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HENRY FIELDING: 1707-1754.
Henry Fielding, the greatest of English novelists, spent the earlier part of his life in writing for the stage. Meeting with but little success, he began to study for the bar, to which he was called in 1740. In 1742 appeared his first novel, Joseph Andrews. It was followed by A Journey from this World to the Next, The History of Jonathan Wild, and Tom Jones, which is regarded as a master-piece of humorous fiction. His last work was Amelia.
PARTRIDGE AT THE PLAYHOUSE. From Tom Jones.
In the first row, then, of the first gallery, did Mr Jones, Mrs Miller, her youngest daughter, and Partridge, take their places. Partridge immediately declared it was the finest place he had ever been in. When the first music was played, he said: 'It was a wonder how so many fiddlers could play at one time without putting one another out.' While the fellow was lighting the upper candles, he cried out to Mrs Miller: "Look, look, madam; the very picture of the man in the end of the common-prayer book, before the gunpowder treason service.' Nor could he help observing, with a sigh, when all the candles were lighted: 'That here were candles enough burned in one night to keep an honest poor family for a whole twelvemonth.'
As soon as the play, which was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, began, Partridge was all attention, nor did he break silence till the entrance of the ghost; upon which he asked Jones: 'What man that was in the strange dress; something,' said he, 'like what I have seen in a picture. Sure it is not armour, is it?'
Jones answered: "That is the ghost.'
To which Partridge replied, with a smile: 'Persuade me to that, sir, if you can. Though I can't say I ever actually saw a ghost in my life, yet I am certain I should know one if I saw him better than that comes to. No, no, sir; ghosts don't appear in such dresses as that neither.' In this mistake, which caused much laughter in the neighbourhood of Partridge, he was suffered to continue till the scene between the ghost and Hamlet, when Partridge gave that credit to Mr Garrick which he had denied to Jones, and fell into so violent a trembling that his knees knocked against each other.
Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of the warrior upon the stage.
'O la! sir,' said he, "I perceive now it is what you told me. I am not afraid of anything, for I know it is but a play; and if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance, and in so much company; and yet if I was frightened, I am not the only person.'
'Why, who,' cries Jones, 'dost thou take to be such a coward here besides thyself?'
'Nay, you may call me coward if you will; but if that little man there upon the stage is not frightened, I never saw any man frightened in my life. Ay, ay; go along with you! Ay, to be sure! Who's fool, then? Will you? Lud have mercy upon such foolhardiness! Whatever happens it is good enough for you. Oh! here he is again. No further! No, you have gone far enough already; further than I'd have gone for all the king's dominions.' Jones offered to speak, but Partridge cried, Hush, hush, dear sir; don't you hear him?' And during the whole speech of the ghost, he sat with his eyes fixed partly on the ghost and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open; the same passions which succeeded each other in Hamlet succeeding likewise in him.
When the scene was over, Jones said: 'Why, Partridge, you exceed my expectations. You enjoy the play more than I conceived possible.'
'Nay, sir,' answered Partridge, 'if you are not afraid, I can't help it; but, to be sure, it is natural to be surprised at such things, though I know there is nothing in them: not that it was the ghost that surprised me neither; for I should have known that to have been only a man in a strange dress; but when I saw the little man so frightened himself, it was that which took hold of me.'
'And dost thou imagine then, Partridge,' cries Jones, 'that he was really frightened?'
'Nay, sir,' said Partridge; 'did not you yourself observe afterwards, when he found it was his own father's spirit, and how he was murdered in the garden, how his fear forsook him by degrees, and he was struck dumb with sorrow, as it were, just as I should have been, had it been my own case. But hush! O la! what noise is that? There he is again. Well, to be certain, though I know there is nothing at all in it, I am glad I am not down yonder where those men are.' Then turning his eyes again upon Hamlet:
'Ay, you may draw your sword; what signifies a sword against the power of the devil?'
During the second act, Partridge made very few remarks. He greatly admired the fineness of the dresses; nor could he help observing upon the king's countenance. 'Well,' said he, 'how people may be deceived by faces? Who would think, by looking in the king's face, that he had ever committed a murder?' He then inquired after the ghost; but Jones, who intended he should be surprised, gave him no other satisfaction than 'that he might possibly see him again soon, and in a flash of fire.'
Partridge sat in fearful expectation of this; and now, when the ghost made his next appearance, Partridge cried out: 'There, sir, now; what say you now? is he frightened now or no? As much frightened as you think me; and, to be sure, nobody can help some fears; I would not be in so bad a condition as—what's his name?— Squire Hamlet is there, for all the world. Bless me! what's become of the spirit? As I am a living soul, I thought I saw him sink into the earth.'
'Indeed you saw right,' answered Jones.
'Well, well,' cries Partridge, I know it is only a play; and besides, if there was anything in all this, Madam Miller would not laugh so; for, as to you, sir, you would not be afraid, I believe, if the devil was here in person. There, there; ay, no wonder you are in such a passion; shake the vile wicked wretch to pieces. If she was my own mother, I should serve her so. To be sure all duty to a mother is forfeited by such wicked doings. Ay, go about your business; I hate the sight of you.'
Our critic was now pretty silent till the play which Hamlet introduces before the king. This he did not at first understand, till Jones explained it to him ; but he no sooner entered into the spirit of it, than he began to bless himself that he had never committed murder. Then turning to Mrs Miller, he asked her, 'If she did not imagine the king looked as if he was touched; though he is,' said he, 'a good actor, and doth all he can to hide it. Well, I would not have so much to answer for as that wicked man there hath, to sit upon a much higher chair than he sits upon. No wonder he ran away; for your sake I'll never trust an innocent face again.'
The grave-digging scene next engaged the attention of Partridge, who expressed much surprise at the number of skulls thrown upon the stage.
To which Jones answered: 'That it was one of the most famous burial-places about town.'
'No wonder, then,' cries Partridge, 'that the place is haunted. But I never saw in my life a worse grave-digger. I had a sexton when I was clerk that should have dug three graves while he is digging one. The fellow handles a spade as if it was the first time he had ever had one in his hand. Ay, ay, you may sing. You had rather sing than work, I believe.' Upon Hamlet's taking up the skull, he cried out: Well! it is strange to see how fearless some men are; I never could bring myself to touch anything belonging to a dead man on any account. He seemed frightened enough too at the ghost, I thought.'
Little more worth remembering occurred during the play; at the end of which Jones asked him, 'Which of the players he had liked best.'
To this he answered, with some appearance of indignation at the question: "The king, without doubt.'
'Indeed, Mr Partridge,' says Mrs Miller, 'you are not of the same opinion with the town; for they are all agreed that Hamlet is acted by the best player who ever was on the stage.'
'He the best player!' cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer; 'why, I could act as well as he myself. I am sure if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did. And then, to be sure, in that scene, as you called it, between him and his mother, where you told me he acted so fine, why, Lord help me, any man, that is any good man, that had such a mother, would have done exactly the same. I know you are only joking with me; but, indeed, madam, though I was never at a play in London, yet I have seen acting before in the country; and the king for my money; he speaks all his words distinctly, half as loud again as the other. Anybody may see he is an actor.'
Thus ended the adventure at the playhouse, where Partridge had afforded great mirth, not only to Jones and Mrs Miller, but to all who sat within hearing, who were more attentive to what he said than to anything that passed on the stage. He durst not go to bed all that night for fear of the ghost; and for many nights after sweated two or three hours before he went to sleep with the same apprehensions, and waked several times in great horrors, crying out: 'Lord have mercy upon us! there it is.'
DAVID HUME: 1711-1776.
David Hume, the younger son of a Scottish country gentleman, spent the greater part of his life in literary retirement. After distinguishing himself by several philosophical works remarkable for research and for elegance of style-Treatise on Human Nature; Essays, Moral and Philosophical; and Political Discourses-he commenced his History of England, which appeared from 1754 to 1762. It was the first example of the highest kind of historical composition which appeared in English literature, and is one of the most easy, elegant, and interesting narratives in the language.
THE MIDDLE AGES-PROGRESS OF FREEDOM.
From The History of England.
Those who cast their eye on the general revolutions of society, will find that, as almost all improvements of the human mind had reached nearly to their state of perfection about the age of Augustus, there was a sensible decline from that point or period; and men thenceforth gradually relapsed into ignorance and barbarism. The unlimited extent of the Roman Empire, and the consequent despotism of its monarchs, extinguished all emulation, debased the generous spirits of men, and depressed the noble flame by which all the refined arts must be cherished and enlivened. The military government which soon succeeded, rendered even the lives and properties of men insecure and precarious; and proved destructive to those vulgar and more necessary arts of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce; and in the end, to the military art and genius itself, by which alone the immense fabric of the empire could be supported. The irruption of the barbarous nations which soon followed, overwhelmed all human knowledge, which was already far in its decline; and men sunk every age deeper into ignorance, stupidity, and superstition; till the light of ancient science and history had very nearly suffered a total extinction in all the European nations.
But there is a point of depression as well as of exaltation, from which human affairs naturally return in a contrary direction, and beyond which they seldom pass, either in their advancement or decline. The period in which the people of Christendom were the lowest sunk in ignorance, and consequently in disorders of every kind, may justly be fixed at the eleventh century, about the age of William the Conqueror; and from that era the sun of science,