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The third volume of Fielding's "Miscellanies" is wholly occupied with the "History of the Life of the late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great." This is certainly the least agreeable of all his fictions. Its scathing satire and bitter truisms remind one rather of the manner of Swift than of the genial humour of the author of "Joseph Andrews" and "Tom Jones." Nevertheless, it must be conceded that none of his works display greater shrewdness of observation; and in none do we meet with sounder philosophical reflections. The "prodigious force of habit" was never better illustrated than by the conduct of Wild and the gambling Count La Ruse, when wling away the tedious hours of their imprisonment by a game at cards; “for though," we are told, "the Count knew, if he won ever so much of Mr. Wild, he should not receive a shilling, yet he could not refrain from packing the cards; nor could Wild keep his hands out of his friend's pockets, though he knew there was nothing in them." In the delineation of Wild's character and motives, there is throughout a vein of fine general satire, and the very perfection of irony. "He carried good nature," it is observed, "to that wonderful and uncommon height, that he never did a single injury to man or woman, by which he himself did not expect to reap some advantage." A remarkable acuteness, again, is shown in the following observation :-" Wild, indeed, always kept to as much truth as was possible in everything; and this, he said, was turning the cannon of the enemy upon themselves."
In the preface to the "Miscellanies," Fielding guarded his readers against expecting an authentic history of the famous thief-taker; a narrative which was to be found in its proper place-the pages of "The Newgate Calendar." "The History of Jonathan Wild," he says, "is rather a narrative of such actions as he might have performed, or would, or should have performed, than what he really did; and may, in reality, as well suit any other man as the
person himself whose name it bears." The argument is, in fact, roguery in the abstract rather than the career of any particular rogue ;-an exposition of the motives which actuate the unprincipled great in every walk and sphere of life, and which are common alike to the thief and murderer on the small scale, and to the mighty villain or reckless conqueror who invades the rights and destroys the liberties of nations. He also protested against the inference which the multitude would be too likely to draw, that he intended to write a general satire on mankind, or meant his hero to represent human nature in general. "Such insinuations," he said, "must be attended with very dreadful consequences; nor do I see any other tendency they can naturally have, but to encourage and soothe men in their villanies, and to make every well-disposed man disclaim his own species, and curse the hour of his birth into such a society." With regard to his use of the word greatness, he conceived it necessary to warn the world that the greatness he intended to satirise was that which was altogether divorced from goodness, and which seemed to resemble the false sublime in poetry. "This bombast greatness," he observes, "is the character I intend to expose; and the more this prevails in and deceives the world, taking to itself not only riches and power, but often honour-or at least the shadow of it-the more necessary it is to strip the monster of these false colours, and show it in its native deformity; for by suffering vice to possess the reward of virtue, we do a double injury to society, by encouraging the former, and taking away the chief incentive to the latter."
Such is Fielding's explanation of the design and intention of this curious work; but it can scarcely be held a sufficient excuse for the mass of disagreeable details-the revolting villanies and unrelieved depravities which it unfolds to the general reader. With all its wit and cleverness, it cannot be classed with his other fictions, nor read
with the same degree of pleasure. Yet it contains some things which scarcely any one else could have written:witness the characters of Heartfree and his wife; the Newgate scenes between Wild and the Ordinary; and the description of the hero's trial and condemnation :
"The day of his trial now approached, for which, as Socrates did, he prepared himself; but not weakly and foolishly, like that philosopher, with patience and resignation, but with a good number of false witnesses. However, as success is not always proportioned to the wisdom of him who endeavours to attain it, so are we more sorry than ashamed to relate, that our hero was, notwithstanding his utmost caution and prudence, convicted and sentenced to a death, which, when we consider not only the great men who have suffered it, but the much larger number of those whose highest honour it hath been to merit it, we cannot call otherwise than honourable.
. . For my own part, I confess, I look on this death of hanging to be as proper for a hero as any other; and I solemnly declare, that had Alexander the Great been hanged, it would not in the least have diminished my respect for his memory. Provided a hero in his life doth but execute a sufficient quantity of mischief; provided he be but well and heartily cursed by the widow, the orphan, the poor, and oppressed, . . I think it avails little of what nature his death be, whether it be by the axe, the halter, or the sword. Such names will be always sure of living to posterity, and of enjoying that fame which they so gloriously and eagerly coveted; for, according to a great dramatic poet,
Not more survives from good than evil deeds.
The aspiring youth that fired the Ephesian dome,
As a matter of some literary interest, it may be observed that there is a complimentary allusion in "Jonathan Wild" to the parliamentary reports which Dr. Samuel Johnson had been for some years in the habit of compiling for "The Gentleman's Magazine." It is well known that soon after Cave had commenced reporting the debates,
(1) The reverend gentleman's reason for preferring punch to wine, is one of Fielding's happiest hits. "ORDINARY. Why wine? Let me tell you, Mr. Wild, there is nothing so deceitful as the spirits given us by wine. If you must drink, let us have a bowl of punch; a liquor I the rather prefer, as it is nowhere spoken against in Scripture."
and when they had increased in interest and importance, he received an intimation from one of the clerks of the House of Commons that their publication had given offence to the Speaker, and that measures would be taken to interfere with it as a breach of parliamentary privilege. Upon this, Mr. Urban hit upon the expedient of giving fictitious names to the speakers in parliament, and to places and countries alluded to in debate; and as "Gulliver's Travels" were then widely read, and in the height of their popularity, the Houses of Lords and Commons were transformed into the senate of Magna Lilliputia; the peers were termed Hurgos; France was called Blefuscu; and a similar liberty was taken with other names of places and persons. Happily, Cave published in his magazine, from time to time, a key to this curious jargon, or otherwise orators might have been unable to recognise their harangues in the ornate phraseology of the reporter. To this Fielding alludes in his account of Jonathan Wild's courtship, when, having quoted his love-letter, and remarked on the difference presented in its style of elaborate compliment to the writer's ordinary discourse, he observes that the ancients (particularly Sallust) embellished their narratives with speeches which had obviously received some flourishes from the eloquence of the historian. "Nay," he adds, "even amongst the moderns, famous as they are for elocution, it may be doubted whether those inimitable harangues, published in the monthly magazines, came literally from the mouths of the HURGOS, &c., as they are there inserted, or whether we may not rather suppose some historian of great eloquence hath borrowed the matter only, and adorned it with those rhetorical flowers for which many of the said HURGOs are not so extremely eminent."
This curious experiment in the art of parliamentary reporting answered so well that it enabled Cave to set up his coach, and raised the credit of the English legislature so high as to draw from Voltaire the remark, that the
eloquence of Greece and Rome was revived in the British senate."1 With respect, however, to the reporter's impartiality and fidelity, it is only necessary to refer to his avowed confession, that he took care "the Whig DOGS should never have the best of the argument." Nothing also can be more strikingly Johnsonian than the pointed, antithetical sentences put into the mouths of all the speakers, good, bad, and indifferent,-so that the blunt Sir John Barnard, famed for his vulgarisms, the courtly Wyndham, the polished Pulteney, and the impetuous Pitt, were made to deliver their sentiments precisely in the same style and language.
(1) Hawkins' Life of Johnson.