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Fielding came of an ancient family whose splendid lineage justifies the panegyric of Gibbon. "Our immortal Fielding," wrote Gibbon, "was of the younger branch of the Earls of Denbigh, who drew their origin from the Counts of Hapsburgh. . . . The successors of Charles V. may disdain their brethren of England, but the romance of Tom Jones, that exquisite picture of human manners, will outlive the palace of the Escurial and the Imperial Eagle of Austria." Fielding's father served with distinction in Marlborough's campaigns and attained the rank of Lieutenant-General. When he was about the age of thirty he married a daughter of Sir Henry Gould of Sharpham Park, in Somerset, one of the Judges of the King's Bench, and the novelist, who was their eldest son, was born at Sharpham Park on the 22nd of April 1707. In a year or two the Fieldings removed to a small house at East Stour in Dorsetshire, and Fielding's childhood was spent by the "pleasant banks of sweetly-winding Stour" which passes through it, and to which he refers in Tom Jones. His

early education was entrusted to Mr Oliver, the family chaplain, who is said to have been the original of Parson Trulliber in Joseph Andrews. "He was indeed one of the largest men you should see, and could have acted the part of Sir John Falstaff without stuffing." In course of time Fielding was transferred to Eton, and among his contemporaries were George Lyttleton, orator and poet, who frequently came to his assistance in later years, William Pitt, for long the "great Commoner," and Pitt's rival, Henry Fox, Lord Holland. How long Fielding remained at Eton is not known; nor is it known how it was that he went to the University of Leyden instead of following the usual course of going to Oxford or Cambridge. At Leyden he is said to have studied "with a remarkable application for two years.' From his books we can gather that he was a fair classical scholar and familiar with the famous authors of classical and modern times. Nominally his father made him an allowance of two hundred a year, but, as Fielding explained, "anybody might pay that

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The only portrait of Fielding which was ever drawn was the sketch which was made by Hogarth from recollection after the novelist's death; but it appears that when he returned from Leyden, at twenty years of age, he was six feet high, of great physical strength and of immense powers of enjoyment. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, his kinswoman, writing in after years upon his wild and reckless youth, stated that "nobody enjoyed life more. His happy constitution, even when he had with great pains half demolished it, made him forget every evil when he was before a venison pasty or over a flask of champagne.... His natural spirits gave him cheerfulness when he was starving in a garret." When he returned from Leyden Fielding found himself in London without resources, and his only choice, he said, lay between being a hackney coachman and a hackney writer. He had written a play in Leyden, and it was natural that he should turn

his attention to the stage in London.


he was of age his first play, Love in Several Masques, was performed at Drury Lane.

Fielding wrote some twenty dramatic pieces before he was thirty, but the majority were hasty and ill-considered productions, which, as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu said, he would have thrown into the fire " if meat could have been got without money, and money without scribbling." When he had contracted to bring on a play he would go home rather late from a tavern, and the next morning deliver a scene to the players. In his comedies he imitated his predecessors-Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar and Vanbrugh-whose art consisted of rendering profligacy and immorality attractive, and whose success was in proportion to the audacity with which the decencies were outraged; it was only in his burlesques and farces that Fielding depicted the actual world. Before the production of his two last plays, Pasquin and the Historical Register, it has been conjectured, from an interval in his dramatic writings, that

Fielding married and lived for a while as a Dorsetshire country gentleman. But in 1736 he was in town again as lessee of the Haymarket Theatre, which he opened with a company called the "Great Mogul's Company of Comedians.' It was the production at the Haymarket Theatre of these two plays that brought the question of dramatic lawlessness, which had been long simmering, to the front, and both Houses of Parliament quickly passed the measure, without divisions or petitions against it, by which it was enacted that plays must in future be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain. The passing of the Licensing Act brought Fielding's career as a dramatist to a close. As he himself put it, he left off writing for the stage when he ought to have begun.

Fielding returned to his old love, the study of the law, and engaged in various journalistic enterprises. He started a paper called the Champion, and, we are told, wrote "a large number of fugitive political tracts." In due time he was called to the Bar, and he applied

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