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The passage in Dryden's play, as quoted by Scriblerus Secundus, is as follows:
"I'll pull thee backwards by thy shroud to light,
Or else I'll squeeze thee, like a bladder, there,
And, again, this elegant image is put into the mouth of
"With those last words he vomited his soul;"
an idea which is taken from a line in Dryden's "Cleomenes" (1692) :
"And in a purple vomit poured his soul."
Amongst the other tragedies satirized in "Tom Thumb" may be mentioned, as occupying the chief place, Young's Busiris," Nat Lee's and Thomson's "Sophonisba," and Bank's "Earl of Essex." The annotations of Scriblerus Secundus, it may be added, form in themselves an admirable satire on pedantic commentaries and commentators.1
(1) "Tom Thumb" was first acted in 1730, and follo wed the "Coffee-house Politician," probably after a short interval: the latter comedy being alluded to in Scriblerus's notes (see note to "Tom Thumb," Act iii., scene 10).
In the first volume of the "Gentleman's Magazine," Fielding's "Tragedy of Tragedies" is thus mentioned in a long poem on the versifiers of the age:""Tis not enough to gain a wild applause,
When crowded theatres espouse your cause.
But aim to soar in Shakspere's lofty strain;
To F- -g names unknown-to him have come
The brave Tom Thumb does all his thoughts engage:
The Lilliputian hero treads the stage!"
The mention of Hickathrift in these lines reminds us that "an ingenious living critic (Mr. Thackeray)" has claimed the old story-book of that name for Fielding (Forster's "Life of Goldsmith," 2nd edition, vol. i. p. 371). The story is, however, a very old one, and must have been in print before Fielding's time. In an article on Nursery Literature, in the "Quarterly Review" (1819), the following account is given of this marvellous personage, and the origin of the old tale, which, with "Tom Thumb" and "Jack the Giant-killer," amused our marvel-loving ancestors :-" Mr. Thomas Hickathrift, afterwards Sir Thomas Hickathrift, knight, is praised by Mr. Thomas Hearne as a famous champion. The honest antiquary has identified this well known knight with the far less
By this time Fielding had acquired something like an established reputation as a wit and dramatic author. Such a reputation proved to him a most unfortunate possession. It bound him to London, and to the frivolities and dissipations of a town life; it enlarged his acquaintance with the worthless and profligate, and prevented him from following the true bent of his genius. His hours were mostly passed in the green-room or the tavern; and when he put pen to paper, his only object was to find the means of gratifying the demands of the moment's prodigality. Under such circumstances, he threw off many light, sketchy performances, that are little worth the pains of criticism, and which he scarcely took the trouble to correct after the framework had been once committed to paper. The author's devotion to pleasure did not, indeed, leave him much time to cultivate the graces of composition. Some of his smaller pieces were the result of only two or three mornings' work, and he often held the pen before he had well slept off the fumes of the last night's champagne.
"When he had contracted," says Murphy, "to bring on a play or a farce, it is well known by many of his friends now living, that he would go home rather late from a tavern, and would the next morning deliver a scene to the players, written upon the papers in which he had wrapped the tobacco in which he so much delighted." The celebrity at which he aimed was that of the man of pleasure rather
celebrated Sir Frederick de Tylney, Baron of Tylney, in Norfolk, the ancestor of the Tylney family, who was killed at Acon, in Syria, in the reign of Richard Coeur-de-Lion; Hycophric or Hycothrift, as the mister-wight observes, being probably a corruption of Frederick. . . . From the most remote antiquity, the fables and achievements of Hickifric have been obstinately credited by the inhabitants of the township of Tylney. Hickifric is venerated by them as the assertor of the rights and liberties of their ancestors. The monstrous giant who guarded the marsh was, in truth, no other than the tyrannical lord of the manor, who attempted to keep his copyholders out of the common field called Tylney Smeeth; but who was driven away with his retainers by the prowess of Tom, armed only with his axletree and cartwheel. Spelman has told the story in good Latin."
(1) Essay on the Life and Genius of Fielding.
than of the author. Writing was a drudgery to which
Is in our street esteemed the greatest;
We're often taught it doth behove us
Who live above you twice two storey;
Greatness by poets still is painted
"THE MODERN HUSBAND."-" MOCK DOCTOR.". THE MISER." [1731-1733.]
FIELDING'S contributions to the literature of the stage, during the year 1731, are precisely such as might have been expected from him under the circumstances detailed. in the former chapter. Whilst they occasionally exhibit considerable tact and cleverness, they bear in every scene the most obvious marks of recklessness, haste, and indifference. No man possibly was more sensible of their defects than himself, and he often laughed at the public which applauded his nonsense. Amongst them are three afterpieces, viz. "The Lottery," "The Letter-Writers; or, a New Way to keep a Wife at Home," and "The Grub Street Opera." The latter was originally entitled "The Welsh Opera," from the scene being laid in the principality. It is properly styled by Dibdin "a strange jumble," without any intelligible plot or incidents. One regular five-act comedy, of more ambitious pretensions, entitled "The Modern Husband," was also written by him in the same year, and acted at Drury Lane, without any considerable success, in February, 1732. That such a play could have been tolerated, indeed, by any decent audience seems at this time of day impossible. No doubt the morals of the upper classes were bad enough in the reign of George II.; no doubt the marriage-tie, like many other social obligations, was often lightly regarded by persons of quality in that unscrupulous age; no doubt there were then many town-bred ladies who gambled away their husband's money at quadrille, and perhaps also some female gamesters who were not afraid
or ashamed to cheat: but that such a state of morals as Fielding has depicted in "The Modern Husband" was common in any class or circle is an incredible and monstrous supposition. In probing the lowest depths of profligacy, it is possible that a couple like Mr. and Mrs. Modern in this comedy (a husband trading on his wife's dishonour), might have been found; but to represent such persons as the ordinary products of the social system then in vogue was a libel on the age, and exceeded the limits of the comedian's license. Bad men and women there have always been in all classes, but amongst no class of Englishmen and English women can it be believed that the tone of morality was ever half so bad as that which Fielding ascribes to polite society in the year
"The Modern Husband" was regarded by Fielding and his theatrical friends as the most ambitious effort of his hitherto "unskilled muse." In the prologue (spoken by Wilks),' he is represented as "repenting the frolic flights of youth," flying "to nature and truth," and aspiring to fame "in defence of virtue!" A modern reader will think that it would have been better for his fame if such scenes had never been written; although he evidently entertained the notion that he had rendered thereby a service to society, as well as added to his literary reputation.
Before this comedy was represented or published, Fielding seems to have been especially anxious to avail himself of the judgment of his clever kinswoman, Lady Mary Wortley Montague. For this purpose he addressed two letters to that lady, which are preserved amongst her miscellaneous correspondence. Although too laboriously polite to be considered favourable specimens of his epistolary style, they possess some value from the light which they throw on his early intimacy with Lady Mary :—
(1) The character of Mr. Bellamant, in this comedy, was the last new part played by Wilks, who died in September, 1732.