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If such are Christian teachers, who'll revere 'em?
An' thus they preach, the devil alone should hear 'em.'
Yet, like black 'Thello, I'd bear scorns and whips,
T'exult this play—may it decrease in favour,
SQUIRE WESTERN, reeling, with October mellow,
'Wits are armed powers-like France attack the foe;
To your kind care-what the dead wills, obey:
A large audience assembled to witness the first performance of the comedy, and it was received with great applause.1 But this applause, it may be, was mainly intended for the author and the occasion. As for the play itself, it belonged to, and reflected the manners of, a previous age,―nor could any adaptation or alteration, however skilful, have rendered it popular for any length of time as a stock piece. It is true that it belonged to the best period of Fielding's dramatic career,-when his pen had been for some time practised in this kind of composition, and he had become ambitious of doing something better than gratifying the momentary whim of the town. It was written long subsequently to "The Wedding Day" (which was one of his earliest attempts), but before "Pasquin" and the "Register," and he was himself particularly pleased with the plan and plot. That it is altogether a
(1) Gentleman's Magazine, 1778.
(2) Preface to Miscellanies, 1743.
more perfect work than most of his comedies will be conceded by critics, and so far it justifies the remark that "he left off writing for the stage when he ought to have begun." But it cannot be compared with the happier efforts of Sheridan and Goldsmith. Although in his novels so successful in keeping up the interest of his plot, Fielding could not get through a play without suffering the excitement to flag before the end; and he was not insensible of this defect, for it is said to have been one of his favourite toasts, Confusion to the man who invented fifth acts."1 It may be added that "The Fathers" is one of the very few English comedies which does not terminate in a marriage.
Of those who were attracted to the representation of this comedy, it is a fair supposition that a great majority were moved by the potent spell which the authorship of "Tom Jones" had cast over Fielding's name. Though, in the brief space of forty years, the bulk of his dramatic writings. had been consigned to neglect, if not oblivion, his novels were perused with as keen a zest as when they first issued from Andrew Millar's press. Of those who had known him in life had grasped his hand, listened to his merry talk, or been witnesses of his grievous sufferings-many had
(1) Mr. Harris (of Salisbury), the eminent critic and philologist, has commemorated this saying of Fielding, and also made the following observations on his career:-""Twas from a sense of this concluding jumble, this unnatural huddling of events, that a witty friend of mine, who was himself a dramatic writer, used pleasantly, though perhaps rather freely, to damn the man who invented fifth acts. So said the celebrated Henry Fielding, who was a respectable person both by education and birth. . . . . His 'Joseph Andrews' and Tom Jones' may be called masterpieces in the comic epopée, which none since have equalled, though multitudes have imitated, and which he was peculiarly qualified to write in the manner he did, both from his life, his learning, and his genius. Had his life been less irregular (for irregular it was, and spent in a promiscuous intercourse with persons of all ranks), his pictures of humankind had neither been so various nor so natural. Had he possessed less of literature, he could not have infused such a spirit of classical elegance. Had his genius been less fertile in wit and humour, he could not have maintained that uninterrupted pleasantry which never suffers the reader to feel fatigue.”— Philological Inquiries. By James Harris. Part I.
since passed with him that gloomy barrier, unde negant redire quenquam.' Hogarth died just ten years after him, in October, 1764, most deeply lamented. Lyttleton made a truly Christian end in August, 1773.3 Of his contemporaries at the Bar there survived, however, some now loaded with years and honours; amongst them his cousin, Mr. Justice Gould, and Pratt, Earl of Camden. Of his theatrical associates there still flourished, besides David Garrick, the famous Charles Macklin, whose talents and eccentricities were as yet little affected by the weight of years; and, amongst the most remarkable of his younger literary friends, there was Arthur Murphy, who between 1760 and the year in which "The Fathers" was produced, had supplied the stage with many excellent comedies and
"Qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum,
Illuc, unde negant redire quenquam."-Catullus.
(2) "It is delightful to go back to those days, and, as it were, to hold converse with such honoured shades. Hogarth's death, I have heard my father declare, spread a general gloom. It was the subject of lamentation in every tavern; and all the social clubs were long accustomed to drink his memory. The sensitive Sterne long missed his ingenious convive; and Garrick's sad countenance rendered awhile the green-room dull.”—Wine and Walnuts, vol. i.
(3) See Johnson's Lives of the Poets-Lyttleton.
(4) The vigour of Macklin's mind is shown in his comedy of "The Man of the World," first performed at Covent Garden, in May, 1781; although a sketch of it in three acts, under the title of "The True-born Scotchman," had been previously produced in Ireland, in 1764. He was certainly born as early as 1699, and some of his friends even asserted that the date of his birth was 1690. (Macklin's Memoirs.)
The latter account is somewhat corroborated by the following characteristic anecdote, which is given in his life, from his own narration :-" A party of Irish gentlemen, who had come over to England in the long vacation, asked me to sup with them. I did so, sir, and we all got very jolly together; insomuch, that one was so drunk that I made a point of taking him on my back, and carrying him down stairs, in order to be put into his chair. The next day the gentleman waited on me; and, expressing his civilities, said he was sorry I should take so much unnecessary trouble. Here, sir, I stopped him short, by telling him, one reason I had for carrying him on my back was, that I carried either his father or his grandfather the same way, fifty years ago, when he was a student of the Middle Temple. Very true, sir,' said the other; 'I remember my father often telling it as a family story: but you are mistaken a little in point of genealogy-it was my great-grandfather that you did that kindness for." Macklin's performance of Sir Pertinax Mac Sycophant, in his own
passable tragedies. Several old play-goers also remained, who remembered the Great Mogul, with his "Pasquin" and "Register," and had heard the applause with which those mordent satires were received by "opposition" audiences. It was no wonder, therefore, that a brilliant company assembled to applaud the foundling-comedy; and it is as little a matter of surprise-ill-adapted as it was to the taste and spirit of the times-that its name soon disappeared from the play-bills."
The part which Garrick had taken in bringing it on the stage for the benefit of Fielding's family was, to say the least, most commendable. But some misunderstanding appears to have arisen between the manager and Sir John Fielding the half-brother of the novelist-respecting it, for which it is difficult to account. Mr. Forster, in his "Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith," has quoted (in a note) the following endorsement of Garrick's on one of Sir John's "angriest letters:"
"The beginning of my correspondence with Sir John Fielding was thus:-His brother, the late Mr. Fielding, was my particular friend; he had written a comedy, called "The Good-natured Man,' which, being sent to his different friends, was lost for twenty years. It luckily fell to my lot to discover it. Had I found a mine of gold on my own land it could not have given me more pleasure. I immediately went to his brother, Sir John, and told him the story of my discovery, and immediately, with all the warmth imaginable, offered my services to prepare it for the stage. He thanked me cordially, and we parted with mutual expressions of kindness."
comedy, even when he had reached a very advanced age, is said to have been "unequalled in the annals of the theatre." After his decease, the character was played by George Frederick Cooke, so successfully that the best judges admitted it to be equal to the original. More recently, the admirers of old English comedy have been gratified by the admirable acting of Mr. Phelps in the same part.
(1) The comedy was performed nine times.
Thus far the endorsement; after which a portion of Garrick's letter, "with which he met Sir John's most petulant explosion," is given by Mr. Forster :
“We will, if you please, not be the trumpeters of our own virtues (as Shakspere says), but take care that the innocent do not suffer by our mistakes. There shall be no anathema denounced against them by me. If my thoughts and alteration of the plan of The Good-natured Man' will be of the least service to their welfare, I will go on with my scribbling with pleasure; though my health is at present so precarious1 that I am really afraid to undertake the whole (for much is wanted), lest the business should be retarded by my leaving London or the kingdom. What could you possibly mean by saying that the mischief to the poor innocent family would not be so great as my anger teaches me to believe? Surely these, Sir John, were the dictates of your anger and not mine; and I will venture to say that now it is passed you are sorry that you said it, as barbarity is as great a stranger to my nature as falsehood is to yours. If you have obliged and honoured me, I thank you; that you never were in the way to be obliged by me is certain, or I should certainly have done it. Some reciprocal acts of kindness passed between your brother and me, too trifling to be mentioned—but his praise is fame. You might have guessed at my warmth to you and yours, by the pleasure I had in the discovery of the lost treasure. What you have said kindly, I will remember; what unkindly, I will forget. I will not say, farewell.
Honourable indeed to Garrick was this regard for his departed friend, and this care for the interest of those he had left behind him. Twenty-four years had elapsed since the great novelist's death, but the interval had not cooled the ardour of his friendship. If the spirits of the dead are cognisant of what passes on earth, what unutterable (1) Garrick died a few months afterwards-viz., on the 20th January, 1779.