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- Fielding - 5/31 -
Then _Elfar_ with two Brethren Giants had The one of which had two Heads,-- The other three. Risum teneatis, Amici."
Of the play itself it is difficult to give an idea by extract, as nearly every line travesties some tragic passage once familiar to play-goers, and now utterly forgotten. But the following lines from one of the speeches of Lord Grizzle--a part admirably acted by Liston in later years [Footnote: Compare Hazlitt, _On the Comic Writers of the Last Century._]--are a fair specimen of its ludicrous use (or rather abuse) of simile:--
"Yet think not long, I will my Rival bear, Or unreveng'd the slighted Willow wear; The gloomy, brooding Tempest now confin'd, Within the hollow Caverns of my Mind, In dreadful Whirl, shall rowl along the Coasts, Shall thin the Land of all the Men it boasts, And cram up ev'ry Chink of Hell with Ghosts. So have I seen, in some dark Winter's Day, A sudden Storm rush down the Sky's High-Way, Sweep thro' the Streets with terrible ding-dong, Gush thro' the Spouts, and wash whole Crowds along. The crowded Shops, the thronging Vermin skreen, Together cram the Dirty and the Clean, And not one Shoe-Boy in the Street is seen."
In the modern version of Kane O'Hara, to which songs were added, the _Tragedy of Tragedies_ still keeps, or kept the stage. But its crowning glory is its traditional connection with Swift, who told Mrs. Pilkington that he "had not laugh'd above twice" in his life, once at the tricks of a merry-andrew, and again when (in Fielding's burlesque) Tom Thumb killed the ghost. This is an incident of the earlier versions, omitted in deference to the critics, for which the reader will seek vainly in the play as now printed; and he will, moreover, discover that Mrs. Pilkington's memory served her imperfectly, since it is not Tom Thumb who kills the ghost, but the ghost of Tom Thumb which is killed by his jealous rival, Lord Grizzle. A trifling inaccuracy of this sort, however, is rather in favour of the truth of the story than against it, for a pure fiction would in all probability have been more precise. Another point of interest in connection with this burlesque is the frontispiece which Hogarth supplied to the edition of 1731. It has no special value as a design, but it constitutes the earliest reference to that friendship with the painter, of which so many traces are to be found in Fielding's works.
Hitherto Fielding had succeeded best in burlesque. But, in 1732, the same year in which he produced the _Modern Husband_, the _Debauchees_, and the _Covent Garden Tragedy_, he made an adaptation of Moliere's _Medecin malgre lui_, which had already been imitated in English by Mrs. Centlivre and others. This little piece, to which he gave the title of the _Mock-Doctor_; or, _The Dumb Lady cur'd_, was well received. The French original was rendered with tolerable closeness; but here and there Fielding has introduced little touches of his own, as, for instance, where Gregory (Sganarelle) tells his wife Dorcas (Martino), whom he has just been beating, that as they are but one, whenever he beats her he beats half of himself. To this she replies by requesting that for the future he will beat the other half. An entire scene (the thirteenth) was also added at the desire of Miss Raftor, who played Dorcas, and thought her part too short. This is apparently intended as a burlesque of the notorious quack Misaubin, to whom the _Mock-Doctor_ was ironically dedicated. He was the proprietor of a famous pill, and was introduced by Hogarth into the _Harlot's Progress_. Gregory was played by Theophilus Cibber, and the preface contains a complimentary reference to his acting, and the expected retirement of his father from the stage. Neither Genest nor Lawrence gives the date when the piece was first produced, but if the "April" on the dubious author's benefit ticket attributed to Hogarth be correct, it must have been in the first months of 1732.
The cordial reception of the _Mock-Doctor_ seems to have encouraged Fielding to make further levies upon Moliere, and he speaks of his hope to do so in the "Preface." As a matter of fact, he produced a version of _L'Avare_ at Drury Lane in the following year, which entirely outshone the older versions of Shadwell and Ozell, and gained from Voltaire the praise of having added to the original "_quelques beautes de dialogue particulieres a sa_ (Fielding's) _nation_." Lovegold, its leading _role_, became a stock part. It was well played by its first actor Griffin, and was a favourite exercise with Macklin, Shuter, and (in our own days) Phelps.
In February 1733, when the _Miser_ was first acted, Fielding was five and twenty. His means at this time were, in all probability, exceedingly uncertain. The small proportion of money due to him at his mother's death had doubtless been long since exhausted, and he must have been almost wholly dependent upon the precarious profits of his pen. That he was assisted by rich and noble friends to any material extent appears, in spite of Murphy, to be unlikely. At all events, an occasional dedication to the Duke of Richmond or the Earl of Chesterfield cannot be regarded as proof positive. Lyttelton, who certainly befriended him in later life, was for a great part of this period absent on the Grand Tour, and Ralph Allen had not yet come forward. In default of the always deferred allowance, his father's house at Salisbury (?) was no doubt open to him; and it is plain, from indications in his minor poems, that he occasionally escaped into the country. But in London he lived for the most part, and probably not very worshipfully. What, even now, would be the life of a young man of Fielding's age, fond of pleasure, careless of the future, very liberally equipped with high spirits, and straightway exposed to the perilous seductions of the stage? Fielding had the defects of his qualities, and was no better than the rest of those about him. He was manly, and frank, and generous; but these characteristics could scarcely protect him from the terrors of the tip-staff, and the sequels of "t'other bottle." Indeed, he very honestly and unfeignedly confesses to the lapses of his youth in the _Journey from this World to the Next_, adding that he pretended "to very little Virtue more than general Philanthropy and private Friendship." It is therefore but reasonable to infer that his daily life must have been more than usually characterised by the vicissitudes of the eighteenth-century prodigal,-- alternations from the "Rose" to a Clare-Market ordinary, from gold-lace to fustian, from champagne to "British Burgundy." In a rhymed petition to Walpole, dated 1730, he makes pleasant mirth of what no doubt was sometimes sober truth--his debts, his duns, and his dinnerless condition. He (the verses tell us)
"--from his Garret can look down On the whole Street of _Arlington_." [Footnote: Where Sir Robert lived]
"The Family that dines the latest Is in our Street esteem'd the greatest; But latest Hours must surely fall Before him who ne'er dines at all;"
"This too doth in my Favour speak, Your Levee is but twice a Week; From mine I can exclude but one Day, My Door is quiet on a _Sunday_."
When he can admit so much even jestingly of himself, it is but legitimate to presume that there is no great exaggeration in the portrait of him in 1735, by the anonymous satirist of _Seasonable Reproof_:--
"_F------g_, who _yesterday_ appear'd so rough, Clad in _coarse Frize_, and plaister'd down with _Snuff_, See how his _Instant_ gaudy Trappings shine; What _Play-house_ Bard was ever seen so fine! But this, not from his _Humour_ flows, you'll say, But mere _Necessity_;--for last Night lay In _Pawn_, the _Velvet_ which he wears to Day."
His work bears traces of the inequalities and irregularities of his mode of living. Although in certain cases (e.g. the revised edition of _Tom Thumb_) the artist and scholar seems to have spasmodically asserted himself, the majority of his plays were hasty and ill-considered performances, most of which (as Lady Mary said) he would have thrown into the fire "if meat could have been got without money, and money without scribbling." "When he had contracted to bring on a play, or a farce," says Murphy, "it is well known, by many of his friends now living, that he would go home rather late from a tavern, and would, the next morning, deliver a scene to the players, written upon the papers which had wrapped the tobacco, in which he so much delighted." It is not easy to conceive, unless Fielding's capacities as a smoker were unusual, that any large contribution to dramatic literature could have been made upon the wrappings of Virginia or Freeman's Best; but that his reputation for careless production was established among his contemporaries is manifest from the following passage in a burlesque _Author's Will_ published in the _Universal Spectator_ of Oldys:--
"_Item_, I give and bequeath to my very _negligent_ Friend _Henry Drama_, Esq., all my INDUSTRY. And whereas the World may think this an unnecessary Legacy, forasmuch as the said _Henry Drama_, Esq., brings on the Stage _four Pieces_ every Season; yet as such Pieces are always wrote with uncommon _Rapidity_, and during such fatal Intervals only as the _Stocks_ have been on the _Fall_, this Legacy will be of use to him to revise and correct his Works. Furthermore, for fear the said _Henry Drama_ should make an ill Use of the said _Industry_, and expend it all on a _Ballad Farce_, it's my Will the said Legacy should be paid him by equal Portions, and as his Necessities may require."
There can be little doubt that the above quotation, which is reprinted in the _Gentleman's_ for July 1734, and seems to have hitherto escaped inquiry, refers to none other than the "very negligent" Author of the _Modern Husband_ and the _Old Debauchees_--in other words, to Henry Fielding.
MORE PLAYS--MARRIAGE--THE LICENSING ACT.
The very subordinate part in the _Miser_ of "Furnish, an Upholsterer," was taken by a third-rate actor, whose surname has been productive of no little misconception among Henry Fielding's biographers. This was Timothy Fielding, sometime member of the Haymarket and Drury Lane companies, and proprietor, for several successive years, of a booth at Bartholomew, Southwark, and other fairs. In the absence of any Christian name, Mr. Lawrence seems to have rather rashly concluded that the Fielding mentioned by Genest as having a booth at Bartholomew Fair in 1733 with Hippisley (the original Peachum of the _Beggar's Opera_), was Fielding the dramatist; and the mistake thus originated at once began that prosperous course which usually awaits any slip of the kind. It
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