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:—
I. Arthur Murphy’s Essay on the Life and Genius of Henry Fielding, Esq. This was prefixed to the first collected edition of Fielding’s works published by Andrew Millar in April 1762; and it continued for a long time to be the recognised authority for Fielding’s life. It is possible that it fairly reproduces his personality, as presented by contemporary tradition; but it is misleading in its facts, and needlessly diffuse. Under pretence of respecting “the Manes of the dead,” the writer seems to have found it pleasanter to fill his space with vagrant discussions on the “Middle Comedy of the Greeks” and the machinery of the Rape of the Lock, than to make the requisite biographical inquiries. This is the more to be deplored, because, in 1762, Fielding’s widow, brother, and sister, as well as his friend Lyttelton, were still alive, and trustworthy information should have been procurable.
II. Watson’s Life of Henry Fielding, Esq. This is usually to be found prefixed to a selection of Fielding’s works issued at Edinburgh. It also appeared as a volume in 1807, although there is no copy of it in this form at the British Museum. It carries Murphy a little farther, and corrects him in some instances. But its author had clearly never even seen the Miscellanies of 1743, with their valuable Preface, for he speaks of them as one volume, and in apparent ignorance of their contents.
III. Sir Walter Scott’s biographical sketch for Ballantyne’s Novelist’s Library. This was published in 1821; and is now included in the writer’s Miscellaneous Prose Works. Sir Walter made no pretence to original research, and even spoke slightingly of this particular work; but it has all the charm of his practised and genial pen.
IV. Roscoe’s Memoir, compiled for the one-volume edition of Fielding, published by Washbourne and others in 1840.
V. Thackeray’s well-known lecture, in the English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, 1853.
VI. The Life of Henry Fielding; with Notices of his Writings, his Times, and his Contemporaries. By Frederick Lawrence. 1855. This is an exceedingly painstaking book; and constitutes the first serious attempt at a biography. Its chief defect — as pointed out at the time of its appearance — is an ill-judged emulation of Forster’s Goldsmith. The author attempted to make Fielding a literary centre, which is impossible; and the attempt has involved him in needless digressions. He is also not always careful to give chapter and verse for his statements.
VII. Thomas Keightley’s papers On the Life and Writings of Henry Fielding in Fraser’s Magazine for January and February 1858. These, prompted by Mr. Lawrence’s book, are most valuable, if only for the author’s frank distrust of his predecessors. They are the work of an enthusiast, and a very conscientious examiner. If, as reported, Mr. Keightley himself meditated a life of Fielding, it is much to be regretted that he never carried out his intention.
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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