Allworthy. Nature, when you cannot take liberties with her, is always a clog on Art, and gratitude constrains the license of the will of men more than malevolence, inasmuch as there is a greater difficulty in disguising particulars. But Allworthy is not so unnatural as he is unsatisfactory; for a very benevolent and very unsuspicious man, whose head was not quite so good as his heart, might act in the way here described. Moreover, his folly and injustice (for his action towards Tom really deserves these words) are not only useful, but almost necessary to the course of the action—a defence rather technical than convincing, but technically good. And here it may be sufficient to say a few words about the effect of Fielding’s long practice in drama before he took to fiction. The order has not been usual, for obvious reasons, though the contrary process, the corruption of a good novelist into a dramatist not so good, is, for reasons equally obvious, quite common. But Fielding and Dumas are eminent instances of the happy effect which dramatic practice exercises on the novelist. Dumas, a better dramatist than Fielding, cannot touch him as a novelist; but, like him, he owes to his dramatic practice the singular freedom of even his most hastily cobbled-up stories from what is really otiose. His playwright’s eye kept him from the commonest and worst fault of novel- writing, the introduction of matter irrelevant to the story. But it may be somewhat questioned whether the same playwright’s habit did not in Fielding’s case induce the fault of being contented, in rare instances, with what was necessary for the story.

This operated, I think, even more strongly in the case of Blifil. I do not know that even he can be pronounced wholly unnatural. “A prig, and a bad prig,” is not, I fear, an unnatural character in itself. But for this or that reason, Fielding has not made this young wretch alive, as he has made every one else, great and small, among his personages. He seems almost to have deliberately abstained from doing so. We see very little of Blifil in action; he is generally recounted to us. The “messengers,” to use the term familiar to readers of the Greek drama, do his business; the author hangs back to tell his misdeeds; himself is seldom in much evidence on the actual stage. It may be that Fielding could not trust himself with him; that he felt that if he had allowed his figure to appear more actively, something of the dreadful greatness of Jonathan Wild would have passed into Blifil, and have dwarfed and eclipsed the healthier and lighter characters. It may be that he disliked him too much, and shovelled him as quickly as possible out of his hands, as a little later he may have done with a particularly loathsome rogue at Bow Street. But here again these are weak excuses. If Thackeray has one great advantage over his master, I think it is when we compare Barnes Newcome with Blifil. They are very much alike; indeed, as Mr. Blifil, we are expressly told, “retired to the North,” it may possibly have happened that some of his blood was in the veins of that most respectable family. But Barnes is much more human, much completer, much more alive. The late Mr. G. S. Venables, an excellent lawyer and an excellent critic, used, I am told, to remark in connection with some puzzling passages at the end of Oliver Twist, that “Dickens hanged Fagin for being the villain of a novel.” I am inclined to think that Fielding exacted a more terrible penalty from this his one odious child for the same offence. He deprived him to life to start with.

Nobody can say this of Blifil’s brother by the mother’s side. “Mr. Thomas” is exceedingly human; and the objections which have been lodged against him have been and must be quite different. With one of them—the anathema launched by Colonel Newcome—there is some slight difficulty in dealing. But the Colonel, though one of the best, was not one of the wisest of men, and he was decidedly weak in history. It might be almost sufficient to say that Scott, the paragon of manly chivalry, and not always a very lenient or sympathetic judge of Fielding, does not seem to have taken any special objection to the Lady Bellaston episode. And I frankly admit that I do not see why he should. In the first place, it must be remembered that the point of honour which decrees that a man must not under any circumstances accept money from a woman with whom he is on certain terms, is of very modern growth, and is still tempered by the proviso that he may take as much as he likes or can get from his wife. In Fielding’s days, or but a very little earlier, this moral had simply not been invented. Marlborough, his father’s great commander, notoriously took a large sum from the Duchess of Cleveland in precisely Tom Jones’ circumstances; and though Marlborough’s enemies included the bitterest and brightest wits of his time, they seem to have objected, when they objected at all, rather to his careful investment of this money than to his acceptance of it. No easy-going gentleman of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in France or England—and it must be remembered that to compare Tom Jones with the grave and precise ones is absurd—would have thought the worse of himself for accepting a present of money from his mistress, any more

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