1751 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Fielding

Anonymous, "On the Incomparable History of Tom Jones" Ladies Magazine 2 (4 May 1751) 202.



Hail! happy Fielding, who with glorious Ease
Can'st Nature paint, and paint her still to please;
So, exquisitely drawn, so true her Shape,
On each judicious Eye commits a Rape;
Delineated thus! with matchless Art,
The lively Portrait glows in every part;
What Strokes inimitable swell each Page?
Scarce one such Genius rises in an Age.
Thro' every Line poetick Sweetness flows,
To harmonize the rougher Strain of Prose.

Each humorous incident is finely hit,
With Justness, Symmetry of Parts, and Wit.
When Thwackum rages, or when Square disputes,
The grand Center, nor Right, nor Wrong confutes;
In Phrases quaint, how justly ridicules?
Those Oddities in Nature, learned Fools.
The prating Pedant, and the vulgar Great,
Who fall in Character, and sink in State.

When so much Humour with such Wit unites,
The Manner pleases, tho' the Satyre bites;
Polite the Stile, good-natur'd, yet severe;
Deform'd and odious makes all Vice appear.
Nor Sex, Profession, birth, or Title spares,
Each reigning Foible due Correction shares;
Not ev'n his darling Heroe's Faults he screens,
But paints 'em strongly thro' the op'ning Scenes.
The Debauchee o'er clouds his worthier Deeds,
And almost stifles Virtue's latent Seeds;
True Raillery impartial holds the Scales,
Oft plays the Critick, where the Historian fails,
With her own Weapon he himself assails.

Nature throughout the Drama plays her Part,
Behind the Curtain lurks assisting Art,
Who, tho' sometimes thro' casual Lopeholes shown,
From the imperfect Glance remains unknown.
There, Virtue's drest by Polyhymnia's Hand,
Adorn'd with Wit, she rises in command:
All beauteous rises, with attractive Grace,
And shines conspicuous in each proper Place.
Justice and Truth compleat the arduous Task,
Hypocrisy late quits her borrow'd Mask;
Blushing, detected, full of Shame retreats,
Her plotting Schemes, victorious Love defeats.

Some squeamish Criticks, with pedantick Spleen,
Condemn the whole, as ludicrous, obscene;
Wou'd these grave Novices peruse Mankind,
Unprejudic'd, nor to Conviction blind,
They'd soon the Originals, so well copy'd, find.

Had he not drawn a Sketch of Fornication,
Satyr has left untouch'd one half o' th' Nation;
This chang'd to tragick Scenes, the Comic Farce,
Turn'd the licentious Foundling out to Grass;
Each fatal Chance in Love or Fortune felt,
Flow'd from the warm Pursuit of lawless Guilt.
The Author takes his Plan from Flesh and Blood,
'Tis writ in Character, — The Moral good.
Genius and Spirit, each gay Slip attones;
Ask, What is Wit? You'll find in TOM JONES.
Spalding, Lincolnshire.