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If he were unable-from want of prudence or over vivacity of disposition-to make a proper use of the gifts of fortune, he could nevertheless rate them at their true value. He could afterwards speak like a philosopher of the cheap happiness which in the hurry of youthful excitement he had carelessly flung away,-"the pleasure which the morning air gives to one in perfect health; the flow of spirits which springs up from exercise; the delight which parents feel from the prattle and innocent follies of their children; the joy with which the tender smile of a wife inspires a husband; or lastly, the cheerful solid comfort which a fond couple enjoy in each other's conversation."1 These unfailing sources of happiness were fully tasted by Fielding during his retirement from the bustle and anxieties of a town life, nay, further, they were fully appreciated by him at the time; but unfortunately they were not sufficient to satisfy the cravings of a nature like his: his disposition required excitement; and hence it was that he fell into the mistake of courting the temporary applause and wonderment of the Dorsetshire squires by extravagant hospitality and anomalous splendour.
(1) Amelia, book iii. c. 12.
THE GREAT MOGUL'S COMPANY.-" PASQUIN" AND THE HISTORICAL REGISTER FOR 1736."
FIELDING now began life again, and he began it under many disadvantages. He had squandered away his wife's fortune, and had nothing left in return but mortification and embarrassment. Having ventured upon what Johnson calls "the great experiment of life," he had incurred responsibilities to the serious nature of which he was sensitively alive, and which permitted no further trifling with the business of existence. He had not merely a single life to protect and care for, but a beloved wife and child1 now depended upon him for support. With many past follies to expiate, many misspent moments to redeem, he embarked once more on the ocean of life—“ a daring pilot," and hitherto an imprudent and unskilful one.
On the other hand, it must be admitted that these "disadvantages," if surveyed from another point of view, might wear a contrary aspect. He had bought experience which, however dearly purchased, might prove to him, if duly husbanded, well worth the price he had paid. The hostages he had given to Fortune, if they failed to propitiate that fickle goddess, furnished him at any rate with a strong stimulus to exertion. Family ties are oftener aids than impediments to prosperity, and manhood rarely achieves its best without them: for let it be remembered (as Lord Bacon has it), that "wife and children are a kind of humanity."
It was in the spring of 1736 that he reappeared in
(1) This child-a daughter-was named Eleanor Harriet.
London, attracted thither by the intention of qualifying himself for the practice of a profession. General Fielding had from the first intended his lively son for the Bar, and it was as a preliminary to his legal studies that the youth was sent to Leyden. On his return to England, however, his early theatrical success combined with other circumstances to turn his thoughts into another channel. Amidst the gaieties and dissipations of a town life, a scheme of continuous study was out of the question. The law possessed no attraction in his eyes, and as long as he could provide for the passing hour, he thought little and cared less about the future. But his circumstances were now altered, and the advice of friends, as well as his own good sense, pointed out the necessity of securing some more permanent source of income than he was likely to derive from authorship.
Just at this moment, however, the necessitous dramatist saw, or thought he saw, a favourable opportunity for 'a novel theatrical venture. Great confusion-amounting almost to anarchy-had for some time prevailed in the playhouse world. The theatrical state was out of tune. Broils and distractions tried the patience and emptied the pockets of managers, without benefiting actors. At such a period it was no difficult thing for an adventurer, without any other capital than his brains, to collect together a company of mediocre performers, and find a theatre for them to act in; but that such experiments should prove successful seemed improbable. It was a subject of complaint amongst sensible persons in the theatrical profession that there were already too many theatres, and the only way (it was suggested) to make the drama flourish, was to shut up half of them. Fielding, however, who had carefully studied the temper of the times, thought that he perceived a road to dramatic fame and profit, which had been neglected by other schemers; and the result showed that he was not mistaken. In the year 1734 a company of
actors, under no managerial authority, had performed his comedy of "Don Quixote in England" at the little theatre in the Haymarket. The election scenes in that comedy had been particularly applauded, and their success probably furnished a hint for the construction of a satirical drama of a more ambitious character. The able and powerful minister who at this time governed Great Britain was now at the height of his unpopularity; and rumour imputed to him the systematic practice of the grossest corruption. On the election of the parliament then sitting he had expended, it was affirmed, £60,000 out of his own private fortune;1 and, in the House, the constant and sudden conversion of some of his most vehement antagonists was, to say the least of it, most remarkable. Whilst Sir Robert Walpole thus carried to perfection the arts of government, he enjoyed the privilege of being the best abused man in the nation; and pamphleteers innumerable earned their daily bread by reviling him. At such a juncture, why could not the stage as well as the press be made use of to give expression to popular sentiment? The ready wit of Fielding seized the idea and carried it out almost at the same moment. He had great talent for satire, and, on personal grounds, no particular reason to spare the prime-minister, whose patronage he had in vain solicited. Impoverished by imprudence-galled by real and fancied slights-his passions as well as his interest inclined him to bitterness. A satirical drama was, therefore, soon produced by his practised pen; the actors who performed his "Don Quixote" were easily induced to enter into an engagement with him; and the Haymarket Theatre, being without a tenant, was without difficulty obtained by the moneyless adventurer.
Thus it was, and under these circumstances, that Fielding entered on a new career in the double capacity of author and manager, To attract the curiosity of the public, he bestowed on his theatrical troupe the whimsical designation (1) History of Party, vol. ii. By G. Wingrove Cooke.
of "The Great Mogul's Company of Comedians," and they were described in the playbills as having dropped from the clouds. His opening piece was entitled "Pasquin: a dramatic Satire on the Times; being the Rehearsal of two Plays; viz. a Comedy called The Election,' and a Tragedy called 'The Life and Death of Common Sense." A wide scope was here afforded for satirical allusions, and the scheme was at first successful beyond the author's most sanguine expectations. "Pasquin" had a run of more than fifty nights, and proved a source of profit as well as fame. This success was not ill-deserved, although the piece itself has been freely abused. It has been called "a bold and unwarrantable satire." Bold it was; but as for its being unwarrantable, it is enough to say that its satire was principally directed at the electoral corruption of the age, and at the abuses which prevailed in the learned professions. Surely it was no crime to hold up to public derision and contempt the placemen and corruptionists who derided the idea of public virtue, and denied the existence of political honesty.
The plot of "Pasquin" is similar to that of the "Rehearsal" and the "Critic." It embraces the mockrehearsal of two plays, in one of which are presented the ordinary incidents of a country election, and in the other the most flagrant offences committed by the learned profession against common sense :—
"Good sense, which only is the gift of Heaven,
The election scenes (which form the best part of the entertainment) are full of broad humour, of which a specimen may not be unacceptable. Two Court candidates-my Lord Place and Colonel Promise-are introduced upon their canvass in a snug borough, and the system of "bribery direct" is thus illustrated:
(1) Dibdin's History of the Stage, vol. iv.