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them to justice. Here, if they fail in rescuing the prisoner,
Voluptuousness and extravagance are cited by Fielding as the most ordinary causes which at that period induced persons to enter on a career of crime. He advocated, therefore, the rigorous interference of the law, so far as it was possible, with expensive diversions and luxurious indulgences. Whatever his private failings may have been, in theory, at any rate, he was a rigid moralist. Though he might have been himself addicted to convivial habits, as a magistrate he did not hesitate to denounce the vice of intemperance as the fruitful source of crime. His emphatic denunciation of gin-drinking-which he describes as a new kind of drunkenness, unknown to our ancestors, which had lately sprung up-might satisfy the most enthusiastic tea-totaller of the present day.
"The drunkenness I here intend (he says) is that acquired by the strongest intoxicating liquors, and particularly by that poison called gin; which, I have great reason to think, is the principal sustenance (if it may be so called) of more than one hundred thousand people in this metropolis. Many of these wretches there are who swallow pints of this poison within the twenty-four hours, the dreadful effects of which I have the misfortune every day to see, and to smell too. But I have no need to insist on my own credit, or on that of my informers; the great revenue arising from the tax on this liquor (the consumption of which is almost wholly confined to the lowest order of the people) will prove the quantity consumed better than any other evidence."
Having described in vivid colours the enervated condi
tion of a gin-drinking people, the indignant magistrate compares "the first inventor of this diabolical liquor" to "the poisoner of a fountain whence a large city was to derive its waters." He even hints at the expediency, if it were practicable, of passing a kind of Maine law, so far as spirits were concerned. "Suppose," he says, "all spirituous liquors were, together with other poison, to be locked up in the chemists' or apothecaries' shops, thence never to be drawn till some excellent physician calls them forth for the cure of nervous distempers; or suppose the price was to be raised so high, by a severe impost, that gin would be placed entirely beyond the reach of the vulgar." If such extreme measures were, however, impracticable, he contends that the State was bound to take some steps to palliate the monstrous evil. "Some little care," he concludes, "on this head is surely necessary; for though the increase of thieves and the destruction of morality; though the loss of our labourers, our sailors, and our soldiers, should not be sufficient reasons, there is one which seems to be unanswerable, and that is, the loss of our gin-drinkers: since, should the drinking of this poison be continued in its present height during the next twenty years, there will, by that time, be very few of the common people left to drink it.” 1
This powerful exposure of the monster evil of the time was not without its effect. On the meeting of parliament in January, 1751, the king's speech referred to the "outrages and violence" of which the metropolis had been lately the theatre; and a committee of the Lower House was appointed to take into consideration the most effectual means of repressing them. The proceedings before this committee are thus noticed by Horace Walpole.
(1) Of the squalid misery caused by "King Gin," an appalling representation is given by Hogarth, in his picture of "Gin Lane." The historians of the period, as well as the newspapers and magazines, all admit the magnitude of the evil.
Under the date of February, 1751, he says:-" A committee had been appointed to consider on amending the laws enacted against the vices of the lower people, which were increased to a degree of robbery and murder beyond example. Fielding, a favourite author of the age, had published an admirable treatise on the laws in question, and agreed with what was observed on this occasion, that that these outrages proceeded from gin. The depopulation of the city was ascribed to the same cause." 1 On the 12th of March following, Potter (son of the archbishop of that name), according to the same authority, "produced several physicians and masters of workhouses to prove the fatal consequences of spirituous liquors, which laid waste the meaner parts of the town, and were now spreading into the country." The magnitude of the evil being thus fully demonstrated by parliamentary inquiry, a statute was passed (24 Geo. II. c. 40, commonly called the Tippling Act), which, after reciting that "the immoderate drinking of distilled spirituous liquors by persons of the meanest and lowest sort hath of late years increased to the great detriment of the health and morals of the common people," proceeded to impose restrictions on the sale of spirits, which, although described by Walpole as "slight ones for so enormous an evil," were in fact of a very stringent character.2
The once famous "Glastonbury Waters" appear, amongst
(1) Memoirs of the Reign of George II. (2) One section of this act of parliament (which is still in force) is often productive of great hardship and injustice. By section 12, it is enacted that "no person shall be entitled to sue for, or on account of, any spirituous liquors, unless such debt shall have been bonâ fide contracted for, at one time, to the amount of 208. or upwards; nor shall any particular item or article in any account or demand for distilled spirituous liquors be allowed and maintained, when the liquors delivered at one time, and mentioned in such article or item, shall not amount to 20s. at the least." The only use of this enactment now is to furnish a fraudulent defence to a tavern-bill; and it is difficult to understand why, when the reason of a law has ceased, the English legislature should so obstinately retain it on the statute-book. Obsolete laws are often, in legal proceedings, the source of serious inconvenience and injustice.
other more important matters, to have occupied Fielding's attention in the year 1751. A man of about thirty years of age, living at Glastonbury, in Somersetshire, who was afflicted with what was considered an incurable asthma, dreamed (according to the newspaper accounts) "that he saw, near the Chain-gate, in the horse-track, the clearest pool of water, and that a person told him if he drank a glass of the same, fasting for seven Sundays, he would be cured; which actually proved true, as he attested the same on oath." As soon as this marvellous circumstance became known, thousands of persons, suffering from asthmatic and other complaints flocked to Glastonbury. Bath was almost deserted by its colony of invalids, and the merits of the new waters were everywhere vehemently proclaimed.
Fielding naturally took some interest in this matter. He was born near Glastonbury,' and had therefore a local knowledge of the scene where the alleged miracle was worked. Moreover, he was himself an invalid, and prone (as such persons often are) to try every new remedy which promises sudden relief. He accordingly visited the celebrated spring, whose virtues were then the theme of general wonderment, and, on his return to London, was able to confirm, from his own experience, the marvellous accounts of their efficacy. In answer to the numerous letters which were published in the newspapers by more sceptical persons, who doubted or denied the merits of the waters, he published in the month of September a statement in "The London Daily Advertizer." His letter is signed "Z. Z.," and was dictated, he asserts, by a sincere desire to serve his countrymen; having seen great numbers of his fellowcreatures under two of the most miserable diseases human
(1) Sharpham House, where Fielding was born, was one of the rural residences of the abbots of Glaston. It had been in the possession of the Gould family since the middle of the seventeenth century. (History of the Abbey of Glaston and Town of Glastonbury. By the Rev. R. Warner. Bath. 1826.) The writer speaks of Sharpham House as then "destined to be levelled with the ground."
nature can labour under-the asthma and evil-return from Glastonbury cured of their ailments, and having himself been relieved from a disorder which baffled the most skilful physicians. Whatever temporary relief Fielding may have experienced from this marvel-working spring, it is certain, however, that he derived no permanent benefit from it. As with many others, probably, the cure only existed in imagination.
(1) Gentleman's Magazine, September, 1751.