Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

After this, his sufferings almost entirely ceased. The breezes of the south could not, indeed, re-invigorate the wasted frame, or restore to health the shattered valetudinarian, but they breathed gratefully on his sick-bed, and smoothed his passage to the grave. His death was, on the whole, a happy one. His wife and child watched over him with womanly care and affectionate solicitude, anticipated every want, and cheered him with pleasant converse. Undisturbed by racking pain, in full possession of the faculties of hearing, speech, and sight, with an unclouded intellect, and a mind well-prepared, he calmly beheld the approach of Death, marked his upraised dart, and yielded without a shudder.

Thus perished, in a foreign land, one of the most thoroughly English writers of whom England can boast. Sad and strange it seems that not a foot of English ground should have been vouchsafed to cover his remains; and strange also, that after his body was committed to the grave, the first attempt to pay a tribute to his memory, and to mark his last resting-place with a fitting memorial, proceeded from a foreigner! The Chevalier de Meyrionnet, French consul at Lisbon, wrote an epitaph on Fielding, soon after his decease, in the French language, and proposed, at his own expense, to erect a monument to him. Such a proposal from a foreigner naturally excited a spirit of emulation amongst the numerous countrymen of the novelist residing in Lisbon. A monument1 was accord

(1) This tomb is thus described by Sir Nathaniel Wraxall:

[ocr errors]

"If I could not discover the place of Camoen's interment, I at last found out the grave and tombstone of the author of Tom Jones.' Fielding, who terminated his life, as is well-known, at Lisbon, in 1754, of a complication of disorders, at little more than forty-seven years of age, lies buried in the cemetery appropriated to the English factory. I visited his grave, which was already nearly concealed by weeds and nettles. Though he did not suffer the extremity of distress under which Camoen and Cervantes terminated their lives, yet his extravagance a quality so commonly characteristic of men distinguished by talents-embittered the evening of his days."-Wraxall's Memoirs of my own Time, vol. i. 1818.

ingly placed, at the cost of the English factory, over the spot where all that was mortal of the author of so many imperishable creations has long since crumbled into dust. This tomb having fallen into decay, was replaced, in 1830, by a more appropriate memorial, which bears the following inscription:

"HENRICUS FIELDING

LUGET BRITANNIA GREMIO NON DATUM

FOVERE NATUM."

The personal appearance of the great novelist has been thus described by his friend, Mr. Arthur Murphy :

....

2

(1) Fielding's last resting-place is thus described in one of the best of traveller's guide-books:-"The English burial-ground, termed by the Portuguese Os cyprestes, is situated on the hill of the Estrella, above Buenos Ayres. It was allowed to be formed during the last century by the Portuguese government, on condition of being called the hospital of the English factory. A building bearing that name was erected near the entrance, which now serves as a dwellinghouse for the chaplain. . . . The ground is divided by straight walks, intersecting each other at right angles; they are bordered by lofty cypresses, round which scarlet geraniums climb to the height of ten or fifteen feet. Many of the tombs are shaded by the Judas-tree, and other flowering shrubs. this cemetery was interred the celebrated novelist, Henry Fielding. English had long been reproached for allowing the grave of their distinguished countryman to remain without any memorial. It was not till 1830 that, by the exertions of the late Rev. Christopher Neville, at that time British chaplain, a subscription was set on foot, and the present sarcophagus erected. It is situated about the centre of the cemetery."-Handbook for Travellers to Portugal. Murray.

In

The

A celebrated traveller also thus writes of Fielding's foreign grave:"Let travellers devote one entire morning to inspecting the Arcos and the Mai das agoas, after which they may repair to the English church and cemetery -Père la Chaise in miniature-where, if they be of England, they may well be excused if they kiss the cold tomb, as I did, of the author of 'Amelia,' the most singular genius which their island ever produced, whose works it has long been the fashion to abuse in public, and to read in secret. In the same cemetery rest the mortal remains of Doddridge, another English author, of a different stamp, but justly admired and esteemed."-Borrow's Bible in Spain, vol. i. chap. 1. 1843.

(2) Arthur Murphy, the editor of Fielding's works, and author of the Essay on his Life and Genius, was a native of Cork-a city which still contains, it is said, a large crop of Murphys. At the age of twenty-one he made his appearance in London, and soon attached himself to literature and the drama, although originally intended for mercantile pursuits. With Fielding the young Irishman soon picked up an intimacy, and on the cessation of "The Covent Garden Journal," he produced a paper on the same plan, which lived till October, 1754.

"Henry Fielding was in stature rather rising above six feet; his frame of body large and remarkably robust, till the gout had broken the vigour of his constitution." His features were marked and striking, so much so, that a portrait of him was painted by his friend Hogarth from memory, with the assistance of a profile which had been cut in paper with a pair of scissors by a lady. Though he was singularly handsome in his youth, in his later years it appears, from his own account, that his gouty and dropsical figure was anything but agreeable to behold. But his cheerfulness and good temper rendered him to the last a delightful companion, and endeared him to his family and friends. "It is wonderful to think," observes a great living humourist, "of the pains and misery which the man suffered; the pressure of want, illness, remorse, which he endured; and that the writer was neither malignant nor melancholy, his views of truth never warped, and his generous human kindness never surrendered."

The most prominent trait in Fielding's disposition was his hearty relish for existence,—a relish which the passages

After this, he devoted himself to the stage, and made his appearance as an actor, in the character of Othello. Like most other dramatists, he however failed to distinguish himself as an actor. Ultimately he attached himself to the law, though refused admittance as a student by three inns-the Middle and Inner Temple, and Gray's-Inn, on the sole grounds of his having appeared on the stage-an instance of illiberality by no means pleasant to record. Churchill (who seems to have cherished an illiberal antipathy to Murphy) thus alludes to this incident in "The Rosciad: "

"Twice (cursed remembrance), twice I strove to gain

Admittance 'mongst the law-instructed train,
Who in the Temple and Gray's-Inn prepare

For clients' wretched feet the legal snare:

Dead to those arts which polish and refine,
Deaf to all worth, because that worth was mine,

Twice did those blockheads startle at my name,

And foul rejection gave me up to shame."

Lincoln's-Inn at length opened its doors to the man of letters, and Murphy's life was subsequently dignified and prosperous. He was a commissioner of bankrupts at Guildhall, wrote many tragedies and comedies, and died at a ripe old age in 1805.

(1) Thackeray's Lectures on the English Humourists. 1853.

cited from his Journal show was unabated by disease and the near prospect of death. He possessed an exquisite temperament of the sanguine order; abundant energy, constant activity, and a marvellous capacity for enjoyment. These personal traits, which imparted to his writings unparalleled force and spirit, have been admirably described by his kinswoman, Lady Mary. "I am sorry," says this lively and philosophic lady, in a letter dated 1755, "for Henry Fielding's death; not only as I shall read no more of his writings, but I believe that he lost more than others, as no man enjoyed life more than he did, though few had less reason to do so, the highest of his preferment being raking in the lowest sinks of vice and misery. I should think a nobler and less nauseous employment to be one of the staff-officers that conduct the nocturnal wedding. His happy constitution (even when he had with great pains half demolished it) made him forget every evil when he was before a venison pasty, or over a flask of champagne; and I am persuaded he has known more happy moments than any prince on earth. His natural spirits gave him rapture with his cookmaid, and cheerfulness when he was starving in a garret. There was a similitude between his character and that of Sir Richard Steele. He [Fielding] had the advantage in learning, and, in my opinion, in genius; they both agreed in wanting money, in spite of all their friends, and would have wanted it if their hereditary lands had been as extensive as their imaginations: yet each of them was so formed for happiness it is a pity he was not immortal."

Fielding's death was regretted by mourners more earnest in their sorrow than Lady Mary. In the cynical verses which he wrote on his own anticipated death, Swift singled out three of his literary associates who would receive the intelligence with different degrees of regret :

"Poor Pope will grieve a month, and Gay

A week, and Arbuthnot a day."

A A

In like manner, it may be conjectured, that the account of Fielding's death was received by three members of the intellectual aristocracy of his time, to whom he had been closely allied by bonds of personal friendship. The "grave and godly" LYTTLETON meditated with serious and thoughtful sorrow, which cast for many days a shade over his mind, on the stormy life of him whose spirit was now released from the toils and troubles of earth, and had "put on immortality." As he mused on the loss of his friend, strange and confused pictures of life, in all its varieties, must have been unfolded to his memory:-The playing-grounds of Eton, fresh and fair as the hopes and aspirations of happy boyhood; the crowded green-room, echoing with the laugh he knew so well; and then the roistering host, holding high his head amongst the country squires, with a young fair creature by his side, soon to be initiated into the miseries and squalid wretchedness of London lodgings; then the Temple chambers, with the briefless barrister expatiating on his prospects of boundless wealth-prospects which a few short months served to dissipate: alas! too, there is a view of the sponging-house in the changing diorama, with a remorseful inmate, who thankfully receives aid for the sake of weeping wife at home: there too is a death-chamber, which brings back to Lyttleton's mind the most sorrowful passage in his own life-Poor Harry Fielding, he is now at rest with the wife he loved so well! WILLIAM HOGARTH when he heard the news turned from the easel, and paid the homage of a tear to the memory of his brave and manly friend. He was gone!-the inimitable delineator of the manners of the age, who had been to letters what he-Hogarth—had aspired to be to art-a genuine painter of human life; no copyist of foreign schools, no wearer of cast-off clothes, no weak sentimentalist; a straightforward, truth-telling, right-thinking Englishman-a Briton to the backbone. Honour to the manly heart which had beaten with such high and kindly thoughts! DAVID GARRICK, too, received

« AnteriorContinuar »