Imatges de pÓgina


The following excellent observations upon FIELDING are from the same source to which we were indebted for the remarks upon SMOLLETT.

“ There is very little to warrant the common idea, that Fielding was an imitator of Cervantes,-except his own declaration of such an intention, in the title-page of Joseph Andrews,—the romantic turn of the character of Parson Adams (the only romantic character in his works),-—and the proverbial humour of Partridge, which is kept up only


* HENRY FIELDING was born in Somersetshire, in 1707, and educated first at Eton school, and afterwards at Leyden, where he studied under the most celebrated civilians for about two years.

On his return to London, he commenced writer for the stage, and produced several dramatic pieces, none of which were very successful. At the same time, he addicted himself to all the follies and intemperances of a town life, and soon dissipated a respectable fortune-leaving himself, at the age of thirty, no dependance but on his own abilities. Not discouraged, however, he applied himself vigorously to the study of the law, and, after the customary time of probation at the Temple, was called to the bar, and made no inconsiderable figure in Westminster-hall. But violent attacks from the gout, to which he was very early liable, soon rendered him unable to give such constant attendance at the bar as the laboriousness of that profession requires, and he was therefore obliged to accept of the office of an acting magistrate in the commission of the peace for the county of Middlesex, in which station he continued till near the time of his death. While holding this office he published his three great works, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, and Amelia—the first in 1742, the second in 1749, and the last in 1752. In 1754, he was advised by his physicians to set out for Lisbon, as a last effort to support a broken constitution ; but he did not survive his are rival there above two months. The · Journal of his Voyage' to that place was published in 1755, and contains the last gleams of his wit and humour,

for a few pages. Fielding's novels are, in general, thoroughly his own; and they are thoroughly English. What they are most remarkable for, is neither sentiment, nor imagination, nor wit, nor humour, though there is a great deal of this last quality ; but profound knowledge of human nature -at least of English nature-and masterly pictures of the characters of men as he saw them existing. This quality distinguishes all his works, and is shown almost equally in all of them. As a painter of real life, he was equal to Hogarth : as a mere observer of human nature, he was little inferior to Shakspeare, though without any of the genius and poetical qualities of his mind. His humour is less rich and laughable than Smollett's; his wit as often misses as hits ;-he has none of the fine pathos of Richardson or Sterne:But he has brought together a greater variety of characters in common life,-marked with more distinct peculiarities, and without' an atom of caricature, than any other novel writer whatever. The extreme subtilty of observation on the springs of human conduct in ordinary characters, is only equalled by the ingenuity of contrivance in bringing those springs into play in such a manner as to lay open their smallest irregularity. The detection is always complete and made with the certainty and skill of a philosophical experiment, and the ease and simplicity of a casual observation. The truth of the imitation is indeed so great, that it has been argued that Fielding must have had his materials ready-made to his hands, and was merely a transcriber of local manners and individual habits. For this conjecture, however, there seems to be no foundation. His representations, it is true, are local and individual; but they are not the less profound and natural. The feeling of the general principles of human nature operating in particular circumstances, is always intense, and uppermost in his mind : and he makes use of incident and situation, only to bring out character.

It is perhaps scarcely necessary to give any illustration of these remarks. Tom Jones is full of them. The moral of this book has been objected to, and not altogether without reason but a more serious objection has been made to the want of refinement and elegance in the two principal characters. We never feel this objection, indeed, while we are reading the book : but at other times, we have something like a lurking suspicion that Jones was but an awkward fellow, and Sophia a pretty simpleton. We do not know how to account for this effect, unless it is that Fielding's constantly assuring us of the beauty of his hero, and the good sense of his heroine, at last produces a distrust of both. The story of Tom Jones is allowed to be unrivalled: and it is this circumstance, together with the vast variety of characters, that has given the History of a Foundling so decided a preference over Fielding's other novels. The characters themselves, both in Amelia and Joseph Andrews, are quite equal to any of those in Tom Jones. The account of Miss Matthews and Ensign Hibbert--the way in which that lady reconciles herself to the death of her father the inflexible Colonel Bath, the insipid Mrs James, the complaisant Colonel Trent—the demure, sly, intriguing, equivocal Mrs Bennet—the lord who is her seducer, and who attempts afterwards to seduce Amelia by the same mechanical

process of a concert ticket, a book, and the disguise of a great coat-his little, fat, short-nosed, red-faced, goodhumoured accomplice the keeper of the lodging-house, who, having no pretensions to gallantry herself, has a disinterested delight in forwarding the intrigues and pleasures of others, (to say nothing of honest Atkinson, the story of the miniature-picture of Amelia, and the hashed mutton, which are in a different style,) are master-pieces of description. The whole scene at the lodging-house, the masquerade, &c. in Amelia, is equal in interest to the parallel scenes in Tom Jones, and even more refined in the knowledge of character.

her own way.

For instance, Mrs Bennet is superior to Mrs Fitzpatrick in

The uncertainty in which the event of her interview with her former seducer is left, is admirable. Fielding was a master of what may be called the double entendre of character, and surprises you no less by what he leaves in the dark, (hardly known to the persons them. selves,) than by the unexpected discoveries he makes of the real traits and circumstances in a character with which, till then, you find you were unacquainted. There is nothing at all heroic, however, in the style of any of his delineations. He never draws lofty characters or strong passions ;-all his persons are of the ordinary stature as to intellect; and none of them trespass on the angelic nature, by elevation of fancy, or energy of purpose. Perhaps, after all, Parson Adams is his finest character. It is equally true to nature, and more ideal than any of the others. Its unsuspecting simplicity makes it not only more amiable, but doubly amusing, by gratifying the sense of superior sagacity in the reader. Our laughing at him does not once lessen our respect for him. His declaring that he would willingly walk ten miles to fetch his Sermon on Vanity, merely to convince Wilson of his thorough contempt of this vice, and his consoling himself for the loss of his Æschylus, by suddenly recollecting that he could not read it if he had it, because it is dark, are among the finest touches of naïveté. The night-adventures at Lady Booby's with Beau Didapper, and the amiable Slipslop, are the most ludicrous; and that with the huntsman, who draws off the hounds from the poor Parson, because they would be spoiled by following vermin, the most profound. Fielding did not often repeat himself : but Dr Harrison, in Amelia, may be considered as a variation of the character of Adams : so also is Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield ; and the latter part of that work which sets out so delightfully, an almost entire plagiarism from Wilson's account of himself, and Adams's domestic history."


On the first of April, in the year the watchmen of a certain parish (I know not particularly which) within the liberty of Westminster, brought several persons, whom they had apprehended the preceding night, before Jonathan Thrasher, Esq., one of the justices of the peace for that liberty.

Mr Thrasher, the justice before whom the prisoners were now brought, had some few imperfections in his magisterial capacity. I own, I have been sometimes inclin. ed to think, that this office of a justice of peace requires some knowledge of the law: for this simple reason ; because in every case which comes before him, he is to judge and act according to law. Again, as these laws are contained in a great variety of books, the statutes which relate to the office of a justice of peace making of themselves at least two large volumes in folio, and that part of his jurisdiction which is founded on the common law being dispersed in above a hundred volumes, I cannot conceive how this knowledge should be acquired without reading ; and yet certain it is, Mr Thrasher never read one syllable of the matter. This perhaps was a defect; but this was not all: for where mere ignorance is to decide a point between two litigants, it will always be an even chance whether it decides right or wrong : but sorry am I to say, right was often in a much worse situation than this, and wrong hath often had five hundred to one on his side before that magistrate ; who, if he was ignorant of the law of England, was yet well versed in the laws of nature. He perfectly well understood that fundamental principle so strongly laid down in the institutes of the learned Rochefoucalt ; by which the duty of self-love is so strongly enforced, and every man is taught to consider himself as the centre of gravity, and to attract all things thither. To speak the truth plainly, the justice was never indifferent in à cause, but when he could get nothing on either side. Such was the justice to whose tremendous bar Mr Gotobed the constable, on the day above mentioned, brought several delinquents, who, as we have said, had been apprehended by the watch for divers outrages.

The first who came upon his trial, was as bloody a spectre as ever the imagination of a murderer or a tragic poet conceive

« AnteriorContinua »