Imágenes de páginas




WHILST engaged in the production of "The Covent Garden Journal," Fielding did not neglect the duties of his office. As the shades of evening closed over his career, his mind lost none of its activity, albeit his body was racked with pain, and the hour of his departure, as he knew full well, was drawing nigh. Though his state of health alarmed all his friends, he dragged himself, with heroic resolution, from his publisher's office to the justiceroom; and even, when confined to a sick-chamber, busied himself with schemes of public utility, or employed his pen in composition.

As a "Westminster Justice," it curiously enough fell to his lot to carry out with vigour the provisions of the Theatrical Licensing Act, which his own dramatic productions were said to have provoked. A person named Kenrick-notorious for an infamous libel on Garrick-had written a coarse dramatic satire called "Fun," in which he attacked several prominent public characters of the day, amongst whom were Fielding himself and his adversary Hill. This piece was performed, contrary to the act of parliament, in an unlicensed room at the Castle Tavern, in Paternoster Row. Information having been given to Justice Fielding of the circumstance, he repaired to the tavern with a body of constables, and spoiled Kenrick's fun, by arresting the actors and audience on the first night of the performance. Experiments of this kind were not of unfrequent occurrence at this period. "The Gentleman's

(1) Dibdin's History of the Stage, vol. v.

Magazine" for April, 1752, relates a similar interference with an illegitimate dramatic performance of less celebrity and importance than Kenrick's :-" On advice that a set of barber's apprentices, journeymen staymakers, maid-servants, &c., had taken a large room at the Black Horse, in the Strand, to act the tragedy of 'The Orphan,' Justice Fielding issued his warrant to Mr. Welch, high constable,' who apprehended the actors, and conducted them through the streets in their tragedy dresses before the justice, who, out of compassion to their youth, only bound them over to their good behaviour."

A curious French romance of the old régime was also brought before Fielding's notice, whilst officiating as a justice at Bow Street, in April, 1752.

[ocr errors]

Application was made to Justice Fielding under the following circumstances:-Monsieur Bertin, Marquis de Frateaux, of Bordeaux, on some family quarrel had been formerly conveyed from France to Spain by some of his relations, where he was afterwards imprisoned, but escaped by the assistance of Count Marcillac, his cousin. About three years afterwards he visited England, and lodged privately at one Mrs. Giles', of Mary-le-bone, till the 27th [March], when late at night he was arrested by one Alexander Blasdale, a Marshelsea-court officer, who had with him as a follower an Italian, a person known to the Marquis, upon whose appearance the latter started and exclaimed, 'I am a dead man!' and refused to go with the officer. Mrs. Giles then sent for the Rev. Nicholas Probart, to whom Blasdale showed the writ, which Mr. Probart persuaded the Marquis to obey, and to go with the officer to his house, whither one M. Dubois accompanied him, intending to stay there till the next morning. But the Marquis and his friend had not been together more than half-an-hour, when the Italian follower acquainted M. Dubois that a person wanted him, and on his going to see

(1) See pp. 336, 337 (note).

who it was, he only found the bailiff, who roughly told him he should not pass the night there, and turned him out of doors. On his return, the next morning, with some other friends, they were told by the servant that the Marquis was gone from thence with several gentlemen, and that the bailiff was out of town. A warrant was accordingly granted by the justice, on a supposition of murder, and application made to the Lord Chief Justice for a habeas corpus, as well as to the Secretary of State, to prevent the unfortunate gentleman from being carried out of the kingdom. All, however, was to no purpose, as advice was afterwards received of the Marquis' arrival in France, when the gates of Calais were opened for his admission after the usual hour, and he was from thence carried to his father's house at Paris, and soon after removed, by order of the court, to the Bastile, to prevent any private attempts on his life. The officer who arrested him escaped out of the kingdom.'

[ocr errors]

At this time the public mind was much agitated by the trial and condemnation of Miss Blandy, for the murder of her father at Henley-on-Thames. The interesting parricide was young and handsome, and there were circumstances in her case peculiarly calculated to excite the morbid interest of sensation-seekers. Her execution at Oxford, on the 6th of April, 1752, was attended by a large concourse of spectators, and minute details concerning the dress she wore, and her demeanour on her trial, in prison, and on the scaffold, were published in all the newspapers, and most greedily devoured. Several assassinations of a

(1) Gentleman's Magazine, April, 1752.

(2) "About nine she came out of her chamber [on her way to execution], dress'd extremely neat, in a black bombasine short sack and petticoat, with her arms and hands tied with black paduasoy ribbons."-Gentleman's Magazine.

Horace Walpole thus speaks of Miss Blandy's fate, in a letter to Sir H. Mann (May 18th, 1752): "Miss Blandy died with a coolness and courage that is astonishing, and denying the fact, which has made a kind of party in her favour; as if a woman who would not stick at a parricide would scruple at a lie! We have made a law for immediate execution on conviction of murder;

hideous character occurred about the same period, and murder was then uppermost in the public mind. To improve the occasion by pointing out how certainly the Divine wrath overtakes the destroyer of human life, Fielding's ready pen was engaged in the composition of a pamphlet intended for temporary circulation. This pamphlet, which was often advertised in "The Covent Garden Journal," was entitled, "Examples of the Interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder; with an Introduction and Conclusion." It has never been reprinted.

At the close of the year, and after the discontinuance of his journal, Fielding was busily engaged in maturing a scheme for the better administration of the laws relating to the poor. The amount of pauperism in the metropolis, and the increasing number of "sturdy beggars," had been continually brought before his notice whilst officiating as an acting magistrate. After much consideration of the subject, in January, 1753, he submitted a proposal to the public, which he was sanguine enough to believe would meet the existing evil.1 His proposal contemplated nothing less than the repeal of the Act of Elizabeth, and an entire reconstruction of the poor laws. After an introductionin which he pointed out the expediency of compelling all the members of a state to contribute to its necessities in due proportion, the rich according to their means, the it will appear extraordinary to me if it have any effect, for I can't help believing that the terrible part of death must be the preparation for it." In a previous letter (March, 1752) he thus speaks of Miss Blandy's crime, and another atrocious murder which was occupying attention at this period :-"There are two wretched women that just now are much talked of, a Miss Jefferies and a Miss Blandy; the one condemned for murdering her uncle, the other her father. Both these stories have horrid circumstances, the first having been debauched by her uncle; the other had so tender a parent, that his whole concern, while he was expiring, and knew her for his murderess, was to save her life."

(1) A Proposal for making an Effectual Provision for the Poor, for amending their Morals, and rendering them useful to Society; with a Plan of the buildings proposed, and their elevations. By Mr. Fielding. Dedicated to the Right Hon. Henry Pelham, Esq.

poor by their labour-he proceeded, under fifty-nine heads, or articles, to provide for the erection, regulation, and government of a county workhouse, with a house of correction adjoining to, or incorporated with it. The articles provide for the moral and religious instruction, as well as the proper employment, of the workhouse inmates; and also for the prevention of vagrancy, then a monstrous evil. Under the latter head, there is a very stringent proposition, namely, that no poor person shall travel above six miles from home, without a pass from the magistrate, or the minister or churchwardens of his parish. The proposal was accompanied by a plan of a building for the reception and reformation of the pauperism of the metropolis, calculated to hold 3000 men and 2000 women, and to be called the Country House. Such were the main features of Fielding's scheme, which was received, it is said, with marked approval by the most eminent members of his own profession, and by many Christian philanthropists. "The Gentleman's Magazine," in examining the details of the proposal,-notwithstanding the unfavourable disposition of the conductors towards him,-admitted that it could not fail to give every one a high idea "of his present temper, manners, and ability." That some reformation was necessary-whether his own plan was a practicable one or notwas forcibly pointed out by the energetic magistrate: the amount of abject misery, and unrelieved, uncomplaining poverty which existed in the metropolis being described by him in the following pathetic terms: "If," said he, 66 we were to make a progress through the outskirts of the town, and look into the habitations of the poor, we should there behold such pictures of human misery as must move the compassion of every heart that deserves the name of human; whole families in want of every necessary of life, oppressed with hunger, cold, nakedness, and filth, and with diseases, the certain consequence of all these." To afford relief to this wide-spread wretchedness, and to pro

« AnteriorContinuar »