records of Fielding’s childhood; documents concerning his estate in Dorsetshire; the date and place, hitherto undiscovered, of that central event in his life, the death of his beloved wife, whose memorial was to be the imperishable figure of “Sophia Western”; letters, now first published, adding to our knowledge of his energies in social and legislative reform, and of the circumstances of his life; many extracts from the columns of the daily press of the period; notices, hitherto overlooked, from his contemporaries; and details from the unexplored archives of the Middlesex Records concerning his strenuous work as a London magistrate. The few letters by Fielding already known to exist have been doubled in number; and a reason for the extraordinary rarity of these letters has been found in the unfortunate destruction, many years ago, of much of his correspondence. The charm of the one intimate letter that we possess from the pen of the ‘Father of the English Novel,’ that written to his brother John, during the voyage to Lisbon, enhances regret at the loss of these letters.

Among the contemporary prints now first reproduced that entitled the _Conjurors_ is of special interest, as being the only sketch of Fielding, drawn during his lifetime, known to exist. Rough as it is, the characteristic figure of the man, as described by his contemporaries and drawn from memory in Hogarth’s familiar plate, is perfectly apparent. The same characteristics may be distinguished in a small figure of the novelist introduced into the still earlier political cartoon, entitled the _Funeral of Faction_.

Such in brief are the reasons for the existence of this volume. It remains to express my warmest acknowledgment of Mr Austin Dobson’s unfailing counsel and assistance. My thanks are also due to Mr Ernest Fielding for permission to reproduce the miniature which appears as the frontispiece; to Mr Aubrey Court, of the House of Lords; to Mr E. S. W. Hart, for his help throughout the necessary researches among the Middlesex Records; to Mrs Deane of Gillingham; and to Mr Frederick Shum of Bath. And I am indebted to Mr Sidney Colvin, Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, in regard to almost every one of the thirty-two rare prints and cartoons now reproduced.


_October_ 26, 1909.

















_Joseph Andrews_


THE _Miscellanies_ AND _Jonathan Wild_




_Tom Jones_













_From photographs by Marie Leon_.

Henry Fielding
_From a miniature now in the possession of Mr Ernest Fielding._

Sharpham House, showing the room in which Fielding was born _from a print published in 1826_.

Sir Henry Gould
_From a mezzotint by J. Hardy_.

_From an engraving of a drawing by Cozens_.

Anne Oldfield
_From a mezzotint of a painting by J. Richardson_.

_From an engraving of a drawing by C. Pronk_.

Kitty Clive as Philida
_From a mezzotint of a painting by Veter van Bleeck, junr. 1735._

Frontispiece to Fielding’s “Tom Thumb” _By Hogarth_.

The Close, Salisbury–1798
_From an acquatint of a drawing by E. Dayes_.

Charlcombe Church, near Bath
_From an engraving of a drawing made in 1784_.

Fielding’s house, East Stour, Dorsetshire _From a print published in Hutchins’ “History of Dorsetshire,” 1813_.

Sir Robert Walpole–1740
_From a contemporary cartoon_.

_From a cartoon depicting a scene in “Pasquin” in which Harlequinades, etc., triumph aver legitimate drama. Pope is leaving a box. The Signature “W. Hogarth” is doubtful_.

Cartoon celebrating the success of “Pasquin” _From a contemporary cartoon showing Fielding, supported by Shakespeare, receiving an ample reward, while to Harlequin and his other opponents is accorded a halter_.

The Little Theatre in the Haymarket
_From an engraving by Dale, showing the demolition of the Little Theatre in 1821_.

The Green Room, Drury Lane
_From the painting by Hogarth, in the possession of Sir Edward Tennant_.

The Temple–1738
_From an engraving of a drawing by J. Nicholas_.

Henry Fielding holding the Banner of the “Champion” newspaper _From a contemporary cartoon showing Sir Robert Walpole laughing at the “Funeral” of an Opposition Motion in Parliament_.

Cartoon showing Fielding, in Wig and Gown, as a supporter of the Opposition
_From a print of 1741_.

Henry Fielding reading at the Bedford Arms _From the frontispiece to Sir John Fielding’s “Jests.”_

Assignment for “Joseph Andrews”
_From the autograph now in the South Kensington Museum_.

Beaufort Buildings, Strand, in 1725
_From a watercolour drawing by Paul Sandby, 1725_.

Prior Park, near Bath, the seat of Ralph Allen, 1750 _From an engraving of a contemporary drawing_.

George, First Baron Lyttelton
_From a portrait by an unknown artist_.

Theatre Ticket for Fielding’s “Mock Doctor” _The signature “W. Hogarth” is doubtful_.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu–1710
_From an engraving by Caroline Watson, from a miniature in the possession of the Marquis of Bute_.

The Bow Street Police Court, Sir John Fielding presiding _From the “Newgate Calendar”_, 1795.

Edward Moore
_From a frontispiece in Chalmers’ “British Essayists”_ 1817.

Sir John Fielding
_From a mezzotint of a painting by Nathaniel Hone, R.A._

Ralph Allen
_From a chalk drawing by W. Hoare, R.A._

Henry Fielding
_From an engraving of a pen and ink sketch, made by Hogarth after Fielding’s death_.

Henry Fielding, defending Betty Canning from her accusers, the Lord Mayor, Dr Hill, and the Gipsy
_From a contemporary print, now first reproduced, and the only known sketch of Fielding made during his lifetime_.

Justice Saunders Welch
_From an engraving of a sketch by Hogarth_.

_From an engraving of a drawing by Charles Tomkins_.

_From a mezzotint of a drawing by Noel_.

The design on the cover is a copy, slightly enlarged, of an impression of Fielding’s seal, attached to an autograph letter in the British Museum.




“I shall always be so great a pedant as to call a man of no learning a man of no education.”–_Amelia_.

Henry Fielding was born at Sharpham Park, near Glastonbury, on the 22nd of April 1707. His birth-room, a room known as the Harlequin Chamber, looked out over the roof of a building which once was the private chapel of the abbots of Glastonbury; for Sharpham Park possessed no mean history. Built in the sixteenth century by that distinguished prelate, scholar, and courtier Abbot Richard Beere, the house had boasted its chapel, hall, parlour, chambers, storehouses and offices; its fishponds and orchards; and a park in which might be kept some four hundred head of deer. It was in this fair demesne that the aged, pious, and benevolent Abbot Whiting, Abbot Richard’s successor, was seized by the king’s commissioners, and summarily hung, drawn, and quartered on the top of the neighbouring Tor Hill. Sharpham thereupon “devolved” upon the crown; but the old house remained, standing in peaceful seclusion where the pleasant slope of Polden Hill overlooks the Somersetshire moors, till the birth of the ‘father of the English Novel’ brought a lasting distinction to the domestic buildings of Abbot Beere. In the accompanying print, published in 1826, the little window of the Harlequin Chamber may be seen, above the low roofs of the abbots’ chapel.

That Henry Fielding should have been born among buildings raised by Benedictine hands is not incongruous; for no man ever more heartily preached and practised the virtue of open-handed charity; none was more ready to scourge the vices of arrogance, cruelty and avarice; no English novelist has left us brighter pictures of innocence and goodness. And it was surely a happy stroke of that capricious Fortune to whom Fielding so often refers, to allot a Harlequin Chamber for the birth of the author of nineteen comedies; and yet more appropriate to the robust genius of the Comic Epic was the accident that placed on the wall, beneath the window of his birth-room, a jovial jest in stone. For here some sixteenth-century humorist had displayed the arms of Abbot Beere in the form of a convivial rebus or riddle–to wit, a cross and two beer flagons.

Soon after the Civil Wars, Sharpham passed into the hands of the ‘respectable family’ of Gould. By the Goulds the house was considerably enlarged; and, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, was in the possession of a distinguished member of the family, Sir Henry Gould, Knight, and Judge of the King’s Bench. Sir Henry had but two children, a son Davidge Gould, and a daughter Sarah. This only daughter married a well-born young soldier, the Hon. Edmund Fielding; a marriage which, according to family assertions, was without the consent of her parents and “contrary to their good likeing.” [1] And it was in the old home of the Somersetshire Goulds that the eldest son of this marriage, Henry Fielding, was born.

Thus on the side of his mother, Sarah Gould, Fielding belonged to just that class of well-established country squires whom later he was to immortalise in the beautiful and benevolent figure of Squire Allworthy, and in the boisterous, brutal, honest Western. And the description of Squire Allworthy’s “venerable” house, with its air of grandeur “that struck you with awe,” its position on the sheltered slope of a hill enjoying “a most charming prospect of the valley beneath,” its surroundings of a wild and beautiful park, well-watered meadows fed with sheep, the ivy-grown ruins of an old abbey, and far-off hills and sea, preserves, doubtless, the features of the ancient and stately domain owned by the novelist’s grandfather.

If it was to the ‘respectable’ Goulds that Fielding owed many of his rural and administrative characteristics, such as that practical zeal and ability which made him so excellent a magistrate, it is in the family of his father that we find indications of those especial qualities of vigour, of courage, of the generous and tolerant outlook of the well-born man of the world, that characterise Henry Fielding. And it is also in these Fielding ancestors that something of the reputed wildness of their brilliant kinsman may be detected.

For in her wilful choice of Edmund Fielding for a husband, Sir Henry Gould’s only daughter brought, assuredly, a disturbing element into the quiet Somersetshire home. The young man was of distinguished birth, even if he was not, as once asserted, of the blood royal of the Hapsburgs. [2] His ancestor, Sir John Fielding, had received a knighthood for bravery in the French wars of the fourteenth century. A Sir Everard Fielding led a Lancastrian army during the Wars of the Roses. Sir William, created Earl of Denbigh, fell fighting for the king in the Civil Wars, where, says Clarendon, “he engaged with singular courage in all enterprises of danger”; a phrase which recalls the description of Henry Fielding “that difficulties only roused him to struggle through them with a peculiar spirit and magnanimity.” Lord Denbigh fell, covered with wounds, when fighting as a volunteer in Prince Rupert’s troop; while his eldest son, Basil, then a mere youth, fought as hotly for the Parliament. Lord Denbigh’s second son, who like his father was a devoted loyalist, received a peerage, being created Earl of Desmond; and two of his sons figure in a wild and tragic story preserved by Pepys. “In our street,” says the Diarist, writing in 1667, “at the Three Tuns Tavern I find a great hubbub; and what was it but two brothers had fallen out and one killed the other. And who s’d. they be but the two Fieldings; one whereof, Bazill, was page to my Lady Sandwich; and he hath killed the other, himself being very drunk, and so is sent to Newgate.” It was a brother of these unhappy youths, John Fielding, a royal chaplain and Canon of Salisbury, who by his marriage with a Somersetshire lady, became father of Edmund Fielding.

Such was Henry Fielding’s ancestry, and it cannot be too much insisted on that, throughout all the vicissitudes of his life, he was ever a man of breeding, no less than a man of wit. “His manners were so gentlemanly,” said his friend Mrs Hussey, “that even with the lower classes with which he frequently condescended to chat, such as Sir Roger de Coverley’s old friends, the Vauxhall watermen, they seldom outstepped the limits of propriety.” And a similar recognition comes from the hand of a great, and not too friendly, critic. To “the very last days of his life,” wrote Thackeray, “he retained a grandeur of air, and although worn down by disease his aspect and presence imposed respect on the people around him.”

This Denbigh ancestry recalls a pleasant example of Fielding’s wit, preserved in a story told by his son, and recorded in the pages of that voluminous eighteenth-century anecdotist, John Nichols. “Henry Fielding,” says Nichols, “being once in company with the Earl of Denbigh, and the conversation’s turning on Fielding’s being of the Denbigh family, the Earl asked the reason why they spelt their names differently; the Earl’s family doing it with the E first (Feilding), and Mr Henry Fielding with the I first (Fielding). ‘I cannot tell, my Lord,’ answered Harry, ‘except it be that my branch of the family were the first that knew how to spell.'”

In accordance with the fighting traditions of his race, Edmund Fielding went into the army; his name appearing as an ensign in the 1st Foot Guards. Also, as became a Fielding, he distinguished himself, we are told, in the “Wars against France with much Bravery and Reputation”; and it was probably owing to active service abroad that the birth of his eldest son took place in his wife’s old Somersetshire home. The date fits in well enough with the campaigns of Ramilies, Oudennarde and Malplaquet. Soon after Henry’s birth, however, his father had doubtless left the Low Countries, for, about 1709, he appears as purchasing the colonelcy of an Irish Regiment. This regiment was ordered, in 1710, to Spain; but before that year the colonel and his wife and son had a separate home provided for them, by the care of Sir Henry Gould. At what precise date is uncertain, but some time before 1710, Sir Henry had purchased an estate at East Stour in Dorsetshire, consisting of farms and lands of the value of L4750, intending to settle some or the whole of the same on his daughter and her children. And already, according to a statement by the colonel, the old judge had placed his son-in-law in possession of some or all of this purchase, sending him oxen to plough his ground, and promising him a “Dairye of Cows.” Sir Henry moreover had, said his son-in-law, declared his intention “to spend the vacant Remainder of his life,” sometimes with his daughter, her husband, and children at Stour, and sometimes with his son Davidge, presumably at Sharpham. But in March, 1710, Sir Henry’s death frustrated his planned retirement in the Vale of Stour; although three years later, in 1713, his intentions regarding a Dorsetshire home for his daughter were carried out by the conveyance to her [3] and her children of the Stour estate, for her sole enjoyment. The legal documents are careful to recite that the rents and profits should be paid to Mrs Fielding or her children, and her receipt given, and that the said Edmund “should have nothing to do nor intermeddle therewith.”

In this settlement of the East Stour farms, to the greater part of which Henry Fielding, then six years old, would be joint heir with his sisters, Colonel Fielding himself seems to have had to pay no less than L1750, receiving therefor “a portion of the said lands.” So by 1713 both Edmund Fielding and his wife were settled, as no inconsiderable landowners, among the pleasant meadows of Stour; and there for the next five years Henry’s early childhood was passed. Indeed, Mrs Fielding must have been at Stour when her eldest son was but three years old, for the baptism of a daughter, Sarah, appears in the Stour registers in November 1710. This entry is followed by the baptism of Anne in 1713, of Beatrice in 1714, of Edmund in 1716, and by the death of Anne in the last-named year, Henry being then nine years old.

According to Arthur Murphy, Fielding’s earliest and too often inaccurate biographer, the boy received “the first rudiments of his education at home, under the care of the Revd. Mr Oliver.” Mr Oliver was the curate of Motcombe, a neighbouring village; and we have the authority of Murphy and of Hutchins, the historian of Dorset, for finding ‘a very humorous and striking portrait’ of this pedagogue in the Rev. Mr Trulliber, the pig-breeding parson of _Joseph Andrews_. If this be so, Harry Fielding’s first tutor at Stour was of a figure eminently calculated to foster the comic genius of his pupil. “He” (Trulliber), wrote that pupil, some thirty years later, “was indeed one of the largest Men you should see, and could have acted the part of Sir _John Falstaff_ without stuffing. Add to this, that the Rotundity of his Belly was considerably increased by the shortness of his Stature, his shadow ascending very near as far in height when he lay on his Back, as when he stood on his Legs. His Voice was loud and hoarse, and his Accents extremely broad; to complete the whole he had a Stateliness in his Gait when he walked, not unlike that of a Goose, only he stalked slower.” It appears that the widow of the Motcombe curate denied the alleged portrait; but the house where Mr Oliver lived, “seemed to accord with Fielding’s description … and an old woman who remembered him observed that ‘he dearly loved a bit of good victuals, and a drop of drink.'” Bearing in mind the great novelist’s own earnest declaration that he painted “not men but manners,” we may fairly assume that his Dorsetshire tutor belonged to that class of coarse farmer-parson so justly satirised in the person of Trulliber. According to another sketch of Fielding’s life, his early education was also directed by the rector of Stour Provost, “his Parson Adams.” [4]

While Harry Fielding was thus learning his first rudiments, his father, the colonel, seems to have been engaged in less useful pursuits in London. The nature of these pursuits appears from a _Bill of Complaint_, which by a happy chance has been preserved, between “Edmund Fielding of East Stour, Dorsetshire,” and one Robert Midford, pretending to be a captain of the army. In this _Bill_ [5] the said Edmund declares that in 1716, being then resident in London, he often frequented Princes Coffee-house in the Parish of St James. At Princes he found his company sought by the reputed Captain Robert Midford, who “prevailed upon him to play a game called ‘Faro’ for a small matter of diversion, but by degrees drew him on to play for larger sums, and by secret and fraudulent means obtained very large sums, in particular notes and bonds for L500.” Further, the colonel entered into a bond of L200 to one Mrs Barbara Midford, “sister or pretended sister of the said Robert”; and so finally was threatened with outlawry by ‘Captain’ Midford for, presumably, payment of these debts. How Colonel Edmund finally escaped from the clutches of these rogues does not appear; but it is clear enough that his Dorsetshire meadows were a safer place than Princes Coffee-house for a gentleman who could lose L500 at faro to a masquerading army captain. Also Sir Henry Gould’s wisdom becomes apparent, in bequeathing his daughter an inheritance with which her husband was to have “nothing to doe.”

In 1718, two years after Colonel Fielding’s experience at Princes, Mrs Fielding died, leaving six young children to her husband’s care, two sons and four daughters, Henry, the eldest being but eleven years old. Her death is recorded in the East Stour registers as follows:–“Sarah, Wife of the Hon. Edmund Fielding Esqre. and daughter of Sir Henry Gould Kt. April 18 1718.”

About this time (the dates vary between 1716 and 1719) Edmund Fielding was appointed Colonel of the Invalids, an appointment which he appears to have held until his death. And within two years of the death of his first wife, Colonel Fielding must have married again, for in 1720 we find him and his then wife, _Anne_, selling some 153 acres with messuages, barns and gardens, in East and West Stour, to one Awnsham Churchill, Esquire. What relation, if any, this land had to the property of the colonel’s late wife and her children does not appear.

Some time in 1719, the year after his mother’s death, or early in 1720, Henry was sent to Eton, as appears from his father’s statement, made in February 1721, that his eldest son “who is now upwards of thirteen yeares old is and for more than a yeare last past hath been maintained … at Eaton schoole, the yearely expence whereof costs … upwards of L60.” And the boy must have been well away from the atmosphere of his home, in these first years after his mother’s death, if the allegations of his grandmother, old Lady Gould, may be believed.

These hitherto unknown records of Henry Fielding’s boyhood are to be found in the proceedings of a Chancery suit begun by Lady Gould, on behalf of her six grandchildren, Henry, Edmund, [6] Katherine, Ursula, Sarah and Beatrice, three years after the death of their mother–namely, on the 10th of February 1721, and instituted in the name of Henry Fielding as complainant. Lady Gould opens her grandchildren’s case with a comprehensive indictment of her son-in-law. After reciting that her daughter Sarah had married Edmund Fielding “without the consent of her Father or Mother and contrary to their good likeing,” Lady Gould mentions her husband’s bequest to their daughter, Sarah Fielding, of L3000 in trust to be laid out in the purchase of lands for the benefit of her and her children “with direction that the said Edmund Fielding should have nothing to do nor intermeddle therewith.” And how Sir Henry did in his lifetime purchase “Eastover” estate for his daughter, but died before the trust was completed; and that in 1713 his trustees, Edmund Fielding consenting, settled the said estate upon trust for Sarah Fielding and her children after her, the rents and profits to be paid for her, and acknowledged by her receipt “without her Husband.” And that if Sarah Fielding died intestate the estate be divided among her children. The bill then shows that Sarah Fielding did die intestate; and that then Henry and his sisters and brother “being all Infants of tender years and uncapable of managing their own affairs and to take Care thereof, well hoped that … their Trustees would have taken Care to receive the Rents of the said premises,” and have applied the same for their maintenance and education. One of these trustees, we may note, was Henry Fielding’s uncle, Davidge Gould. This reasonable hope of the six “Infants” was however, according to their grandmother, wholly disappointed. For their uncle Davidge and his co-trustee, one William Day, allowed Edmund Fielding to receive the rents, nay “entered into a Combination and Confederacy to and with the said Edmund Fielding,” refusing to intermeddle with the said trust, whereby the children were in great danger of losing their means of maintenance and education. And this was by no means all. Lady Gould proceeds to point out that her son-in-law had, since his wife’s death, “intermarried with one … Rapha … Widow an Italian a Person of the Roman Catholick Profession who has severall children of her own and one who kept an eating House in London, and not at all fitt to have the care of [the complainants’] Education and has now two daughters in a Monastery beyond Sea.” It is not difficult to conceive the attitude of Lady Gould of Sharpham Park to an Italian widow who kept an eating-house; but worse yet, in the view of those ‘No Popery’ days, was to follow. “Not only so,” says her ladyship, “the said Edmund Fielding … threatens to take your [complainants] from school into his own custody altho’ [their] said Grandmother has taken a House in the City of New Sarum with an intent to have [her granddaughters] under her Inspection and where … Katherine, Ursula and Sarah are now at school”; and “the said Mr Fielding doth give out in speeches that he will do with [the complainants] what he thinks fitt, and has openly commended the Manner of Education of young persons in Monasteryes.”

This comprehensive indictment against Colonel Fielding received a prompt counter, the “Severall Answere of Edmund Fielding Esqre … to the Bill of Complaint of Henry Fielding, Katherine Fielding, Ursula Fielding, Sarah Fielding, and Beatrice Fielding, Infants, by Dame Sarah Gould, their Grandmother and next Friend,” being dated February 23 1721, but thirteen days after Lady Gould had opened her attack. Out of “a dutiful Regard to the said Lady Gould his Mother-in-Law,” Colonel Fielding declares himself unwilling to “Controvert anything with her further than of necessity.” But he submits that, in the matter of his marriage, he was “afterwards well approved of and received” by Sir Henry Gould and his family; that he was also so happy as to be in favour with Lady Gould “till he marryed with his now wife”; which he believes “has Occasioned some Jealosye and Displeasure in the Lady Gould, tho’ without Just Grounds.” Edmund Fielding then draws a pastoral picture of himself in occupation of the East Stour estate, placed there by his father-in-law; of his oxen and dairy; and of the judge’s intention of spending half the remainder of his days with his son-in-law on this Dorsetshire farm. He admits his share in the trust settlement after Sir Henry’s death; and points out that his brother-in-law, Davidge Gould, made him pay heavily on a portion of the estate. And he believes that, as his wife died intestate, all his children are “Intituled to the said Estate in Equall proportions.”

Then follows the colonel’s main defence. His eldest son Henry not being yet fourteen years of age, he has, ever since the death of his wife, continued in possession of the premises, taking the rents and profits thereof, which amount to about L150; and he positively declares that he has expended more annually on the maintenance and education of the said complainants, ever since the death of their mother, than the clear income of the said estate amounts to, and that he shall continue to take “a Tender and affectionate care of all his said Children.” Further, he professes himself a “protestant of the Communion of the Church of England,” and asserts that he shall and will breed his said children Protestants of that communion. He protests that his second wife is not an Italian; nor did she keep an eating-house. He suggests that Lady Gould took her house at Salisbury “as well with an Intent to convenience herselfe by liveing in a Towne” as for the inspection of his children. He “denyeth that he ever Comended the Manner of Education of young persons in monasterys if it be meant in Respect of Religion.” Finally, he says that he has spent much money on improving the estate; that the income from the estate is hardly sufficient to maintain his children according to their station in the world since he is “nearly related to many Noble Familys”; and he “veryly believes in his conscience he can better provide for his said Children by reason of his relation to and Interest in the said noble Familys than their said Grandmother (who is now in an advanced age, being seventy yeares old or thereabouts).”

Here, it is plain, was a very pretty family quarrel. No man likes his mother-in-law to say that he has married the keeper of an Italian eating-house, especially if the fact is correct; or that he is perverting his young children’s trust money. Neither was Lady Gould likely to be pacified by her son-in-law’s remark that she was now “in an advanced age”; while his suggestion that his “noble” family would be of far more advantage to his children than that of the respectable Goulds would have the added sting of undeniable truth.

The next extant move in the fray bears date five months later, July 18 1721, and includes a petition by ‘Dame Sarah Gould’ that the children be not removed from the places where they then were until the case be heard; and Lady Gould adds that if the children’s persons or estates be “under ye management or power of ye said Mr Fielding and his now wife ye Estate would not be managed to ye best advantage and their Education would not be taken care of and there would be a great hazard that ye children might be perverted to ye Romish Religion.” Then follows an order in Chancery, under the same date, “that ye eldest son of ye Defend’t. Fielding … be continued at Eaton School where he now is and that ye rest of ye children be continued where they now are.”

The next document merely records the inclusion of Henry’s five-year-old brother Edmund among the plaintiffs. And this is followed by a brief Chancery order of November 30 1721, that “ye, plaintiff Henry Fielding who is not [_sic_] at Eaton Schoole be at liberty to go to ye said Dame Sarah Gould, his Grandmother and next friend during ye usual time of recess from School at Xmas.”

After these Christmas holidays spent by Henry Fielding with Lady Gould, doubtless at her house in Salisbury, the Chancery records pass on to the April following, 1722, when the boy’s uncle and trustee Davidge Gould makes a statement “sworn at Sharpham Park,” which concludes that the witness hears and believes that Edmund Fielding “has already three children by his present wife who is reputed to be of the Romish church.” In this same month comes another order from the court that Henry be at liberty to leave Eton for the Whitsun holidays 1722, and to go to Lady Gould’s house. In May Edmund Fielding appears as “of the Parish of Saint James, in the County of Middlesex,” and also as his children’s “next Friend and Guardian.” But two days later the long suit is concluded by the decision of the court, and here Colonel Fielding is, as heretofore, defendant, Lady Gould being the children’s “next friend.”

The case came before the Lord Chancellor on the 28th of May 1722, and was “debated in the presence of learned Counsels.” The trust was upheld, and Edmund Fielding was required to deliver possession of the estate, rendering account of the rents and profits thereof since the death of his first wife; but he was to have “any and what” allowance for improvements, and for the children’s maintenance and education. And it was further ordered that the children then at school continue at such schools till further order, and that “upon any breaking up at ye usuall times they do go and reside with ye Lady Gould their Grandmother that they may not be under the influence of ye Defendant Fielding’s Wife, who appeared to be a papist.” [7]

So Lady Gould, for all her seventy years, won her case at every point. And Colonel Edmund Fielding did not only lose the guardianship of his six children, and the administration of their estate. For there was, we learn, in court, during the hearing, one Mrs Cottington, the plaintiffs aunt, “alleadging that there was a debt of L700 due from ye Defendant Fielding to her”; which debt she offered should be applied for the benefit of her nephews and nieces. Whereupon the court ordered that if Mrs Cottington proved the same, a Master in Chancery should purchase therewith lands to be settled for the “Infants” in like manner as the trust estate.

It may be only a coincidence, but L700 is the sum specifically mentioned in the proceedings brought by Colonel Fielding in October 1722, five months after the loss of his Chancery suit, against the cardsharper, Robert Midford, who was then apparently threatening him with outlawry for the recovery of the gambling debt begun, as we have seen, at Princes’ Coffee-house six years before. Had the colonel borrowed the L700 from Mrs Cottington, with intent to discharge those debts; and, on being brought to law by her (on her nephews’ and nieces’ behalf) for that debt, did it occur to him to escape from the clutches of the psuedo “Captain” Midford by pleading, as he now does in this Bill of 1722, that he “was tricked,” and also “that gaming is illegal”? The latter plea has something of unconscious humour in the mouth of a gentleman who had lately lost L500 at faro. With this last echo of the coffee-house of St James’s, and of the colonel’s financial difficulties, that brave soldier, if somewhat reckless gambler, the Hon. Edmund Fielding vanishes from sight, as far as the life of his eldest son is concerned.

At the triumphant conclusion of his grandmother’s suit Henry Fielding would be just fifteen years of age, and it is impossible not to wonder what side he took in these spirited family conflicts. No evidence, however, on such points appears in the dry legal documents; and all that we have for guide as to the effect in this impressionable time of his boyhood of the long months of contest, and of his strictly ordered holidays with his grandmother, is the declaration on the one hand that “filial piety … his nearest relations agree was a shining part of his character,” and on the other, the undeniably strong Protestant bias that appears in his writing. Of his aunt, Mrs Cottington, we get one later glimpse, when in 1723 she is made his trustee, in place of his uncle, Davidge Gould, Mrs Cottington being then resident in Salisbury. At the end of the following year, however, in December 1724, Davidge Gould resumes his trusteeship, and with the record of that fact the disclosures yielded by these ancient parchments as to Henry Fielding’s stormy boyhood come to an end.

From these records it becomes possible to gain some idea of the surroundings of the great novelist’s early youth. Before his mother’s death, indeed, when he was a boy of eleven, we already knew him as suffering the rough jurisdiction of his Trulliberian tutor, Parson Oliver of Motcombe village, and perhaps as under the wise and kindly guidance of the good scholar-parson, who was later to win the affection and respect of thousands of readers under the name of “Parson Adams.” But now, for the first time, we learn of the disastrous second marriage by which Colonel Fielding, within two years of his first wife’s death, placed a lady of at least disputable social standing at the head of his household, and one, moreover, whose Faith roused the bitter religious animosities of that day. What wonder that the old Lady Gould strove fiercely to remove Henry Fielding, and his sisters and young brother, from East Stour, when a Madame Rasa was installed in her daughter’s place. And accordingly, as we have seen, even before the conclusion of the suit, Henry was provisionally ordered by the Court of Chancery to spend his holidays with his grandmother. Fielding would then be fourteen years old; and the judge’s decision six months later that future holidays should be passed with Lady Gould, away from the influence of the second Mrs Fielding, doubtless severed the lad’s connection with his dubious stepmother for the next six years. His home life, then, during the latter part of his Eton schooling would be under Lady Gould’s care; and was probably spent at Salisbury.

Of his Eton life, from his entrance at the school, when twelve years old, we know practically nothing. From the absence of his name on the college lists, it may be inferred that he was an Oppidan. It is said that he gave “distinguished proofs of strong and peculiar parts”; and that he left the school with a good reputation as a classical scholar. And it is not surprising to learn that here, as he himself tells us, his vigorous energies made acquaintance with that ‘birchen altar’ at which most of the best blood in England has been disciplined. “And thou,” he cries, “O Learning (for without thy Assistance nothing pure, nothing correct, can Genius produce) do thou guide my Pen. Thee, in thy favourite Fields, where the limpid gently rolling _Thames_ washes thy _Etonian_ banks, in early Youth I have worshipped. To thee at thy birchen Altar, with true _Spartan_ Devotion, I have sacrificed my Blood.” [8] That the sacrifice was not made in vain appears from the reputation with which Fielding left Eton of being “uncommonly versed in the Greek authors and an early master of the Latin classics”; and also from the yet better evidence of his own pages. Long after these boyish days we find him, in the words of “The man of the Hill,” thus eloquently acknowledging the debt of humanity, and doubtless his own, to those inestimable treasures bequeathed to the world by ancient Greece: “These Authors, though they instructed me in no Science by which Men may promise to themselves to acquire the least Riches, or worldly Power, taught me, however, the Art of despising the highest Acquisitions of both. They elevate the Mind, and steel and harden it against the capricious Invasions of Fortune. They not only instruct in the Knowledge of Wisdom, but confirm Men in her Habits, and demonstrate plainly, that this must be our Guide, if we propose ever to arrive at the greatest worldly Happiness; or to defend ourselves, with any tolerable Security, against the Misery which everywhere surrounds and invests us.” [9] And that this was no mere figure of speech appears from that touching picture which Murphy has left us of the brilliant wit, the ‘wild’ Harry Fielding, when under the pressure of sickness and poverty, quietly reading the _De Consolations_ of Cicero. His Plato accompanied him on the last sad voyage to Lisbon; and his library, when catalogued for sale on behalf of his widow and children, contained over one hundred and forty volumes of the Greek and Latin classics.

Thus, supreme student and master as he was of “the vast authentic book of nature,” there is abundant proof that Fielding fulfilled his own axiom that a “good share of learning” is necessary to the equipment of a novelist. Let the romance writer’s natural parts be what they may, learning, he declared, “must fit them for use, must direct them in it, lastly must contribute part at least of the materials.” [10] Looking back on such utterances by the ‘father of the English Novel,’ written at the full height of his power, it is but natural to wonder if the boy’s eager application to Greek and Latin drudgery had in it something of half-conscious preparation for the great part he was destined to play in the history of English literature.

It is clear that Henry Fielding flung his characteristic energies zealously into the acquirement of the classical learning proffered him at Eton; but a fine scholarship, great possession though it be, was not the only gain of his Eton years. Here, says Murphy in his formal eighteenth-century phrasing, young Fielding had “the advantage of being early known to many of the first people in the kingdom, namely Lord Lyttelton, Mr Fox, Mr Pitt, Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, and the late Mr Winnington, etc.”

Of these companions at Eton, George Lyttelton, afterwards known as the “good Lord Lyttelton,” statesman and orator, stands foremost by virtue of the generous warmth of a friendship continued throughout the novelist’s chequered life. To Lyttelton _Tom Jones_ was dedicated; it was his generosity, as generously acknowledged, that supplied Fielding, for a time, with the very means of subsistence; and to him was due the appointment, subsequently discharged with so much zealous labour, of Magistrate for Westminster and Middlesex. It is recorded that George Lyttelton’s school exercises “were recommended as models to his schoolfellows.” Another Eton friend, Thomas Winnington, made some figure in the Whig political world of the day; he was accredited by Horace Walpole with having an inexhaustible good humour, and “infinitely more wit than any man I ever knew.” Of the friendship with Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, of which we first hear at Eton, little is known, save the curious episode of the recovery, many years after its author’s death, of Fielding’s lost play _The Good-Natured Man>_, which had apparently been submitted to Sir Charles, whose celebrity was great as a brilliant political lampoonist. Of the acquaintance with Henry Fox, first Baron Holland, we hear nothing in later life; but the name of the greatest of all these Eton contemporaries, that of the elder Pitt, recurs in after years as one of the party at Radway Grange, in Warwickshire, to whom Fielding, after dinner, read aloud the manuscript of _Tom Jones_. [11] A reference to his fellow-Etonian may be found in one of the introductory chapters of that masterpiece, where Fielding, while again advocating the claims of learning, takes occasion to pay this sonorous tribute to Pitt’s oratory: “Nor do I believe that all the imagination, fire, and judgment of Pitt, could have produced those orations that have made the senate of England in these our times a rival in eloquence to Greece and Rome, if he had not been so well read in the writings of Demosthenes and Cicero, as to have transferred their whole spirit into his speeches and, with their spirit, their knowledge too.”

However excellent a knowledge of the classics the youthful scholar took away with him from Eton, the rigours of his studies do not appear to have diminished that zest for life with which the very name of Henry Fielding is invested. For the obscurity of these early years is for a moment lifted to disclose the young genius as having already, before he was nineteen, fallen desperately in love with a beautiful heiress in Dorsetshire; and, moreover, as threatening bodily force to accomplish his suit. The story, as indicated in the surviving outlines, might be the draft for a chapter of _Tom Jones_. The scene is Lyme Regis. The chief actors are Harry Fielding, scarce more than a schoolboy; a beautiful heiress, Miss Sarah Andrew; [12] and her uncle, one Mr Andrew Tucker, a timorous and crafty member of the local corporation. The handsome Etonian, who had been for some time resident in the old town, fell madly in love, it seems, with the lady, who is stated to have been his cousin on his mother’s side. The views of her guardian were, however, opposed to the young man’s suit, Mr Andrew Tucker mercenarily designing to secure the heiress for his own son. Thereupon Harry Fielding is said to have made a desperate attempt to carry the lady off by force, and that, moreover, “on a Sunday, when she was on her way to Church.” Further, the efforts of the impetuous youth would seem to have extended to threatened assaults on the person of his fair cousin’s guardian, Mr Tucker; for we find that affrighted worthy flying for protection to the arm of the law, as recorded in the _Register Book_ of Lyme Regis, under date of the 14th November 1725:–“… Andrew Tucker, Gent., one of the Corporation, caused Henry Fielding, Gent., and his servant or companion, Joseph Lewis–both now for some time past residing in the borough–to be bound over to keep the peace, as he was in fear of his life or some bodily hurt to be done or to be procured to be done to him by H. Fielding and his man. Mr A. Tucker feared that the man would beat, maim, or kill him.” No words could more aptly sum up this delightful story than those of Mr Austin Dobson: “a charming girl, who is also an heiress; a pusillanimous guardian, with ulterior views of his own; a handsome and high-spirited young suitor; a faithful attendant ready to ‘beat, maim or kill’ on his master’s behalf; a frustrated elopement and a compulsory visit to the mayor–all these with the picturesque old town of Lyme for a background, suggest a most appropriate first act to Harry Fielding’s biographical tragi-comedy.” [13] It is possible that Fielding’s own pen supplied the conclusion to this first act. For he tells us, in the preface to the _Miscellanies_, that a version, in burlesque verse, of part of Juvenal’s sixth satire was originally sketched out before he was twenty, and that it was “all the Revenge taken by an injured Lover.” The story loses none of its zest, moreover, when we remember that Harry Fielding was at this time still a Ward of Chancery.

[1] Chancery Proceedings 1720 sqq. _Fielding_ v. _Fielding_. From the records of this Chancery suit, instituted on behalf of Henry Fielding and his brother and sisters, as minors, by their grandmother Lady Gould, are taken the hitherto unpublished facts concerning the novelist’s boyhood, contained in this chapter. The original documents are preserved in the Record Office.

[2] See Appendix A.

[3] By means of a legacy of L3000 left by her father for his daughter’s sole use, “her husband having nothing to doe with it.”

[4] _History and Antiquities of Leicestershire_. J. Nichols. 1810. Vol. iv. Part i. p. 292. Nichols does not state his authority for this statement, and it is not confirmed by local records. See Hutchins’ _History of Dorset_ for the list of Stour Provost rectors.

[5] Chancery Proceedings, 1722. _Fielding_ v. _Midford_. Record Office.

[6] Edmund’s name was added in October following.

[7] _Chancery Decrees and Order Books_. Record Office.

[8] Tom Jones, Book xiii. Introduction.

[9] Ibid., Book viii., ch. xiii.

[10] _Tom Jones_, Book ix. Introduction.

[11] See _infra_, chap. xi.

[12] Fifty years ago a portrait of the beautiful heiress, in the character of Sophia Western, was still preserved at the house of Bellairs, near Exeter, then the property of the Rhodes family. The present ownership of the picture has, so far, eluded inquiry.

[13] _Fielding_, Austin Dobson, p. 202.



“I could not help reflecting how often the greatest abilities lie wind-bound, as it were, in life; or if they venture out, and attempt to beat the seas, they struggle in vain against wind and tide.”–_Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon_.

It was but three years after the Lyme Regis episode that Henry Fielding, then a lad of one and twenty, won attention as a successful writer of comedy. Of this his first entry into the gay world there are little but generalities to record; but, inaccurate as Murphy is in some matters of fact, there seems no reason to doubt the truth of the engaging picture which he draws of the young man’s _debut_ upon the Town. We read of the gaiety and quickness of his fancy; the wild flow of his spirits; the brilliancy of his wit; the activity of his mind, eager to know the world. To the possession of genius allied to the happiest temper, a temper “for the most part overflowing into wit, mirth, and good-humour,” young Fielding added a handsome face, a magnificent physique (he stood over six feet high), and the fullest vigour of constitution. “No man,” wrote his cousin, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, “enjoyed life more than he did.” What wonder that he was soon “in high request with the men of taste and literature,” or that report affirms him to have been no less welcome in ranks of society not at all distinguished by a literary flavour.

That a youth so gifted, so “formed and disposed for enjoyment,” should find himself his own master, in London, almost presupposes a too liberal indulgence in the follies that must have so easily beset him. When the great and cold Mr Secretary Addison, no less than that “very merry Spirit,” Dick Steele, and the splendid Congreve, drank more than was good for them, what chance would there be for a brilliant, ardent lad of twenty, suddenly plunged into the robust society of that age? If Fielding, like his elders, indisputably loved good wine, let us remember that none of the heroes of his three great novels, neither that rural innocent Joseph Andrews, nor the exuberant youth Tom Jones, nor erring, repentant Captain Booth are immoderate drinkers. The degradation of drinking is, in Fielding’s pages, accorded to brutalised if honest country squires, and cruel and corrupt magistrates; and there is little evidence throughout his life to indicate that the great novelist drank more freely than did the genial heroes of his pen. As regards Murphy’s general assertion that, at this his entrance into life, young Fielding “launched wildly into a career of dissipation” no other reputable contemporary evidence is discoverable of the “wildness” popularly attributed to Fielding. That his youth was headlong and undisciplined is a plausible surmise; but justice demands that the charge be recognised as a surmise and nothing more. How keenly, twenty years later, he could appreciate the handicap that such early indulgences impose on a man’s future life may be gathered from a passage in _Joseph Andrews_ which is not without the ring of personal feeling. The speaker is a generous and estimable country gentleman, living in Arcadian retirement with his wife and children. Descended of a good family and born a gentleman, he narrates how his education was acquired at a public school, and extended to a mastery of the Latin, and a tolerable knowledge of the Greek, language. Becoming his own master at sixteen he soon left school, for, he tells his listeners, “being a forward Youth, I was extremely impatient to be in the World: For which I thought my Parts, Knowledge, and Manhood thoroughly qualified me. And to this early Introduction into Life, without a Guide, I impute all my future Misfortunes; for besides the obvious Mischiefs which attend this, there is one which hath not been so generally observed. The first Impression which Mankind receives of you, will be very difficult to eradicate. How unhappy, therefore, must it be to fix your Character in Life, before you can possibly know its Value, or weigh the Consequences of those Actions which are to establish your future Reputation?” [1] That the wise and strenuous Fielding of later years, the energetic student at the Bar, the active and patriotic journalist, the merciless exponent of the hypocrite, the spendthrift, and the sensualist, the creator of the most perfect type of womanhood in English fiction (so said Dr Johnson and Thackeray) should look back sadly on his own years of hot-blooded youth is entirely natural; but even so this passage and the well-known confession placed in the mouth of the supposed writer of the _Journey from this World to the Next_, [2] no more constitute direct evidence than do Murphy’s unattested phrases, or the anonymous scurrilities of eighteenth-century pamphleteers.

By birth and education Fielding’s natural place was in the costly society of those peers and men of wealth and fashion who courted the brilliant young wit; but fortune had decreed otherwise, and at this his first entrance on the world he found, as he himself said, no choice but to be a hackney writer or a hackney coachman. True, his father allowed him a nominal L200 a year; but this, to quote another of his son’s observations, “anybody might pay that would.” The fact was that Colonel Fielding’s marriage with Madame Rasa had resulted in a large and rapidly increasing family; and this burden, together with “the necessary demands of his station for a genteel and suitable expence,” made it impossible for him to spare much for the maintenance of his eldest son. Launched thus on the Town, with every capacity for spending an income the receipt of which was denied to him, the young man flattered himself that he should find resources in his wit and invention; and accordingly he commenced as writer for the stage. His first play, a comedy entitled _Love in Several Masks_, was performed at Drury Lane in February 1728, just before the youthful dramatist had attained his twenty-first year. In his preface to these ‘light scenes’ he alludes with some pride to this distinction–“I believe I may boast that none ever appeared so early on the stage”;–and he proceeds to a generous acknowledgment of the aid received from those dramatic stars of the eighteenth-century, Colley Gibber, Mr Wilks and Mrs Oldfield, all of whom appeared in the cast. Of the two former he says, “I cannot sufficiently acknowledge their civil and kind behaviour previous to its representation”; from which we may conclude, as his biographer Laurence points out, that Harry Fielding was already familiar with the society of the green-room. To Mrs Oldfield,–that charming actress

“In publick Life, by all who saw Approv’d In private Life, by all who knew her Lov’d”–

the young man expresses yet warmer acknowledgments. “Lastly,” he declares, “I can never express my grateful sense of the good nature of Mrs Oldfield … nor do I owe less to her excellent judgment, shown in some corrections which I shall for my own sake conceal.” The comedy is dedicated, with the graceful diction and elaborate courtesies of the period, to Fielding’s cousin, that notable eighteenth-century wit, the Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; and from the dedication we learn that to Lady Mary’s approval, on her first perusal, the play owed its existence. What the approval of a great lady of those times meant for the young writer may be measured by the fact that Fielding concludes his dedication by solemnly ‘informing the world’ that the representation of his comedy was twice honoured with Her Ladyship’s presence.

In view of the frequent accusation of coarseness brought against Fielding, we may quote a few lines of the prologue with which he made his literary entry into the world. Here his audience are promised

“Humour, still free from an indecent Flame, Which, should it raise your Mirth, must raise your Shame: Indecency’s the Bane to Ridicule,
And only charms the Libertine, or Fool: Nought shall offend the Fair One’s Ears to-day, Which they might blush to hear, or blush to say. No private Character these Scenes expose, Our Bard, at Vice, not at the Vicious, throws.”

Thus it was with an honourable declaration of war against indecency and libel that the young wit and man of fashion, began his career as “hackney writer.” If to modern taste the first promise lacks something of fulfilment, it is but just to remember that to other times belong other manners.

In the play, rustic and philosophic virtue is prettily rewarded by the possession of a beautiful heiress, while certain mercenary fops withdraw in signal discomfiture; and that Fielding, at one and twenty, had already passed judgment on that glittering ‘tinsel’ tribe, is clear enough from his portrait of the “empty gaudy nameless thing,” Lord Formal. Lord Formal appears on the stage with a complexion much agitated by a day of business spent with “three milleners, two perfumers, my bookseller’s and a fanshop.” In the course of these fatigues he has “rid down two brace of chairmen”; and had raised his colour to “that exorbitancy of Vermeille” that it will hardly be reduced “under a fortnight’s course of acids.” It is the true spirit of comedy which introduces into this closely perfumed atmosphere the bluff country figure of Sir Positive Trap, with his exordiums on the rustic ladies, and on “the good old English art of clear-starching.” Sir Positive hopes “to see the time when a man may carry his daughter to market with the same lawful authority as any other of his cattle”; and causes Lord Formal some moments’ perplexity, his lordship being “not perfectly determinate what species of animal to assign him to, unless he be one of those barbarous insects the polite call country squires.” In this production of a youth of twenty we may find a foretaste of that keen relish in watching the human comedy, that vigorous scorn of avarice, that infectious laughter at pretentious folly, which accompanied the novelist throughout his life.

To this same year is attributed a poem called the _Masquerade_, which need only be noticed as again emphasising its author’s lifelong war against the evils of his time. The _Masquerade_ is a satire on the licentious gatherings organised by the notorious Count Heidegger, Master of the Revels to the Court of George II.

Many years later Fielding reprinted [3] two other poetical effusions bearing the date of this his twenty-first year. Of these the first, entitled “A Description of U—-n G—-(alias _New Hog’s Norton_) in _Com-Hants_” identified by Mr Keightley as Upton Grey in Hampshire, is addressed to the fair _Rosalinda,_ by her disconsolate _Alexis_. Alexis bewails his exile among

“Unpolish’d Nymphs and more unpolish’d Swains,”

and describes himself as condemned to live in a dwelling half house, half shed, with a garden full of docks and nettles, the fruit-trees bearing only snails–

“Happy for us had Eve’s this Garden been She’d found no Fruit, and therefore known no Sin,”–

the dusty meadows innocent of grass, and the company as innocent of wit. This sketch of rural enjoyments recalls a later utterance in _Jonathan Wild_, concerning the votaries of a country life who, with their trees, “enjoy the air and the sun in common and both vegetate with very little difference between them.” With one or two eloquent exceptions there is scarce a page in Fielding’s books devoted to any interest other than that of human nature.

The second fragment is a graceful little copy of verse addressed to _Euthalia_, in which we may note, by the way, that the fair Rosalinda’s charms are ungallantly made use of as a foil to Euthalia’s dazzling perfections. As Fielding found these verses not unworthy of a page in his later _Miscellanies_ they are here recalled:



“Burning with Love, tormented with Despair, Unable to forget or ease his Care;
In vain each practis’d art _Alexis_ tries; In vain to Books, to Wine or Women flies; Each brings _Euthalia’s_ Image to his Eyes. In _Lock’s_ or _Newton’s_ Page her Learning glows; _Dryden_ the Sweetness of her Numbers shews; In all their various Excellence I find
The various Beauties of her perfect Mind. How vain in Wine a short Relief I boast! Each sparkling Glass recalls my charming Toast. To Women then successless I repair,
Engage the Young, the Witty, and the Fair. When _Sappho’s_ Wit each envious Breast alarms, And _Rosalinda_ looks ten thousand Charms; In vain to them my restless Thoughts would run; Like fairest Stars, they show the absent Sun.”

_Love in Several Masks_ was produced, as we have seen, in February, 1728; and it is a little surprising to find the young dramatist suddenly appearing, four weeks later, as a University student. He was entered at the University of Leyden, as “Litt. Stud,” on the 16th of March 1728. The reason of this sudden change from the green-room of Drury Lane to the ancient Dutch university must be purely matter of conjecture, as is the nature of Fielding’s undergraduate studies, Murphy having lately been proved to be notably erroneous as to this episode. [4] His name occurs as staying, on his entry at Leyden, at the “Casteel von Antwerpen”; and again, a year later, in the _recensiones_ of the University for February 1729, as domiciled with one Jan Oson. As all students were annually registered, the omission of any later entry proves that he left Leyden before 1730; with which meagre facts and his own incidental remark that the comedy of _Don Quixote in England_ was “begun at Leyden in the year 1728,” our knowledge of the two years of Fielding’s university career concludes. In February 1730 he was presumably back in London, that being the date of his next play, the _Temple Beau_, produced by Giffard, the actor, at the new theatre in Goodman’s Fields.

The prologue to the _Temple Beau_ was written by that man of many parts, James Ralph, the hack writer, party journalist and historian, who was in after years to collaborate with Fielding, both as a theatrical manager and as a journalist. Ralph’s opening lines are of interest as bearing on Fielding’s antagonism to the harlequinades and variety shows, then threatening the popularity of legitimate drama:

“Humour and Wit, in each politer Age, Triumphant, rear’d the Trophies of the Stage: But only Farce, and Shew, will now go down, And HARLEQUIN’S the Darling of the Town.”

Ralph bids his audience turn to the ‘infant stage’ of Goodman’s Fields for matter more worthy their attention; and his promise that there

“The Comick Muse, in Smiles severely gay, Shall scoff at Vice, and laugh its Crimes away”

must surely have been inspired by the young genius from whom twenty years later came the formal declaration of his endeavour, in _Tom Jones,_ “to laugh mankind out of their favourite follies and vices.”

The special follies of the _Temple Beau_ have, for background, of course, those precincts in which Fielding was later to labour so assiduously as a student, and as a member of the Middle Temple; but where, as the young Templar of the play observes, “dress and the ladies” might also very pleasantly employ a man’s time. But except for an oblique hit at duelling, a custom which Fielding was later to attack with curious warmth, this second play seems to yield few passages of biographical interest. Of very different value for our purpose is the third play, which within only two months appeared from a pen stimulated, presumably, by empty pockets. This was the comedy entitled the _Author’s Farce_, being the first portion of a medley which included the ‘_Puppet Show call’d the Pleasures of the Town_; the whole being acted in the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, long since demolished in favour of the present building.

In the person of Harry Luckless, the hero of the _Author’s Farce_, it is impossible not to surmise the figure of young Fielding himself; a figure gay and spirited as those of his first comedy, but, by now, well acquainted with the hungers and the straits of a ‘hackney writer.’ Mr Luckless wears a laced-coat and makes a handsome figure (we remember that Fielding had always the grand air), whereby his landlady, clamouring for her rent, upbraids him for deceiving her: “Cou’d I have guess’d that I had a Poet in my House! Cou’d I have look’d for a Poet under lac’d Clothes!” The poor author offers her the security of his (as yet unacted) play; whereupon Mrs Moneywood (lineal ancestress of Mrs Raddles) pertinently cries out: “I would no more depend on a Benefit-Night of an unacted Play, than I would on a Benefit-Ticket in an undrawn Lottery.” Luckless next appeals to what should be his landlady’s heart, assuring her that unless she be so kind as to invite him “I am afraid I shall scarce prevail on my Stomach to dine to-day.” To which the enraged lady answers: “O never fear that: you will never want a Dinner till you have dined at all the Eating-houses round.–No one shuts their Doors against you the first time; and I scarce think you are so kind, seldom to trouble them a second.” And that the good landlady had some grounds for her wrath is but too apparent when she announces: “Well, I’m resolv’d when you are gone away (which I heartily hope will be very soon) I’ll hang over my Door in great red Letters, _No Lodging for Poets_ … My Floor is all spoil’d with Ink, my Windows with Verses, and my Door has been almost beat down with Duns.’ While the landlady is still fuming, enters our author’s man, Jack.

“_Jack_. An’t please your Honour, I have been at my Lord’s, and his Lordship thanks you for the Favour you have offer’d of reading your Play to him; but he has such a prodigious deal of Business he begs to be excus’d. I have been with Mr _Keyber_ too: he made no Answer at all….”

“_Luckless_. Jack.

“_Jack_. Sir.

“_Luckless_. Fetch my other Hat hither. Carry it to the Pawnbroker’s.

“_Jack_. To your Honour’s own Pawnbroker.

“_Luckless_. Ay And in thy way home call at the Cook’s Shop. So, one way or other I find, my Head must always provide for my Belly.”

At which moment enters the caustic, generous Witmore, belabouring the profanity, the scurrility, the immodesty, the stupidity of the age with one hand, the while he pays his friend’s rent with the other; and who, incidentally, is requested by that irascible genius to kick a worthy publisher down the stairs, on the latter’s refusal to give fifty shillings “no, nor fifty farthings” for his play. Once mollified by the settlement of her bill, we have the landlady playing advocate for her hapless lodger in words that sound very like the apologia of Mr Harry Fielding himself: “I have always thought, indeed, Mr _Luckless_ had a great deal of Honesty in his Principles; any Man may be unfortunate: but I knew when he had Money I should have it….” And the good woman’s reminiscence that while her lodger had money her doors were thundered at every morning between four and five by coachmen and chairmen; and her wish that that pleasant humour’d gentleman were “but a little soberer,” finishes, we take it, the portrait of the Fielding of 1730. “Jack call a coach; and d’ye hear, get up behind it and attend me,” cries the improvident poet, the moment his generous friend has left him; and so we are sure did young Mr Fielding put himself and his laced coat into a coach, and mount his man behind it, whenever the exigencies of duns and hunger were for a moment abated. And with as gallant a humour as that of his own Luckless did he walk afoot, when those “nine ragged jades the muses” failed to bring him a competency.

Such failure on the part of the Muses was due to no want of wooing on his part. During the six years between Fielding’s first appearance as dramatic author in 1728, and his marriage in 1734, there stand no fewer than thirteen plays to his name. Of these none have won any lasting reputation; and to this period of the great novelist’s life may doubtless be applied Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s description, when lamenting that her kinsman should have been “forced by necessity to publish without correction, and throw many productions into the world he would have thrown into the fire, if meat could have been got without money, and money without scribbling.” Lady Mary’s account moreover is reinforced by Murphy’s classical periods: “Mr Fielding’s case was generally the same with that of the poet described by Juvenal; with a great genius, he must have starved if he had not sold his performance to a favourite actor. _Esurit, intactam Paridi, nisi vendit Agaven_.” A complete list of all these ephemera will be found in the bibliography at the end of this volume; here we need but notice those to which a special interest attaches. Thus, that incomparable comic actress, Kitty Clive, was cast for a part in the _Lottery_, a farce produced in 1731; and three years later Fielding is adapting for her, especially, the _Intriguing Chambermaid_. It was in these two plays, and that of the _Virgin Unmasked_, that the town discovered the true comic genius of Kitty Clive “the best player I ever saw,” in Dr Johnson’s opinion. For this discovery Fielding takes credit to himself, in the dedication addressed to Mrs Clive, which he prefixed to the _Intriguing Chambermaid_; and in which he finds opportunity to pay a noble tribute to the private life of that inimitable hoyden of the stage. “I cannot help reflecting” he writes, “that the Town hath one great obligation to me, who made the first discovery of your great capacity, and brought you earlier forward on the theatre, than the ignorance of some and the envy of others would have otherwise permitted…. But as great a favorite as you at present are with the audience you would be much more so were they acquainted with your private character … did they see you, who can charm them on the stage with personating the foolish and vicious characters of your sex, acting in real life the part of the best Wife, the best Daughter, the best Sister, and the best Friend.” That this splendid praise was as sincere as it was generous need not be doubted. No breath of slander, even in that slanderous age, seems ever to have dulled the reputation of the queen of comedy, and “better romp than any I ever saw in nature”–to quote Dr Johnson again,–Kitty Clive.

So few of Fielding’s letters have been, to our knowledge, preserved, that the following note addressed to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and concerning the _Modern Husband_, a comedy produced in 1731 or 1732, must here be given, though containing little beyond the fact that the dramatist of three years’ standing seems still to have placed as high a value on his cousin’s judgment, as when recording her approval of his first effort for the stage. The play was a piece of admittedly moral purpose, and was dedicated to Sir Robert Walpole. The first line of the autograph is, apparently, missing.

“I hope your Ladyship will honour the Scenes, which I presume to lay before you, with your Perusal. As they are written on a Model I never yet attempted, I am exceedingly anxious least they should find least Mercy from you than my lighter Productions. It will be a slight compensation to the modern Husband, that your Ladyship’s censure will defend him from the Possibility of any other Reproof, since your least Approbation will always give me a Pleasure, infinitely superior to the loudest Applauses of a Theatre. For whatever has past your judgment, may, I think without any Imputation of Immodesty, refer Want of Success to Want of Judgment in an Audience. I shall do myself the honour of waiting on your Ladyship at Twickenham next Monday to receive my Sentence, and am, Madam, with the most devoted Respect

“Your Ladyship’s
“most Obedient most humble Servant
“Henry Ffielding. [5]

“London 7’br 4.”

In 1731-32 the burlesque entitled the _Tragedy of Tragedies; or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great_, took the Town. The _Tragedy_ parodies the absurdities of tragedians; and so far won immortality that in 1855 it was described as still holding the stage. But its chief modern interest lies in the tradition that Swift once observed that he “had not laughed above twice” in his life,–once at the tricks of a merry-andrew, and again when Fielding’s Tom Thumb killed the ghost. The design for the frontispiece of the edition of 1731, here reproduced, is from the pencil of Hogarth; and is the first trace of a connexion between Fielding and the painter who was to be honoured so frequently in his pages. An adaptation from Moliere, produced in 1733, under the title of the _Miser_, won from Voltaire the praise of having added to the original “quelques beautes de dialogue particulieres a sa [Fielding’s] nation.” The leading character in the _Miser_, Lovegold, became a stock part, and survived to our own days, having been a favourite with Phelps. In _Don Quixote in England_, produced in 1733 or 34, [6] Fielding reappears in the character of patriotic censor with the design, as appears from the dedication to Lord Chesterfield, of representing “the Calamities brought on a Country by general Corruption.” No less than fifteen songs are interspersed in the play, and it is matter for curious conjecture why none of them was chosen for a reprint among the collected verses published ten years later in the _Miscellanies_. Time has almost failed to preserve even the hunting-song beginning finely–

“The dusky Night rides down the Sky, And ushers in the Morn;
The Hounds all join in glorious Cry, The Huntsman winds his Horn:”

But a happier fate has befallen the fifth song, now familiar as the first verse of the _Roast Beef of Old England_. It is eminently appropriate that the most distinctly national of English novelists should have written:

“_When mighty Rost Beef was the_ Englishman’s _food, It ennobled our Hearts, and enriched our Blood; Our Soldiers were brave and our Courtiers were good. Oh, the Rost Beef of old England,
And old_ England’s _Rost Beef!_

“_Then_, Britons, _from all nice Dainties refrain, Which effeminate_ Italy, France, _and_ Spain; _And mighty Rost Beef shall command on the Main. Oh, the Rost Beef_, etc.”

To this truly prolific period of the young ‘hackney writer’s’ pen belongs an _Epilogue_, hitherto overlooked, written for Charles Johnson’s five-act play _Caelia or the Perjur’d Lover_, and spoken by Kitty Clive. The lines, which are hardly worth reprinting, consist of an ironic attack on the laxity of town morals, where “Miss may take great liberties upon her,” and each woman is virtuous till she be found out.

An average of two plays a year is a record scarcely conducive to literary excellence; any more than is the empty cupboard, and the frequent recourse to ‘your honour’s own pawnbroker,’ so often and so honourably familiar to struggling genius. “The farces written by Mr Fielding,” says Murphy”… were generally the production of two or three mornings, so great was his facility in writing”; and we have seen Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s assertion that much of his work would have been thrown into the fire had not his dinner gone with it. Of the struggles of these early years [7] (struggles never wholly remitted, for, to quote Lady Mary again, Fielding would have wanted money had his hereditary lands been as extensive as his imagination) we get further suggestions in the _Poetical Epistle_ addressed to Sir Robert Walpole when the young poet was but twenty-three. The lines go with a gallant spirit, but it is not difficult to detect a savour of grim hardship behind the jests:

“While at the Helm of State you ride, Our Nation’s Envy and its Pride;
While foreign Courts with Wonder gaze, And curse those Councils which they praise; Would you not wonder, Sir, to view
Your Bard a greater Man than you?
Which that he, is you cannot doubt, When you have heard the Sequel out.
. . . . .
“The Family that dines the latest, Is in our Street esteem’d the greatest; But latest Hours must surely fall
Before him who ne’er dines at all.

Your Taste in Architect, you know,
Hath been admir’d by Friend and Foe; But can your earthly Domes compare
With all my Castles–in the Air?

“We’re often taught it doth behove us To think those greater who’re above us; Another Instance of my Glory,
Who live above you, twice two Story, And from my Garret can look down
On the whole Street of Arlington.” [8]

Not to depend too greatly on Mr Luckless for our picture of Fielding as a playwright, we will conclude it with the well-known passage from Murphy: “When he had contracted to bring on a play, or a farce, it is well known, by many of his friends now living, that he would go home rather late from a tavern, and would the next morning deliver a scene to the players, written upon the papers which had wrapped the tobacco in which he so much delighted.” Would that some of those friends had recorded for our delight the wit that, alas! has vanished like the smoke through which it was engendered. What would we not give for the table-talk of Henry Fielding.

[1] _Joseph Andrews_, Book iii. Chap. iii.

[2] _Miscellanies_, ed. 1743, vol. ii. p. 62.

[3] In the _Miscellanies_ of 1743.

[4] _Fielding_, Austin Dobson, 1907. App. iv.

[5] What appears to be the original autograph of the above letter is now (1909) in the library of the Boston Athenaeum, having been presented by Mr C. P. Greenough.

[6] _Notitia Dramatica_ (British Museum. MSS. Dept.) and Genest give 1734 as the date of Don Quixote; Murphy, edition of 1766, vol. iii p. 249, gives 1733.

[7] For the refutation of Genest’s confusion of Timothy Fielding, a strolling player, with Henry Fielding, see Austin Dobson, _Fielding_, pp. 28, 29.

[8] The _Miscellanies_. Edition 1743.



“What happiness the world affords equal to the possession of such a woman as Sophia I sincerely own I have never yet discovered.” –_Tom Jones_.

Out of the paint and powder of the green-room, the tobacco clouds of the tavern, the crowded streets where hungry genius went afoot one day, and rode in a coach the next–in a word, out of the Town as Harry Fielding knew it–we step, in the year 1734, into the idyll of his life, his marriage with Charlotte Cradock. For to Fielding the supreme gift was accorded of passionate devotion to a woman of whose charm and virtue he himself has raised an enduring memorial in the lovely portrait of Sophia Western. It is this portrait, explicitly admitted [1], that affords almost our only authentic knowledge of Charlotte Cradock, beyond the meagre facts that her home was in Salisbury, and that there she and her sisters reigned as country belles. For it was not in the gay world of ‘Riddoto’s, Opera’s, and Plays,’ nor among the humbler scenes of the great city in which he delighted to watch the humours of simple folk (the highest life being in his opinion ‘much the dullest’), that Fielding found his wife. Doubtless his six years about town, as hackney author, with his good birth, his brilliant wit, and his scanty means, had made him well acquainted with every phase of society, “from the Minister at his Levee, to the Bailiff at his spunging-house; from the Duchess at her drum, to the Landlady behind her bar”; but it was in the rural seclusion of an old cathedral town that he wooed and won the beautiful Miss Cradock. Indeed it is impossible to conceive of Sophia as for ever domiciled in streets. The very apostrophe which heralds her first appearance in _Tom Jones_ is fragrant with flower-enamelled meadows, fresh breezes, and the songs of birds “whose sweetest notes not even Handel can excel”; and it is thus, with his reader’s mind attuned to the appropriate key, that Fielding ushers in his heroine: “… lo! adorned with all the Charms in which Nature can array her; bedecked with Beauty, Youth, Sprightliness, Innocence, Modesty, and Tenderness, breathing Sweetness from her rosy Lips, and darting Brightness from her sparkling Eyes, the lovely _Sophia_ comes.” Of middle size, but rather inclining to tall, with dark hair “curled so gracefully on her neck that few could believe it to be her own,” a forehead rather low, arched eyebrows, and lustrous black eyes, a mouth that “exactly answered Sir John Suckling’s description in those lines

‘Her lips were red and one was thin, Compar’d to that was next her chin.
Some bee had stung it newly,'”

with a dimple in the right cheek, and a complexion rather more of the lily than the rose unless increased by exercise or modesty when no vermilion could equal it–such was the appearance of Sophia, who, most of all “resembled one whose image never can depart from my breast.”

Nor was the beautiful frame, Fielding hastens to add, disgraced by an unworthy inhabitant. He lingers on the sweetness of temper which “diffused a glory over her countenance which no regularity of features can give”; on her perfect breeding, “though wanting perhaps a little of that ease in her behaviour which is to be acquired only by habit, and living within what is called the polite circle”; on the “noble, elevated qualities” which outshone even her beauty.

The only facts recorded concerning Miss Cradock are that her home was in Salisbury, or New Sarum as the city was then called, and that she possessed a small fortune. It is said, but on what authority is not stated, that she was one of three beautiful sisters, the belles of the country town; and it is in accordance with this tradition that Fielding should celebrate in some verses “writ when the Author was very young,” the beauty and intellectual charm of the Miss Cradocks. When printing these verses many years afterwards, in his _Miscellanies_ he describes the poem as originally partly filled in with the ‘Names of several young Ladies,’ which part he now omits, “the rather, as some Freedoms, tho’ gentle ones, were taken with little Foibles in the amiable Sex, whom to affront in Print, is, we conceive, mean in any Man, and scandalous in a Gentleman.” Certainly the Miss Cradocks suffered no affront in the lines retained, wherein the young poet affirms that of all the famed nymphs of Sarum, that favoured city,

“Whose Nymphs excel all Beauty’s Flowers, As thy high Steeple doth all Towers”

the ‘C—-cks’ were the best and fairest. Nay, has not great Jove himself apportioned a ‘celestial Dower’ to these most favoured of maidens,

“To form whose lovely Minds and Faces I stript half Heaven of its Graces.”

From this charming sisterhood Harry Fielding won his bride, but not until four years of waiting had been accomplished. So much may be assumed from the early date of the verses entitled “Advice to the Nymphs of _New S—m_. Written in the Year 1730.” Here the newly returned student from Leyden, the successful dramatist from Drury Lane, bids the Salisbury beauties cease their vain endeavours to contend with the matchless charms of his Celia. And here, in a pretty compliment introduced to the great Mr Pope, then at the height of his fame, we are reminded that Celia’s lover is already a man of letters, for all his mere three and twenty years. When Celia meets her equal, then, he declares, farthing candles shall eclipse the moon, and “sweet _Pope_ be dull.”

It is these youthful love-verses, verses as he himself was the first to admit, that were ‘indeed Productions of the Heart rather than the Head,’ that afford our only record of Fielding’s wooing. Thus, he sings his passion for _Celia_ in the declaration

“I hate the Town, and all its Ways;
Ridotto’s, Opera’s, and Plays;
The Ball, the Ring, the Mall, the Court; Where ever the Beau-Monde resort….
All Coffee-houses, and their Praters; All Courts of Justice, and Debaters;
All Taverns, and the Sots within ’em; All Bubbles, and the Rogues that skin ’em,”

in short, the whole world ‘cram’d all together,’ because all his heart is engrossed for Celia. Again, Cupid is called to account, in that the careless urchin had left Celia’s house unguarded from thieves, save for an old fellow “who sat up all Night, with a Gun without any Ammunition.” Celia, it seems, had apprehended robbery, and her poet’s rest is troubled:

“For how should I Repose enjoy,
While any fears your Breast annoy? Forbid it Heav’n, that I should be
From any of your Troubles free.”

Cupid explains his desertion by ingeniously declaring that a sigh from Celia had blown him away

“_to Harry Fielding’s breast_,”

in which lodging the ‘wicked Child’ wrought unconscionable havoc. Again, Celia wishes to have a “Lilliputian to play with,” so she is promptly told that her lover would doff five feet of his tall stature, to meet her pleasure, and

“Then when my Celia walks abroad
I’d be her pocket’s little Load:
Or sit astride, to frighten People, Upon her Hat’s new fashion’d Steeple.”

Nay, to be prized by Celia, who would not even take the form of her faithful dog Quadrille.

Jove, we may remember, had dowered the lovely Miss Cradocks with minds as fair as their persons; and the excellence of Celia’s understanding is again celebrated in a neatly turned verse upon her ‘having blamed Mr Gay for his Severity on her Sex.’ Had other women known a tenderness like hers, cries the poet, Gay’s darts had returned into his own bosom; and last of all should such blame come from her

“in whose accomplish’d Mind
The strongest Satire on thy Sex we find.”

The love story that first ran to such pleasant rhymes, in the old cathedral town, was destined to know many a harsh chapter of poverty and sickness; but throughout it all the affection of the lovers remained true; and there is no reason to doubt that, had it been in Harry Fielding’s power to achieve it, the promise of perhaps the most charming of his love verses would have been fulfilled:

“Can there on Earth, my _Celia_, be, A Price I would not pay for thee?
Yes, one dear precious Tear of thine Should not be shed to make thee mine.”

To read Swift’s _Journal to Stella_ is almost a sacrilege; the little notes that Dick Steele would write to his ‘dearest Prue’ at all hours of day and night, from tavern and printing office, are scarce less private; no such seals have been broken, no such records preserved, of the love story of Harry Fielding. But to neither Swift nor Steele was it given to raise so perfect and imperishable a memorial of the women loved by them, as that reared by the passionate affection and grief of Fielding for Charlotte Cradock. To this day the beautiful young figure of Sophia Western, all charm and goodness, is alive in his immortal pages. And if, as her friend Lady Bute asserts, Amelia also is Mrs Fielding’s portrait, then we know her no less intimately as wife and mother. We watch her brave spirit never failing under the most cruel distresses and conflicts; we play with her children in their little nursery; we hear her pleasant wit with the good parson; we feel her fresh beauty, undimmed in the poor remnants of a wardrobe that has gone, with her trinkets, to the pawnbroker; we see a hundred examples of her courage and tenderness and generosity. There is nothing in Fielding’s life that is more to his honour than the brief words in which so competent an observer as Lady Bute summed up his marriage with Charlotte Cradock, “he loved her passionately and she returned his affection.”

It was in the little country church of St Mary Charlcombe, a remote village some two miles from Bath, that “Henry Fielding, of ye Parish of St James in Bath, Esq., and Charlotte Cradock of ye same Parish, spinster” were married, on the 28th of November 1734. [2] Fifty years later the village was described as containing only nine houses, the church, well fitted for the flock, being but eighteen feet wide. The old Somerset historian, Collinson, tells us how the hamlet stood on rising ground, in a deep retired valley, surrounded by noble hills, and with a little stream winding through the vale.

In the January following Fielding and his wife were presumably back in town; for in this month he produced, at Drury Lane, the brisk little farce called _An Old Man taught Wisdom_, a title afterwards changed to the _Virgin Unmasked_. It is probable that this farce was especially written to suit Kitty Clive in her excelling character of hoyden; and to it, as we have seen, together with two of its predecessors, is assigned the credit of having first given that superb comic actress an opportunity of revealing her powers. Mrs Clive here played the part of Miss Lucy, a forward young lady who after skittishly interviewing a number of suitors proposed by her father, finally runs away with Thomas the footman. The little piece is said to have achieved success; but scarce had it been staged when “the prolific Mr Fielding,” as a newspaper of the day styles him, brought out a five-act comedy, named the _Universal Gallant: or The different Husbands_, which wholly failed to please the audience, and indeed ran but for three nights.

The dedication of this play is dated from “Buckingham Street, Feb. 12,” and assuming Buckingham Street, Strand, to be the district meant, it is probable that the newly married ‘poet’ and his wife were then living with Mrs Fielding’s relatives; for although the rate-books for Buckingham Street fail to show the name of Fielding, they do show that a Mr Thomas Cradock was then a householder in the street. In an _Advertisement_, prefixed to the published copies of this ill-fated comedy, the disappointed author deprecates the hasty voice of the pit in words that suggest the anxiety of a man now responsible for a happiness dearer than his own. “I have heard,” he writes, “that there are some young Gentlemen about this Town who make a Jest of damning Plays–but did they seriously consider the Cruelty they are guilty of by such a Practice, I believe it would prevent them”; the more, that if the author be “so unfortunate to depend on the success of his Labours for his Bread, he must be an inhuman Creature indeed, who would out of sport and wantonness prevent a Man from getting a Livelihood in an honest and inoffensive Way, and make a jest of starving him and his Family.” There is other evidence that young men about town were wont to amuse themselves by damning plays ‘when George was King.’ In the _Prologue_ to this same condemned play, spoken by the actor Quin, and said to have been written after the disastrous first night’s performance, a more elaborate indictment is laid against the audiences of the day. The _Critick_, it seems, is grown so captious that if a poet seeks new characters he is denounced for dealing in monsters; if they are known and common, then he is a plagiarist; if his scenes are serious they are voted dull; if humorous they are ‘low’ (a true Fielding touch). And not only the critic but also the brainless beau stands, as we have seen, ready to make sport of the poor author. For such as these

_”‘Tis not the Poet’s wit affords the Jest, But who can Cat-call, Hiss, or Whistle best.”_

In previous years the brilliant Leyden student might have merely derided his enemies; to the Fielding of February 1735, struggling to support himself and his beautiful country bride, this ‘cruel usage’ of his ‘poor Play’ assumed a graver aspect:

_”Can then another’s Anguish give you Joy? Or is it such a Triumph to destroy?
We, like the fabled Frogs, consider thus, This may be Sport to you, but it is Death to us.”_

This note of personal protest recalls an indisputably reminiscent observation in _Amelia_, to the effect that although the kindness of a faithful and beloved wife compensates most of the evils of life, it “rather serves to aggravate the misfortune of distressed circumstances, from the consideration of the share which she is to bear in them.” We all know how bravely Amelia bore that share; how cheerfully she would cook the supper; how firmly she confronted disaster. To realise how deeply Fielding felt the pain of such struggles when falling upon “the best, the worthiest and the noblest of women” we need but turn again to his own pages. If, cries Amelia’s husband, when his distresses overwhelm him, “if I was to suffer alone, I think I could bear them with some philosophy”; and again “this was the first time I had ever felt that distress which arises from the want of money; a distress very dreadful indeed in the married state for what can be more miserable than to see anything necessary to the preservation of the beloved creature and not be able to supply it?”

To supply for his Celia much less than the necessities of life Harry Fielding would undoubtedly have stripped his coat, and his shirt with it, off his back; but, at the end of this same month of February, fortune made the young couple sudden amends for the anxieties that seem to have surrounded them. This turn of the wheel is reflected with curious accuracy by an anonymous satirist of 1735:

“F—g, who _Yesterday_ appear’d so rough, Clad in coarse Frize, and plaister’d down with _Snuff_, See how his _Instant_ gaudy _Trappings_ shine; What _Play-house_ Bard was ever seen so fine! But this, not from his _Humour_ glows, you’ll say But mere _Necessity_;–for last Night lay In pawn the Velvet which he wears to Day.” [3]

This relief, for a time at least, from the pressing anxieties of a ‘play-house bard,’ befell by the death of Charlotte Fielding’s mother, Mrs Elizabeth Cradock of Salisbury, who died in February, but a week or two after the execution of a will wholly in favour of that ‘dearly beloved’ daughter. As the details of Mrs Fielding’s inheritance have not hitherto been known, some portions of her mother’s will may be quoted. “… I Elizabeth Cradock of Salisbury in the County of Wilts … do make this my last will and testament … Item I give to my daughter Catherine one shilling and all the rest and residue of my ready money plate jewels and estate whatsoever and wheresoever after my debts and funeral charges are fully paid and satisfied I give devize and bequeath the same unto my dearly beloved daughter Charlott Ffeilding wife of Henry Ffeilding of East Stour in the County of Dorset Esqre.” Mrs Cradock proceeds to revoke all former wills; and appoints her said daughter “Charlott Ffeilding” as her sole executrix. The will is dated February 8 1734, old style, viz. 1735; and was proved in London on the 25th of the same month, ‘Charlott Ffeilding,’ as sole executrix, being duly sworn to administer. The provision of one shilling for another, and apparently _not_ dearly beloved, daughter, Catherine, recalls the wicked sister in _Amelia_ who “had some way or other disobliged her mother, a little before the old lady died,” and who consequently was deprived of that inheritance which relieved Amelia and her husband from the direst straits.

As no plays are credited to Fielding’s name for the ensuing months of 1735, it is a reasonable inference that the young Salisbury heiress, whose experience of London had, doubtless, included a pretty close acquaintance with the hardships of struggling genius, employed some of her inheritance to enable her husband to return to the home of his boyhood, on the “pleasant Banks of sweetly-winding Stour.” There is no record of how the Stour estate, settled on Henry Fielding and his brother and sisters, was apportioned; but an engraving published in 1813 shows the old stone “farmhouse,” which Fielding occupied, the kitchen of which then still remained as it was in the novelist’s time, when it served as a parlour. Behind the house stood a famous locust tree; and close by was the village church served at this time, as the parish registers show, by the Rev. William Young, the original of the immortal Parson Adams of _Joseph Andrews_. [4] From a subsequent deed of sale we know that the estate consisted of at least three gardens, three orchards, eighty acres of meadow, one hundred and forty acres of pasture, ten acres of wood, two dove-houses, and “common of pasture for all manner of cattle.” To the stone farmhouse, and to these orchards and meadows, commons and pastures, Fielding brought his wife, probably in this year of 1735; and memories of their sojourn at Stour surely inspired those references in _Amelia_ to the country life of ‘love, health, and tranquillity,’ a life resembling a calm sea which “must appear dull in description; for who can describe the pleasures which the morning air gives to one in perfect health; the flow of spirits which springs up from exercise; the delights which parents feel from the prattle and innocent follies of their children; the joy with which the tender smile of a wife inspires a husband; or lastly the cheerful solid comfort which a fond couple enjoy in each others’ conversation.–All these pleasures, and every other of which our situation was capable we tasted in the highest degree.”

That a man endowed with Fielding’s intense joy in living–he was “so formed for happiness,” wrote his cousin Lady Mary, “it is a pity he was not immortal”–should eagerly taste all the pleasures of life as a country gentleman, and that in ‘the highest degree,’ is entirely consonant with his character. At the very end of his life, when dying of a complication of diseases, his happy social spirit was still unbroken; for we find him even then writing of his inability to enjoy an agreeable hour “without the assistance of a companion which has always appeared to me necessary to such enjoyment.” [5] Nor would the generous temper, which was ever ready to share his most needed guinea with a friend scarce poorer than himself, be infected with niggardliness by the happy enjoyment of that position to which he was by birth entitled. The well-known account therefore, given by Murphy, of the East Stour episode is exactly what we might have expected of Harry Fielding in the part of country gentleman: “To that place [_i.e._ his estate of East Stour],” says Murphy, “he retired with his wife, on whom he doated, with a resolution to bid adieu to all the follies and intemperances to which he had addicted himself in the career of a town life. But unfortunately a kind of family pride here gained an ascendant over him, and he began immediately to vie in splendour with the neighbouring country ‘squires. With an estate not much above two hundred pounds a year, and his wife’s fortune, which did not exceed fifteen hundred pounds, he encumbered himself with a large retinue of servants, all clad in costly yellow liveries. For their master’s honour, these people could not descend so low as to be careful of their apparel, but in a month or two were unfit to be seen; the ‘squire’s dignity required that they should be new-equipped; and his chief pleasure consisting in society and convivial mirth, hospitality threw open his doors, and, in less than three years, entertainments, hounds, and horses, entirely devoured a little patrimony….” This account is prefaced by gross inaccuracies of fact, inexplicable in a biographer writing but ten years after the death of his subject; but, as Mr Austin Dobson says, “there can be little doubt that the rafters of the old farm by the Stour, with the great locust tree at the back, which is figured in Hutchins’s _History of Dorset_, rang often to hunting choruses, and that not seldom the ‘dusky Night rode down the Sky’ over the prostrate forms of Harry Fielding’s guests.” Petty-minded moralists like Murphy have gravely admonished the great novelist’s memory for not having safely bestowed his estate in the consols of the period; they forget that a spirit of small economy is generally the compensation awarded to the poor average of humanity. The genius of Fielding knew how to enjoy splendidly, and to give lavishly.

[1] _Tom Jones_. Book xiii. Introduction.

[2] See the registers of St Mary Charlcombe. As Sarah Fielding, the novelist’s sister, was buried in the entrance to the chancel of this church, it would appear that some connection existed between Charlcombe and the Fielding family.

[3] _Seasonable Reproof–a Satire in the manner of Horace_, 1735.

[4] The entry in the East Stour Registers is “W’m. Young, Curate 1731-1740.”

[5] _Voyage to Lisbon_.



“Whoever attempteth to introduce corruption into any community, doth much the same thing, and ought to be treated in much the same manner with him who poisoneth a fountain.” –Dedication of the _Historical Register_.

A prolonged retirement into Dorsetshire, however pleasant were the banks of Stour with a beautiful young wife, and a sufficient estate, could scarce be expected of Fielding’s restless genius. He was now thirty-five; his splendid physique was as yet unimpaired by the gout that was so soon to attack him; his powers were still hardly revealed; and, as far as we can discover, he was, at the moment, under no pressure for money. Still, the hunting choruses of the Squire Westerns of Dorsetshire can hardly have long sufficed for one whom Lyttelton declared to have had “more wit than any man I ever knew”; and the social and political conditions of the country were increasingly calculated to inflame into practical activity that “enthusiasm for righteousness,” which Mr Gosse has so well detected in Fielding. [1] The distracted state of the London stage, divided by the factions of players and managers, afforded moreover an excellent opportunity for a dramatist of some means to essay an independent venture. And accordingly, at the beginning of 1736, we find the Harry Fielding of the green-room and the poet’s garret, the Henry Fielding Esqre of East Stour, suddenly throwing the full force of his energies into political life, as the manager of, and writer for, a theatre with indisputable political aims. For the next eight years of his short life Fielding was largely occupied in the lively turmoil of eighteenth-century politics; and here, first by means of the stage, and later as journalist, he played a part which has perhaps been somewhat unduly overshadowed by the surpassing achievements of his genius as father of the English novel. But if we would perceive the full figure of the man this time of boisterous political warfare is of no mean account. In the dedication of his first party play, the amazingly successful _Pasquin_, Fielding subscribes himself as “the most devoted Servant of the public”; and no more appropriate keyword could be found for the energies which he threw into those envenomed political struggles of 1736-41.

At the date of his first plunge into these struggles England stood sorely in need of a pen as biting, as witty and as fearless, as that of Henry Fielding. For over ten years the country had been ruled by one of those “peace at any price” Ministers who have at times so successfully inflamed the baser commercial instincts of Englishmen. Sir Robert Walpole, the reputed organiser of an unrivalled system of bribery and corruption, the Minister of whom a recent apologist frankly declares that to young members of Parliament who spoke of public virtue and patriotism he would reply “you will soon come off that and grow wiser,” the autocrat enamoured of power who could brook no colleague within measurable distance, the man of coarse habits and illiterate tastes, above all the man who induced his countrymen to place money before honour, and whose administration even an admirer describes as one of unparalleled stagnation–such a man must have roused intense antagonism in Fielding’s generous and ardent nature. For, from the days of his first boyish satires to the last energetic acts of his life as a London magistrate, for Fielding to see an abuse was to set about reforming it. To his just sense of the true worth of money, the wholesale corruption of English political life accredited to Walpole, the poisoning, to adopt his own simile, of the body politic, must have seemed the vilest national crime. There could never have been the least sympathy between the mercenary and apathetic methods of Walpole and the open-hearted genius of Fielding. And, added to such fundamental opposition of character, the influence of Fielding’s old school friend, George Lyttelton, would, at this juncture especially, draw him into the active ranks of the Opposition.

Lyttelton was then rising into celebrity as a ready parliamentary speaker; a celebrity as yet not wholly eclipsed by the youthful oratory of William Pitt, the young cornet of the horse, who also had lately taken his seat on the Opposition benches. It was the burning patriotism, the lofty character and the towering genius of Pitt, the fluency and personal integrity of Lyttelton, that led the younger members of the Opposition in the House of Commons; while in the Lords another friend from whom Fielding was to receive “princely benefactions,” the young Duke of Bedford, a man of “inflexible honesty and goodwill to his country,” attacked Walpole’s alleged corrupt practices in the election of Scottish peers. With leaders such as William Pitt and Lyttelton on the one hand, and the corrupt figure of Walpole on the other, there is no wonder that Fielding flung all his generous force into the effort to free England from so degrading a domination. Accordingly, in 1736, when the young Pitt’s impassioned eloquence was soon to alarm the _Great Man_–“we must muzzle that terrible Cornet of the Horse,” Sir Robert said–and when fierce and riotous hostility to the government had broken out in the country over an attempted Excise Bill, Fielding appears as a frankly political manager of the “New Theatre” in the Haymarket. This small theatre stood precisely adjoining the present Palladian structure, as may be seen from a print of 1820, showing the demolition of the old building and the adjacent facade of the modern “Haymarket.” According to Tom Davies, who, as an actor in Fielding’s company and as an author of some pretensions should be reliable, Fielding was a managing partner of this “New Theatre,” in company with James Ralph, “about the year 1735.” [2] And apparently early in 1736 [3] his political, theatrical, and social satire of _Pasquin_ appeared on the little stage, and immediately captured the town.

In _Pasquin_ a perfectly outspoken attack on Walpole’s corrupt methods is united with a comprehensive onslaught on abuses in the stage, law, divinity, physic, society, and on the odes of Colley Cibber, sufficient one might suppose to satisfy even Fielding’s zeal. In an exuberant newspaper advertisement of the 5th of March Mr Pasquin is announced as intending to “lay about him with great impartiality,” and throughout the play Fielding’s splendid figure may be felt, swinging his satiric club with a boisterous enjoyment. The immediate success achieved by the piece was certainly not due to any great dramatic excellence; and that so loosely knit a medley as _PASQUIN, a Dramatic Satire on the Times: Being the Rehearsal of Two Plays, viz. A Comedy call’d THE ELECTION and a Tragedy, call’d The Life and Death of COMMON-SENSE_ should have achieved almost as long a run as the _Beggars Opera_, shows that the public heartily sympathised with the satirist. _Pasquin_ begins with the rehearsal of a comedy, called _The Election_, consisting of a series of broadly humorous scenes in which the open and diverse bribery at elections, the equally open immorality of fashionable town life, the connivance of country dames, and the inanity of the beau monde, are satirised. The country Mayor, the Ministerial candidates and the Opposition squire drink, bribe and are bribed with complete impartiality. A scene devoted to the political young lady of the day affords opportunity for a hit at the sickly and effeminate Lord ‘Fanny’ Hervey, that politician whom Pope described as a “mere white curd of Asse’s milk,” and of whom Lady Mary Wortley Montagu observed that “the world consisted of men, women, and Herveys.” Pope had stigmatised Hervey as _Lord Fanny_, and Fielding obviously plays on the nickname by references to the value attached by certain young ladies to their fans. “Faith,” says his comic author, “this incident of the fan struck me so strongly that I was once going to call this comedy by the name of the Fan.” The comedy ends with the successful cooking of the election returns by Mr Mayor in favour of the Ministerial candidates, for which “return” he is promised a “very good turn very soon”; and by the precipitate marriage of one of the said candidates to the Mayor’s daughter “to strengthen his interest with the returning officer.”

Having settled the business of the corrupt and corrupting Ministry in his comedy, Mr Pasquin proceeds to exhibit the rehearsal of his tragedy, _The Life and Death of Common Sense_. Here the satirist, leaving politics, applies his cudgel mainly to the prevailing taste for pantomime, a form of entertainment introduced it was said some thirty years previously by one Weaver, a country dancing master, and already lashed by Sir Richard Steele in his couplet:

“Weaver, corrupter of the present age, Who first taught silent sins upon the stage.”

That the Covent Garden manager, John Rich, [4] could engage four French dancers, and a German with two dogs, taught to dance the _Louvre_ and the _Minuet_, at ten pounds a night, and clear thereby “above 20 good houses,” while the Othello of Booth and the Wildair of Wilkes were neglected, was sufficient to rouse the indignation alike of moralists, dramatists and playgoers. Fielding in turn took the matter up with all his natural warmth; and in _Pasquin_ he represents the kingdom of the Queen of Common Sense as invaded by a vast army of “singers, fidlers, tumblers, and ropedancers,” who moreover fix their standard in Covent Garden, the