Born on 22nd of April 1707
Died on 9th of October 1754
In an impecunious life, and with asthma and gout his almost constant companions, Henry Fielding still managed to be an innovative novelist, a reforming magistrate, and a thorn in the side of many corrupt and self-serving politicians, remembered for his greatest book Tom Jones, and as co-founder of the Bow Street Runners.
Fielding was born at Sharpham Park in Somerset to a father who was an army officer, drunkard and spendthrift, and a mother who was a judge’s daughter. When his mother died Fielding’s grandmother won custody of him and his siblings, putting Henry through Eton, where he formed a lifelong amity with Pitt the Elder. He published a comedy, Love in Several Masques, when just 21, but it flopped and he quit England to study law and classics at Leiden (cheaper than study in Britain).
Returning to England he threw himself into theatrical work again, writing Tom Thumb in 1731, and at one point managing the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. His satirical plays, often directed against Sir Robert Walpole, supposedly led directly to the passing of the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737, which effectively ended his theatrical satire and pushed him towards other forms.
Marriage to Charlotte Craddock brought him £1500 which he soon frittered away, forcing him to return to the law, though his gout made it hard thinking on his feet, as it were. He wrote frequently for various newspapers and other outlets, until in 1741 he published Shamela, parodying Richardson’s over-virtuous Pamela. He had found his vocation: Joseph Andrews followed in 1742; and Tom Jones in 1749, with many other publications between. His best writing is picaresque, his humour often broad and less than subtle, but with political and social points cleverly made beneath the knockabout.
Three years after his wife’s death in 1744 he married her maid, heavily pregnant with his child, and was scorned by much of society for so doing. Nevertheless his friends in the Tory party got him the position of Chief Magistrate for London in 1748, and in 1749 he established the first true modern police force, the Bow Street Runners, working with his half-brother John.
In 1754 he travelled to Portugal hoping a change of climate would ease his ailments, but he loathed Lisbon, found no relief, and died there on October 8 that year, just two months after arriving.
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