Off the Shelf: Hard-a port to Lisbon: Kenneth Baxter on Henry Fielding's neglected swansong, A Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon
Saturday 22 January 1994
The cost to Fielding was that 'my health was reduced to the last extremity'. He paid a delayed visit to Bath which he hoped might relieve the combination of asthma, gout and dropsy from which he suffered. He was three times 'tapped' and resolved to seek a warmer climate - in Portugal.
The departure of this great Englishman from his native country was memorable. He had lost the use of his legs and was so emaciated that pregnant women turned away from him, fearing miscarriage. He had to be carried in a chair across the mudflats at Hyde and hoisted by pulleys over the ship's side. Rows of sailors jeered and insulted him, 'a barbarous custom peculiar to the English of the lowest degree . . . an excrescence of uncontrolled licence mistaken for liberty'.
There was almost a month's delay between leaving Gravesend and sailing from Hyde while they waited for a favourable wind. Quarrelsome sailors 'carried on a dialogue of oaths and scurrility'; rude and insolent customs officials burst into the cabin; pilots were surly. His wife was tormented by toothache and sea-sickness, and he himself, was obliged to send for a surgeon to 'tap' him again. One day, with infinite difficulty, he was transported ashore where, after an amusingly related misunderstanding with an obdurate inn-keeper's wife, he ate bacon and beans, venison and mutton, soals and whiting 'with good appetites and good humour'. Neither ever deserted him.
Finally, the Queen of Portugal got under way on 23 July and reached Lisbon on 14 August. Fielding died there on 8 October and was buried in the English cemetery. He must have written hard in the few weeks that remained to him, completing a 35,000-word account of the voyage, a generous preface and an introduction on travelling garnished with classical allusions.
It is a brave, uncomplaining book which shows that he had lost neither his zest for life, nor his delight in the contemplation of of people. His portraits of Captain Veal, who was convinced that witchcraft had deprived him of wind, of Farmer Francis and his wife, and of Mrs Humphrys, the squat, awkward and avaricious mistress of the inn, are indisputably by the author of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 2 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)
- 5 Magna Carta will be 800 years old next year – the perfect reminder of the rights and freedoms we must hold dear
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
The Interview film review: Controversial gross-out satire is broad, bawdy and bad - but undeniably entertaining
Doctor Who Christmas special, review: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever