1837 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Fielding

Lady Louisa Stuart, 1837; in Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1893) 1:105-07.



Many other people remarkable in different ways must have been known to Lady Mary Wortley; many authors appear to have courted her approbation, but only those persons are mentioned here of whom Lady Bute could speak from her own recollection or her mother's report. Both had made her well informed of every particular that concerned her relation Henry Fielding; nor was she a stranger to that beloved first wife whose picture he drew in his Amelia, where, as she said, even the glowing language he knew how to employ did not do more than justice to the amiable qualities of the original, or to her beauty, although this had suffered a little from the accident related in the novel — a frightful overturn, which destroyed the gristle of her nose. He loved her passionately, and she returned his affection; yet led no happy life, for they were almost always miserably poor, and seldom in a state of quiet and safety. All the world knows what was his imprudence; if ever he possessed a score of pounds, nothing could keep him from lavishing it idly, or make him think of tomorrow. Sometimes they were living in decent lodgings with tolerable comfort; sometimes in a wretched garret without necessaries; not to speak of the spunging-houses and hiding-places where he was occasionally to be found. His elastic gaiety of spirit carried him through it all; but, meanwhile, care and anxiety were preying upon her more delicate mind, and undermining her constitution. She gradually declined, caught a fever, and died in his arms.
His biographers seem to have been shy of disclosing that after the death of this charming woman he married her maid. And yet the act was not so discreditable to his character as it may sound. The maid had few personal charms, but was an excellent creature, devotedly attached to her mistress, and almost broken-hearted for her loss. In the first agonies of his own grief, which approached to frenzy, he found no relief but from weeping along with her; nor solace, when a degree calmer, but in talking to her of the angel they mutually regretted. This made her his habitual confidential associate, and in process of time he began to think he could not give his children a tenderer mother, or secure for himself a more faithful housekeeper and nurse. At least this was what he told his friends; and it is certain that her conduct as his wife confirmed it, and fully justified his good opinion.
Lady Mary Wortley had a great regard for Fielding; she pitied his misfortunes, excused his failings, and warmly admired his best writings; above all Tom Jones, in her own copy of which she wrote "Ne plus ultra." Nevertheless, she frankly said she was sorry he did not himself perceive that he had made Tom Jones a scoundrel; alluding to the adventure with Lady Bellaston.