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the country.1 Peace, happiness, and competence, were now within his grasp. In the first transports of connubial happiness, and yielding to the earnest solicitations of his young wife, who was naturally anxious to detach him from the scene of his former irregularities,-he resolved to make a permanent exchange of a London for a country life. His small estate afforded him a comfortable retreat, where he could, if so minded, lead the life of a country gentleman; surrounded by his books, and relieving his literary labours by rural recreations. His constitution had suffered severely from early dissipation; and retirement, with regular and tranquil habits, was necessary to the health both of mind and body. Such were the calm suggestions of his own reason and of his best counsellors. Sincerely penitent for past follies, and with a keen recollection of the privations and disappointments he had endured, what a blissful future-could he have profited by the experience of the past, and properly availed himself of surrounding advantages-was now presented to him! With a lovely and
(1) Mr. Murphy, and the other biographers of Fielding, state that "about this time" the death of his mother put him in possession of the estate at East Stour (or Stower). Fielding's mother, however, died in 1718, and was buried at East Stour, where General Fielding was then living, having left Sharpham Park a few years after the novelist's birth. Probably the £200 per annum derived from the property at East Stour was the £200 which the general agreed to pay his son when he came of age, and forgot to do it. On Fielding's marriage, the house at East Stour was given up to him; but it does not appear that he occupied it long. In Hutchins's "History and Antiquities of Dorset" (second edition), vol. iii., p. 211, there is a picture of the house at East Stour, and a remarkable tree growing there. The latter is called a "Locust-tree (Robinia Pseud. Acacia of Linnæus), the body of which, it is said, is eight feet high, and ten feet six inches in circumference. The height of the tree is fifty-three feet. In the middle of the body grows an alder-tree twenty-four feet high, which at the bottom is twenty-four inches in circumference. The farmhouse, which is
of stone, was some time the residence of Henry Fielding. The present kitchen remains (1813) as in his time, when it was a parlour, and large prints of the twelve Cæsars on horseback adorn it."-Hutchins's Dorset, vol. iii. The tree is described in the "Gentleman's Magazine," vol. lxxi. Both the tree and the house (it has been courteously communicated to the biographer by Mr. Buckland, the town-clerk of Shaftesbury) have now disappeared. The tree was very much decayed before it was taken down, but the house, though out of repair, might have been restored. It has however been replaced by a modern farmhouse.
amiable wife, a moderate competence, and abundant leisure, who would not have esteemed him a fortunate man? Fortunate he was, and happy he would have been beyond the lot of most men, had he been able to put in practice a tithe of the worldly wisdom with which the later productions of his pen abound. Could he have acted out some of his own common-sense notions of life, all had now been well; but, as it was, with the characteristic infirmity of genius, he escaped from one set of errors only to plunge into follies no less egregious, ruinous, and ridiculous.
Soon after his marriage, Fielding settled in Dorsetshire, and commenced a new course of life. The experiment was attended with some difficulties, and unluckily he stumbled at the very outset. Though neither qualified by nature or education for a hermit, a life of comparative privacy and seclusion was that best adapted to his limited means and intellectual tastes. Instead of this, he preposterously resolved to become a Squire of the first magnitude. His ambition was to be talked about. He determined to show the rude Squirearchy of Dorset how superior to their order was the London-bred gentleman. Family pride also whispered to him the expediency of keeping up an appearance corresponding to the dignity of the distinguished race from whence he sprang. Accordingly, Squire Fielding soon began to create a sensation in the county. His mansion was the scene of profuse hospitality and riotous enjoyment. His horses and hounds were numbered amongst the glories of the neighbourhood. His equipage outvied in splendour and elegance the carriages of his richer neighbours, and the yellow liveries of his serving-men were long held in remembrance. The selection of such a colour was characteristic of Fielding's thoughtless extravagance. Yellow plush, however splendid, proved by no means an economical article of attire for a careless lackey. Directly the glories of a suit were dimmed or soiled, it was thrown aside; for the rustic
flunkeys considered it their duty to keep up the Squire's character by the lustre of their personal appearance.1 Such was Fielding's household! It may be asked how it was that Mrs. Fielding-the Salisbury beauty-did not, with a woman's quick sense of propriety, interfere to check this ridiculous extravagance. Alas! it is to be feared that, from vanity or weakness, she abetted him in his follies, or, at the most, confined herself to a timid remonstrance, without venturing on a firm expostulation. Poor girl! her fortune was soon dissipated to the winds; run away with by horses and hounds; lavished on yellow plush inexpressibles for idle flunkeys; banqueted on by foolish squires, or consumed by other senseless extravagances. Not being a strong-minded woman-that is pretty clear-but rather, it would seem, a fond and foolish one, she was dazzled by this brief dream of pride and pleasure; and though the future might have worn to her eye a lowering aspect, she was too much gratified by her husband's popularity, and too proud of his wit and agreeable qualities, to check him in his mad
The day of reckoning came. In a very short time? Fielding found that all was spent and gone-all swallowed up in the abyss of ruin! It seemed like a dream, a wild, incoherent vision. The roar of mirth, the deafening cheer, the splendid liveries, prancing horses, staring rustics, full-mouthed dogs, faded before him like some "insubstantial pageant." He had been generous, hospitable, profuse; and what was his reward? Those who had sat at meat with him now ridiculed his extravagance. Even the gaping boors of the neighbourhood cracked their heavy jokes at his expense. The prudent gentlemen and ladies who had not scrupled to sit at his jovial board, and partake of his cheer, now shook their heads, and gravely condemned his prodigality. Those of his more ambitious neighbours whom he had recently
(1) See Essay on the Life and Genius of Fielding. By A. Murphy.
outshone in splendour, rejoiced in his downfall, without attempting to conceal their satisfaction. In the midst of all these untoward circumstances, he had to escape from his creditors as best he might, and to seek for happiness and a livelihood in some other sphere.
How bitterly Fielding cursed his folly, and how penitently he bewailed his imprudence, can be well imagined. His sorrow-now, alas! unavailing-was not unmixed with feelings of resentment. The jealousy with which he had been regarded in the height of his ostentatious career, and the treatment he experienced in his reverses, long rankled in his breast. He could not easily forget the sneers and slights of those whom in his heart he so much despised; and from this time forth, therefore, the Squirearchy of England had to expect little mercy at his hands.
That this experiment of his in rustic living could have been attended with any other result must, however, have seemed to him, when he returned to his sober senses, unlikely, if not impossible. With his tastes and disposition, he could not conform to the quiet, monotonous routine of a homely country life; and he had not the means of prolonging for an indefinite period the riotous enjoyments and ridiculous splendour which he considered necessary to a distinguished rural position. Amongst the home-bred country gentlemen of Dorset he was what is popularly called " a fish out of water." Their amusements, their gossip, their prejudices, their politics, their vices and their virtues, were not his. Above all, he was sorely mortified to find that his attempts at splendour and gentility did not produce upon their minds the effect he intended. The coach and yellow liveries, which had been designed to astonish, only called forth feelings of ill-disguised envy and dissatisfaction, or gave birth to sarcastic remarks ;-variations perhaps on the homely proverb, that "a fool and his money are soon parted." The homage which he expected to be paid to his superior gentility was obstinately withheld;
and he was in fact contemned by those whom he had expected to overwhelm by his importance.
The impression which his rural misadventure made on Fielding's mind was not effaced by the lapse of years. Some of the principal circumstances attending it are evidently referred to in his latest novel,-"Amelia." The follies into which Booth represents himself as falling, when deprived of the sage counsel of Dr. Harrison, are of the same character as those imputed to the novelist. Not content with enlarging his farm, it will be remembered, the hero of the novel is guilty of the crime of setting up his coach; whereupon the neighbours with whom he had hitherto lived on terms of equality began to envy, hate, and declare war against him and his wife. "The neighbouring little squires, too," continues Booth, or rather Fielding, "were uneasy to see a poor renter become their equal in a matter in which they placed so much dignity; and not doubting but it arose in me from the same ostentation, they began to hate me likewise, and to turn my equipage into ridicule; asserting that my horses, which were as well matched as any in the kingdom, were of different colours and sizes; with much more of that kind of wit, the only basis of which is lying."
That there is a touch of personal feeling in this quiet satire cannot be doubted; and it is equally clear that the rapturous description given by Booth, of the happiness which he derived from his wife's society in the country, may be identified with the novelist's own history; for, in spite of its glaring follies and indiscretions, this period of Fielding's life presented some features on which he could look back with pleasure and satisfaction. All the endearments of wedded life which he afterwards depicted in "Amelia" were his; blest with a wife whom he dearly loved,-whose amiability was so great that she endured without a murmur all the misfortunes of which his folly was the cause, and whose beauty was everywhere the subject of admiration.