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Henry Fielding History's first crime fighter

Updated on May 12, 2015

Henry Fielding was born on 22 April, 1707 he was raised in a distinguished and Aristocratic family. His mother died before he was fourteen, and his father, Edmund Fielding was a General in the Army.

His father and grandmother quarrelled and went to court over the administration of his wife’s money, including the care of Fielding and his other siblings. Spending three years at Eton, he then went to Holland to study at LeydenUniversity, on his return to London he decided to become a writer. Before he was twenty-one he wrote a comedy which was produced at Drury Lane, and he was under thirty when his twenty-third work was produced at the Haymarket theatre. Although most his plays were comedies, his dramatic importance depended on his burlesque (which he mocks with great wit and gaiety the artificial literary fashions of the period) and his political satires. The Author’s Farce, The Historical Register for the year 1736, he makes blistering attacks on the Government, with unflattering portraits of Prime Minister Robert Walpole. In response to these attacks, Walpole passed the Licensing Act of 1737, prohibiting the performance of any plays without the Lord Chamberlain’s license, and confined Covent Garden and Drury Lane to London dramas. Fielding, who had his own theatrical company at the Haymarket Theater, was put out of business.

His career as playwright and manager was brought to an abrupt end; Fielding began to study Law – a career he had once considered before. But his urge to write soon led him to start a thrice-weekly periodical, The Champion. Then he published anonymously, An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, a brilliant skit on Richardson’s novel Pamela, which was soon followed by Joseph Andrews, the story of the alleged brother of Pamela. In this novel what was begun as a burlesque turns into a work of creative genius, for in laughing at the Richardson kind of novel – conventional, romantic and sentimental – Fielding, with his great skill in drawing character, substituted for romance an ironic comedy in which the modern novel has its foundation.

Fielding became a barrister in 1740, and eight years later, the influence of a friend, was appointed principal magistrate of Westminster. At that time when Londoners were being terrorized by highwaymen and murderers, Fielding brought wisdom, integrity, courage and tireless devotion to work which had often been corruptly and incompetently discharged. His firmness suppressed the London riots of 1749, and his pamphlet containing advice on crime and drunkenness became the basis for several reforming Acts of Parliament. In 1753, he successfully established the first detective force, which later became known as the Bow Street runners, which reduced the number of murders and robberies in London. Fielding performed a work of incalculable value for the development of British Justice; but he made next to nothing out of it for himself, for he would not follow the practice of the times and take fees from the poor, and often assisted people instead of sentencing them. In later years, his work was carried on by his half-brother, John Fielding who became a famous blind magistrate of Bow Street.

Fielding’s greatest book, The History of Tom Jones, a foundling, appeared in 1749, and soon after came the less successful Amelia, modelled on the virtues of his much-loved first wife, Charlotte who had died. By 1752, Fielding was very ill, and in 1754 he set sail, along with his second wife Mary Daniel and his daughter, for Portugal, a journey described in a Voyage to Lisbon. However in the same year he died on 8 October.


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