The general reader, as a rule, is but moderately interested in minor rectifications. Secure in a conventional preference of the spirit to the letter, he professes to be indifferent whether the grandmother of an exalted personage was a “Hugginson” or a “Blenkinsop”; and he is equally careless as to the correct Christian names of his cousins and his aunts. In the main, the general reader is wise in his generation. But with the painful biographer, toiling in the immeasurable sand of thankless research, often foot-sore and dry of throat, these trivialities assume exaggerated proportions; and to those who remind him–as in a cynical age he is sure to be reminded–of the infinitesimal value of his hard-gotten grains of information, he can only reply mournfully, if unconvincingly, that fact is fact–even in matters of mustard-seed. With this prelude, I propose to set down one or two minute points concerning Henry Fielding, not yet comprised in any existing records of his career.
1: Since this was published in April 1907, they have been embodied in an Appendix to my “Men of Letters” Fielding; and used, to some extent, for a fresh edition of the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon (“World’s Classics”).]
The first relates to the exact period of his residence at Leyden University. His earliest biographer, Arthur Murphy, writing in 1762, is more explicit than usual on this topic. “He [Fielding],” says Murphy, “went from Eton to Leyden, and there continued to show an eager thirst for knowledge, and to study the civilians with a remarkable application for about two years, when, remittances failing, he was obliged to return to London, not then quite twenty years old” [ i.e. before 22nd April, 1727]. In 1883, like my predecessors, I adopted this statement, for the sufficient reason that I had nothing better to put in its place. And Murphy should have been well-informed. He had known Fielding personally; he was employed by Fielding’s publisher; and he could, one would imagine, have readily obtained accurate data from Fielding’s surviving sister, Sarah, who was only three years younger than her brother, of whose short life (he died at forty-eight) she could scarcely have forgotten the particulars. Murphy’s story, moreover, exactly fitted in with the fact, only definitely made known in June 1883, that Fielding, as a youth of eighteen, had endeavoured, in November 1725, to abduct or carry off his first love, Miss Sarah Andrew of Lyme Regis. Although the lady was promptly married to a son of one of her fluttered guardians, nothing seemed more reasonable than to assume that the disappointed lover (one is sure he was never an heiress-hunter!) was despatched to the Dutch University to keep him out of mischief. But in once more examining Mr. Keightley’s posthumous papers, kindly placed at my disposal by his nephew, Mr. Alfred C. Lyster, I found a reference to an un-noted article in the Cornhill Magazine for November, 1863 (from internal evidence I believe it to have been written by James Hannay), entitled “A Scotchman in Holland.” Visiting Leyden, the writer was permitted to inspect the University Album; and he found, under 1728, the following:–” Henricus Fielding, Anglus, Ann. 20. Stud. Lit. “, coupled with the further detail that he “was living at the ‘Hotel of Antwerp.'” Except in the item of ” Stud. Lit. “, this did not seem to conflict materially with Murphy’s account, as Fielding was nominally twenty from 1727 to 1728, and small discrepancies must be allowed for.
2: “Men of Letters” Fielding, 1907, Appendix I.]
Twenty years later, a fresh version of the record came to light. At their tercentenary festival in 1875, tne Leyden University printed a list of their students from their foundation to that year. From this Mr. Edward Peacock, F.S.A., compiled in 1883, for the Index Society, an Index to English-Speaking Students who have graduated at Leyden University; and at p. 35 appears Fielding, Henricus, Anglus, 16 Mart. 1728, 915 (the last being the column number of the list). This added a month-date, and made Fielding a graduate. Then, two years ago, came yet a third rendering. Mr. A.E.H. Swaen, writing in The Modern Language Review for July 1906, printed the inscription in the Album as follows; “Febr. 16. 1728: Rectore Johanne Wesselio, Henricus Fielding, Anglus. 20, L.” Mr. Swaen construed this to mean that, on the date named (which, it may be observed, is not Mr. Peacock’s date), Fielding, “aged twenty, was entered as litterarum studiosus at Leyden.” In this case it would follow that his residence in Holland should have come after February 16th, 1728; and Mr. Swaen went on to conjecture that, “as his [Fielding’s] first play, Love in Several Masques, was staged at Drury Lane in February, 1728, and his next play, The Temple Beau, was produced in January, 1730, it is not improbable that his residence in Holland filled up the interval or part of it. Did the profits of the play [he proceeded] perhaps cover part of his travelling expenses?”