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A History of English Prose Fiction by Tuckerman

That Fielding's works are coarse


That Fielding's works are coarse,

and that they contain scenes and characters of a dissolute nature, is neither to be denied nor to be regretted. If they were more pure, they would be less valuable from a historical point of view; less true to nature, and therefore less artistic. That the author's intention was far from the production of works with an evil tendency, is evident. He was careful to say in the preface to "Joseph Andrews": "It may be objected to me that I have against my own rules introduced vices, and of a very black kind, in this work. To which I shall answer first, that it is very difficult to pursue a series of human actions, and keep clear from them. Secondly, that the vices to be found here are rather the accidental consequences of some human frailty or foible, than causes habitually existing in the mind. Thirdly, that they are never set forth as the objects of ridicule, but detestation. Fourthly, that they are never the principal figure at that time on the scene; and lastly, they never produce the intended evil." And again, still more strongly, Fielding claims the merit of purity and moral effect for "Tom Jones," "I hope my reader will be convinced, at his very entrance on this work, that he will find, in the whole course of it, nothing prejudicial to the cause of religion and virtue; nothing inconsistent with the strictest rules of decency, nor which can offend the chastest eye in the perusal. On the contrary, I declare, that to recommend goodness and innocence hath been my sincere endeavor
in this history. * * * Besides displaying that beauty of virtue which may attract the admiration of mankind, I have attempted to engage a stronger motive to human action in her favor, by convincing men that their true interest directs them to a pursuit of her. For this purpose I have shown, that no acquisitions of guilt can compensate the loss of that solid inward comfort of mind, which is the sure companion of innocence and virtue; nor can in the least balance the evil of that horror and anxiety which, in their room, guilt introduced into our bosoms."

Thus, it is evident, that Fielding had no desire to write what might be harmful. The contrast between his promise and his fulfilment is simply an illustration of the standard of his time. His novels are coarse to a degree which may nullify their merits in the eyes of some readers of the present day, and may unfit them for the perusal of very young people. But this is simply because the standard in such matters has changed, and not because the novels were purposely made dissolute. Their coarseness was adapted to the lack of refinement in thought and speech characteristic of that time. Fielding wished to "laugh mankind out of their follies and vices." In his coarseness there is always an open, frank laughter. There is none of that veiled pruriency which lurks underneath the more conventionally expressed, but really vicious sentiments that are to be found in too many novels of our own day.

The novel was well defined in character and well established in popularity when Smollett entered the field so well occupied by Richardson and


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