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FIELDING'S INDEBTEDNESS TO JAMES RALPH
That Henry Fielding in the period immediately following his
return from Ley den in 1729 was associated with James Ralph is
well known. As Professor Cross points out 1 , in 1730 Fielding's
comedy The Temple Beau appeared with a prologue by Ralph. In
1736 Fielding is said to have been assisted by Ralph in the manage-
ment of the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. 2 And in 1739 Ralph
became Fielding's assistant editor on the Champion. 3
In addition, Professor Cross says that association with Ralph
"taught Fielding the ways of Grub Street, of which he soon began
to make good use in verse and on the stage." 4 As evidence of this
influence he cites only Fielding's facetious poem to Sir Robert
Walpole, published in the Miscellanies.
1 believe it can be shown that Ralph's influence is to be further
traced in Fielding's early work, at least in the two comedies which
in the year 1730 followed The Temple Beau (performed January 26;
published February 2); namely, The Author's Farce; and The
Pleasures of the Town (performed March 30; published March 31) and
Tom Thumb. A Tragedy (performed April 24; published April 24-
25 [?]). 5 These two farces obviously mark a departure from the
artificial comedy which had been the model for Love in Several
Masques (1728) and The Temple Beau (1730), and suggest a new
interest in literary burlesque. I believe Ralph was in part responsible
for this change.
The basis of my judgment is a book of Ralph's published in
1728 under the title:
the touch-stone: or, Historical, Critical, Political, Philosophical, and
Theological essays On the reigning Diversions of the Town. Design'd for
the Improvement of all authors, spectators, and actors of operas, plays,
and masquerades. In which every thing antique or modern, relating to
MUSICK, POETRY, DANCING, PANTOMIMES, CHORUSSES, CAT-CALLS, AUDIENCES,
JUDGES, CRITICKS, BALLS, RIDOTTOS, ASSEMBLIES, NEW ORATORY, CIRCUS,
i Cross, W. L., The History of Henry Fielding (Yale University Press, 1918), I, 76-77.
2 Ibid., p. 178. « Ibid., p. 250. < Ibid., p. 75. » Ibid., Ill, 290-91.
[Modern Philology, August, 1922] 19
20 Helen Sard Hughes
bear-gardens, gladiators, prize-fighters, italian strolers, mounte-
bank stages, cock-pits, puppet-shews, fairs, and publick auctions, is
occasionally handled. By a Person of some Taste and some Quality. With
a preface, giving an Account of the author and the work London:
Printed, and sold by the Booksellers of London and Westminster.
The work was reissued in 1731, with a new title-page only, as:
THE TASTE of the TOWN: OR, A GUIDE TO ALL PUBLICK DIVERSIONS. VIZ.
I. Of musick, operas and plays. Their Original, Progress, and Improve-
ment, and the Stage-Entertainment fully vindicated from the Excep-
tions of Old Pryn, the Reverend Mr. Collier, Mr. Bedford and Mr. Law.
II. Of poetry, Sacred and Profane. A Project for introducing Scripture-
Stories upon our Stage, and acting them on Sundays and Holy-Days
after Divine Service, as is customary in most polite Parts of Europe.
III. Of dancing, Religious and Dramatical. Reflections on their Exercise,
Public and Private, with the learned Bishop Potter's Sentiments
IV. Of the mimes, pantomimes and choruses of the Antients; and of the
Imitation of them in our Modern Entertainments after Plays.
V. Of audiences, at our Theatrical Representations, their due Behaviour,
and of Cat-Calls and other indecent Practices, concluding with Remarks
on our Pretenders to Criticism.
VI. Of masquerades; Ecclesiastical, Political, Civil and Military: Their
Antiquity, Use and Abuse. Also of Ridottos, Assemblies and Henley's
VII. Of the athletic sports of the Antients: Their Circus compared with
our Bear-Garden, and their Gladiators with our Prize-Fighters, Of
Cock-Fighting , Puppet-Shews, Mountebanks and Auctions.
London: Printed, and sold by the Booksellers of London and Westminster.
This volume, a half-serious, half-jesting disquisition, was designed,
in the words of its author,
to animadvert upon the Standard Entertainments of the present Age, in
Comparison with those of Antiquity .... in Hopes that those who have
Power and Capacity may one Day fix our publick Entertainments upon a
Basis as lasting, as beneficial to Mankind. 1
1 Touchstone, p. 23G.
Fielding's Indebtedness to James Ralph 21
Inspired, ostensibly, by the unqualified condemnation of the
stage by other critics, Ralph in his Preface states his own aims as
My Manner of Criticizing, as observ'd in these essays, differs widely
from anything that has yet appear'd under that Name: Both Censure and
Panegyrick are introduc'd after a Method entirely new. I could never give
into the slovenly, canting Reflections of Pryn, the arbitrary malicious
Learning of Collier, the enthusiastick insipid Arguments of L w, or the
severe tho' justifiable Rules of Rymer and Dennis. I hope my Animadver-
sions upon all polite Entertainments, will be allow'd more agreeably just,
if not so deeply Learned .... I shall .... point out to the World,
what I judge perfect, and what wants Amendment in these Amusements;
at the same time proposing the most probable Remedies. 1
Written in the year in which The Beggar's Opera had just given
a fatal challenge to the supremacy of Italian opera, the book naturally
discusses in its first chapter, "Musick, Operas and Plays." On this
subject the author writes in his Preface:
The operas therefore being look'd upon as the Center of the Beau Monde,
I begin with them; in an historical Manner trace them to their first Rise:
I make manifest their Beauties; how shocking the Italian Performance and
Language are to some English Ears; shew what is wanting, what superfluous,
and what Alterations or Additions are requisite to suit them to all Capacities,
and adapt them to the Taste of this Nation in general. 2
These "Alterations or Additions" he alludes to in an amusing
passage following his defence of the musical quality of Italian opera:
I am sensible, that their being perform'd in a foreign Tongue disgusts
many of my Countrymen, who (tho' great Philarmonicks) yet being True
Britons, and staunch Protestants, to shew their love to their Country, and
their Zeal for their Religion, are prepossess'd against Singing as well as
Praying in an unknown Dialect.
To mitigate such antipathies he suggests the use, as subjects for
opera, of native tales:
Some of our most noted domestick Fables, which must please an English
Audience, and at the same time make a beautiful Appearance on the Stage:
These shall be principally borrow'd from a Subject which can boast an
inexhaustible Fund of Models for Theatrical Entertainments, particularly
operas; viz. Knight-Errantry, which has in all Ages produc'd so many
' Ibid., pp. xvi-xvii. 2 Ibid., p. xix.
22 Helen Sard Hughes
valuable Volumes of Romances, Memoirs, Novels and Ballads, either written
or oral. 1
Compare this passage from Ralph's essay with the following from
the Preface to the first edition of Fielding's Tom Thumb:
It is with great concern that I have observed several of our [the Grub-
street] Tragical Writers, to celebrate in their immortal Lines the Actions of
Heroes recorded in the Historians and Poets, such as Homer or Virgil, or
Livy or Plutarch, the Propagation of whose Works is so apparently against
the Interest of our Society; when the Romances, Novels, and Histories,
vulgo call'd Story-Books, of our own People, furnish such abundant and
proper Themes for their Pens; such are Tom Tram, Hickathrift, etc. 2
Returning to Ralph's exposition of this same thesis, we discover
the dramatic possibilities of these domestic fables as follows:
A late eminent ingenious Author propos'd to the then Master of the
opera-stage, Whittington and his Cat; and went so far in the Design, as to
procure a Puss or two, who could pur tolerably in Time and Tune: But
the Inconveniencies arising from the Number of Vermin requisite to be
destroy'd, in order to keep up to the Truth of the Story, blasted that
Many worthy Patriots amongst us (through the Prejudice of their
Infant-Education) would doat upon the Representation of Valentine and
The Generality of this Nation would likewise imbibe a Fondness for
the Seven Champions of Christendom, even from their Nursery; but the
Ac — — my not being able to furnish so many Heroes at a Time, we must
drop that Design: Though I must say, our own St. George's Part would
equip us with Characters and Incidents for a very beautiful Dramma; in
which the whole History of the G r might be properly and naturally
introduc'd; with a little Episode thrown in about the r of the
T le; then tack to their Tails a large Troop of K ts of the B h,
with their Es res, by way of a Grand Chorus: And this Scene would
be truly great, and worthy of a Brittish Audience.
But I fear we should find some Difficulty in meeting with a proper
Dragon; unless the Af n Company could procure us a sucking one,
.... or that Doctor Faustus could be prevail'd upon to part with his
artificial one, which really roars out a good tuneable Bass: Then if Sign r
B— — chi would condescend to sing the Part of St. George's Horse, with
i Touchstone, pp. 21-22; cf. p. 122.
' The Tragedy of Tragedies, ed. J. T. Hillhouse (Yale University Press, 1918), p. 51.
3 "The Famous History of Whittington, Lord Mayor of London" Ashton describes
as a spectacular attraction at Smithfleld Pair a few years earlier. Social Life in the
Reign of Queen Anne (London, 1911), p. 193.
Fielding's Indebtedness to James Ralph 23
S no upon his Back; and Sign r Pal ni allow himself to be clapp'd
into the Dragon's Belly: I believe this Plan would surprize us not only with a
noble Scene of Recitative, but furnish us with an Opportunity of throwing in
the newest and finest Duet that ever was heard, viz. betwixt the Horse and
Robbin Hood and Little John cannot fail of charming the Brittish Nation,
being undoubtedly a Domestick Matter of Fact; but as no Singer in Europe
can top the Part of Little John but Ber dt, we must suspend that Per-
formance till his Return, to bless our Eyes.
The London 'Prentice would infallibly gain the Hearts of the City,
besides the valuable Incident of a Lion-Scene; as the Abbot of Canterbury
would procure the Favour of the Clergy; and then the whole Audience (in
Imitation of that polite agreeable Custom practic'd at Paris) might join
the Stage; every body beating Time, and singing, Deny down, down, down, &c.
Tom Thumb would be a beautiful Foundation to build a pretty little
Pastoral on; his Length too being adequate to that of a Summer's Evening,
the Belles and Beaus might arrive Time enough from either Park, and enjoy
the whole of his Affair: Nay, it would admit of some very new Scenes, as
surprizing as true: Witness the Accident of the Pudding, which would be
something as uncommon as ever appear'd on any Stage, not excepting
even a Dutch Tragedy — N.B. Cu ni in Breeches would make a delightful
Tom Thumb. 1
' Touchstone, pp. 22-26. Our knowledge of Ralph up to this time is almost entirely
derived from the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in whose company he left Phila-
delphia (where he had been a merchant's clerk) arriving in London, December 24, 1724.
Franklin remained eighteen months, leaving for America July 23, 1726. The chro-
nology of events within that period is vague. For some time Franklin and Ralph lived
intimately together in lodgings in Little Britain, at Franklin's expense, attending plays
and other entertainments. Later, financially desperate, having failed to get employ-
ment as actor or hackney writer, Ralph retired to a village, which Franklin thought was
in Berkshire, where he taught boys reading and writing — taking the name of Franklin
meanwhile, for disguise, and writing an epic poem. Some time before Franklin's depar-
ture for America Ralph returned to London, quarrelled with Franklin, and left him for
This event may have occurred early in 1726. If so, what did Ralph do between
that time and his meeting with Fielding in London in January, 1730? Among other
things he published three volumes of verse: The Tempest: or, the Terrors of Death (1727)
may have been the "epic poem" mentioned by Franklin; it is a dull poem, somewhat
tinged with romantic melancholy. Miscellaneous Poems, By Several Hands ....
Publish'd by Mr. Ralph (1729), is a curious collection of verses which the D.N.B. says
are probably for the most part by Ralph; it contains among other things verses in imita-
tion of II Penseroso and the Fairy Queen. Zeuma: or. The Love of Liberty (1729) is a
romantic tale in verse, with the scene laid among the Indians of Peru; a preface sum-
marizes the history of the discovery of America and the Spanish explorations.
I think there are some grounds for suspecting that at this time Ralph travelled
somewhat upon the continent, and particularly in Holland. The facetious Preface to
The Touchstone (1728) may well be a whimsical compound of fact and fiction. In it the
author describes his travels devoted chiefly to the study of "the Fundamentals of the
publick Amusements most follow'd." The book contains allusions striking and number-
ous to Dutch places and practices. The following references may be noted: Holland
(p. 39), Amsterdam (p. xiv), Dutch tragedy (p. 26), Scripture dramas in Holland (pp. 52-
24 Helen Sard Hughes
How much real liking for " low " literature is covertly expressed
here and in Ralph's mordant contempt for whatever is of the reigning
mode — whether the classical canons of the critics or the artificial
taste of the town — it is perhaps difficult to decide. Admittedly
he is never more than half-serious in what he says, yet I cannot but
feel that at some period of exile from London he himself had found
interest and entertainment in "a well-executed puppet-shew"
which at moderate expense, he says, provided innocent amusement
"of infinite advantage to most country towns." 1 Certain it is that
his own early verses exhibit an undeniably romantic strain. 2 More-
over, the fact that he was newly come to London from America would
account for a sharpness of impression and an adventurous taste.
Conceivably he was one of those transition types, sensitive to
conflicting influences, critical of whatever prevailed. That his
interest in the theatrical state of England and the continent was
catholic and keen is apparent from the diversity of his information.
That he was versed in the canons of the Ancients is equally clear.
This diversity of interest together with his satirical temper would
obviously commend Ralph to Fielding: and the critical ardor of his
associate might easily have directed Fielding's more creative gifts.
Omitting Ralph's account of the spectacular possibilities of
Chevy Chace (reminiscent, of course, of Addison) and his grotesque
outline of a dramatization of The Children in the Wood, I pause on
his mention of Tom Thumb. Sufficient has been quoted, I think, to
show how Fielding might well have derived from him notions of a
burlesque of contemporary opera and tragedy, of the use of a nursery
rhyme, and, specifically, of the choice of Tom Thumb as the vehicle of
53), French strollers in "one of the Hans Towns" and the attitude of "a High-Dutch
Audience" on the occasion (p. 61), the closing of the Dutch theaters on Sunday nights
(pp. 74-75) , the Dutch method of recruiting actors from the crowd (p. 69) , the mainte-
nance of hospitals by the revenues of the theaters "in several Towns In Holland" (p. 76),
the observation that "the Germans are noted for their long Stride, Turkey-cock Strut,
and dancing in the Ox-Stile; as the Low-Dutch are for their awkward Imitation of the
French a-la-Clumsie" (p. 112), a "Low-Dutch Commentator" (p. 131), a music house
in Amsterdam (p. 203). Was a common interest in Dutch life one of the factors in the
acquaintance of Fielding and Ralph ? In any case Ralph seems to have been a literary
dissenter of some interest, worthy of further study.
1 See below, pp. 30-31.
2 See biographical note, p. 5.
Fielding's Indebtedness to James Ralph 25
In his discussion of the source of Tom Thumb in the Introduction
to his recent edition of The Tragedy of Tragedies, 1 Mr. Hillhouse
points to The Rehearsal as Fielding's model for the burlesque of
contemporary dramatic conventions. For the use of the editor
instead of the author and critic, he holds The Dunciad responsible-
For the use of a nursery rhyme for the burlesque, a device described as
"common at this time," he thinks Fielding is indebted to "an
anonymous pamphlet of twenty-five pages in octavo, entitled A Com-
ment upon the History of Tom Thumb," published first in 1711, "gen-
erally attributed to William Wagstaffe (1695-1725), and included in
his collected works (1725). " 2
In my review of Mr. Hillhouse's work 3 1 suggested that Fielding
was more likely to have used what seems to be a later, and perhaps
an enlarged, version of this anonymous pamphlet, appearing in 1729
under the title :
Thomas Redivivus; or, a compleat History of the Life and marvellous
Actions of Tom Thumb. In three Tomes. Interspersed with that ingen-
ious comment of the late Dr.Wagstaffs' and annotations by several Hands.
To which is prefix'd historical and critical Remarks on the Life and Writings
of the Author. Folio, 1729."
This anonymous piece of burlesque editing, together with Ralph's
suggestion of a burlesque play, both making use of the story of
Tom Thumb as a vehicle for their satire, seems to account for the
theme and the motive of Fielding's farce. But I believe that the
suggestion derived from Ralph's facetious essay is the more signifi-
cant as the initial inspiration for the earlier version of Fielding's
Tom Thumb in which the satire is conveyed by character, dialogue,
and incident, and not by annotations.
It will be recalled that though not exactly a "little pastoral,"
Fielding's burlesque was originally very short, consisting of two brief
acts, and serving as an afterpiece. Though "the Accident of the
Pudding" does not find a place in the action of the play, it does
• Op. cit., pp. 3-9.
2 This pamphlet was evidently a burlesque of Addison's essays on Chety Chace
(Spectator, Nos. 70 and 74).
'Jour. Eng. Ger. Phil., XVIII (1919), 464-67.
1 Ritson, Pieces of Ancient Poetry (London, 1791), p. 98; also a contemporary notice
in Monthly Chronicle, For the Year MDCCXXIX, II (Feb. 1729), 46. In my review,
previously cited, I raised certain questions bearing upon the authorship of this work.
26 Helkn Sard Hughes
receive pointed reference in the dialogue in the Queen's speech to
Sure the King forgets,
When in a Pudding, by his Mother put,
The Bastard, by a Tinker, on a stall
Was drop'd O, good Lord Grizzle! can I bear
To see him, from a Pudding, mount the Throne ?
And finally the part of the little hero was played by a woman, on
some occasions at least. 1
A number of minor points of similarity between Fielding's play
and Ralph's essays can be pointed out. Any one or two of these,
it might be claimed, represent nothing more than similar selection
from a common environment by like-minded authors well versed in
the critical jargon of the day. But the number of such resemblances
seems to indicate association rather than mere coincidence, especially
since we know that at least from the date of the writing of the Pro-
logue to The Temple Beau Fielding and Ralph were more or less
intimately connected. My conviction is that the plays were written
after a fairly recent perusal of Ralph's book.
Recalling Ralph's plea for a use of "domestick Fables" as more
pleasing to "True Britons" than foreign subjects, themes already
used to good effect in "Romances, Memoirs, Novel and Ballads,"
we may compare with it, in addition to the passage already quoted
from Fielding's Preface, the following lines from the Prologue to
Since then, to laugh, to Tragedies you come,
What Hero is so proper as Tom Thumb ?
Tom Thumb ! whose very Name must Mirth incite,
And fill each merry Briton with Delight.
Britons, awake! — Let Greece and Rome no more
Their Heroes send to our Heroick Shore.
Let home-bred Subjects grace the modern Muse,
And Grub-Street from her Self, her Heroes chuse :
Her Story-Books Immortalize in Fame
Hickathrift, Jack the Giant-Killer, and Tom Tram.
It should be noted, in passing, that in his Preface Ralph describes
his family, "The Princock's," as allied "to every Man in Europe;
from L s of B n to Tom Tram."
i Hillhouse, op. cit., p. 148.
Fielding's Indebtedness to James Ralph 27
In his discussion, in chapter ii, of dramatic poetry, Ralph charges
the poets with writing "merry Tragedies, or sad Comedies ....
[a] Disease .... in a Manner Epidemick amongst that Tribe." 1
Compare this charge with the lines just quoted, and likewise with
these others in the Prologue to Tom Thumb:
With Mirth and Laughter to delight the Mind
The modern Tragedy was first design'd :
"Twas this made Farce with Tragedy unite,
And Taught each Scribler in the Town to Write.
In his Preface to the first edition Fielding writes again of this mirth-
And here I congratulate my Cotemporary Writers, for their having
enlarged the Sphere of Tragedy: The ancient Tragedy seems to have had
only two effects on the Audience, viz. It either awakened Terror and
Compassion, or composed those and all other uneasy Sensations, by lulling
the Audience in an agreeable Slumber. But to provoke the Mirth and
Laughter of the Spectators, to join the Sock to the Buskin, is a Praise only
due to Modern Tragedy. 2
Ralph in another passage to be compared with this last one from
Fielding's Prologue refers to the contemporary poets' "mistaken
Notions in Choice of Subjects for the Stage," and to "their strange
Mismanagement in relation to the Effects of a Stage-Play, in giving
us tragedies to make us laugh, and comedies to make us cry." 3
The "Terror and Compassion" which Fielding notes as the
emotions proper to classical tragedy are paralleled by Ralph's com-
mendation of The Children in the Wood as a story "capable of giving
us a vast deal of the Pathetic, the Wonderful and the Terrible." 4 The
"bloody catastrophe" to which Fielding refers in his Preface, 6 Ralph
discusses as among the dramatic possibilities of the ballad of Chevy
The satire on the physical grandeur of the conventional tragic
hero Ralph conveys in this wise :
Tragedy borrows vast Advantages from the additional Ornaments
of Feathers and high Heels; and it is impossible, but that the two Foot
and a Half of Plumes and Buskin must go a great Length in giving an
i Touchstone, p. 56. ' Ibid., p. 27.
'Hillhouse, op. cit., p. 51. 5 Hillhouse, op. «'(., p. 82.
3 Touchstone, p. 49. fl Touchstone, p. 26.
28 Helen Sard Hughes
Audience a just Notion of a Hero In Rome, commenc'd once a
famous Dispute betwixt two eminent Tragedians, which best represented
Agamemnon; he that step'd loftily and on tip-toes, or, he who appear'd
pensive, as if concern'd for the Safety of his People; but the tall Man
carry'd it. 1
Fielding is, of course, satirizing this same convention in his small
hero, "little Tom Thumb," and in his defence of his hero's size in
the Preface: Mr. Dennis, finding the tragedy incompatible with the
precepts of Aristotle which require "a just Greatness," inquires,
"What Greatness can be in a Fellow, whom History relateth to have
been no higher than a Span?" The author replies:
This Gentleman seemeth to think, with Sergeant Kite, that the Great-
ness of a Man's Soul is in proportion to that of his Body, .... if I under-
stand Aristotle right, he speaketh only of the Greatness of the Action, and
not of the Person. 2
In his essays Ralph gives satiric consideration to other conven-
tions of the tragedy of the time, the importance of a retinue for a
hero, of spectacles which "make the thinnest Plot appear full of
Business," such as "a Wedding, a Funeral, a Christening, a Feast, or
some such Spectacle, which must be manag'd by a Multitude,"
which provides "a well-dispos'd Succession of Crowds in every
Scene." The importance of battles, with trumpets and drums, and
"handsome, noisy Skirmishes on the Stage," he emphasizes. He
refers more than once to the interest aroused by the appearance
of giants and dwarfs. 3 To all these precepts and suggestions as to
the matter of tragedy, Fielding in his farce gives ample illustration.
In his satirical strictures on the form of drama and opera, Ralph
reviles tragic diction as "nonsense, gilded Fustian, and pompous
Bombast." 4 Like Fielding, he has much to say of Longinus and
the true sublime, too often neglected by "those Novices in polite
Literature, who are ignorant of the true Art of Bramatick Poetry." 1
Fielding in his Preface places "the Sublime of Longinus" in opposi-
tion to "the Profound of Scriblerus."
» Touchstone, p. 82.
' Hillhouse, op. cit., p. 83.
3 Touchstone, pp. xxii, 80, 105, 106.
< Ibid., p. 17.
• Ibid., p. 62; see also pp. 39, 49, 59, 63.
Fielding's Indebtedness to James Ralph 29
The other critics mentioned by Ralph are all in the list of those
whom Fielding treats: Aristotle, Horace, Dry den, Dennis, Rymer,
Rapin, Scaliger. He cites, too, the practice of Corneille and Moliere.
Upon the formal theories and artificial standards of contemporary
critics Ralph animadverts in Fielding's own spirit. He says:
I look upon our present Race of Criticks to be either formal, deep
finish'd Blockheads by Nature, or those, who from tolerable natural Parts,
are made so by Art, wrong understood, and Talents misapply'd
The Criticks of the second Class come into the World with tolerable
natural Parts, and a Disposition for Instruction; but in Place of being
improv'd by Learning, they are sowr'd with Pedantry, and puff'd up
with Pride They immediately establish critical Rules, by which the
world must be guided; the old Laws are refin'd upon, new made, and stated
Limits fix'd, over which no enterprising Genius must leap, tho' of ever so
great Advantage to the Republick of Letters; ....
There is another Branch of this flourishing Tree These Gentle-
men, at the Expence of much Labour and Birch, are whipp'd at School into
bad Translations, false Latin, and dull Themes; from thence they run the
Gantlope through all the pedantick Forms of an University-Education:
There they grow familiar with the Title-Pages of antient and modern Authors.
.... Their Mouths are fill'd with the Fable, the Moral, Catastrophe,
Unity, Probability, Poetick, Justice, true Sublime, Bombast, Simplicity,
Magnificence, and all the critical Jargon, which is learn'd in a quarter of an
Hour, and serves to talk of one's whole Life after. 1
An audience's enjoyment of what it cannot understand is satir-
ized by Ralph as one great attraction of Italian opera, and of the
hack writer who " must be held wise, who is unintelligible." 2 Fielding
asserts " that the greatest Perfection of the Language of Tragedy is,
that it is not to be understood." 3
In Tom Thumb, then, I believe Fielding shows the influence of
Ralph in his design of satirizing through a burlesque tragedy the
artificial conventions of the stage of the day; in his choice of a
nursery rhyme, and specifically of Tom Thumb, for the purpose; and
to some extent in many of the details in the working out of his design,
as in his satire on "merry Tragedy," on the emotions of "Terror
and Compassion" and on the "bloody Catastrophe" proper to
1 Ibid., pp. 159-61; see also pp. xxi, 18, 38, 39, 162.
2 Ibid., pp. xxiii. 12.
! Hillhouse, op. cit., p. 83.
30 Helen Sard Hughes
tragedy, on the tall hero, on the sublime of Longinus, on the rule-
bound pedantry and stupidity of contemporary critics, on spec-
tacular incidents and bombastic diction.
Less than a month before Tom Thumb, Fielding had brought
out another play, also a literary satire and burlesque: The Author's
Farce; with a Puppet-Shew called the Pleasures of the Town, per-
formed first at the Haymarket on March 30, 1730. x Obviously
written at about the same time, we should expect to find in this
play marks of the same influence we have noted in Tom Thumb.
And I think we are not disappointed.
In the first place, the "Puppet-Show," which is the play within
the play in this farce, though frequently performed separately, shows
an interest on Fielding's part in that type of popular entertainment
which Ralph had treated with considerable spirit in chapter vii of
his book, as follows:
The Mechanical Genius of the English is obvious to every body in
many Cases, but in none more properly, than in the Contrivance and Con-
duct of our puppet-shews: The Improvement of which is certainly owing
to us, if not the invention; ....
1 confess, I cannot view a well-executed puppet-shew, without extrava-
gant Emotions of Pleasure : . . . .
These portable Stages are of infinite Advantage to most Country Towns,
where Play-houses cannot be maintain'd ; and in my Mind, superior to any
Company of Strolers: The Amusement is innocent and instructive, the
Expence is moderate, and the whole Equipage easily carry'd about; as I
have seen some Couples of Kings and Queens, with a suitable Retinue of
Courtiers and Guards, very well accomodated in a single Band-box,
with Room for Punch and his Family, in the same Machine. The Plans
of their little Pieces do not barely aim at Morality, but enforce even Religion:
And, it is impossible to view their Representation of Bateman's Ghost,
Doctor Faustus's Death, or Mother Shipton's Tragical End, but that the
bravest Body alive must be terribly afraid of going to the D 1. 2
In another place Ralph treats of these entertainments, again
with a playful appreciation of their ingenuity:
There is one thing more I must observe, to the Shame of the Masters of
our theaters in general; which is, that the only just Remains of a true
' Cross, op. cit.. I, 80. This fuller form of the title is that of Chalmer's editions
(New York, 1813).
2 Touchstone, pp. 228-29.
Fielding's Indebtedness to James Ralph 31
chorus appear in the artful Management of our Puppet-Shews; and, indeed,
the entire Performance of these small, itinerant, wooden Actors, is a kind of
Grand chorus in Miniature; Especially their Prompter answers exactly
to the Character and Business of the Corypheus with the Antients; whose
Office it is to explain to the audience, the most intricate Parts of what they
see and hear, or to tell what is to come; to make wise Reflexions on what
is past, or what may be; to enter into moral Dialogues pertinent to the
Subject with his little Play-Fellows; nay, he generally talks as much to the
Purpose as any of them; his Behaviour (with the Humours of Punch, and
the musick, dancing and machines, which are beautifully and prudently
scatter'd up and down thro' the Whole) exactly discharges the Duty of an
antique chorus. 1
Moreover, both Fielding and Ralph refer by implication to the
puppet-show character of the stage of the time. Ralph says :
■ Those Domestick Matters of Fact always prove the Favourites of the
People; which induc'd me to believe, that they might appear with equal
Success on the Stage of the great puppet-shew in the H — y — m — t. 2
Fielding in the Author's Farce makes Bookweight ask incredu-
lously, "A puppet-show in a play-house?" And Luckless, the
author, replies, "Ay, why, what have been all the playhouses a
long while but puppet-shows ? " 8
The characters of Fielding's puppet show are the personifications
of the types of popular entertainment which Ralph had discussed:
Don Tragedio, Sir Farcical Comic, Dr. Orator, Signior Opera,
Monsieur Pantomime, and Mrs. Novel. To these are added (also
included in Ralph's essays) Jack Pudding, Punch and his wife, and
Count Heidegger (as Count Ugly), the manager of the Masquerade
in the Haymarket whom Fielding had already celebrated in verse
in 1728. Be it observed, too, that Dr. Orator, who plays so con-
spicuous a r61e, is the same Henley whose "Oratory" Ralph mentions
in his title-page to the 1731 issue of his book, and discusses in chap-
ter vi. One is tempted to wonder, very cautiously, whether the cat
of Fielding's Epilogue is in any way descended from Ralph's "Puss
or two, who could pur tolerably in Time or Tune," said to have been
procured for a performance of Whittington and his Cat*
' Ibid., p. 128. * Ibid., p. 229.
• The Works of Henry Fielding, ed. Chalmers (New York, 1813), I, 319.
4 See above, p. 22.
32 Helen Sard Hughes
In this play, too, occurs mention of the "merry Tragedy" which
we have seen appear in Ralph's essay and in the Preface and Pro-
logue to Tom Thumb. Don Tragedio says:
Is Nonsense, of me then forgetful grown,
And must the Signior [Opera] be preferr'd alone ?
Is it for this, for this, ye gods, that I
Have in one scene made some folks laugh, some cry ?
For this does my low blust'ring language creep,
At once to wake you, and to make you sleep ?*
Unintelligibility, too, is extolled. Dr. Orator says:
What has understanding to do? My hearers would be diverted, and
they are so! which could not be if understanding were necessary, because
very few of them have any. 2
Certain other incidental points of similarity reinforce the impres-
sion of specific, and of recent, influence. In advocating the use of
familiar tales, Ralph says (the italics are my own) :
This amusing Variety of the Choice of Subjects for our Operas, will
allow a greater Latitude in Composition than we have yet known. 3
In the Author's Farce Luckless says:
I have introduced, indeed, several other characters, not entirely neces-
sary to the main design; for I was assured by a very eminent critic, that,
in the way of writing, great latitude might be allowed; and that a writer of
puppet-shows might take as much more liberty than a writer of operas, as an
opera-writer might be allowed beyond a writer of plays. 4
In speaking of the fairs as one source of popular entertainment,
Nay, my Old Friend Bartholomew's Wings are close clipp'd; his Liberties
retrench'd, and Priviledges invaded We live in Hopes, the Losses
there sustain'd will be made up to us t'other side the Thames, and that
Southwark may be what May and Bartholomew Fairs have been. 6
Very similarly Fielding writes in the Author's Farce:
My lord mayor has shortened the time of Bartholomew-fair in Smithfield,
and so they are resolved to keep it all the year round at the other end of the
i The Works of Henry Fielding, I, 341 ; cf. above, p. 27.
» Ibid., p. 335. ' Touchstone, p. 30.
4 The Works of Henry Fielding, I, 324. Ralph uses again these terms Variety and
Latitude: "There being as great Variety and Latitude in the Dances as in the passions
themselves." Touchstone, p. 33.
• Touchstone, p. 230. • The Works of Henry Fielding, I, 331-32.
Fielding's Indebtedness to James Ralph 33
Finally in speaking of the ephemeral entertainments which he
will not discuss, Ralph says:
Our natural Philosophers will sneer at my total Neglect of Mary of
Godliman, and the whole Rabbit-scene. What! not a page of his Book set
aside, to inspect the Affairs of the wonderful Rabbit-Woman f 1
This imposture occurred in 1726; Hogarth's print, " Cunicularii,
or, the Wise men of Godliman in Consultation," was published
December 26, 1726. London was much stirred by the story during
1726 and 1727 f hence it was fresh in Ralph's mind as one of the
follies of the town at the time he was writing his book. But would
it have been so fresh in Fielding's mind in 1730 if he had not been
recently reminded of it ? In his Epilogue to the Author's Farce the
cat, now changed to a woman, says:
Gallants, you seem to think this transformation,
As strange as was the rabbit's procreation;
That 'tis as odd a cat should take the habit
Of breeding us, as we should breed a rabbit. 3
In the Author's Farce, then, Fielding seems to show Ralph's
influence in his use of a puppet show, in his reference to the puppet-
show-like qualities of the stage of the day, in his personification of
the various types of entertainment Ralph discusses, in his mention
of mirth-provoking tragedy, unintelligibility, "latitude" in writing,
the strictures upon Bartholomew Fair, and the "rabbit-woman."
Though Ralph's book had come out in 1728, the chances are
that Fielding did not read it until January, 1730. He left London
early in 1728, presumably soon after the performance of Love in
Several Masques on February 16 of that year. 4 He has already enrolled
in the university at Leyden by March 16. 5 He was in England for
the university vacation from the middle of August to the middle
of October, 1728, but apparently went to Salisbury. 6 University
records indicate that he left Leyden for good before February, 1730. 7
' Touchstone, pp. 235-36.
2 Traill, Social England (London, 1896), V, 48; Wheatley, Hogarth's London (New-
York, 1909), pp. 36-37.
3 The Works of Henry Fielding, I, no page.
< Cross, op. cit., I, 61. • Ibid., p. 71.
5 Ibid., p. 65. ' Ibid., p. 72.
34 Helen Sard Hughes
Concerning the events of this period Professor Cross says:
From his subsequent movements it is clear that he came home in the
summer of 1729, and did not go back to Leyden at the end of the vacation.
.... Thus thrown upon his own resources, his choice of a career lay, he
used to tell his friends, between being a hackney-writer or a hackney-
coachman. He chose the former and took the plunge at the opening of
the new year. 1
Fielding probably did not come to London earlier than the
opening of the theatrical season in the fall of 1729. If Professor
Cross's statement is founded on evidence which makes it literally
true that Fielding came up to London "at the beginning of the new
year," then it means that in the month of January, 1730, Fielding
wrote The Temple Beau, "fell in with James Ralph" "at this junc-
ture," to quote Professor Cross again, secured his prologue for the
comedy, and conceivably heard of and read Ralph's book. Thus it
would have been fresh in his mind from recent reading, and, pre-
sumably, from conversation with its author, at the time when
Fielding began work on his two comedies of literary satire which
followed The Temple Beau in March and April of the same year.
Helen Sard Hughes
1 Cross, p. 72.