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His Writings, his Times, and his Contemporaries.
BY FREDERICK LAWRENCE,
OF THE MIDDLE TEMPLE, BARRISTER-AT-LAW.
HORACE. De Arte Poetica.
ARTHUR HALL, VIRTUE, & CO., 25, PATERNOSTER ROW.
RATHER more than a century has elapsed since the death of Henry Fielding. During this period, there have appeared the following sketches of his life and character :-- Arthur Murphy prefixed to the collected edition of his works, published in 1762, an Essay, in which the principal facts of his life are noticed, without any attempt at chronological arrangement. In 1807, an "Account
“ Account of the Life and Writings” of the novelist was published by William Watson, which was afterwards prefixed to an edition of his select works, published in Edinburgh, in 1812. A few years later (in 1821), Sir Walter Scott contributed a “Life of Fielding” (since printed amongst his miscellaneous prose works) to Ballantyne's “Novelist's Library.” In 1840, a one-volume edition of Fielding's works was published, to which Mr. Roscoe contributed a biography of some length. To this it must be added that a memoir of the novelist is contained in that valuable repertory of literary facts, Nichols' “Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century;"—not to speak of various articles in reviews, encyclopædias, and biographical dictionaries.
Although the principal incidents of our great novelist's life have been narrated in the foregoing sketches, it is conceived that there is room for a more complete biography. Not only are there errors to correct, and omissions to supply, but the example of recent biographers, particularly that of Mr. John Forster, in the "Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith," has justified the practice of attempting, in the literary memoir, something more than the bare relation of previously recorded facts. The biographer is properly expected to present the author in relation to his times and contemporaries, so that his works and character may be estimated by the standard of his age. And this has been endeavoured-as far as ability and opportunities permitted—in the following pages.
. The materials for such a biography have been sought for, not only in the sources already indicated, but in the newspapers and magazines of the period, in the works of contemporary memoir-writers, and in Fielding's prefaces, -particularly those prefixed to the now scarce edition of his "Miscellanies," published in 1743, and the "Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon." Some notices of the persons amongst whom he lived-players, authors, and lawyers— have been inserted in the text of the biography, or appended to it in the shape of notes; and these, it is hoped, may illustrate in some degree the spirit and character of the times in which he lived, and for which he wrote.
It is not merely on account of his position as the first of English novelists that attention is called, in these pages, to the life of Henry Fielding. His career was more active
and varied than that of most men. As a dramatist, journalist, novelist, barrister, and justice of the peace, he played a prominent part in the business of the world, and left behind him traces of his vigorous, though undisciplined mind, "wheresoever he walked and was.” It is also believed that many instructive lessons may be drawn from his chequered and wayward life; since, at every stage of it, it will be seen how surely retributive sorrow and suffering follow in the track of misspent hours, and how little good principles and the best intentions avail, without the habit and practice of “prudent, cautious self-control.”
The biographer must add that a few papers on Fielding's life were contributed by him to “Sharpe's London Magazine,” which are made use of in the present work.
All that now remains for him is to tender his acknowledgments to his friends, Mr. J. Humffreys Parry, for many suggestions during the passage of the work through the press, and Mr. Thomas Watts, of the British Museum, for some valuable bibliographical information which will be found in an Appendix.