Fielding (Dobson)/Postscript

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A few particulars respecting Fielding’s family and posthumous works can scarcely be omitted from the present memoir. It has been stated that by his first wife he had one daughter, the Harriet or Harriot who accompanied him to Lisbon, and survived him, although Mr. Keightley says, but without giving his authority, she did not survive him long. Of his family by Mary Daniel, the eldest son, William, to whose birth reference has already been made, was bred to the law, became a barrister of the Middle Temple eminent as a special pleader, and ultimately a Westminster magistrate. He died in October 1820, at the age of seventy-three. He seems to have shared his father’s conversational qualities,[1] and, like him, to have been a strenuous advocate of the poor and unfortunate. Southey, writing from Keswick in 1830 to Sir Egerton Brydges, speaks of a meeting he had in St. James’s Park, about 1817, with one of the novelist’s sons. “He was then,” says Southey, “a fine old man, though visibly shaken by time: he received me in a manner which had much of old courtesy about it, and I looked upon him with great interest for his father’s sake.” The date, and the fact that William Fielding had had a paralytic stroke, make it almost certain that this was he; and a further reference by Southey to his religious opinions is confirmed by the obituary notice in the Gentleman’s, which speaks of him as a worthy and pious man. The names and baptisms of the remaining children, as supplied for these pages by the late Colonel Chester, were Mary Amelia, baptized January 6, 1749; Sophia, January 21, 1750; Louisa, December 3, 1752; and Allen, April 6, 1754, about a month before Fielding removed to Ealing. All these baptisms took place at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, from the registers of which these particulars were extracted. The eldest daughter, Mary Amelia, does not appear to have long survived, for the same registers record her burial on the 17th December 1749. Allen Fielding became a clergyman, and died, according to Burke, in 1823, being then vicar of St. Stephen’s, Canterbury. He left a family of four sons and three daughters. One of the sons, George, became rector of North Ockendon, Essex, and married, in 1825, Mary Rebecca, daughter of Ferdinand Hanbury-Williams, and grandniece of Fielding’s friend and school-fellow Sir Charles. This lady, who so curiously linked the present and the past, died not long since at Hereford Square, Brompton, in her eighty-fifth year. Mrs. Fielding herself (Mary Daniel) appears to have attained a good old age. Her death took place at Canterbury on the 11th of March 1802, perhaps in the house of her son Allen, who is stated by Nichols in his Leicestershire to have been rector in 1803 of St. Cosmus and Damian-in-the-Blean. After her husband’s death, her children were educated by their uncle John and Ralph Allen, the latter of whom— says Murphy—made a very liberal annual donation for that purpose; and (adds Chalmers in a note), when he died in 1764, bequeathed to the widow and those of her family then living, the sum of L100 each.

Among Fielding’s other connections it is only necessary to speak of his sister Sarah, and his above-mentioned brother John. Sarah Fielding continued to write; and in addition to David Simple, published the Governess, 1749; a translation of Xenophon’s Memorabilia; a dramatic fable called the Cry, and some other forgotten books. During the latter part of her life she lived at Bath, where she was highly popular, both for her personal character and her accomplishments. She died in 1768; and her friend, Dr. John Hoadly, who wrote the verses to the Rake’s Progress, erected a monument to her memory in the Abbey Church.

“Her unaffected Manners, candid Mind, Her Heart benevolent, and Soul resign’d; Were more her Praise than all she knew or thought Though Athens Wisdom to her Sex she taught,”—

says he; but in mere facts the inscription is, as he modestly styles it, a “deficient Memorial,” for she is described as having been born in 1714 instead of 1710, and as being the second daughter of General Henry instead of General Edmund Fielding. John Fielding, the novelist’s half-brother, as already stated, succeeded him at Bow Street, though the post is sometimes claimed (on Boswell’s authority) for Mr. Welch. The mistake no doubt arose from the circumstance that they frequently worked in concert. Previous to his appointment as a magistrate, John Fielding, in addition to assisting his brother, seems to have been largely concerned in the promotion of that curious enterprise, the “Universal-Register-Office,” so often advertised in the Covent-Garden Journal. It appears to have been an Estate Office, Lost Property Office, Servants’ Registry, Curiosity Shop, and multifarious General Agency. As a magistrate, in spite of his blindness, John Fielding was remarkably energetic, and is reported to have known more than 3000 thieves by their voices alone, and could recognise them when brought into Court. A description of London and Westminster is often ascribed to him, but he denied the authorship. He was knighted in 1761, and died at Brompton Place in 1780. Lyttelton, who had become Sir George in 1751, was raised to the peerage as Baron Lyttelton of Frankley three years after Fielding’s death. He died in 1773. In 1760-5 he published his Dialogues of the Dead, profanely characterised by Mr. Walpole as “Dead Dialogues.” No. 28 of these is a colloquy between “Plutarch, Charon, and a Modern Bookseller,” and it contains the following reference to Fielding:—“We have [says Mr. Bookseller] another writer of these imaginary histories, one who has not long since descended to these regions. His name is Fielding; and his works, as I have heard the best judges say, have a true spirit of comedy, and an exact representation of nature, with fine moral touches. He has not indeed given lessons of pure and consummate virtue, but he has exposed vice and meanness with all the powers of ridicule.” It is perhaps excusable that Lawrence, like Roscoe and others, should have attributed this to Lyttelton; but the preface nevertheless assigns it, with two other dialogues, to a “different hand.” They were, in fact, the first essays in authorship of that illustrious blue-stocking, Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu.

Fielding’s only posthumous works are the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon and the comedy of The Fathers; or, The Good-Natur’d Man. The Journal was published in February 1755, together with a fragment of a Comment on Bolingbroke’s Essays, which Mallet had issued in March of the previous year. This fragment must therefore have been begun in the last months of Fielding’s life; and, according to Murphy, he made very careful preparation for the work, as attested by long extracts from the Fathers and the leading controversialists, which, after his death, were preserved by his brother. Beyond a passage or two in Richardson’s Correspondence, and a sneering reference by Walpole to Fielding’s “account how his dropsy was treated and teased by an innkeeper’s wife in the Isle of Wight,” there is nothing to show how the Journal was received, still less that it brought any substantial pecuniary relief to “those innocents,” to whom reference had been made in the “Dedication.” The play was not placed upon the stage until 1778. Its story, which is related in the Advertisement, is curious. After it had been set aside in 1742, [Footnote: Vide chap. iv. p. 94.] it seems to have been submitted to Sir Charles Hanbury Williams. Sir Charles was just starting for Russia, as Envoy Extraordinary. Whether the MS. went with him or not is unknown; but it was lost until 1775 or 1776, when it was recovered in a tattered and forlorn condition by Mr. Johnes, M.P. for Cardigan, from a person who entertained a very poor and even contemptuous opinion of its merits. Mr. Johnes thought otherwise. He sent it to Garrick, who at once recognised it as “Harry Fielding’s Comedy.” Revised and retouched by the actor and Sheridan, it was produced at Drury Lane, as The Fathers, with a Prologue and Epilogue by Garrick. For a few nights it was received with interest, and even some flickering enthusiasm. It was then withdrawn; and there is no likelihood that it will ever be revived.

  1. Vide Lockhart’s Life of Scott, chap. 1.