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- Fielding - 4/31 -
distinguish the traditional portrait of Fielding himself in his early years. He wears a laced coat, is in love, writes plays, and cannot pay his landlady, who declares, with some show of justice, that she "would no more depend on a Benefit-Night of an un-acted Play, than she wou'd on a Benefit-Ticket in an un-drawn Lottery." "Her Floor (she laments) is all spoil'd with Ink--her Windows with Verses, and her Door has been almost beat down with Duns." But the most humorous scenes in the play-- scenes really admirable in their ironic delineation of the seamy side of authorship in 1730--are those in which Mr. Bookweight, the publisher-- the Curll or Osborne of the period--is shown surrounded by the obedient hacks, who feed at his table on "good Milk-porridge, very often twice a Day," and manufacture the murders, ghost-stories, political pamphlets, and translations from Virgil (out of Dryden) with which he supplies his customers. Here is one of them as good as any:--
"_Bookweight._ So, Mr. _Index_, what News with you?
_Index._ I have brought my Bill, Sir.
_Book._ What's here?--for fitting the Motto of _Risum teneatis Amici_ to a dozen Pamphlets at Sixpence per each, Six Shillings--For _Omnia vincit Amor, & nos cedamus Amori_, Sixpence--For _Difficile est Satyram non scribere_, Sixpence--Hum! hum! hum! Sum total, for Thirty-six _Latin_ Motto's, Eighteen Shillings; ditto _English_, One Shilling and Nine- pence; ditto _Greek_, Four, Four Shillings. These _Greek_ Motto's are excessively dear.
_Ind._ If you have them cheaper at either of the Universities, I will give you mine for nothing.
_Book._ You shall have your Money immediately, and pray remember that I must have two _Latin_ Seditious Motto's and one _Greek_ Moral Motto for Pamphlets by to-morrow Morning....
_Ind._ Sir, I shall provide them. Be pleas'd to look on that, Sir, and print me Five hundred Proposals, and as many Receipts.
_Book._ Proposals for printing by Subscription a new Translation of Cicero, _Of the Nature of the Gods and his Tusculan Questions_, by _Jeremy Index_, Esq.; I am sorry you have undertaken this, for it prevents a Design of mine.
_Ind._ Indeed, Sir, it does not, for you see all of the Book that I ever intend to publish. It is only a handsome Way of asking one's Friends for a Guinea.
_Book._ Then you have not translated a Word of it, perhaps.
_Ind._ Not a single Syllable.
_Book._ Well, you shall have your Proposals forthwith; but I desire you wou'd be a little more reasonable in your Bills for the future, or I shall deal with you no longer; for I have a certain Fellow of a College, who offers to furnish me with Second-hand Motto's out of the _Spectator_ for Two-pence each.
_Ind._ Sir, I only desire to live by my Goods, and I hope you will be pleas'd to allow some difference between a neat fresh Piece, piping hot out of the Classicks, and old thread-bare worn-out Stuff that has past thro' ev'ry Pedant's Mouth...."
The latter part of this amusing dialogue, referring to Mr. Index's translation from Cicero, was added in an amended version of the _Author's Farce_, which appeared some years later, and in which Fielding depicts the portrait of another all-powerful personage in the literary life,--the actor-manager. This, however, will be more conveniently treated under its proper date, and it is only necessary to say here that the slight sketches of Marplay and Sparkish given in the first edition, were presumably intended for Cibber and Wilks, with whom, notwithstanding the "civil and kind Behaviour" for which he had thanked them in the "Preface" to _Love in Several Masques_, the young dramatist was now, it seems, at war. In the introduction to the Miscellanies, he refers to "a slight Pique" with Wilks; and it is not impossible that the key to the difference may be found in the following passage:--
"_Sparkish._ What dost think of the Play?
_Marplay._ It may be a very good one, for ought I know; _but I know the Author has no Interest_.
_Spark._ Give me Interest, and rat the Play.
_Mar._ Rather rat the Play which has no Interest. Interest sways as much in the Theatre as at Court.--And you know it is not always the Companion of Merit in either."
The handsome student from Leyden--the potential Congreve who wrote _Love in Several Masques_, and had Lady Mary Wortley Montagu for patroness, might fairly be supposed to have expectations which warranted the civilities of Messrs. Wilks and Cibber; but the "Luckless" of two years later had probably convinced them that his dramatic performances did not involve their _sine qua non_ of success. Under these circumstances nothing perhaps could be more natural than that they should play their parts in his little satire.
We have dwelt at some length upon the _Author's Farce_, because it is the first of Fielding's plays in which, leaving the "wit-traps" of Wycherley and Congreve, he deals with the direct censure of contemporary folly, and because, apart from translation and adaptation, it is in this field that his most brilliant theatrical successes were won. For the next few years he continued to produce comedies and farces with great rapidity, both under his own name, and under the pseudonym of Scriblerus Secundus. Most of these show manifest signs of haste, and some are recklessly immodest. We shall confine ourselves to one or two of the best, and do little more than enumerate the others. Of these latter, the _Coffee-House Politician; or, The Justice caught in his own Trap,_ 1730, succeeded the _Author's Farce_. The leading idea, that of a tradesman who neglects his shop for "foreign affairs," appears to be derived from Addison's excellent character-sketch in the _Tatler_ of the "Political Upholsterer." This is the more likely, in that Arne the musician, whose father is generally supposed to have been Addison's original, was Fielding's contemporary at Eton. Justice Squeezum, another character contained in this play, is a kind of first draft of the later Justice Thrasher in _Amelia_. The representation of the trading justice on the stage, however, was by no means new, since Justice Quorum in Coffey's _Beggar's Wedding_ (with whom, as will appear presently, Fielding's name has been erroneously associated) exhibits similar characteristics. Omitting for the moment the burlesque of _Tom Thumb_, the _Coffee-House Politician_ was followed by the _Letter Writers; or, A new Way to Keep a Wife at Home_, 1731, a brisk little farce, with one vigorously drawn character, that of Jack Commons, a young university rake; the _Grub- Street Opera_, 1731; the farce of the _Lottery_, 1731, in which the famous Mrs. Clive, then Miss Raftor, appeared; the _Modern Husband_, 1732; the _Covent Garden Tragedy_, 1732, a broad and rather riotous burlesque of Ambrose Philips' _Distrest Mother_; and the _Debauchees; or, The Jesuit Caught_, 1732--which was based upon the then debated story of Father Girard and Catherine Cadiere.
Neither of the two last-named pieces is worthy of the author, and their strongest condemnation in our day is that they were condemned in their own for their unbridled license, the _Grub Street Journal_ going so far as to say that they had "met with the universal detestation of the Town." The _Modern Husband_, which turns on that most loathsome of all commercial pursuits, the traffic of a husband in his wife's dishonour, appears, oddly enough, to have been regarded by its author with especial complacency. Its prologue lays stress upon the moral purpose; it was dedicated to Sir Robert Walpole; and from a couple of letters printed in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's _Correspondence_, it is clear that it had been submitted to her perusal. It had, however, no great success upon the stage, and the chief thing worth remembering about it is that it afforded his last character to Wilks, who played the part of Bellamant. That "slight Pique," of which mention has been made, was no doubt by this time a thing of the past.
But if most of the works in the foregoing list can hardly be regarded as creditable to Fielding's artistic or moral sense, one of them at least deserves to be excepted, and that is the burlesque of _Tom Thumb_. This was first brought out in 1730 at the little theatre in the Hay-market, where it met with a favourable reception. In the following year it was enlarged to three acts (in the first version there had been but two), and reproduced at the same theatre as the _Tragedy of Tragedies; or, The Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great_, "with the Annotations of H. Scriblerus Secundus." It is certainly one of the best burlesques ever written. As Baker observes in his _Biographia Dramatica_, it may fairly be ranked as a sequel to Buckingham's _Rehearsal_, since it includes the absurdities of nearly all the writers of tragedies from the period when that piece stops to 1730. Among the authors satirised are Nat. Lee, Thomson (whose famous
"O Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!"
is parodied by
"O Huncamunca, Huncamunca, O!"),
Banks's _Earl of Essex_, a favourite play at Bartholomew Fair, the _Busiris_ of Young, and the _Aurengzebe_ of Dryden, etc. The annotations, which abound in transparent references to Dr. B[_entle_]y, Mr. T[_heobal_]d, Mr. D[_enni_]s, are excellent imitations of contemporary pedantry. One example, elicited in Act 1 by a reference to "giants," must stand for many:--
"That learned Historian Mr. S--n in the third Number of his Criticism on our Author, takes great Pains to explode this Passage. It is, says he, difficult to guess what Giants are here meant, unless the Giant _Despair_ in the _Pilgrim's Progress_, or the giant _Greatness_ in the _Royal Villain_; for I have heard of no other sort of Giants in the Reign of King _Arthur_. _Petnis Burmanus_ makes three _Tom Thumbs_, one whereof he supposes to have been the same Person whom the _Greeks_ called _Hercules_, and that by these Giants are to be understood the _Centaurs_ slain by that Heroe. Another _Tom Thumb_ he contends to have been no other than the _Hermes Trismegistus_ of the Antients. The third _Tom Thumb_ he places under the Reign of King _Arthur_; to which third _Tom Thumb_, says he, the Actions of the other two were attributed. Now, tho' I know that this Opinion is supported by an Assertion of _Justus Lipsius, Thomam ilium Thumbum non alium quam Herculem fuisse satis constat_; yet shall I venture to oppose one Line of Mr. _Midwinter_, against them all,
_In_ Arthurs' Court Tom Thumb _did live_.
"But then, says Dr. _B-----y_, if we place _Tom Thumb_ in the Court of King _Arthur_, it will he proper to place that Court out of _Britain_, where no Giants were ever heard of. _Spencer_, in his _Fairy Queen_, is of another Opinion, where describing Albion, he says,
Far within, a salvage Nation dwelt Of hideous Giants.
And in the same canto:
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