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DEATH OF MRS. FIELDING. PREFACE TO "DAVID SIMPLE," ETC.-REBELLION OF '45.-" THE TRUE PATRIOT."
WHILST thus busily employed,-hanging on to the law, but subsisting mainly by literature,-Fielding was stunned by a calamity which seemed to fill up the measure of his misfortunes. The wife to whom he was so tenderly attached had been for some time a confirmed invalid. The flower of New Sarum gradually faded in the huge "brick desert," where she had, like a true woman, faithfully shared her husband's fortunes. Alas! the vicissitudes of his life were sufficient to try the strength of a more vigorous frame than hers. Every variety of fortune, from comparative comfort to absolute privation, had she experienced with him: sometimes, it is on record, they lived in decent lodgings; sometimes in a garret. Continual experience of narrow circumstances, constant anxieties, many privations, however cheerfully borne, in the end undermined the constitution, and left it open, like a defenceless city, to the inroads of disease. Still the husband was little prepared for the sudden stroke which deprived him for ever of her dear companionship on this side the grave. After many months of declining health she caught a fever, it is said, and died in his arms. Up to this moment-apprehending no immediate danger he had marked with sorrow and anxiety her
(1) "Sometimes they lived in decent lodgings, with tolerable comfort; sometimes in a garret, without necessaries; to say nothing of the sponging-houses and hiding-places in which he was occasionally found." - Letters of Lady M. W. Montague. Edited by Lord Wharncliffe. Introductory Anecdotes. (2) Letters of Lady M. W. Montague.
failing strength, but never ventured to think of final separation. The blow with which he was now stricken was too painful for endurance: poverty, with her, he could bear; sickness, pain, detraction, disappointment-all but this!
It is not wonderful that this bereavement should have powerfully affected him; for he was bound to his departed wife by no common tie. They had not been many years united when Death "sued out this strict divorce between them," but those years had been crowded with the events. of a lifetime. They had known prosperity, or apparent prosperity, together; enjoyed together the smiles of fortune; and had tasted together the bitterest cup of adversity. We need not, therefore, be surprised to learn that Fielding mourned over his loss as one that would not be comforted. His grief was so excessive that his friends feared that the consequences might be fatal to his reason. It may be that, with the tears of sorrow which he shed over his wife's early grave, were mingled those of remorse. Though a fond and faithful, had he not also been a reckless and imprudent husband? Had he not brought misery and misfortune upon himself and upon her who was no more, which common prudence might have averted? Never harsh or cruel in word or thought, had he not been so practically in act and deed? It is a beautiful trait in the human character, as every one who has lost a dear friend or relative must know, that when Death strikes down a beloved object, the first feelings which rend the heart and aggravate the tide of grief, are those of self-accusation. Then it is that every unkind deed, and thought, and word, rises up in judgment against us. Then it is that the accusing spirit. within reminds us of every selfish sin which brought disquietude, care, or misery, upon the dear departed one. Not only for what we have done do we then reproach ourselves, but for what we have left undone for words. unspoken, for duties unperformed, for self unsacrificed. Reflections like these added, in all probability, to the
poignancy of Fielding's sufferings. But, beyond this, his calamity had another circumstance of aggravation. In his painful struggles with adversity he had hitherto been supported by womanly sympathy, and the consolation which a loving woman knows so well how to administer in the hour of misfortune and disappointment; now he must labour on alone-a dark night had closed around, and a cheerless path lay before him.
Of the lasting impression which this sad event made on Fielding's mind, there is evidence in many parts of his subsequent writings. The manner in which, for instance, he commemorates Mr. Allworthy's sense of a similar bereavement (in the first book of "Tom Jones") reminds us of this melancholy passage in his own domestic life:"This gentleman had, in his youth, married a very worthy and beautiful woman, of whom he had been extremely fond; by her he had three children, all of whom died in their infancy. He had likewise had the misfortune of burying this beloved wife herself, about five years before the time at which this history chooses to set out. This loss, however great, he bore like a man of sense and constancy; though it must be confessed, he would often talk a little whimsically on this head: for he sometimes said, he looked on himself as still married, and considered his wife as only gone before him a journey which he should most certainly, sooner or later, take after her; and that he had not the least doubt of meeting her again, in a place where he should never part with her more:-sentiments for which his sense was arraigned by one part of his neighbours, his religion by a second, and his sincerity by a third.” 1
As soon as Fielding had somewhat recovered from the
(1) This description of marital constancy was perhaps intended by Fielding to apply more particularly to the case of his friend George Lyttleton, who sustained a similar loss, in the beginning of the year 1747. Lyttleton gave expression to his grief in a Monody, which was ridiculed by Smollett in a parody called "An Ode on the Death of my Grandmother :" published in "Peregrine
stupor of grief into which his wife's death had plunged him, and felt sufficient fortitude to face the world once more, he applied himself seriously to his profession. It is said by Mr. Murphy that the law "had its hot and cold fits with him;" and that "he pursued it by starts, and after frequent intermissions." These "intermissions" were not voluntary; for attacks of illness often confined him to his house, when he ought to have been in Westminster Hall or on circuit. Nevertheless, he struggled on vigorously and courageously, impelled to exertion by the strong incentive of parental affection. As to literature, for some time he abandoned it upon principle, and from motives of policy. He had found out that his reputation as an author interfered with his progress at the Bar, and the fame which he acquired was no compensation for the loss of a livelihood. Few men of his powers had ever devoted themselves to letters and reaped therefrom so little advantage. In bitterness of spirit he cursed such barren triumphs, derided the notion of purchasing posthumous fame by a life of poverty and wretchedness, and sought elsewhere for more substantial rewards.
Now and then, indeed, he was beguiled into print. In 1744, his sister Sarah published, anonymously, her novel of "David Simple," which having in the first instance been
Pickle" (first edition). In the following stanza Lyttleton gives emphatic expression to his grief:
"O best of wives! O dearer far to me
Than when thy virgin charms
How can my soul endure the loss of thee?
Abandon'd and alone!
Without my sweet companion can I live?
The dear reward of every virtuous toil,
What pleasure now can pall'd Ambition give?
Ev'n the delightful sense of well-earned praise,
Unshar'd by thee, no more my lifeless thoughts could raise.”
(1) Essay on the Life and Genius of Fielding.
ascribed to him, he was induced to prefix a preface to a second edition, in which he disclaimed its authorship, and at the same time announced his abandonment of literature. More than one motive impelled him to make this declaration: first, he was anxious to rescue himself from the charge of anonymous publication, after having in his preface to the "Miscellanies" undertaken, in the most solemn terms, never to send forth a book or pamphlet without his name.1 In spite of this declaration, many anonymous libels had been fathered upon him. Self-constituted critics affected to detect his style in every scurrilous pamphlet which was issued from the press; and busy rumour (he complained, with deep feeling) reported him the author of half the treason and blasphemy the few last years had produced. One poetical libel of a particularly gross and offensive character had been attributed to him, of the authorship of which he eagerly seized the opportunity of proclaiming his innocence. "Among all the scurrilities," he said, "with which I have been accused (though equally and totally innocent of every one), none ever raised my indignation so much as 'The Causidicade:' this accused me not only of being a bad writer and a bad man, but with downright idiotism, in flying in the face of the greatest men of my profession. I take, therefore, this opportunity to protest that I never saw that infamous, paltry libel till long after it had been in print; nor can any man hold it in greater contempt and abhorrence than myself,"
(1) "And I do further protest that I will never hereafter publish any book or pamphlet whatever, to which I will not put my name ;-a promise, which, as I shall sacredly keep, so will it I hope be so far believed, that I may henceforth receive no more praise or censure, to which I have not the least title.”—Preface to Miscellanies. 1743.
(2) Preface to David Simple.
(3) Ibid. "The Causidicade" was certainly a worthless performance. It was published in 1743, with the following title ::-"The Causidicade, a panegyrisatiri-serio-comic-dramatical Poem on the Strange Resignation and stranger Promotion. By Porcupinus Pelagius." Most of the members of the legal profession who were then in prominent business came in for their share of