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Jf>o Account if the Life and Writings of Henry Fielding, Esq. point long since determined, because from thence that language
it is principally owing to that faculty of the mind that he is able to create, and be, as it were, a Maker, which is implied in his original title given to him by the consent of Greece. But surely there are many other powers of the mind as fully essential to constitute a fine poet, and therefore, in order to give the true character of any author's abilities, it should seem necessary to come td a right understanding of what is meant by gtnius, and to analyse and arrange its several qualities. .
Mr. Murphy then observes, that he may be truly said to be a Genius, who possesses the leading faculties of the mind in their vigour, and can exercise them with warmth and spirit upon whatever subject he chuses; that the imagination must be very quick and susceptible, in order to receive the strongest impressions .either from the objects of nature, the works of art, or the actions and manners of men j that the judgment also must he clear and strong, to select the proper parts of a story or description, to dispose the various members of a work, so as to give a lucid order to the whole, and to use such expression as (hall not only serve to convey the intended ideas, but to convey them forcibly, and with that decorum of stile, which the art of composition requires; that invention must also concur, that new scenery may be opened to the fancy, new lights thrown upon the prospects of nature, and the sphere of our ideas be enlarged, or a new assemblage be formed of them, either in the way of fable or illustration. The power of the mind, adds he, which exerts itself in what Mr. Locke calls the association of ideas, must be quick, vigorous, and warm, because jf is
its animated figures, its bold translation of phrases from one idea to another, the •vtrb»tn ardtnj, the glowing metaphorical expression, which constitutes the richness and boldness of his imagery; and from thence likewise springs the readiness of ennobling a sentiment or description with the pomp of sublime comparison, or ft living it deeper on the mind by the aptness of witty allusion. Mr. Murphy supposes, that what we call genius, might be still more minutely analysed; but these, he concludes, are its principal efficient qualities ; and in proportion as these, or any of these, shall be found deficient in an author, so many degrees shall he be removed from the first rank and character of a writer.
To bring these remarks home te> the late Mr. Fielding, an estimate of him, fdys his Biographer, may he justly formed, " by enquiring how far these various talents may be attributed to him; or if he failed in any, what that faculty was, and what discount he must suffer for it. But though it will appear, perhaps, that when he attained that period of Use, in which his mind was come to its full growth, he enjoyed every one of these qualifications, in great strength and vigour; yet, in order to give the true character of his talents, to mark the distinguishing specific qualities of his genius, we must look into the temper of the man, and see what byas it gave to his understanding ; for when abilities are possessed in an eminent degree by several men, it is the peculiarity of habit that must discriminate them frem each other.
"A love of imitation, continues Mr. Murphy, very soon prevailed in Mr} Fielding's mind, By imitation
Mag. Account os the Vise and Writingi os Henry Fielding, Ess. aoj
the reader will not understand that illegitimate kind, which consists in mimicking singularities of person, feature, voice, or manner; but that higher species of representation, which delights in just and faithful copies of human life. So early as when he was at Leyden, a propensity this way began to exert its emotions, and even made some efforts towards a comedy in the sketch of Don Quixote in Enghnd. When he left that place, and settled in London, a variety of characters could not fail to attract his notice, and of course to strengthen his favourite inclination. It has been already observed, that distress and disappointments betrayed him into occasional sits of peevishness, and satyric humour. The eagerness of creditors, and the fallacy of dissembling friends, would for a while sour his temper } his feelings were acute, and naturally fixed his attention to those 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 should feel delight from it; and what we delight in soon grows into >n habit. The various ruling passions of men, their foibles, their 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 low from vanity, from affectation, from hypocrisy, from pretended
friendship, and, in short, all the dissonant qualities, which are oltert whimsically blended together by the folly of men, could not sail 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 ntver seems so happy, as when he is developing a character made up of motley and repugnant properties, and mews 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 favoutire bent of Mr. Fielding's mind, as indeed it was of Theophraslus, 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. I "When 1 call our author a Comic Genius, I would be understood in the largest acceptation of the phrase, implying humorous and pleasant imitation of men and manners, whether it be in the way of fabulous narration, or dramatic composition. In tha former species of writing lay1 the excellence of Mr. Fielding; but, in dramatic imitation, he must be; allowed to fall short of the great masters in that art; and how this hath happened to a Comic Genius, t® one eminently possessed of the talents requisite in the humorous provinces of the drama, will appear at the first hlufl} of the question something unaccountable. But several causes concurred to produce this effect, In the first place, without Pp a a 2gi Aam.ii is the Life and Writingi of Henry Fielding, E/q. Biilifh
same vein before him; I mean Wycberley and Congrcve, who were in, general painters of harsh features, • attached more to subjects of deformity than grace; whose drawings of women are ever a sort of Harlot's Progress, and whose men for the most part lay violent hands upon deeds and settlements, and generally deserve informations in the king's bench. These 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, ?nd thereby rendering their piece; more exact imitations of nature. By making Coogreve his model, it is net wonder that our author contracted this vicious turn, and became faulty in that part of his art, which the painters would call dtfign. In his style, he derived an error from the fame source: he sometimes forgot that humour and ridicule were the two principal ingredients of remedy; and, like his matter, 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, an J he did not sufficiently consider that some incidents of a story, which, when related, may be worked up into a deal of pleasantry and humour, are apr, when thrown into action, to excite sensations incompatible with humour and ridicule. I will venture to fay, that if he bad resolved to shape the business and characters of his last comedy (tht
a tincture of delicacy running thro' an entire piece, an^l giving to good fense an air of uibanity and politeness, it appears to me, that no comedy will ever be of that kind, which Horace fays, will be particularly desired, and seen, will be advertised again."
This deficiency in our British Aristophanes (from whence, though possessed of great comic talents, be proved not very successful in comedy) Mr. Murphy ascribes " to the vyoundings which every fresh disappointment gave him, before he was yet,well disciplined in the school of life, and hackneyed in the ways of men; for in a more advanced period, when he did not write reeeniibus cdiii, ttitb his uneasiness just beginning to fester, but with a calmer and more dispassionate 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 Land. .An ingenious writer has passed a judgment upon Ben Johnson, which, though Fielding did not attain the fame dramatic eminence, may be justly applied to him. "His taste for ridicule was strong, but indelicate, which made him not overcurious 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 colouring. Thus the byas of his nature leading him to Plautus, rather than Terence, for }iis model, it is not to be wondered that his wit is top frequently caustic; liis raillery coarse; and his humour excessive." "Perhaps the asperity of Fielding's muse was not a little encouraged by the practice of two great wits, who had fallen into the
Account os the Life and Writings of Henry Fielding, Esq.
Wedding Day) into the form of a novel, there is not one scene in the piece, which, in his hands, would pot have been very susceptible of ornament; but as they are arranged at present in dramatic order, there are sew of them from which the taste and good sense of an audience ought pot, 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 iint!«.istandings 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 of happy requisites, an early favourite of the public, told Mr. Fielding he was apprehensive that the audience would make free with him in a particular passage; adding, that a repulse might so 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, mired into the green-room, where 3
the author was indulging his genius, and solacing himself with a bottle of champain. He had by this time drank pretty plentifully; and coding bit eye at the actor, while streams of tobacco trickled down from the corner of his mouth, IVbat's the matter, Qarrick? fays he, ivbat are they bijling pow? Why the scene that 1 begged you to retrench; I knew it would not do, and they have so frightened me, that I (hall nor be able to collect myself again the whole night. Qb / d—mn 'em, replies the author, tbty Have found it out J burnt they P
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 slia.ll 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 constitution of his genius there was no defect, but some faculty or other was suffered to lie dormant, and the rest of course were exerted wiih less efficacy; a.t one time we fee his wit superseding all his other talents; at another his itivention 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 bo 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, aud 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 wi'tte always with a view to profit,'
29+ Hiflcry of Sylvia
it cannot but mortify a benevolent wind to perceive, from our author's own' account, (for he is generally honest enough to tell the reception his pieces met with) that he derived bur small aids towards his subsistence from the treasurer of the playhouse. One of his farces he has printed as it was damned at the theatre royal in Prury-lane; and that he might be more gemroui to bis enemies than they were willing to be to him, he informs them, in the general preface to his Miscellanies, that for the IVedding Day, though acted fix nights, his profits from the house did not exceed tifty pounds. A fate not much better attended him in his earlier produc
tions; but the severity of the public, and the malice of his enemies, met with a noble allevation from the patronage of the late duke of Richmond, John duke of Argyle, the late duke of Roxborough, and many persons of distinguilhed rank and character; among whom 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.
[To be continued..]
f o the Authors of the Gentlemen,
SYlvia and Amoret were two sisters, of great beauty and accomplishments, but small fortunes; they were left very young to the care of an aunt, who having herself been very ill treated by a guardian, and conriding in their discretion, by her will left them their own mistresses at eighteen. They were soon after addressed, for marriage, by two gentlemen of great expectations, but whose fathers were alive, whom I Jhall call Philander and Biron.
Philander's father died in a short time after these attachments began; he immediately married Sylvia, and they were for a few months as happy as sincere mutual love could make them; but too soon the native inconstancy of his sex prevailed, and the wretched Sylvia experienced all the anguish and unutterable pangs of flighted tenderness; which were made doubly poignant by a fense of
VIA and AMORET.
obligation, which nothing but the utmost delicacy of sffection in the person who confers it, can make supportable to a generous mind. One affair of gallantry after another engaged him; and he regarded the once loved Sylvia, only as a restraint upon his pleasures, and an incumbrance on his fortune. He was gay and entertaining abroad; but at home silent, reserved, and sometimes even churlish.
Amoret was one day lamenting the unhappineis of her sister to Biron, whose pallion by length of time had lost its fervor, and whose mind, by a greater acquaintance with the corrupted part of his own sex, was much less delicate and sincere than when their intimacy commenced; after expressing the highest compassion for her sister, he told her, he was afraid the fault lay rather in the state than in Philander; that