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- Fielding - 10/31 -


to this date were the "Wedding Day," 1743, and the posthumous _Good- Natured Man_, 1779, both of which, as is plain from the Preface to the _Miscellanies_, were among his earliest attempts. In the little farce of _Miss Lucy in Town_, 1742, he had, he says, but "a very small Share." Besides these, there are three hasty and flimsy pieces which belong to the early part of 1737. The first of these, _Tumble-Down Dick_; or, _Phaeton in the Suds_, was a dramatic sketch in ridicule of the unmeaning Entertainments and Harlequinades of John Rich at Covent Garden. This was ironically dedicated to Rich, under his stage name of "John Lun," and from the dedication it appears that Rich had brought out an unsuccessful satire on _Pasquin_ called _Marforio_. The other two were _Eurydice_, a profane and pointless farce, afterwards printed by its author (in anticipation of Beaumarchais) "as it was d--mned at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane;" and a few detached scenes in which, under the title of _Eurydice Hiss'd; or, a Word to the Wise_, its untoward fate was attributed to the "frail Promise of uncertain Friends." But even in these careless and half-considered productions there are happy strokes; and one scarcely looks to find such nervous and sensible lines in a mere _a propos_ as these from _Eurydice Hiss'd_:--

"Yet grant it shou'd succeed, grant that by Chance, Or by the Whim and Madness of the Town, A Farce without Contrivance, without Sense Should run to the Astonishment of Mankind; Think how you will be read in After-times, When Friends are not, and the impartial Judge Shall with the meanest Scribbler rank your Name; Who would not rather wish a _Butler's_ fame, Distress'd, and poor in every thing but Merit, Than be the blundering Laureat to a Court?"

Self-accusatory passages such as this--and there are others like it-- indicate a higher ideal of dramatic writing than Fielding is held to have attained, and probably the key to them is to be found in that reaction of better judgment which seems invariably to have followed his most reckless efforts. It was a part of his sanguine and impulsive nature to be as easily persuaded that his work was worthless as that it was excellent. "When," says Murphy, "he was not under the immediate urgency of want, they, who were intimate with him, are ready to aver that he had a mind greatly superior to anything mean or little; when his finances were exhausted, he was not the most elegant in his choice of the means to redress himself, and he would instantly exhibit a farce or a puppet-shew in the Haymarket theatre, which was wholly inconsistent with the profession he had embarked in." The quotation displays all Murphy's loose and negligent way of dealing with his facts; for, with the exception of _Miss Lucy in Town_, which can scarcely be ranked among his works at all, there is absolutely no trace of Fielding's having exhibited either "puppet-show" or "farce" after seriously adopting the law as a profession, nor does there appear to have been much acting at the Haymarket for some time after his management had closed in 1737. Still, his superficial characteristics, which do not depend so much upon Murphy as upon those "who were intimate with him," are probably accurately described, and they sufficiently account for many of the obvious discordances of his work and life. That he was fully conscious of something higher than his actual achievement as a dramatist is clear from his own observation in later life, "that he left off writing for the stage, when he ought to have begun;"--an utterance which (we shrewdly suspect) has prompted not a little profitless speculation as to whether, if he had continued to write plays, they would have been equal to, or worse than, his novels. The discussion would be highly interesting, if there were the slightest chance that it could be attended with any satisfactory result. But the truth is, that the very materials are wanting. Fielding "left off writing for the stage" when he was under thirty; _Tom Jones_ was published in 1749, when he was more than forty. His plays were written in haste; his novels at leisure, and when, for the most part, he was relieved from that "immediate urgency of want," which, according to Murphy, characterised his younger days. If-- as has been suggested--we could compare a novel written at thirty with a play of the same date, or a play written at forty with _Tom Jones_, the comparison might be instructive, although even then considerable allowances would have to be made for the essential difference between plays and novels. But, as we cannot make such a comparison, further inquiry is simply waste of time. All we can safely affirm is, that the plays of Fielding's youth did not equal the fictions of his maturity; and that, of those plays, the comedies were less successful than the farces and burlesques. Among other reasons for this latter difference one chiefly may be given:--that in the comedies he sought to reproduce the artificial world of Congreve and Wycherley, while in the burlesques and farces he depicted the world in which he lived.

CHAPTER III.

THE CHAMPION--JOSEPH ANDREWS.

The _Historical Register_ and _Eurydice Hiss'd_ were published together in June 1737. By this time the "Licensing Act" was passed, and the "Grand Mogul's Company" dispersed for ever. Fielding was now in his thirty-first year, with a wife and probably a daughter depending on him for support. In the absence of any prospect that he would be able to secure a maintenance as a dramatic writer, he seems to have decided, in spite of his comparatively advanced age, to revert to the profession for which he had originally been intended, and to qualify himself for the Bar. Accordingly, at the close of the year, he became a student of the Middle Temple, and the books of that society contain the following record of his admission: [Footnote: This differs slightly from previous transcripts, having been verified at the Middle Temple.]--

[574 G] 1 Nov 1737.

_Henricus Fielding, de East Stour in Com Dorset Ar, filius et haeres apparens Brig: Genlis: Edmundi Fielding admissus est in Societatem Medii Templi Lond specialiter et obligator una cum etc.

Et dat pro fine 4. 0. 0._

It may be noted, as Mr. Keightley has already observed, that Fielding is described in this entry as of East Stour, "which would seem to indicate that he still retained his property at that place;" and further, that his father is spoken of as a "brigadier-general," whereas (according to the _Gentleman's Magazine_) he had been made a major-general in December 1735. Of discrepancies like these it is idle to attempt any explanation. But, if Murphy is to be believed, Fielding devoted himself henceforth with remarkable assiduity to the study of law. The old irregularity of life, it is alleged, occasionally asserted itself, though without checking the energy of his application. "This," says his first biographer, "prevailed in him to such a degree, that he has been frequently known, by his intimates, to retire late at night from a tavern to his chambers, and there read, and make extracts from, the most abstruse authors, for several hours before he went to bed; so powerful were the vigour of his constitution and the activity of his mind." It is to this passage, no doubt, that we owe the picturesque wet towel and inked ruffles with which Mr. Thackeray has decorated him in _Pendennis_; and, in all probability, a good deal of graphic writing from less able pens respecting his _modus vivendi_ as a Templar. In point of fact, nothing is known with certainty respecting his life at this period; and what it would really concern us to learn--namely, whether by "chambers" it is to be understood that he was living alone, and, if so, where Mrs. Fielding was at the time of these protracted vigils--Murphy has not told us. Perhaps she was safe all the while at East Stour, or with her sisters at Salisbury. Having no precise information, however, it can only be recorded, that, in spite of the fitful outbreaks above referred to, Fielding applied himself to the study of his profession with all the vigour of a man who has to make up for lost time; and that, when on the 20th of June 1740 the day came for his being "called," he was very fairly equipped with legal knowledge. That he had also made many friends among his colleagues of Westminster Hall is manifest from the number of lawyers who figure in the subscription list of the _Miscellanies_.

To what extent he was occupied by literary work during his probationary period it is difficult to say. Murphy speaks vaguely of "a large number of fugitive political tracts;" but unless the _Essay on Conversation_, advertised by Lawton Gilliver in 1737, be the same as that afterwards reprinted in the _Miscellanies_, there is no positive record of anything until the issue of True Greatness, an epistle to George Dodington, in January 1741, though he may, of course, have written much anonymously. Among newspapers, the one Murphy had in mind was probably the _Champion_, the first number of which is dated November 15, 1739, two years after his admission to the Middle Temple as a student. On the whole, it seems most likely, as Mr. Keightley conjectures, that his chief occupation in the interval was studying law, and that he must have been living upon the residue of his wife's fortune or his own means, in which case the establishment of the above periodical may mark the exhaustion of his resources.

The _Champion_ is a paper on the model of the elder essayists. It was issued, like the _Tatler_, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Murphy says that Fielding's part in it cannot now be ascertained; but as the "Advertisement" to the edition in two volumes of 1741 states expressly that the papers signed C. and L. are the "Work of one Hand," and as a number of those signed C. are unmistakably Fielding's, it is hard to discover where the difficulty lay. The papers signed C. and L. are by far the most numerous, the majority of the remainder being distinguished by two stars, or the signature "Lilbourne." These are understood to have been from the pen of James Ralph, whose poem of _Night_ gave rise to a stinging couplet in the _Dunciad_, but who was nevertheless a man of parts, and an industrious writer. As will be remembered, he had contributed a prologue to the _Temple Beau_, so that his association with Fielding must have been of some standing. Besides Ralph's essays in the _Champion_, he was mainly responsible for the _Index to the Times_ which accompanied each number, and consisted of a series of brief paragraphs on current topics, or the last new book. In this way Glover's _London_, Boyse's _Deity_, Somervile's _Hobbinol_, Lillo's _Elmeric_, Dyer's _Ruins of Rome_, and other of the very minor _poetae minores_ of the day, were commented upon. These notes and notices, however, were only a subordinate feature of the _Champion_, which, like its predecessors, consisted chiefly of essays and allegories, social, moral, and political, the writers of which were supposed to be members of an imaginary "Vinegar family," described in the initial paper. Of these the most prominent was Captain Hercules Vinegar, who took all questions relating to the Army, Militia, Trained-Bands, and "fighting Part of the Kingdom." His father, Nehemiah Vinegar, presided over history and politics; his uncle, Counsellor Vinegar, over law and judicature; and Dr. John Vinegar his cousin, over medicine and natural philosophy. To others of the family--including Mrs. Joan Vinegar, who was charged with domestic affairs--were allotted classic literature, poetry and the Drama, and fashion. This elaborate scheme was not very strictly adhered to, and the chief writer of the group is Captain Hercules.

Shorn of the contemporary interest which formed the chief element of its success when it was first published, it must be admitted that, in the present year of grace, the _Champion_ is hard reading. A kind of lassitude--a sense of uncongenial task-work--broods heavily over Fielding's contributions, except the one or two in which he is quickened into animation by his antagonism to Cibber; and although, with our knowledge of his after achievements, it is possible to trace some indications of his yet unrevealed powers, in the absence of such


Fielding - 10/31

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