Fielding, by Austin Dobson

Prefatory Note.

From a critical point of view, the works of Fielding have received abundant examination at the hands of a long line of distinguished writers. Of these, the latest is by no means the least; and as Mr. Leslie Stephen’s brilliant studies, in the recent edition de luxe and the Cornhill Magazine, are now in every one’s hands, it is perhaps no more than a wise discretion which has prompted me to confine my attention more strictly to the purely biographical side of the subject. In the present memoir, therefore, I have made it my duty, primarily, to verify such scattered anecdotes respecting Fielding as have come down to us; to correct (I hope not obtrusively) a few mis-statements which have crept into previous accounts; and to add such supplementary details as I have been able to discover for myself.

In this task I have made use of the following authorities:—

Upon the two last-mentioned works I have chiefly relied in the preparation of this study. I have freely availed myself of the material that both authors collected, verifying it always, and extending it wherever I could. Of my other sources of information — pamphlets, reviews, memoirs, and newspapers of the day — the list would be too long; and sufficient references to them are generally given in the body of the text. I will only add that I think there is scarcely a quotation of importance in these pages which has not been compared with the original; and, except where otherwise stated, all extracts from Fielding himself are taken from the first editions.

At this distance of time, new facts respecting a man of whom so little has been recorded require to be announced with considerable caution. Some definite additions to Fielding lore I have, however, been enabled to make. Thanks to the late Colonel J. L. Chester, who was engaged, only a few weeks before his death, in friendly investigations on my behalf, I am able to give, for the first time, the date and place of Fielding’s second marriage, and the baptismal dates of all the children by that marriage, except the eldest. I am also able to fix approximately the true period of his love-affair with Miss Sarah Andrew. From the original assignment at South Kensington I have ascertained the exact sum paid by Millar for Joseph Andrews; and in chapter v. will be found a series of extracts from a very interesting correspondence, which does not appear to have been hitherto published, between Aaron Hill, his daughters, and Richardson, respecting Tom Jones. Although I cannot claim credit for the discovery, I believe the present is also the first biography of Fielding which entirely discredits the unlikely story of his having been a stroller at Bartholomew Fair; and I may also, I think, claim to have thrown some additional light on Fielding’s relations with the Cibbers, seeing that the last critical essay upon the author of the Apology which I have met with, contains no reference to Fielding at all. For such minor novelties as the passage from the Universal Spectator, and the account of the projected translation of Lucian, etc., the reader is referred to the book itself, where these, and other waifs and strays, are duly indicated. If, in my endeavour to secure what is freshest, I have at the same time neglected a few stereotyped quotations, which have hitherto seemed indispensable in writing of Fielding, I trust I may be forgiven.

Brief as it is, the book has not been without its obligations. To Mr. B. F. Sketchley, Keeper of the Dyce and Forster Collections at South Kensington, I am indebted for reference to the Hill correspondence, and for other kindly offices; to Mr. Frederick Locker for permission to collate Fielding’s last letter with the original in his possession. My thanks are also due to Mr. R. Arthur Kinglake, J.P., of Taunton; to the Rev. Edward Hale of Eton College, the Rev. G. C. Green of Modbury, Devon, the Rev. W. S. Shaw of Twerton-on-Avon, and Mr. Richard Garnett of the British Museum. Without some expression of gratitude to the last mentioned, it would indeed be almost impossible to conclude any modern preface of this kind. If I have omitted the names of others who have been good enough to assist me, I must ask them to accept my acknowledgments although they are not specifically expressed.

EALING, March 1883.

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