1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Fielding

William Seward, "Henry Fielding" European Magazine 29 (January 1796) 31-32.



Fielding conversing one day in Millar the Bookseller's shop with some gentlemen on the want of humour among Scotchmen, some of the company insisted they had as much as other Nations, and that it was nothing but prejudice which denied it to them. The conversation continued for some time, when Fielding, seeing Millar passing into the shop from his back parlour, said, "Come, I'll give you a proof of my assertion, if you'll all keep the secret." They promised they would — when he addressed Millar in the following manner:

"Millar," says he, "I have some notion of setting up my coach, and I want your opinion of it." Upon which Millar, who knew the occasional streights of the poet, shook his head. "Aye, aye," says the other, "I know you think I can't afford it, and therefore will advise me against it; but I have a scheme in my head that will at least pay the expences." "Pray what is that?" says Millar. "Why, in the first place, you know I am a Magistrate, and in that capacity, upon a weekly average, I commit thirty or forty people in prison. — Now, as most of these fellows take hackney-coaches to carry them there, my coach shall attend for that purpose. — They won't know the difference, and I shall pocket the fares."

Millar, after hearing him with astonishment, and believing every word to be a truth — begged him, in the most solemn manner, not to think of it — told him that 'twould be impossible to keep it a secret long, and that besides the disgrace which such a transaction would throw upon his character as a Magistrate and an Author, he and his family would run the risque of catching all manner of diseases."

"I told you so," says Fielding (bursting out into a loud laugh, in which he was joined by the rest of the company): "Now here's a fellow, constantly living with Wits and men of literature, that cannot find out the joke of so palpable a story as this, which any other man would but a Scotchman."