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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. Tho 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
THE PLAY AND THE NOVEL.
the same boisterous humour. Everything is pelted about, and everybody beats everybody else, until the noisy crowd is hustled off the stage, and the scene or chapter ends. The tedious mode of travelling, especially the crawling of the stage waggon or slow coach of those days, necessarily gives a striking prominence to inn-life; for those who travelled much, a hundred years ago, spent one-third of their nights in the Maypoles and Blue Dragons that lined every road. The highwayman, too, is sure to figuro. wherever the progress of travellers is depicted. And here the novelist has ample scope for displaying the courage of his hero, or the cowardice of some braggart soldier, who has been swearing and twirling his moustache fiercely ever since the coach set out, but who turns pale, and with shaking hand fumbles silently for his purse, when the ominous pistol-barrel shows its dark muzzle
, at the coach window.
Fielding's early practice as a writer for the stage formed his first literary training for the great works that have made his name famous. We may safely hazard the conjecture, that his novels would have wanted much of their brilliant, changeful play, and skilful development of story, if his pen had not been well practised already in the farces and vaudevilles of his dramatic days. A play may be viewed, not improperly, as the skeleton of a novel. The frame-work of dialogue is there, which, being filled up and clothed with passages of description, grows into the full work of fiction. A play acted on the stage before us, and a novel in the hand, from which we read, address the mind through different channels, but with like result. In a play, we see the bustling movement of the plot, the varied dresses of the actors, and the painted scenery amid which they play their parts; and, combining these with the spoken words, we trace the outline of each individual character, and become wrapped in the interest of the story. In the novel, action, costume, and scenery are depicted by those descriptive passages, of which Sir Walter Scott was so fine a painter.
As soon as the play, which was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, began, Partridge was all attention, nor did he break silence till the entrance of the ghost; upon which he asked Jones : “What man that was in the strange dress; something," said he, "like what I have seen in a picture. Sure it's not armour, is it?" Jones answered: “ That is the ghost. To which Partridge replied, with a smile: “ Persuade me to that, sir, if you can. Though I can't say I ever actually saw a ghost in my life, yet I am certain I should know one if I saw him better than that comes to. No, no, sir; ghosts don't appear in such dresses as that neither.” In this mistake, which caused much laughter in the neighbourhood of Partridge, he was suffered to continue till the scene between the ghost and Hamlet, when Partridge gave that credit to Mr. Garrick which he had denied to Jones, and fell into so violent a trembling that his knees knocked against each other. Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of the warrior upon the stage. “O la ! sir,” said he, “I perceive now it is what you told me. I am not afraid of anything, for I know it is but a play; and if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance, and in so much company; and yet if I was frightened, I am not the only person."
• Why, who," cries Jones; “ dost thou take me to be such a coward here besides thyself ?” “Nay, you may call me coward if you will; but if that little man there upon the stage is not frightened, I never saw any man frightened in my life. Ay, ay; go along with you! Ay, to be sure! Who's fool, then ? Will you? Who ever saw such foolhardiness? Whatever happens, it is good enough for you. Oh! here he is again! No further ! No, you've gone far enough already; further than I'd have gone for all the king's dominions !" Jones offered to speak, but Partridge cried : “Hush, hush, dear sir; don't you hear him?" And during the whole speech of the ghost, he sat with his eyes fixed partly on the ghost, and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open; the same passions, which succeeded each otber Hamlet, succeeding kewise him.
THIRD among the grand old masters of English fiction, both in date of appearance as an author and in rank as a novelist, comes Tobias Smollett. Born in 1721, at Dalquhurn-house near Renton, in Dumbartonshire, and educated at the Grammar School of Dumbarton and the University of Glasgow, this boy of gentle blood entered upon life as an apprentice to Mr. Gordon, an apothecary in Glasgow. His grandfather, Sir James Smollett of Bonhill, who had borne the expenses of his education, having died without leaving him any further provision, the youth of nineteen made his way up to London, carrying among his few shirts a tragedy, called The Regicide, which he fondly hoped would raise him ‘at once to the pinnacle of fame and fortune. How many poor fellows have toiled nightly for months over a crazy desk, and have then trudged weary miles up to the Great Babylon with the same high hope burning in their young hearts ! And how many, a dozen years after that sanguine, light-hearted journey to town, have found nothing left of those bright hopes but a few smouldering embers amid the grey ashes of a disappointed life!
The Regicide being refused by the London managers, Smollett had to fall back upon the profession he had learned from Gordon. Finding the stage doors shut against him, he sought the humble position of surgeon's mate in the
after some time, appointed to an eighty-gun ship. It was thus that he acquired his wonderful knowledge of sailors and sailor-life. His ship forming one of the fleet which was despatched against Carthagena with
PUBLICATION OF “RODERICK RANDOM.'
Bo disastrous a result, he had an opportunity of witnessing and feeling the horrors of naval warfare. The story of the expedition may be found in his novel of Roderick Random, and also in his Compendium of Voyages and Travels. During a short residence in Jamaica he met Miss Lascelles, the lady who afterwards became his wife.
Upon his return to London in 1744 he endeavoured to establish himself as a medical man; but the attempt was unsuccessful Betaking himself more eagerly to the pen, when the lancet failed him, he wreaked his revenge upon those whom he considered his foes, by the publication in 1746 of Advice, a satire, which has been well characterized as possessing all the dirt and vehemence of Juvenal, with none of that writer's power. All through life Smollett's unhappy temper preyed upon his own spirit, and made enemies of some who might otherwise gladly have befriended the struggling genius. He was one of those poor men who aim too high at the outset of their career, and who for ever after their first failure are possessed with the haunting monomania, that all the world has entered into an envious plot to slight their works and deprive them of their justly-earned fame.
Another coarse and bitter satire, The Reproof, in which actors, authors, and critics were abused without stint or measure, produced a yet deeper feeling of disgust against the irritable surgeon —a feeling which the publication of Roderick Random in 1748 could scarcely abate. This first novel at once 1748 stamped Smollett as one worthy to rank with the great masters who were then plying the novelist's pen. But his works are evidently the creations of a somewhat inferior mind. There are, indeed, in Smollett's books an innate coarseness and an unscrupulous love of the indelicate, which we do not find in the works of Richardson or Fielding. Theirs is rather the coarseness of the age in which they lived; Smollett's is the coarseness of a man the fibre of whose moral nature was as rough as the roughest sacking.
His second novel, Peregrine Pickle, followed in three years. It is disfigured by the same faults as its predecessor. Another at