The History of Henry Fielding - Vol. 1

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

CHAPTER II
YOUTH AND EDUCATION

It is thought strange that Eton has no record of the boy who came there from East Stour, and after eighteen months ran home to his grandmother. But in the eighteenth century, it was the custom to preserve merely the lists of "collegers," or poor scholars on the foundation, who were provided with wretched food and wretched quarters in the college or school; whereas Henry Fielding, the son of a gentleman, could have entered Eton only as an "oppidan," or independent scholar living at the expense of his family in one of the boarding-houses of the town. Indeed, Fielding later put into the mouth of Parson Adams pleasant banter of the King's Scholars, those young men selected from the collegers to go to King's College, Cambridge, on scholarships and without further examination. Fielding belonged to quite another class. His allowance of nearly £70 a year was very liberal--considerably larger than that of William Pitt, afterwards Lord Chatham, who was at Eton in Fielding's time, coming like him from the West. In after life Pitt formed one of a famous company to whom Fielding read aloud from the manuscript of "Tom Jones." Did the reader include, we wonder, that fine passage wherein the Great Commoner is said to have transferred to his speeches the whole spirit of Demosthenes and Cicero and made "the English senate a rival in eloquence to Greece and Rome"?

Another famous schoolfellow was Charles Hanbury, afterwards Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, wit and diplomatist, to whom Fielding submitted the manuscript of his

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