Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 6. Pasquin and The Historical Register; Journalistic work: The Champion

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

II. Fielding and Smollett

§ 6. Pasquin and The Historical Register; Journalistic work: The Champion

Early in 1736, he took the Little theatre in the Haymarket, formed a company of actors, and in this and the following year produced Pasquin and The Historical Register for the year 1736. Of these celebrated dramatic satires something will be said elsewhere, as well as of the share which the second of them had in bringing about the Licensing act of 1737. For Fielding, the passing of this act meant, practically, the end of his career as a dramatist. Two or three plays, written by him in whole or in part, were, indeed, produced in 1737; but, in the same year, he dismissed his company and turned to other fields of work. Of himself, he said, later, that he “left off writing for the stage when he ought to have begun.” He resumed his legal studies, and, in the month of November, became a student of the Middle Temple. There is evidence that he worked hard—without, apparently, ceasing to live hard—and he was called to the bar in June, 1740. Meanwhile, he had not given up authorship altogether. An “Essay on Conversation,” published in the Miscellanies of 1743, was probably written in 1737. In November, 1739, appeared the first number of The Champion, a newspaper published thrice a week, and written mainly by Fielding (whose contributions, signed C. or L., are the most numerous) and his friend James Ralph. He adopted the not uncommon plan of inventing a family or group as supposed authors or occasions of the various essays—in this case, the Vinegar family, of whom captain Hercules, with his famous club, is the most prominent. Among the best papers are the four called “An Apology for the Clergy.” Fielding had attacked the clergy in Pasquin; in “An Apology,” his ironical method exposes even more clearly the vices of place-hunting and want of charity then prevalent among them, while he reveals the deep admiration and reverence for the qualities which were afterwards to glow in his portrait of parson Adams. In an essay on Charity, again, the Fielding of the future is evident in the warm-hearted common sense with which the subject of imprisonment for debt is treated. The personal interest in these papers is strong. One of them has high praise for the humour and moral force of Hogarth’s “Rake’s Progress” and “Harlot’s Progress.” Another furnishes a glimpse of Fielding’s own personal appearance, familiar from Hogarth’s drawing. Yet others continue the persistent attacks on Colley Cibber which Fielding had begun in his plays. Cibber, when, in his Apology (1740), noticing the Licensing act, retorted by an opprobrious reference to Fielding. Thereupon, Fielding vented all his humour, all his weight and all his knowledge of the law and of the world in slashing replies, in which Colley and his son Theophilus are successfully held up to ridicule. The last paper in the essays collected from The Champion is dated Thursday, 12 June, 1740, just before Fielding was called to the bar. He went the western circuit.