The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. VIIX: British
Partridge at the Play
By Henry Fielding (17071754)
From Tom Jones
IN the first row, then, of the first gallery, did Mr. Jones, Mrs. Miller, her youngest daughter, and Partridge, take their places. Partridge immediately declared it was the finest place he had ever been in. When the first music was played, he said, It was a wonder how so many fiddlers could play at one time without putting one another out. Nor could he help observing, with a sigh, when all the candles were lighted, That here were candles enough burned in one night to keep an honest poor family for a twelvemonth.
As soon as the play, which was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, began, Partridge was all attention, nor did he break silence till the entrance of the ghost, upon which he asked Jones, What man that was in the strange dress, something, said he, like what I have seen in a picture? Sure it is not armour, is it? Jones answered, That is the ghost. To which Partridge replied with a smile, Persuade me to that, sir, if you can. Though I cant say I ever actually saw a ghost in my life, yet I am certain I should know one if I saw him better than that comes to. No, no, sir; ghosts dont appear in such dresses as that, neither. In this mistake, which caused much laughter in the neighbourhood of Partridge, he was suffered to continue until the scene between the ghost and Hamlet, when Partridge gave that credit to Mr. Garrick which he had denied to Jones, and fell into so violent a trembling that his knees knocked against each other. Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of the warrior on the stage. Oh, la! sir, said he, I perceive now it is what you told me. I am not afraid of anything, for I know it is but a play; and if it were really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance, and in so much company; and yet, if I was frightened, I am not the only person. Why, who, cries Jones, dost thou take to be such a coward here beside thyself? Nay, you may call me coward, if you will; but if that little man there upon the stage is not frightened, I never saw any man frightened in my life. Ay, ay; go along with you! Ay, to be sure! Whos fool, then? Will you? Lud have mercy upon such foolhardiness! Whatever happens, it is good enough for you. Follow you! Id follow the devil as soon. Nay, perhaps it is the devilfor they say he can put on what likeness he pleases. Oh, here he is again! No farther! No, you have gone far enough already; farther than Id have gone for all the kings dominions. Jones offered to speak, but Partridge cried, Hush, hush, dear sir! dont you hear him? And during the whole speech of the ghost he sat with his eyes fixed partly on the ghost, and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open; the same passions which succeeded each other in Hamlet succeeding likewise in him.
When the scene was over, Jones said, Why, Partridge, you exceed my expectations. You enjoy the play more than I conceived possible. Nay, sir, answered Partridge, if you are not afraid of the devil, I cant help it; but, to be sure, it is natural to be surprised at such things, though I know there is nothing in them. Not that it was the ghost that surprised me, neither; for I should have known that to have been only a man in a strange dress; but when I saw the little man so frightened himself, it was that which took hold of me. And dost thou imagine then, Partridge, cries Jones, that he was really frightened? Nay, sir, said Partridge, did not you yourself observe afterward, when he found it was his own fathers spirit, and how he was murdered in the garden, how his fear forsook him by degrees, and he was struck dumb with sorrow, as it were, just as I should have been had it been my own case? But hush! Oh, la! what noise is that? There he is again. Well, to be certain, though I know there is nothing at all in it, I am glad I am not down yonder where those men are.
During the second act Partridge made very few remarks. He greatly admired the fineness of the dresses; nor could he help observing upon the kings countenance. Well, said he, how people may be deceived by faces! Nulla fides fronti is, I find, a true saying. Who would think, by looking in the kings face, that he had ever committed a murder? He then inquired after the ghost; but Jones, who intended he should be surprised, gave him no other satisfaction than, That he might possibly see him again soon, and in a flash of fire.
Partridge sat in fearful expectation of this; and now, when the ghost made his next appearance, Partridge cried out, There, sir, now; what say you now; is he frightened now, or no? As much frightened as you think meand, to be sure, nobody can help some fearsI would not be in so bad a condition aswhats his name?Squire Hamlet is there, for all the world. Bless me, whats become of the spirit? As I am a living soul, I thought I saw him sink into the earth. Indeed, you saw right, answered Jones. Well, well, cried Partridge, I know its only a play; and, besides, if there were anything in all this, Madame Miller would not laugh so; for as to you, sir, you would not be afraid, I believe, if the devil were here in person. There, there; aye, no wonder you are in such a passion! Shake the vile, wicked wretch to pieces. If she were my own mother I should serve her so. To be sure, all duty to a mother is forfeited by such wicked doings. Aye, go about your business; I hate the sight of you!
Our critic was now pretty silent till the play which Hamlet introduces before the king. This he did not at first understand, till Jones explained it to him; but he no sooner entered into the spirit of it, then he began to bless himself that he had never committed murder. Then turning to Mrs. Miller, he asked her, If she did not imagine the king looked as if he was touched; though he is, said he, a good actor, and doth all he can to hide it. Well, I would not have so much to answer for as that wicked man there hath, to sit upon a much higher chair than he sits upon. No wonder he ran away. For your sake Ill never trust an innocent face again.
The grave-digging scene next engaged the attention of Partridge, who expressed much surprise at the number of skulls thrown upon the stage. To which Jones answered, That it was one of the most famous burial-places about town. No wonder, then, cries Partridge, that the place is haunted. But I never saw in my life a worse grave-digger. I had a sexton, when I was clerk, that would have dug three graves while he is digging one. The fellow handles a spade as if it was the first time he had ever had one in his hand. Aye, aye, you may sing. You had rather sing than work, I believe. Upon Hamlets taking up the skull, he cried out, Well, it is strange to see how fearless some men are. I never could bring myself to touch anything belonging to a dead man on any account. He seemed frightened enough, too, at the ghost, I thought.
Little more worth remembering occurred during the play, at the end of which Jones asked him, Which of the players he had liked best. To this he answered, with some appearance of indignation at the question, The king, without doubt. Indeed, Mr. Partridge, says Mrs. Miller, you are not of the same opinion with the town; for they are all agreed that Hamlet is acted by the best player who ever was on the stage. He the best player! cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer. Why, I could act as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did. And then, to be sure, in that scene, as you called it, between him and his mother, where you told me he acted so fine, why, any manthat is, any good manthat had such a mother would have done exactly the same. I know you are only joking with me; but, indeed, madam, though I was never at a play in London, yet I have seen acting before in the country. The king for my money! He speaks all his words distinctly, half as loud again as the other. Anybody may see he is an actor.