Imágenes de páginas

write down particular opinions-was a most unjust and illiberal insinuation. His heart was in his work; he expressed his genuine opinions-opinions to which he had consistently clung through evil and through good report; he started his journals in times of difficulty and of danger, and only ceased writing when he believed there was no further necessity for his labours.1

Grave anxieties for the future he must, at this period of his life, have reasonably entertained. He was now above forty, and frequent attacks of the gout disabled him altogether from pursuing his profession. To have relied upon his pen for the means of supporting his wife and family Iwould have been almost madness. Literature is at all times but a precarious trade-a fragile staff to lean upon; and if it be so to the strong, what would it have been to the confirmed valetudinarian, whose body was sometimes so racked with pain that it was impossible for him to hold a pen! Without some regular employment-some certain means of subsistence-Fielding's prospects were dark indeed. In this extremity he was induced to accept an office which was then considered disreputable, but which was the only appointment his friends were able to procure for him. Such as it was, he owed it, not to his writings on behalf of the government, but to the inter

(1) A scurrilous epitaph on Mr. Trott-plaid appeared in the "Old England" newspaper of November 20th, from the pen of Fielding's bitter antagonistPorcupine Pillage." The following is the first stanza of this contemptible doggrel :


"Beneath this stone

Lies Trott-plaid John,
His length of chin and nose;

His crazy brain,
Unhum'rous vein,

In verse and eke in prose."

The peculiarity in Fielding's features here alluded to (viz., the prominence of nose and chin) is very observable in the portrait sketched by Hogarth from recollection, and in the miniature preserved by his daughter, and engraved in Hutchins' "History of Dorset," vol. iii., and Nichols' "Library Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century."

cessions of his schoolfellow and friend, George Lyttleton, who had been made one of the lords of the Treasury in 1744. Through his powerful advocacy, towards the close of the year 1748, our great novelist was nominated to the office and emoluments of a justice of the peace for Middlesex and Westminster-a sphere of duty in which he speedily earned for himself credit and distinction.




FIELDING appears to have commenced his duties as an acting magistrate for the county of Middlesex, and city and liberties of Westminster, in the month of December, 1748.1 The office of a paid Middlesex magistrate was not at this time held in very high estimation. According to the popular notion, his worship generally realised a large income by mulcting rich offenders, whilst he upheld the terrors of his office by sending the poor ones to Bridewell or Newgate. The nick-name conferred on him-that of a trading justice-expressed the character of his office. He was paid by fees-certainly the most objectionable mode of remunerating a public functionary; and the commercial value of his post rose and fell with the depression or prosperity of crime. The portrait of the justice of the peace in "Hudibras"-perhaps not overdrawn for the period at

(1) In "The General Advertizer" for December 10, 1748, it is stated that one John Salter was committed to the Gatehouse, the day before, by Henry Fielding, Esq., " of Bow Street, Covent Garden, formerly Sir Thomas de Veil's." The illness and retirement of an esteemed magistrate, about this time, had probably caused the vacancy which the novelist was promoted to fill; for in "The General Advertizer" of December 19, 1748, appears the following flattering obituary:" On Saturday last died, after a few days' illness, aged seventyeight, at his house in Bow Street, Covent Garden, John Poulson, Esq., who hath been one of his Majesty's justices of the county of Middlesex, and city and liberties of Westminster, for upwards of thirty-seven years. He was a loving and affectionate husband, a tender parent, a good master, a true and faithful friend, and charitable to the oppressed, which makes him greatly lamented by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance." And in the same paper we read, that on the day of Justice Poulson's decease, one John Fandley was committed to the Gatehouse by Henry Fielding, Esq."

which it was sketched-was considered applicable, in its most prominent features, to the same officer administering justice in the eighteenth century:

"An old dull sot, who toll'd the clock
For many years at Bridewell dock,
At Westminster and Hicks' Hall,
And Hiccius Doctius played in all;
Where, in all governments and times,
He'd been both friend and foe to crimes.

Let out the stocks and whipping-post,
And cage, to those who gave him most;
Imposed a tax on bakers' ears,
And for false weights on chandelers;
Made victuallers and vintners fine
For arbitrary ale and wine;

But was a kind and constant friend
To all that regularly offend."

Most of Fielding's friends looked upon his acceptance of such an office as a degradation; whilst his enemies affected to compassionate him. Paul Whitehead, in a poetical epistle to Dr. Thomson, has contemptuously referred to the literary magistrate,1 and narrated an anecdote, in a note, which, if authentic, shows the estimation in which the office he filled had been formerly held by men of letters. "It is reported," he says, "that during the time Mr. Addison was secretary of state, when his old friend and ally, Ambrose Phillips, applied to him for some preferment, the great man very coolly answered, that 'He thought he had already provided for him by making him justice for Westminster;' to which the bard, with some indignation, replied, "Though


"Rich in these gifts, why should I wish for more?
Why barter conscience for superfluous store?

Or haunt the levée of a purse-proud peer

To rob poor F-d-g of the curule chair."

And, after relating the anecdote printed in the text, the satirist adds:-"However great men in our days may practise the secretary's prudence, certain it is the person here pointed at was very far from making a precedent of his brother poet's principles."

poetry was a trade he could not live by, yet he scorned to owe his subsistence to another that he ought not to live by."

That the discreditable practices of many of his predecessors had made the office disreputable, Fielding well knew; and he also soon found out, to his great disquietude, how difficult it was for any man in such a situation to escape from grave imputations and ill-natured criticism. The proceedings of the Middlesex justice had too long been associated with fraud and extortion to permit him an exemption from calumny. But in his case, it may be maintained, without any fear of serious contradiction, that the aspersions of his unscrupulous enemies are as little to be trusted as the idle accusations of the thoughtless and censorious. It is more than probable that he might have made his office more remunerative if he had followed the example of some of his judicial brethren; but his proud and independent spirit shrank with indignant sensitiveness from any practice which savoured of meanness or dishonour.1

(1) A short manual, written by the celebrated Bow Street justice, Sir Thomas de Veil, and published after his death, for the instruction of Middlesex magistrates, illustrates the unsatisfactory position of "the trading justice," the dangers and temptations to which he was exposed, and the small consideration in which he was held :

"A justice of the peace should be firm in his resolution to act according to the several statutes relating to the office of a justice, and not be biassed by entreaties or shaken by threatenings. He is to avoid familiarity with the constables, who are too apt to take great liberty upon such freedoms, which greatly lessen the dignity of a magistrate.

"A justice of the peace must be very careful to distinguish well what is cognisable before him and what is not; for the Old Bailey solicitors, &c., make it their business to entangle him in difficulties, and do very often bring matters before him in a very courteous manner, and use the most plausible arguments to induce him to act in a thing which they at the same time know is only cognisable in the courts of Westminster Hall; but whenever they prevail, and have effected their design, they immediately cause an action to be brought against the justice for concerning himself where he had no jurisdiction. . .

"As to justice's fees or perquisites, the best rule is to observe strictly the oath of office; which tells you what you may safely take yourself, or suffer your clerk to receive for you; which last method is best suitable to the dignity of that honourable station. For though a justice of the peace be never so just in taking only what he has a right to, yet the receiving that himself brings a contempt on the office, as well as on the justice that doth it; and makes those persons who

« AnteriorContinuar »