« ElőzőTovább »
appeared, whose faults we are disposed to magnify by a contrast with our purer books, the reäction commenced, and a flood began to rise, whose even, steady flow, has cleansed the deepening channels of our literature from many pollutions.
“Pamela” was followed in 1748 by a yet greater work, The History of Clarissa Harlowe. So powerful was the hold with which this first of our great novelists had grasped the public mind, that during the progress of “ Clarissa,” he was deluged with letters, entreating him to save his heroine from the web of misery he was slowly weaving round her. Happily for his own fame, he turned a deaf ear to such requests, and has added to our literary treasures a grand tragedy in prose, of which the catastrophe has been worthily compared to “ the noblest efforts of pathetic conception in Scott, in our elder dramatists, or in the Greek tragedians."
In less than five years, Richardson was ready with the first volumes of his third great work, Sir Charles Grandison; in which, adopting a similar epistolary style, he paints with the same minuteness of touch the character of a gentleman and a Christian. Here, it must be confessed, he somewhat fails; for we get very tired of the long-winded and ceremonious Sir Charles, and his prim sweetheart. The truth seems to be, that Richardson hardly drew Sir Charles from the life; for although well to do as a citizen of rich London, he had not the entrée of those drawing-rooms, where one or two genuine Grandisons mingled with scores of gaily dressed and foully cankered Lovelaces.
Few read Richardson's novels in this fast age; for their extreme length and minuteness of description,-in which there appears something of a womanish love of gossip-repel any but earnest students of English fiction. Our appetite for such tedious works has been spoiled by the banquets which Scott and Thackeray and Dickens have spread before us. But when we compare “Pamela” and “Clarissa” with the works that had preceded them, leaving out of sight those modern fictions which have since enriched our libraries, we shall be better able to appreciate the value of such productions, and we shall be less disposed to cavil at their faults,
SPECIMEN OF RICHARDSON'S PROSE,
which stand clearly out in the light of modern refinement. Their naturalness and comparative purity of tone made them a precious boon to reading England in the day when they were written.
Richardson's last years were spent in his villa at Parson's Green, where the ladies, whose friendship he had won by his gentle life and charming books, vied with one another in soothing the last hours of the good old man. He died in 1761, at the ripe age of seventy-two.
PAMELA AT CHURCH.
Yesterday we set out, attended by John, Abraham, Benjamin, and Isaac, in fine new liveries, in the best chariot, which had been cleaned, lined, and new barnessed; so that it looked like a quite new one; but I had no arms to quarter with my dear lord and master's, though he jocularly, upon my noticing my obscurity, said that he had a good mind to have the olive branch quartered for mine. I was dressed in the suit of white, flowered with silver, a rich head-dress, and the diamond necklace, ear-rings, &c., I mentioned before: and my dear sir, in a fine laced silk waistcoat of blue Paduasoy, and his coat a pearl-coloured fine cloth, with gold buttons and button-holes, and lined with white silk; and he looked charmingly indeed. I said, I was too fine, and would have laid aside some of the jewels; but he said, it would be thought a slight to me from him, as his wife; and though I apprehended that people might talk as it was, yet he had rather they should say anything, than that I was not put upon an equal foot, as his wife, with any lady he might have married.
It seems the neighbouring gentry had expected us, and there was a great congregation; for (against my wish) we were a little late, so that, as we walked up the church to his seat, we had many gazers and whisperers: but my dear master behaved with so intrepid an air, and was so cheerful and complaisant to me, that he did credit to his kind choice, instead of shewing as if he was ashamed of it: and I was resolved to busy my mind entirely with the duties of the day; my intentness on that occasion, and my thankfulness to God for His unspeakable mercies to me, so took up my thoughts, I was much less concerned than I should otherwise have been, at the gazings and whisperings of the congregation, whose eyes were all turned to our seat. When the sermon was ended, we stayed the longer, for the church to be pretty empty; but we found great numbers at the doors, and in the porch; and I had the pleasure of hearing many commendations, as well of my person as my dress and behaviour, and not one reflection, or mark of disrespect.
MINGLED with the delighted murmur of praise and congratulation which welcomed Richardson's "Pamela,” there rang a mocking laugh from the crowd of scamps and fast men, who ran riot in London streets, beating the feeble old watchmen, and frightening timid wayfarers out of their wits. To such men virtue was a jest; and among the loudest laughers was a careless, good-humoured, very clever lawyer of thirty-five, called Harry Fielding. Richardson scarcely heeded--for he must have expected—the jeers of the aristocratic coffee-houses; but he was bitterly mortified at Fielding's laughter, for that mad wag laughed on paper, and in 1742 gave the world the novel of Joseph Andrews, a wicked mockery of those virtuous lessons which the respectable printer of Salisbury Court had endeavoured to inculcate by his first book.
The life of Fielding has in it much of the same colouring and scenery as the life of Dick Steele--a thoroughly congenial spirit, gay, careless, improvident, witty, and excessively good-natured. Lady Mary Montagu well knew of whom she was writing, when she described Fielding as one who forgot every evil, when he was before a venison pasty and a flask of champagne.
He was born in 1707, at Sharpham Park in Somersetshire. His father was a general in the army, and his mother was the daughter of a judge. General Fielding, who was a grandson of the Earl of Denbigh, set an example of extravagance, which his celebrated son was but too ready to imitate. A broken residence at Eton and Leyden gave Harry a kind of rambling education; but,
no supplies coming from home, he was obliged at the age of twenty to cut his studies short, and try to make his bread by writing for the London stage. He entered literary life as a composer of light comedies and farces; but in this department he gained no great renown.
About 1735 he married Miss Cradock, who brought him £1500, upon the strength of which, and a small estate left him by his mother, he retired to the country for a time. But only for a time. Two years sufficed to scatter to the winds almost every guinea he had; and he came up to town again, to enter the
Middle Temple, and there complete his long suspended 1740 study of the law. Called to the bar in 1740, he struggled A.D. for a while with the opening difficulties of a lawyer's
career; but few briefs came his way, and his pen was the chief bread-winner of the household. It was principally as a pamphleteer, or political writer, in defence of the Hanoverian succession, that he employed his literary powers during this period of his life. In our day, he would have written telling leaders for the Times, or rather for the Saturday Review.
Then came that tide in the current of his life, which, taken at the flood, bore him on, if not to fortune, at least to lasting fame. Richardson published “Pamela ;" and Fielding ridiculed the senti
mentalism of the work in his Joseph Andrews. This start 1742 in the novel-writing line took place in 1742. The char
acter of Parson Adams is justly considered to be Fielding's
master-piece of literary portraiture. Now fairly embarked as a successful novelist, and fully awake to the powers of that pen, long degraded to petty uses, he continued to produce the works inseparably associated with his
His political connections, however, were still kept up. For a while he edited a journal directed against the Jacobites, who, in 1745, showed a front so threatening. And in 1749 he was appointed, through the interest of Lord Lyttelton, one of the Justices of Peace for Middlesex and Westminster. This position, similar in nearly all respects to that of a London police-magistrate, brought him in fees amounting to not quite £300 a year,
CHARACTER OF FIELDING'S NOVELS.
But though the emoluments of the office were small, and obtained by unpleasant drudgery, his position yet enabled him to observe phases of low and criminal life, which supplied fine material for his darker sketches of English society.
Unhappily, this active man never could shake off the habits of dissipation he had contracted in his early life; and such bore, in middle age, their necessary fruits. Dropsy, jaundice, and asthma seized him in their dreadful grip, and, after a vain struggle for health in England, he sailed in 1754 for Lisbon, to try 1754 the effect of a warmer climate. All was useless. His life's strength was gone. In the autumn of that year
he died in the city of his exile, and was buried there in the cemetery of the British Factory.
In spite of the coarseness and indelicacy which mar its pages, Fielding's novel of Tom Jones is recognised as a work of remarkable genius. Written in his first year of magistrate life, it contains scenes and characters which could be drawn only from the daily experiences of the police-bench. Jonathan Wild and Amelia are the principal remaining fictions of this great artist. The former depicts the career of a thief, who turns thief-catcher and ends his days upon the gallows. The latter commemorates the domestic virtue either of the novelist's first wife, or of that amiable maid-servant, who sorrowed so deeply for the loss of her mistress, that, in gratitude and tender concern for his motherless children, he made her their second mother. And he never regretted the step, for she did her duty with loving faithfulness both to him and them.
The life described in Fielding's books was—let us be thankful for the change—totally unlike the life we now live. Much of the fun was of the roughest physical kind-practical jokes that would now-a-days fill our courts of law with actions for assault and battery, and violent altercations in road-side inns, which generally ended in a row, involving everybody present, to the serious detriment of eyes and limbs. The mêlée of fishwives, cabbage-mongers, and policemen, which enlivens every second or third scene of the comic business in our Christmas pantomimes, affords us a specimen of