1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Fielding

William Godwin, in "Of English Style" The Enquirer (1797) 462-63.



Fielding's novel of Tom Jones is certainly one of the most admirable performances in the world. The structure of the story perhaps has never been equalled; nor is there any work that more frequently or more happily excites emotions of the most elevated and delicious generosity.

The style however is glaringly inferior to the constituent parts of the work. It is feeble, costive and slow. It cannot boast of periods elegantly turned or delicately pointed. The book is interspersed with long discourses of religious or moral instruction; but these have no novelty of conception or impressive sagacity of remark, and are little superior to what any reader might hear at the next parish-church. The general turn of the work is intended to be sarcastic and ironical; but the irony is hard, pedantic and unnatural. Whoever will compare the hide-bound sportiveness of Fielding, with the flowing and graceful hilarity of Sterne, must be struck with the degree in which the national taste was improved, before the latter author could have made his appearance.