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- Amelia (Complete) - 4/114 -

at a distance during the later scenes of the story, because he could not trust himself not to make her more interesting than Amelia. Of the peers, more wicked and less wicked, there is indeed not much good to be said. The peer of the eighteenth-century writers (even when, as in Fielding's case, there was no reason why they should "mention him with _Kor_," as Policeman X. has it) is almost always a faint type of goodness or wickedness dressed out with stars and ribbons and coaches- and-six. Only Swift, by combination of experience and genius, has given us live lords in Lord Sparkish and Lord Smart. But Mrs. Ellison and Mrs. Atkinson are very women, and the serjeant, though the touch of "sensibility" is on him, is excellent; and Dr Harrison's country friend and his prig of a son are capital; and Bondum, and "the author," and Robinson, and all the minor characters, are as good as they can be.

It is, however, usual to detect a lack of vivacity in the book, an evidence of declining health and years. It may be so; it is at least certain that Fielding, during the composition of _Amelia,_ had much less time to bestow upon elaborating his work than he had previously had, and that his health was breaking. But are we perfectly sure that if the chronological order had been different we should have pronounced the same verdict? Had _Amelia_ come between _Joseph_ and _Tom,_ how many of us might have committed ourselves to some such sentence as this: "In _Amelia_ we see the youthful exuberances of _Joseph Andrews_ corrected by a higher art; the adjustment of plot and character arranged with a fuller craftsmanship; the genius which was to find its fullest exemplification in _Tom Jones_ already displaying maturity"? And do we not too often forget that a very short time--in fact, barely three years--passed between the appearance of _Tom Jones_ and the appearance of _Amelia?_ that although we do not know how long the earlier work had been in preparation, it is extremely improbable that a man of Fielding's temperament, of his wants, of his known habits and history, would have kept it when once finished long in his desk? and that consequently between some scenes of _Tom Jones_ and some scenes of _Amelia_ it is not improbable that there was no more than a few months' interval? I do not urge these things in mitigation of any unfavourable judgment against the later novel. I only ask--How much of that unfavourable judgment ought in justice to be set down to the fallacies connected with an imperfect appreciation of facts?

To me it is not so much a question of deciding whether I like _Amelia_ less, and if so, how much less, than the others, as a question what part of the general conception of this great writer it supplies? I do not think that we could fully understand Fielding without it; I do not think that we could derive the full quantity of pleasure from him without it. The exuberant romantic faculty of Joseph Andrews and its pleasant satire; the mighty craftsmanship and the vast science of life of _Tom Jones;_ the ineffable irony and logical grasp of _Jonathan Wild_, might have left us with a slight sense of hardness, a vague desire for unction, if it had not been for this completion of the picture. We should not have known (for in the other books, with the possible exception of Mrs. Fitzpatrick, the characters are a little too determinately goats and sheep) how Fielding could draw _nuances_, how he could project a mixed personage on the screen, if we had not had Miss Matthews and Mrs. Atkinson--the last especially a figure full of the finest strokes, and, as a rule, insufficiently done justice to by critics.

And I have purposely left to the last a group of personages about whom indeed there has been little question, but who are among the triumphs of Fielding's art--the two Colonels and their connecting-link, the wife of the one and the sister of the other. Colonel Bath has necessarily united all suffrages. He is of course a very little stagey; he reminds us that his author had had a long theatrical apprenticeship: he is something too much _d'une piece_. But as a study of the brave man who is almost more braggart than brave, of the generous man who will sacrifice not only generosity but bare justice to "a hogo of honour," he is admirable, and up to his time almost unique. Ordinary writers and ordinary readers have never been quite content to admit that bravery and braggadocio can go together, that the man of honour may be a selfish pedant. People have been unwilling to tell and to hear the whole truth even about Wolfe and Nelson, who were both favourable specimens of the type; but Fielding the infallible saw that type in its quiddity, and knew it, and registered it for ever.

Less amusing but more delicately faithful and true are Colonel James and his wife. They are both very good sort of people in a way, who live in a lax and frivolous age, who have plenty of money, no particular principle, no strong affection for each other, and little individual character. They might have been--Mrs. James to some extent is--quite estimable and harmless; but even as it is, they are not to be wholly ill spoken of. Being what they are, Fielding has taken them, and, with a relentlessness which Swift could hardly have exceeded, and a good-nature which Swift rarely or never attained, has held them up to us as dissected preparations of half-innocent meanness, scoundrelism, and vanity, such as are hardly anywhere else to be found. I have used the word "preparations," and it in part indicates Fielding's virtue, a virtue shown, I think, in this book as much as anywhere. But it does not fully indicate it; for the preparation, wet or dry, is a dead thing, and a museum is but a mortuary. Fielding's men and women, once more let it be said, are all alive. The palace of his work is the hall, not of Eblis, but of a quite beneficent enchanter, who puts burning hearts into his subjects, not to torture them, but only that they may light up for us their whole organisation and being. They are not in the least the worse for it, and we are infinitely the better.





SIR,--The following book is sincerely designed to promote the cause of virtue, and to expose some of the most glaring evils, as well public as private, which at present infest the country; though there is scarce, as I remember, a single stroke of satire aimed at any one person throughout the whole.

The best man is the properest patron of such an attempt. This, I believe, will be readily granted; nor will the public voice, I think, be more divided to whom they shall give that appellation. Should a letter, indeed, be thus inscribed, DETUR OPTIMO, there are few persons who would think it wanted any other direction.

I will not trouble you with a preface concerning the work, nor endeavour to obviate any criticisms which can be made on it. The good- natured reader, if his heart should be here affected, will be inclined to pardon many faults for the pleasure he will receive from a tender sensation: and for readers of a different stamp, the more faults they can discover, the more, I am convinced, they will be pleased.

Nor will I assume the fulsome stile of common dedicators. I have not their usual design in this epistle, nor will I borrow their language. Long, very long may it be before a most dreadful circumstance shall make it possible for any pen to draw a just and true character of yourself without incurring a suspicion of flattery in the bosoms of the malignant. This task, therefore, I shall defer till that day (if I should be so unfortunate as ever to see it) when every good man shall pay a tear for the satisfaction of his curiosity; a day which, at present, I believe, there is but one good man in the world who can think of it with unconcern.

Accept then, sir, this small token of that love, that gratitude, and that respect, with which I shall always esteem it my GREATEST HONOUR to be,

Sir, Your most obliged, and most obedient humble servant, HENRY FIELDING.

_Bow Street, Dec. 2, 1751._





Chapter i.

_Containing the exordium, &c._

The various accidents which befel a very worthy couple after their uniting in the state of matrimony will be the subject of the following history. The distresses which they waded through were some of them so exquisite, and the incidents which produced these so extraordinary, that they seemed to require not only the utmost malice, but the utmost invention, which superstition hath ever attributed to Fortune: though whether any such being interfered in the case, or, indeed, whether there be any such being in the universe, is a matter which I by no means presume to determine in the affirmative. To speak a bold truth, I am, after much mature deliberation, inclined to suspect that the public voice hath, in all ages, done much injustice to Fortune, and hath convicted her of many facts in which she had not the least concern. I question much whether we may not, by natural means, account for the success of knaves, the calamities of fools, with all the miseries in which men of sense sometimes involve themselves, by quitting the directions of Prudence, and following the blind guidance of a predominant passion; in short, for all the ordinary phenomena which are imputed to Fortune; whom, perhaps, men accuse with no less absurdity in life, than a bad player complains of ill luck at the game of chess.

But if men are sometimes guilty of laying improper blame on this imaginary being, they are altogether as apt to make her amends by ascribing to her honours which she as little deserves. To retrieve the ill consequences of a foolish conduct, and by struggling manfully with distress to subdue it, is one of the noblest efforts of wisdom and virtue. Whoever, therefore, calls such a man fortunate, is guilty of no less impropriety in speech than he would be who should call the statuary or the poet fortunate who carved a Venus or who writ an Iliad.

Amelia (Complete) - 4/114

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