Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

Conclusion of the Account of the Life and Writings of Henry

Fielding, E/9; See our last Appendix, published this

Month.

W

É are now arrived at the second grand epoch of Mr.

Fielding's genius, when, as Mr. Murphy remarks, all his faculties were in perfect unison, and conspired to produce a complete work. “ If, says he, we consider Ton Jones in the same. light in which the ablest critics have examined the Iliad, the Æneid, and the Paradise Lost, namely, with a view to the fable, the manners, the sentiments, and the style, we shall find it standing the test of the severest criticism. In the firit place, the action has that unity, which is the boast of the great models of composition; it turns upon a single event, attended with many circumstances, and inany subordinate incidents, which fecm, in the progress of the work, to per plex, to entangle, and to involve the whole in difficulties, and lead on the reader's imagination, with an cagerness of curiosity, through scenes of prodigious variety, till at length the different intricacies and complications of the fable are explained after the same gradual manner in which they had been worked up to a crisis : incident arises out of incident : the seeds of every thing that shoots up are laid (rown] with a judicious hand, and whatever occurs in the latter part of the story, seems naturally to grow out of those passages which preceded; so that, upon the whole, the business with great propriety and probability works itself up into various embarafiments, and then afterwards, by a regular series of events, clears itself from all impediments, and brings itself inevitably to a conclufion; like a river, which, in its progress, foams amongst fragments of rocks, and for a while ieems pent up by unsurmountable oppositions; then angrily dashes for a while, then plunges under ground into caverns, and runs a fubterraneous course, till at length it breaks out again, meanders round the country, and with a clear placid

tream flows gently into the ocean. By this artful management, our Author has given us the perfection of fable ; which, as the writers upon the subject have justly observed, confifts in such obstacles to retard the final issue of the whole, as fhall at least, in their confequences, accelerate the cataltrophe, and bring it evidently and neceíTarily to that period only, which, in the nature of things, could arise from it ; so that the action could not remain in suspense any longet but must naturally close and determine itself.com Rev. July, 17626

D

too

“ In the execution of this plan, thus regular and uniform, what a variety of humorous scenes, descriptions, and characters has our Author found means to incorporate with the principal action; and this too, without distracting the reader's attention with objects foreign to his subject, or weakening the general interest by a multiplicity of episodical events. Still observing the grand effential rule of unity in the design, I believe no Author has introduced a greater diversity of characters, or displayed them more fully, or in inore various attitudes. Al worthy is the most amiable picture of a man who does honour to his species : in his own heart he finds constant propenfities to the most benevolent and generous actions, and his understanding conducts him with difcretion in the performance of whatever his goodness suggests to him. And though it is apparent that the Author laboured this portrait con amore, and meant to offer it to mankind as a just object of imitation, he has soberly restrained himself within the bounds of probability, nay, it may be said, of ftrict truth ; as in the general opinion, he is supposed to Kave copied here the features of a worthy character still in being. Nothing can be more entertaining than WESTERN; his rustic manners, his natural undisciplined honesty, his halfenlightened'understanding, with the self-pleafıng shrewdness which accompanies it, and the biass of his mind to mistaken politics, are all delineated with precision and fine humour. The fifters of those two gentlemen are aptly introduced, and give rise to many agreeable scenes. Tom Jones will at all times be a fine lefton to young men of good tendencies to virtue, who yet fuffer the impetuofity of their passions to hurry them away. Thwackum and Square are excellently opposed to cach other; the former is a well-drawn picture of a divine, who is neglectful of the moral part of his character, and oftentatiously talks of religion and grace; the latter is a strong ridicule of those, who have high ideas of the dignity of our n.ture, and of the native beauty of virtue, without owning any obligations of conduct from religion. In short, all the characters down to Partridge, and even to a maid or an hoftler at an inn, are drawn with truth and humour: and indeed they abound so much, and are fo often brought forward in a dramatic manner, that every thing may be said to be here in action; every thing has MANNERS; and the very inanners which lelong to it in human life. They look, they iet, they speak to cur imaginations just as they appear to us in the world. The SENTIMENTS which they utter, are peculi rly annexed to their habits, pasiions, and ideas ; which is what poetical propriety requires ; and, to the honour of the author it must be faid, that, whenever he addresses us in perfon, he is always in the interests of virtue and religion, and inspires, in a strain of moral reflection, a true love of goodnels, and honour, with a just deteftation of imposture, hypocrisy, and all specious pretences to uprightness.”

Mr. Murphy now enters on a disquisition concerning that species of writing called the mock-epic; and into an enquiry relating to the genius and writings of Monf. de Marivaux"; whom he compares with Mr. Fielding, and justly gives the preference and the palm to the latter; from whose eminence in all the great effentials of composition, in fable, character, sentiment, and elocution, united with a rich invention, a fine imagination, an enlightened judgment, and a lively wit, our Author ventures to decide his character, and to pronounce him the English CERVANTES.

" Thus we have traced our author in his progress to the time when the vigour of his mind was in its full growth of perfecti; from this period it funk, but by flow degrees, into a decline: Amelia, which succeeded Tom Jones in about four years, has indeed the marks of genius, but of a genius beginning to fall into its decay. The author's invention in this performance does not appear to have lost its fertility; his judgment too seems as strong as ever ; but the warmth of imagination is abated ; and in his landskips or his scenes of life, Mr. Fielding is no longer the colourist he was before. The personages of the piece delight too much in narrative, and their characters have not those touches of fingularity, those specific differences, which are so beautifully marked in our Author's former works : of course the humour, which consists in happy delincations of the caprices and predominant foibles of the human mind, loses here its high flavour and relish. And yet Amelia holds the same proportion to Tom Jones, that the Odysley of Homer bears, in the estimation of Longinus, to the Iliad. A fine vein of morality runs thro' the whole; many of the situations are affecting and tender; the sentiments are delicate ; and upon the whole, it is the Odyley, the moral and pathetic work of Henry Fielding.

“ While he was planning and executing this piece, it should be remembered, that he was distracted by that multiplicity of avocations, which surround a public magistrate ; and his constitution, now greatly impaired and enfeebled, was labouring under attacks of the gout, which were, of course, feverer than ever. However, the activity of his D 2

mind many.

mind was not to be subdued. One literary pursuit was no sooner over, than fresh game arose. A periodical paper, under the title of The Covent Garden Journal, by Sir Alexander Draweanfir, Knight, and Censor General of Great Britain, was immediately set on foot. It was published twice in every week, viz. on Tuesday and Saturday, and conduced fo much to the entertainment of the public, for a twelvemonth together, that it was at length felt with a general regret that the author's health did not enable him to persist in the undertaking any longer. Soon after this work was dropt, our Author's whole frame of body was so entirely shattered by continual inroads of complicated disorders, and the incellant fatigue of business in his office, that, by the advice of his phyticians, he was obliged to set out for Lisbon, to try if there was any restorative quality in the more genial air of that climate. Even in this distressful condition, his imagnation still continued making its strongest efforts to display itself; and the last gleams of his wit and humour faintly sparkled in the account he left behind him of his voyage to that place. About two months after his arrival at Lilbon, he yielded his last breath, in the year 1754, and in the fortyeighth year of his age.

“ He left behind him (for he married a second time) 2 wife, and four children, three of which are still living, and ale now training up under the care of their uncle, with the aid of a very generous donation, given annually by Ralph Allen, Efq; for that purpose."

Thas was clofed a course of disappointment, distress, vexation, infirmity, and study : for with each of these his life was variously chequered, and, perhaps, in stronger proportions than has been the lot of

Shall we now, says our biographer, after the manner of the Egyptian ritual, frane a public accufation against his menory, or fhall we rather fuffer him to pass by quietly, and rest in peace among the departed? The former method would gratify malevolence, more especially if we stated facts with aggra. vation, or discoloured them a little by misrepresentation, and then, from premises injuriously established, drew, with a pretended reluctance, a few conclusions to the utter deftruction of his moral character. But the candid reader will recollcct that the charge of venality never ceases to be exhibited againit abilities in distress, which was our author's lot in the first part of his life, and that the first magiltrate for IV cftminiter is ever liable to imputations; for an answer to which we refer to a passage in the l'ayage to Lisbon, and a note annexed to it. Page 463, vol. IV. of the present Edition.”

The indignation with which he there throws the dishonour from him will plead in his behalf with every candid mind; inore particularly when it is considered as the declaration of a dying man. “ It will therefore, adds Mr. Murphy, be the more humane and generous office, to set down to the account of Bander and defamation a great part of that abuse which was discharged against him by his enemies, in his life-time ; deducing, however, from the whole this useful lesfon, That quick and warm passions lould be early controuled, and that dissipation and extravagant pleasures are the most dangerous palliatives that can be found for disappointments and vexations in the first stages of life. We have seen how Mr. Fielding very soon squandered away his small patrimony, which, with @conomy, might have procured him independence ; we have seen how he ruined, into the bargain, a constitution, which, in its original texiure, seemed formed to last much longer. When illness and indigence were once let jn upon him, he no longer remained the master of his own actions; and that nice deli: cacy of conduct, which alone constitutes and preserves a character, was occasionally obliged to give way. When he was not under the immediate urgency of want, thev, who were intimate with him, are ready to aver, that he had a mind greatly fuperior to any thing mean or little ; when his finances were exhausted, he was not the most elegant in his choice of the means to redress himself, and he would inítantly exhibit a farce or a puppet-thew in the Haymarket theatre, which was wholly inconsistent with the profesion he had embarked in. But his intimates can witness how much his pride suffered, when he was forced into measures of this kind; no man having a juster sense of propriety, or more honourable ideas of the employment of an author and a scholar."

Our biographer now gives us the following very brief description of Mr. Fielding's person. " He was in stature rather rising above fix feet; 'his frame of body large, and remarkably robust, till the gout had broke the vigour of his conftitution. Considering the esteem he 'was in with all the artists, it is somewhàt extraordinary that no portrait of him had ever been made. He had often promised to fit to his friend Hogarth, for whose good qualities and excellent genius he always entertained so high an esteem, that he has left

D 3

US

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »