A Political Biography of Henry Fielding

A Political Biography of Henry Fielding

A Political Biography of Henry Fielding

A Political Biography of Henry Fielding

Synopsis

Existing accounts of Fielding's political ideas are insufficiently aware of the structure of politics in the first half of the eighteenth century, and of the ways in which Whig political ideology developed following the Revolution of 1688. This political biography explains and illustrates what 'being a Whig' meant to Fielding.

Excerpt

When a Nation is divided into two opposite Political Parties … the generality of
the people, consisting of unlearned and undesigning persons, are very liable to be
imposed upon by the pretences and practices of the most eminent in those Parties.

Grub-Street Journal, 22 April 1736

Fielding failed to articulate any straightforward statement of his political beliefs in propria persona. Perhaps the nearest he came to doing so was in pamphlets such as A Serious Address To the People of Great Britain in which he explained how the doctrine of ‘an indefeasible Right to the Crown hath been justly exploded’ because ‘the Legislature of the Kingdom have unanimously declared against any such Principle’. ‘The Reverse of it is Law’, he went on, ‘a Law as firmly established as any other in this Kingdom; nay, it is the Foundation, the Corner-Stone of all our Laws, and of this Constitution itself; nor is the Declaration and Confirmation of this great Right of the People one of the least of those Blessings, which we owe to the Revolution’. This not only appears to make his sentiments on the subject of parliamentary sovereignty perfectly clear – supreme power lies in ‘the people’ as represented in Parliament – iof itself introduce an opposite System of Government, and changes not only the King, but the Constitution’. When in Tom Jones, therefore, he describes Tom as ‘a hearty Well-wisher to the glorious Cause of Liberty, and of the Protestant Religion’, we would be justified in assuming that these predilections were shared by Fielding himself.

In Fielding’s lifetime, those who subscribed to Revolution Principles were usually called Whigs. However, existing accounts of Fielding’s politics are insufficiently aware, it seems to me, not only of the structure of British politics in the first half of the eighteenth century, but of the ways in which the various strands of Whig political ideology developed during the sixty years following the Revolution of 1688. Partly this is to do with historiographical developments which have taken place over the past fifty years. When Martin C. Battestin published his . . .

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