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Fielding   By: (1840-1921)

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From a critical point of view, the works of Fielding have received abundant examination at the hands of a long line of distinguished writers. Of these, the latest is by no means the least; and as Mr. Leslie Stephen's brilliant studies, in the recent edition de luxe and the Cornhill Magazine , are now in every one's hands, it is perhaps no more than a wise discretion which has prompted me to confine my attention more strictly to the purely biographical side of the subject. In the present memoir, therefore, I have made it my duty, primarily, to verify such scattered anecdotes respecting Fielding as have come down to us; to correct (I hope not obtrusively) a few mis statements which have crept into previous accounts; and to add such supplementary details as I have been able to discover for myself.

In this task I have made use of the following authorities:

I. Arthur Murphy's Essay on the Life and Genius of Henry Fielding, Esq. This was prefixed to the first collected edition of Fielding's works published by Andrew Millar in April 1762; and it continued for a long time to be the recognised authority for Fielding's life. It is possible that it fairly reproduces his personality, as presented by contemporary tradition; but it is misleading in its facts, and needlessly diffuse. Under pretence of respecting "the Manes of the dead," the writer seems to have found it pleasanter to fill his space with vagrant discussions on the "Middle Comedy of the Greeks" and the machinery of the Rape of the Lock , than to make the requisite biographical inquiries. This is the more to be deplored, because, in 1762, Fielding's widow, brother, and sister, as well as his friend Lyttelton, were still alive, and trustworthy information should have been procurable.

II. Watson's Life of Henry Fielding, Esq . This is usually to be found prefixed to a selection of Fielding's works issued at Edinburgh. It also appeared as a volume in 1807, although there is no copy of it in this form at the British Museum. It carries Murphy a little farther, and corrects him in some instances. But its author had clearly never even seen the Miscellanies of 1743, with their valuable Preface, for he speaks of them as one volume, and in apparent ignorance of their contents.

III. Sir Walter Scott's biographical sketch for Ballantyne's Novelist's Library . This was published in 1821; and is now included in the writer's Miscellaneous Prose Works . Sir Walter made no pretence to original research, and even spoke slightingly of this particular work; but it has all the charm of his practised and genial pen.

IV. Roscoe's Memoir, compiled for the one volume edition of Fielding, published by Washbourne and others in 1840.

V. Thackeray's well known lecture, in the English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century , 1853.

VI. The Life of Henry Fielding; with Notices of his Writings, his Times, and his Contemporaries . By Frederick Lawrence. 1855. This is an exceedingly painstaking book; and constitutes the first serious attempt at a biography. Its chief defect as pointed out at the time of its appearance is an ill judged emulation of Forster's Goldsmith . The author attempted to make Fielding a literary centre, which is impossible; and the attempt has involved him in needless digressions. He is also not always careful to give chapter and verse for his statements.

VII. Thomas Keightley's papers On the Life and Writings of Henry Fielding in Fraser's Magazine for January and February 1858. These, prompted by Mr. Lawrence's book, are most valuable, if only for the author's frank distrust of his predecessors. They are the work of an enthusiast, and a very conscientious examiner. If, as reported, Mr. Keightley himself meditated a life of Fielding, it is much to be regretted that he never carried out his intention.

Upon the two last mentioned works I have chiefly relied in the preparation of this study. I have freely availed myself of the material that both authors collected, verifying it always, and extending it wherever I could... Continue reading book >>

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