|Henry Fielding (1707-1754)
Novelist, was born at Sharpham Park, near Glastonbury. His father was General Edmund Fielding, descended from the Earls of Denbigh and Desmond, and his mother was the daughter of Sir Henry Gould of Sharpham Park. His childhood was spent at East Stour, Dorset, and his education was received at first from a tutor, after which he was sent to Eton. Following a love affair with a young heiress at Lyme Regis he was sent to Leyden to study law, where he remained until his father, who had entered into a second marriage, and who was an extravagant man, ceased to send his allowance.
Thrown upon his own resources, he came to London and began to write light comedies and farces, of which during the next few years he threw off nearly a scorey. Fielding thereupon read law at the Middle Temple, was called to the Bar in 1740, and went the Western Circuit.
The same year saw the publication of Richardson's Pamela, which inspired Fielding with the idea of a parody, thus giving rise to his first novel, Joseph Andrews. It was published in 1742, and though sharing largely in the same qualities as its great successor, Tom Jones, its reception, though encouraging, was not phenomenally cordial. The next few years were occupied with writing his Miscellanies, which contained, along with some essays and poems, two important works, A Journey from this World to the Next, and The History of Jonathan Wild the Great, a grave satire.
By this time, however, the publication of his great masterpiece, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), had given him a place among the immortals.
All critics are agreed that this book contains passages offensive to delicacy, and some say to morality. On the other hand, there is universal agreement as to the permanent interest of the types of character presented, the profound knowledge of life and insight into human nature, the genial humour, the wide humanity, the wisdom, and the noble and masculine English of the book. His only other novel, Amelia, which some, but these a small minority, have regarded as his best, was published in 1751. His health was now thoroughly broken, and in 1753, as a forlorn hope, he went in search of restoration to Lisbon, where he died on October 8, and was buried in the English cemetery.
His last work was a Journal of his voyage. Though with many weaknesses and serious faults, Fielding was fundamentally a man of honest and masculine character, and though improvident and reckless in his habits, especially in earlier life, he was affectionate in his domestic relations, and faithful and efficient in the performance of such public duties as he was called to discharge. Thackeray thus describes his appearance, "His figure was tall and stalwart, his face handsome, manly, and noble-looking; to the last days of his life he retained a grandeur of air; and, though worn down by disease, his aspect and presence imposed respect upon people round about him."
From Biographical Dictionary of English Literature - the Everyman Edition of 1910