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of peevithness, and satyric humour. The eagerness of creditors, and the fallacy of dissembling friends, would for å while sour his temper; his feelings were acute, and naturally fixed his attention to thofe objects from whence his uneasiness sprung; of course he became, very early in life, an observer of men and manners. Shrewd and piercing in his discernment, he saw the latent sources of human actions, and he could trace the various incongruities of conduct arising from them. As the study of man is delightful in itself, affording a variety of discoveries, and particularly interesting to the heart, it is no wonder that he fould feel delight from it; and what we delight in foon grows into an habit. The various ruling paffions of men, their foibles thcir oddities, and their humours, engaged his attention; and from these principles he loved to account for the consequences which appeared in their behaviour. The inconsistencies that flow from vanity, from affectation, from hypocrisy, from pretended friendship, and in short, all the dissonant qualitics, which are often whimsically blended together by the folly of men, could not fail to strike a person who had so fine a sense of ridicule. A quick perception in this way, perhaps, affords as much real pleasure as the exercise of any other faculty of the mind ; and accordingly we find that the ridiculous is predominant through all our author's writings, and he never seems so happy, as when he is developing a character made up of motley and repugnant properties, and shews you a man of specious pretences, turning out in the end the very reverse of what he would appear. To search out, and to describe objects of this kind, seems to have been the favourite bent of Mr. Fielding's mind, as indeed it was of Theophrastus, Moliere, and others; like a vortex it drew in all his faculties, which were so happily employed in descriptions of the manners, that upon the whole he must be pronounced an admirable Comic GENIUS.
" When I call our Author a Comic Genius, I would be understood in the largest acceptation of the phrase, implying humourous and pleasant imitation of men and manners, whether it be in the way of fabulous narration, or dramatic composition. In the former species of writing lay the excellence of Mr. Fielding; but, in dramatic imitation, he must be allowed to fall sort of the great masters in that art; and how this hath happened to a Comic GENIUS, to one eminently poslefied of the talents requisite in the humorous provinces of the drama, will appear at the first blush of the
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question question something'unaccountable. But feveral causes concurred to produce this effect". In the first place, without a tincture of delicacy running through an entire piece, and giving to' good sense an air of urbanity and politeness, it appears to me that no comedy will ever be of that kind, which Horace says, will be particularly desired, and seen, will be advertised again." .
This deficiency in our British Aristophanes (from whence, though.poffeffed of great comic talents, he proved not very successful in comedy) the EHayift afcribes « to the woundings which every frcih disappointment gave him, before he was yet well disciplined in the school of life, and hackney'd in the ways of men ; for in a more advanced period, when he did not write recentibus odiis, with his uneafiness just beginning to fester, but with a calmer and more difpassionate temper, we perceive him giving all the graces of description to incidents and passions, which in his youth he would have dashed out with a rougher hand. An ingenious writer * has passed a judgment upon Ben Jonson, which, though Fielding did not attain the same drainatic eminence, may be juftly applied to him. “His taste for ridicule was strong, but indelicate, which made him not over-curious in the choice of his topics. And lastly, his style in picturing his characters, though masterly, was without that elegance of hand, which is required to correct and allay the force of so bold a colour. ing.. Thus the byas of his nature leading him to Plautus, rather than Terence, for his model, it is not to be wondered that his wit is too frequently caustic; his raillery coarse; and his humour excesive.” “ Perhaps the asperity of Fielding's muse was not a little encouraged by the practice of two great wits, who had fallen into the same Vein before him; I mean Wycherley and Congreve, who were in general painters of harsh features, attached more to subjects of deformity than grace; whose drawings of women are ever a fort of Harlst's Progress, and whofe men for the most part lay violent hands upon deeds and settlements, and generally deserve informations in the king's bench. Thefe two celebrated writers were not fond of copying the amiable part of human life; they had not learned the secret of giving the softer graces of composition to their tablature, by contrasting the fair and beautiful in characters and manners to the vicious and irregular, and thereby rendering their pieces more exact imitations of nature. By making Congreve bis model, it is no wonder : Mr. Hurd.
that that our author contracted this vicious turn, and became faulty in that part of his art, which the painters would call Design. In his style, he derived an error from the same source: he sometimes forgot that humour and ridicule were the two principal ingredients of comedy; and, like his master, he frequently aimed at decorations of wit, which do not appear to make part of the ground, but seem rather to be embroidered upon it. There is another circumstance respecting the drama, in which Fielding's judgment seems to have failed him: the strength of his genius certainly lay in fabulous narration, and he did not fufficiently conlider that some incidents of a story, which, when related, may be worked up into a deal of pleasantry and humour, are apt, when thrown into action, to excite sensations incompatible with humour and ridicule. I will venture to say, that if he had resolved to shape the business and characters of his last comedy (the Wedding Day) into the form of a novel, there is not one scene in the piece, which, in his hands, would not have been very susceptible of ornament; but as they are arranged at present in dramatic order, there are few of them from which the taste and good sense of an audience ought not, with propriety, to revolt. . - To these causes of our author's failure in the province of the drama, may be added that sovereign contempt he always entertained for the understandings of the generality of mankind. It was in vain to tell him that a particular scene was dangerous on account of its coarseness, or because it retarded the general business with feeble efforts of wit; he doubted the discernment of his auditors, and so thought himself secured by their stupidity, if not by his own humour and vivacity. A very remarkable instance of this disposition appeared, when the comedy of the Wedding Day was put into rehearsal. An actor, who was principally concerned in the piece, and, though young, was then, by the advantage or happy requisites, an early favourite of the public, told Mr. Fielding he was apprehenfive that the audience would make free with him in a particular paffage ; adding, that a repulse might fo flurry his spirits as to disconcert him for the rest of the night, and therefore begged that it might be omitted.” “ No, d-mn 'em, replied the bard, if the scene is not a good one, let them find that out.” “ Accordingly the play was brought on without alteration, and, just as had been foreseen, the disapprobation of the house was provoked at the passage before objected to ; and the performer, alarmed
and uneasy at the hisses he had met with, retired into the green room, where the author was indulging his genius, and solacing himself with a bottle of champain. He had by this time drank pretty plentifully; and cooking lis eye at the actor, while streams of tobacco trickled down from the corner of his mouth, What's the matter, Garrick? says he, what are they hilling now? Why the scene that I begged you to retrench; I knew it would not do, and they have to frightened me, that I shall not be able to collect myself again the whole night. Oh! d-- mn 'em, replies the author, they HAVE found it orlt; have they?
« If we add to the foregoing remarks an observation of his own, namely, that he left off writing for the stage, when he ought to have begun; and together with this consider his extreme hurry and dispatch, we thall be able fully to account for his not bearing a more distinguished place in the rank of dramatic writers. It is apparent, that in the frame and conftitution of his genius there was no defect, but some faculty or other was fuifered to lie dormant, and the rest of courle were exerted with less efficacy: at one time we see his wit superceding all his other talents ; at another his invention runs riot, and multiplies incidents and characters in a manner repugnant to all the received laws of the drama. Generally his judgment was very little consulted. And indeed, how could it be otherwise? When he had contracted to bring on a play, or a farce, it is well known by many of his friends now living, that he would go home rather late from a tavern, and would, the next morning, deliver a scene to the players, written upon the papers which had wrapped the tobacco, in which he so much delighted.
" As it was the lot of Henry Fielding to write always with a view to profit, it cannot but mortify a benevolent mind to perceive, from our author's own account, (for he is generally honeft enough to tell the reception his pieces met with) that he derived but Imall aids towards his subsistence from the treasurer of the playhouse. One of his farces he has printed as it was donned at the theatre royal in Drury-lane; and that he might he more generous to his enemies than they were willing to be to him, he inforins them, in the general preface to his Milcellanies, that for the Wedding Day, though acted fix nights, his profita from the house did not exceed fifty pounds. A fate not much better attended him in his earlier productions : but the severity of the public, and the malice of his enemies, met with a noble alleviation from the patronage of the late
Duke of Richmond, John Duke of Argyle, the late Duke Roxborough, and many persons of distinguished rank and character; among whoin may be numbered the present Lord Lyttelton, whose friendship to our author softened the rigour of his misfortunes, while he lived, and exerted itself towards his memory, when he was no more, by taking pains to clear up imputations of a particular kind, which had been thrown out against his character.
“ Mr. Fielding had not been long a writer for the stage, when he married Miss Craddock, a beauty from Salisbury, About that time his mother dying, a moderate estate at Stower in Dorsetshire devolved to him. To that place he retired with his wife, on whom he doated, with a resolution to bid adieu to all the follies and intemperancies to which he had addicted himself in the career of a town-life. But unfortunately a kind of family-pride here gained an ascendant over him, and he began immediately to vie in splendor with the neighbouring country squires. With an eftate not much above two hundred pounds a-year, and his wife's fortune, which did not exceed fifteen hundred pounds, he encumbered himself with a large retinue of servants, all clad in costly yellow liveries. For their master's honour, these people could not descend so low as to be careful in their apparel, but in a month or two were unfit to be seen; the squire's dignity required that they should be new equipped; and his chief pleasure consisting in society and convivial mirth, hofpitality threw open his doors, and, in less than three years, entertainments, hounds and horses entirely devoured a little patrimony, which, had it been managed with economy, might have secured to him a state of independence for the rest of his life ; and, with independence, a thing still more valuable, a character free from those interpretations, which the severity of mankind generally puts upon the actions of a man, whose imprudencies have led him into difficulties : for when once it is the fashion to condemn a character in the grofs, few are willing to distinguish between the impulses of necessity, and the inclinations of the heart. Sensible of the disagreeable, Situation he had now reduced himself to, our author immediately determined to exert his beft endeavours to recover, what he had wantonly thrown away, a decent competence; and being then about thirty years of age, he betook himself to the study of the law. The friendships he met with in the course of his studies, and indeed through the remainder of his Gfe, from the gentlemen of that profession in general, and