By the courtesy of the editor of the Athenaeum, the following letter is here reprinted from that paper for 2d June 1883:—
75 Eaton Rise, Ealing.
In 1855, when Mr. Frederick Lawrence published his Life of Henry Fielding, he thus referred (ch. vii. p. 67) to an “early passage” in the novelist’s career: “On his [Fielding’s] return from Leyden he conceived a desperate attachment for his cousin, Miss Sarah Andrews [sic]. That young lady’s friends had, however, so little confidence in her wild kinsman, that they took the precaution of removing her out of his reach; not, it is said, until he had attempted an abduction or elopement. . . . His cousin was afterwards married to a plain country gentleman, and in that alliance found, perhaps, more solid happiness than she would have experienced in an early and improvident marriage with her gifted kinsman. Her image, however, was never effaced from his recollection; and there is a charming picture (so tradition tells) of her luxuriant beauty in the portrait of Sophia Western, in Tom Jones.” Mr. Lawrence gave no hint or sign of his authority for this unexpected and hitherto unrecorded incident. But the review of his book in the Athenaeum for 10th November 1855 elicited the following notes on the subject from Mr. George Roberts, some time mayor of Lyme, and author of a brief history of that town. “Henry Fielding,” wrote Mr. Roberts, “was at Lyme Regis, Dorset, for the purpose of carrying off an heiress, Miss Andrew, the daughter of Solomon Andrew, Esq., the last of a series of merchants of that name at Lyme. The young lady was living with Mr. Andrew Tucker, one of the corporation, who sent her away to Modbury, in South Devon, where she married an ancestor of the present Rev. Mr. Rhodes, an eloquent preacher of Bath, who possesses the Andrew property. Mr. Rhodes’s son married the young lady upon his return to Modbury from Oxford. The circumstances about the attempts of Henry Fielding to carry off the young lady, handed down in the ancient Tucker family, were doubted by the late head of his family, Dr. Rhodes, of Shapwick, Uplyme, etc. Since his decease I have found an entry in the old archives of Lyme about the fears of Andrew Tucker, Esq., the guardian, as to his safety, owing to the behaviour of Henry Fielding and his attendant, or man. According to the tradition of the Tucker family, given in my History of Lyme, Sophia Western was intended to pourtray Miss Andrew.”
To Mr. Roberts’s communication succeeded that of another correspondent — one “P.S.”— who gave some additional particulars:
“There is now, at Bellair, in the immediate neighbourhood of Exeter the portrait of ‘Sophia Western’ [Miss Andrew]. Bellair belongs to the Rhodes family, and was the residence of the late George Ambrose Rhodes, Fellow of Caius College, and formerly Physician to the Devon and Exeter Hospital. He himself directed my attention to this picture. In the board-room of the above hospital there is also the three-quarter length portrait of Ralph Allen, Esq., the ‘Squire Allworthy’ of the same novel.”
Beneath the portrait is a plaque which has the words: “Sarah Rhodes, wife of Ambrose Rhodes of Bellair Esq.& sole daughter and heiress of Solomon Andrew Esq. of Lyme Regis, Dorset, & Mary his wife, daughter and co-heiress of William Huckmore Esq. of Buckland Baron, Devon. Born 1710, married 1727, died 1783: From whom Fielding, her admirer avowedly drew his character of Sophia Western.”
The image is generously provided by and reproduced with the permission of The Mabley family and Mr. Vincent Smith of Oxfordshire, UK.
No further contribution appears to have been made to the literature of the subject. The late Mr. Keightley, in his articles on Lawrence’s book in Fraser’s Magazine for January and February 1858, did, as a matter of fact, refer to the story and Mr. Roberts’s confirmation of it; but beyond pointing out that Miss Andrew could not have been the original of Sophia Western, who is declared by Fielding himself (Tom Jones, bk. xiii. ch. i.) to have been the portrait of his first wife, Charlotte Cradock, he added nothing to the existing information.
When I began to prepare the sketch of Fielding recently included in Mr. John Morley’s series of “English Men of Letters,” matters stood at this point, and I had little hope that any supplementary details could be obtained. I was, indeed, fortunate enough to discover that Burke’s Landed Gentry for 1858 gave the year of Miss Andrew’s marriage as 1726; and inquiries at Modbury, though they did not actually confirm this, practically did so, by disclosing the fact that a child of Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Rhodes was baptized at that place in April 1727. It became clear, therefore, that instead of being subsequent to Fielding’s “return from Leyden” in 1728, as Lawrence supposed, the date of the reported attempt at elopement could not have been later than 1725 or the early part of 1726 — so far back, in fact, in Fielding’s life that I confess to having entertained a private doubt whether it ever occurred at all. That doubt has now been completely removed by the appearance of some new and wholly unlooked-for evidence.
After the publication in 1858 of his Fraser papers, Mr. Keightley seems to have continued his researches with the intention of writing a final biography of Fielding. In this, which was to include a reprint of the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon and a critical examination of Fielding’s works, he made considerable progress; and by the courtesy of his nephew, Mr. Alfred C. Lyster, his MSS. have been placed at my disposal. Much that relates to Fielding’s life has manifestly the disadvantage of having been written more than twenty years ago, and it reproduces some aspects of Fielding which have now been abandoned; but in the elucidation and expansion of the Sarah Andrew episode Mr. Keightley leaves little to be desired. His first step, apparently, was to communicate with Mr. Roberts, who furnished him (6th May 1859) with the following transcript or summary of the original record in the Register Book of Lyme Regis:—
“John Bowdidge, Jun., was Mayor when Andrew Tucker, Gent., one of the corporation, caused Henry Fielding, Gent., and his servant or companion, Joseph Lewis — both now and for some time past residing in the borough — to be bound over to keep the peace, as he was in fear of his life or some bodily hurt to be done or to be procured to be done to him by H. Fielding and his man. Mr. A. Tucker feared that the man would beat, maim, or kill him. 14th November 1725.”
We thus get the exact date of the occurrence, 14th November 1725 (i.. when Fielding was eighteen), the fact that he had been staying for some time in Lyme at that date, and the name of his servant. In a further letter of 14th May 1859, Mr. Roberts referred Mr. Keightley to Mr. James Davidson, a Devon antiquary, in whose History of Newenham Abbey, Longmans, 1843 (surely a most out-of-the-way source of information!), he found the following, derived by the author from the Rhodes family (pp. 165, 166):
“The estate [of Shapwick, near Axminster] continued but a short time the property of the noble family of Petre, being sold by William the fourth baron, on the 10th of November 1670, to Solomon Andrew of Lyme Regis, a gentleman, who possessed a considerable property obtained by his ancestors and himself in mercantile affairs. From him it descended to his only son, who died at the age of twenty-nine years, leaving two sons and a daughter, the latter of whom, by the decease of her brothers, became heiress to the estate. This young lady was placed under the guardianship of Mr. Rhodes of Modbury, and her uncle, Mr. Tucker of Lyme, in whose family she resided. At this time Henry Fielding, whose very objectionable but once popular works have placed his name high on the list of novel-writers, was an occasional visitor at the place, and enraptured with the charms and the more solid attractions of Miss Andrew, paid her the most assiduous attention. The views of her guardians were, however, opposed to a connection with so dissipated, though well-born and well-educated a youth, who is said to have in consequence made a desperate attempt to carry the lady off by force on a Sunday, when she was on her way to church. The residence of the heiress was then removed to Modbury, and the disappointed admirer found consolation in the society of a beauty at Salisbury whom he married.”
There are some manifest misconceptions in this account, due, no doubt, to Mr. Davidson’s ignorance of the exact period of the occurrence as established by the above record in the Lyme archives. In the first place, it must have been four or five years at least before Fielding consoled himself with Miss Charlotte Cradock, and nearly ten (according to the received date) before he married her. Again, in saying that he was “dissipated,” Mr. Davidson must have been thinking of his conventional after-character, for in 1725 he was but a boy fresh from Eton, and could scarcely have established any reputation as a rake. Nor is there anything in our whole knowledge of him to justify us in supposing that he was at any time a mere mercenary fortune-hunter. Finally, according to one of Mr. Roberts’s letters to Mr. Keightley, timorous Mr. Tucker of Lyme had a very different reason from his personal shortcomings for objecting to Fielding as a suitor to his ward. “The Tucker family,” says Mr. Roberts, “by tradition consider themselves tricked out of the heiress, Miss Andrew, by Mr. Rhodes of Modbury, Mr. Andrew Tucker intending the lady for his own son.” Nevertheless, these reservations made, Mr. Davidson’s version, although ex parte, supplies colour and detail to the story. From a pedigree which he gives in his book, it further appears that Mrs. Rhodes died on the 22d of August 1783, aged seventy-three. This would make her fifteen in 1725. There remained Lawrence’s enigmatical declaration that she was Fielding’s cousin. Briefly stated, the result of Mr. Keightley’s inquiries in this direction tends to show that Miss Andrew’s mother was connected with the family of Fielding’s mother, the Goulds of Sharpham Park; and as Mr. Lawrence does not seem to have been aware of the existence of Davidson’s book, or to have had any acquaintance with the traditions or archives of Lyme, Mr. Keightley surmises, very plausibly, that his unvouched data must have been derived, directly or indirectly, from the Rhodes family.
Mr. Keightley also ingeniously attempts to connect Fielding’s subsequent residence at Leyden (1726-28?) 51 with this affair by assuming that he was despatched to the Dutch university, instead of Oxford or Cambridge, in order to keep him out of harm’s way. This is, however, to travel somewhat from the realm of fact into that of romance. At the same time, it must be admitted that the materials for romance are tempting. A charming girl, who is also an heiress; a pusillanimous guardian with ulterior views of his own; a handsome and high-spirited young suitor; a faithful attendant ready to “beat, maim, or kill” in his master’s behalf; a frustrated elopement and a compulsory visit to the mayor — all these, with the picturesque old town of Lyme for a background, suggest a most appropriate first act to Harry Fielding’s biographical tragi-comedy. But to do such a theme justice we must
“call up him that left half-told”
the story of Denis Duval.
51 See Peacock’s Index to English-speaking Students who have graduated at Leyden University, 1883 (p. 35), where Fielding’s name occurs under date of 16th March 1728, and Cornhill Magazine for November 1863 —“A Scotchman in Holland.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50