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while still occupied with periodical writing and with the duties of a stipendiary magistracy, he found time for the production of his later and equally celebrated novels. But his health, which had long been declining, at last gave way altogether, and in 1754, as a last chance for life, he sailed for Lisbon, but only to die there in the autumn of the same year.
Fielding's English is pure, simple, and unaffected. But his high place in English literature is due not so much to his style, though original and excellent in its kind, as to his transcendent genius as a novelist; to his wide human sympathies, his just conception and sharp delineation of character, his humour, so copious as to extend with undiminished force over his voluminous writings, and the buoyant sense of the enjoyment of life which he has infused into pages composed not unfrequently under the pressure of much physical suffering.
1. The Rescue of a Kitten.
THIS gale continued till towards noon; when the east end of the island bore but little a-head of us. The captain swaggered, and declared he would keep the sea; but the wind got the better of him, so that about three he gave up the victory, and, making a sudden tack, stood in for the shore, passed by Spithead and Portsmouth, and came to an anchor at a place called Ryde on the island.
A most tragical incident fell out this day at sea. While the ship was under sail, but making, as will appear, no great way, a kitten, one of the four of the feline inhabitants of the cabin, fell from the window into the water; an alarm was immediately given to the captain, who was then upon deck, and received it with the utmost concern and many bitter oaths. He immediately gave orders to the steersman in favour of the poor thing, as he called it; the sails were instantly slackened, and all hands, as the phrase is, employed
to recover the poor animal. I was, I own, extremely surprised at all this; less, indeed, at the captain's extreme tenderness, than at his conceiving any possibility of success; for, if puss had had nine thousand, instead of nine lives, I concluded they had been all lost. The boatswain, however, had more sanguine hopes; for, having stript himself of his jacket, breeches, and shirt, he leaped boldly into the water, and to my great astonishment, in a few minutes, returned to the ship, bearing the motionless animal in his mouth. Nor was this, I observed, a matter of such great difficulty as it appeared to my ignorance, and possibly may seem to that of my fresh water reader: the kitten was now exposed to air and sun on the deck, where its life, of which it retained no symptoms, was despaired of by all.
The captain's humanity, if I may so call it, did not so totally destroy his philosophy, as to make him yield himself up to affliction on this melancholy occasion. Having felt his loss like a man, he resolved to shew he could bear it like one; and having declared he had rather have lost a cask of rum or brandy, betook himself to threshing at backgammon with the Portuguese friar, in which innocent amusement they had passed about two-thirds of their time.
But, as I have, perhaps, a little too wantonly endeavoured to raise the tender passions of my readers in this narrative, I should think myself unpardonable if I concluded it, without giving them the satisfaction of hearing that the kitten at last recovered, to the great joy of the good captain, but to the great disappointment of some of the sailors, who asserted that the drowning a cat was the very surest way of raising a favourable wind; a supposition of which, though we have heard several plausible accounts, we will not presume to assign the true original reason.-A Voyage to Lisbon.
2. The Sea Captain.
BUT, to return from so long a digression, to which the use of so improper an epithet gave occasion, and to which the novelty of the subject allured, I will make the reader amends by concisely telling him, that the captain poured forth such a torrent of abuse that I very hastily, and very foolishly, resolved to quit the ship. I gave immediate orders to summon a hoy to carry me that evening to Dartmouth, without considering any consequence. Those orders I gave in no very low voice; so that those above stairs might possibly conceive there was more than one master in the cabin. In the same tone I likewise threatened the captain with that which, he afterwards said, he feared more than any rock or quicksand. Nor can we wonder at this when we are told he had been twice obliged to bring to and cast anchor there before, and had neither time escaped without the loss of almost his whole cargo.
The most distant sound of law thus frightened a man who had often, I am convinced, heard numbers of cannon roar round him with intrepidity. Nor did he sooner see the hoy approaching the vessel than he ran down again into the cabin, and, his rage being perfectly subsided, he tumbled on his knees, and a little too abjectly implored for mercy.
I did not suffer a brave man and an old man to remain a moment in this posture; but I immediately forgave him.
And here, that I may not be thought the sly trumpeter of my own praises, I do utterly disclaim all praise on the occasion. Neither did the greatness of my mind dictate, nor the force of my Christianity exact this forgiveness. To speak truth, I forgave him from a motive which would make men much more forgiving if they were much wiser than they are; because it was convenient for me so to do.
Wednesday. This morning the captain dressed himself in scarlet, in order to pay a visit to a Devonshire squire, to whom a captain of a ship is a guest of no ordinary consequence, as he is a stranger and a gentleman, who hath seen a great deal of the world in foreign parts, and knows all the news of the times.
The squire, therefore, was to send his boat for the captain; but a most unfortunate accident happened; for, as the wind was extremely rough, and against the hoy, while this was endeavouring to avail itself of great seamanship, in hawling up against the wind, a sudden squall carried off sail and yard; or, at least, so disabled them, that they were no longer of any use, and unable to reach the ship; but the captain, from the deck, saw his hopes of venison disappointed, and was forced either to stay on board his ship, or to hoist forth his own long-boat, which he could not prevail with himself to think of, though the smell of the venison had had twenty times its attraction. He did, indeed, love his ship as his wife, and his boats as children, and never willingly trusted the latter, poor things! to the dangers of the seas.
To say truth, notwithstanding the strict rigour with which he preserved the dignity of his station, and the hasty impatience with which he resented any affront to his person or orders, disobedience to which he could in no instance brook in any person on board, he was one of the best-natured fellows alive. He acted the part of a father to his sailors; he expressed great tenderness for any of them when ill, and never suffered any the least work of supererogation to go unrewarded by a glass of gin. He even extended his humanity, if I may so call it, to animals, and even his cats and kittens had large shares in his affections. An instance of which we saw this evening, when the cat, which had shewn it could not be drowned, was found suffocated under a feather-bed in the
cabin. I will not endeavour to describe his lamentations with more prolixity than barely by saying, they were grievous, and seemed to have some mixture of the Irish howl in them. Nay, he carried his fondness even to inanimate objects, of which we have above set down a pregnant example in his demonstration of love and tenderness towards his boats and
ship. He spoke of a ship which he had commanded formerly, and which was long since no more, which he had called the Princess of Brazil, as a widower of a deceased wife. This ship, after having followed the honest business of carrying goods and passengers for hire many years, did at last take to evil courses and turn privateer, in which service, to use his own words, she received many dreadful wounds, which he himself had felt, as if they had been his own.A Voyage to Lisbon.
3. Good Breeding in the first half of the Eighteenth Century.
Now, in order to descend minutely into any rules for good-breeding, it will be necessary to lay some scene, or to throw our disciple into some particular circumstance. We will begin then with a visit in the country; and as the principal actor on this occasion is the person who receives it, we will, as briefly as possible, lay down some general rules for his conduct; marking, at the same time, the principal deviations we have observed on these occasions.
When an expected guest arrives to dinner at your house, if your equal, or indeed, not greatly your inferior, he should be sure to find your family in some order, and yourself dressed and ready to receive him at your gate with a smiling countenance. This infuses an immediate cheerfulness into your guest, and persuades him of your esteem and desire of