Fielding, by Austin Dobson

Chapter V.

Tom Jones.

Writing from Basingstoke to his brother Tom, on the 29th October 1746, Joseph Warton thus refers to a visit he paid to Fielding:—

“I wish you had been with me last week, when I spent two evenings with Fielding and his sister, who wrote David Simple, and you may guess I was very well entertained. The lady indeed retir’d pretty soon, but Russell and I sat up with the Poet [Warton no doubt uses the word here in the sense of ‘maker’ or ‘creator’] till one or two in the morning, and were inexpressibly diverted. I find he values, as he justly may, his Joseph Andrews above all his writings: he was extremely civil to me, I fancy, on my Father’s account.” 23

23 i.e. the Rev. Thomas Warton, Vicar of Basingstoke, and sometime

This mention of Joseph Andrews has misled some of Fielding’s biographers into thinking that he ranked that novel above Tom Jones. But, in October 1746, Tom Jones had not been published; and, from the absence of any reference to it by Warton, it is only reasonable to conclude that it had not yet assumed a definite form, or Fielding, who was by no means uncommunicative, would in all probability have spoken of it as an effort from which he expected still greater things. It is clear, too, that at this date he was staying in London, presumably in lodgings with his sister; and it is also most likely that he lived much in town when he was conducting the True Patriot and the Jacobite’s Journal. At other times he would appear to have had no settled place of abode. There are traditions that Tom Jones was composed in part at Salisbury, in a house at the foot of Milford Hill; and again that it was written at Twiverton, or Twerton-on-Avon, near Bath, where, as the Vicar pointed out in Notes and Queries for March 15th, 1879, there still exists a house called Fielding’s Lodge, over the door of which is a stone crest of a phoenix rising out of a mural coronet. This latter tradition is supported by the statement of Mr. Richard Graves, author of the Spiritual Quixote, and rector, circa 1750, of the neighbouring parish of Claverton, who says in his Trifling Anecdotes of the late Ralph Allen, that Fielding while at Twerton used to dine almost daily with Allen at Prior Park. There are also traces of his residence at Bath itself; and of visits to the seat of Lyttelton’s father at Hagley in Worcestershire. Towards the close of 1747 he had, as before stated, rooms in Back Lane, Twickenham; and it must be to this or to some earlier period that Walpole alludes in his Parish Register (1759):—

Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

“Here Fielding met his bunter Muse

And, as they quaff’d the fiery juice,

Droll Nature stamp’d each lucky hit

With unimaginable wit;”—

a quatrain in which the last lines excuse the first. According to Mr. Cobbett’s already-quoted Memorials of Twickenham, he left that place upon his appointment as a Middlesex magistrate, when he moved to Bow Street. His house in Bow Street belonged to John, Duke of Bedford; and he continued to live in it until a short time before his death. It was subsequently occupied by his half-brother and successor, Sir John, 24 who, writing to the Duke in March 1770, to thank him for his munificent gift of an additional ten years to the lease, recalls “that princely instance of generosity which his Grace shewed to his late brother, Henry Fielding.”

24 In the riots of ‘80 — as Dickens has not forgotten to note in Barnaby Rudge — the house was destroyed by the mob, who burned Sir John’s goods in the street (Boswell’s Johnson, chap. lxx.)

What this was, is not specified. It may have been the gift of the leases of those tenements which, as explained, were necessary to qualify Fielding to act as a Justice of the Peace for the county of Middlesex; it may even have been the lease of the Bow Street house; or it may have been simply a gift of money. But whatever it was, it was something considerable. In his appeal to the Duke, at the close of the last chapter, Fielding referred to previous obligations, and in his dedication of Tom Jones to Lyttelton, he returns again to his Grace’s beneficence. Another person, of whose kindness grateful but indirect mention is made in the same dedication, is Ralph Allen, who, according to Derrick, the Bath M.C., sent the novelist a present of L200, before he had even made his acquaintance, 25 which, from the reference to Allen in Joseph Andrews, probably began before 1742. Lastly, there is Lyttelton himself, concerning whom, in addition to a sentence which implies that he actually suggested the writing of Tom Jones, we have the express statements on Fielding’s part that “without your Assistance this History had never been completed,” and “I partly owe to you my Existence during great Part of the Time which I have employed in composing it.” These words must plainly be accepted as indicating pecuniary help; and, taking all things together, there can be little doubt that for some years antecedent to his appointment as a Justice of the Peace, Fielding was in straitened circumstances, and was largely aided, if not practically supported, by his friends. Even supposing him to have been subsidised by Government as alleged, his profits from the True Patriot and the Jacobite’s Journal could not have been excessive; and his gout, of which he speaks in one of his letters to the Duke of Bedford, must have been a serious obstacle in the way of his legal labours.

25 Derrick’s Letters, 1767, ii. 95.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, was published by Andrew Millar on the 28th of February 1749, and its appearance in six volumes, 12mo, was announced in the General Advertiser of that day’s date. There had been no author’s name on the title-page of Joseph Andrews; but Tom Jones was duly described as “by Henry Fielding, Esq.,” and bore the motto from Horace, seldom so justly applied, of “Mores hominum multorum vidit.“ The advertisement also ingenuously stated that as it was “impossible to get Sets bound fast enough to answer the Demand for them, such Gentlemen and Ladies as pleased, might have them sew’d in Blue Paper and Boards at the Price of 16s a Set.” The date of issue sufficiently disposes of the statement of Cunningham and others, that the book was written at Bow Street. Little more than the dedication, which is preface as well, can have been produced by Fielding in his new home. Making fair allowance for the usual tardy progress of a book through the press, and taking into consideration the fact that the author was actively occupied with his yet unfamiliar magisterial duties, it is most probable that the last chapter of Tom Jones had been penned before the end of 1748, and that after that time it had been at the printer’s. For the exact price paid to the author by the publisher on this occasion we are indebted to Horace Walpole, who, writing to George Montagu in May 1749, says —“Millar the bookseller has done very generously by him [Fielding]: finding Tom Jones, for which he had given him six hundred pounds, sell so greatly, he has since given him another hundred.”

It is time, however, to turn from these particulars to the book itself. In Joseph Andrews, Fielding’s work had been mainly experimental. He had set out with an intention which had unexpectedly developed into something else. That something else, he had explained, was the comic epic in prose. He had discovered its scope and possibilities only when it was too late to re-cast his original design; and though Joseph Andrews has all the freshness and energy of a first attempt in a new direction, it has also the manifest disadvantages of a mixed conception and an uncertain plan. No one had perceived these defects more plainly than the author; and in Tom Jones he set himself diligently to perfect his new-found method. He believed that he foresaw a “new Province of Writing,” of which he regarded himself with justice as the founder and lawgiver; and in the “prolegomenous, or introductory Chapters” to each book — those delightful resting-spaces where, as George Eliot says, “he seems to bring his arm-chair to the proscenium and chat with us in all the lusty ease of his fine English”— he takes us, as it were, into his confidence, and discourses frankly of his aims and his way of work. He looked upon these little “initial Essays” indeed, as an indispensable part of his scheme. They have given him, says he more than once, “the greatest Pains in composing” of any part of his book, and he hopes that, like the Greek and Latin mottoes in the Spectator, they may serve to secure him against imitation by inferior authors. 26 Naturally a great deal they contain is by this time commonplace, although it was unhackneyed enough when Fielding wrote. The absolute necessity in work of this kind for genius, learning, and knowledge of the world, the constant obligation to preserve character and probability — to regard variety and the law of contrast:— these are things with which the modern tiro (however much he may fail to possess or observe them) is now supposed to be at least theoretically acquainted. But there are other chapters in which Fielding may also be said to reveal his personal point of view, and these can scarcely be disregarded. His “Fare,” he says, following the language of the table, is “HUMAN NATURE,” which he shall first present “in that more plain and simple Manner in which it is found in the Country,” and afterwards “hash and ragoo it with all the high French and Italian seasoning of Affectation and Vice which Courts and Cities afford.” His inclination, he admits, is rather to the middle and lower classes than to “the highest Life,” which he considers to present “very little Humour or Entertainment.” His characters (as before) are based upon actual experience; or, as he terms it, “Conversation.” He does not propose to present his reader with “Models of Perfection;” he has never happened to meet with those “faultless Monsters.” He holds that mankind is constitutionally defective, and that a single bad act does not, of necessity, imply a bad nature. He has also observed, without surprise, that virtue in this world is not always “the certain Road to Happiness,” nor “Vice to Misery.” In short, having been admitted “behind the Scenes of this Great Theatre of Nature,” he paints humanity as he has found it, extenuating nothing, nor setting down aught in malice, but reserving the full force of his satire and irony for affectation and hypocrisy. His sincere endeavour, he says moreover in his dedication to Lyttelton, has been “to recommend Goodness and Innocence,” and promote the cause of religion and virtue. And he has all the consciousness that what he is engaged upon is no ordinary enterprise. He is certain that his pages will outlive both “their own infirm Author” and his enemies; and he appeals to Fame to solace and reassure him —

26 Notwithstanding this warning, Cumberland (who copied so much) copied these in his novel of Henry. On the other hand, Fielding’s French and Polish translators omitted them as superfluous.

“Come, bright Love of Fame,”— says the beautiful “Invocation” which begins the thirteenth Book — “inspire my glowing Breast: Not thee I call, who over swelling Tides of Blood and Tears, dost bear the Heroe on to Glory, while Sighs of Millions waft his spreading Sails; but thee, fair, gentle Maid, whom Mnesis, happy Nymph, first on the Banks of Hebrus didst produce. Thee, whom Maeonia educated, whom Mantua charm’d, and who, on that fair Hill which overlooks the proud Metropolis of Britain, sat, with thy Milton, sweetly tuning the Heroic Lyre; fill my ravished Fancy with the Hopes of charming Ages yet to come. Foretel me that some tender Maid, whose Grandmother is yet unborn, hereafter, when, under the fictitious Name of Sophia, she reads the real Worth which once existed in my Charlotte, shall, from her sympathetic Breast, send forth the heaving Sigh. Do thou teach me not only to foresee, but to enjoy, nay, even to feed on future Praise. Comfort me by a solemn Assurance, that when the little Parlour in which I sit at this Instant, shall be reduced to a worse furnished Box, I shall be read, with Honour, by those who never knew nor saw me, and whom I shall neither know nor see.”

With no less earnestness, after a mock apostrophe to Wealth, he appeals to Genius:—

“Teach me (he exclaims), which to thee is no difficult Task, to know Mankind better than they know themselves. Remove that Mist which dims the Intellects of Mortals, and causes them to adore Men for their Art, or to detest them for their Cunning in deceiving others, when they are, in Reality, the Objects only of Ridicule, for deceiving themselves. Strip off the thin Disguise of Wisdom from Self-Conceit, of Plenty from Avarice, and of Glory from Ambition. Come thou, that hast inspired thy Aristophanes, thy Lucian, thy Cervantes, thy Rabelais, thy Moliere, thy Shakespear, thy Swift, thy Marivaux, fill my Pages with Humour, till Mankind learn the Good-Nature to laugh only at the Follies of others, and the Humility to grieve at their own.”

From the little group of immortals who are here enumerated, it may be gathered with whom Fielding sought to compete, and with whom he hoped hereafter to be associated. His hopes were not in vain. Indeed, in one respect, he must be held to have even outrivalled that particular predecessor with whom he has been oftenest compared. Like Don Quixote, Tom Jones is the precursor of a new order of things — the earliest and freshest expression of a new departure in art. But while Tom Jones is, to the full, as amusing as Don Quixote, it has the advantage of a greatly superior plan, and an interest more skilfully sustained. The incidents which, in Cervantes, simply succeed each other like the scenes in a panorama, are, in Tom Jones, but parts of an organised and carefully-arranged progression towards a foreseen conclusion. As the hero and heroine cross and re-cross each other’s track, there is scarcely an episode which does not aid in the moving forward of the story. Little details rise lightly and naturally to the surface of the narrative, not more noticeable at first than the most everyday occurrences, and a few pages farther on become of the greatest importance. The hero makes a mock proposal of marriage to Lady Bellaston. It scarcely detains attention, so natural an expedient does it appear, and behold in a chapter or two it has become a terrible weapon in the hands of the injured Sophia! Again, when the secret of Jones’ birth 27 is finally disclosed, we look back and discover a hundred little premonitions which escaped us at first, but which, read by the light of our latest knowledge, assume a fresh significance. At the same time, it must be admitted that the over-quoted and somewhat antiquated dictum of Coleridge, by which Tom Jones is grouped with the Alchemist and OEdipus Tyrannus, as one of the three most perfect plots in the world, requires revision. It is impossible to apply the term “perfect” to a work which contains such an inexplicable stumbling-block as the Man of the Hill’s story. Then again, progress and animation alone will not make a perfect plot, unless probability be superadded. And although it cannot be said that Fielding disregards probability, he certainly strains it considerably. Money is conveniently lost and found; the naivest coincidences continually occur; people turn up in the nick of time at the exact spot required, and develop the most needful (but entirely casual) relations with the characters. Sometimes an episode is so inartistically introduced as to be almost clumsy. Towards the end of the book, for instance, it has to be shown that Jones has still some power of resisting temptation, and he accordingly receives from a Mrs. Arabella Hunt, a written offer of her hand, which he declines. Mrs. Hunt’s name has never been mentioned before, nor, after this occurrence, is it mentioned again. But in the brief fortnight which Jones has been in town, with his head full of Lady Bellaston, Sophia, and the rest, we are to assume that he has unwittingly inspired her with so desperate a passion that she proposes and is refused — all in a chapter. Imperfections of this kind are more worthy of consideration than some of the minor negligences which criticism has amused itself by detecting in this famous book. Such, among others, is the discovery made by a writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine, that in one place winter and summer come too close together; or the “strange specimen of oscitancy” which another (it is, in fact, Mr. Keightley) considers it worth while to record respecting the misplacing of the village of Hambrook. To such trifles as these last the precept of non offendar maculis may safely be applied, although Fielding, wiser than his critics, seems to have foreseen the necessity for still larger allowances:—

27 Much ink has been shed respecting Fielding’s reason for making his hero illegitimate. But may not “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling,” have had no subtler origin than the recent establishment of the Foundling Hospital, of which Fielding had written in the Champion, and in which his friend Hogarth was interested?

“Cruel indeed,” says he in his proemium to Book XI., “would it be, if such a Work as this History, which hath employed some Thousands of Hours in the composing, should be liable to be condemned, because some particular Chapter, or perhaps Chapters, may be obnoxious to very just and sensible Objections. . . . To write within such severe Rules as these, is as impossible as to live up to some splenetic Opinions; and if we judge according to the Sentiments of some Critics, and of some Christians, no Author will be saved in this World, and no Man in the next.”

Notwithstanding its admitted superiority to Joseph Andrews as a work of art, there is no male character in Tom Jones which can compete with Parson Adams — none certainly which we regard with equal admiration. Allworthy, excellent compound of Lyttelton and Allen though he be, remains always a little stiff and cold in comparison with the “veined humanity” around him. We feel of him, as of another impeccable personage, that we “cannot breathe in that fine air, That pure severity of perfect light,” and that we want the “warmth and colour” which we find in Adams. Allworthy is a type rather than a character — a fault which also seems to apply to that Molieresque hypocrite, the younger Blifil. Fielding seems to have welded this latter together, rather than to have fused him entire, and the result is a certain lack of verisimilitude, which makes us wonder how his pinchbeck professions and vamped-up virtues could deceive so many persons. On the other hand, his father, Captain John Blifil, has all the look of life. Nor can there be any doubt about the vitality of Squire Western. Whether the germ of his character be derived from Addison’s Tory Foxhunter or not, it is certain that Fielding must have had superabundant material of his own from which to model this thoroughly representative, and at the same time, completely individual character. Western has all the rustic tastes, the narrow prejudices, the imperfect education, the unreasoning hatred to the court, which distinguished the Jacobite country gentleman of the Georgian era; but his divided love for his daughter and his horses, his good-humour and his shrewdness, his foaming impulses and his quick subsidings, his tears, his oaths, and his barbaric dialect, are all essential features in a personal portrait. When Jones has rescued Sophia, he will give him all his stable, the Chevalier and Miss Slouch excepted; when he finds he is in love with her, he is in a frenzy to “get at un“ and “spoil his Caterwauling.” He will have the surgeon’s heart’s blood if he takes a drop too much from Sophia’s white arm; when she opposes his wishes as to Blifil, he will turn her into the street with no more than a smock, and give his estate to the “zinking Fund.” Throughout the book he is qualis ab incepto — boisterous, brutal, jovial, and inimitable; so that when finally in “Chapter the Last,” we get that pretty picture of him in Sophy’s nursery, protesting that the tattling of his little granddaughter is “sweeter Music than the finest Cry of Dogs in England,” we part with him almost with a feeling of esteem. Scott seems to have thought it unreasonable that he should have “taken a beating so unresistingly from the friend of Lord Fellamar,” and even hints that the passage is an interpolation, although he wisely refrains from suggesting by whom, and should have known that it was in the first edition. With all deference to so eminent an authority, it is impossible to share his hesitation. Fielding was fully aware that even the bravest have their fits of panic. It must besides be remembered that Lord Fellamar’s friend was not an effeminate dandy, but a military man — probably a professed sabreur, if not a salaried bully like Captain Stab in the Rake’s Progress; that he was armed with a stick and Western was not; and that he fell upon him in the most unexpected manner, in a place where he was wholly out of his element. It is inconceivable that the sturdy squire, with his faculty for distributing “Flicks” and “Dowses,”— who came so valiantly to the aid of Jones in his battle-royal with Blifil and Thwackum — was likely, under any but very exceptional circumstances, to be dismayed by a cane. It was the exceptional character of the assault which made a coward of him; and Fielding, who had the keenest eye for inconsistencies of the kind, knew perfectly well what he was doing.

Of the remaining dramatis personae — the swarming individualities with which the great comic epic is literally “all alive,” as Lord Monboddo said — it is impossible to give any adequate account. Few of them, if any, are open to the objection already pointed out with respect to Allworthy and the younger Blifil, and most of them bear signs of having been closely copied from living models. Parson Thwackum, with his Antinomian doctrines, his bigotry, and his pedagogic notions of justice; Square the philosopher, with his faith in human virtue (alas! poor Square), and his cuckoo-cry about “the unalterable Rule of Eight and the eternal Fitness of Things;” Partridge — the unapproachable Partridge — with his superstition, his vanity, and his perpetual Infandum regina, but who, notwithstanding all his cheap Latinity, cannot construe an unexpected phrase of Horace; Ensign Northerton, with his vague and disrespectful recollections of “Homo;” young Nightingale and Parson Supple:— each is a definite character bearing upon his forehead the mark of his absolute fidelity to human nature. Nor are the female actors less accurately conceived. Starched Miss Bridget Allworthy, with her pinched Hogarthian face; Miss Western, with her disjointed diplomatic jargon; that budding Slipslop, Mrs. Honour; worthy Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, Mrs. Waters, Lady Bellaston — all are to the full as real. Lady Bellaston especially, deserves more than a word. Like Lady Booby in Joseph Andrews, she is not a pleasant character; but the picture of the fashionable demirep, cynical, sensual, and imperious, has never been drawn more vigorously, or more completely — even by Balzac. Lastly, there is the adorable Sophia herself, whose pardon should be asked for naming her in such close proximity to her frailer sister. Byron calls her (perhaps with a slight suspicion of exigence of rhyme) too “emphatic;” meaning, apparently, to refer to such passages as her conversation with Mrs. Fitzpatrick, etc. But the heroine of Fielding’s time — a time which made merry over a lady’s misadventures in horsemanship, and subjected her to such atrocities as those of Lord Fellamar — required to be strongly moulded; and Sophia Western is pure and womanly, in spite of her unfavourable surroundings. She is a charming example — the first of her race — of an unsentimentalised flesh-and-blood heroine; and Time has hated no jot of her frank vitality or her healthy beauty. Her descendants in the modern novel are far more numerous than the family which she bore to the fortunate — the too fortunate — Mr. Jones.

And this reminds us that in the foregoing enumeration we have left out Hamlet. In truth, it is by no means easy to speak of this handsome, but very un-heroic hero. Lady Mary, employing, curiously enough, the very phrase which Fielding has made one of his characters apply to Jones, goes so far as to call him a “sorry scoundrel;” and eminent critics have dilated upon his fondness for drink and play. But it is a notable instance of the way in which preconceived attributes are gradually attached to certain characters, that there is in reality little or nothing to show that he was either sot or gamester. With one exception, when, in the joy of his heart at his benefactor’s recovery, he takes too much wine (and it may be noted that on the same occasion the Catonic Thwackum drinks considerably more), there is no evidence that he was specially given to tippling, even in an age of hard drinkers, while of his gambling there is absolutely no trace at all. On the other hand, he is admittedly brave, generous, chivalrous, kind to the poor, and courteous to women. What, then, is his cardinal defect? The answer lies in the fact that Fielding, following the doctrine laid down in his initial chapters, has depicted him under certain conditions (in which, it is material to note, he is always rather the tempted than the tempter), with an unvarnished truthfulness which to the pure-minded is repugnant, and to the prurient indecent. Remembering that he too had been young, and reproducing, it may be, his own experiences, he exhibits his youth as he had found him — a “piebald miscellany,”—

“Bursts of great heart and slips in sensual mire;”

and, to our modern ideas, when no one dares, as Thackeray complained, “to depict to his utmost power a Man,” the spectacle is discomforting. Yet those who look upon human nature as keenly and unflinchingly as Fielding did, knowing how weak and fallible it is — how prone to fall away by accident or passion — can scarcely deny the truth of Tom Jones. That such a person cannot properly serve as a hero now is rather a question of our time than of Fielding’s, and it may safely be set aside. One objection which has been made, and made with reason, is that Fielding, while taking care that Nemesis shall follow his hero’s lapses, has spoken of them with too much indulgence, or rather without sufficient excuse. Coleridge, who was certainly not squeamish, seems to have felt this when, in a MS. note 28 in the well-known British Museum edition, he says:—

28 These notes were communicated by Mr. James Gillman to The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, published by H. N. Coleridge in 1836. The book in which they were made, (it is the four volume edition of 1773, and has Gillman’s book-plate), is now in the British Museum.

“Even in this most questionable part of Tom Jones [i.e. the Lady Bellaston episode, chap. ix. Book xv.], I cannot but think after frequent reflection on it, that an additional paragraph, more fully & forcibly unfolding Tom Jones’s sense of self-degradation on the discovery of the true character of the relation, in which he had stood to Lady Bellaston —& his awakened feeling of the dignity and manliness of Chastity — would have removed in great measure any just objection, at all events relating to Fielding himself, by taking in the state of manners in his time.”

The above transcript is from the MS.

Another point suggested by these last lines may be touched en passant. Lady Bellaston, as Fielding has carefully explained (chap. i. Book xiv.), was not a typical, but an exceptional, member of society; and although there were eighteenth-century precedents for such alliances (e.g. Miss Edwards and Lord Anne Hamilton, Mrs. Upton and General Braddock,) it is a question whether in a picture of average English life it was necessary to deal with exceptions of this kind, or, at all events, to exemplify them in the principal personage. But the discussion of this subject would prove endless. Right or wrong, Fielding has certainly suffered in popularity for his candour in this respect, since one of the wisest and wittiest books ever written cannot, without hesitation, be now placed in the hands of women or very young people. Moreover, this same candour has undoubtedly attracted to its pages many, neither young nor women, whom its wit finds unintelligent, and its wisdom leaves unconcerned.

But what a brave wit it is, what a wisdom after all, that is contained in this wonderful novel! Where shall we find its like for richness of reflection — for inexhaustible good-humour — for large and liberal humanity! Like Fontenelle, Fielding might fairly claim that he had never cast the smallest ridicule upon the most infinitesimal of virtues; it is against hypocrisy, affectation, insincerity of all kinds, that he wages war. And what a keen and searching observation — what a perpetual faculty of surprise — what an endless variety of method! Take the chapter headed ironically A Receipt to regain the lost Affections of a Wife, in which Captain John Blifil gives so striking an example of Mr. Samuel Johnson’s just published Vanity of Human Wishes, by dying suddenly of apoplexy while he is considering what he will do with Mr. Allworthy’s property (when it reverts to him); or that admirable scene, commended by Macaulay, of Partridge at the Playhouse, which is none the worse because it has just a slight look of kinship with that other famous visit which Sir Roger de Coverley paid to Philips’s Distrest Mother. Or take again, as utterly unlike either of these, that burlesque Homeric battle in the churchyard, where the “sweetly-winding Stour” stands for “reedy Simois,” and the bumpkins round for Greeks and Trojans! Or take yet once more, though it is woful work to offer bricks from this edifice which has already (in a sense) outlived the Escorial, 29 the still more diverse passage which depicts the changing conflict in Black George’s mind as to whether he shall return to Jones the sixteen guineas that he has found:—

29 The Escorial, it will be remembered, was partially burned in 1872.

Black George having received the Purse, set forward towards the Alehouse; but in the Way a Thought occurred whether he should not detain this Money likewise. His Conscience, however, immediately started at this Suggestion, and began to upbraid him with Ingratitude to his Benefactor. To this his Avarice answered, ‘That his conscience should have considered that Matter before, when he deprived poor Jones of his 500l. That having quietly acquiesced in what was of so much greater Importance, it was absurd, if not downright Hypocrisy, to affect any Qualms at this Trifle.’— In return to which, Conscience, like a good Lawyer, attempted to distinguish between an absolute Breach of Trust, as here where the Goods were delivered, and a bare Concealment of what was found, as in the former Case. Avarice presently treated this with Ridicule, called it a Distinction without a Difference, and absolutely insisted, that when once all Pretensions of Honour and Virtue were given up in any one Instance, that there was no Precedent for resorting to them upon a second Occasion. In short, poor Conscience had certainly been defeated in the Argument, had not Fear stept in to her Assistance, and very strenuously urged, that the real Distinction between the two Actions, did not lie in the different degrees of Honour, but of Safety: For that the secreting the 500l. was a Matter of very little Hazard; whereas the detaining the sixteen Guineas was liable to the utmost Danger of Discovery.

“By this friendly Aid of Fear, Conscience obtained a compleat Victory in the Mind of Black George, and after making him a few Compliments on his Honesty, forced him to deliver the Money to Jones.”

When one remembers that this is but one of many such passages, and that the book, notwithstanding the indulgence claimed by the author in the Preface, and despite a certain hurry at the close, is singularly even in its workmanship, it certainly increases our respect for the manly genius of the writer, who, amid all the distractions of ill-health and poverty, could find the courage to pursue and perfect such a conception. It is true that both Cervantes and Bunyan wrote their immortal works in the confinement of a prison. But they must at least have enjoyed the seclusion so needful to literary labour; while Tom Jones was written here and there, at all times and in all places, with the dun at the door and the wolf not very far from the gate. 30

30 Salisbury, in the neighbourhood of which Tom Jones is laid, claims the originals of some of the characters. Thwackum is said to have been Hele, a schoolmaster; Square, one Chubb, a Deist; and Dowling the

The little sentence quoted some pages back from Walpole’s letters is sufficient proof, if proof were needed, of its immediate success. Andrew Millar was shrewd enough, despite his constitutional confusion, and he is not likely to have given an additional L100 to the author of any book without good reason. But the indications of that success are not very plainly impressed upon the public prints. The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1749, which, as might be expected from Johnson’s connection with it, contains ample accounts of his own tragedy of Irene and Richardson’s recently-published Clarissa, has no notice of Tom Jones, nor is there even any advertisement of the second edition issued in the same year. But, in the emblematic frontispiece, it appears under Clarissa (and sharing with that work a possibly unintended proximity to a sprig of laurel stuck in a bottle of Nantes), among a pile of the books of the year; and in the “poetical essays” for August, one Thomas Cawthorn breaks into rhymed panegyric. “Sick of her fools,” sings this enthusiastic but scarcely lucid admirer —

lawyer a person named Stillingfleet.

“Sick of her fools, great Nature broke the jest,

And Truth held out each character to test,

When Genius spoke: Let Fielding take the pen!

Life dropt her mask, and all mankind were men.”

There were others, however, who would scarcely have echoed the laudatory sentiments of Mr. Cawthorn. Among these was again the excellent Richardson, who seems to have been wholly unpropitiated by the olive branch held out to him in the Jacobite’s Journal. His vexation at the indignity put upon Pamela by Joseph Andrews was now complicated by a twittering jealousy of the “spurious brat,” as he obligingly called Tom Jones, whose success had been so “unaccountable.” In these circumstances, some of the letters of his correspondents must have been gall and wormwood to him. Lady Bradshaigh, for instance, under her nom de guerre of “Belfour,” tells him that she is fatigued with the very name of the book, having met several young ladies who were for ever talking of their Tom Jones’s, “for so they call their favourites,” and that the gentlemen, on their side, had their Sophias, one having gone so far as to give that all-popular name to his “Dutch mastiff puppy.” But perhaps the best and freshest exhibition (for, as far as can be ascertained, it has never hitherto been made public) of Richardson’s attitude to his rival is to be found in a little group of letters in the Forster collection at South Kensington. The writers are Aaron Hill and his daughters; but the letters do not seem to have been known to Mrs. Barbauld, whose last communication from Hill is dated November 2, 1748. Nor are they to be found in Hill’s own Correspondence. The ladies, it appears, had visited Richardson at Salisbury Court in 1741, and were great admirers of Pamela, and the “divine Clarissa.” Some months after Tom Jones was published, Richardson (not yet having brought himself to read the book) had asked them to do so, and give him their opinion as to its merits. Thereupon Minerva and Astraea, who despite their names, and their description of themselves as “Girls of an untittering Disposition,” must have been very bright and lively young persons, began seriously “to lay their two wise heads together” and “hazard this Discovery of their Emptiness.” Having “with much ado got over some Reluctance, that was bred by a familiar coarseness in the Title,” they report “much (masqu’d) merit” in the “whole six volumes” —“a double merit, both of Head, and Heart.”

Had it been the latter only it would be more worthy of Mr. Richardson’s perusal; but, say these considerate pioneers, if he does spare it his attention, he must only do so at his leisure, for the author “introduces All his Sections (and too often interweaves the serious Body of his meanings), with long Runs of bantering Levity, which his [Fielding’s] Good sense may suffer by Effect of.” “It is true (they continue), he seems to wear this Lightness, as a grave Head sometime wears a Feather: which tho’ He and Fashion may consider as an ornament, Reflection will condemn, as a Disguise, and covering.” Then follows a brief excursus, intended for their correspondent’s special consolation, upon the folly of treating grave things lightly; and with delightful sententiousness the letter thus concludes:—

“Mean while, it is an honest pleasure, which we take in adding, that (exclusive of one wild, detach’d, and independent Story of a Man of the Hill, that neither brings on Anything, nor rose from Anything that went before it) All the changefull windings of the Author’s Fancy carry on a course of regular Design; and end in an extremely moving Close, where Lives that seem’d to wander and run different ways, meet, All, in an instructive Center.

“The whole Piece consists of an inventive Race of Disapointments and Recoveries. It excites Curiosity, and holds it watchful. It has just and pointed Satire; but it is a partial Satire, and confin’d, too narrowly: It sacrifices to Authority, and Interest. Its Events reward Sincerity, and punish and expose Hypocrisy; shew Pity and Benevolence in amiable Lights, and Avarice and Brutality in very despicable ones. In every Part It has Humanity for its Intention: In too many, it seems wantoner than It was meant to be: It has bold shocking Pictures; and (I fear) 31 not unresembling ones, in high Life, and in low. And (to conclude this too adventurous Guess-work, from a Pair of forward Baggages) woud, every where, (we think,) deserve to please — if stript of what the Author thought himself most sure to please by.

31 The “pen-holder” is the fair Astraea.

“And thus, Sir, we have told you our sincere opinion of Tom Jones. . . .

“Your most profest Admirers and most humble Servants,

“Astraea and Minerva Hill.

“PLAISTOW the 27th of July 1749.”

Richardson’s reply to this ingenuous criticism is dated the 4th of August. His requesting two young women to study and criticise a book which he has heard strongly condemned as immoral — his own obvious familiarity with what he has not read but does not scruple to censure — his transparently jealous anticipation of its author’s ability — all this forms a picture so characteristic alike of the man and the time that no apology is needed for the following textual extract:—

“I must confess, that I have been prejudiced by the Opinion of Several judicious Friends against the truly coarse-titled Tom Jones; and so have been discouraged from reading it. — I was told, that it was a rambling Collection of Waking Dreams, in which Probability was not observed: And that it had a very bad Tendency. And I had Reason to think that the Author intended for his Second View (His first, to fill his Pocket, by accommodating it to the reigning Taste) in writing it, to whiten a vicious Character, and to make Morality bend to his Practices. What Reason had he to make his Tom illegitimate, in an Age where Keeping is become a Fashion? Why did he make him a common — What shall I call it? And a Kept Fellow, the Lowest of all Fellows, yet in Love with a Young Creature who was traping [trapesing?] after him, a Fugitive from her Father’s House? — Why did he draw his Heroine so fond, so foolish, and so insipid? — Indeed he has one Excuse — He knows not how to draw a delicate Woman — He has not been accustomed to such Company — And is too prescribing, too impetuous, too immoral, I will venture to say, to take any other Byass than that a perverse and crooked Nature has given him; or Evil Habits, at least, have confirm’d in him. Do Men expect Grapes of Thorns, or Figs of Thistles? But, perhaps, I think the worse of the Piece because I know the Writer, and dislike his Principles both Public and Private, tho’ I wish well to the Man, and Love Four worthy Sisters of his, with whom I am well acquainted. And indeed should admire him, did he make the Use of his Talents which I wish him to make, For the Vein of Humour, and Ridicule, which he is Master of, might, if properly turned do great Service to ye Cause of Virtue.

“But no more of this Gentleman’s Work, after I have said, That the favourable Things, you say of the Piece, will tempt me, if I can find Leisure, to give it a Perusal.”

Notwithstanding this last sentence, Richardson more than once reverts to Tom Jones before he finishes his letter. Its effect upon Minerva and Astraea is hest described in an extract from Aaron Hill’s reply, dated seven days later (August the 11th):—

“Unfortunate Tom Jones! how sadly has he mortify’d Two sawcy Correspondents of your making! They are with me now: and bid me tell you, You have spoil’d ’em Both, for Criticks. — Shall I add, a Secret which they did not bid me tell you? — They, Both, fairly cry’d, that You shou’d think it possible they you’d approve of Any thing, in Any work, that had an Evil Tendency, in any Part or Purpose of it. They maintain their Point so far, however, as to be convinc’d they say, that you will disapprove this over-rigid Judgment of those Friends, who you’d not find a Thread of Moral Meaning in Tom Jones, quite independent of the Levities they justly censure. — And, as soon as you have Time to read him, for yourself, tis there, pert Sluts, they will be bold enough to rest the Matter. — Mean while, they love and honour you and your opinions.”

To this the author of Clarissa replied by writing a long epistle deploring the pain he had given the “dear Ladies,” and minutely justifying his foregone conclusions from the expressions they had used. He refers to Fielding again as “a very indelicate, a very impetuous, an unyielding-spirited Man;” and he also trusts to be able to “bestow a Reading” on Tom Jones; but by a letter from Lady Bradshaigh, printed in Barbauld, and dated December 1749, it seems that even at that date he had not, or pretended he had not, yet done so. In another of the unpublished South Kensington letters, from a Mr. Solomon Lowe, occurs the following:—“I do not doubt”— says the writer —“but all Europe will ring of it [Clarissa]: when a Cracker, that was some thous’d hours a-com-posing, 32 will no longer be heard, or talkt-of.” Richardson, with business-like precision, has gravely docketed this in his own handwriting — “Cracker, T. Jones.”

32 Vide Tom Jones, Book xi. chap. i.

It is unfortunate for Mr. Lowe’s reputation as a prophet that, after more than one hundred and thirty years, this ephemeral firework, as he deemed it, should still be sparkling with undiminished brilliancy, and to judge by recent editions, is selling as vigorously as ever. From the days when Lady Mary wrote “Ne plus ultra“ in her own copy, and La Harpe called it le premier roman du monde, (a phrase which, by the way, De Musset applies to Clarissa), it has come down to us with an almost universal accompaniment of praise. Gibbon, Byron, Coleridge, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray — have all left their admiration on record — to say nothing of professional critics innumerable. As may be seen from the British Museum Catalogue, it has been translated into French, German, Polish, Dutch, and Spanish. Russia and Sweden have also their versions. The first French translation, or rather abridgment, by M. de La Place was prohibited in France (to Richardson’s delight) by royal decree, an act which affords another instance, in Scott’s words, of that “French delicacy, which, on so many occasions, has strained at a gnat, and swallowed a camel” (e.g. the novels of M. Crebillon fils). La Place’s edition (1750) was gracefully illustrated with sixteen plates by Hubert Bourguignon, called Gravelot, one of those eighteenth-century illustrators whose designs at present are the rage in Paris. In England, Fielding’s best-known pictorial interpreters are Rowlandson and Cruikshank, the latter being by far the more sympathetic. Stothard also prepared some designs for Harrison’s Novelists Magazine; but his refined and effeminate pencil was scarcely strong enough for the task. Hogarth alone could have been the ideal illustrator of Henry Fielding; that is to say — if, in lieu of the rude designs he made for Tristram Shandy, he could have been induced to undertake the work in the larger fashion of the Rake’s Progress, or The Marriage a la Mode.

As might perhaps be anticipated, Tom Jones attracted the dramatist. 33 In 1765, one J. H. Steffens made a comedy of it for the German boards; and in 1785, a M. Desforges based upon it another, called Tom Jones a Londres, which was acted at the Theatre Francais. It was also turned into a comic opera by Joseph Reed in 1769, and played at Covent Garden. But its most piquant transformation is the Comedie lyrique of Poinsinet, acted at Paris in 1765-6 to the lively music of Philidor. The famous Caillot took the part of Squire Western, who, surrounded by piqueurs, and girt with the conventional cor de chasse of the Gallic sportsman, sings the following ariette, diversified with true Fontainebleau terms of venery:—

33 It may be added that it also attracted the plagiarist. As Pamela had its sequel in Pamela’s Conduct in High Life, 1741, so Tom Jones was continued in The History of Tom Jones the Foundling, in his Married State, a second edition of which was issued in 1750. The Preface announces, needlessly enough, that “Henry Fielding, Esq., is not the Author of this Book.” It deserves no serious consideration.

“D’un Cerf, dix Cors, j’ai connaissance:

On l’attaque au fort, on le lance;

Tous sont prets:

Piqueurs & Valets

Suivent les pas de l’ami Jone (sic).

J’entends crier: Volcelets, Volcelets.

Aussitot j’ordonne

Que la Meute donne.

Tayaut, Tayaut, Tayaut.

Mes chiens decouples l’environnent;

Les trompes sonnent:

‘Courage, Amis: Tayaut, Tayaut.’

Quelques chiens, que l’ardeur derange,

Quittent la voye & prennent le change

Jones les rassure d’un cri:

Ourvari, ourvari.

Accoute, accoute, accoute.

Au retour nous en revoyons.

Accoute, a Mirmiraut, courons

Tout a Griffaut;

Y apres: Tayaut, Tayaut.

On reprend route,

Voila le Cerf a l’eau.

La trompe sonne,

La Meute donne,

L’echo resonne,

Nous pressons les nouveaux relais:

Volcelets, Volcelets.

L’animal force succombe,

Fait un effort, se releve, enfin tombe:

Et nos chasseurs chantent tous a l’envi:

‘Amis, goutons les fruits de la victoire;

‘Amis, Amis, celebrons notre gloire.

‘Halali, Fanfare, Halali

‘Halali.’”

With this triumphant flourish of trumpets the present chapter may be fittingly concluded. 34

34 See Appendix No. II.: Fielding and Mrs. Hussey.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/fielding/henry/f45zd/chapter5.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37