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Scare. You shall read it first, otherwise how will you know the value ?
Book. No, no, sir. I never deal that way: a poem is a poem, and a pamphlet a pamphlet with me. Give me a good handsome large volume, with a full promising title-page at the head of it, printed on a good paper and letter, the whole well bound and gilt, and I'll warrant its selling. You have the common error of authors, who think people buy books to read. No, no, books are only bought to furnish libraries, as pictures and glasses, and beds and chairs are for other rooms. Look-ye, sir, I don't like your title-page; however, to oblige a young beginner, I don't care if I do print it at my own
Scare. But pray, sir, at whose expense shall I eat?
Book. At whose? why at mine, sir, at mine. I am as great a friend to learning as the Dutch are to trade: no one can want bread with me who will earn it; therefore, sir, if you please to take your seat at my table, here will be everything necessary provided for you: good milk-porridge, very often twice a day, which is good wholesome food, and proper for students: a translator, too, is what I want at present; my last being in Newgate for shoplifting. The rogue had a trick of translating out of the shops as well as the languages.
Scare. But I am afraid I am not qualified for a translator, for I understand no language but my own.
Book. What, and translate Virgil!
Scare. Alas! I translated him out of Dryden.
Book. Lay by your hat, sir, lay by your hat, and take your seat immediately. Not qualified! thou art as well versed in thy trade as if thou hadst laboured in my garret these ten years. Let me tell you, friend, you will have more occasion for invention than learning here. You will be obliged to translate books out of all languages, especially French, that were never printed in any language whatever.1
(1) In a conversation between Pope and Lintot, the bookseller, during a journey to Oxford (recorded by the former in a letter to the Earl of Burlington, dated August, 1714), a characteristic picture is given of the sharp dealing which prevailed in the early part of the 18th century between a bookseller and his drudges. Speaking of translators Lintot remarked that-" These are the saddest pack of rogues in the world; in a hungry fit they'll swear they understand all the languages in the universe. I have known [he continued] one of them take down a Greek book upon my counter, and cry, Ah, this is Hebrew, and must read it from the latter end.' By G-, I can never be sure in these fellows, for I neither understand Greek, Latin, Italian, or French myself. But this is my way; I agree with them for ten shillings per sheet, with a proviso that I will have their doings corrected by whom I please; so by one or the other they are led at last to the true sense of an author; my judgment giving the negative to all
At the time when this was written, young Harry Fielding had little reason to sneer at the poverty of his humbler brethren of the quill. It is doubtful whether the bookseller's hack, provided with porridge twice a day, was not better off than our playhouse bard, and occupying, on the whole, a more satisfactory position. Two years of a life about town had initiated Fielding into all the mysteries of Bohemianism. To him were now well known the many expedients by which expensive pleasures and sumptuous living were occasionally obtained by the penniless wit, at the cost of character and self-respect. Familiar to him the taverns where the nightly revel was loudest and most unrestrained; and familiar also the squalid haunts, where in the daytime reckless and dishonoured poverty hid its aching head. The life on which he had entered permitted no indulgence in calm and tranquil pleasures,-no sustained and vigorous exertion: all was riot, intoxication, confusion, glare, and gloom. The theatre to which he turned for his bread, was in truth no bad emblem of his daily life at this period. When the candles were lighted up for the performance, when the company assembled, and the orchestra played some lively air, how gay and seductive the scene! But when in the silent morning the daylight peeped in on the forsaken benches, the tawdry gilding, and faded "properties," what sight more melancholy could the uni verse present?
Had Fielding been ever so steadily disposed, the associates whom he picked up at the playhouse doors were men whose precepts and example were sufficient to drive every prudent notion out of his head. Among the idlers in the green-room he met with members of the literary tribe who had been long habituated to a life of careless indulgence, my translators." A little further on, the poet gives the bookseller's revelations on the mode of converting critics; how "a lean man that looked like a very good scholar," having abused his client's translation of Homer, was judiciously asked by him to take a piece of beef and a slice of pudding, with which invitation complying, he speedily altered his opinion.
indolence, and dependence. To such men it was unimportant whether the wants of the hour were supplied by their own exertions, or by alms extorted from men and women more prudent than themselves. Instead of esteem
ing it "a glorious privilege" to be independent of others, they were constantly scheming how and where they could beg or borrow a guinea, or obtain fine clothes without paying for them. So long as they could live sumptuously upon their friends, and eat without stint the bread of dependence, they did not trouble themselves about the future, or condescend to the slightest mental labour. Gay, witty, amusing, and (sometimes) well-dressed, they were popular in the circles which had for Harry Fielding such immense attractions:-not only behind the scenes of the theatre, but in fashionable taverns and other haunts of dissipation-amongst gay Templars, fast young merchants, and youths of fortune and estate, who considered that wit gave a zest to champagne.
With one man to whom this description most literally applies, namely, Richard Savage, the young dramatic author must have been frequently brought into contact. Savage was at this period a constant attendant at the theatres, and a great favourite with the performers. Two of Fielding's earliest theatrical friends were his stanchest benefactors. Wilks, of whom favourable mention has been already made, and who, says Johnson, "whatever were his abilities and skill as an actor, deserves at least to be remembered for his virtues," successfully exerted himself in procuring occasional supplies of money for the dissipated poet from his unnatural parent. Mrs. Oldfield did more than this: out of her professional income she allowed Savage £50 a year, which was regularly paid him. until her death in 1730. Such an act of generosity might have aroused the suspicions of a censorious world, were it not for Savage's solemn and often repeated declaration, that he had never seen his benefactress alone, "or in any
other place than behind the scenes." 1 How he was able year after year to receive this money without being weighed down by a sense of degradation, it is, however, difficult to conceive. While his benefactress toiled upon the boards, he reconciled it to his conscience to lounge about in lace, grumbling at the inequalities of fortune, indulging in low dissipation, and only escaping the gallows by a miracle of good luck. Content, at any time, to be treated in a tavern by a stranger,-lodging as well as dining by accident, and often without either lodging or dinner, producing from his pocket, whenever he could find a sufficiently credulous victim, proposals for publishing new poems or collecting old ones, and soliciting a subscription in advance,—pursued by creditors,-shunned by prudent friends, who knew how hopeless it was to attempt to assist him, such was the man who enlivened the greenroom with his wit when Fielding's town life commenced, and whose dangerous acquaintanceship must have been early forced on the lively and volatile youth.
As the story of Fielding's life is gradually unfolded, it will be made apparent how powerfully and unfortunately his character and position were influenced by these early associations. A taste for a wild, roving, unsettled life is easily acquired, and not easily shaken off; the hot blood of youthful genius is at all times impatient of control, but especially so after a season of uncontrolled license, and the unrestrained indulgence of every impulse and inclination.
(1) Johnson's Lives of the Poets.
"THE Coffee-House Politician; or, the Justice caught in his own Trap," appears to have been Fielding's next dramatic work. In this piece he first exhibited in very marked degree his skill in character-painting. None of his previous plays contain any strongly individualised portraits; but "The Coffee-House Politician" may be described as one of those lucky sketches which a master's hand could have alone produced. The idea of a political enthusiast, who is so occupied with the affairs of foreign states as to lose sight altogether of his own domestic interests, is an extremely happy one, and well adapted for stage purposes. But besides the politician, this comedy contains a capital portrait of a London justice of the peace (Mr. Justice Squeezum)-one of those strange compounds of ignorance and knavery by whom the laws were administered at metropolitan justice-rooms in the early part of the 18th century. In this coarse but (1) The piece was also acted and published under the title of "Rape upon Rape."
(2) Other satirists besides Fielding have held up such politicians to ridicule. Thus Churchill:
"The cit-a common councilman by place,
Ten thousand mighty nothings in his face,
With wise precaution parcels out the State.
Fearfully wise he shakes his empty head,
And Europe's balance hangs upon his tongue."