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- Fielding - 6/31 -
misled one notoriously careful inquirer, who, in his interesting chronicles of Bartholomew Fair, minutely investigated the actor's history, giving precise details of his doings at "Bartlemy" from 1728 to 1736; but, although the theory involved obvious inconsistencies, apparently without any suspicion that the proprietor of the booth which stood, season after season, in the yard of the George Inn at Smithfield, was an entirely different person from his greater namesake. The late Dr. Rimbault carried the story farther still, and attempted to show, in _Notes and Queries_ for May 1859, that Henry Fielding had a booth at Tottenham Court in 1738, "subsequent to his admission into the Middle Temple;" and he also promised to supply additional particulars to the effect that even 1738 was not the "_last_ year of Fielding's career as a booth-proprietor." At this stage (probably for good reasons) inquiry seems to have slumbered, although, with the fatal vitality of error, the statement continued (and still continues) to be repeated in various quarters. In 1875, however, Mr. Frederick Latreille published a short article in _Notes and Queries_, proving conclusively, by extracts from contemporary newspapers and other sources, that the Timothy Fielding above referred to was the real Fielding of the fairs; that he became landlord of the Buffalo Tavern "at the corner of Bloomsbury Square" in 1733; and that he died in August 1738, his christian name, so often suppressed, being duly recorded in the register of the neighbouring church of St. George's, where he was buried. The admirers of our great novelist owe Mr. Latreille a debt of gratitude for this opportune discovery. It is true that a certain element of Bohemian picturesqueness is lost to Henry Fielding's life, already not very rich in recorded incident; and it would certainly have been curious if he, who ended his days in trying to dignify the judicial office, should have begun life by acting the part of a "trading justice," namely that of Quorum in Coffey's _Beggar's Wedding_, which Timothy Fielding had played at Drury Lane. But, on the whole, it is satisfactory to know that his early experiences did not, of necessity, include those of a strolling player. Some obscure and temporary connection with Bartholomew Fair he may have had, as Smollett, in the scurrilous pamphlet issued in 1742, makes him say that he blew a trumpet there in quality of herald to a collection of wild beasts; but this is probably no more than an earlier and uglier form of the apparition laid by Mr. Latreille. The only positive evidence of any connection between Henry Fielding and the Smithfield carnival is, that Theophilus Cibber's company played the _Miser_ at their booth in August 1733.
With the exception of the _Miser_ and an afterpiece, never printed, entitled _Deborah; or, A Wife for you all_, which was acted for Miss Raftor's benefit in April 1733, nothing important was brought upon the stage by Fielding until January of the following year, when he produced the _Intriguing Chambermaid_, and a revised version of the _Author's Farce_. By a succession of changes, which it is impossible here to describe in detail, considerable alterations had taken place in the management of Drury Lane. In the first place, Wilks was dead, and his share in the Patent was represented by his widow. Booth also was dead, and Mrs. Booth had sold her share to Giffard of Goodman's Fields, while the elder Cibber had retired. At the beginning of the season of 1733-34 the leading patentee was an amateur called Highmore, who had purchased Cibber's share. He had also purchased part of Booth's share before his death in May 1733. The only other shareholder of importance was Mrs. Wilks. Shortly after the opening of the theatre in September, the greater part of the Drury Lane Company, led by the younger Cibber, revolted from Highmore and Mrs. Wilks, and set up for themselves. Matters were farther complicated by the fact that John Rich had not long opened a new theatre in Covent Garden, which constituted a fresh attraction; and that what Fielding called the "wanton affected Fondness for foreign Musick," was making the Italian opera a dangerous rival--the more so as it was patronised by the nobility. Without actors, the patentees were in serious case. Miss Raftor, who about this time became Mrs. Clive, appears, however, to have remained faithful to them, as also did Henry Fielding. The lively little comedy of the _Intriguing Chambermaid_ was adapted from Regnard especially for her; and in its published form was preceded by an epistle in which the dramatist dwells upon the "Factions and Divisions among the Players," and compliments her upon her compassionate adherence to Mr. Highmore and Mrs. Wilks in their time of need. The epistle is also valuable for its warm and generous testimony to the private character of this accomplished actress, whose part in real life, says Fielding, was that of "the best Wife, the best Daughter, the best Sister, and the best Friend." The words are more than mere compliment; they appear to have been true. Madcap and humourist as she was, no breath of slander seems ever to have tarnished the reputation of Kitty Clive, whom Johnson--a fine judge, when his prejudices were not actively aroused--called in addition "the best player that he ever saw."
The _Intriguing Chambermaid_ was produced on the 15th of January 1734. Lettice, from whom the piece was named, was well personated by Mrs. Clive, and Colonel Bluff by Macklin, the only actor of any promise that Highmore had been able to secure. With the new comedy the _Author's Farce_ was revived. It would be unnecessary to refer to this again, but for the additions that were made to it. These consisted chiefly in the substitution of Marplay Junior for Sparkish, the actor-manager of the first version. The death of Wilks may have been a reason for this alteration; but a stronger was no doubt the desire to throw ridicule upon Theophilus Cibber, whose behaviour in deserting Drury Lane immediately after his father had sold his share to Highmore had not passed without censure, nor had his father's action escaped sarcastic comment. Theophilus Cibber--whose best part was Beaumont and Fletcher's Copper Captain, and who carried the impersonation into private life, had played in several of Fielding's pieces; but Fielding had linked his fortunes to those of the patentees, and was consequently against the players in this quarrel. The following scene was accordingly added to the farce for the exclusive benefit of "Young Marplay":--
"_Marplay junior._ Mr. _Luckless_, I kiss your Hands--Sir, I am your most obedient humble Servant; you see, Mr. _Luckless_, what Power you have over me. I attend your Commands, tho' several Persons of Quality have staid at Court for me above this Hour.
_Luckless._ I am obliged to you--I have a Tragedy for your House, Mr. _Marplay_.
_Mar. jun._ Ha! if you will send it me, I will give you my Opinion of it; and if I can make any Alterations in it that will be for its Advantage, I will do it freely.
_Witmore._ Alterations, Sir?
_Mar. jun._ Yes, Sir, Alterations--I will maintain it, let a Play be never so good, without Alteration it will do nothing.
_Wit._ Very odd indeed.
_Mar. jun._ Did you ever write, Sir?
_Wit._ No, Sir, I thank Heav'n.
_Mar. jun._ Oh! your humble Servant--your very humble Servant, Sir. When you write yourself you will find the Necessity of Alterations. Why, Sir, wou'd you guess that I had alter'd _Shakespear_?
_Wit._ Yes, faith, Sir, no one sooner.
_Mar. jun._ Alack-a-day! Was you to see the Plays when they are brought to us--a Parcel of crude, undigested Stuff. We are the Persons, Sir, who lick them into Form, that mould them into Shape--The Poet make the Play indeed! The Colour-man might be as well said to make the Picture, or the Weaver the Coat: My Father and I, Sir, are a Couple of poetical Tailors; when a Play is brought us, we consider it as a Tailor does his Coat, we cut it, Sir, we cut it: And let me tell you, we have the exact Measure of the Town, we know how to fit their Taste. The Poets, between you and me, are a Pack of ignorant--
_Wit._ Hold, hold, sir. This is not quite so civil to Mr. _Luckless_: Besides, as I take it, you have done the Town the Honour of writing yourself.
_Mar. jun._ Sir, you are a Man of Sense; and express yourself well. I did, as you say, once make a small Sally into _Parnassus_, took a sort of flying Leap over _Helicon_: But if ever they catch me there again-- Sir, the Town have a Prejudice to my Family; for if any Play you'd have made them ashamed to damn it, mine must. It was all over Plot. It wou'd have made half a dozen Novels: Nor was it cram'd with a pack of Wit- traps, like _Congreve_ and _Wycherly_, where every one knows when the Joke was coming. I defy the sharpest Critick of 'em all to know when any Jokes of mine were coming. The Dialogue was plain, easy, and natural, and not one single Joke in it from the Beginning to the End: Besides, Sir, there was one Scene of tender melancholy Conversation, enough to have melted a Heart of Stone; and yet they damn'd it: And they damn'd themselves; for they shall have no more of mine.
_Wit._ Take pity on the Town, Sir.
_Mar. jun._ I! No, Sir, no. I'll write no more. No more; unless I am forc'd to it.
_Luckless._ That's no easy thing, _Marplay_.
_Mar. jun._ Yes, Sir. Odes, Odes, a Man may be oblig'd to write those you know." These concluding lines plainly refer to the elder Cibber's appointment as Laureate in 1730, and to those "annual Birth-day Strains," with which he so long delighted the irreverent; while the alteration of Shakespeare and the cobbling of plays generally, satirised again in a later scene, are strictly in accordance with contemporary accounts of the manners and customs of the two dictators of Drury Lane. The piece indicated by Marplay Junior was probably Theophilus Cibber's _Lover_, which had been produced in January 1731 with very moderate success.
After the _Intriguing Chambermaid_ and the revived _Author's Farce_, Fielding seems to have made farther exertions for "the distressed Actors in Drury Lane." He had always been an admirer of Cervantes, frequent references to whose master-work are to be found scattered through his plays; and he now busied himself with completing and expanding the loose scenes of the comedy of _Don Quixote in England_, which (as before stated) he had sketched at Leyden for his own diversion. He had already thought of bringing it upon the stage, but had been dissuaded from doing so by Cibber and Booth, who regarded it as wanting in novelty. Now, however, he strengthened it by the addition of some election scenes, in which--he tells Lord Chesterfield in the dedication--he designed to give a lively representation of "the Calamities brought on a Country by general Corruption;" and it was duly rehearsed. But unexpected delays took place in its production; the revolted players returned to Drury Lane; and, lest the actors' benefits should further retard its appearance by postponing it until the winter season, Fielding transferred it to the Haymarket, where, according to Geneste, it was acted in April 1734. As a play, _Don Quixote in England_ has few stage qualities and no plot to speak of. But the Don with his whimsies, and Sancho with his appetite and string of proverbs, are conceived in something of the spirit of Cervantes. Squire Badger, too, a rudimentary Squire Western, well represented by Macklin, is vigorously drawn; and the song of his huntsman Scut, beginning with the fine line "The dusky Night rides down the Sky," has a verse that recalls a practice of which Addison accuses Sir Roger de Coverley:--
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