« PreviousContinue »
THE "lewd and ungenerous engraftment" on Pamela of Fielding's Joseph Andrews had naturally been a terrible thorn in Richardson's side. If to this be added that, rightly or wrongly, he also saw in him the anonymous author of Shamela, the offence must certainly have "smelt to heaven." Of late, however, Fielding had made some overtures towards an amende honorable. In the Jacobite's Journal, he had cordially praised the first two volumes of Clarissa. "Such Simplicity, such Manners, such deep Penetration into Nature; such Power to raise and alarm the Passions, few Writers, either ancient or modern, have been possessed of," — he had declared. And then he had made an apposite quotation from Horace,' which quotation (with a line or two more to show that he had consulted the original) Richardson subsequently inserted in his Postscript, and an admirer turned into the first quatrain of an introductory sonnet to Clarissa's history:
"O Master of the heart! whose magic skill
The close recesses of the soul can find,
1 "Pectus inaniter angit,
Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet
and so forth. As we have seen, Fielding had also been among the advocates of a "happy ending," which was an additional testimony to his interest in the book. But in February 1749 he unhappily sinned again, and this time beyond the possibility of pardon. He published Tom Jones.
It is probable that the publication of Tom Jones annoyed Richardson far more than the publication either of Shamela or of Joseph Andrews. For these he could always console himself by real or pretended contempt, and by what, in many cases, was the genuine sympathy of his friends. But with Tom Jones, Fielding appeared as a definite rival in fiction, professing like himself to administer a "new Province of Writing," and having a public of recognised and enthusiastic supporters. The young ladies of her neighbourhood, "Mrs. Belfour" told the sensitive author of Clarissa, were for ever talking about their favourites as their "Tom Joneses," and the gentlemen on their side had their Sophias, one of them going so far as to give that honoured name to his "Dutch mastiff puppy." flutter of jealous apprehension, Richardson turned to his sympathetic friends, Astræa and Minerva at Plaistow. What did they think of this "coarse-titled " book, with its "spurious brat"? He had not read it himself, not he. But he evidently knew a good deal about its contents. Astræa and Minerva took him literally; and gave a very business-like, and far too favourable report of their impressions of Mr. Fielding's performance. Indeed, upon the whole, they blessed rather than cursed. They discovered in it "a double Merit, both of Head, and Heart.” They praised its construction. They held that the events of the fable
"rewarded Sincerity, punished and exposed Hypocrisy, showed Pity and Benevolence in amiable Lights, and Avarice and Brutality in very despicable ones." This was too much for Richardson who, while still declining to read the book, rejoined by criticising plot, hero, and heroine with such energy as to draw tears of vexation from the fine eyes of Minerva and Astræa, who presently found themselves in the discreditable predicament of having approved "a work of Evil Tendency." Nevertheless they stood gallantly by their guns, and still hoped, through their father, that when their honoured friend at Fulham had time to study Tom Jones for himself, he might detect " Thread of Moral meaning" in it. Richardson replied, of course, and at length. He referred to Fielding as a "very indelicate, a very impetuous, an unyieldingspirited Man." But he promised vaguely that he would, if opportunity offered, "bestow a Reading" on Tom Jones. Whether he eventually did so, it is difficult to decide. But in a letter to another correspondent, dated January 1750-a letter in which he continues to harp on "the weak, the insipid, the Runaway, the Inn-frequenting Sophia" and her "illegitimate Tom" -he professes, as before, to speak on hearsay. Had he been at leisure to examine Tom Jones (if, indeed, it were possible to have leisure for such a task!), he would no doubt be able "to do the Author impartial Justice." Upon this point, perhaps, it may be permissible to entertain misgivings. But he must, at least, have had his consolations. One Solomon Lowe, the author of a "Critical Spelling Book," gravely assured him that all Europe would ultimately ring with Clarissa, "when a Cracker, that was some thous
hours a-composing,1 will no longer be heard or talk't-of." Mr. Lowe's letter is to be seen at South Kensington; and Richardson has gravely endorsed it with his own hand "Cracker, T. Jones."
Of the correspondents to whom this chapter relates, the majority are women. "My acquaintance," says Richardson in one place, "lies chiefly among the ladies; I care not who knows it." In the interval between the publication of Pamela and the publication of Clarissa, he had added a good many new friends of the other sex to his list. The most voluminous of these was the lady already referred to as "Mrs. Belfour," of whom, and of whose real title, we shall speak hereafter. Among the earlier, come three. names, with which Richardson and his rival are more or less connected-those of Sarah Fielding, and the two sisters, Jane and Margaret Collier. With Sarah Fielding, and indeed with all the Miss Fieldings, Richardson appears to have been on a friendly footing. In his letter to Astræa and Minerva Hill he says, "I love Four worthy Sisters of his [Fielding], with whom I am well acquainted." As already pointed out, in speaking of the Young correspondence, Sarah Fielding must have been a visitor at North End as early as 1744, and in one of her own epistles, dated January 1749, she refers to the gratification it would have afforded her to act as Richardson's secretary. "Pleasantly surprised should I have been, suddenly to have found all my thoughts strengthened, and my words flow into an easy and nervous style," she writesexpressions which suggest that the accomplished author of David Simple was not averse from exercising 1 See Tom Jones, Bk. xi. Ch. i.
that form of flattery which Bacon defines as praising a man for those things wherein "he is most Defective" -as, for instance, he himself did when he commended James I. for his slobbering elocution. But it must be owned that if his friends praised Richardson, he paid them (like Garrick) in kind. "I have just gone thro"""re-perused" is the word elsewhere- "your two vols. of Letters," he writes to Sarah Fielding in December 1756. [These were manifestly the Familiar Letters between the Principal Characters in David Simple, 1747.] "What a knowledge of the human heart! Well might a critical judge of writing say, as he did to me, that your late brother's knowledge of it was not (fine writer as he was) comparable to yours. His was but as the knowledge of the outside of a clockwork machine, while yours was that of all the finer springs and movements of the inside." Curiously enough, this is very much the praise which, a dozen years later, Johnson, no doubt the critical judge referred to, gave to Richardson himself. "There was as great a difference between them [Richardson and Fielding]," he said, "as between a man who knew how a watch was made, and a man who could tell the hour by looking on the dial-plate." With her brother on one side, and Richardson on the other, poor Miss Fielding must have been sadly embarrassed. For if Richardson praised her, her brother, on his part, was not behindhand. He had written a friendly preface to David Simple; and he had not only prefaced the Familiar Letters, but, as Richardson should have known if he read to the end of the second volume, had written five of them himself, and those by no means the least important. And, of those which he had not