Writers find inspiration in their own lives as well as in their imaginations, and most often a mixture of both. A tantalizing story from the early life of novelist and playwright Henry Fielding (1707-1754) does seem to hint at fictional scenes to come from the author of Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews.
In 1725, young Henry had recently completed his studies at Eton. By all reports, he was tall ("rising above six feet") and powerfully built, possessed of a quick wit and quicker temper, and a face most kindly described as "not handsome." What he definitely did not possess, however, was a respectable fortune. Henry's father was a fast-living and impecunious army officer who had already married twice and sired nearly a dozen children to feed, clothe, and house with some degree of respectability. Though related to the aristocracy and raised as a gentleman, young Henry found himself heir to nothing, and so decided on the most popular 18th c. course for improving one's fortunes: marrying an heiress.
Residing in Lyme Regis, Dorset in the summer of 1725, eighteen-year-old Henry's affections soon latched onto fifteen-year-old Sarah Andrew, left, and her sizable inheritance. But Sarah (and her fortune) were closely guarded by her uncle, Andrew Tucker, who hoped to see Sarah married to his own son and viewed Henry as an unsavory rival.
Undaunted, Henry persevered throughout the fall, and one wonders if the adolescent Sarah was as encouraging as her guardian was not. The wooing came to a head in November, when Henry and his servant attempted to abduct the lady one Sunday as she was on her way to church. While the abduction was thwarted by Mr. Tucker, Henry's attempt must have been a forceful one. Records in Lyme Regis show Mr. Tucker had Henry and his servant "bound over to keep the peace, as [Tucker] was in fear of his life or some bodily hurt to be done or to be procured to be done to him by H. Fielding & his man. A. Tucker feared that [Fielding] would beat, maim, or kill him."
Miss Andrew was swiftly hustled from Lyme Regis to Modbury, where she was soon married to a more suitable gentleman. Disappointed and disgruntled, Henry also left Lyme Regis - but not before he posted the petulant public notice, right, now on display in Lyme Regis Museum:
This is to give notice to the World that Andrew Tucker and his Son John Tucker are Clowns, and Cowards. Witness my hand Henry F[ie]lding.
After this unsuccessful attempt at marrying money, Fielding decided he'd do better by earning it. As he wrote later, his choice was to be "a Hackney Writer, or a Hackney Coachman." Fortunately for us, he chose the former.
Above: Sarah Andrew Rhodes by an unknown artist, c. 1730
Below: Public notice by Henry Fielding, 1726, Lyme Regis Museum