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fore cannot feel the inconveniences of the bill now before us; but it is our duty to encourage and protect wit, whosoever's property it may be.. I must own I cannot easily agree to the laying of a tax upon wit; but by this bill it is to be heavily taxed-it is to be excised; for if this bill passes, it cannot be retailed in a proper way without a permit; and the Lord Chamberlain is to have the honour of being chief gauger, supervisor, commissioner, judge, and jury." 1
Let the reader picture to himself the courtly Chesterfield delivering himself of this racy piece of satire, in the stately and formal House of Peers-in those halcyon days of velvet inexpressibles and embroidered waistcoats. There is no visible emotion-certainly not the faintest appearance of a smile on his imperturbable face; only, perhaps, a slight and scornful curl of the thin, aristocratic lip. When he says, with a raised voice,―accompanied, it may be, with a gentle wave of the hand,-"Thank God! we, my lords, have a dependence of a different kind"-some matter-offact peer breaks out into an approving "Hear! hear!"pulls down his ruffles, and endeavours to look stupidly important. The witty orator receives, with the slightest and most courtly of bows, the well-meant but indiscreet applause; and gazing scornfully through his half-closed eyes at the unintellectual faces around him, adds, in the blandest tone imaginable:-" we have a much less precarious support, and therefore cannot feel the inconveniences of the bill before us." Who in that assembly would have placed himself on an equality with a poor devil of an author writing for his daily bread? if the head of the house of Denbigh were present, wouldn't he have thought it an insult to be told that he had a clever struggling kinsman who was in reality a greater man than his lordship? Did any noble peer perceive the satire which lurked in the eloquent discourse of the orator, whom Johnson, in one
(1) History and Proceedings of the House of Lords, vol. v.
sense unfairly, described as "a wit amongst lords, and a lord amongst wits"? If none of them did perceive it,-and if Chesterfield, sitting down amidst opposition cheers, received congratulations for having upheld the dignity of his order, how richly he must have enjoyed the joke; and though perhaps, even in private, he never indulged in broad, hearty laughter, the chuckle with which he contemplated his triumphant irony of the over night, as he sipped his chocolate in the morning, must have been the nearest approach to unbounded hilarity which his profound good breeding could admit of!1
About a year and a half after this, in one of his "Champions," Fielding humorously alluded to Lord Chesterfield's legislative dictum-that wit was a kind of property. His legal studies had by that time familiarised him with the Norman French black-letter jargon in which the law was then wont to veil its terrible mysteries; and it need not surprise us to find him making a sportive use of that piebald tongue. The following specimen of Law-French from his hand, is not unworthy of a place by the side of the celebrated report of the case of "Stradling v. Styles," attributed to Mr. Justice Fortescue, and published by Pope. The opinion of Mr. Counsellor Vinegar is sought on the following question :—
"If a man says of an author that he is dull, or hath no wit (seeing that wit is his property, according to a noble lord, who hath more of that property than any man), will not an action lie for the said author?"
(1) To the periodical paper called "Common Sense," Chesterfield also contributed a paper on the Licensing Act, which concludes with the following characteristic sentence: "Secondly, since wit and modesty, morality and religion, ought chiefly to be regarded in these entertainments, that everything destructive to either may be sure to be expunged; and since the fair sex have lately shown so laudable a zeal for wit, that they may have a share of the administration of it, I propose that the Lord Chamberlain's power, given by this act, be transferred to a Committee of the Maids of Honour and Bishops, who shall act in joint commission in this important affair; since the first are the best judges of wit and modesty, and the latter of religion and morality, in this kingdom."-Lord Chesterfield's Works. Edited by Lord Mahon.
'Moy semble quod si ascun dit de J. S. eteant un Poete quod est dull Action bien bolt gyser et le Resolution de le Case 1 R. A. 55. S. 16. Bien agree que ces ubi action fuit port per un Apprentice del Ley et Pilt declare quod Deft aboit dit de luy quod est Dunce, and will get nothing by the law. Et le Opinion del Court fuit quod Action bien gist, car Home Poet este heavie et nemy tam pregnant come ascun auters sont et encore un bon Lawyer. Mes quia il avoit dit que il ne boet get ascun chose per le Ley Action gist. Sic icy car si poet soit Heavie ou Dull non bolt gett ascun chose en le World. "WIL: VINEGAR."
Besides "The Register" and "Pasquin," two or three dramatic trifles belong to this period of Fielding's life. At the beginning of 1737, a farce or interlude of his was produced at Drury Lane,—and most unequivocally condemned. It was entitled "Eurydice; or, the Devil Henpecked ;”the old mythological story serving as a peg for the dramatist, on which to hang an abundance of rather commonplace satire. With a license not very felicitous, Pluto was converted into Satan, and the infernal regions were peopled with modern beaux, wits, and lawyers. Whether it was that the audience disliked the profanity of the idea, or were disgusted with the want of plot and incident-a common fault in Fielding's lighter pieces-is not recorded: certain it is that the farce was a ludicrous failure, though Macklin, then rising into eminence as an actor, played a prominent part in it. The condemnation of "Eurydice" seems to have occasioned its author much annoyance. His over-sensitive disposition could not conceal the wound which it would have been wiser to have left undisclosed; and he betrayed his vexation by the ostentatious affectation of a disregard of censure which was neither genuine nor natural. The farce was afterwards printed at the end of "The Historical Register," not "as it was acted," but " as it was damned at Drury Lane." He also brought out at the Haymarket a piece called "Eurydice Hissed; or, a
Word to the Wise," in which, without venturing to arraign. the judgment of the public, he endeavoured to show that the condemned farce had been hastily and inconsiderately composed
"The trifling offspring of an idle hour: "
an excuse which, it cannot be doubted, possessed the merit of truth, although there was more vanity than policy in urging it with such vehemence on the attention of the public. One other trifle was produced by Fielding at the Haymarket, during the existence of "The Great Mogul's Company," an extravaganza called "Tumble-down Dick; or, Phaeton in the Suds," designed as a satire on the pantomimes and spectacles then in vogue; '—and thus ends the history of the enterprise. At the close of the season of 1737, the company disbanded; "and the manager, not having attended to the voice of economy in his prosperity, was left no richer nor more independent than when he engaged in the project."2
The truth is, Fielding was one of those sanguine men who are constantly liable to over-elation by any sudden gleam of prosperity. The success of "Pasquin" induced him to believe that he had discovered the fabled stone which could turn all things into gold; and he exulted in the idea of being the great censor and satirist of his age. Perhaps it was fortunate for him that reverses taught him wisdom, together with a juster appreciation of his own
It may be said that, but for the alteration of the law, his dramatic project might have been attended with a long career of prosperity. That he himself honestly entertained this notion is evident from the following observations which occur in the preface to his "Historical
(1) It appears to have been specially aimed at Rich's harlequinade in an unsuccessful piece called "The Fall of Phaeton," acted at Drury Lane, in March, 1736. The trifle is prefaced by a satirical dedication to "Mr. John Lun, vulgarly called Esquire." Lun was the name under which Rich performed harlequin. (2) Baker's Biographia Dramatica.
Register," published in May or June, 1737: "The very great indulgence," he says, addressing the public, " you have shown my performances at the little theatre these two last years, have encouraged me to the proposal of a subscription for carrying on that theatre, for beautifying and enlarging it, and procuring a better company of actors. If you think proper to subscribe to these proposals, I assure you no labour shall be spared on my side, to entertain you in a cheaper and better manner than seems to be the intention of any other. If nature hath given me any talents in ridiculing vice and imposture, I shall not be indolent, nor afraid of exerting them, while the liberty of the press and stage subsists, that is to say, while we have any liberty left among us." This passage shows that Fielding had looked to his Great Mogul's Company as a permanent source of emolument; and that he relied upon his satirical talents to provide constant amusement for the public. But there can be little doubt that he was here much misled by vanity or an over-sanguine temperament. If he had succeeded in obtaining better actors, and if the utmost and freest scope had been allowed to his powers of ridicule, it is not likely that his company could have weathered out another season. In his dramatic satire, there was no great variety. His attacks upon public men were pointed and felicitous; but they derived their great success from the novelty of the idea; and if oftentimes repeated, would have soon palled on the public ear. That Fielding, therefore, could have continued, year after year, to have amused the town with satirical representations is highly improbable, and it was perhaps lucky for him that an act of parliament put an end to his project whilst his laurels. were still green.
His temporary success, however, produced imitators. Theophilus Cibber, some years afterwards, made several attempts to bring out a series of similar performances at the Haymarket; but the law proved always too strong