London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared – and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard,you boys and girls
London calling, now don’t look to us
Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain’t got no swing
‘Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
Cause London is drowning and I, live by the river… ( The Clash )

William Hogarth. Chairing the Member

“…in Fielding’s opinion, of the increasing demoralisation of the ’most useful Part’ of the people. These were, first, the immense number of places of amusement, all seducing the working classes to squander both their money and their time; this being ”indeed a certain Method to fill the Streets with Beggars and the Goals with Debtors and Thieves.” Here, in Fielding’s view, new legislation was demanded. The second cause of the late excessive increase of crime, according to the Enquiry , was an epidemic of gin drinking, ”a new Kind of Drunkenness unknown to our Ancestors [which] is lately sprung up amongst us.” Gin, says Fielding,appeared to be the principal sustenance of more than an hundred thousand Londoners, ”the dreadful Effects of which I have the Misfortune every Day
to see, and to smell too.” The crime resulting from such drunkenness was obvious; but Fielding, looking far beyond the narrow confines of his court-room, beheld a future gin-sodden race,…” ( Godden )

British Museum:'Anonymous: print of office-seeker kissing Walpole's enormous arse:The level of scorn poured on to Prime Minister Robert Walpole ? "Old Corruption" himself ? filled the spectrum, from The Beggar's Opera to this abidingly effective image of political patronage. It uses an image we respond to with our guts ? the baring of buttocks is a universal insult among humans, just as much as it is in many of the higher primates. And we all know, from an early age, that bottoms are the bedrock of rudeness, and the very source of the universally loved toilet humour.

Henry Fielding left Eton at eighteen, neither proceeding to the university nor taking the Grand Tour. Aristocratic origins he might have, but near poverty was his lot. He tried to alleviate his financial distress by carrying off a fifteen year old heiress, Sarah Andrew, but his attempt was thwarted by her trustee, and Fielding only succeeded in making a nuisance of himself. London proved to be his destiny: neither his nature nor his abilities would permit him to settle down as a country gentleman of a small estate, even if he had the means.

London the 1720’s was a rip-roaring place: a vivid contrast between extravagant luxury and grinding poverty, the London of Hogarth’s “Rakes Progress, Marriage a la Mode, Beer Street,” and “Gin Lane”: tough, brutal, savage, yet full of color and life. Luxurious and magnificent for the rich, harsh and disease ridden for the poor. It was a world in which the crafty, the sly and the hypocritical could get away with deceit and double dealing, where the good natured, honest man could easily be overborne, where morality was at a steep discount. The law was slow and expensive and witnesses not difficult to suborn. The vices and follies of manking were written in larbe block letters across the metropolis. The great and powerful could exercise, usually unrebuked, petty tyranny, and the good man had to find satisfaction not in public acclaim but in private knowledge of his ethical behavior. Towering over this riotous, rich, rough, ruthless society was “The Great Man,” as Sir Robert Walpole was known. …

Tate:In The Bad Taste of the Town, Hogarth satirises the contemporary fashion for masquerades, operas, magic, pantomime and Italianate art. On the left of the print, the exterior of the London opera house is dominated by a huge sign - its imagery derived from a recently published satire (displayed here) by another engraver - in which three foreign opera singers, Berenstadt, Cuzzoni and Senesino, are shown receiving bags of money from a trio of noblemen. Hogarth also shows the opera house hosting the conjuring acts of Isaac Fawkes and the masquerades that had been introduced into the English capital by the Swiss impresario John James Heidegger. Opposite stands Lincoln’s Inn Theatre, which had recently enjoyed enormous success through the performance of commedia dell’arte pantomimes. The ‘Accademy of Arts’ depicted in the background of the print (which in fact depicts the doorway to Burlington House in London) signals another bastardised form of contemporary taste – the cult of Italian and classical art and architecture being fostered by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, and his protégé, the artist and designer William Kent, whose stone figure towers above the ludicrously downgraded figures of Michelangelo and Raphael.

“To the well-protected Englishman of to-day the London of 1750 would seem a nightmare of lawlessness. Thieves, as Fielding tells us,
attacked their victims with loaded pistols, beat them with bludgeons and hacked them with cutlasses; and as to the murderers of the period, he has recorded how he himself was engaged on five different murders, all committed by different gangs of street robbers within the space of one week.”

… Walpole ran politics, the court and parliament. Few men had ever acquired so much power, or roused up such a vigorous or so gifted a literary opposition. Swift, Pope and Gay had all tried to get favors from Sir Robert; all had failed. So they pored out their hatreds and frustrations in some of the most brilliant satires England has known. “Gullivers Travels”, “The Dunciad” , “The Beggar’s Opera” , were all targeted at “The Great Man.” In ballads, pamphlets, burlesques, and plays Walpole was mercilessly lampooned, to the great delight of Londoners.

Robert Cruickshank. Godden:were supplemented by constables who it appears had to apply to the military when called upon to cope with the mere suppression of a gaming-house; and by ”Thief-catchers,” individuals so popularly odious that ”the Thief-catcher is in Danger of worse Treatment from the Populace than the Thief.” While the law was thus handicapped, the thief, on his side, had the advantage of the irregular buildings and the immense number of lanes, alleys, courts, and bye-places of London and Westminster, which, says Fielding, ”had they been intended for the very purpose of concealment, they could scarce have been better contrived. Upon such a view the whole appears as a vast Wood or Forest, in which a Thief

harbour with as great Security as Wild Beasts do in the Desarts of Africa or Arabia.”

It was an exciting literary world that young Fielding entered in 1730. He had spent eighteen months at Leyden University studying literature, and he felt full equipped to take London by storm. Seven years later, Fielding had written twenty-five plays- enough for the lifetime of a modern dramatist- but in the eighteenth-century the theatre catered to a small audience, and within a few performances, everyone who was likely to wish to see the play had done so. In consequence, dramatists needed to work hard and fast to make a living. …

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, you can go at it alone
London calling to the zombies of death
Quit holding out – and draw another breath
London calling – and I don’t wanna shout
But while we were talking I saw you *running out
London calling, see we ain’t got no high
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes

The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
Cause London is drowning and I, I live by the river… ( The Clash )

Thomas Rowlandson. "A keen satirist, he was a good match as an illustrator of books by Henry Fielding, Oliver Goldsmith, Laurence Sterne and Tobias Smollett, but many of his later watercolors and drawings were for private pleasures - they were simply too explicit for the time."

…Fielding produced, almost at command, anything that could be acted; comedies, farces, ballad operas, burlesques, and dramatic satires. He avoided only tragedy. George Bernard Shaw, in one of his more extraordinary judgements, maintained that this work of Fielding’s made him England’s most considerable dramatist- Shakespeare alone excepted- between the Middle Ages and the end of the nineteenth-century. Shaw’s assertion based on Fielding’s sparkling intellectual energy and verbal irony.

Fielding’s plays were almost entirely political or social: bitter about the Court and Parliament or equally savage in the exposure of the vice and folly and debauchery of contemporary London life. It was razor-edged satire, completely oblivious to the prevailing legislation on libel, indifferent to any laws on obscenity, and was a full-frontal assault  that gave vent to his genuine pessimistic hatred of the political corruption that ulcerated English life….

“At the date of his first plunge into these struggles England stood sorely in need of a pen as biting, as witty and as fearless, as that of Henry Fielding. For over ten years the country had been ruled by one of those ”peace at any price” Ministers who have at times so successfully inflamed the baser commercial instincts of Englishmen. Sir Robert Walpole, the reputed organiser of an unrivalled system of bribery and corruption, the Minister of whom a recent apologist frankly declares that to young members of Parliament who spoke of public virtue and patriotism he would reply ”you will soon come off that and grow wiser,” the autocrat enamoured of power who could brook no colleague within measurable distance, the man of coarse habits and illiterate tastes, above all the man who induced his countrymen to place money before honour, and whose administration even an admirer describes as one of unparalleled stagnation–such a man must have roused intense antagonism in Fielding’s generous and ardent nature.”

Thomas Rowlandson

… At that time, during Sir Robert Walpole’s administration, many sensible and intelligent men  believed that the high ideals of liberty , for which their fathers and grandfathers had fought and died in the seventeenth-century , were being destroyed by self-seeking politicians , interested only in the riches that power could bring. With the steady growth of a literate public, such bitter satire as Fielding’s and that of his fellow authors found a responsive audience.

The theatres were crowded, the plays rapturously received, and he could live the wild life his father had taught him to enjoy. Yet when fame and fortune seemed to be at the playwrights feet, Walpole acted. In 1737, owing almost entirely to the violence of Fielding’s satire, an Act of Parliament was passed that required all plays to have the permission of the Lord Chamberlain, a court official, before they were performed on the English stage. For Fielding it meant ruin, for it was evident he would be banned. Satire was his trade; irony his genius.

The ostensible provocation was an anonymous play,The Golden Rump, which was said to promise unprecedented hostility to Walpole .Though since it was never performed it is impossible to prove this; and some suspected it was a figment created by pro- government interests. It was however widely felt that, whatever justification might be claimed, the legislation was in fact a direct response to Fielding: James Harris declared, loyally and memorably, that ‘The Legislature made a law, in order to curb one private man’ . Fielding’s years as Britain’s most popular contemporary dramatist disappeared overnight.

Thomas Rowlandson

As a married man, with children, he faced a bleak future.In these circumstances he took a decision which was at the same time extraordinary and utterly predictable: at the age of thirty he changed direction completely and decided to train to be a lawyer. Harris recorded that he toiled like a drudge to master the necessary laws and precedents,  though he seems in true student fashion to have combined intense study with equally intense social evenings in local taverns. His maternal relatives helped fast-track him through the training process, and Fielding qualified as a lawyer in1740. The next step was to begin a routine which would last for the best part of a decade, working on the Western Circuit, but briefs were few and meanly paid.

He included the popular spa town of Bath in his journeys, and it may well have been now that he made the acquaintance of the self-made man and philanthropist Ralph Allen, who quickly became a close friend: Fielding was often to be seen at Allen’s newly built mansion of Prior Park, along with other notable gentry and intellectual figures. Fielding may have been expanding his circle of friends and acquaintances, but he did not achieve immediate professional success, and in the early years  of his legal career he only kept himself and his family from destitution by his political journalism, chiefly the successful Opposition journal “The Champion”, which he managed and wrote for between1739 and1742, excoriating Walpole in this medium quite as keenly as he had in his dramas. But it was a threadbare existence based on venting spleen; the kind of straightforward political diatribe whose rhetoric cramped the imagination. He seemed to have lost his way.

William Hogarth. Tate:This street scene shows a group of youths, almost all of whom are participating in or encouraging the abuse of animals and birds. Boys are seen tying a bone to a dog’s tail, cauterising the eyes of a bird, stringing up kittens from a signpost or cockfighting. The worst abuse is being inflicted by Nero, who pushes an arrow into the anus of a terrified dog being restrained by two other boys. Another youth is distressed by what Nero is doing and attempts to stop him by offering a tart. To the left of Nero, a boy draws a hanged man on the wall and points at him, underlining the inevitable: that Nero’s behaviour will deteriorate further and cost him his life.

In addition he undertook a range of literary projects including not only political pamphlets but also a translation of a biography of the early- eighteenth-century Swedish conqueror-king Charles XII, and he even made a brief return to the stage withMiss Lucy in Town- his first collaboration with the new theatrical star David Garrick. Around1740 he began experimenting with prose fiction. Prompted by the huge success of Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela (1740–1), he wrote first the witty and scurrilous satire Shamela (1741), and then the much more independent narrative of The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews. It was in this experimentation and innovation with what was a new medium,the novel, and a hitherto lowly regarded one that allowed him to see the potential of sequencing stage style skits into chapters and fiddling with what was then, unheard of narrative structures. …

Matthew Wickham: Fielding’s objective, like Burney’s, is to delineate the proper terrain of the novel; this means differentiating it
from “that species of writing which is called the marvellous. To this we shall,” his narrator announces, “endeavour to set some certain
bounds.” In delimiting these boundaries Fielding coins the expression “poetic faith,” claiming that critics who rigidly demand narrative fidelity to real-life circumstances show “so little historic or poetic faith, that they believe nothing to be either possible or probable, the like to which hath not occurred to their own observation”.

Unlike Coleridge, however, who would deploy “poetic faith” in its most recognizable form by advocating a “willing suspension of
disbelief,” Fielding seemed intent on stimulating his readers’ faculties of judgment. Echoing Hume’s sceptical argument in “Of Miracles”
(1748), Fielding’s narrator reasons that “what it is not possible for man to perform, it is scarce possible for man to believe he did [once] perform,” contrary to what one reads in old romantic histories . His argument for reasonable estimations of possibility
thus circumscribes the broad limits of narrative credulity.

...The Golden Rump is a farcical play of unknown authorship said to have been written in 1737. It acted as the chief trigger for the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737. The play has never been performed on stage or published in print. No manuscript of the play survives, casting some doubt over whether it ever existed in full at all. The authorship of the play has often been ascribed to Henry Fielding, at that time a popular and prolific playwright who often turned his incisive satire against the monarch George II and particularly the “prime minister” Sir Robert Walpole. Modern literary historians, however, increasingly embrace the opinion that The Golden Rump may have been secretly commissioned by Walpole himself...

In assigning these boundaries to the novel, Fielding initiates a tension between rational consensus and authoritative prescription, asthough in addressing his readers he were a judge counselling jurors. This legal analogy seems especially fitting given Fielding’s implicit appeal to burgeoning codes of circumstantial evidence: “It is by falling into fiction,” he claims, “that we generally offend … probability, which the historian seldom if ever quits, till he forsakes his character, and commences a writer of romance.” To avoid such debasement, and in light of the fact that writers and readers of fiction “have no publick notoriety, no concurrent testimony, no records to support and corroborate what [is] deliver[ed], it becomes [them] not only to keep within the limits of possibility, but of [juridical] probability too” .

Alexander Welsh has written persuasively about Fielding’s incorporation of emergent legal evidential strategies, claiming
that the “main thrust” in Tom Jones “is against [direct] testimony of one form or another.” Witnesses remained key sources of evidence in eighteenth-century England, but consistently with Fielding’s sentiment, the new system of evidence-in which the proportion of cases argued by lawyers rose exponentially, and in which courts began formally to articulate the separate functions of witnesses and jurors-favoured a more rationalistic, probabilistic interpretation of facts.!? The new system of evidence on which Fielding sought to ground literary narrative (and vice versa) engaged a dialectic of disavowal and nostalgia similar to that which we perceived in Evelina…

Henry Fielding and Sarah Andrew: The story, as indicated in the surviving outlines, might be the draft for a chapter of Tom Jones . The scene is Lyme Regis. The chief actors are Harry Fielding, scarce more than a schoolboy; a beautiful heiress, Miss Sarah Andrew; and her uncle, one Mr Andrew Tucker, a timorous and crafty member of the local corporation. The handsome Etonian, who had been for some time resident in the old town, fell madly in love, it seems, with the lady, who is stated to have been his cousin on his mother’s side. The views of her guardian were, however, opposed to the young man’s suit, Mr Andrew Tucker mercenarily designing to secure the heiress for his own son. Thereupon Harry Fielding is said to have made a desperate attempt to carry the lady off by force, and that, moreover, ”on a Sunday, when she was on her way to Church.”

Michael Finney:Hogarth's most famous and densely composed theatrical satire, showing a company of touring players dressing and rehearsing their parts in Devil to Pay in Heaven in a tumbledown barn. Walpole's infamous bill (intended to suppress dissident playwrights) closing all provincial theatre and also including all the London theatres except Lincolns Inn Fields and Drury Lane became law on June 21st 1737. From the playbills on the truckle bed in the foreground of this print it is evident that this is a provincial company about to put on its last performance. The central figure is a scantily clad actress in her underclothes and a headdress signifying that she is playing Diana the Huntress, rehearsing her dance steps. Behind her to the right two small imps quaff an enormous tankard of ale, a toothless old woman docks a squealing cat, and on the far right a negro maid sews up the hole in the stockings of an actress rehearsing her lines. In the foreground a small monkey pees into a roman helmet and kittens play with royal regalia and a small harp. On the left a man climbs up a rickety ladder to check how his socks are drying over the mantelshelf, a female actress playing Ganymede stands without her breeches, drinking gin to help with the pain of toothache, and a very small Zeus's eagle spoon feeds a squalling baby using a paper inscribed Act Against Strolling Players which sits on top of a Royal Crown as a coaster under the baby's food (thus neatly expressing Hogarth's contempt for the Act). An actress in a hoop but no overskirt waxes her hair with a candle and on the left a stage set of a portico wreathed in roses stands propped against the wall. Further props and hampers are littered about the floor and a washing line, a large flag and two small griffins hang from the rafters.

…Further, the efforts of the impetuous youth would seem to have extended to threatened assaults on the person of his fair cousin’s guardian, Mr Tucker; for we find that affrighted worthy flying for protection to the arm of the law, as recorded in the Register Book of Lyme Regis, under date of the 14th November 1725:–”… Andrew Tucker, Gent., one of the Corporation, caused Henry Fielding, Gent., and his servant or companion, Joseph Lewis–both now for some time past residing in the borough–to be bound over to keep the peace, as he was in fear of his life or some bodily hurt to be done or to be procured to be done to him by H. Fielding and his man. Mr A. Tucker feared that the man would beat, maim, or kill him.” No words could more aptly sum up this delightful story than those of Mr Austin Dobson: ”a charming girl, who is also an heiress; a pusillanimous guardian, with ulterior views of his own; a handsome and high-spirited young suitor; a faithful attendant ready to ’beat, maim or kill’ on his master’s behalf; a frustrated elopement and a compulsory visit to the mayor–all these with the picturesque old town of Lyme for a background, suggest a most appropriate first act to Harry Fielding’s biographical tragi-comedy.”

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  1. Joan Mira says:


    You can take a look at Momardi. Tuesday’s blog about Visual Arts in London. Tales of a girl working her way into the contemporary art scene.

    Very nice stuff.



    Joan Mira

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