17 NOVEMBER 1855, Page 27

LAWRENCE'S LIFE OF FIELDING. * IN strictness, De Foe is the

first English novelist; for although tales of romance and so-called pictures of passing life were written before his time, they were so feeble, unnatural, and temporary in their fashion, disgusting indecency being then one fashion, that almost their very names have perished. De Foe's own enduring fame has been achieved by accident rather than judgment, at least as a novelist. Of his two works which are most generally read, the History of the Plague is not strictly a novel at all, though a fictitious narrative so wonderfully real and true-looking has never been written. That unrivalled production Robinson Crusoe, not- withstanding its happy invention and the exhibition of the 'etural in circumstances quite unnatural, is a piece of fortune as refs- do its subject, and at all events bears no resemblance to the novel of actual life. The other stories of De Foe are undoubtedly pictures of life ; but it is a life so common, low, and physical, that it scarcely rises to fiction. The writer was not licentious in spirit, but his subjects compelled him to be gross, unless the Cavalier be excepted. These characteristics have limited the circulation of his tales now- a-days to students of literature and manners, and to the vulgar, whom Colonel Jack and Moll Flanders still attract, in abridg- ments.

In these times few will consider the slow-moving and pedanti- cally sentimental Richardson a true describer of life and manners. Fielding must therefore be considered the first real English novel- ist. His representations were of a higher and more varied kind than those of De Foe. His characters were not only strongly in- dividual, but types of social classes, often indeed of human nature itself. The virtues and vices of mankind were naturally presented —perhaps too naturally, from the predominance of animal healthi- ness in the author's nature ; but there they were, " a mingled

• The Life of Henry Fielding; with Notices of his Writings, his Times, and his Contemporaries. By Frederick. Lawrence, of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-law.

Published by Hall and Virtue.

Yarn, good and ill together. The evils a vicious social system engrafts upon nature were sometimes brought out staringly in his persons; the errors of opinion and their abuse in practice are con- tinually touched with so much delicacy, humour, and distinctness, that they made their way where declamation would have utterly failed, and unconsciously influenced the public mind. Among his other merits, Fielding is entitled to be ranked as a social reformer.

In addition to these broader and deeper characteristics, Fielding had a well-constructed story, with sufficient incidents interesting in themselves and adapted to enforce the purpose of the writer or to carry on his plot. Tom Jones rises to the fable of the epic critics : Coleridge ranks it as one of the three most perfect ever formed. The author's wide acquaintance with life, his powers of humour and satire, impart truth to his pictures of manners • so that he deserves to be studied as an exhibiter of his age. His style is easy, clear, and flowing, beyond that of most other prose writers; so much so, that to our rhetorical and epigrammatic tastes it seems rather deficient in force. Much censure has been passed upon his moral tone, and not without justice. He had not, indeed, the grossness of feeling that characterizes Smollett, who scarcely seems to have an idea of sexual morality apart from some tangible ill consequences to somebody. Neither is licentiousness even in Tom Jones made the main ground of adventures, as it often is in _Roderick Random. and Peregrine Pickle. Still, Fielding's ideas are coarse—those of the male world, which in his day was bad enough, and he passed the greater part of his life among the worst portion of it. This circumstance, and the ill repute it brought upon his name, coupled with a style tending to discursiveness, and the temporary nature of manners, have limited his popularity. No work of Fielding is read like Robinson Crusoe or the Vicar of Wakefield.

The life, character, and literary merits of Fielding, have been handled by many writers, from Murphy, soon after the novelist's death, to Thackeray in this very day. A new biography is useful as bringing together all that is known of the novelist, in the present manner, and in the form of a new book, rather than as absolutely necessary to supply what is otherwise scarcely attainable. In this light, Mr. Lawrence's Life of Henry .Fielding is a useful addition to entertaining knowledge. It tells in a clearly-written narrative all the °known facts of the hero's life. These leading features are enriched with minute par- ticulars relating to the family, the locality, or the times, drawn from various works of the present generation, and which only industry and watchful care could have collected. Like Mr. Forster in his Life of Goldsmith, Mr. Lawrence illustrates the biography of Fielding by notices of contemporary writers of inferior grade, and by passing sketches or anecdotes of the period. To a thorough ap- preciation of Fielding's literary merit and position he adds a well- considered toleration for his weaknesses and irregularities, without losing sight of his faults, in the contemplation of adverse circum- stances, the manners of his day, and the natural constitution of the man—healthy, enjoying, and sufficiently strong to throw off for awhile the effects of excesses and literary labour. They over- took him, however : he died in middle age, worn out by a compli- cation of disorders.

Mr. Lawrence sees clearly enough that Fielding was one of those lavish " goodnatured " then whom no fortune can save from dif- ficulties; for when they cannot spend, they give, or throw away. This was in a measure hereditary. His father, General Fielding, was a man of the same stamp. After giving his son an education at Eton and Leyden, then celebrated as a university, the General turned him adrift at twenty on London life, and would seem to have squandered two hundred a year to which his son was entitled. Thus abandoned, young Fielding, like many other English wits for a century and more, directed his attention to the theatre ; and in the course of some dozen years (1728-1740) produced upwards of twenty pieces for the stage, besides pamphlets and temporary satires. Of his dramas only three survive in the public mind,— The Miser, The Mock-Doctor both from Moliere, and Tom Thumb. Feeling the want of some regular mode of subsistence, he entered himself as a student of the Middle Temple, in 1737, and was called to the bar in 1740. His practice, if he had any, must have been uncertain. The fact is, he was called somewhat late in life ; his literary and theatrical pursuits, (for he was a sort of manager for a few years,) and the notoriety literary quarrels gave to his irregular habits, were not likely to tempt attorneys. Accident, too, in 1740 drew him into the line of literature which was to establish his permanent fame. Towards the end of that year, Richardson had published his Pamela or Virtue Rewarded, which had an immense run. Fielding was one of the few who saw the calculating nature of the " virtue," the sickly sentiment and false morality of the piece. The idea of Joseph Andrews struck him : its appearance and success perhaps further militated against forensic fortune. For the next six or seven years Fielding struggled on as it might be, doing legal business if he really got any, editing two or three journals half-essay half-newspaper, and published his "Miscellanies " by subscription, in which first appeared the Journey to the Next World and Jonathan Wild. In this interval he wrote Tom Jones ; but it was not published till after he was appointed, in 1748, a paid Justice for Middlesex, by the interest of Lyttleton. This office, then in the lowest estimation, he filled in a manner to show that his talents were practical as well as literary. He exhibited a competent knowledge of law ; he was active and energetic in sup- porting" order, and in putting down open robbery and violence, then very prevalent even in the day-time ; and as deliberate meanness

was not among his vices, he raised as much as an individual could do the reputation of his employment. It is probable that his ex- ertions in an unaccustomed way might somewhat hasten his end. In 1754 he went to Lisbon in a hopeless state, and died two months after, in the forty-eighth year of his age. The reader who wishes to have this brief outline of the literary and legal career of Henry Fielding filled up, will do well to pro- cure Mr. Lawrence's volume. He will also find there an account of his private life and personal character, with sketches of some of his contemporaries. Here is one, to whom Goldsmith's epitaph on a hackney writer might have been applied; though we must not assume, with Macaulay, that this was the normal condition of all writers. The man had much to do with the misfortunes.

"Samuel Boyse, the writer of the poem on the Deity, was during this bitter year of 1740 the victim of the most abject poverty. Without clothes to walk abroad, be spent the whole of his time in bed, huddled up in some old blankets, for sheets he had none, through which there was a hole for the passage of his arm when he wrote for the purpose of procuring a daily meal. Imagination cannot picture any sight more miserable than this poor shiver- ing wretch, in his desolate garret, pursuing under such circumstances his literary labours. That those labours were but ill-requited, is tolerably evi- dent, not only from his extreme poverty, but also from the character of his employers. Cave, the proprietor of The Gentleman's Magazine, was one of these. He was in the habit of purchasing Boyse's poetry, and paying for it by the hundred lines ; but after a time, taking advantage of the author's poverty, he insisted on making this the long hundred' ; and BQ got his ten or twenty lines in. That grave misconduct, however, as well as the nig- gardliness of his patrons, contributed to the poet's calamity, may be well conceived. For the sensual enjoyment of the hour he submitted to days of misery ; and though common prudence might not have insured him a com- petence, it would have preserved him from some of the worst ills of poverty. Whatever he possessed soon found its way into the hands of the pawnbroker ; books, clothes, everything went the same way ; and when redeemed by his friends, they were soon pawned again. Dr. Johnson, a genuine Samaritan in his way, collected on one occasion a considerable sum to release Boyse's clothes, in order that he might rise from his uncomfortable couch ; but in two days the clothes were pawned again. ' The sum was collected,' the Doc- tor afterwards said, ' in sixpences, at a time when to me sixpence was a se- rious consideration.'

"What hope was there in such an age for such a man as this? No art could lure him within the pals of comfort and civilization ; misery could not reform, experience could not instruct him. Yet Boyse had been carefully nurtured and educated, and possessed at one time troops of generous and sympathizing friends. He was the son of an English Dissenting minister, residing in Dublin ; where he received his early education. At eighteen the youth was sent to Glasgow ; and here he committed his first worldly mistake by an early and improvident marriage. His poetical abilities afterwards procured patrons, who one by one became disgusted with his imprudence or alienated by his arrogance. At length he found himself in London, an au- thor of all work, in the days of Savage, Johnson, Amherst, and Rolt. The privations he endured, in common with other members of his craft, have been above sketched. Poverty and dependence became, as years rolled on, his normal condition. It was not a strange thing for him to fast for days to- gether. In July 1742, he addressed to Cave a letter from a sponging-house, in which, piteously imploring a pecuniary advance, he said—' I am every moment threatened to be turned out here, because I have not money to pay for my bed two nights past, which is usually paid beforehand ; and I am loth to go into the Compter till I see if my affair can possibly be made up. I hope, therefore, you will have the humanity to send me half-a-guinea for support, till I can finish your papers in my hands I humbly entreat your answer ; having not tasted anything since Tuesday evening I came here; your

my coat will be taken off my back for the charge of the bed ; so that I must go into prison naked, which is too shocking for me to think of.' * * " This appeal, it is satisfactofy to find, was responded to by Cave, who forwarded half-a-guinea to his distressed journeyman."

Fielding probably never reached this degradation, 'though an enemy describes him as having "bilked every lodging for ten years together, and every alehouse and every chandler's ishop in every neighbourhood." His imprudence when flush of money, in his early years, may have been as great as Boyse's. After his ap- pointment as Justice, which gave him a regular income, there seems no reason to suppose that he was ever in want, though he might be, as the Irish say, in " trouble."