Henry Fielding

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Henry Fielding (Sharpham, 22 April 1707 – near Lisbon, 8 October 1754) was an English novelist and dramatist known for his rich earthy humour and satirical prowess, and as the author of the novel Tom Jones.

Aside from his literary achievements, he has a significant place in the history of law-enforcement, having founded (with his half-brother John) what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, using his authority as a magistrate. His younger sister, Sarah, also became a successful writer.[1]

Contents

Biography

Fielding was educated at Eton College, where he established a lifelong friendship with William Pitt the Elder.[2] After a romantic episode with a young woman that ended in his getting into trouble with the law, he went to London where his literary career began.[3] In 1728, he travelled to Leiden to study classics and law at the University.[2] However, due to lack of money he was obliged to return to London and he began writing for the theatre, some of his work being savagely critical of the contemporary government under Sir Robert Walpole.

The Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 is alleged to be a direct response to his activities.[2][4] The particular play that triggered the Licensing Act was The Golden Rump, but Fielding's satires had set the tone. Once the Licensing Act passed, political satire on the stage was virtually impossible, and playwrights whose works were staged were viewed as suspect. Fielding therefore retired from the theatre and resumed his career in law and, in order to support his wife Charlotte Cradock and two children, he became a barrister.[2][4]

His lack of money sense meant that he and his family often endured periods of poverty, but he was helped by Ralph Allen, a wealthy benefactor who later formed the basis of Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones. After Fielding's death, Allen provided for the education and support of his children.

Fielding never stopped writing political satire and satires of current arts and letters. His Tragedy of Tragedies of Tom Thumb (for which Hogarth designed the frontispiece) was, for example, quite successful as a printed play. He also contributed a number of works to journals of the day. He wrote for Tory periodicals, usually under the name of "Captain Hercules Vinegar". During the late 1730s and early 1740s Fielding continued to air his liberal and anti-Jacobite views in satirical articles and newspapers. Almost by accident, in anger at the success of Richardson's Pamela, Fielding took to writing novels in 1741 and his first major success was Shamela, an anonymous parody of Samuel Richardson's melodramatic novel. It is a satire that follows the model of the famous Tory satirists of the previous generation (Jonathan Swift and John Gay, in particular).

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