Fielding, by Austin Dobson

Chapter VII.

The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon.

In March 1753, when Fielding published his pamphlet on Elizabeth Canning, his life was plainly drawing to a close. His energies indeed were unabated, as may be gathered from a brief record in the Gentleman’s for that month, describing his judicial raid, at four in the morning, upon a gaming-room, where he suspected certain highwaymen to be assembled. But his body was enfeebled by disease, and he knew he could not look for length of days. He had lived not long, but much; he had seen in little space, as the motto to Tom Jones announced, “the manners of many men;” and now that, prematurely, the inevitable hour approached, he called Cicero and Horace to his aid, and prepared to meet his fate with philosophic fortitude. Between

“Quem fors dierum cunque dabit, lucro



“Grata superveniet, quae non sperabitur, hora,”

he tells us in his too-little-consulted Proposal for the Poor, he had schooled himself to regard events with equanimity, striving above all, in what remained to him of life, to perform the duties of his office efficiently, and solicitous only for those he must leave behind him. Henceforward his literary efforts should be mainly philanthropic and practical, not without the hope that, if successful, they might be the means of securing some provision for his family. Of fiction he had taken formal leave in the trial of Amelia; and of lighter writing generally in the last paper of the Covent-Garden Journal. But, if we may trust his Introduction, the amount of work he had done for his poor-law project must have been enormous, for he had read and considered all the laws upon the subject, as well as everything that had been written on it since the days of Elizabeth, yet he speaks nevertheless as one over whose head the sword had all the while been impending:—

“The Attempt, indeed, is such, that the Want of Success can scarce be called a Disappointment, tho’ I shall have lost much Time, and misemployed much Pains; and what is above all, shall miss the Pleasure of thinking that in the Decline of my Health and Life, I have conferred a great and lasting Benefit on my Country.”

In words still more resigned and dignified, he concludes the book:—

His enemies, he says, will no doubt “discover, that instead of intending a Provision for the Poor, I have been carving out one for myself, 39 and have very cunningly projected to build myself a fine House at the Expence (sic) of the Public. This would be to act in direct Opposition to the Advice of my above Master [i.e. Horace]; it would be indeed

39 Presumably as Governor of the proposed County-house.

Struere domos immemor sepulchri.

Those who do not know me, may believe this; but those who do, will hardly be so deceived by that Chearfulness which was always natural to me; and which, I thank God, my Conscience doth not reprove me for, to imagine that I am not sensible of my declining Constitution. . . . Ambition or Avarice can no longer raise a Hope, or dictate any Scheme to me, who have no further Design than to pass my short Remainder of Life in some Degree of Ease, and barely to preserve my Family from being the Objects of any such Laws as I have here proposed.”

With the exception of the above, and kindred passages quoted from the Prefaces to the Miscellanies and the Plays, the preceding pages, as the reader has no doubt observed, contain little of a purely autobiographical character. Moreover, the anecdotes related of Fielding by Murphy and others have not always been of such a nature as to inspire implicit confidence in their accuracy, while of the very few letters that have been referred to, none have any of those intimate and familiar touches which reveal the individuality of the writer. But from the middle of 1753 up to a short time before his death, Fielding has himself related the story of his life, in one of the most unfeigned and touching little tracts in our own or any other literature. The only thing which, at the moment, suggests itself for comparison with the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon is the letter and dedication which Fielding’s predecessor, Cervantes, prefixes to his last romance of Persiles and Sigismunda. In each case the words are animated by the same uncomplaining kindliness — the same gallant and indomitable spirit; in each case the writer is a dying man. Cervantes survived the date of his letter to the Conde de Lemos but three days; and the Journal, says Fielding’s editor (probably his brother John), was “finished almost at the same period with life.” It was written, from its author’s account, in those moments of the voyage when, his womankind being sea-sick, and the crew wholly absorbed in working the ship, he was thrown upon his own resources, and compelled to employ his pen to while away the time. The Preface, and perhaps the Introduction, were added after his arrival at Lisbon, in the brief period before his death. The former is a semi-humorous apology for voyage-writing; the latter gives an account of the circumstances which led to this, his last expedition in search of health.

At the beginning of August 1753, Fielding tells us, having taken the Duke of Portland’s medicine 40 for near a year, “the effects of which had been the carrying off the symptoms of a lingering imperfect gout,” Mr. Ranby, the King’s Sergeant-Surgeon 41 (to whom complimentary reference had been made in the Man of the Hill’s story in Tom Jones), with other able physicians, advised him “to go immediately to Bath.” He accordingly engaged lodgings, and prepared to leave town forthwith. While he was making ready for his departure, and was “almost fatigued to death with several long examinations, relating to five different murders, all committed within the space of a week, by different gangs of street robbers,” he received a message from the Duke of Newcastle, afterwards Premier, through that Mr. Carrington whom Walpole calls “the cleverest of all ministerial terriers,” requesting his attendance in Lincoln’s-Inn Fields (Newcastle House). Being lame, and greatly over-taxed, Fielding excused himself. But the Duke sent Mr. Carrington again next day, and Fielding with great difficulty obeyed the summons. After waiting some three hours in the antechamber (no unusual feature, as Lord Chesterfield informs us, of the Newcastle audiences), a gentleman was deputed to consult him as to the devising of a plan for putting an immediate end to the murders and robberies which had become so common. This, although the visit cost him “a severe cold,” Fielding at once undertook. A proposal was speedily drawn out and submitted to the Privy Council. Its essential features were the employment of a known informer, and the provision of funds for that purpose.

40 A popular eighteenth-century gout-powder, but as old as Galen. The receipt for it is given in the Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. xxiii., 579.

41 Mr. Ranby was also the friend of Hogarth, who etched his house at Chiswick.

By the time this scheme was finally approved, Fielding’s disorder had “turned to a deep jaundice,” in which case the Bath waters were generally regarded as “almost infallible.” But his eager desire to break up “this gang of villains and cut-throats” delayed him in London; and a day or two after he had received a portion of the stipulated grant, (which portion, it seems, took several weeks in arriving), the whole body were entirely dispersed — “seven of them were in actual custody, and the rest driven, some out of town, and others out of the kingdom.” In examining them, however, and in taking depositions, which often occupied whole days and sometimes nights, although he had the satisfaction of knowing that during the dark months of November and December the metropolis enjoyed complete immunity from murder and robbery, his own health was “reduced to the last extremity.”

“Mine (he says) was now no longer what is called a Bath case,” nor, if it had been, could his strength have sustained the “intolerable fatigue” of the journey thither. He accordingly gave up his Bath lodgings, which he had hitherto retained, and went into the country “in a very weak and deplorable condition.” He was suffering from jaundice, dropsy, and asthma, under which combination of diseases his body was “so entirely emaciated, that it had lost all its muscular flesh.” He had begun with reason “to look on his case as desperate,” and might fairly have regarded himself as voluntarily sacrificed to the good of the public. But he is far too honest to assign his action to philanthropy alone. His chief object (he owns) had been, if possible, to secure some provision for his family in the event of his death. Not being a “trading justice,”— that is, a justice who took bribes from suitors, like Justice Thrasher in Amelia, or Justice Squeez’um in the Coffee House Politician — his post at Bow Street had scarcely been a lucrative one. “By composing, instead of inflaming, the quarrels of porters and beggars (which I blush when I say hath not been universally practised) and by refusing to take a shilling from a man who most undoubtedly would not have had another left, I had reduced an income of about L500 a year of the dirtiest money upon earth to little more than L300, a considerable proportion of which remained with my clerk.” Besides the residue of his justice’s fees, he had also, he informs us, a yearly pension from the Government, “out of the public service-money,” but the amount is not stated. The rest of his means, as far as can be ascertained, were derived from his literary labours. To a man of his lavish disposition, and with the claims of a family upon him, this could scarcely have been a competence; and if, as appears not very clearly from a note in the Journal, he now resigned his office to his half-brother, who had long been his assistant, his private affairs at the beginning of the winter of 1753-54 must, as he says, have “had but a gloomy aspect.” In the event of his death his wife and children could have no hope except from some acknowledgment by the Government of his past services.

Meanwhile his diseases were slowly gaining ground. The terrible winter of 1753-54, which, from the weather record in the Gentleman’s, seems, with small intermission, to have been prolonged far into April, was especially trying to asthmatic patients, and consequently wholly against him. In February he returned to town, and put himself under the care of the notorious Dr. Joshua Ward of Pall Mall, by whom he was treated and tapped for dropsy. 42 He was at his worst, he says, “on that memorable day when the public lost Mr. Pelham (March 6th);” but from this time, he began, under Ward’s medicines, to acquire “some little degree of strength,” although his dropsy increased. With May came the long-delayed spring, and he moved to Fordhook, 43 a “little house” belonging to him at Ealing, the air of which place then enjoyed a considerable reputation, being reckoned the best in Middlesex, “and far superior to that of Kensington Gravel-Pits.” Here a re-perusal of Bishop Berkeley’s Siris, which had been recalled to his memory by Mrs. Charlotte Lennox, “the inimitable author of the Female Quixote,” set him drinking tar-water with apparent good effect, except as far as his chief ailment was concerned. The applications of the trocar became more frequent: the summer, if summer it could be called, was “mouldering away;” and winter, with all its danger to an invalid, was drawing on apace. Nothing seemed hopeful but removal to a warmer climate. Aix in Provence was at first thought of, but the idea was abandoned on account of the difficulties of the journey. Lisbon, where Doddridge had died three years before, was then chosen; a passage in a vessel trading to the port was engaged for the sick man, his wife, daughter, and two servants; and after some delays they started. At this point the actual Journal begins with a well-remembered entry:—

42 Ward appears in Hogarth’s Consultation of Physicians, 1736, and in Pope —“Ward try’d on Puppies, and the Poor, his Drop.” He was a quack, but must have possessed considerable ability. Bolingbroke wished Pope to consult him in 1744; and he attended George II. There is an account of him in Nichols’s Genuine Works of Hogarth, i. 89.

43 It lay on the Uxbridge Road, a little beyond Acton, and nearly opposite the subsequent site of the Ealing Common Station of the Metropolitan District Railway. The spot is now occupied by “commodious villas.”

Wednesday, June 26th, 1754. — On this day, the most melancholy sun I had ever beheld arose, and found me awake at my house at Fordhook. By the light of this sun, I was, in my own opinion, last to behold and take leave of some of those creatures on whom I doated with a mother-like fondness, guided by nature and passion, and uncured and unhardened by all the doctrine of that philosophical school where I had learnt to bear pains and to despise death.

“In this situation, as I could not conquer nature, I submitted entirely to her, and she made as great a fool of me as she had ever done of any woman whatsoever: under pretence of giving me leave to enjoy, she drew me to suffer the company of my little ones, during eight hours; and I doubt not whether, in that time, I did not undergo more than in all my distemper.

“At twelve precisely my coach was at the door, which was no sooner told me than I kiss’d my children round, and went into it with some little resolution. My wife, who behaved more like a heroine and philosopher, tho’ at the same time the tenderest mother in the world, and my eldest daughter, followed me; some friends went with us, and others here took their leave; and I heard my behaviour applauded, with many murmurs and praises to which I well knew I had no title; as all other such philosophers may, if they have any modesty, confess on the like occasions.”

Two hours later the party reached Rotherhithe. Here, with the kindly assistance of his and Hogarth’s friend, Mr. Saunders Welch, High Constable of Holborn, the sick man, who, at this time, “had no use of his limbs,” was carried to a boat, and hoisted in a chair over the ship’s side. This latter journey, far more fatiguing to the sufferer than the twelve miles ride which he had previously undergone, was not rendered more easy to bear by the jests of the watermen and sailors, to whom his ghastly, death-stricken countenance seemed matter for merriment; and he was greatly rejoiced to find himself safely seated in the cabin. The voyage, however, already more than once deferred, was not yet to begin. Wednesday, being King’s Proclamation Day, the vessel could not be cleared at the Custom House; and on Thursday the skipper announced that he should not set out until Saturday. As Fielding’s complaint was again becoming troublesome, and no surgeon was available on board, he sent for his friend, the famous anatomist, Mr. Hunter, of Covent Garden, 44 by whom he was tapped, to his own relief, and the admiration of the simple sea-captain, who (he writes) was greatly impressed by “the heroic constancy, with which I had borne an operation that is attended with scarce any degree of pain.” On Sunday the vessel dropped down to Gravesend, where, on the next day, Mr. Welch, who until then had attended them, took his leave; and, Fielding, relieved by the trocar of any immediate apprehensions of discomfort, might, in spite of his forlorn case, have been fairly at ease. He had a new concern, however, in the state of Mrs. Fielding, who was in agony with toothache, which successive operators failed to relieve; and there is an unconsciously touching little picture of the sick man and his skipper, who was deaf, sitting silently over “a small bowl of punch” in the narrow cabin, for fear of waking the pain-worn sleeper in the adjoining state-room. Of his second wife, as may be gathered from the opening words of the Journal, Fielding always speaks with the warmest affection and gratitude. Elsewhere, recording a storm off the Isle of Wight, he says, “My dear wife and child must pardon me, if what I did not conceive to be any great evil to myself, I was not much terrified with the thoughts of happening to them: in truth, I have often thought they are both too good, and too gentle, to be trusted to the power of any man.” With what a tenacity of courtesy he treated the whilom Mary Daniel may be gathered from the following vignette of insolence in office, which can be taken as a set-off to the malicious tattle of Walpole:—

44 This must have been William Hunter, for in 1754 his more distinguished brother John had not yet become celebrated.

“Soon after their departure [i.e. Mr. Welch and a companion], our cabin, where my wife and I were sitting together, was visited by two ruffians, whose appearance greatly corresponded with that of the sheriffs, or rather the knight-marshal’s bailiffs. One of these, especially, who seemed to affect a more than ordinary degree of rudeness and insolence, came in without any kind of ceremony, with a broad gold lace upon his hat, which was cocked with much military fierceness on his head. An inkhorn at his button-hole, and some papers in his hand, sufficiently assured me what he was, and I asked him if he and his companions were not custom-house officers; he answered with sufficient dignity that they were, as an information which he seemed to consider would strike the hearer with awe, and suppress all further inquiry; but on the contrary I proceeded to ask of what rank he was in the Custom house, and receiving an answer from his companion, as I remember, that the gentleman was a riding surveyor; I replied, that he might be a riding surveyor, but could be no gentleman, for that none who had any title to that denomination would break into the presence of a lady, without any apology, or even moving his hat. He then took his covering from his head, and laid it on the table, saying, he asked pardon, and blamed the mate, who should, he said, have informed him if any persons of distinction were below. I told him he might guess from our appearance (which, perhaps, was rather more than could be said with the strictest adherence to truth) that he was before a gentleman and lady, which should teach him to be very civil in his behaviour, tho’ we should not happen to be of the number whom the world calls people of fashion and distinction. However, I said, that as he seemed sensible of his error, and had asked pardon, the lady would permit him to put his hat on again, if he chose it. This he refused with some degree of surliness, and failed not to convince me that, if I should condescend to become more gentle, he would soon grow more rude.”

The date of this occurrence was July the 1st. On the evening of the same day they weighed anchor and managed to reach the Nore. For more than a week they were wind-bound in the Downs, but on the 11th they anchored off Hyde, from which place, on the next morning, Fielding despatched the following letter to his brother. Besides giving the names of the captain and the ship, which are carefully suppressed in the Journal, 45 it is especially interesting as being the last letter written by Fielding of which we have any knowledge:—

45 Probably this was intentional. Notwithstanding the statement in the “Dedication to the Public” that the text is given “as it came from the hands of the author,” the Journal, in the first issue of 1755, seems to have been considerably “edited.” “Mrs. Francis” (the Ryde landlady) is there called “Mrs. Humphrys,” and the portrait of the military coxcomb, together with some particulars of Fielding’s visit to the Duke of Newcastle, and other details, are wholly omitted.

“On board the Queen of Portugal, Rich’d Veal at anchor on the Mother Bank, off Ryde, to the Care of the Post Master of Portsmouth — this is my Date and yr Direction.

“July 12 1754.

“Dear Jack, After receiving that agreeable Lre from Mess’rs Fielding and Co., we weighed on monday morning and sailed from Deal to the Westward. Four Days long but inconceivably pleasant Passage brought us yesterday to an Anchor on the Mother Bank, on the Back of the Isle of Wight, where we had last Night in Safety the Pleasure of hearing the Winds roar over our Heads in as violent a Tempest as I have known, and where my only Consideration were the Fears which must possess any Friend of ours, (if there is happily any such) who really makes our Wellbeing the Object of his Concern especially if such Friend should be totally inexperienced in Sea Affairs. I therefore beg that on the Day you receive this Mrs. Daniel 46 may know that we are just risen from Breakfast in Health and Spirits this twelfth Instant at 9 in the morning. Our Voyage hath proved fruitful in Adventures all which being to be written in the Book, you must postpone yr. Curiosity — As the Incidents which fall under yr Cognizance will possibly be consigned to Oblivion, do give them to us as they pass. Tell yr Neighbour I am much obliged to him for recommending me to the Care of a most able and experienced Seaman to whom other Captains seem to pay such Deference that they attend and watch his Motions, and think themselves only safe when they act under his Direction and Example. Our Ship in Truth seems to give Laws on the Water with as much Authority and Superiority as you Dispense Laws to the Public and Examples to yr Brethren in Commission. Please to direct yr Answer to me on Board as in the Date, if gone to be returned, and then send it by the Post and Pacquet to Lisbon to

46 It will be remembered that the maiden-name of Fielding’s second wife, as given in the Register of St. Bene’t’s, was Mary Daniel. “Mrs. Daniel” was therefore, in all probability, Fielding’s mother-in-law; and it may reasonably be assumed that she had remained in charge of the little family at Fordhook.

“Yr affect Brother


“To John Fielding Esq. at his House in

“Bow Street Covt Garden London.”

As the Queen of Portugal did not leave Ryde until the 23d, it is possible that Fielding received a reply. During the remainder of this desultory voyage he continued to beguile his solitary hours — hours of which we are left to imagine the physical torture and monotony, for he says but little of himself — by jottings and notes of the, for the most part, trivial accidents of his progress. That happy cheerfulness, of which he spoke in the Proposal for the Poor, had not yet deserted him; and there are moments when he seems rather on a pleasure-trip than a forlorn pilgrimage in search of health. At Ryde, where, for change of air, he went ashore, he chronicles, after many discomforts from the most disobliging of landladies (let the name of Mrs. Francis go down to posterity!), “the best, the pleasantest, and the merriest meal, [in a barn] with more appetite, more real, solid luxury, and more festivity, than was ever seen in an entertainment at White’s.” At Torbay, he expatiates upon the merits and flavour of the John Dory, a specimen of which “gloriously regaled” the party, and furnished him with a pretext for a dissertation on the London Fish Supply. Another page he devotes to commendation of the excellent Vinum Pomonae, or Southam cyder, supplied by “Mr. Giles Leverance of Cheeshurst, near Dartmouth in Devon,” of which, for the sum of five pounds ten shillings, he extravagantly purchases three hogsheads, one for himself, and the others as presents for friends, among whom no doubt was kindly Mr. Welch. Here and there he sketches, with but little abatement of his earlier gaiety and vigour, the human nature around him. Of the objectionable Ryde landlady and her husband there are portraits not much inferior to those of the Tow-wouses in Joseph Andrews, while the military fop, who visits his uncle the captain off Spithead, is drawn with all the insight which depicted the vagaries of Ensign Northerton, whom indeed the real hero of the Journal not a little resembles. The best character sketch, however, in the whole is that of Captain Richard Veal himself (one almost feels inclined to wonder whether he was in any way related to the worthy lady whose apparition visited Mrs. Bargrave at Canterbury!), but it is of necessity somewhat dispersed. It has also an additional attraction, because, if we remember rightly, it is Fielding’s sole excursion into the domain of Smollett. The rough old sea-dog of the Haddock and Vernon period, who had been a privateer; and who still, as skipper of a merchant-man, when he visits a friend or gallants the ladies, decorates himself with a scarlet coat, cockade, and sword; who gives vent to a kind of Irish howl when his favourite kitten is suffocated under a feather bed; and falls abjectly on his knees when threatened with the dreadful name of Law, is a character which, in its surly good-humour and sensitive dignity, might easily, under more favourable circumstances, have grown into an individuality, if not equal to that of Squire Western, at least on a level with Partridge or Colonel Bath. There are numbers of minute touches — as, for example, his mistaking “a lion” for “Elias” when he reads prayers to the ship’s company; and his quaint asseverations when exercised by the inconstancy of the wind — which show how closely Fielding studied his deaf companion. But it would occupy too large a space to examine the Journal more in detail. It is sufficient to say that after some further delays from wind and tide, the travellers sailed up the Tagus. Here, having undergone the usual quarantine and custom-house obstruction, they landed, and Fielding’s penultimate words record a good supper at Lisbon, “for which we were as well charged, as if the bill had been made on the Bath Road, between Newbury and London.” The book ends with a line from the poet whom, in the Proposal for the Poor, he had called his master:—

“— hic finis chartaeque viaeque.”

Two months afterwards he died at Lisbon, on the 8th of October, in the forty-eighth year of his age.

He was buried on the hillside in the centre of the beautiful English cemetery, which faces the great Basilica of the Heart of Jesus, otherwise known as the Church of the Estrella. Here, in a leafy spot where the nightingales fill the still air with song, and watched by those secular cypresses from which the place takes its Portuguese name of Os Cyprestes, lies all that was mortal of him whom Scott called the “Father of the English Novel.” His first tomb, which Wraxall found in 1772, “nearly concealed by weeds and nettles,” was erected by the English factory, in consequence mainly — as it seems — of a proposal made by an enthusiastic Chevalier de Meyrionnet, to provide one (with an epitaph) at his own expense. That now existing was substituted in 1830, by the exertions of the Rev. Christopher Neville, British Chaplain at Lisbon. It is a heavy sarcophagus, resting upon a large base, and surmounted by just such another urn and flame as that on Hogarth’s Tomb at Chiswick. On the front is a long Latin inscription; on the back the better-known words:—


47 The fifth word is generally given as “datum.” But the above

It is to this last memorial that the late George Borrow referred in his Bible in Spain: —

version, which has been verified at Lisbon, may be accepted as correct.

“Let travellers devote one entire morning to inspecting the Arcos and the Mai das agoas, after which they may repair to the English church and cemetery, Pere-la-chaise in miniature, where, if they be of England, they may well be excused if they kiss the cold tomb, as I did, of the author of “Amelia,” the most singular genius which their island ever produced, whose works it has long been the fashion to abuse in public and to read in secret.”

Borrow’s book was first published in 1843. Of late years the tomb had been somewhat neglected; but from a communication in the Athenaeum of May 1879, it appears that it had then been recently cleaned, and the inscriptions restored, by order of the present chaplain, the Rev. Godfrey Pope.

There is but one authentic portrait of Henry Fielding. This is the pen-and-ink sketch drawn from memory by Hogarth, long after Fielding’s death, to serve as a frontispiece for Murphy’s edition of his works. It was engraved in facsimile by James Basire, with such success that the artist is said to have mistaken an impression of the plate (without its emblematic border) for his own drawing. Hogarth’s sketch is the sole source of all the portraits, more or less “romanced,” which are prefixed to editions of Fielding; and also, there is good reason to suspect, of the dubious little miniature, still in possession of his descendants, which figures in Hutchins’s History of Dorset and elsewhere. More than one account has been given of the way in which the drawing was produced. The most effective, and, unfortunately, the most popular, version has, of course, been selected by Murphy. In this he tells us that Hogarth, being unable to recall his dead friend’s features, had recourse to a profile cut in paper by a lady, who possessed the happy talent which Pope ascribes to Lady Burlington. Her name, which is given in Nichols, was Margaret Collier, and she was possibly the identical Miss Collier who figures in Richardson’s Correspondence. Setting aside the fact that, as Hogarth’s eye-memory was marvellous, this story is highly improbable, it was expressly contradicted by George Steevens in 1781, and by John Ireland in 1798, both of whom, from their relations with Hogarth’s family, were likely to be credibly informed. Steevens, after referring to Murphy’s fable, says in the Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth, “I am assured that our artist began and finished the head in the presence of his wife and another lady. He had no assistance but from his own memory, which, on such occasions, was remarkably tenacious.” Ireland, in his Hogarth Illustrated, gives us as the simple fact the following:—“Hogarth being told, after his friend’s death, that a portrait was wanted as a frontispiece to his works, sketched this from memory.” According to the inscription on Basire’s plate, it represents Fielding at the age of forty-eight, or in the year of his death. This, however, can only mean that it represents him as Hogarth had last seen him. But long before he died, disease had greatly altered his appearance; and he must have been little more than the shadow of the handsome Harry Fielding, who wrote farces for Mrs. Clive, and heard the chimes at midnight. As he himself says in the Voyage to Lisbon, he had lost his teeth, and the consequent falling-in of the lips is plainly perceptible in the profile. The shape of the Roman nose, which Colonel James in Amelia irreverently styled a “proboscis,” would, however, remain unaltered, and it is still possible to divine a curl, half humorous, half ironic, in the short upper lip. The eye, apparently, was dark and deep-set. Oddly enough, the chin, to the length of which he had himself referred in the Champion, does not appear abnormal. 48

48 In the bust of Fielding which Miss Margaret Thomas has been commissioned by Mr. R. A. Kinglake to execute for the Somerset Valhalla, the Shire-Hall at Taunton, these points have been carefully considered; and the sculptor has succeeded in producing a work which, while it suggests the mingling of humour and dignity that is Fielding’s chief characteristic, is also generally faithful to Hogarth’s indications. From these, indeed, it is impossible to deviate. Not only is his portrait unique; but it was admitted to be like Fielding by Fielding’s friends.

Beyond the fact that he was above six feet in height, and, until the gout had broken his constitution, unusually robust, Murphy adds nothing further to our idea of his personal appearance.

The bust was placed in the Shire Hall, 4th September 1883.

That other picture of his character, traced and retraced (often with much exaggeration of outline), is so familiar in English literature, that it cannot now be materially altered or amended. Yet it is impossible not to wish that it were derived from some less prejudiced or more trustworthy witnesses than those who have spoken — say, for example, from Lyttelton or Allen. There are always signs that Walpole’s malice, and Smollett’s animosity, and the rancour of Richardson, have had too much to do with the representation; and even Murphy and Lady Mary are scarcely persons whom one would select as ideal biographers. The latter is probably right in comparing her cousin to Sir Richard Steele. Both were generous, kindly, brave, and sensitive; both were improvident; both loved women and little children; both sinned often, and had their moments of sincere repentance; to both was given that irrepressible hopefulness, and full delight of being which forgets to-morrow in to-day. That Henry Fielding was wild and reckless in his youth it would be idle to contest; — indeed it is an intelligible, if not a necessary, consequence of his physique and his temperament. But it is not fair to speak of him as if his youth lasted for ever. “Critics and biographers,” says Mr. Leslie Stephen, “have dwelt far too exclusively upon the uglier side of his Bohemian life;” and Fielding himself, in the Jacobite’s Journal, complains sadly that his enemies have traced his impeachment “even to his boyish Years.” That he who was prodigal as a lad was prodigal as a man may be conceded; that he who was sanguine at twenty would be sanguine at forty (although this is less defensible) may also be allowed. But, if we press for “better assurance than Bardolph,” there is absolutely no good evidence that Fielding’s career after his marriage materially differed from that of other men struggling for a livelihood, hampered with ill-health, and exposed to all the shifts and humiliations of necessity. If any portrait of him is to be handed down to posterity, let it be the last rather than the first; — not the Fielding of the green-room and the tavern — of Covent Garden frolics and “modern conversations;” but the energetic magistrate, the tender husband and father, the kindly host of his poorer friends, the practical philanthropist, the patient and magnanimous hero of the Voyage to Lisbon. If these things be remembered, it will seem of minor importance that to his dying day he never knew the value of money, or that he forgot his troubles over a chicken and champagne. And even his improvidence was not without its excusable side. Once — so runs the legend — Andrew Millar made him an advance to meet the claims of an importunate tax-gatherer. Carrying it home, he met a friend, in even worse straits than his own; and the money changed hands. When the tax-gatherer arrived there was nothing but the answer —“Friendship has called for the money and had it; let the collector call again.” Justice, it is needless to say, was satisfied by a second advance from the bookseller. But who shall condemn the man of whom such a story can be told?

The literary work of Fielding is so inextricably interwoven with what is known of his life that most of it has been examined in the course of the foregoing narrative. What remains to be said is chiefly in summary of what has been said already. As a dramatist he has no eminence; and though his plays do not deserve the sweeping condemnation with which Macaulay once spoke of them in the House of Commons, they are not likely to attract any critics but those for whom the inferior efforts of a great genius possess a morbid fascination. Some of them serve, in a measure, to illustrate his career; others contain hints and situations which he afterwards worked into his novels; but the only ones that possess real stage qualities are those which he borrowed from Regnard and Moliere. Don Quixote in England, Pasquin, the Historical Register, can claim no present consideration commensurate with that which they received as contemporary satires, and their interest is mainly antiquarian; while Tom Thumb and the Covent-Garden Tragedy, the former of which would make the reputation of a smaller man, can scarcely hope to be remembered beside Amelia or Jonathan Wild. Nor can it be admitted that, as a periodical writer, Fielding was at his best. In spite of effective passages, his essays remain far below the work of the great Augustans, and are not above the level of many of their less illustrious imitators. That instinct of popular selection, which retains a faint hold upon the Rambler, the Adventurer, the World, and the Connoisseur, or at least consents to give them honourable interment as “British Essayists” in a secluded corner of the shelves, has made no pretence to any preservation, or even any winnowing, of the Champion and the True Patriot. Fielding’s papers are learned and ingenious; they are frequently humorous; they are often earnest; but it must be a loiterer in literature who, in these days, except for antiquarian or biographical purposes, can honestly find it worth while to consult them. His pamphlets and projects are more valuable, if only that they prove him to have looked curiously and sagaciously at social and political problems, and to have striven, as far as in him lay, to set the crooked straight. Their import, to-day, is chiefly that of links in a chain — of contributions to a progressive literature which has travelled into regions unforeseen by the author of the Proposal for the Poor, and the Inquiry into the Causes of the late Increase of Robbers. As such, they have their place in that library of Political Economy of which Mr. McCulloch has catalogued the riches. It is not, however, by his pamphlets, his essays, or his plays that Fielding is really memorable; it is by his triad of novels, and the surpassing study in irony of Jonathan Wild. In Joseph Andrews we have the first sprightly runnings of a genius that, after much uncertainty, had at last found its fitting vein, but was yet doubtful and undisciplined; in Tom Jones the perfect plan has come, with the perfected method and the assured expression. There is an inevitable loss of that fine waywardness which is sometimes the result of untrained effort, but there is the general gain of order, and the full production which results of art. The highest point is reached in Tom Jones, which is the earliest definite and authoritative manifestation of the modern novel. Its relation to De Foe is that of the vertebrate to the invertebrate: to Richardson, that of the real to the ideal — one might almost add, the impossible. It can be compared to no contemporary English work of its own kind; and if we seek for its parallel at the time of publication we must go beyond literature to art — to the masterpiece of that great pictorial satirist who was Fielding’s friend. In both Fielding and Hogarth there is the same constructive power, the same rigid sequence of cause and effect, the same significance of detail, the same side-light of allusion. Both have the same hatred of affectation and hypocrisy — the same unerring insight into character. Both are equally attracted by striking contrasts and comic situations; in both there is the same declared morality of purpose, coupled with the same sturdy virility of expression. One, it is true, leaned more strongly to tragedy, the other to comedy. But if Fielding had painted pictures, it would have been in the style of the Marriage a la Mode; if Hogarth had written novels, they would have been in the style of Tom Jones. In the gentler and more subdued Amelia, with its tender and womanly central-figure, there is a certain change of plan, due to altered conditions — it may be, to an altered philosophy of art. The narrative is less brisk and animated; the character-painting less broadly humorous; the philanthropic element more strongly developed. To trace the influence of these three great works in succeeding writers would hold us too long. It may, nevertheless, be safely asserted that there are few English novels of manners, written since Fielding’s day, which do not descend from him as from their fount and source; and that more than one of our modern masters betray unmistakable signs of a form and fashion studied minutely from their frank and manly ancestor.


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, 49 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.

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

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, 50 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.

50 Vide chap. iv. p. 94.

Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50