Leaving school at 17, a strikingly handsome youth, he settled down to the life of a young gentleman of leisure; but four years later, after an abortive elopement with an heiress and the production of a play at the Drury Lane Theatre in London , he resumed his classical studies at the University of Leiden in Holland. After 18 months he had to return home because his father was no longer able to pay him an allowance.
In all, he wrote some 25 plays. Although his dramatic works have not held the stage, their wit cannot be denied.
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His target was often the political corruption of the times. In he produced at the Little Theatre in the Hay later the Haymarket Theatre , London, his Historical Register, For the Year , in which the prime minister , Sir Robert Walpole , was represented practically undisguised and mercilessly ridiculed. The year-old writer had a wife and two children to support but no source of income.
He had married Charlotte Cradock in , this time after a successful elopement, the culmination of a four-year courtship. How much he adored her can be seen from the two characters based on her, Sophia Western in Tom Jones and Amelia in the novel of that name: To restore his fortunes, Fielding began to read for the bar, completing in less than three years a course normally taking six or seven. Even while studying, however, he was editing, and very largely writing, a thrice-weekly newspaper , the Champion; or, British Mercury, which ran from November to June This, like some of his later journalism, was strongly anti-Jacobite.
As a barrister , Fielding, who rode the Western Circuit a judicial subdivision of England twice a year, had little success. In , however, Samuel Richardson published his novel Pamela: A crop of imitations followed. It was published anonymously and, though Fielding never claimed it, Shamela was generally accepted as his work in his lifetime, and stylistic evidence supports the attribution.
The parodic intention soon becomes secondary, and the novel develops into a masterpiece of sustained irony and social criticism , with, at its centre, Parson Adams , one of the great comic figures of literature and a striking confirmation of the contention of the 19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky that the positively good man can be made convincing in fiction only if rendered to some extent ridiculous. Joseph Andrews was written in the most unpropitious circumstances: In Fielding published three volumes of Miscellanies, works old and new, of which by far the most important is The Life of Mr.
Jonathan Wild the Great. Here, narrating the life of a notorious criminal of the day, Fielding satirizes human greatness, or rather human greatness confused with power over others. Permanently topical, Jonathan Wild, with the exception of some passages by his older contemporary, the Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift , is perhaps the grimmest satire in English and an exercise in unremitting irony.
After the Miscellanies Fielding gave up writing for more than two years, partly, perhaps, out of disappointment with the rewards of authorship, partly in order to devote himself to law.
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His health was bad; his practice at the bar did not flourish; worst of all, his wife was still ill. In , to the derision of London, he married Mary, who was pregnant by him. A month later, he became editor of a new weekly paper, The True Patriot: And the History of Our Own Times, which he wrote almost single-handedly until it ceased publication on the defeat of the Pretender at the Battle of Culloden April 16, Its propaganda value was deemed so great that the government purchased 2, copies of each issue for free distribution among the inns and alehouses of the kingdom.
Fielding was now a trusted supporter of the government. His reward came in , when he was appointed justice of the peace or magistrate for Westminster and Middlesex, with his own courthouse, which was also his residence, in Bow Street in central London. The office carried no salary; former Bow Street magistrates had made what they could out of the fees paid by persons brought before them and, often, out of bribes. Though a minor item in Fielding's total oeuvre, the subject is consistent with his ongoing preoccupation with fraud, sham, and masks. His first wife, Charlotte, on whom he later modeled the heroines of both Tom Jones and Amelia, died in Three years later Fielding married her former maid, Mary, with whom he became close during their mutual grieving for the late Charlotte.
Despite negative public opinion of Fielding's second marriage, he became London's Chief Magistrate and his literary career and reputation continued to grow stronger. Joined by his younger half-brother John, he helped found what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, in In , he was presiding judge in the trial of notorious criminal James Field, finding him guilty in a robbery and sentencing him to hang. However, his health had deteriorated to such an extent that he went abroad in , in search of a cure.
He died shortly after his arrival in Lisbon , Portugal, in , where his tomb at the English Church may be visited. His final work was published posthumously in The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon. Despite becoming blind, John Fielding succeeded his older brother as Chief Magistrate and became known as the "Blind Beak" of Bow Street for his ability to recognize criminals by their voice alone. Fielding's first major success in a novel was An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews , an anonymous parody of Samuel Richardson 's melodramatic novel, Pamela, which was exceedingly popular at the time, particularly for its strong moral message.
Shamela was a satire that follows the model of the famous Tory satirists of the previous generation, especially Jonathan Swift and John Gay. Richardson's Pamela concerns the steadfast virtue of a young woman, Pamela, who has been been employed by the lecherous Mr. B, who has been making sexual advances at her, out of wedlock, leading to her practical imprisonment in his home.
Both Pamela and Shamela are epistolary novels, composed of letters that the eponymous character sends home to her mother. In Pamela, Richardson's heroine eventually convinces her near-rapist to marry her so that she can maintain her "virtue" and they can live a happily married couple. Fielding satirized Richardson's story, suggesting that Pamela was a consistent typo, and that the true protagonist, Shamela, wasn't insisting upon living a devoted religious life out of a desire to uphold high moral standards, but rather because she was having an affair with the parson, Williams.
In the end, however, she still marries Mr. Booby as Fielding named the anonymous "Mr. B" whom, it is noted, is rather wealthy. Fielding followed Shamela with Joseph Andrews , an original work supposedly dealing with Pamela's brother, Joseph.
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Although also begun as a parody, this work developed into an accomplished novel in its own right and is considered to mark Fielding's debut as a serious novelist. Fielding satirized Cervantes picaresque style of episodic chapters that often depict isolated incidents that have little or no bearing on the overarching story. Joseph Andrews is on a voyage towards London to reunite himself with his beloved Fanny after being kicked out of his Master's home when he refused the sexual advances of the Master's wife. Along the way he, by chance, encounters his good friend, Parson Abraham Adams, who helps him through his mishaps on the way to London.
Also, Fielding takes a very proactive role as narrator, never turning down a chance to take the reader aside for several hundred words of moral advice or previously untold back story. This incessant narration, to some, is the jewel of Fielding's writing and his best opportunity to say exactly what he means to say. Other readers find Fielding's unrelenting presence downright annoying and heavy-handed.
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The main criticism of the novel, however, was its crass nature. It evokes humor from situations involving violence, name-calling, nudity, and social taboos. However, for many readers, the moral direction offered by Fielding justifies the use of "low" subject matter. Sometimes Fielding dedicates the better half of a chapter to explaining how a rival writer would have portrayed the previous scene, and why Fielding's rendition is superior.
This novel is sometimes thought of as his first because he almost certainly began composing it before he wrote Shamela and Joseph Andrews. It is a satire of Walpole that draws a parallel between Walpole and Jonathan Wild, the infamous gang leader and highwayman. He implicitly compares the Whig party in Parliament with a gang of thieves being run by Walpole, whose constant desire to be a "Great Man" a common epithet for Walpole should culminate only in the antithesis of greatness: Fielding's varied style tempers the basic seriousness of the novel, and his authorial comment preceding each chapter adds a significant dimension to the conventionally straightforward narrative.
They had five children together; their only daughter Henrietta died at age 23, having already been "in deep decline" when she married military engineer James Gabriel Montresor some months before. Three years after Charlotte's death, Fielding disregarded public opinion by marrying her former maid Mary Daniel, who was pregnant. Despite this scandal, Fielding's consistent anti-Jacobitism and support for the Church of England led to his being rewarded a year later with the position of London's chief magistrate, while his literary career went from strength to strength.
Most of his work was concerned with London's criminal population of thieves, informers, gamblers, and prostitutes. In a corrupt and callous society he became noted for his impartial judgements, incorruptibility, and compassion for those whom social inequities had forced into crime.
The income from his office, which he called "the dirtiest money upon earth," dwindled because he refused to take money from the very poor. According to the historian G. Trevelyan , they were two of the best magistrates in 18th-century London, who did much to enhance judicial reform and improve prison conditions.
Fielding's influential pamphlets and enquiries included a proposal for the abolition of public hangings. This did not, however, imply opposition to capital punishment as such — as is evident, for example, in his presiding in over the trial of the notorious criminal James Field , finding him guilty in a robbery and sentencing him to hang.
John Fielding, despite being blind by then, succeeded his older brother as chief magistrate, becoming known as the "Blind Beak of Bow Street" for his ability to recognise criminals by their voices alone. Censor of Great Britain" until November of the same year. In this periodical, Fielding directly challenged the "armies of Grub Street " and the contemporary periodical writers of the day in a conflict that would eventually become the Paper War of —3.
Fielding then published Examples of the Interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder , a treatise in which he rejected the deistic and materialistic visions of the world in favour of belief in God's presence and divine judgement,  arguing that the murder rate was rising due to neglect of the Christian religion.
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Fielding's ardent commitment to the cause of justice as a great humanitarian in the s for instance, his support of Elizabeth Canning coincided with rapid deterioration in his health. Gout , asthma , cirrhosis of the liver  and other afflictions made him use crutches.
This sent him to Portugal in in search of a cure, but he died in Lisbon , reportedly in physical pain and mental distress, only two months later. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other people named Henry Fielding, see Henry Fielding disambiguation. The Roast Beef of Old England. Richard Leveridge later arranged it. This version is performed by the United States Navy Band. Retrieved 9 September Retrieved 4 May