Part of the Studies in Modern History book series (SMH)


In The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews (1742), Henry Fielding wrote:

[B]etween my Lord Clarendon and Mr. Whitlock, between Mr. Echard and Rapin, and many others; where Facts being set forth in a different Light, every Reader believes as he pleases, and indeed the more judicious and suspicious very justly esteem the whole as no other than a Romance, in which the Writer hath indulged a happy and fertile Invention.1

In Fielding’s view, English historical writing had been meta-morphosed into little more than fairy tales made up of widely divergent historical data and interpretation-royalist and parlia-mentarian, tory and whig. Because political bickering had spoiled history, Fielding could minimize the differences between two forms of didactic narrative, history and the novel, and argue that the novel, badly in need of legitimization, could now challenge history as a source of moral truth. Whether the English public accepted Fielding’s arguments, it surely accepted his premise that historical writing had been terribly discredited. In fact, during the eighteenth century the rise of the novel took place at the same time that the noble genre of history declined into an embarrassing condition. In the 1750s David Hume finally reversed the fortunes of English historiography and solved a longstanding problem in English letters, a problem that, as we have seen, illustrated the tensions between classical historiography and early-modern English society.


Eighteenth Century Fairy Tale Moral Truth Ancient Historian English Letter 
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  1. 1.
    Henry Fielding, The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews ed. Douglas Brooks (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), Preface, book 3 (chap. 1).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip Hicks 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Saint Mary’s CollegeNotre DameUSA

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