Page images
PDF
EPUB

LIVES

OF

THE NOVELISTS.

FIELDING

Of all the works of imagination to which English genius has given origin the novels of the celebrated Henry Fielding are, perhaps, most decidedly and exclusively her own. They are not only altogether beyond the reach of translation, in the proper sense and spirit of the word, but we even question whether they can be fully understood, or relished to the highest extent, by such natives of Scotland and Ireland as are not habitually acquainted with the character and manners of Old England. Parson Adams, Towwouse, Partridge, above all, Squire Western, are personages as peculiar to England as they are unknown to other countries. Nay, the actors whose character is of a more general cast, as Allworthy,

[merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Mrs Miller, Tom Jones himself, and almost all the subordinate agents in the narrative, have the same cast of nationality, which adds not a little to the verisimilitude of the tale. The persons of the story live in England, travel in England, quarrel and fight in England; and scarce an incident occurs without its being marked by something which could not well have happened in any other country. This nationality may be ascribed to the author's own habits of life, which rendered him conversant, at different periods, with all the various classes of English society, specimens of which he has selected, with inimitable spirit of choice and description, for the amusement of his readers. Like

many

other men of talent, Fielding was unfortunate : his life was a life of imprudence and uncertainty. But it was, while passing from the high society to which he was born, to that of the lowest and most miscellaneous kind, that he acquired the extended familiarity with the English character, in every rank and aspect, which has made his name immortal as a painter of national manners.

Henry Fielding, born April 22, 1707, was of noble descent, the third son of General Edmund Fielding, himself the third son of the Honourable John Fielding, who was the fifth son of William, Earl of Denbigh, who died in 1655. Our author was nearly con

nected with the ducal family of Kingston, which boasted a brighter ornament than rank or titles could bestow, in the wit and beauty of the celebrated Lady Mary Wortley Montague. The mother of Henry Fielding was a daughter of Judge Gold, the first wife of his father the general. Henry was the only son of this marriage; but he had four sisters of the full blood, of whom Sarah, the third, was distinguished as an authoress by the History of David Simple, and other literary attempts. General Fielding married a second time, after the death of his first lady, and had a numerous family, one of whom is well remembered as a judge of police, by the title of Sir John Fielding. It is most probable that the expense attending so large a family, together with a natural thoughtlessness of disposition on the part of his father, occasioned Henry's being early thrown into those precarious circumstances, with which, excepting at brief intervals, he continued to struggle through life.'

After receiving the rudiments of education from the Rev. Mr Oliver, who is supposed to have furnished him with the outline of Parson Trulliber's character, Fielding was removed to Eton, where he was imbued deeply with that love of classic literature which may be traced through all his works. As his father destined him to the bar, he was sent from Eton to study at Leyden, where he is said to have given earnest attention to the civil law. Had he remained in this regular course of study, the courts would probably have gained a lawyer, and the world would have lost a man of genius; but the circumstances of General Fielding determined the chance in favour of posterity, though, perhaps, against his son. Remittances failed, .and the young student was compelled to return, at the

age
of

twenty, to plunge into the dissipation of London, without a monitor to warn him, or a friend to support him.

General Fielding, indeed, promised his son an allowance of two hundred pounds a year; but this, as Fielding himself used to say, « any one might pay who would.» It is only necessary to add, that Fielding was tall, handsome, and well-proportioned, bad an expressive countenance, and possessed, with an uncommonly strong constitution, a keen relish of pleasure, with the power of enjoying the present moment, and trusting to chance for the future;—and the reader has before him sufficient grounds to estimate the extent of his improvidence and distress. Lady Mary Wortley Montague, his kinswoman and early acquaintance, has traced his temperament and its consequences in a few lines; and no one who can use her words would willingly employ his own.

« I am sorry for Henry Fielding's death, » says her ladyship, in one of her letters, upon

« PreviousContinue »