Fielding (Dobson)/Chapter 4
CHAPTER IV. THE MISCELLANIES—JONATHAN WILD.
In March 1742, according to an article in the Gentleman’s Magazine, attributed to Samuel Johnson, “the most popular Topic of Conversation” was the Account of the Conduct of the Dowager Dutchess of Marlborough, from her first coming to Court, to the Year 1710, which, with the help of Hooke of the Roman History, the “terrible old Sarah” had just put forth. Among the little cloud of Sarah-Ads and Old Wives’ Tales evoked by this production, was a Vindication of her Grace by Fielding, specially prompted, as appears from the title-page, by the “late scurrilous Pamphlet” of a “noble Author.” If this were not acknowledged to be from Fielding’s pen in the Preface to the Miscellanies (in which collection, however, it is not reprinted), its authorship would be sufficiently proved by its being included with Miss Lucy in Town in the assignment to Andrew Millar referred to at the close of the preceding chapter. The price Millar paid for it was L5 5s, or exactly half that of the farce. But it is only reasonable to assume that the Duchess herself (who is said to have given Hooke L5000 for his help) also rewarded her champion. Whether Fielding’s admiration for the “glorious Woman” in whose cause he had drawn his pen was genuine, or whether—to use Johnson’s convenient euphemism concerning Hooke—“he was acting only ministerially,” are matters for speculation. His father, however, had served under the Duke, and there may have been a traditional attachment to the Churchills on the part of his family. It has even been ingeniously suggested that Sarah Fielding was her Grace’s god-child; [Footnote: Memoirs of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, etc., by Mrs. A. T. Thomson, 1839.] but as her mother’s name was also Sarah, no importance can be attached to the suggestion.
Miss Lucy in Town, as its sub-title explains, was a sequel to the Virgin Unmask’d, and was produced at Drury Lane in May 1742. As already stated in chapter ii., Fielding’s part in it was small. It is a lively but not very creditable trifle, which turns upon certain equivocal London experiences of the Miss Lucy of the earlier piece; and it seems to have been chiefly intended to afford an opportunity for some clever imitation of the reigning Italian singers by Mrs. Clive and the famous tenor Beard. Horace Walpole, who refers to it in a letter to Mann, between an account of the opening of Ranelagh and an anecdote of Mrs. Bracegirdle, calls it “a little simple farce,” and says that “Mrs. Clive mimics the Muscovita admirably, and Beard Amorevoli tolerably.” Mr. Walpole detested the Muscovita, and adored Amorevoli, which perhaps accounts for the nice discrimination shown in his praise. One of the other characters, Mr. Zorobabel, a Jew, was taken by Macklin, and from another, Mrs. Haycock (afterwards changed to Mrs. Midnight), Foote is supposed to have borrowed Mother Cole in The Minor. A third character, Lord Bawble, was considered to reflect upon “a particular person of quality,” and the piece was speedily forbidden by the Lord Chamberlain, although it appears to have been acted a few months later without opposition. One of the results of the prohibition, according to Mr. Lawrence, was a Letter to a Noble Lord (the Lord Chamberlain) ... occasioned by a Representation ... of a Farce called “Miss Lucy in Town.” This, in spite of the Caveat in the Preface to the Miscellanies, he ascribes to Fielding, and styles it “a sharp expostulation ... in which he [Fielding] disavowed any idea of a personal attack.” But Mr. Lawrence must plainly have been misinformed on the subject, for the pamphlet bears little sign of Fielding’s hand. As far as it is intelligible, it is rather against Miss Lucy than for her, and it makes no reference to Lord Bawble’s original. The name of this injured patrician seems indeed never to have transpired; but he could scarcely have been in any sense an exceptional member of the Georgian aristocracy.
In the same month that Miss Lucy in Town appeared at Drury Lane, Millar published it in book form. In the following June, T. Waller of the Temple-Cloisters issued the first of a contemplated series of translations from Aristophanes by Henry Fielding, Esq., and the Rev. William Young who sat for Parson Adams. The play chosen was Plutus, the God of Riches, and a notice upon the original cover stated that, according to the reception it met with from the public, it would be followed by the others. It must be presumed that “the distressed, and at present, declining State of Learning” to which the authors referred in their dedication to Lord Talbot, was not a mere form of speech, for the enterprise does not seem to have met with sufficient encouragement to justify its continuance, and this special rendering has long since been supplanted by the more modern versions of Mitchell, Frere, and others. Whether Fielding took any large share in it is not now discernible. It is most likely, however, that the bulk of the work was Young’s, and that his colleague did little more than furnish the Preface, which is partly written in the first person, and betrays its origin by a sudden and not very relevant attack upon the “pretty, dapper, brisk, smart, pert Dialogue” of Modern Comedy into which the “infinite Wit” of Wycherley had degenerated under Cibber. It also contains a compliment to the numbers of the “inimitable Author” of the Essay on Man.
This is the second compliment which Fielding had paid to Pope within a brief period, the first having been that in the Champion respecting the translation of the Iliad. What his exact relations with the author of the Dunciad were, has never been divulged. At first they seem to have been rather hostile than friendly. Fielding had ridiculed the Romish Church in the Old Debauchees, a course which Pope could scarcely have approved; and he was, moreover, the cousin of Lady Mary, now no longer throned in the Twickenham Temple. Pope had commented upon a passage in Tom Thumb, and Fielding had indirectly referred to Pope in the Covent Garden Tragedy. When it had been reported that Pope had gone to see Pasquin, the statement had been at once contradicted. But Fielding was now, like Pope, against Walpole; and Joseph Andrews had been published. It may therefore be that the compliments in Plutus and the Champion were the result of some rapprochement between the two. It is, nevertheless, curious that, at this very time, an attempt appears to have been made to connect the novelist with the controversy which presently arose out of Cibber’s well-known letter to Pope. In August 1742, the month following its publication, among the pamphlets to which it gave rise, was announced The Cudgel; or, a Crab-tree Lecture, To the Author of the Dunciad. “By Hercules Vinegar, Esq.” This very mediocre satire in verse is still to be found at the British Museum; but even if it were not included in Fielding’s general disclaimer as to unsigned work, it would be difficult to connect it with him. To give but one reason, it would make him the ally and adherent of Cibber,—which is absurd. In all probability, like another Grub Street squib under the same pseudonym, it was by Ralph, who had already attacked Pope, and continued to maintain the Captain’s character in the Champion long after Fielding had ceased to write for it. It is even possible that Ralph had some share in originating the Vinegar family, for it is noticeable that the paper in which they are first introduced bears no initials. In this case he would consider himself free to adopt the name, however disadvantageous that course might be to Fielding’s reputation. And it is clear that, whatever their relations had been in the past, they were for the time on opposite sides in politics, since while Fielding had been vindicating the Duchess of Marlborough, Ralph had been writing against her.
These, however, are minor questions, the discussion of which would lead too far from the main narrative of Fielding’s life. In the same letter in which Walpole had referred to Miss Lucy in Town, he had spoken of the success of a new player at Goodman’s Fields, after whom all the town, in Gray’s phrase, was “horn-mad;” but in whose acting Mr. Walpole, with a critical distrust of novelty, saw nothing particularly wonderful. This was David Garrick. He had been admitted a student of Lincoln’s Inn a year before Fielding entered the Middle Temple, had afterwards turned wine-merchant, and was now delighting London by his versatility in comedy, tragedy, and farce. One of his earliest theatrical exploits, according to Sir John Hawkins, had been a private representation of Fielding’s Mock-Doctor, in a room over the St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell, so long familiar to subscribers of the Gentleman’s Magazine; his fellow-actors being Cave’s journeymen printers, and his audience Cave, Johnson, and a few friends. After this he appears to have made the acquaintance of Fielding; and late in 1742, applied to him to know if he had “any Play by him,” as “he was desirous of appearing in a new Part.” As a matter of fact Fielding had two plays by him—the Good-natured Man (a title subsequently used by Goldsmith), and a piece called The Wedding Day. The former was almost finished: the latter was an early work, being indeed “the third Dramatic Performance he ever attempted.” The necessary arrangements having been made with Mr. Fleetwood, the manager of Drury Lane, Fielding set to work to complete the Good-natured Man, which he considered the better of the two. When he had done so, he came to the conclusion that it required more attention than he could give it; and moreover, that the part allotted to Garrick, although it satisfied the actor, was scarcely important enough. He accordingly reverted to the Wedding Day, the central character of which had been intended for Wilks. It had many faults which none saw more clearly than the author himself, but he hoped that Garrick’s energy and prestige would triumphantly surmount all obstacles. He hoped, as well, to improve it by revision. The dangerous illness of his wife, however, made it impossible for him to execute his task; and, as he was pressed for money, the Wedding Day was produced on the 17th of February 1743, apparently much as it had been first written some dozen years before. As might be anticipated, it was not a success. The character of Millamour is one which it is hard to believe that even Garrick could have made attractive, and though others of the parts were entrusted to Mrs. Woffington, Mrs. Pritchard, and Macklin, it was acted but six nights. The author’s gains were under L50. In the Preface to the Miscellanies, from which most of the foregoing account is taken, Fielding, as usual, refers its failure to other causes than its inherent defects. Rumours, he says, had been circulated as to its indecency (and in truth some of the scenes are more than hazardous); but it had passed the licenser, and must be supposed to have been up to the moral standard of the time. Its unfavourable reception, as Fielding must have known in his heart, was due to its artistic shortcomings, and also to the fact that a change was taking place in the public taste. It is in connection with the Wedding Day that one of the best-known anecdotes of the author is related.
Garrick had begged him to retrench a certain objectionable passage. This Fielding, either from indolence or unwillingness, declined to do, asserting that if it was not good, the audience might find it out. The passage was promptly hissed, and Garrick returned to the green-room, where the author was solacing himself with a bottle of champagne. “What is the matter, Garrick?” said he to the flustered actor; “what are they hissing now?” He was informed with some heat that they had been hissing the very scene he had been asked to withdraw, “and,” added Garrick, “they have so frightened me, that I shall not be able to collect myself again the whole night”—“Oh!” answered the author, with an oath, “they HAVE found it out, have they?” This rejoinder is usually quoted as an instance of Fielding’s contempt for the intelligence of his audience; but nine men in ten, it may be observed, would have said something of the same sort.
The only other thing which need be referred to in connection with this comedy—the last of his own dramatic works which Fielding ever witnessed upon the stage—is Macklin’s doggerel Prologue. Mr. Lawrence attributes this to Fielding; but he seems to have overlooked the fact that in the Miscellanies it is headed, “Writ and Spoken by Mr. Macklin,” which gives it more interest as the work of an outsider than if it had been a mere laugh by the author at himself. Garrick is represented as too busy to speak the prologue; and Fielding, who has been “drinking to raise his Spirits,” has begged Macklin with his “long, dismal, Mercy-begging Face,” to go on and apologise. Macklin then pretends to recognise him among the audience, and pokes fun at his anxieties, telling him that he had better have stuck to “honest Abram Adams,” who, “in spight of Critics, can make his Readers laugh.” The words “in spite of critics” indicate another distinction between Fielding’s novels and plays, which should have its weight in any comparison of them. The censors of the pit, in the eighteenth century, seem to have exercised an unusual influence in deciding whether a play should succeed or not; [Footnote: Miller’s Coffee-House, 1737, for example, was damned by the Templars because it was supposed to reflect on the keepers of “Dick’s.”—(Biog. Dramatica.)] and, from Fielding’s frequent references to friends and enemies, it would almost seem as if he believed their suffrages to be more important than a good plot and a witty dialogue. On the other hand, no coterie of Wits and Templars could kill a book like Joseph Andrews. To say nothing of the opportunities afforded by the novel for more leisurely character-drawing, and greater by-play of reflection and description—its reader was an isolated and independent judge; and in the long run the difference told wonderfully in favour of the author. Macklin was obviously right in recommending Fielding, even in jest, to stick to Parson Adams, and from the familiar publicity of the advice it may also be inferred, not only that the opinion was one commonly current, but that the novel was unusually popular.
The Wedding Day was issued separately in February 1743. It must therefore be assumed that the three volumes of Miscellanies, by Henry Fielding, Esq., in which it was reprinted, and to which reference has so often been made in these pages, did not appear until later. [Footnote: By advertisement in the London Daily Post and General Advertiser, they would seem to have been published early in April 1743.] They were published by subscription; and the list, in addition to a large number of aristocratic and legal names, contains some of more permanent interest. Side by side with the Chesterfields and Marlboroughs and Burlingtons and Denbighs, come William Pitt and Henry Fox, Esqs., with Dodington and Winnington and Hanbury Williams. The theatrical world is well represented by Garrick and Mrs. Woffington and Mrs. Clive. Literature has no names of any eminence except that of Young; for Savage and Whitehead, Mallet and Benjamin Hoadly, are certainly ignes minores. Pope is conspicuous for his absence; so also are Horace Walpole and Gray, while Richardson, of course, is wanting. Johnson, as yet only the author of London, and journeyman to Cave, could scarcely be expected in the roll; and, in any case, his friendship for the author of Pamela would probably have kept him away. Among some other well-known eighteenth century names are those of Dodsley and Millar the booksellers, and the famous Vauxhall impresario Jonathan Tyers.
The first volume of the Miscellanies, besides a lengthy Preface, includes the author’s poems, essays On Conversation, On the Knowledge of the Characters of Men, On Nothing, a squib upon the transactions of the Royal Society, a translation from Demosthenes, and one or two minor pieces. Much of the biographical material contained in the Preface has already been made use of, as well as those verses which can be definitely dated, or which relate to the author’s love-affairs. The hitherto unnoticed portions of the volume consist chiefly of Epistles, in the orthodox eighteenth century fashion. One—already referred to—is headed Of True Greatness; another, inscribed to the Duke of Richmond, Of Good-nature; while a third is addressed to a friend On the Choice of a Wife. This last contains some sensible lines, but although Roscoe has managed to extract two quotable passages, it is needless to imitate him here. These productions show no trace of the authentic Fielding. The essays are more remarkable, although, like Montaigne’s, they are scarcely described by their titles. That on Conversation is really a little treatise on good breeding; that on the Characters of Men, a lay sermon against Fielding’s pet antipathy—hypocrisy. Nothing can well be wiser, even now, than some of the counsels in the former of these papers on such themes as the limits of raillery, the duties of hospitality, and the choice of subject in general conversation. Nor, however threadbare they may look to-day, can the final conclusions be reasonably objected to:—“First, That every Person who indulges his Ill-nature or Vanity, at the Expense of others; and in introducing Uneasiness, Vexation, and Confusion into Society, however exalted or high-titled he may be, is thoroughly ill-bred;” and “Secondly, That whoever, from the Goodness of his Disposition or Understanding, endeavours to his utmost to cultivate the Good-humour and Happiness of others, and to contribute to the Ease and Comfort of all his Acquaintance, however low in Rank Fortune may have placed him, or however clumsy he may be in his Figure or Demeanour, hath, in the truest sense of the Word, a Claim to Good-Breeding.” One fancies that this essay must have been a favourite with the historian of the Book of Snobs and the creator of Major Dobbin.
The Characters of Men is not equal to the Conversation. The theme is a wider one; and the end proposed,—that of supplying rules for detecting the real disposition through all the social disguises which cloak and envelop it,—can scarcely be said to be attained. But there are happy touches even in this; and when the author says—“I will venture to affirm, that I have known some of the best sort of Men in the World (to use the vulgar Phrase,) who would not have scrupled cutting a Friend’s Throat; and a Fellow whom no Man should be seen to speak to, capable of the highest Acts of Friendship and Benevolence,” one recognises the hand that made the sole good Samaritan in Joseph Andrews “a Lad who hath since been transported for robbing a Hen-roost.” The account of the Terrestrial Chrysipus or Guinea, a burlesque on a paper read before the Royal Society on the Fresh Water Polypus, is chiefly interesting from the fact that it is supposed to be written by Petrus Gualterus (Peter Walter), who had an “extraordinary Collection” of them. He died, in fact, worth L300,000. The only other paper in the volume of any value is a short one Of the Remedy of Affliction for the Loss of our Friends, to which we shall presently return.
The farce of Eurydice, and the Wedding Day, which, with A Journey from this World to the Next, etc., make up the contents of the second volume of the Miscellanies, have been already sufficiently discussed. But the Journey deserves some further notice. It has been suggested that this curious Lucianic production may have been prompted by the vision of Mercury and Charon in the Champion, though the kind of allegory of which it consists is common enough with the elder essayists; and it is notable that another book was published in April 1743, under the title of Cardinal Fleury’s Journey to the other World, which is manifestly suggested by Quevedo. Fielding’s Journey, however, is a fragment which the author feigns to have found in the garret of a stationer in the Strand. Sixteen out of five-and-twenty chapters in Book i. are occupied with the transmigrations of Julian the Apostate, which are not concluded. Then follows another chapter from Book xix., which contains the history of Anna Boleyn, and the whole breaks off abruptly. Its best portion is undoubtedly the first ten chapters, which relate the writer’s progress to Elysium, and afford opportunity for many strokes of satire. Such are the whimsical terror of the spiritual traveller in the stagecoach, who hears suddenly that his neighbour has died of smallpox, a disease he had been dreading all his life; and the punishment of Lord Scrape, the miser, who is doomed to dole out money to all comers, and who, after “being purified in the Body of a Hog,” is ultimately to return to earth again. Nor is the delight of some of those who profit by his enforced assistance less keenly realised:—“I remarked a poetical Spirit in particular, who swore he would have a hearty Gripe at him: ‘For, says he, the Rascal not only refused to subscribe to my Works; but sent back my Letter unanswered, tho’ I’m a better Gentleman than himself.’” The descriptions of the City of Diseases, the Palace of Death, and the Wheel of Fortune from which men draw their chequered lots, are all unrivalled in their way. But here, as always, it is in his pictures of human nature that Fielding shines, and it is this that makes the chapters in which Minos is shown adjudicating upon the separate claims of the claimants to enter Elysium the most piquant of all. The virtuoso and butterfly hunter, who is repulsed “with great Scorn;” the dramatic author who is admitted (to his disgust), not on account of his works, but because he has once lent “the whole Profits of a Benefit Night to a Friend;” the parson who is turned back, while his poor parishioners are admitted; and the trembling wretch who has been hanged for a robbery of eighteen-pence, to which he had been driven by poverty, but whom the judge welcomes cordially because he had been a kind father, husband, and son; all these are conceived in that humane and generous spirit which is Fielding’s most engaging characteristic. The chapter immediately following, which describes the literary and other inhabitants of Elysium, is even better. Here is Leonidas, who appears to be only moderately gratified with the honour recently done him by Mr. Glover the poet; here is Homer, toying with Madam Dacier, and profoundly indifferent as to his birthplace and the continuity of his poems; here, too, is Shakespeare, who, foreseeing future commentators and the “New Shakespere Society,” declines to enlighten Betterton and Booth as to a disputed passage in his works, adding, “I marvel nothing so much as that Men will gird themselves at discovering obscure Beauties in an Author. Certes the greatest and most pregnant Beauties are ever the plainest and most evidently striking; and when two Meanings of a Passage can in the least ballance our Judgements which to prefer, I hold it matter of unquestionable Certainty that neither is worth a farthing.” Then, again, there are Addison and Steele, who are described with so pleasant a knowledge of their personalities that, although the passage has been often quoted, there seems to be no reason why it should not be quoted once more:—
“Virgil then came up to me, with Mr. Addison under his Arm. Well, Sir, said he, how many Translations have these few last Years produced of my AEneid? I told him, I believed several, but I could not possibly remember; for I had never read any but Dr. Trapp’s. [Footnote: Dr. Trapp’s translation of the AEneid was published in 1718.]—Ay, said he, that is a curious Piece indeed! I then acquainted him with the Discovery made by Mr. Warburton of the Eleusinian Mysteries couched in his 6th book. What Mysteries? said Mr. Addison. The Eleusinian, answered Virgil, which I have disclosed in my 6th Book. How! replied Addison. You never mentioned a word of any such Mysteries to me in all our Acquaintance. I thought it was unnecessary, cried the other, to a Man of your infinite Learning: besides, you always told me, you perfectly understood my meaning. Upon this I thought the Critic looked a little out of countenance, and turned aside to a very merry Spirit, one Dick Steele, who embraced him, and told him, He had been the greatest Man upon Earth; that he readily resigned up all the Merit of his own Works to him. Upon which, Addison gave him a gracious Smile, and clapping him on the Back with much Solemnity, cried out, Well said, Dick.”
After encountering these and other notabilities, including Tom Thumb and Livy, the latter of whom takes occasion to commend the ingenious performances of Lady Marlborough’s assistant, Mr. Hooke, the author meets with Julian the Apostate, and from this point the narrative grows languid. Its unfinished condition may perhaps be accepted as a proof that Fielding himself had wearied of his scheme.
The third volume of the Miscellanies is wholly occupied with the remarkable work entitled the History of the Life of the late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great. As in the case of the Journey from this World to the Next, it is not unlikely that the first germ of this may be found in the pages of the Champion. “Reputation”—says Fielding in one of the essays in that periodical—“often courts those most who regard her the least. Actions have sometimes been attended with Fame, which were undertaken in Defiance of it. Jonathan Wyld himself had for many years no small Share of it in this Kingdom.” The book now under consideration is the elaboration of the idea thus casually thrown out. Under the name of a notorious thief-taker hanged at Tyburn in 1725, Fielding has traced the Progress of a Rogue to the Gallows, showing by innumerable subtle touches that the (so-called) greatness of a villain does not very materially differ from any other kind of greatness, which is equally independent of goodness. This continually suggested affinity between the ignoble and the pseudo-noble is the text of the book. Against genuine worth (its author is careful to explain) his satire is in no wise directed. He is far from considering “Newgate as no other than Human Nature with its Mask off;” but he thinks “we may be excused for suspecting, that the splendid Palaces of the Great are often no other than Newgate with the Mask on.” Thus Jonathan Wild the Great is a prolonged satire upon the spurious eminence in which benevolence, honesty, charity, and the like have no part; or, as Fielding prefers to term it, that false or “Bombast greatness” which is so often mistaken for the “true Sublime in Human Nature”—Greatness and Goodness combined. So thoroughly has he explained his intention in the Prefaces to the Miscellanies, and to the book itself, that it is difficult to comprehend how Scott could fail to see his drift. Possibly, like some others, he found the subject repugnant and painful to his kindly nature. Possibly, too, he did not, for this reason, study the book very carefully, for, with the episode of Heartfree under one’s eyes, it is not strictly accurate to say (as he does) that it presents “a picture of complete vice, unrelieved by any thing of human feeling, and never by any accident even deviating into virtue.” If the author’s introduction be borne in mind, and if the book be read steadily in the light there supplied, no one can refrain from admiring the extraordinary skill and concentration with which the plan is pursued, and the adroitness with which, at every turn, the villainy of Wild is approximated to that of those securer and more illustrious criminals with whom he is so seldom confused. And Fielding has never carried one of his chief and characteristic excellences to so great perfection: the book is a model of sustained and sleepless irony. To make any extracts from it—still less to make any extracts which should do justice to it, is almost impracticable; but the edifying discourse between Wild and Count La Ruse in Book i., and the pure comedy of that in Book iv. with the Ordinary of Newgate (who objects to wine, but drinks punch because “it is no where spoken against in Scripture”), as well as the account of the prison faction between Wild and Johnson, [Footnote: Some critics at this point appear to have identified Johnson and Wild with Lord Wilmington and Sir Robert Walpole (who resigned in 1742), while Mr. Keightley suspects that Wild throughout typifies Walpole. But the advertisement “from the Publisher” to the edition of 1754 disclaims any such “personal Application.” “The Truth is (he says), as a very corrupt State of Morals is here represented, the Scene seems very properly to have been laid in Newgate: Nor do I see any Reason for introducing any allegory at all; unless we will agree that there are, without those Walls, some other Bodies of Men of worse Morals than those within; and who have, consequently, a Right to change Places with its present Inhabitants.” The writer was probably Fielding.] with its admirable speech of the “grave Man” against Party, may all be cited as examples of its style and method. Nor should the character of Wild in the last chapter, and his famous rules of conduct, be neglected. It must be admitted, however, that the book is not calculated to suit the nicely-sensitive in letters; or, it may be added, those readers for whom the evolution of a purely intellectual conception is either unmeaning or uninteresting. Its place in Fielding’s works is immediately after his three great novels, and this is more by reason of its subject than its workmanship, which could hardly be excelled. When it was actually composed is doubtful. If it may be connected with the already-quoted passage in the Champion, it must be placed after March 1740, which is the date of the paper; but, from a reference to Peter Pounce in Book ii., it might also be supposed to have been written after Joseph Andrews. The Bath simile in chapter xiv. Book i., makes it likely that some part of it was penned at that place, where, from an epigram in the Miscellanies “written Extempore in the Pump Room,” it is clear that Fielding was staying in 1742. But, whenever it was completed, we are inclined to think that it was planned and begun before Joseph Andrews was published, as it is in the highest degree improbable that Fielding, always carefully watching the public taste, would have followed up that fortunate adventure in a new direction by a work so entirely different from it as Jonathan Wild.
A second edition of the Miscellanies appeared in the same year as the first, namely in 1743. From this date until the publication of Tom Jones in 1749, Fielding produced no work of signal importance, and his personal history for the next few years is exceedingly obscure. We are inclined to suspect that this must have been the most trying period of his career. His health was shattered, and he had become a martyr to gout, which seriously interfered with the active practice of his profession. Again, “about this time,” says Murphy vaguely, after speaking of the Wedding Day, he lost his first wife. That she was alive in the winter of 1742-3 is clear, for, in the Preface to the Miscellanies, he describes himself as being then laid up, “with a favourite Child dying in one Bed, and my Wife in a Condition very little better, on another, attended with other Circumstances, which served as very proper Decorations to such a Scene,”—by which Mr. Keightley no doubt rightly supposes him to refer to writs and bailiffs. It must also be assumed that Mrs. Fielding was alive when the Preface was written, since, in apologising for an apparent delay in publishing the book, he says the “real Reason” was “the dangerous Illness of one from whom I draw [the italics are ours] all the solid Comfort of my Life.” There is another unmistakable reference to her in one of the minor papers in the first volume, viz. that Of the Remedy of Affliction for the Loss of our Friends. “I remember the most excellent of Women, and tenderest of Mothers, when, after a painful and dangerous Delivery, she was told she had a Daughter, answering; Good God! have I produced a Creature who is to undergo what I have suffered! Some Years afterwards, I heard the same Woman, on the Death of that very Child, then one of the loveliest Creatures ever seen, comforting herself with reflecting, that her Child could never know what it was to feel such a Loss as she then lamented.” Were it not for the passages already quoted from the Preface, it might almost be concluded from the tone of the foregoing quotation and the final words of the paper, which refer to our meeting with those we have lost in Heaven, that Mrs. Fielding was already dead. But the use of the word “draw” in the Preface affords distinct evidence to the contrary. It is therefore most probable that she died in the latter part of 1743, having been long in a declining state of health. For a time her husband was inconsolable. “The fortitude of mind,” says Murphy, “with which he met all the other calamities of life, deserted him on this most trying occasion.” His grief was so vehement “that his friends began to think him in danger of losing his reason.”
That Fielding had depicted his first wife in Sophia Western has already been pointed out, and we have the authority of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Richardson for saying that she was afterwards reproduced in Amelia. “Amelia,” says the latter, in a letter to Mrs. Donnellan, “even to her noselessness, is again his first wife.” Some of her traits, too, are to be detected in the Mrs. Wilson of Joseph Andrews. But, beyond these indications, we hear little about her. Almost all that is definitely known is contained in a passage of the admirable Introductory Anecdotes contributed by Lady Louisa Stuart in 1837 to Lord Wharncliffe’s edition of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Letters and Works. This account was based upon the recollections of Lady Bute, Lady Mary’s daughter.
“ Only those persons (says Lady Stuart) are mentioned here of whom Lady Bute could speak from her own recollection or her mother’s report. Both had made her well informed of every particular that concerned her relation Henry Fielding; nor was she a stranger to that beloved first wife whose picture he drew in his Amelia, where, as she said, even the glowing language he knew how to employ did not do more than justice to the amiable qualities of the original, or to her beauty, although this had suffered a little from the accident related in the novel,—a frightful overturn, which destroyed the gristle of her nose. [Footnote: That any one could have remained lovely after such a catastrophe is difficult to believe. But probably Lady Bute (or Lady Stuart) exaggerated its effects; for—to say nothing of the fact that, throughout the novel, Amelia’s beauty is continually commended—in the delightfully feminine description which is given of her by Mrs. James in Book xi. chap. i., pp. 114-15 of the first edition of 1752, although she is literally pulled to pieces, there is no reference whatever to her nose, which may be taken as proof positive that it was not an assailable feature. Moreover, in the book as we now have it, Fielding, obviously in deference to contemporary criticism, inserted the following specific passages:—“She was, indeed, a most charming woman; and I know not whether the little scar on her nose did not rather add to, than diminish her beauty” (Book iv. chap, vii.); and in Mrs. James’s portrait:—“Then her nose, as well proportioned as it is, has a visible scar on one side.” No previous biographer seems to have thought it necessary to make any mention of these statements, while Johnson’s speech about “That vile broken nose, never cured,” and Richardson’s coarsely-malignant utterance to Mrs. Donnellan, are everywhere industriously remembered and repeated.] He loved her passionately, and she returned his affection; yet led no happy life, for they were almost always miserably poor, and seldom in a state of quiet and safety. All the world knows what was his imprudence; if ever he possessed a score of pounds, nothing could keep him from lavishing it idly, or make him think of tomorrow. Sometimes they were living in decent lodgings with tolerable comfort; sometimes in a wretched garret without necessaries; not to speak of the spunging-houses and hiding-places where he was occasionally to be found. His elastic gaiety of spirit carried him through it all; but, meanwhile, care and anxiety were preying upon her more delicate mind, and undermining her constitution. She gradually declined, caught a fever, and died in his arms.”
As usual, Mr. Keightley has done his best to test this statement to the utmost. Part of his examination may be neglected, because it is based upon the misconception that Lord Wharncliffe, Lady Mary’s greatgrandson, and not Lady Stuart, her granddaughter, was the writer of the foregoing account. But as a set-off to the extreme destitution alleged, Mr. Keightley very justly observes that Mrs. Fielding must for some time have had a maid, since it was a maid who had been devotedly attached to her whom Fielding subsequently married. He also argues that “living in a garret and skulking in out o’ the way retreats,” are incompatible with studying law and practising as a barrister. Making every allowance, however, for the somewhat exaggerated way in which those of high rank often speak of the distresses of their less opulent kinsfolk, it is probable that Fielding’s married life was one of continual shifts and privations. Such a state of things is completely in accordance with his profuse nature [Footnote: The passage as to his imprudence is, oddly enough, omitted from Mr. Keightley’s quotation.] and his precarious means. Of his family by the first Mrs. Fielding no very material particulars have been preserved. Writing, in November 1745, in the True Patriot, he speaks of having a son and a daughter, but no son by his first wife seems to have survived him. The late Colonel Chester found the burial of a “James Fielding, son of Henry Fielding,” recorded under date of 19th February 1736, in the register of St. Giles in the Fields; but it is by no means certain that this entry refers to the novelist. A daughter, Harriet or Harriot, certainly did survive him, for she is mentioned in the Voyage to Lisbon as being of the party who accompanied him. Another daughter, as already stated, probably died in the winter of 1742-3; and the Journey from this World to the Next contains the touching reference to this or another child, of which Dickens writes so warmly in one of his letters. “I presently,” says Fielding, speaking of his entrance into Elysium, “met a little Daughter, whom I had lost several Years before. Good Gods! what Words can describe the Raptures, the melting passionate Tenderness, with which we kiss’d each other, continuing in our Embrace, with the most extatic Joy, a Space, which if Time had been measured here as on Earth, could not have been less than half a Year.”
From the death of Mrs. Fielding until the publication of the True Patriot in 1745 another comparative blank ensues in Fielding’s history; and it can only be filled by the assumption that he was still endeavouring to follow his profession as a barrister. His literary work seems to have been confined to a Preface to the second edition of his sister’s novel of David Simple, which appeared in 1744. This, while rendering fraternal justice to that now forgotten book, is memorable for some personal utterances on Fielding’s part. In denying the authorship of David Simple, which had been attributed to him, he takes occasion to appeal against the injustice of referring anonymous works to his pen, in the face of his distinct engagement in the Preface to the Miscellanies, that he would thenceforth write nothing except over his own signature; and he complains that such a course has a tendency to injure him in a profession to which “he has applied with so arduous and intent a diligence, that he has had no leisure, if he had inclination, to compose anything of this kind (i.e. David Simple).” At the same time, he formally withdraws his promise, since it has in no wise exempted him from the scandal of putting forth anonymous work. From other passages in this “Preface,” it may be gathered the immediate cause of irritation was the assignment to his pen of “that infamous paultry libel” the Causidicade, a satire directed at the law in general, and some of the subscribers to the Miscellanies in particular. “This,” he says, “accused me not only of being a bad writer, and a bad man, but with downright idiotism, in flying in the face of the greatest men of my profession.” It may easily be conceived that such a report must be unfavourable to a struggling barrister, and Fielding’s anxiety on this head is a strong proof that he was still hoping to succeed at the Bar. To a subsequent collection of Familiar Letters between the Principal Characters in David Simple and some others, he supplied another preface three years later, together with five little-known epistles which, nevertheless, are not without evidence of his characteristic touch.
A life of ups and downs like Fielding’s is seldom remarkable for its consistency. It is therefore not surprising to find that, despite his desire in 1744 to refrain from writing, he was again writing in 1745. The landing of Charles Edward attracted him once more into the ranks of journalism, on the side of the Government, and gave rise to the True Patriot, a weekly paper, the first number of which appeared in November. This, having come to an end with the Rebellion, was succeeded in December 1747 by the Jacobite’s Journal, supposed to emanate from “John Trott-Plaid, Esq.,” and intended to push the discomfiture of Jacobite sentiment still further. It is needless to discuss these mainly political efforts at any length. They are said to have been highly approved by those in power: it is certain that they earned for their author the stigma of “pension’d scribbler.” Both are now very rare; and in Murphy the former is represented by twenty-four numbers, the latter by two only. The True Patriot contains a dream of London abandoned to the rebels, which is admirably graphic; and there is also a prophetic chronicle of events for 1746, in which the same idea is treated in a lighter and more satirical vein. But perhaps the most interesting feature is the reappearance of Parson Adams, who addresses a couple of letters to the same periodical—one on the rising generally, and the other on the “young England” of the day, as exemplified in a very offensive specimen he had recently encountered at Mr. Wilson’s. Other minor points of interest in connection with the Jacobite’s Journal, are the tradition associating Hogarth with the rude woodcut headpiece (a Scotch man and woman on an ass led by a monk) which surmounted its earlier numbers, and the genial welcome given in No. 5, perhaps not without some touch of contrition, to the two first volumes, then just published, of Richardson’s Clarissa. The pen is the pen of an imaginary “correspondent,” but the words are unmistakably Fielding’s:—
“When I tell you I have lately received this Pleasure [i.e. of reading a new master-piece], you will not want me to inform you that I owe it to the Author of CLARISSA. Such Simplicity, such Manners, such deep Penetration into Nature; such Power to raise and alarm the Passions, few Writers, either ancient or modern, have been possessed of. My Affections are so strongly engaged, and my Fears are so raised, by what I have already read, that I cannot express my Eagerness to see the rest. Sure this Mr. Richardson is Master of all that Art which Horace compares to Witchcraft
—Pectus inaniter angit, Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet Ut Magus.—”
Between the discontinuance of the True Patriot and the establishment of its successor occurred an event, the precise date of which has been hitherto unknown, namely, Fielding’s second marriage. The account given of this by Lady Louisa Stuart is as follows:—
“His [Fielding’s] biographers seem to have been shy of disclosing that after the death of this charming woman [his first wife] he married her maid. And yet the act was not so discreditable to his character as it may sound. The maid had few personal charms, but was an excellent creature, devotedly attached to her mistress, and almost broken-hearted for her loss. In the first agonies of his own grief, which approached to frenzy, he found no relief but from weeping along with her; nor solace, when a degree calmer, but in talking to her of the angel they mutually regretted. This made her his habitual confidential associate, and in process of time he began to think he could not give his children a tenderer mother, or secure for himself a more faithful housekeeper and nurse. At least this was what he told his friends; and it is certain that her conduct as his wife confirmed it, and fully justified his good opinion.”
It has now been ascertained that the marriage took place at St. Bene’t’s, Paul’s Wharf, an obscure little church in the City, at present surrendered to a Welsh congregation, but at that time, like Mary-le-bone old church, much in request for unions of a private character. The date in the register is the 27th of November 1747. The second Mrs. Fielding’s maiden name, which has been hitherto variously reported as Macdonnell, Macdonald, and Macdaniel, is given as Mary Daniel, [Footnote: See note to Fielding’s letter in Chap. vii.] and she is further described as “of St Clement’s Danes, Middlesex, Spinster.” Either previously to this occurrence, or immediately after it, Fielding seems to have taken two rooms in a house in Back Lane, Twickenham, “not far,” says the Rev. Mr. Cobbett in his Memorials, “from the site of Copt Hall.” In 1872 this house was still standing,—a quaint old-fashioned wooden structure; [Footnote: Now (1883) it no longer exists, and a row of cottages occupies the site.]—and from hence, on the 25th February 1748, was baptized the first of the novelist’s sons concerning whom any definite information exists—the William Fielding who, like his father, became a Westminster magistrate. Beyond suggesting that it may supply a reason why, during Mrs. Fielding’s life-time, her husband’s earliest biographer made no reference to the marriage, it is needless to dwell upon the proximity between the foregoing dates. In other respects the circumstance now first made public is not inconsistent with Lady Stuart’s narrative; and there is no doubt, from the references to her in the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon and elsewhere, that Mary Daniel did prove an excellent wife, mother, and nurse. Another thing is made clear by the date established, and this is that the verses “On Felix; Marry’d to a Cook-Maid” in the Gentleman’s Magazine for July 1746, to which Mr. Lawrence refers, cannot possibly have anything to do with Fielding, although they seem to indicate that alliances of the kind were not unusual. Perhaps Pamela had made them fashionable. On the other hand, the supposed allusion to Lyttelton and Fielding, to be found in the first edition of Peregrine Pickle, but afterwards suppressed, receives a certain confirmation. “When,” says Smollett, speaking of the relations of an imaginary Mr. Spondy with Gosling Scrag, who is understood to represent Lyttelton, “he is inclined to marry his own cook-wench, his gracious patron may condescend to give the bride away; and may finally settle him in his old age, as a trading Westminster justice.” That, looking to the facts, Fielding’s second marriage should have gained the approval and countenance of Lyttelton is no more than the upright and honourable character of the latter would lead us to expect.
The Jacobite’s Journal ceased to appear in November 1748. In the early part of the December following, the remainder of Smollett’s programme came to pass, and by Lyttelton’s interest Fielding was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Westminster. From a letter in the Bedford Correspondence, dated 13th December 1748, respecting the lease of a house or houses which would qualify him to act for Middlesex, it would seem that the county was afterwards added to his commission. He must have entered upon his office in the first weeks of December, as upon the ninth of that month one John Salter was committed to the Gatehouse by Henry Fielding, Esq., “of Bow Street, Covent Garden, formerly Sir Thomas de Veil’s.” Sir Thomas de Veil, who died in 1746, and whose Memoirs had just been published, could not, however, have been Fielding’s immediate predecessor.