Fielding. - PA Criticism Archive

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Henry Fielding, without all doubt the most distinguished novel-writer in the walk of humour, was born in 1707, at Sharpham-park, near Glastonbury, in Somersetshire. His father, Edmund Fielding, was of a noble family; he had served under the Duke of Marlborough, and arrived at the rank of lieutenant-general. His mother was daughter to Sir Henry Gould, one of the judges of the king's bench. Thus advantageously ushered into life, from the situation and connexions of both parents, our author had every reasonable prospect of rising in the world; and, with the parts which nature had given him, of filling a distinguished station in some one of the more honourable professions. Henry was first put under the care of a domestic tutor, the Rev. Mr. Oliver, [2]  whose manners at least were not calculated to inspire him with much respect, if we are to believe the tradition, that he afterwards introduced him into his Joseph Andrews under the appellation of Parson Trulliber. [3]  From the care of this gentleman he was removed to Eton. In this distinguished seminary he became a good classical scholar, both in

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the Latin and the Greek languages; in the latter, particularly, he was said to be an uncommon proficient. He also formed there those acquaintances with young men of rank and fortune, which are generally considered as among the most advantageous circumstances attending a public school. He was early known to Mr. (afterwards Lord) Lyttleton, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, and other distinguished characters.

As young Fielding was intended for the law, he was sent, for the next stage of his education, to Leyden, which university was then in the zenith of its reputation. He studied under the celebrated Vitriarius, then professor of civil law, for two years, and distinguished himself as much by his application, as by the strength of his parts and his love for literature. At that interesting period of his education, his progress was cut short by pecuniary difficulties. His father had married a second time, and the pressure of an increasing family (no less than six sons being born to him in addition to four children of the first bed) rendered it impossible for the general to continue his eldest son’s remittances at the university. He was therefore obliged to return to England; and found himself at the age of twenty in the metropolis, pretty much his own master, and exposed to every allurement to pleasure and dissipation.

There is scarcely any profession from which there are so many deserters as from the law. A sprightly young man, who has imbibed in his preliminary education a strong taste for the more elegant parts of literature, is very apt to disrelish


the dry and severe studies to which he is devoted; and the temptations to pleasure, to which by living so much at large he is peculiarly exposed, and which he has seldom the force to resist, sap the vigour of his mind, and induce him to turn away from a pursuit which requires the unbroken powers of the whole man. Young Fielding was peculiarly susceptible of these impressions: still, had he continued where he had so well begun, at Leyden, in a comparatively sober town, among grave professors, and students occupied in preparing for their future destination, it is probably we might have possessed another eminent barrister or judge, and that we should not have had Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones.—Be that as it may, his coming to London at so critical a period was decisive of his character and fortunes. He had a good person, a quick relish of pleasure, a constitution remarkably strong, and a decided turn for social enjoyment; so that no doubt his disposition met half way the temptations his situation exposed him to. His allowance from his father was nominally two hundred a year; which, he was used to say, any body might pay that would. To supply the deficiencies of his income, and support a gay life in London, he began to write for the stage, and in the succeeding ten years produced three-and-twenty dramatic compositions, farces included, a number many times greater than Congreve had given to the public during the course of a long life. The greater part of these pieces met with but indifferent

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success at the time, and few of them have stood their ground to the present day.

It has been matter of surprise to those who contemplated Fielding in the quality of a novelist, that an author, whose characteristics are genuine humour and delineation of character, should have succeeded so ill in comedy; for what is a comedy but a short story, or novel put into dialogue? and the more of dialogue there is in the novel, the more spirit it possesses; so that they seem to be very kindred modes of writing.

But it must be considered, in the first place, that a dramatic writer, being confined by time and other circumstances belonging to representation on the stage, is obliged to concentrate his powers, and give the effect by a spirited outline, which the novel-writer has leisure to produce by the slow and patient touches of a more leisurely pencil. Comedy also requires much more delicate management. Coarse incidents and language may pass in relation, which would disgust upon the stage; where, every thing being in action, an indelicacy or awkwardness becomes much more prominent than when it meets the eye of the solitary reader in the pages of a book; and the least circumstance that provokes a laugh at the piece is sufficient to ruin it for ever. A quicker sense of propriety is exercised on the benches of a theatre than at the desk of the reader. In the drama, moreover, the author is not allowed to show himself; by which the wit of Fielding would lose much of its poignancy. He does not dramatize his novel so much as


many others have done. The author's learning, the author's wit appear continually, not only in his digressive chapters, but in the representations of the characters and secret views of his personages; and the humour is continually heightened by the contrast between the author's style and his views of things, and the characters he is holding up to ridicule.

But the want of merit in Fielding's comedies may be ascribed to other causes. They were his first productions; and, like most of the productions of youth, rather drawn from what he had read than what he had seen. He could not be supposed, at the age of twenty, to have attained that knowledge of life and character which he exhibited when, in a maturer age, he wrote his Tom Jones. The English stage has few models of elegant comedy, and he seems to have taken his from Congreve and Wycherley, and to have imitated their loose and vicious morals without their humour and brilliancy. Most of his pieces also were written in the intervals of pleasures and dissipation, with great rapidity, and upon the spur of the occasion, that is, the occasion for a present supply of money. He himself entertained a pretty great contempt for the judgement of the town, and hardened himself against censure by despising his censurers. He has printed one of his farces "as it was damned at the theatre royal, Drury Lane." [4]  It is related that, when his last comedy The Wedding Day was in rehearsal, Garrick, who was to act a part in it, begged the author to strike out a scene in which he

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expected to be hissed. Fielding refused: "If there is a weak part, let them find it out," said he. The event was as Garrick had predicted: and when he retired into the Green-room, where the author was drinking champagne, "I told you," said he, "it would never do; they are hissing, and I shall not recover myself all the evening."—"Oh," said Fielding with an oath, "they have found it, have they?"

One of this author's pieces, The Temple Beau, exhibits, with some strokes of humour, a character afterwards drawn with such success by Hoadley in his Suspicious Husband. His Tom Thumb has been often acted, and given great diversion to the audience; but his Miser, a free translation from Moliere's L'Avare, is the only one of his pieces which at present maintains its ground at the theatre. Yet, though there is nothing in the humour of the character which does not seem very capable of being transferred, it by no means holds the same rank of the English stage which L'Avare does on the French.—It is worthy of remark, that the liberties taken with some political characters, in one or two of our author’s pieces, are said to have been the immediate occasion of passing the act for limiting the number of theatres, and subjecting dramatic compositions to the inspection of the lord chamberlain. A restraint perhaps necessary, and no doubt permanent.

The farces of Fielding were generally the production of two or three mornings. When he had contracted for a play or farce, he has often been known to go home late from a tavern, and


send a scene or two the next morning written on the papers that had wrapped up his tobacco, of which he was immoderately fond. Notwithstanding the number of his pieces, they do not seem to have been very productive to him in a pecuniary light. For one, which was acted six nights, he received only sixty pounds.

In the midst of this career of dissipation, Fielding fell in love with and married Miss Craddock of Salisbury, a celebrated beauty with a fortune of 1500l. About the same time, by his mother's death, he succeeded to an estate of something more than two hundred a year. Upon these events he formed the wise resolution to retire with his wife, whom he passionately loved, into the country, and to forsake the gaieties and vices of a town life. He went accordingly to Stower in Dorsetshire, where his little estate lay. And here he might have purified his mind and corrected his taste. No longer obliged to write for a dinner, he might have felt only the gentle and salutary stimulus of bettering his fortune and increasing his enjoyments by the productions of his pen. But unfortunately he took it into his head to vie in expense with the country gentlemen his neighbours. The sound of a family estate has a wonderful effect upon some men. It was probably an idea of this kind, added to a thoughtlessness now become habitual, that made him launch out in the absurd manner he did. He had a carriage, a large establishment of servants in gaudy liveries; he gave dinners, kept hounds and horses, and found means, in less than three years, entirely to dis-


sipate his little patrimony. Some of these follies he has pourtrayed, softened no doubt, in the character of Booth in his Amelia. [5] 

He was now again obliged to draw subsistence from his own resources; and it is some praise to the vigour of his mind, and shows it was able to recover its spring, that he formed the resolution of seriously applying to the law, his original destination. He was about thirty when he entered himself at the Temple, and it is agreed that his application was laudable. He was one of those characters to whom mental exertion is more easy than abstinence from pleasure; and the good foundation he had laid in early life enabled him to recover a great deal of his lost ground.

After he was called to the bar, he attended the courts and went the circuits, but never had any great flow of business, though he is said to have acquired a very respectable share of legal knowledge, and even to have gone deep into some particular branches of it, as he left behind him two volumes folio upon crown law. The gout also, which he had by this time earned, began to make depredations upon his constitution. He was therefore obliged to recur again to his pen to supply the wants of a growing family; and essays, plays, and political pamphlets were the product of his leisure. He wrote in a periodical paper called The Champion. [6] An Essay on Conversation; A Journey from this World to the next; and many little pieces, now forgotten, to which the time and occasion gave temporary value, were also published by him.


In poetry he was not successful. His attempts exposed him to the satire of Swift in the following lines:

When you rashly think
No rhymer can like Welsted sink,
His merits balanced, you shall find,
That Fielding leaves him far behind. [7] 

Swift little thought at the time that Fielding would be an author as much read as himself. One little piece of his written in early life is addressed to Sir Robert Walpole, ironically endeavouring to prove himself the greater man of the two. He says;

I live above you twice two story,
And from my garret can look down
On the whole street of Arlington. [8] 

And again:

Your levee is but twice a week;
From mine I can exclude but one day,
My door is quiet on a Sunday. [9] 

It concludes with expressing himself very willing to come down from his greatness and accept of a place.

About this time he published his History of Jonathan Wild. The humour and strokes of character in this piece first gave indications of the mode of writing from whence he was to derive his celebrity. It is, like Gay's Beggar's Opera, an exhibition of scenes of the greatest profligacy in low life, with an implied satire on the world in general, and particularly of the world of high life. Joseph Andrews was his


first regular novel. It was published in 1742, and gave him deserved celebrity. But he soon after met with a heavy affliction in the loss of his beloved wife, who had long been sinking under ill health. This stroke he felt with an acuteness of sensibility which perhaps would scarcely have been expected in a man of pleasure; his grief was so strong that his friends were even afraid his reason should give way under it. He afterwards, however, married a second time, and his wife survived him. [10] 

Attached to the principles of the Revolution, he published, during the rebellion of 1745, a periodical paper entitled The True Patriot, and another, The Jacobite Journal. [11]  These services to government were rewarded with the appointment to the office of acting justice of the peace for Middlesex, a situation he was induced to accept from the failure of his hopes of rising in the more brilliant career of the bar. In this laborious and at that time not very respectable office, he was active and diligent; and he published several tracts with the laudable design of checking the vices of the populace. An active magistrate was extremely wanted at that time. Robberies were frequent, and atrocious murders had been committed with a barbarity not usual in this country. A Charge to the Grand Jury, a pamphlet On the Increase and Cause of Robberies, and A Proposal for the Maintenance of the Poor, in which the first hints were given of county workhouses, bore testimony to his zeal and diligence. He wrote a pamphlet on the case


of Elizabeth Canning, which was answered by Dr. Hill, with whom he had frequent controversies.

It shows the vigour of Fielding's mind, that notwithstanding these exertions, and the duties of an active and laborious profession, with an anxious mind and a broken constitution, he found leisure for his capital work, his History of Tom Jones. He was about four-and-forty when he wrote it; a period of life when judgement, invention, and observation go hand in hand, and man possesses all his powers together. After the publication of this celebrated novel, we may regard the author as in the meridian of his fame, and possessed, through his various labours, of the means of living with ease and comfort: but his constitution, naturally strong, and his frame, originally athletic, undermined by irregularity and broken by fatigue, were now sinking apace; notwithstanding which he published, four years afterwards, his Amelia, in which, though it possesses many beautiful strokes, and an interest derived from its including a part of Mr. Fielding's own story, the humour is fainter, the characters less original; and, like the second rainbow, though the same colours are seen, they shine with fainter radiance. It has more of sentiment than humour, more of narrative than of scenes passing before the eye.

After this he engaged in a periodical paper, The Covent-Garden Journal, which was carried on for a twelvemonth. [12]  But now his health became entirely broken under a complication of disorders; and after undergoing the operation of


tapping, [13]  he was ordered to Lisbon, whither his wife accompanied him; but he lived only two months after he got there. The last gleams of his genius were displayed in a small piece entitled A Journey to Lisbon, in which there is more of peevishness than of humour. He died in 1754, in the forty-eighth year of his age. His second wife with four children survived him, and experienced the kindness of Mr. Allen, the Alworthy [14]  of the author, in the liberal pecuniary assistance he afforded for their education. Fielding was succeeded in his office by his half-brother, the well-known Sir John Fielding, who had been long his assistant, and who afterwards distinguished himself so much by his activity at the head of the London police, though he had the misfortune to be blind from his birth.

Henry Fielding was in his person tall, and of a robust make with an originally strong constitution, qualities which, perhaps for that reason, he seems fond of attributing to his heroes. He was social, hospitable, fond of pleasure, and apt to be impatient under disappointment or ill usage. Though he might not be a very faithful, he was a very affectionate husband, as well as a very fond father; all the sympathies of a feeling heart were alive in him. By seeing much of the vicious part of mankind, professionally in his latter years and by choice in his earlier, his mind received a taint which spread itself in his works, but was powerfully counteracted by the better sensibilities of his nature. Notwithstanding his irregularities, he was not without a sense of religion, and had collected materials for an An-


swer to Lord Bolingbroke's posthumous works, in which he would probably have been much out of his depth. No portrait was taken of him during his life. Hogarth, with whom he had an intimate friendship, executed one after his death, partly from recollection and partly from a profile cut by a lady with a pair of scissars. An engraving of it is prefixed to the edition of his works in ten volumes, with his Life, published by Mr. Murphy.

Joseph Andrews, the first of Fielding's novels in the order of publication, has been, and always must be, a most captivating performance to those who have a taste for genuine humour. There is little or nothing in it of story, compared with the elaborate plan of his subsequent work; nor so great a variety of characters: on which account the performance is inferior, but it possesses, in quite an equal degree, the comic spirit of the author. He professes to have written it in the manner of Cervantes; and accordingly the style, where the author himself speaks, is in a kind of mock heroic, particularly in the introductory flourishes, where he ushers in the incidents of a foot-race, or a boxing-match between two rustics, in the pompous and lofty phrase which might be used to describe one of Homer's battles. This manner he has preserved in his other novels: in all of them the author is constantly kept in sight, and the grave humour of the piece is heightened by his remarks. The plan of Richardson, on the contrary, which was to make his characters tell their own story in letters to each other, necessarily excludes the

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author:—each mode has its advantages, that of Richardson is perhaps the most difficult. The most striking figure in this piece is that of Parson Adams, an original and most diverting character, in which the lights and shades are so admirably blended, and estimable qualities so mixed with foibles and eccentricities, that we love and laugh at him at the same time.

Adams is a country curate of great learning and integrity, very benevolent, and of such simplicity of heart that, to use the author’s expression, "he never sees further into men than they choose to let him." In common with many deep scholars, he is subject to great absence of mind, which brings him into many ludicrous difficulties; and he has a tincture of harmless vanity which leads him sometimes to assume more self-importance than belongs to his humble station.

The author has shown great skill in making us laugh so heartily at a character, and yet keeping it above contempt. This could not have been done in the degrading scenes of low life to which he is exposed, if he had not, in addition to his higher qualities, given him great personal courage and an athletic constitution; so that in the scenes in which his poverty exposes him to insult, his Herculean strength and intrepidity make us feel that, though he may be played upon, he is not to be trampled on; and the reader is well pleased to see that he generally gets the better in the rough contests in which he is engaged. It has been sometimes objected to Fielding that so good a man as Adams, a clergyman, and a scholar, should be held up to ridicule; but


it should be considered that comic characters were what he sought, and what his genius led him to exhibit; that such mixed characters do exist, and that our feelings are properly excited in due proportion to the excellencies and eccentricities of this amusing personage. His learning redeems his ignorance of the world; his simplicity does not proceed from want of sense, but want of penetration, which arises in great measure from his candour and singleness of heart: his absence of mind harmonizes with his erudition. A man of his stamp is not unlikely to forget his horse at an inn, to wade through a brook instead of crossing a stile to find a dry path, and to leave the sermons behind him which he came to London to print. It is asserted in Fielding's Life by Murphy, that a Mr. Young, [15]  a man of great learning and a friend of the author's, was the original of this picture. This gentleman was a man of great benevolence, an excellent Grecian, and particularly fond of Æschylus, and very subject to fits of absence. It is related of him that, while he was chaplain to a regiment in Flanders, he took a solitary ramble one fine summer's evening, and, falling into a deep reverie, walked on till he came to the enemy's camp, where he was with difficulty brought to his recollection by the Qui va là? [16]  The officer on duty, seeing he had strayed thither in the simplicity of his heart, politely gave him leave to pursue his meditations back again.

Two other characters of clergymen appear in this work, those of Barnabas and Trulliber. Trulliber feeding his hogs and tyrannizing over his


wife is a truly Dutch piece, and worthy the pencil of a Teniers. It is possible a Trulliber might be found in a remote part of the country when the author wrote, but it is to be presumed the race is now extinct. Barnabas is a character of hypocrisy and selfishness, of which the world will always afford specimens. Joseph and Fanny are sufficiently interesting: the latter is drawn with ease and simplicity. Joseph is a hero in virtue, more so perhaps than might naturally have been expected from the free pen of the author, who seems to have been induced to give him this purity of character from a whimsical competition with the author of Pamela, against which work there are many sly strokes of satire. It is certain, however, that Joseph Andrews is the most unexceptional in point of morals of any of Fielding's novels. So far as a free exhibition of vicious characters may be objected to on the score of delicacy, perhaps it is not free from blame, but in this it is far less exceptionable than those of Smollet; and there is between them this essential difference, that in Joseph Andrews the interest is constantly and uniformly thrown on the side of virtue. When our affections are drawn forth, it is in favour of the innocent and the good; when we laugh, it is at folly, affectation, or absurdity; when we feel detestation, it is at hardness of heart, as in the behavior of the passengers in the stage-coach to the wounded Joseph; or it is at brutality, hypocrisy, and deceit; so that, if Fielding had written only this work, there could have been no doubt of his being ranked among the friends of virtue.


In this panegyric must not however be included a very dull history of a Mr. Wilson, inserted apparently, as well as another story of Leonora, for the sake of filling up, though the work only consists of two volumes. The story has the worse effect, as, after having passed through every scene of vice and debauchery, Wilson is rewarded with a virtuous wife: and by way of connecting this episodical story with the body of the work, the author has made him the father of the virtuous and deserving Joseph.

A number of other characters are touched with great truth and spirit. Mrs. Slipslop has become proverbial for her phraseology, which has been imitated by several novel-writers. Lady Booby is the prototype of Lady Bellaston. [17]  The discerning reader cannot overlook Peter Pounce the steward, nor the simplicity of Adams, who believes him in earnest when he pretends "not to be near so rich as people thought him," and the naïveté with which the latter tells him, "that he always said it was impossible he could have honestly massed so much, particularly as he inherited no fortune," with the consequent anger of Pounce, all which conveys a satire as just as it is lively. We are never better pleased than when, either in fiction or in real life, a proud man receives a stroke of unintentional satire from one who has too much simplicity to feel that he has given it. But to particularize the strokes of nature and humour in this novel would be almost to transcribe the work; suffice it to mention one or two.

When Joseph, having rescued his Fanny from

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the hands of her ravisher, expresses his impatience to have her made indissolubly his own; Adams rebukes him for his impetuosity, telling him that "the passions are to be greatly subdued if not totally eradicated, and that he ought not so to set his mind upon any person or thing in this world, as that he cannot resign it quietly and contentedly, when taken from him in any manner by divine Providence." At this moment somebody comes in and tells him that his youngest son is drowned; and when Joseph attempts to comfort him from some of the topics he had just insisted on, the good man rejects them in the bitterness of his heart, and cries out, "Child, child, do not attempt impossibilities, the loss of a child is one of those great trials in which our grief is allowed to be immoderate." Yet the exhortations of Adams are not common-place and hypocritical, like those of Barnabas when he prayed by Joseph; his inconsistency is only the weakness of human nature. The passage finely shows how difficult it is to put ourselves in the place of others. It was impossible for Adams, with all his benevolence, to enter into the impatient feelings of the young lovers. He was ready to serve, but he could not sympathize with them. A younger man would have sympathized, and, if he wanted benevolence, might not have served them.

The winding up of this novel is the only part in which there is any aim at intricacy; and it may perhaps be thought some disparagement to the invention of the author, that the plot of two of his novels turns upon the discovery of foundling


children. As Joseph Andrews is made the brother of Pamela Andrews, and as both are stories in low life, Richardson complained heavily of Fielding that he had followed up the mode of writing which he had opened for him, and made it a vehicle for abusing him; for, in fact, a good deal of ridicule is thrown upon Pamela, and of that its author might complain. But his manner and that of Fielding are so totally different, that each may be admired as an original writer without interference with the other, and different tastes will be attracted by different talents. Joseph Andrews may with more propriety be compared to the Paysan Parvenu of Marivaux than to any work of Richardson's.

Joseph Andrews was followed by Tom Jones, a novel produced when the author was in the meridian of his faculties, and after he had joined to his natural talents experience of the world, mature judgement, and practice in the art of writing. From these advantages a finished work may be expected; and such, considered as a composition, Tom Jones undoubtedly is. There is perhaps no novel in the English language so artfully conducted, or so rich in humour and character. Nor is it without scenes that interest the heart. The story of the highwayman, the distress of Mrs. Miller and her daughter in the affair with Nightingale, and many little incidents relating to Jones in his childhood, are highly affecting, and calculated to awaken our best feelings. Touches of the pathetic thus starting out in a work of humour, do not lose, they rather


gain, from the contrast of sensations, and have a greater air of nature from being mixed with adventures drawn from common life. The conduct of the piece is as masterly as the details are interesting. It contains a story involving a number of adventures, and a variety of characters, all of which are strictly connected with the main design, and tend to the development of the plot; which yet is so artfully concealed, that it may be doubted whether it was ever anticipated by the most practised and suspicious reader. The story contains all that we require in a regular epopea [18]  or drama; strict unity of design, a change of fortune, a discovery, punishment and reward distributed according to poetical or rather moral justice. The clearing up the character of Jones to Alworthy, the discovery of his relationship to him, and his union with Sophia, are all brought about at the end of the piece, and all obscurities satisfactorily cleared up; so that the reader can never doubt, as in some novels he may, whether the work should have ended a volume before, or have been carried on a volume after, the author's conclusion. The peculiar beauty of the plot consists in this; that though the author's secret is impenetrable, the discovery is artfully prepared by a number of circumstances, not attended to at the time, and by obscure hints thrown out, which, when the reader looks back upon them, are found to agree exactly with the concealed event. Of this nature is the cool unabashed behaviour of Jenny, the supposed delinquent, when she acknow-


ledges herself the mother of the child; the flitting appearance from time to time of the attorney Dowling; and especially the behavior of Mrs. Blifil to her son, which is wonderfully well managed in this respect. She appears at first to notice him only in compliance, and an ungracious compliance too, with her brother's request; yet many touches of the mother are recollected when the secret is known; and the more open affection she shows him afterwards, when a youth of eighteen, has a turn given it which effectually misleads the reader. If he is very sagacious, he may perhaps suspect some mystery from the frequent appearance of Dowling; but he has no clue to find out what the mystery is, nor can he anticipate the very moment of discovery.

But intricacy of plot, admirable as this is, is still of secondary merit compared with the exhibition of character, of which there is in this work a rich variety. Of the humorous ones Squire Western and his sister are the most prominent. They are admirably contrasted. He, rough, blunt, and boorish; a country squire of the last century; fond of his dogs and horses; a bitter Jacobite, as almost all the country squires at that time were; and from both causes averse to lords, and London, and every circumstance belonging to a court. She, a staunch whig, a politician in petticoats, valuing herself upon court breeding, finesse, and management, and not disposed, as Young says in one of his satires, "to take her tea without a stratagem." [19]  Their opposite though both wrong modes of managing Sophia,


their mutual quarrels, and the cordial contempt shown for female pretensions on the one side, and country ignorance on the other, are highly amusing. The character of Western is particularly well drawn: he is quite a worldly man, and strongly attached to money, notwithstanding an appearance of jollity and heartiness, which might seem to indicate a propensity to the social feelings. His extreme fondness for Jones, and his total blindness to the passion between him and his daughter, though he had thrown them continually in each other's way, are very natural, and what we see every day exemplified in real life, as well as the astonishment he expresses that a young lady of fortune should think of falling in love with a young fellow without any. Many parents seem by their conduct to think this as impossible as if the two parties were beings of a different species, and they deservedly suffer the consequences of their incautious folly. His fondness for Sophia too, like that of many parents, is very consistent with the most tyrannical behavior to her in points essential to her happiness. His leaving the pursuit of his daughter when he hears the cry of the hounds, in order to join a fox-chase, is very characteristic and diverting.

It must be admitted that the language and manners of Western have a coarseness which in the present day may be thought exaggerated; and it is to be hoped it would be difficult now to find a breed of country squires quite so unpolished. Perhaps the improvement may be partly owing to their not being so independent


as formerly. When they lived insulated, each in his own little domain, and their estates sufficed them to reside among their tenants and dependants in rustic consequence, they supplied such characters as a Western, a Sir Francis Wronghead, the Jacobite esquire in The Freeholder; [20]  and, of the more amiable sort, a Sir Roger de Coverley; for the drama and the novel; which are now nearly extinct, from the necessity the increasing demands of luxury have occasioned of seeking an increase of fortune in the busy and active scenes of life. Estates are purchased by moneyed men; they bring down the habits of mercantile life from the brewery or the warehouse; a library and a drawing-room take the place of the hall hung with stags' horns and brushes of foxes; the hounds are sold; the mansion is deserted during half the year for London or a watering-place. It is probable there are more of his majesty's subjects at this moment hunting the tiger or the wild boar in India, than there are hunting foxes at home.

Partridge is the Sancho Pancha [21]  of the piece; like him, he deals in proverbs and scraps of wisdom; like him, he is cowardly, and puts his master in mind of bodily necessities. The author has taken occasion through this character to pay a delicate compliment to the acting of Garrick in the part of Hamlet. Jones himself, the hero of the piece, for whom, notwithstanding his faults, the reader cannot help being interested, is contrasted with Blifil, the legitimate son of his mother. The two youths are brought up together under the same roof and the same


discipline. Jones is a youth of true feeling, honour, and generosity; open and affectionate in his disposition, but very accessible to the temptations of pleasure. Blifil, with great apparent sobriety and decorum of manners, is a mean selfish hypocrite, possessing a mind of thorough baseness and depravity. In characters so contrasted, it is not doubtful to which of them the reader will, or ought to give the preference. To the faults of Blifil the reader has no inclination to be partial. They revolt the mind, particularly the minds of youth. The case is not the same with those more pardonable deviations from morals which are incident to youths of a warm temperament and an impressible heart: these are contagious in their very nature, and therefore the objections which have been made to the moral tendency of this novel are no doubt in some measure just. It is said to have been forbidden in France on its first publication. The faults of Jones are less than those of almost every other person who is brought upon the stage; yet they are of more dangerous example, because they are mixed with so many qualities which excite our affections. Still, his character is of a totally different stamp from the heroes of Smollet's novels. He has an excellent heart and a refined sensibility, though he has also passions of a lower order. In every instance where he transgresses the rules of virtue, he is the seduced, and not the seducer; his youth, his constitution, his unprotected situation after he left Alworthy's, palliate his faults, and in honourable love he is tender and constant. His refusal


of the young widow who makes him an offer of her hand does him honour. In one instance only is he degraded,—his affair with Lady Bellaston.

The character of Sophia was probably formed according to the author's ideas of female perfection: she is very beautiful, very sweet-tempered, very fond and constant to her lover; but her behaviour will scarcely satisfy one who has conceived high ideas of the delicacy of the female character. A young woman just come from reading Clarissa [22] must be strangely shocked at seeing the heroine of the tale riding about the country on post-horses after her lover; and the incidents at Upton are highly indelicate. It is observable that Fielding uniformly keeps down the characters of his women, as much as Richardson elevates his. A yielding easiness of disposition is what he seems to lay the greatest stress upon. Alworthy is made to tell Sophia, that what had chiefly charmed him in her behaviour was the great deference he had observed in her for the opinions of men. Yet Sophia, methinks, had not been extraordinarily well situated for imbibing such reverence. Any portion of learning in women is constantly united in this author with something disagreeable. It is given to Jenny, the supposed mother of Jones. It is given in a higher degree to that very disgusting character Mrs. Bennet in Amelia; Mrs. Western, too, is a woman of reading. A man of licentious manners, and such was Fielding, seldom respects the sex. Of the other characters,

vol. xviii. c


Lady Bellaston displays the ease, good-breeding, and impudence of a town-bred lady of fashion, who has laid aside her virtue. The scene where Jones meets Sophia at her house unexpectedly, the confusion of the lovers, and the civil, sly teasings of Lady Bellaston, are very diverting. Mrs. Miller is a specimen of a natural character given without any exaggeration. She is warm-hearted, overflowing with gratitude, sanguine, and very loquacious. The behavior of Jones in the affair between Nightingale and her daughter does him honour, and he manages the uncle and the father with much finesse. All the characters concerned are well drawn. The family of Black George exhibits natural but coarse painting; they would not be undeserving of a place in Mr. Crabb's parish register. The character of Alworthy is not a shining one; he is imposed upon by every body: this may be consistent with goodness, but it is not consistent with that dignity in which an eminently virtuous character, meant to be exhibited as a pattern of excellence, ought to appear. But Fielding could not draw such a character. Traits of humanity and kindness he is able to give in all their beauty; but a religious and strictly moral character was probably connected in his mind with a want of sagacity, which those who have been conversant with the vicious part of the world are very apt to imagine must be the consequence of keeping aloof from it. Besides, it was necessary for the plot that Alworthy should be imposed upon. The character of Alworthy,


it is said, was meant for Mr. Allen of Prior-park, a friend and patron of the author's, characterized by Pope in these well known lines,

Let humble Allen, with an awkward shame,
Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame. [23] 

The discovery of Jones's birth, and his restoration to the favour of Alworthy, wind up the whole, and give an animation to the concluding part, which is apt to become flat in the works of common authors. It is some drawback, however, upon the satisfaction of the reader, that poetic justice cannot be done without giving the good Alworthy the pain of being acquainted with the shame of his sister. It is not natural, when he does know it, that he should needlessly publish a circumstance of that kind, or consider Jones as having the same claims upon him as a legitimate child of his sister's; yet this is what he is made to do.

Upon the whole, Tom Jones is certainly for humour, wit, character, and plot, one of the most entertaining and perfect novels we possess. With regard to its moral tendency we must content ourselves with more qualified praise. A young man may imbibe from it sentiments of humanity, generosity, and all the more amiable virtues; a detestation of meanness, hypocrisy, and treachery: but he is not likely to gain from it firmness to resist temptation, or to have his ideas of moral purity heightened or refined by the perusal. More men would be apt to imitate Jones than would copy Lovelace; and it is to be feared there are few women who would not like

c 2


him better than Sir Charles Grandison. The greater refinement also and delicacy of the present age, a sure test of national civilization, though a very equivocal one of national virtue, has almost proscribed much of that broad humour which appears in the works of Fielding's times, and we should scarcely bear, in a new novel, the indelicate pictures which are occasionally presented to the imagination. The scenes at inns also are coarse, and too often repeated. The introductory chapters ought not to be passed over; they have much wit and grave Cervantic humour, and occasionally display the author's familiarity with the classics.

Fielding's vein was not yet exhausted; he produced a third novel called Amelia . If this has less of the author's characteristic humour, it has more scenes of domestic tenderness. Contrary to the usual practice of novel-writers, the story begins after the marriage of the principal personages. The hero, Mr. Booth, is introduced to us in a prison; the distresses of the piece arise from the vicious indulgencies of the husband, combined with unfortunate circumstances; and in the character of Booth, Fielding is generally supposed to have delineated his own. Amelia is such a wife as most men of that stamp would deem the model of female perfection, such a one as a man, conscious of a good many frailties and vices, usually wishes for. Faithful, fond, and indulgent, the prospect of immediate ruin cannot draw from her one murmur against her husband, and she willingly sacrifices to him her jewels and every article in her possession.


Booth is represented as good-natured, thoughtless, and extravagant; passionately fond of his wife, notwithstanding occasional breaches of fidelity to her; and very ready to receive the sacrifices she makes, even to the pawning of her clothes and moveables, for the discharge of his gaming debts. Amelia, indeed, is a heroine of affection and obedience, and the impression upon the reader is certainly that of her being a very amiable and interesting woman; but her character exhibits a great degree of weakness, particularly in her behavior to the nobleman who is endeavouring to seduce her. What woman of any sense could suppose, that a gay nobleman would frequent her house for the sake of amusing himself with her little ones? Her softness and tenderness form a happy contrast with the boldness and daring guilt of Miss Matthews, a character conceived with great strength and spirit. She is a woman handsome and genteelly educated, but leading a life of profligacy, given up to her passions, dangerous; not frail only but wicked. She keeps Booth in unwilling bondage by her threats of disclosing his infidelity to his wife. The history she is made to give of herself is, however, a very dull one.

The prison scenes are strongly drawn. Fielding was well acquainted with rogues and rascals in his judicial, and probably not unfrequently in his private capacity. There is much merit in the delineation of Captain James and his wife, a fashionable couple who are very complaisant without caring for each other. It is an excellent stroke in the character of the lady, that, in the


midst of her anxiety for her husband, who is supposed to be killed in a duel, she recollects to countermand a rich brocade making up for her at the mantua-maker's. In touches of satire like these Fielding excelled. There is something very touching in the humble love of Atkins, which is only revealed when he thinks himself on his death-bed; but the author has not used him very kindly in matching him with so disagreeable a personage as Mrs. Bennet, whose character throughout is thoroughly disgusting, and seems introduced purely to show the author's dislike to learned women. Learning in women may be inimical to some parts of the feminine character, but certainly does not lead to the vices he has given Mrs. Bennet. Probably the coterie of literary and accomplished ladies that generally assembled at his rival's house had its share in fostering this aversion.

Another character in this work is Colonel Bath, who hides great tenderness of heart under an appearance of fierceness and bluster. He warms his sister's gruel, and is ready to run any man through the body who catches him at the employment. His portrait approaches the caricature.

A more important personage in the story is the good Dr. Harris; a clergyman, active, friendly and benevolent, with a dash of the humourist. By his means the discovery is brought about that Amelia is entitled to a large estate, which extricates Booth from his difficulties, and brings the story to a happy conclusion. Though Fielding in his former works has introduced


many clergymen who are held up to ridicule, it is not as clerical but as individual characters, for he was no enemy either to the church or to religion. We certainly cannot conceive of him as a religious man; but he was not from system irreligious. In his characters of Thwackum and Square he has given pretty equal measure to the divine and the philosopher.—There are many good moral maxims in Amelia, and much of grave dissertation, but less of humour than in the author’s former works. There are also many tender touches of conjugal affection and domestic feeling. There is no great merit, it is true, on Booth's side in receiving graciously the endearments of a beautiful woman who is always in good humour with him, even when he is most faulty. He is pleased with her; he could not well be otherwise; but he denies himself nothing for her sake or his children's. Yet, faulty as he is, the reader is glad when he is extricated from his distresses. That this should be done by the discovery of a forged will, betrays some poverty of invention, as nearly the same incident is made use of in the denouement of Tom Jones.

Upon the whole, though Amelia must be acknowledged inferior to the author's other two works, it would establish the reputation of a common writer; and the three together present an exhibition of wit, humour, and character, not easy to be paralleled before or since the time when they were published.

Fielding's works are not greatly relished by foreigners; his personages are so truly and characteristically English, that it requires the know-


ledge and early associations of a native fully to comprehend them. A Somersetshire esquire is a being as unknown to a Frenchman as a Limosin gentleman is to us. Humour, like some fruits of delicate taste, should be enjoyed on the spot where it is produced. It loses its flavour by being carried abroad. Indeed a foreigner often forms wrong ideas of the manners of a country when he takes them from works of wit and humour, where peculiarities are necessarily dwelt upon and exaggerated; and an Englishman, solicitous for the honour of his country, would not wish that the ideas of its manners should be taken from the works of Fielding. To himself they are valuable in the same light as the paintings of Hogarth, which are become curious from exhibiting the modes and dresses of the last century, along with the characteristic manners of the country, and the varied play of those passions and feelings, to delineate which, with spirit and effect, belongs to the observer of human nature in general.


[1] The British Novelists; with an Essay; and Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, by Mrs. Barbauld, 50 Vols. (London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington; W. Otridge and Son; A. Strahan; T. Payne; G. Robinson; W. Lowndes; Wilkie and Robinson; Scatcherd and Letterman; J. Walker; Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe; R. Lea; J. Nunn; Lackington and Co.; Clarke and Son; C. Law; Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme; Cadell and Davies; E. Jeffery; J.K. Newman; Crosby and Co.; J. Carpenter; S. Bagster; T. Booth; J. Murray; J. and J. Richardson; Black, Parry, and Kingsbury; J. Harding; R. Phillips; J. Mawman; J. Booker; J. Asperne; R. Baldwin; Mathews and Leigh; J. Faulder; Johnson and Co.; W. Creech, Edinburgh; and Wilson and Son, York, 1810), 18: i-xxxii. Rachel Dejmal and Mary A. Waters co-edited this essay for The Criticism Archive. BACK

[2] In Memorials of Old Dorset, edited by Thomas Perkins and Herbert Pentin (1907), Miss M. Jourdain writes,"Henry Fielding one of the Eastbury circle ... was brought up as a boy in the manor house at East Stower, where he was taught by the Reverend Mr. Oliver, curate of the neighbouring village of Motcombe, said to have been the original of Trulliber, a portrait drawn 'in resentment of some punishment inflicted on him,' according to Hutchins," a Dorset historian. According to the records in the Clergy of the Church of England Database, Mr. John Oliver held the curacy at Motcombe from 1732 to 1749. BACK

[3] A miserly, slothful, irascible pig-farmer and parson. BACK

[4] Fielding prefaced the published version of his drama Eurydice, or The Devil Henpecked (1737) with this line. BACK

[5] Amelia marries Captain Booth, a handsome but feckless army officer, who invovles the couple in financial embarrassments until he is sent to debtor's prison. At that point Amelia learns she has inherited enough money from her mother to settle the debt and allow the couple to retire to the country. BACK

[6] Fielding wrote for this thrice-weekly periodical running from November 1739 to June 1740. BACK

[7] Jonathan Swift, "On Poetry; A Rhapsody" (1733), 397-400. BACK

[8] Henry Fielding, "To The Right Honourable Sir Robert Walpole, (Now Earl of Orford). Written in the year 1730" (1730), 28-30. BACK

[9] Henry Fielding , "To The Right Honourable Sir Robert Walpole, (Now Earl of Orford). Written in the year 1730" (1730), 34-36. BACK

[10] Fielding married Mary Daniel (d. 1802) on October 27, 1747. BACK

[11] The True Patriot; and The History of Our Own Times ran from November 1745 into June 1746, followed, beginning December 1747, by The Jacobite's Journal, by John Trott-Plaid, Esq., which continued into November 1748. "Jacobite" refers to supporters of James II of England and his successors after his deposition in 1688. BACK

[12] From January through November 1752. BACK

[13] Surgical procedure in which a body cavity is punctured to permit drawing off fluid, used especially in cases of "dropsy," often caused by congestive heart failure, and ascites ("abdominal dropsy"). Both ailments are often associated with the dissipated habits Barbauld credits to Fielding. BACK

[14] The generous squire who turns out to be the uncle of Tom Jones in the novel by the same name. BACK

[15] According to Frederick G. Ribble in "Fielding and William Young" (Studies in Philology 98.4 [Autumn, 2001]: 457-501), Reverend William Young was born on October, 10, 1689 and died on August 29, 1775. Ribble, too, claims that Young inspired the character Parson Abraham Adams in Fielding's novel Joseph Andrews. In addition to their friendship, Young and Fielding worked together on several literary projects and collaborated on the translation of Aristophanes's Plutus (1742). BACK

[16] "Who goes there?" BACK

[17] Character in Tom Jones. BACK

[18] Epic poem. Unlike most women of her day, Barbauld was taught Greek by her classicist father. She occasionally displays this learning in both her literary knowledge and her vocabulary. BACK

[19] Edward Young, Satire VI, "On Women. To the right hon. Lady Elizabeth Germain," Love of Fame, the Universal Passion; in Seven Characteristical Satires. BACK

[20] Paper written by Joseph Addison from December 1715 to June 1716. BACK

[21] Sancho Panza is the loyal servant of Don Quixote in Cervantes's celebrated novel. BACK

[22] Popular novel by Samuel Richardson published in 1747. BACK

[23] Alexander Pope, Epilogue to the Satires in Two Dialogues, Dialogue I (1738), 135-6. BACK

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