Henry Fielding (1707-1764). Courtesy Tavistock Books.

Henry Fielding
Pen name "Captain Hercules Vinegar", also some works published anonymously
Occupation Novelist, dramatist
Nationality English
Writing period 1728–54
Genres satire, picaresque
Literary movement Enlightenment, Augustan Age
Relative(s) Sarah Fielding, John Fielding

Henry Fielding (22 April 1707 - 8 October 1754) was an English poet, novelist. and dramatist known for his rich earthy humour and satirical prowess, best remembered as the author of the novel Tom Jones.

Aside from his literary achievements, he has a significant place in the history of law enforcement, having founded (with his half-brother John) what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, using his authority as a magistrate.

His younger sister, Sarah, also became a successful writer.[1]


Fielding was born at Sharpham, Somerset. He was educated at Eton College, where he established a lifelong friendship with William Pitt the Elder.[2] After a romantic episode with a young woman that ended in his getting into trouble with the law, he went to London, where his literary career began.Drabble, Margaret, ed (1985). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford University Press. pp. 347–48.  </ref> In 1728, he travelled to Leiden to study classics and law at the university.[2] However, lack of money obliged him to return to London, where he enrolled in the Middle Temple.

Dramatist and novelistEdit

For income, Fielding began writing for the theatre. Some of his work was savagely critical of the government of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. The Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 is alleged to be a direct response to his activities.[2][3] The particular play that triggered the Licensing Act was the unproduced, anonymously authored, The Golden Rump, but Fielding's dramatic satires had set the tone. Once the act was passed, political satire on the stage became virtually impossible, and playwrights whose works were staged were viewed as suspect.

Fielding therefore retired from the theatre and resumed his career in law in order to support his wife Charlotte Craddock and two children, by becoming a barrister.[2][3] Fielding's lack of financial acumen meant he and his family often endured periods of poverty, but he was helped by Ralph Allen, a wealthy benefactor, on whom Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones was later based. Allen went on to provide for the education and support of Fielding's children after the writer's death.

File:Henry Fielding c 1743 etching from Jonathan Wild the Great.jpg

Fielding never stopped writing political satire and satires of current arts and letters. The Tragedy of Tragedies (for which Hogarth designed the frontispiece) was, for example, quite successful as a printed play. He also contributed a number of works to journals of the day. He wrote for Tory periodicals, usually under the name "Captain Hercules Vinegar". Fielding continued to air his liberal and anti-Jacobite views in satirical articles and newspapers in the late 1730s and early 1740s.

Almost by accident he took to writing novels in 1741, angered by Samuel Richardson's success with Pamela. His first big success was an anonymous parody of that: Shamela.[4] Fielding followed this with Joseph Andrews (1742), an original work supposedly dealing with Pamela's brother, Joseph.[2] In 1743, he published a novel in the Miscellanies volume III (which was the first volume of the Miscellanies): The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great, which is sometimes counted as his first, as he almost certainly began it before he wrote Shamela and Joseph Andrews. His greatest work was Tom Jones (1749), a meticulously constructed picaresque novel telling the convoluted and hilarious tale of how a foundling came into a fortune.


Fielding married his first wife, Charlotte Craddock, in 1734 at the Church of St Mary in Charlcombe, Somerset.[5] Charlotte, on whom he later modelled the heroines of both Tom Jones and Amelia, died in 1744. By her he had five children, of whom a lone daughter, Henrietta, survived childhood only to die at the age of 23, having already been "in deep decline" when she married military engineer James Gabriel Montresor some months before. Three years after Charlotte's death, Fielding disregarded public opinion by marrying her former maid, Mary Daniel, who was pregnant.[3] Mary bore five children: three daughters who died young and two sons, William and Allen.[6]

Jurist and magistrateEdit

Despite this scandal, Fielding's consistent anti-Jacobitism and support for the Church of England led to his being rewarded a year later with the position of London's chief magistrate, while his literary career went from strength to strength. Joined by his younger half-brother John, he helped found what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, in 1749.[7]

According to the historian G.M. Trevelyan]], the Fielding brothers were two of the best magistrates in 18th-century London, who did much to enhance judicial reform and improve prison conditions. Fielding's influential pamphlets and enquiries included a proposal for the abolition of public hangings. This did not, however, imply opposition to capital punishment as such – as is evident, for example, in his presiding in 1751 over the trial of the notorious criminal James Field, finding him guilty in a robbery and sentencing him to hang. John Fielding, despite being blind by then, succeeded his older brother as chief magistrate, becoming known as the "Blind Beak of Bow Street" for his ability to recognise criminals by their voices alone.[8]

In January 1752 Fielding started a fortnightly periodical entitled The Covent-Garden Journal, which he would publish under the pseudonym of "Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt. Censor of Great Britain" until November of the same year. In this periodical, Fielding directly challenged the "armies of Grub Street" and the contemporary periodical writers of the day in a conflict that would eventually become the Paper War of 1752–3.

Fielding then published Examples of the interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder (1752), a treatise in which, rejecting the deistic and materialistic visions of the world, he wrote in favour of the belief in God's presence and divine judgement,[9] arguing that the murder rate was rising due to neglect of the Christian religion.[10] In 1753 he wrote Proposals for Making an Effectual Provision for the Poor.

File:Henry Fielding grave.jpg

Fielding's ardent commitment to the cause of justice as a great humanitarian in the 1750s (for instance, his support of Elizabeth Canning) coincided with rapid deterioration in his health. Gout, asthma and other afflictions made him use crutches. This sent him to Portugal in 1754 in search of a cure, but he died in Lisbon, reportedly in physical pain and mental distress, only two months later.[3][11] His tomb is in the city's English Cemetery (Cemitério Inglês), which is now the graveyard of St. George's Church, Lisbon.



Fielding's first major success in a novel was An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741), an anonymous parody of Samuel Richardson's melodramatic novel, Pamela, which was exceedingly popular at the time, particularly for its strong moral message. Shamela was a satire that follows the model of the famous Tory satirists of the previous generation, especially Jonathan Swift and John Gay.

Richardson's Pamela concerns the steadfast virtue of a young woman, Pamela, who has been been employed by the lecherous Mr. B-----, who has been making sexual advances at her, out of wedlock, leading to her practical imprisonment in his home. Both Pamela and Shamela are epistolary novels, composed of letters that the eponymous character sends home to her mother. In Pamela, Richardson's heroine eventually convinces her near-rapist to marry her so that she can maintain her "virtue" and they can live a happily married couple. Fielding satirized Richardson's story, suggesting that Pamela was a consistent typo, and that the true protagonist, Shamela, wasn't insisting upon living a devoted religious life out of a desire to uphold high moral standards, but rather because she was having an affair with the parson, Williams. In the end, however, she still marries Mr. Booby (as Fielding named the anonymous "Mr. B-----") whom, it is noted, is rather wealthy.

Joseph AndrewsEdit

Fielding followed Shamela with Joseph Andrews (1742), an original work supposedly dealing with Pamela's brother, Joseph. Although also begun as a parody, this work developed into an accomplished novel in its own right and is considered to mark Fielding's debut as a serious novelist.

The book's original title page read, "The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, and his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams. Written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes, Author of Don Quixote. Fielding satirized Cervantes picaresque style of episodic chapters that often depict isolated incidents that have little or no bearing on the overarching story. Joseph Andrews is on a voyage towards London to reunite himself with his beloved Fanny after being kicked out of his Master's home when he refused the sexual advances of the Master's wife. Along the way he, by chance, encounters his good friend, Parson Abraham Adams, who helps him through his mishaps on the way to London. Also, Fielding takes a very proactive role as narrator, never turning down a chance to take the reader aside for several hundred words of moral advice or previously untold back story.

This incessant narration, to some, is the jewel of Fielding's writing and his best opportunity to say exactly what he means to say. Other readers find Fielding's unrelenting presence downright annoying and heavy-handed. The main criticism of the novel, however, was its crass nature. It evokes humor from situations involving violence, name-calling, nudity, and social taboos. However, for many readers, the moral direction offered by Fielding justifies the use of "low" subject matter.

And, of course, Fielding pokes fun at all of his usual victims, such as Colley Cibber, Samuel Richardson, and Sir Robert Walpole. Sometimes Fielding dedicates the better half of a chapter to explaining how a rival writer would have portrayed the previous scene, and why Fielding's rendition is superior.

Jonathan Wild the GreatEdit

In 1743, Fielding published a novel in the Miscellanies volume III (which was the first volume of the Miscellanies). This was The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great. This novel is sometimes thought of as his first because he almost certainly began composing it before he wrote Shamela and Joseph Andrews. It is a satire of Walpole that draws a parallel between Walpole and Jonathan Wild, the infamous gang leader and highwayman. He implicitly compares the Whig party in Parliament with a gang of thieves being run by Walpole, whose constant desire to be a "Great Man" (a common epithet for Walpole) should culminate only in the antithesis of greatness: Being hanged.

The Female HusbandEdit

His anonymous The Female Husband (1746) is a fictionalized account of a notorious case in which a female transvestite was tried for duping another woman into marriage; this was one of a number of small pamphlets, and cost sixpence at the time.[12] Though a minor item in Fielding's œuvre, the subject is consistent with his ongoing preoccupation with fraud, shamming and masks.

Tom JonesEdit

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, often known simply as Tom Jones — a comic novel first published on February 28, 1749 — is arguably one of the first prose works describable as a novel, and Fielding's most accomplished work — or certainly most epic. The novel is divided into 18 smaller books. It was published on February 28, 1749, and enjoyed immediate popularity despite intense criticism for its "lowness."

Tom Jones is a foundling discovered on the property of a very kind, wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy, in Somerset in England's West Country. Tom grows into a vigorous and lusty, yet honest and kind-hearted, youth. He develops affection for his neighbor's daughter, Sophia Western. On one hand, their love reflects the romantic comedy genre popular in eighteenth century Britain. However, Tom's status as a bastard causes Sophia's father and Allworthy to oppose their love; this criticism of class friction in society acted as a biting social commentary. The inclusion of prostitution and sexual promiscuity in the plot was also original for its time, and also acted as the foundation for criticism of the book's "lowness."

Like his contemporary, Smollett, Fielding draws on a variety of literary sources. The narrative situation comes from picaresque. The narrative situation of a dispossessed young man's peregrinations around the country, accompanied by a faithful servant (Partridge) who acts as character-foil to him is a feature of picaresque, as is the "low life" material and the introduction of secondary figures who display their natures in some kind of interaction with the hero and then disappear again.

Despite Fielding's general disdain, the French and English medieval and Elizabethan romance also plays a role in Tom Jones. According to Doreen Roberts, it often used the idea of a journey, but also turned on a love-plot dominated by aristocratic and idealized characters (akin to Spenser's The Faerie Queene and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), typically involving a conflict between passion and some loftily conceived duty. Fielding also turned to comic drama to supply the model for certain localized plot-transactions, especially the Upton episode and the denouement events in London.

Fielding also mixes some more obviously Augustan elements into this pot-pourri of literary influences, such as the mock-epic descriptions of morning or evening, several long-tailed similes, and the fisticuffs scene between Molly Seagrim and the villagers in the Somerset churchyard (c.f. Book IV, Chapter viii).

Structural coherence of the plot is as important as rhetorical, according to Doreen Robers, and Fielding uses various means to achieve this. First, and most obviously, he exploits the birth-mystery of Tom to counteract the effect of the novel's episodic nature. Secondly, he uses as many characters as possible in more than one role (for example, Mr. Anderson, the highwayman whom Tom helps, is Mrs. Miller's cousin, who is also a trusted agent of Mr. Allworthy and is thus in a position to redeem his character). However, the main unity-promoting device is the use of nearly all the secondary characters to advance an ethos and illustrate a scheme of moral taxonomy. Fielding's moral vision operates between the moral polarities of appearance and reality, action (what one sees) and motive (what one deduces), reasoned principle and instinct, prudence and impulsiveness, and suspicion and trust.

Fielding also takes the opportunity at the beginning of each book to discourse on some general moral or social issue, and then proceeds to a narrative situation in which the issue is demonstrated, or he refers his reader back by implication to some past action to which it is pertinent.


Perhaps due to Fielding's strenuous service as a justice and declining health, his 1752 novel, Amelia, took on a more deliberate moral authority and was met with apathy. It's titular character, Amelia, was modeled after his late first wife, Charlotte, and her character is considered the one redeeming value of this particular novel. Having such a morally sound protagonist caused Fielding to stray slightly away from his traditional picaresque form. Rather, the uncouth-yet-likable character is found in Amelia's husband, William Booth. Their domestic quarrels are the subject of the novel.



  • The Masquerade: A poem. London: J. Roberts / A. Dodd, 1728.
  • The Vernon-iad: Done into English from the original Greek of Homer, lately found at Constantinople. 1741.


  • Love in Several Masques: A comedy. London: John Watts, 1728.
  • Rape upon Rape; or, The justice caught in his own trap: A comedy. London: John Watts, 1730.
  • The Temple Beau: A comedy. London: John Watts, 1730.
  • The Author's Farce, and The pleasure of the town (by "Scriblerus Secundus"). London: J. Roberts, 1730.
  • Tom Thumb: A tragedy (by "H. Scriblerus Secundus"). London: J. Roberts, 1730
    • also published as The Tragedy of Tragedies; or, The life and death of Tom Thumb the Great.London: J. Roberts, 1731.
  • The Letter Writers; or, A new way to keep the wife at home: A farce (by "Scriblerus Secundus"). London: J. Watts, 1731.
  • The Welsh Opera: or, The grey mare the better horse (by "Scriblerus Secundus"). London: E. Rayner, for H. Cook, 1731,
  • The Grub Street Opera. London: J. Roberts, 1731.
  • The Modern Husband: A comedy. London: J. Watts, 1732.
  • The Lottery: a farce. London: J. Watts, 1732.
  • The Covent Garden Tragedy. London: J. Watts, 1732.
  • Don Quixote in England: A comedy. London: J. Watts, 1734.
  • An Old Man Taught Wisdom; or, The virgin unmask'd: A farce. London: John Watts, 1735.
  • The Universal Gallant; or, The different husbands: a comedy. London: J. Watts, 1735.
  • Pasquin: A dramatick satire on the times. London: J. Watts: 1736.
  • Tumble-down Dick; or, Phaeton in the suds: A dramatick entertainment. London: J. Watts, 1736.
  • The Historical Register for the Year 1736; to which is added a very merry tragedy called Eurydice Hiss'd; or, A word to the wise. Edinburgh: J. Roberts, 1737.
  • Miss Lucy in Town; a sequel to the virgin unmasqued: A farce with songs. London: A. Millar, 1742.
  • Dramatic Works. (2 volumes), 1745; (3 volumes), London: A. Millar, 1755.
  • The Fathers; or, The good-natur'd man. London: T. Cadell, 1778.
  • Plays (edited by Thomas F Lockwood & JoAnn Taricani). Oxford, UK, & New York: Clarendon Press, 2004-2011.


Short fictionEdit

  • A Dialogue between a Beau's Head and his Heels, Taken from their mouth as they were spoke at St. James's Coffeehouse. London: John Watts, 1731.
  • The Opposition: A vision. London: T. Cooper, 1742.
  • A dialogue between the Devil, the Pope and the Pretender. London: M. Cooper, 1745.
  • The Female Husband; or, The surprising history of Mrs Mary alias Mr George Hamilton, who was convicted of having married a young woman of Wells and lived with her as her husband, taken from her own mouth since her confinement. London: M. Cooper, 1746.
  • A Dialogue: Between a gentleman of London, agent for two Court candidates, and an honest alderman of the Country Party, earnestly address'd to the electors of Great Britain. London: M. Cooper, 1747.
  • The Female Husband, and other writings (edited by Claude Edward Jones). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1960.


  • Of True Greatness: An epistle to the Right Honourable George Dodington esq. London: C. Corbett, 1741.
  • A full Vindication of the Dutchess Dowager of Marlborough: Both with regard to the account lately published by her Grace and to her character in general. London: J. Robert, 1742.
  • An Attempt towards a Natural History of the Hanover Rat. London: M. Cooper, 1744.
  • The History of the Present Rebellion in Scotland: Taken from the relation of James Macpherson, who was an eyewitness of the whole. London: M. Cooper, 1745.
  • A Serious Address to the People of Great Britain: In which the certain consequences of the present rebellion are fully demonstrated. London: M. Cooper, 1745.
  • A Proper Answer to a late Scurrilous Libel, entitled An apology for the conduct of a late celebrated second-rate minister. London: M. Cooper, 1747.
  • A charge Delivered to the Grand Jury: At the sessions of the peace held for the City and Liberty of Westminster. London: A. Millar, 1749.
  • A True State of the Case of Bosavern Penlez: Who suffered on account of the late riot in the Strand. London: A. Millar, 1749.
  • An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers. London: A. Millar, 1751.
  • A Plan of the Universal Register Office. London: 1751.
  • "Examples of the Interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder: Containing above thirty cases in which this dreadful crime has been brought to light in the most extraordinary and miraculous manner; collected from various authors, ancient and modern. London: A. Millar, 1752.
  • A Proposal for Making an Effectual Provision for the Poor: For amending their morals and for rendering them useful members of the society. London: A. Millar, 1753.
  • A Clear State of the Case of Elizabeth Canning: Who hath sworn that she was robbed and almost starved to death. London: A. Milar, 1753.
  • The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon. London: A. Millar, 1755.
  • Selected Essays (edited by Gordon Hall Gerould). Boston & New York: Ginn, 1905.
  • The True Patriot / The History of Our Times (edited by Miriam Austin Locke). University of Alabama Press, 1964.
  • The True Patriot, and related writings (edited by W.B. Coley). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987.
  • Contributions to The Champion, and related writings (edited by W.B. Coley). Oxford, UK, & New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Collected editionsEdit

  • Miscellanies. London: A. Millar, 1743; Dublin: S. Powell, for John Smith, 1743.
  • The Works. (8 volumes), London: A. Millar, 1762.
  • The Works. (12 volumes), London: W. Strahan / J. Rivington / S. Crowder / T. Longman / et al, 1783. Volume VII
  • Works (edited by Arthur Murphy). London: F.C. & J. Rivington, 1821.
  • Complete Works. London: Bell & Dalsy, 1869.
  • Miscellanies and Poems (edited by James P. Brown). London: Bicker, 1872.
  • The Works (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1882.
  • The Works. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Universeity Press (Wesleyan Edition), 1967-


  • Moliere, The Mock Doctor; or, The dumb lady cur'd: A comedy. London: J. Watts, 1732.
  • The Miser: A comedy; taken from Plautus and Moliere. (1732). London: J. Watts, 1733.
  • The Intriguing Chambermaid: A comedy of two acts; taken from the French of Regnard. London: J. Watts, 1734.
  • Gustavus Adlerfeld, The Military History of Charles XII, King of Sweden; translated into English. (3 volumes), London: J. & P. Knapton, 1740.
  • Aristophanes, Plutus the God of Riches: A comedy, translated from the original Greek. London: T. Waller, 1742.
  • Ovid, Ovid's Art of Love: Paraphrased and adapted to the present time. London: M. Cooper / A. Dodd / G. Woodfall, 1747.


  • The Champion: Containing a series of papers, humourous, moral, political, and critical (journal; edited with James Ralph). London: J. Huggenson, 1741.
  • The Covent-Garden Journal – periodical, 1752
  • The True Patriot, and The history of our own times (journal). London: Mary Cooper, 1745-46
  • The Jacobite's Journal. London: M. Cooper / G. Woodfall, 1747-1748
    • The Jacobite's Journal, and related writings (edited by W.B. Coley). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1974.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[13]

See alsoEdit


  • Drabble, Margaret, ed (1985). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford University Press. pp. 347–48. 


  1. "Henry Fielding (1707–1754)". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Henry Fielding". People. The Dorset Page. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Liukkonen, Petri. "Henry Fielding". Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. 
  4. Castro-Santana, Anaclara (2015-08-18). "Sham Marriages and Proper Plots: Henry Fielding's Shamela and Joseph Andrews". English Studies 96 (6): 636–53. doi:10.1080/0013838X.2015.1045728. ISSN 0013-838X. 
  5. "Henry Fielding (I1744)". Stanford University. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  6. Battestin, Martin C. (2000). A Henry Fielding Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood. pp. 10, 15. 
  7. "Henry Fielding". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  8. "Words, Words, Words", From the Beginnings to the 18th Century, La Spiga languages, 2003 .
  9. Fielding, Henry. 1988. An Enquiry Into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers and Related Writings. Oxford University Press, p. IXXXIII
  10. Valier, Claire. 2005. Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Culture. Routledge. p. 20
  11. Fielding, Henry (1999). Hawley, Judith. ed. Joseph Andrews / Shamela. Penguin. p. ii. ISBN 0-14043386-4. 
  12. Cross, Wilbur L. (1918). The History of Henry Fielding. 2. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 
  13. Search results = au:Henry Fielding, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, June 18,2016.

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