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If that theory be—and I have no doubt it is—the right and safe one, that human nature is always pleased with the spectacle of innocence rescued by fidelity, purity, and courage; I suppose that
I of the heroes of Fielding's three novels, we should like honest Joseph Andrews the best, and Captain Booth the second, and Tom Jones the third. *
Joseph Andrews, though he wears Lady Booby's cast-off livery, is, I think, to the full as polite as Tom Jones in his fustian-suit, or Captain Booth in regimentals. He has, like those heroes, large calves, broad shoulders, a high courage, and a handsome face. The accounts of Joseph's bravery and good qualities; his voice, too musical to halloo to the dogs; his bravery in riding races for the gentlemen of the county, and his constancy in refusing bribes and temptation, have something affecting in their naïveté and freshness, and prepossess one in favour of that handsome young hero. The rustic bloom of Fanny, and the delightful simplicity of Parson Adams, are described with a friendliness which wins the reader of their story; we part from them with more regret than from Booth and Jones.
Fielding, no doubt, began to write this novel in ridicule of “Pamela,” for which work one can understand the hearty contempt and antipathy which such an athletic and boisterous genius as Fielding's must have entertained. He couldn't do otherwise than laugh at the puny cockney bookseller, pouring out endless volumes of sentimental twaddle, and hold him up to scorn as a mollcoddle and a milksop. His genius had been nursed on sack-posset, and not on dishes of tea. His muse had sung the loudest in tavern choruses, had seen the daylight streaming in over thousands of emptied bowls, and reeled home to chambers on the shoulders of the watchman. Richardson's goddess was attended by old maids and dowagers, and fed on muffins and bohea. “Milksop !" roars Harry Fielding, clattering at the timid shop-shutters. “ Wretch !
Fielding himself is said by Dr. Warton to have preferred “ Joseph Andrews" to his other writings.
Monster ! Mohock !” shrieks the sentimental author of “ Pamela ;' and all the ladies of his court cackle out an affrighted chorus. Fielding proposes to write a book in ridicule of the author, whom he disliked and utterly scorned and laughed at; but he is himself of so generous, jovial, and kindly a turn that he begins to like the characters which he invents, can't help making them manly and pleasant as well as ridiculous, and before he has done with them all, loves them heartily every one.
Richardson's sickening antipathy for Harry Fielding is quite as natural as the other's laughter and contempt at the sentimentalist. I have not learned that these likings and dislikings have ceased in the present day: and every author must lay his account not only to misrepresentation, but to honest enmity among critics, and to being hated and abused for good as well as for bad reasons. Richardson disliked Fielding's works quite honestly: Walpole quite honestly spoke of them as vulgar and stupid. Their squeamish stomachs sickened at the rough fare and the rough guests assembled at Fielding's jolly revel. Indeed the cloth might have been cleaner : and the dinner and the company were scarce such as suited a dandy. The kind and wise old Johnson would not sit down with him. But a greater scholar than Johnson could afford to admire that astonishing genius of Harry Fielding: and we all know the lofty panegyric which Gibbon wrote of him, and which remains a towering monument to
* “Richardson,” says worthy Mrs. Barbauld, in her Memoir of him, prefixed to his Correspondence, “was exceedingly hurt at this (Joseph Andrews'), the more so as they had been on good terms, and he was very intimate with Fielding's two sisters. He never appears cordially to have forgiven it (perhaps it was not in human nature he should), and he always speaks in his letters with a great deal of asperity of Tom Jones,' more indeed than was quite graceful in a rival author. No doubt he himself thought his indignation was solely excited by the loose morality of the work and of its author, but he could tolerate Cibber.”
+ It must always be borne in mind, that besides that the Doctor couldn't be expected to like Fielding's wild life (to say nothing of the fact that they were of opposite sides in politics), Richardson was one of his earliest and kindest friends. Yet Johnson too (as Boswell tells us) read “Amelia" through without stopping
the great novelist's memory. “Our immortal Fielding," Gibbon writes, “was of the younger branch of the Earls of Denbigh, who drew their origin from the Counts of Hapsburgh. The successors of Charles V. may disdain their brethren of England: but the romance of Tom Jones,' that exquisite picture of humour and manners, will outlive the palace of the Escurial and the Imperial Eagle of Austria.”
There can be no gainsaying the sentence of this great judge. Το have your name mentioned by Gibbon, is like having it written on the dome of St. Peter's. Pilgrims from all the world admire and behold it.
As a picture of manners, the novel of “Tom Jones" is indeed exquisite : as a work of construction quite a wonder: the by-play of wisdom ; the power of observation; the multiplied felicitous turns and thoughts; the varied character of the great Comic Epic : keep the reader in a perpetual admiration and curiosity.* But against Mr. Thomas Jones himself we have a right to put in a protest, and quarrel with the esteem the author evidently has for that character. Charles Lamb says finely of Jones, that a single hearty laugh from him “ clears the air "_but then it is in a certain state of the atmosphere. It might clear the air when such personages as Blifil or Lady Bellaston poison it. But I fear very much that (except until the very last scene of the story), when Mr. Jones enters Sophia's
* “Manners change from generation to generation, and with manners morals appear to change-actually change with some, but appear to change with all but the abandoned. A young man of the present day who should act as Tom Jones is supposed to act at Upton, with Lady Bellaston, &c. would not be a Tom Jones; and a Tom Jones of the present day, without perhaps being in the ground a better man, would have perished rather than submit to be kept by a harridan of fortune. Therefore, this novel is, and indeed pretends to be, no example of conduct. But, notwithstanding all this, I do loathe the cant which can recommend 'Pamela' and Clarissa Harlowe' as strictly moral, although they poison the imagination of the young with continued doses of tinct. lytta, while Tom Jones is prohibited as loose. I do not speak of young women ; but a young man whose heart or feelings can be injured, or even his passions excited by this novel, is already thoroughly corrupt. There is a cheerful, sunshiny, breezy spirit, that prevails everywhere, strongly contrasted with the close, hot, day-dreamy continuity of Richardson.”— COLERIDGE : Literary Remains, vol. ii. p. 374.
drawing-room, the pure air there is rather tainted with the young gentleman's tobacco-pipe and punch. I can't say that I think Mr. Jones a virtuous character; I can't say but that I think Fielding's evident liking and admiration for Mr. Jones shows that the great humourist's moral sense was blunted by his life, and that here, in Art and Ethics, there is a great error. If it is right to have a hero whom we may admire, let us at least take care that he is admirable: if, as is the plan of some authors (a plan decidedly against their interests, be it said), it is propounded that there exists in life no such being, and therefore that in novels, the picture of life, there should appear no such character; then Mr. Thomas Jones becomes an admissible person, and we examine his defects and good qualities, as we do those of Parson Thwackum, or Miss Seagrim. But a hero with a flawed reputation ; a hero spunging for a guinea; a hero who can't pay his landlady, and is obliged to let his honour out to hire, is absurd, and his claim to heroic rank untenable. I protest against Mr. Thomas Jones holding such rank at all. I protest even against his being considered a more than ordinary young fellow, ruddy-cheeked, broad-shouldered, and fond of wine and pleasure. He would not rob a church, but that is all; and a pretty long argument may be debated, as to which of these old types, the spendthrift, the hypocrite, Jones and Blifil, Charles and Joseph Surface,is the worst member of society and the most deserving of censure. The prodigal Captain Booth is a better man than his predecessor Mr. Jones, in so far as he thinks much more humbly of himself than Jones did : goes down on his knees, and owns his weaknesses, and cries out, “Not for my sake, but for the sake of my pure and sweet and beautiful wife Amelia, I pray you, O critical reader, to forgive me.” That stern moralist regards him from the bench (the judge's practice out of court is not here the question), and says, “Captain Booth, it is perfectly true that your life has been disreputable, and that on many occasions you have shown yourself to be no better than a scamp-you have been tippling at the tavern, when the kindest and sweetest lady in the world has cooked your little supper of boiled
mutton and awaited you all the night; you have spoilt the little dish of boiled mutton thereby, and caused pangs and pains to Amelia's tender heart.* You have got into debt without the means of paying it. You have gambled the money with which you ought to have paid your rent. You have spent in drink or in worse amusements the sums which your poor wife has raised upon her little home treasures, her own ornaments, and the toys of her children. But, you rascal ! you own humbly that you are no better than you should be; you never for one moment pretend that you are anything but a miserable weak-minded rogue. You do in your heart adore that angelic woman, your wife, and for her sake, sirrah, you shall have your discharge. Lucky for you and for others like you, that in spite of your failings and imperfections, pure hearts pity and love you. For your wife's sake you are permitted to go hence without a remand; and I beg
* "Nor was she (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu) a stranger to that beloved first wife, whose picture he drew in his ‘Amelia,' when, as she said, even the glowing language he knew how to employ, did not do more than justice to the amiable qualities of the original, or to her beauty, although this had suffered a little from the accident related in the novel-a frightful overturn, which destroyed the gristle of her nose. He loved her passionately, and she returned his affection.
“His biographers seem to have been shy of disclosing that, after the death of this charming woman, he married her maid. And yet the act was not so discreditable to his character as it may sound. The maid had few personal charms, but was an excellent creature, devotedly attached to her mistress, and almost broken-hearted for her loss. In the first agonies of his own gries, which approached 10 frenzy, he found no relief but from wecping along with her; nor solace when a segree calmer, but in talking to her of the angel they mutually regretted. This made her his habitual confidential associate, and in process of time he began to think he could not give his children a tenderer mother, or secure for himself a more faithful housekeeper and nurse. At least, this was what he told his friends; and it is certain that her conduct as his wife confirmed it, and fully justified his good opinion."--Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagı. Edited by Lord WARNCLIFFE. Introductory Anecdotes, vol. i. pp. So, Si.
Fielding's first wife was Miss Craddock, a young lady from Salisbury, with a furtune of 1,500l., whom he married in 1736. About the same time he succeeded, himself, to an estate of 2001. per annum, and on the joint amount he lived for some time as a splendid country gentleman in Dorsetshire. Three years brought him to the end of his fortune ; when he returned to London, and became a student of law.