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amusing caricature are embodied all the peculiarities which popular rumour ascribed to this happily extinct variety of the judicial character-unbounded rapacity, despicable meanness, and the grossest incapacity. As Fielding lived to be himself a justice of peace, an opportunity will hereafter arrive for discussing the duties and social position of these functionaries: at present it is enough to say that in this instance his satire was not ill-directed. When magistrates were paid by fees, and trafficked in committals and convictions, it is not improbable that the worst of them adopted something like the sentiments avowed by Squeezum in this comedy: "Come, come, child, you had better take the oath, though you are not altogether so sure. Justice should be rigorous. It is better for the public that ten innocent people should suffer, than that one guilty should escape; and it becomes every good person to sacrifice their conscience to the benefit of the public." Nor was it so uncommon a thing for such justices to act according to the principle openly enunciated by his worship:-" Well, sir, if you cannot pay for your transgressions like the rich, you must suffer for them like the poor."
Justice Squeezum was most efficiently represented by a comedian who had long acquired celebrity in such characters Hyppesly, the original Peachum in "The Beggar's Opera." In the delineation of amorous dotage, covetousness, and cunning, this actor is said to have been unrivalled; the part of the knavish justice was therefore peculiarly adapted to his powers; and if anything could have insured the success of a comedy it would have been such an actor in such a part. But low as was then the
(1) There is a tradition that it was during the performance of this comedy the talents of Macklin (whose name is printed among the dramatis personæ as Maclean) were first made known to a London audience. A very subordinate part had been assigned him, which in the hands of any other performer would have passed unnoticed. The character in question was that of Porer-one of the political cronies of the coffee-house politician; and all that he had to do
standard of theatrical morality, it may be surmised that the "Coffee-house Politician" was too gross, and too indelicate for the audiences even of that tolerant age; and though indulgently received at first, such scandalous indecency could not long maintain possession of the stage. One can scarcely imagine it possible for women to have listened patiently to the dialogue of this comedy, of which the worst part was uttered by persons of their own sex. However loose the morals of the fashionable world, however degraded the character of town-bred ladies, it seems strange that not much more than a century since that should have been listened to in public, without manifestation of displeasure, which no well-bred English woman would now read in private.
There are, however, some scenes in this comedy which are written in Fielding's happiest manner. The conferences between Politick (the coffee-house politician) and his friend Dabble, upon the subject of foreign affairs, are extremely diverting, particularly when the geographical ignorance imputed to both these worthies is taken into consideration, ex. gr.:
Dabble. I would fain ask one question, Mr. Politick; pray, how large do you take Tuscany to be?
Politick. How large do you take Tuscany to be-let me seeTuscany, ay; how large do I take it to be-hum-Faithful!-bring some more tobacco. How large do I take it to be-why, truly, I take it to be as large as the kingdom of France-or something larger. Dabble. As large as the kingdom of France-you might as well compare this tobacco-pipe to a cannon. Why, Tuscany, sir, is only a town; a garrison to be admitted into Tuscany, that is, into the town of Tuscany.
Many other examples of pointed satire might be selected from this play; as the following terse sentence, which is put into the mouth of the drunkard Sotmore :—“ We punish drunkenness, as well as other sins, only in the was to appear once upon the stage, and announce the arrival of some important In this trifling part he managed, however, to make a strong impression on the town, and was much applauded.
lower sort. Drink, like the game, was intended for gentlemen." And Mr. Worthy, the moralist of the comedy, musing on his friend Politick's eccentricities, is made to observe:-"The greatest part of mankind labour under one delusion or other; and Don Quixote differed from the rest, not in madness, but in the species of it. The covetous, the prodigal, the superstitious, the libertine, and the coffeehouse politician are all Quixotes in their several ways." Si sic omnia-if Fielding had written always thus, his plays would not now lie neglected on the library shelf.
In the course of this year (1730) it was Fielding's good fortune to achieve success in a department of theatrical composition which has been diligently cultivated amongst us-that of the burlesque. For this kind of writing he had unquestionably great natural aptitude, and he had fallen on a lucky period for the exercise of his ability. The tragedies of this era were characterised by their stiff formality and insufferable bombast, as the comedies were distinguished for indelicacy and unblushing immorality. In tragic acting, also, as well as tragic writing, everything had become as far removed as possible from nature and natural utterance. So accustomed were the audiences of those days to hear the sonorous lines of Lee and Rowe mouthed by actors like Quin and Booth, that when, about the year 1725, Macklin came up to London, after performing in several strolling country companies, and solicited an engagement from Mr. Rich (the manager of the Lincoln'sInn Theatre), he informs us that his manner of speaking was so familiar, "and so little in the hoity-toity tone of the tragedy of that day, that the manager told him he had better go to grass for another year or two." This hoitytoity tragedy-tone was admirably imitated and ridiculed by Fielding in "The Tragedy of Tragedies; or, the Life and
(1) Macklin's Memoirs. "Going to grass" was the theatrical term for the period of provincial probation, which was once considered a necessary preparation for the London stage.
Death of Tom Thumb the Great," which (with the exception of the comedy of the "Miser") is the only one of his dramatic efforts that has found favour in the eyes of posterity.1
Fielding's burlesque, however, it is right to say, was not the only well-aimed blow inflicted by the wits on the inflated tragedy writing of the day. One of the most popular and most effective productions of this kind was the mock tragedy of "Chrononhotonthologos" (published in 1734), which certainly contains some most inimitable strokes of humour. For proof of this, it is enough to refer to the well-known lines:
"Go call a coach, and let a coach be called,
And let the man that calls it be the caller,
And in his calling let him nothing call
But coach! coach! coach! Oh, for a coach, ye gods!"
And, as Mr. Dibdin remarks, "the idea of the warrior's piling himself upon dead bodies till he reached the gods, who invited him for his heroism to remain with them, which offer he rejected, because he was summoned to earth by the eyes of his mistress, is a very happy one." The author of this once-famous burlesque-Carey, a musician by profession, and the writer of several farces-was not exempt from the misfortunes which then so often attended the wit's career. "The author before me," says Dibdin, "finishes an account of his history with these words: 'He led a life free from reproach, and hanged himself October 4th, 1743!'"12
To return to "Tom Thumb," it may be observed that it was originally only one act, and proved so successful that it was afterwards enlarged to three, in which state it was performed and published in 1731. Amongst the writers
(1) "Tom Thumb," or rather the modern version of it by Kane O'Hara, still keeps possession of the stage. Within the recollection of the playgoers of this generation, the character of Lord Grizzle has been personated by those two masters of broad farce-Liston and Reeve.
(2) Dibdin's History of the Stage. vol. v.
who came in for their full share of ridicule were Dryden, Lee, Rowe, Thomson, and Young, whose sonorous lines and poetical extravagances were humorously parodied and ridiculed. The savage speech of the king in "Tom Thumb" is hardly an extravagant burlesque on the utterances of the stage-tyrants of those days:
"Let nothing but a face of joy appear;
The man that frowns this day shall lose his head,
In the following regal notion of festivity, the tragedytone of the time is also happily caught :
King. Petition me no petition, sir, to-day;
Let other hours be set apart for business.
And this our queen shall be as drunk as we."
Thomson's famous lines in "Sophonisba " did not escape :— "O Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!"
which is ludicrously parodied
"O Huncamunca, Huncamunca, O!"
According to Johnson, some town-wag perpetrated a still better parody of this feeble line:
"O Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O!"
In the "annotations of Scriblerus Secundus," affixed by Fielding to the published copies of his burlesque, are quoted most of the passages which it was intended to ridicule or parody. Many of these were from the plays which belong to the corrupt theatrical period ushered in by the Restoration; when in tragedy, extravagance, and in comedy, licentiousness, became the vogue. Dryden's "Conquest of Granada" (first acted in 1672) furnished many bombastic lines, only slightly altered in "Tom Thumb." Thus, in the burlesque, the king addresses the Ghost in this fashion:"Ye stars, 'tis well; were thy last hour to come This moment had been it; yet by thy shroud I'll pull thee backward, squeeze thee to a bladder, Till thou dost groan thy nothingness away."