Fielding (Dobson)/Chapter 3
CHAPTER III. THE CHAMPION—JOSEPH ANDREWS.
The Historical Register and Eurydice Hiss’d were published together in June 1737. By this time the “Licensing Act” was passed, and the “Grand Mogul’s Company” dispersed for ever. Fielding was now in his thirty-first year, with a wife and probably a daughter depending on him for support. In the absence of any prospect that he would be able to secure a maintenance as a dramatic writer, he seems to have decided, in spite of his comparatively advanced age, to revert to the profession for which he had originally been intended, and to qualify himself for the Bar. Accordingly, at the close of the year, he became a student of the Middle Temple, and the books of that society contain the following record of his admission: [Footnote: This differs slightly from previous transcripts, having been verified at the Middle Temple.]—
[574 G] 1 Nov 1737.
Henricus Fielding, de East Stour in Com Dorset Ar, filius et haeres apparens Brig: Genlis: Edmundi Fielding admissus est in Societatem Medii Templi Lond specialiter et obligator una cum etc.
Et dat pro fine 4. 0. 0.
It may be noted, as Mr. Keightley has already observed, that Fielding is described in this entry as of East Stour, “which would seem to indicate that he still retained his property at that place;” and further, that his father is spoken of as a “brigadier-general,” whereas (according to the Gentleman’s Magazine) he had been made a major-general in December 1735. Of discrepancies like these it is idle to attempt any explanation. But, if Murphy is to be believed, Fielding devoted himself henceforth with remarkable assiduity to the study of law. The old irregularity of life, it is alleged, occasionally asserted itself, though without checking the energy of his application. “This,” says his first biographer, “prevailed in him to such a degree, that he has been frequently known, by his intimates, to retire late at night from a tavern to his chambers, and there read, and make extracts from, the most abstruse authors, for several hours before he went to bed; so powerful were the vigour of his constitution and the activity of his mind.” It is to this passage, no doubt, that we owe the picturesque wet towel and inked ruffles with which Mr. Thackeray has decorated him in Pendennis; and, in all probability, a good deal of graphic writing from less able pens respecting his modus vivendi as a Templar. In point of fact, nothing is known with certainty respecting his life at this period; and what it would really concern us to learn—namely, whether by “chambers” it is to be understood that he was living alone, and, if so, where Mrs. Fielding was at the time of these protracted vigils—Murphy has not told us. Perhaps she was safe all the while at East Stour, or with her sisters at Salisbury. Having no precise information, however, it can only be recorded, that, in spite of the fitful outbreaks above referred to, Fielding applied himself to the study of his profession with all the vigour of a man who has to make up for lost time; and that, when on the 20th of June 1740 the day came for his being “called,” he was very fairly equipped with legal knowledge. That he had also made many friends among his colleagues of Westminster Hall is manifest from the number of lawyers who figure in the subscription list of the Miscellanies.
To what extent he was occupied by literary work during his probationary period it is difficult to say. Murphy speaks vaguely of “a large number of fugitive political tracts;” but unless the Essay on Conversation, advertised by Lawton Gilliver in 1737, be the same as that afterwards reprinted in the Miscellanies, there is no positive record of anything until the issue of True Greatness, an epistle to George Dodington, in January 1741, though he may, of course, have written much anonymously. Among newspapers, the one Murphy had in mind was probably the Champion, the first number of which is dated November 15, 1739, two years after his admission to the Middle Temple as a student. On the whole, it seems most likely, as Mr. Keightley conjectures, that his chief occupation in the interval was studying law, and that he must have been living upon the residue of his wife’s fortune or his own means, in which case the establishment of the above periodical may mark the exhaustion of his resources.
The Champion is a paper on the model of the elder essayists. It was issued, like the Tatler, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Murphy says that Fielding’s part in it cannot now be ascertained; but as the “ Advertisement” to the edition in two volumes of 1741 states expressly that the papers signed C. and L. are the “Work of one Hand,” and as a number of those signed C. are unmistakably Fielding’s, it is hard to discover where the difficulty lay. The papers signed C. and L. are by far the most numerous, the majority of the remainder being distinguished by two stars, or the signature “Lilbourne.” These are understood to have been from the pen of James Ralph, whose poem of Night gave rise to a stinging couplet in the Dunciad, but who was nevertheless a man of parts, and an industrious writer. As will be remembered, he had contributed a prologue to the Temple Beau, so that his association with Fielding must have been of some standing. Besides Ralph’s essays in the Champion, he was mainly responsible for the Index to the Times which accompanied each number, and consisted of a series of brief paragraphs on current topics, or the last new book. In this way Glover’s London, Boyse’s Deity, Somervile’s Hobbinol, Lillo’s Elmeric, Dyer’s Ruins of Rome, and other of the very minor poetae minores of the day, were commented upon. These notes and notices, however, were only a subordinate feature of the Champion, which, like its predecessors, consisted chiefly of essays and allegories, social, moral, and political, the writers of which were supposed to be members of an imaginary “Vinegar family,” described in the initial paper. Of these the most prominent was Captain Hercules Vinegar, who took all questions relating to the Army, Militia, Trained-Bands, and “fighting Part of the Kingdom.” His father, Nehemiah Vinegar, presided over history and politics; his uncle, Counsellor Vinegar, over law and judicature; and Dr. John Vinegar his cousin, over medicine and natural philosophy. To others of the family—including Mrs. Joan Vinegar, who was charged with domestic affairs—were allotted classic literature, poetry and the Drama, and fashion. This elaborate scheme was not very strictly adhered to, and the chief writer of the group is Captain Hercules.
Shorn of the contemporary interest which formed the chief element of its success when it was first published, it must be admitted that, in the present year of grace, the Champion is hard reading. A kind of lassitude—a sense of uncongenial task-work—broods heavily over Fielding’s contributions, except the one or two in which he is quickened into animation by his antagonism to Cibber; and although, with our knowledge of his after achievements, it is possible to trace some indications of his yet unrevealed powers, in the absence of such knowledge it would be difficult to distinguish the Champion from the hundred-and-one forgotten imitators of the Spectator and Tatler, whose names have been so patiently chronicled by Dr. Nathan Drake. There is, indeed, a certain obvious humour in the account of Captain Vinegar’s famous club, which he had inherited from Hercules, and which had the enviable property of falling of itself upon any knave in company, and there is a dash of the Tom Jones manner in the noisy activity of that excellent housewife Mrs. Joan. Some of the lighter papers, such as the one upon the “Art of Puffing,” are amusing enough; and of the visions, that which is based upon Lucian, and represents Charon as stripping his freight of all their superfluous incumbrances in order to lighten his boat, has a double interest, since it contains references not only to Cibber, but also (though this appears to have been hitherto overlooked) to Fielding himself. The “tall Man,” who at Mercury’s request strips off his “old Grey Coat with great Readiness,” but refuses to part with “half his Chin,” which the shepherd of souls regards as false, is clearly intended for the writer of the paper, even without the confirmation afforded by the subsequent allusions to his connection with the stage. His “length of chin and nose,” sufficiently apparent in his portrait, was a favourite theme for contemporary personalities. Of the moral essays, the most remarkable are a set of four papers, entitled An Apology for the Clergy, which may perhaps be regarded as a set-off against the sarcasms of Pasquin on priestcraft. They depict, with a great deal of knowledge and discrimination, the pattern priest as Fielding conceived him. To these may be linked an earlier picture, taken from life, of a country parson who, in his simple and dignified surroundings, even more closely resembles the Vicar of Wakefield than Mr. Abraham Adams. Some of the more general articles contain happy passages. In one there is an admirable parody of the Norman-French jargon, which in those days added superfluous obscurity to legal utterances; while another, on “Charity,” contains a forcible exposition of the inexpediency, as well as inhumanity, of imprisonment for debt. References to contemporaries, the inevitable Cibber excepted, are few, and these seem mostly from the pen of Ralph. The following, from that of Fielding, is notable as being one of the earliest authoritative testimonies to the merits of Hogarth: “I esteem (says he) the ingenious Mr. Hogarth as one of the most useful Satyrists any Age hath produced. In his excellent Works you see the delusive Scene exposed with all the Force of Humour, and, on casting your Eyes on another Picture, you behold the dreadful and fatal Consequence. I almost dare affirm that those two Works of his, which he calls the Rake’s and the Harlot’s Progress, are calculated more to serve the Cause of Virtue, and for the Preservation of Mankind, than all the Folio’s of Morality which have been ever written; and a sober Family should no more be without them, than without the Whole Duty of Man in their House.” He returned to the same theme in the Preface to Joseph Andrews with a still apter phrase of appreciation:—“It hath been thought a vast Commendation of a Painter, to say his Figures seem to breathe; but surely, it is a much greater and nobler Applause, that they appear to think.” [Footnote: Fielding occasionally refers to Hogarth for the pictorial types of his characters. Bridget Allworthy, he tells us, resembled the starched prude in Morning; and Mrs. Partridge and Parson Thwackum have their originals in the Harlot’s Progress. It was Fielding, too, who said that the Enraged Musician was “enough to make a man deaf to look at” (Voyage to Lisbon, 1755, p. 50).]
When the Champion was rather more than a year old, Colley Cibber published his famous Apology. To the attacks made upon him by Fielding at different times he had hitherto printed no reply—perhaps he had no opportunity of doing so. But in his eighth chapter, when speaking of the causes which led to the Licensing Act, he takes occasion to refer to his assailant in terms which Fielding must have found exceedingly galling. He carefully abstained from mentioning his name, on the ground that it could do him no good, and was of no importance; but he described him as “a broken Wit,” who had sought notoriety “by raking the Channel” (i.e. Kennel), and “pelting his Superiors.” He accused him, with a scandalised gravity that is as edifying as Chesterfield’s irony, of attacking “Religion, Laws, Government, Priests, Judges, and Ministers.” He called him, either in allusion to his stature, or his pseudonym in the Champion, a “Herculean Satyrist,” a “Drawcansir in Wit”—“who, to make his Poetical Fame immortal, like another Erostratus, set Fire to his Stage, by writing up to an Act of Parliament to demolish it. I shall not,” he continues, “give the particular Strokes of his Ingenuity a Chance to be remembered, by reciting them; it may be enough to say, in general Terms, they were so openly flagrant, that the Wisdom of the Legislature thought it high time, to take a proper Notice of them.”
Fielding was not the man to leave such a challenge unanswered. In the Champion for April 22, 1740, and two subsequent papers, he replied with a slashing criticism of the Apology, in which, after demonstrating that it must be written in English because it was written in no other language, he gravely proceeds to point out examples of the author’s superiority to grammar and learning—and in general, subjects its pretentious and slip-shod style to a minute and highly detrimental examination. In a further paper he returns to the charge by a mock trial of one “Col. Apol.“ (i.e. Colley-Apology), arraigning him for that, “not having the Fear of Grammar before his Eyes,” he had committed an unpardonable assault upon his mother-tongue. Fielding’s knowledge of legal forms and phraseology enabled him to make a happy parody of court procedure, and Mr. Lawrence says that this particular “jeu d’esprit obtained great celebrity.” But the happiest stroke in the controversy— as it seems to us—is one which escaped Mr. Lawrence, and occurs in the paper already referred to, where Charon and Mercury are shown denuding the luckless passengers by the Styx of their surplus impedimenta. Among the rest, approaches “an elderly Gentleman with a Piece of wither’d Laurel on his head.” From a little book, which he is discovered (when stripped) to have bound close to his heart, and which bears the title of Love in a Riddle—an unsuccessful pastoral produced by Cibber at Drury Lane in 1729—it is clear that this personage is intended for none other than the Apologist, who, after many entreaties, is finally compelled to part with his treasure. “I was surprized,” continues Fielding, “to see him pass Examination with his Laurel on, and was assured by the Standers by, that Mercury would have taken it off, if he had seen it.”
These attacks in the Champion do not appear to have received any direct response from Cibber. But they were reprinted in a rambling production issued from “Curll’s chaste press” in 1740, and entitled the Tryal of Colley Cibber, Comedian, &c. At the end of this there is a short address to “the Self-dubb’d Captain Hercules Vinegar, alias Buffoon,” to the effect that “the malevolent Flings exhibited by him and his Man Ralph,” have been faithfully reproduced. Then comes the following curious and not very intelligible “Advertisement:”—
“If the Ingenious Henry Fielding Esq.; (Son of the Hon. Lieut. General Fielding, who upon his Return from his Travels entered himself of the Temple in order to study the Law, and married one of the pretty Miss Cradocks of Salisbury) will own himself the AUTHOR of 18 strange Things called Tragical Comedies and Comical Tragedies, lately advertised by J. Watts, of Wild-Court, Printer, he shall be mentioned in Capitals in the Third Edition of Mr. CIBBER’S Life, and likewise be placed among the Poetae minores Dramatici of the Present Age: Then will both his Name and Writings be remembered on Record, in the immortal Poetical Register written by Mr. GILES JACOB.”
The “poetical register” indicated was the book of that name, containing the Lives and Characteristics of the English Dramatic Poets, which Mr. Giles Jacob, an industrious literary hack, had issued in 1723. Mr. Lawrence is probably right in his supposition, based upon the foregoing advertisement, that Fielding “had openly expressed resentment at being described by Cibber as ‘a broken wit,’ without being mentioned by name.” He never seems to have wholly forgotten his animosity to the actor, to whom there are frequent references in Joseph Andrews; and, as late as 1749, he is still found harping on “the withered laurel” in a letter to Lyttelton. Even in his last work, the Voyage to Lisbon, Cibber’s name is mentioned. The origin of this protracted feud is obscure; but, apart from want of sympathy, it must probably be sought for in some early misunderstanding between the two in their capacities of manager and author. As regards Theophilus Cibber, his desertion of Highmore was sufficient reason for the ridicule cast upon him in the Author’s Farce and elsewhere. With Mrs. Charke, the Laureate’s intractable and eccentric daughter, Fielding was naturally on better terms. She was, as already stated, a member of the Great Mogul’s Company, and it is worth noting that some of the sarcasms in Pasquin against her father were put into the mouth of Lord Place, whose part was taken by this undutiful child. All things considered, both in this controversy and the later one with Pope, Cibber did not come off worst. His few hits were personal and unscrupulous, and they were probably far more deadly in their effects than any of the ironical attacks which his adversaries, on their part, directed against his poetical ineptitude or halting “parts of speech.” Despite his superlative coxcombry and egotism, he was, moreover, a man of no mean abilities. His Careless Husband is a far better acting play than any of Fielding’s, and his Apology, which even Johnson allowed to be “well-done,” is valuable in many respects, especially for its account of the contemporary stage. In describing an actor or actress he had few equals—witness his skilful portrait of Nokes, and his admirably graphic vignette of Mrs. Verbruggen as that “finish’d Impertinent,” Melantha, in Dryden’s Marriage a-la-Mode.
The concluding paper in the collected edition of the Champion, published in 1741, is dated June 19, 1740. On the day following Fielding was called to the Bar by the benchers of the Middle Temple, and (says Mr. Lawrence) “chambers were assigned him in Pump Court.” Simultaneously with this, his regular connection with journalism appears to have ceased, although from his statement in the Preface to the Miscellanies,—that “as long as from June 1741,” he had “desisted from writing one Syllable in the Champion, or any other public Paper,” —it may perhaps be inferred that up to that date he continued to contribute now and then. This, nevertheless, is by no means clear. His last utterance in the published volumes is certainly in a sense valedictory, as it refers to the position acquired by the Champion, and the difficulty experienced in establishing it. Incidentally, it pays a high compliment to Pope, by speaking of “the divine Translation of the Iliad, which he [Fielding] has lately with no Disadvantage to the Translator COMPARED with the Original,” the point of the sentence so impressed by its typography, being apparently directed against those critics who had condemned Pope’s work without the requisite knowledge of Greek. From the tenor of the rest of the essay it may, however, be concluded that the writer was taking leave of his enterprise; and, according to a note by Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, it seems that Mr. Reed of Staple Inn possessed documents which showed that Fielding at this juncture, probably in anticipation of more lucrative legal duties, surrendered the reins to Ralph. The Champion continued to exist for some time longer; indeed, it must be regarded as long-lived among the essayists, since the issue which contained its well-known criticism on Garrick is No. 455, and appeared late in 1742. But as far as can be ascertained, it never again obtained the honours of a reprint.
Although, after he was called to the Bar, Fielding practically relinquished periodical literature, he does not seem to have entirely desisted from writing. In Sylvanus Urban’s Register of Books, published during January 1741, is advertised the poem Of True Greatness afterwards included in the Miscellanies; and the same authority announces the Vernoniad, an anonymous burlesque Epic prompted by Admiral Vernon’s popular expedition against Porto Bello in 1739, “with six Ships only.” That Fielding was the author of the latter is sufficiently proved by his order to Mr. Nourse (printed in Roscoe’s edition), to deliver fifty copies to Mr. Chappel. Another sixpenny pamphlet, entitled The Opposition, a Vision, issued in December of the same year, is enumerated by him, in the Preface to the Miscellanies, among the few works he had published “since the End of June 1741;” and, provided it can be placed before this date, he may be credited with a political sermon called the Crisis (1741), which is ascribed to him upon the authority of a writer in Nichols’s Anecdotes. He may also, before “the End of June 1741,” have written other things; but it is clear from his Caveat in the above-mentioned “Preface,” together with his complaint that “he had been very unjustly censured, as well on account of what he had not writ, as for what he had,” that much more has been laid to his charge than he ever deserved. Among ascriptions of this kind may be mentioned the curious Apology for the Life of Mr. The’ Cibber, Comedian, 1740, which is described on its title-page as a proper sequel to the autobiography of the Laureate, in whose “style and manner” it is said to be written. But, although this performance is evidently the work of some one well acquainted with the dramatic annals of the day, it is more than doubtful whether Fielding had any hand or part in it. Indeed, his own statement that “he never was, nor would be the Author of anonymous Scandal [the italics are ours] on the private History or Family of any Person whatever,” should be regarded as conclusive.
During all this time he seems to have been steadily applying himself to the practice of his profession, if, indeed, that weary hope deferred which forms the usual probation of legal preferment can properly be so described. As might be anticipated from his Salisbury connections, he travelled the Western Circuit; and, according to Hutchins’s Dorset, he assiduously attended the Wiltshire sessions. He had many friends among his brethren of the Bar. His cousin, Henry Gould, who had been called in 1734, and who, like his grandfather, ultimately became a Judge, was also a member of the Middle Temple; and he was familiar with Charles Pratt, afterwards Lord Camden, whom he may have known at Eton, but whom he certainly knew in his barrister days. It is probable, too, that he was acquainted with Lord Northington, then Robert Henley, whose name appears as a subscriber to the Miscellanies, and who was once supposed to contend with Kettleby (another subscriber) for the honour of being the original of the drunken barrister in Hogarth’s Midnight Modern Conversation, a picture which no doubt accurately represents a good many of the festivals by which Henry Fielding relieved the tedium of composing those MS. folio volumes on Crown or Criminal Law, which, after his death, reverted to his half-brother, Sir John. But towards the close of 1741 he was engaged upon another work which has outweighed all his most laborious forensic efforts, and which will long remain an English classic. This was The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams, published by Andrew Millar in February 1742.
In the same number, and at the same page of the Gentleman’s Magazine which contains the advertisement of the Vernoniad, there is a reference to a famous novel which had appeared in November 1740, two months earlier, and had already attained an extraordinary popularity. “Several Encomiums (says Mr. Urban) on a Series of Familiar Letters, publish’d but last month, entitled PAMELA or Virtue rewarded, came too late for this Magazine, and we believe there will be little Occasion for inserting them in our next; because a Second Edition will then come out to supply the Demands in the Country, it being judged in Town as great a Sign of Want of Curiosity not to have read Pamela, as not to have seen the French and Italian Dancers.” A second edition was in fact published in the following month (February), to be speedily succeeded by a third in March and a fourth in May. Dr. Sherlock (oddly misprinted by Mrs. Barbauld as “Dr. Slocock”) extolled it from the pulpit; and the great Mr. Pope was reported to have gone farther and declared that it would “do more good than many volumes of sermons.” Other admirers ranked it next to the Bible; clergymen dedicated theological treatises to the author; and “even at Ranelagh”—says Richardson’s biographer—“those who remember the publication say, that it was usual for ladies to hold up the volumes of Pamela to one another, to shew that they had got the book that every one was talking of.” It is perhaps hypercritical to observe that Ranelagh Gardens were not opened until eighteen months after Mr. Rivington’s duodecimos first made their appearance; but it will be gathered from the tone of some of the foregoing commendations that its morality was a strong point with the new candidate for literary fame; and its voluminous title-page did indeed proclaim at large that it was “Published in order to cultivate the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of Both Sexes.” Its author, Samuel Richardson, was a middle-aged London printer, a vegetarian and water-drinker, a worthy, domesticated, fussy, and highly-nervous little man. Delighting in female society, and accustomed to act as confidant and amanuensis for the young women of his acquaintance, it had been suggested to him by some bookseller friends that he should prepare a “little volume of Letters, in a common style, on such subjects as might be of use to those country readers, who were unable to indite for themselves.” As Hogarth’s Conversation Pieces grew into his Progresses, so this project seems to have developed into Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. The necessity for some connecting link between the letters suggested a story, and the story chosen was founded upon the actual experiences of a young servant girl, who, after victoriously resisting all the attempts made by her master to seduce her, ultimately obliged him to marry her. It is needless to give any account here of the minute and deliberate way in which Richardson filled in this outline. As one of his critics, D’Alembert, has unanswerably said—“La, nature est bonne a imiter, mais non pas jusgu’a l’ennui”—and the author of Pamela has plainly disregarded this useful law. On the other hand, the tedium and elaboration of his style have tended, in these less leisurely days, to condemn his work to a neglect which it does not deserve. Few writers—it is a truism to say so—have excelled him in minute analysis of motive, and knowledge of the human heart. About the final morality of his heroine’s long-drawn defence of her chastity it may, however, be permitted to doubt; and, in contrasting the book with Fielding’s work, it should not be forgotten that, irreproachable though it seemed to the author’s admirers, good Dr. Watts complained (and with reason) of the indelicacy of some of the scenes.
But, for the moment, we are more concerned with the effect which Pamela produced upon Henry Fielding, struggling with the “eternal want of pence, which vexes public men,” and vaguely hoping for some profitable opening for powers which had not yet been satisfactorily exercised. To his robust and masculine genius, never very delicately sensitive where the relations of the sexes are concerned, the strange conjunction of purity and precaution in Richardson’s heroine was a thing unnatural, and a theme for inextinguishable Homeric laughter. That Pamela, through all her trials, could really have cherished any affection for her unscrupulous admirer would seem to him a sentimental absurdity, and the unprecedented success of the book would sharpen his sense of its assailable side. Possibly, too, his acquaintance with Richardson, whom he knew personally, but with whom he could have had no kind of sympathy, disposed him against his work. In any case, the idea presently occurred to Fielding of depicting a young man in circumstances of similar importunity at the hands of a dissolute woman of fashion. He took for his hero Pamela’s brother, and by a malicious stroke of the pen turned the Mr. B. of Pamela into Squire Booby. But the process of invention rapidly carried him into paths far beyond the mere parody of Richardson, and it is only in the first portion of the book that he really remembers his intention. After chapter x. the story follows its natural course, and there is little or nothing of Lady Booby, or her frustrate amours. Indeed, the author does not even pretend to preserve congruity as regards his hero, for, in chapter v., he makes him tell his mistress that he has never been in love, while in chapter xi. we are informed that he had long been attached to the charming Fanny. Moreover, in the intervening letters which Joseph writes to his sister Pamela, he makes no reference to this long-existent attachment, with which, one would think, she must have been perfectly familiar. These discrepancies all point, not so much to negligence on the part of the author, as to an unconscious transformation of his plan. He no doubt speedily found that mere ridicule of Richardson was insufficient to sustain the interest of any serious effort, and, besides, must have been secretly conscious that the “Pamela” characteristics of his hero were artistically irreconcilable with the personal bravery and cudgel-playing attributes with which he had endowed him. Add to this that the immortal Mrs. Slipslop and Parson Adams—the latter especially—had begun to acquire an importance with their creator for which the initial scheme had by no means provided; and he finally seems to have disregarded his design, only returning to it in his last chapters in order to close his work with some appearance of consistency. The History of Joseph Andrews, it has been said, might well have dispensed with Lady Booby altogether, and yet, without her, not only this book, but Tom Jones and Amelia also, would probably have been lost to us. The accident which prompted three such masterpieces cannot be honestly regretted.
It was not without reason that Fielding added prominently to his title-page the name of Mr. Abraham Adams. If he is not the real hero of the book, he is undoubtedly the character whose fortunes the reader follows with the closest interest. Whether he is smoking his black and consolatory pipe in the gallery of the inn, or losing his way while he meditates a passage of Greek, or groaning over the fatuities of the man-of-fashion in Leonora’s story, or brandishing his famous crabstick in defence of Fanny, he is always the same delightful mixture of benevolence and simplicity, of pedantry and credulity and ignorance of the world. He is “compact,” to use Shakespeare’s word, of the oddest contradictions,—the most diverting eccentricities. He has Aristotle’s Politics at his fingers’ ends, but he knows nothing of the daily Gazetteers; he is perfectly familiar with the Pillars of Hercules, but he has never even heard of the Levant. He travels to London to sell a collection of sermons which he has forgotten to carry with him, and in a moment of excitement he tosses into the fire the copy of AEschylus which it has cost him years to transcribe. He gives irreproachable advice to Joseph on fortitude and resignation, but he is overwhelmed with grief when his child is reported to be drowned. When he speaks upon faith and works, on marriage, on school discipline, he is weighty and sensible; but he falls an easy victim to the plausible professions of every rogue he meets, and is willing to believe in the principles of Mr. Peter Pounce, or the humanity of Parson Trulliber. Not all the discipline of hog’s blood and cudgels and cold water to which he is subjected can deprive him of his native dignity; and as he stands before us in the short great-coat under which his ragged cassock is continually making its appearance, with his old wig and battered hat, a clergyman whose social position is scarcely above that of a footman, and who supports a wife and six children upon a cure of twenty-three pounds a year, which his outspoken honesty is continually jeopardising, he is a far finer figure than Pamela in her coach-and-six, or Bellarmine in his cinnamon velvet. If not, as Mr. Lawrence says, with exaggerated enthusiasm, “the grandest delineation of a pattern-priest which the world has yet seen,” he is assuredly a noble example of primitive goodness and practical Christianity. It is certain—as Mr. Forster and Mr. Keightley have pointed out—that Goldsmith borrowed some of his characteristics for Dr. Primrose, and it has been suggested that Sterne remembered him in more than one page of Tristram Shandy.
Next to Parson Adams, perhaps the best character in Joseph Andrews— though of an entirely different type—is Lady Booby’s “Waiting-Gentlewoman,” the excellent Mrs. Slipslop. Her sensitive dignity, her easy changes from servility to insolence, her sensuality, her inimitably distorted vocabulary, which Sheridan borrowed for Mrs. Malaprop, and Dickens modified for Mrs. Gamp, are all peculiarities which make up a personification of the richest humour and the most life-like reality. Mr. Peter Pounce, too, with his “scoundrel maxims,” as disclosed in that remarkable dialogue which is said to be “better worth reading than all the Works of Colley Cibber,” and in which charity is defined as consisting rather in a disposition to relieve distress than in an actual act of relief; Parson Trulliber with his hogs, his greediness, and his willingness to prove his Christianity by fisticuffs; shrewish Mrs. Tow-wouse with her scold’s tongue, and her erring but perfectly subjugated husband,—these again are portraits finished with admirable spirit and fidelity. Andrews himself, and his blushing sweetheart, do not lend themselves so readily to humorous art. Nevertheless the former, when freed from the wiles of Lady Booby, is by no means a despicable hero, and Fanny is a sufficiently fresh and blooming heroine. The characters of Pamela and Mr. Booby are fairly preserved from the pages of their original inventor. But when Fielding makes Parson Adams rebuke the pair for laughing in church at Joseph’s wedding, and puts into the lady’s mouth a sententious little speech upon her altered position in life, he is adding some ironical touches which Richardson would certainly have omitted.
No selection of personages, however, even of the most detailed and particular description, can convey any real impression of the mingled irony and insight, the wit and satire, the genial but perfectly remorseless revelation of human springs of action, which distinguish scene after scene of the book. Nothing, for example, can be more admirable than the different manifestations of meanness which take place among the travellers of the stage-coach, in the oft-quoted chapter where Joseph, having been robbed of everything, lies naked and bleeding in the ditch. There is Miss Grave-airs, who protests against the indecency of his entering the vehicle, but like a certain lady in the Rake’s Progress, holds the sticks of her fan before her face while he does so, and who is afterwards found to be carrying Nantes under the guise of Hungary-water; there is the lawyer who advises that the wounded man shall be taken in, not from any humane motive, but because he is afraid of being involved in legal proceedings if they leave him to his fate; there is the wit who seizes the occasion for a burst of facetious double-meanings, chiefly designed for the discomfiture of the prude; and, lastly, there is the coachman, whose only concern is the shilling for his fare, and who refuses to lend either of the useless greatcoats he is sitting upon, lest “they should be made bloody,” leaving the shivering suppliant to be clothed by the generosity of the postilion (“a Lad,” says Fielding with a fine touch of satire, “who hath been since transported for robbing a Hen-roost”). This worthy fellow accordingly strips off his only outer garment, “at the same time swearing a great Oath,” for which he is duly rebuked by the passengers, “that he would rather ride in his Shirt all his Life, than suffer a Fellow-Creature to lie in so miserable a Condition.” Then there are the admirable scenes which succeed Joseph’s admission into the inn; the discussion between the bookseller and the two parsons as to the publication of Adams’s sermons, which the “Clergy would be certain to cry down,” because they inculcate good works against faith; the debate before the justice as to the manuscript of AEschylus, which is mistaken for one of the Fathers; and the pleasant discourse between the poet and the player which, beginning by compliments, bids fair to end in blows. Nor are the stories of Leonora and Mr. Wilson without their interest. They interrupt the straggling narrative far less than the Man of the Hill interrupts Tom Jones, and they afford an opportunity for varying the epic of the highway by pictures of polite society which could not otherwise be introduced. There can be little doubt, too, that some of Mr. Wilson’s town experiences were the reflection of the author’s own career; while the characteristics of Leonora’s lover Horatio,—who was “a young Gentleman of a good Family, bred to the Law,” and recently called to the Bar, whose “Face and Person were such as the Generality allowed handsome: but he had a Dignity in his Air very rarely to be seen,” and who “had Wit and Humour, with an Inclination to Satire, which he indulged rather too much”—read almost like a complimentary description of Fielding himself.
Like Hogarth, in that famous drinking scene to which reference has already been made, Fielding was careful to disclaim any personal portraiture in Joseph Andrews. In the opening chapter of Book iii. he declares “once for all that he describes not Men, but Manners; not an Individual, but a Species,” although he admits that his characters are “taken from Life.” In his “Preface,” he reiterates this profession, adding that in copying from nature, he has “used the utmost Care to obscure the Persons by such different Circumstances, Degrees, and Colours, that it will be impossible to guess at them with any degree of certainty.” Nevertheless—as in Hogarth’s case—neither his protests nor his skill have prevented some of those identifications which are so seductive to the curious; and it is generally believed,—indeed, it was expressly stated by Richardson and others,—that the prototype of Parson Adams was a friend of Fielding, the Reverend William Young. Like Adams, he was a scholar and devoted to AEschylus; he resembled him, too, in his trick of snapping his fingers, and his habitual absence of mind. Of this latter peculiarity it is related that on one occasion, when a chaplain in Marlborough’s wars, he strolled abstractedly into the enemy’s lines with his beloved AEschylus in his hand. His peaceable intentions were so unmistakable that he was instantly released, and politely directed to his regiment. Once, too, it is said, on being charged by a gentleman with sitting for the portrait of Adams, he offered to knock the speaker down, thereby supplying additional proof of the truth of the allegation. He died in August 1757, and is buried in the Chapel of Chelsea Hospital. The obituary notice in the Gentleman’s Magazine describes him as “late of Gillingham, Dorsetshire,” which would make him a neighbour of the novelist. [Footnote: Lord Thurlow was accustomed to find a later likeness to Fielding’s hero in his protege, the poet Crabbe.] Another tradition connects Mr. Peter Pounce with the scrivener and usurer Peter Walter, whom Pope had satirised, and whom Hogarth is thought to have introduced into Plate i. of Marriage a-la-Mode. His sister lived at Salisbury; and he himself had an estate at Stalbridge Park, which was close to East Stour. From references to Walter in the Champion for May 31, 1740, as well as in the Essay on Conversation, it is clear that Fielding knew him personally, and disliked him. He may, indeed, have been among those county magnates whose criticism was so objectionable to Captain Booth during his brief residence in Dorsetshire. Parson Trulliber, also, according to Murphy, was Fielding’s first tutor—Mr. Oliver of Motcombe. But his widow denied the resemblance; and it is hard to believe that this portrait is not overcharged. In all these cases, however, there is no reason for supposing that Fielding may not have thoroughly believed in the sincerity of his attempts to avoid the exact reproduction of actual persons, although, rightly or wrongly, his presentments were speedily identified. With ordinary people it is by salient characteristics that a likeness is established; and no variation of detail, however skilful, greatly affects this result. In our own days we have seen that, in spite of both authors, the public declined to believe that the Harold Skimpole of Charles Dickens, and George Eliot’s Dinah Morris, were not perfectly recognisable copies of living originals.
Upon its title-page, Joseph Andrews is declared to be “written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes,” and there is no doubt that, in addition to being subjected to an unreasonable amount of ill-usage, Parson Adams has manifest affinities with Don Quixote. Scott, however, seems to have thought that Scarron’s Roman Comique was the real model, so far as mock-heroic was concerned; but he must have forgotten that Fielding was already the author of Tom Thumb, and that Swift had written the Battle of the Books. Resemblances—not of much moment— have also been traced to the Paysan Parvenu and the Histoire de Marianne of Marivaux. With both these books Fielding was familiar; in fact, he expressly mentions them, as well as the Roman Comique, in the course of his story, and they doubtless exercised more or less influence upon his plan. But in the Preface, from which we have already quoted, he describes that plan; and this, because it is something definite, is more interesting than any speculation as to his determining models. After marking the division of the Epic, like the Drama, into Tragedy and Comedy, he points out that it may exist in prose as well as verse, and he proceeds to explain that what he has attempted in Joseph Andrews is “a comic Epic-Poem in Prose,” differing from serious romance in its substitution of a “light and ridiculous” fable for a “grave and solemn” one, of inferior characters for those of superior rank, and of ludicrous for sublime sentiments. Sometimes in the diction he has admitted burlesque, but never in the sentiments and characters, where, he contends, it would be out of place. He further defines the only source of the ridiculous to be affectation, of which the chief causes are vanity and hypocrisy. Whether this scheme was an after-thought it is difficult to say; but it is certainly necessary to a proper understanding of the author’s method—a method which was to find so many imitators. Another passage in the Preface is worthy of remark. With reference to the pictures of vice which the book contains, he observes: “First, That it is very difficult to pursue a Series of human Actions, and keep clear from them. Secondly, That the Vices to be found here [i.e. in Joseph Andrews] are rather the accidental Consequences of some human Frailty, or Foible, than Causes habitually existing in the Mind. Thirdly, That they are never set forth as the Objects of Ridicule but Detestation. Fourthly, That they are never the principal Figure at the Time on the Scene; and, lastly, they never produce the intended Evil.” In reading some pages of Fielding it is not always easy to see that he has strictly adhered to these principles; but it is well to recall them occasionally, as constituting at all events the code that he desired to follow.
Although the popularity of Fielding’s first novel was considerable, it did not, to judge by the number of editions, at once equal the popularity of the book by which it was suggested. Pamela, as we have seen, speedily ran through four editions; but it was six months before Millar published the second and revised edition of Joseph Andrews; and the third did not appear until more than a year after the date of first publication. With Richardson, as might be expected, it was never popular at all, and to a great extent it is possible to sympathise with his annoyance. The daughter of his brain, whom he had piloted through so many troubles, had grown to him more real than the daughters of his body, and to see her at the height of her fame made contemptible by what in one of his letters he terms “a lewd and ungenerous engraftment,” must have been a sore trial to his absorbed and self-conscious nature, and one which not all the consolations of his consistory of feminine flatterers—“my ladies,” as the little man called them—could wholly alleviate. But it must be admitted that his subsequent attitude was neither judicious nor dignified. He pursued Fielding henceforth with steady depreciation, caught eagerly at any scandal respecting him, professed himself unable to perceive his genius, deplored his “lowness,” and comforted himself by reflecting that, if he pleased at all, it was because he had learned the art from Pamela. Of Fielding’s other contemporary critics, one only need be mentioned here, more on account of his literary eminence than of the special felicity of his judgment. “I have myself,” writes Gray to West, “upon your recommendation, been reading Joseph Andrews. The incidents are ill laid and without invention; but the characters have a great deal of nature, which always pleases even in her lowest shapes. Parson Adams is perfectly well; so is Mrs. Slipslop, and the story of Wilson; and throughout he [the author] shews himself well read in Stage-Coaches, Country Squires, Inns, and Inns of Court. His reflections upon high people and low people, and misses and masters, are very good. However the exaltedness of some minds (or rather as I shrewdly suspect their insipidity and want of feeling or observation) may make them insensible to these light things, (I mean such as characterise and paint nature) yet surely they are as weighty and much more useful than your grave discourses upon the mind, the passions, and what not.” And thereupon follows that fantastic utterance concerning the romances of MM. Marivaux and Crebillon fils, which has disconcerted so many of Gray’s admirers. We suspect that any reader who should nowadays contrast the sickly and sordid intrigue of the Paysan Parvenu with the healthy animalism of Joseph Andrews would greatly prefer the latter. Yet Gray’s verdict, though cold, is not undiscriminating, and is perhaps as much as one could expect from his cloistered and fastidious taste.
Various anecdotes, all more or less apocryphal, have been related respecting the first appearance of Joseph Andrews, and the sum paid to the author for the copyright. A reference to the original assignment, now in the Forster Library at South Kensington, definitely settles the latter point. The amount in “lawful Money of Great Britain,” received by “Henry Fielding, Esq.” from “Andrew Millar of St. Clement’s Danes in the Strand,” was L183 11s. In this document, as in the order to Nourse of which a facsimile is given by Roscoe, both the author’s name and signature are written with the old-fashioned double f, and he calls himself “Fielding” and not “Feilding,” like the rest of the Denbigh family. If we may trust an anecdote given by Kippis, Lord Denbigh once asked his kinsman the reason of this difference. “I cannot tell, my lord,” returned the novelist, “unless it be that my branch of the family was the first that learned to spell.” In connection with this assignment, however, what is perhaps even more interesting than these discrepancies is the fact that one of the witnesses was William Young. Thus we have Parson Adams acting as witness to the sale of the very book which he had helped to immortalise.