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Magistrate or Censor? The Problem of Authority in Fielding's Later Writings

Hugh Amory
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
Vol. 12, No. 3, Restoration and Eighteenth Century (Summer, 1972), pp. 503-518
Published by: Rice University
DOI: 10.2307/449948
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/449948
Page Count: 16
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Magistrate or Censor? The Problem of Authority in Fielding's Later Writings
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Abstract

In the Enquiry into the Causes of the late Increase of Robbers (1751), Fielding hesitates between his normal literary role of censor and his actual historical position at the time, as justice of the peace. In the first part of the pamphlet, he adopts a Ciceronian pose, in which "luxury" or the evils of the age will be cured by a restitution of authority and of traditional class distinctions, without legislation. Fielding here alludes to and reenacts the traditional role of the Roman censor, as the maintainer of auctoritas. In the remainder of the pamphlet, Fielding propounds utilitarian "palliatives," which must necessarily be implemented by legislative acts. Here he speaks as a magistrate, exercising the potestas from which the Roman censor is traditionally debarred. In one pose, Fielding encounters the paradox of impotent authority; in the other, of illegitimated power. From these problems, which characterize not only his pamphlets but also Amelia, Fielding escapes, not through irony (with the concomitant genres of comedy and tragedy), but rather through burlesque (with the concomitant genres of romance and farce). This is seen, in Amelia, in the figure of Dr. Harrison, as a fictive censor and as a spokesman for Fielding's social ideals. Precisely because the role of a clergyman affords a truer parallel to that of a censor, Dr. Harrison can speak for a more radical "cure" of social evils than Fielding could plausibly propound in his own role as magistrate. That society refuses to recognize either the "invisible and incorporeal" nature of Harrison's authority, however, or the utilitarian necessity for Fielding's "palliatives" is a burlesque demonstration of the effects of luxury.

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