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time when a man may carry his daughters to market with the same lawful authority as any other of his cattle." The union of pride and ignorance in this fellow is thus divertingly exhibited :
Lady Matchless. O fie, Sir Positive, you are too severe on his lordship.
Sir Positive. He is a lord, then! and what of that? an old English baronet is above a lord: a title of yesterday! an innovation! Who were lords, I wonder, in the time of Sir Julius Cæsar? and it is plain he was a baronet, by his being called by his Christian name.
Vermilia. Christen'd name! I apprehend that Cæsar lived before the time of Christianity.
Sir Positive. And what then, madam? he might be a baronet without being a Christian, I hope. But I don't suppose our antiquity will recommend us to you-for women love upstarts, by the right hand of the Traps!!
It is worthy of remark that the young author, in the prologue to his first comedy (with an amusing air of selfsatisfaction), takes credit to himself for the moral tendency of his scenes. But in this respect they were not certainly above the level of the age. In spite of his promise—
"Nought shall offend the fair one's ears to-day,
his drama was by no means deficient in the indecencies which were then considered to give a zest to humour. The truth is, that Fielding could not afford to be dull; and decorum was in that age considered synonymous with dulness. Had his play been less piquant and more moral, he might have wanted occupation for some years to come. As it was, he acquired the marketable reputation of a wit, without, in all probability, offending the delicacy of the "fair "who honoured his comedy with their countenance. When published, "Love in several Masques" was dedicated by the young author to his kinswoman and patroness, Lady Mary Wortley Montague-"that brilliant star of fashion, whose accurate judgment," says Fielding, “has (1) Act iii., scene 7.
long been the glory of her sex, and the wonder of ours." Lady Mary thought highly of her kinsman. At a subsequent period, when the results of his chequered life had afforded her a better opportunity of estimating his abilities, she thus discourses of him and his writings:-"Since I was born, no original has appeared except Congreve and Fielding, who would, I believe, have approached nearer to his (Congreve's) excellences, if not forced by necessity to publish without correction, and throw many productions into the world, he would have thrown into the fire, if meat could have been got without money, or money without scribbling."1
Fielding had now fairly embraced the profession of dramatic authorship. The reception of his first effort inspired him with sanguine hopes of future fame and emolument in this arena; whilst the society of the greenroom had a fascination for him, which even a less lively and social spirit might have been unable to resist. In the preface to "Love in several Masques," he acknowledges the "civil and kind behaviour" of Wilks and Cibber previous to the representation of that comedy, from which it may be inferred that he had managed to ingratiate himself at this early period with the magnates of the playhouse. These celebrated actors were then at the head of their profession. In the difficult character of the stage-gentleman Wilks was considered unapproachable. He was an extremely industrious and painstaking performer, being always most perfect in his parts; so much so, indeed, that Cibber (who cordially disliked him) doubted whether "in forty years he five times even changed or misplaced an article in any one of them."2 Unfortunately (in spite of
(1) Letter of Lady Montague, written in 1754.
(2) Wilks's kindness to poor George Farquhar (the dramatist), and the protection he afforded his helpless family, are worthy of commemoration. After his friend's death, Wilks found amongst his papers this pathetic note:-"Dear Bob, I have not anything to leave thee to perpetuate my memory but two helpless girls; look upon them sometimes, and think of him that was, to the last moment of his life, thine, George Farquhar." In the spirit of genuine friendship, the
many amiable and lovable qualities), his temper was not of the best; and tradition states that when age and fretfulness had impaired his constitution, a greater contrast could not be imagined than between Wilks on and Wilks off the stage. In the one case, from force of habit or the power of genius, he was all gaiety and sprightliness; in the other, he presented the picture of a feeble, tottering old man, oppressed with infirmities, and scarcely able to hobble to a hackney-coach.1
Of Colley Cibber it is sufficient here to state that he was not merely a popular actor, but one of the most remarkable men of his age. His professional cleverness was so great that it can be described as only falling short of genius; and as a dramatist, his admirable judgment made up for his deficiencies in the art of composition, so that few writers of comedy have achieved greater temporary triumphs. With all his talents, however, it was his fate to earn the hearty contempt of most of his contemporaries whose good opinion was worth having, and in the fulness of his fame his self-sufficiency and arrogance exposed him to all the shafts of satire.
The same year in which Fielding presented to the public his first comedy, he published a very indifferent poem, called "The Masquerade; inscribed to C-t H-d-g―r, by Lemuel Gulliver, Poet Laureate to the King of Lilliput." In this satire, the young author
actor held sacred his friend's bequest, educated "the helpless girls" at his own cost, and procured a marriage-portion for each of them by benefit nights.
Wilks was not merely a stage-gentleman. His ancestors were persons of "condition" in Worcestershire; and his grandfather raised and equipped a troop of horse for Charles I. The family, like many others of that time, appears to have been ruined by its loyalty: but young Wilks was liberally educated, and was appointed at an early age to a government situation. He gave up this for the stage; forming his style, it is said, upon that of Mountford, as Booth is reported to have copied Betterton.
(1) Macklin's Memoirs. London, 1804.
(2) This poem was afterwards published with "The Grub Street Opera" (1731), but is said to have been originally printed in 1728.
coarsely ridiculed the most fashionable amusement of the day, which had been brought into vogue by the notorious Count Heidegger, Master of the Revels to the licentious Court of George II., and Director of the Italian Opera. This profligate adventurer amassed and squandered a large fortune in England. He was a native of Switzerland; and it is related of him that being once asked what European was distinguished for the greatest ingenuity, he unhesitatingly replied a Swiss :-" for that he was of Switzerland, came to England without a farthing, and had there found means to get £5000 a year, and spend it, which no Englishman ever did or could do in Switzerland."1
Heidegger's personal ugliness was most remarkable; and he had wit and good sense enough to make it a subject of pleasantry. "He was the first," it is said, "to joke upon his own ugliness; and he once laid a wager with the Earl of Chesterfield that, within a certain given time, his lordship would not be able to produce so hideous a face in all London. After strict search a woman was found, whose features were at first thought uglier than Heidegger's; but upon clapping her headdress upon himself, he was universally allowed to have won the wager." When on another occasion an aristocratic tailor, named Jolly,-not remarkable for his handsome features,-presented his bill (no doubt a very long one) to a noble duke, he was met by the passionate exclamation:-" Curse your ugly face, I'll never pay you till you bring me an uglier fellow than yourself!" The tailor bowed, retired, and wrote immediately to Heidegger, telling him "that his grace wished to see him on particular business the next morning." The count attended in obedience to this summons, and found Jolly there before him, who by this ingenious device obtained his cash, and raised a hearty laugh at Heidegger's expense, in which the count joined with the utmost gusto and good humour.
(1) Dibdin's History of the Stage, vol. iv.
Though it was not the fashion at this period to foster and encourage native talent, yet it so happened that in 1728 even the attractions of the foreign opera were thrown into the shade by a genuine English production. This was "The Beggar's Opera," perhaps the most popular theatrical performance ever produced on the English stage, and which was first acted, at the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, in the season of 1727-28. Its success not only put money into the pockets of an author, and inspirited a despairing manager," making Rich gay, and Gay rich," — but also attracted the town from every other place of amusement. During its run it completely absorbed the attention of the play-going public; ladies had the songs printed on their fans; the actors in it obtained increased salaries; and the original Polly Peachum (Miss Fenton) who had been engaged by the manager at fifteen shillings per week (which was afterwards raised to the munificent sum of thirty shillings), suddenly became the toast of the town, captivated the heart of a silly peer, and was ultimately converted into the Duchess of Bolton.1 At such a time Fielding found it, in all probability, very difficult to obtain a hearing for a second comedy. He availed himself, however, of the only chance open to him, and in January, 1730, produced his play of "The Temple Beau," at Goodman's Fields; where a theatre had just been erected by Odell," which," says Dibdin, "was attacked by the citizens, and preached against by the clergy, under the
(1) See the notes to the "Dunciad," &c. "The wives and daughters of those who had turned up their eyes at the immoralities of the Italians, had the favourite airs of The Beggar's Opera' printed on their fans. . . . And that the accomplishments of Miss Polly Peachum and Miss Lucy Lockit might not remain unknown to the little masters and misses in the nursery, this moral drama was played to an audience in Lincoln's-Inn Theatre by children, and a smart pair of fetters were fitted to the little legs of a mannikin Captain Macheath. At this juvenile exhibition, the manager sent a book of the songs across the stage by a flying Cupid to Frederick, Prince of Wales, who was seated in the stage-box."- Wine and Walnuts, by Ephraim Hardcastle, vol. i. p. 53 (note).