Fielding, by Austin Dobson

Appendix No. II.

Fielding and Mrs. Hussey.

At pp. 124-5, vol. i., of J. T. Smith’s Nollekens and his Times, 1828, occurs the following note:—

“Henry Fielding was fond of colouring his pictures of life with the glowing and variegated tints of Nature, by conversing with persons of every situation and calling, as I have frequently been informed by one of my [i.e. J. T. Smith’s] great-aunts, the late Mrs. Hussey, who knew him intimately. I have heard her say, that Mr. Fielding never suffered his talent for sprightly conversation to mildew for a moment; and that his manners were so gentlemanly, that even with the lower classes, with which he frequently condescended particularly to chat, such as Sir Roger de Coverley’s old friends, the Vauxhall watermen, they seldom outstepped the limits of propriety. My aunt, who lived to the age of 105, had been blessed with four husbands, and her name had twice been changed to that of Hussey: she was of a most delightful disposition, of a retentive memory, highly entertaining, and liberally communicative; and to her I have frequently been obliged for an interesting anecdote. She was, after the death of her second husband, Mr. Hussey, a fashionable sacque and mantua-maker, and lived in the Strand, a few doors west of the residence of the celebrated Le Beck, a famous cook, who had a large portrait of himself for the sign of his house, at the north-west corner of Half-moon Street, since called Little Bedford Street. One day Mr. Fielding observed to Mrs. Hussey, that he was then engaged in writing a novel, which he thought would be his best production; and that he intended to introduce in it the characters of all his friends. Mrs. Hussey, with a smile, ventured to remark, that he must have many niches, and that surely they must already be filled. ‘I assure you, my dear madam,’ replied he, ‘there shall be a bracket for a bust of you.’ Some time after this, he informed Mrs. Hussey that the work was in the press; but, immediately recollecting that he had forgotten his promise to her, went to the printer, and was time enough to insert, in vol. iii. p. 17 [bk. x. ch. iv.], where he speaks of the shape of Sophia Western —‘Such charms are there in affability, and so sure is it to attract the praises of all kinds of people.’—‘It may, indeed, be compared to the celebrated Mrs. Hussey.’ To which observation he has given the following note: ‘A celebrated mantua-maker in the Strand, famous for setting off the shapes of women.’”

There is no reason for supposing that this neglected anecdote should not be in all respects authentic. In fact, upon the venerated principle that

“there it stands unto this day

To witness if I lie,”—

the existence of the passage and note in Tom Jones is practically sufficient argument for its veracity. This being so, it surely deserves some consideration for the light which it throws on Fielding’s character. Mrs. Hussey’s testimony as to his dignified and gentlemanly manners, which does not seem to be advanced to meet any particular charge, may surely be set against any innuendoes of the Burney and Walpole type as to his mean environment and coarse conversation. And the suggestion that “the characters of all his friends”— by which must be intended rather mention of them than portraits — are to be found in his masterpiece, is fairly borne out by the most casual inspection of Tom Jones, especially the first edition, where all the proper names are in italics. In the dedication alone are references to the “princely Benefactions” of John, Duke of Bedford, and to Lyttelton and Ralph Allen, both of whom are also mentioned by name in bk. xiii. ch. i. The names of Hogarth and Garrick also occur frequently. In bk. iv. ch. i. is an anecdote of Wilks the player, who had been one of Fielding’s earliest patrons. The surgeon in the story of the “Man of the Hill” (bk. viii. ch. xiii.) “whose Name began with an R,” and who “was Sergeant-Surgeon to the King,” evidently stands for Hogarth’s Chiswick neighbour, Mr. Ranby, by whose advice Fielding was ordered to Bath in 1753. Again, he knew, though he did not greatly admire, Warburton, to whose learning there is a handsome compliment in bk. xiii. ch. i. In bk. xv. ch. iv. is the name of another friend or acquaintance (also mentioned in the Journey from this World to the Next), Hooke, of the Roman History, who, like the author of Tom Jones, had drawn his pen for Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. Bk. xi. ch. iv. contains an anecdote, real or imaginary, of Richard Nash, with whom Fielding must certainly have become familiar in his visits to Bath; and it is probable that Square’s medical advisers (bk. xviii. ch. iv.), Dr. Harrington and Dr. Brewster, both of whom subscribed to the Miscellanies of 1743, were well-known Bathonians. Mr. Willoughby, also a subscriber, was probably “Justice Willoughby of Noyle” referred to in bk. viii. ch. xi. Whether the use of Handel’s name in bk. iv. ch. v. is of any significance there is no evidence; but the description in bk. iv. ch. vi. of Conscience “sitting on its Throne in the Mind, like the LORD HIGH CHANCELLOR of this Kingdom in his Court,” and fulfilling its functions “with a Knowledge which nothing escapes, a Penetration which nothing can deceive, and an Integrity which nothing can corrupt,” is clearly an oblique panegyric of Philip Yorke, Lord Hardwicke, to whom, two years later, Fielding dedicated his Enquiry into the late Increase of Robbers, etc. Besides these, there are references to Bishop Hoadly (bk. ii. ch. vii.), Mrs. Whitefield, of the “Bell” at Gloucester, and Mr. Timothy Harris (bk. viii. ch. viii), Mrs. Clive, and Mr. Miller of the Gardener’s Dictionary (bk. ix. ch. i.); and closer examination would no doubt reveal further allusions. Meanwhile the above will be sufficient to show that the statement of the “celebrated mantua-maker in the Strand” respecting Fielding’s friends in Tom Jones is not without foundation.

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