The title of this book will recall Fielding favourite use of the word history; by which the great novelist meant a biography, either fictitious or real, that places in the proper social background all the incidents in the life of a man essential to knowing him, in conjunction with a sufficient account of the persons who bore upon that life for good or for evil. This was the aim of "The History of Tom Jones and this has been the aim of The History of Henry Fielding". By accident, perhaps, the two histories contain about the same number of words.
Obviously, real history differs from fictitious in its art. "Tom Jones" has a plot which Coleridge described as a masterpiece; wherein incident is manipulated so as to determine character, and character is manipulated so as to determine incident, to a degree which does not prevail in actual life; wherein, too, lurk preconceived views or principles of conduct--a thesis almost--to be quietly and unobtrusively illustrated and maintained. None of these artistic devices are at the disposal of the honest historian of a man who has really lived and done his work in this world. Chance plays her part in the affairs of men; events happen which ought never to have happened; they are there and they cannot be removed in the interest of a faultless order. Facts are stubborn things; they cannot be ignored nor altered; they must be given, if they can be discovered, just as they are. In brief, the art of real history or biography consists in a coherent narrative of what actually occurred, with the addition of necessary comment and interpretation. Inference and conjecture are legitimate, but they should be held in restraint.