The History of Henry Fielding - Vol. 1

By Wilbur L. Cross; Humphrey Milford | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
ANCESTRY AND CHILDHOOD

It is the custom of all biographers, at their entrance into their work," said Fielding humorously, "to step a little backwards (as far, indeed, generally as they are able) and to trace up their hero, as the ancients did the river Nile, till an incapacity of proceeding higher puts an end to their search." So it once was with Fielding's own biographers, who, relying upon the genealogists, traced his ancestral stream back through six centuries, and then in the darkness of the Middle Ages feigned a source for it in one of the most ancient and illustrious houses in Europe. The family was allied, it used to be said, with the gods, meaning thereby emperors and kings. Who does not recall that splendid passage from Gibbon quoted by Thackeray?-- "Our immortal Fielding was of a younger branch of the Earls of Denbigh, who draw their origin from the Counts of Hapsburg, the lineal descendants of Ethico' in the seventh century, Duke of Alsace. Far different have been the fortunes of the English and German divisions of the family of Hapsburg. The former, the Knights and Sheriffs of Leicestershire, have slowly risen to the dignity of a peerage; the latter, the Emperors of Germany and Kings of Spain, have threatened the liberty of the old, and invaded the treasures of the new world. The successors of Charles the Fifth may disdain their humble brethren of England, but the romance of ' Tom Jones,' that exquisite picture of human manners, will outlive the palace of the Escurial, and the Imperial Eagle of the House of Austria."

-1-

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