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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Partridge at the Playhouse
By Henry Fielding (1707–1754)
 
From ‘Tom Jones

MR. JONES having spent three hours in reading and kissing the aforesaid letter, and being at last in a state of good spirits from the last-mentioned considerations, he agreed to carry an appointment, which he had before made, into execution. This was to attend Mrs. Miller and her younger daughter into the gallery at the play-house, and to admit Mr. Partridge as one of the company. For as Jones had really that taste for humor which many affect, he expected to enjoy much entertainment in the criticisms of Partridge; from whom he expected the simple dictates of nature, unimproved indeed, but likewise unadulterated by art.  1
  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.” While the fellow was lighting the upper candles he cried out to Mrs. Miller, “Look, look, madam; the very picture of the man in the end of the Common Prayer Book, before the gunpowder-treason service!” Nor could he help observing with a sigh, when all the candles were lighted, that “there were candles enough burnt in one night to keep an honest poor family for a whole twelvemonth.”  2
  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 armor, is it?”  3
  Jones answered, “That is the Ghost.”  4
  To which Partridge replied with a smile:—“Persuade me to that, sir, if you can. Though I can’t 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 don’t appear in such dresses as that, neither.” In this mistake, which caused much laughter in the neighborhood 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 upon 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 was 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.”  5
  “Why, who,” cries Jones, “dost thou take to be such a coward here, besides thyself?”  6
  “Nay, you may call me a 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. Ah, ah, go along with you! Ay, to be sure! Who’s fool then? Will you? Lud have mercy upon such foolhardiness! Whatever happens, it is good enough for you. Follow you?—I’d follow the Devil as soon. Nay, perhaps it is the Devil, for 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 I’d have gone for all the king’s dominion.” Jones offered to speak, but Partridge cried, “Hush, hush, dear sir, don’t 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.  7
  When the scene was over, Jones said, “Why, Partridge, you exceed my expectations. You enjoy the play more than I conceived possible.”  8
  “Nay, sir,” answered Partridge, “if you are not afraid of the Devil, I can’t 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.”  9
  “And dost thou imagine then, Partridge,” cries Jones, “that he was really frightened?”  10
  “Nay, sir,” said Partridge, “did not you yourself observe afterwards, when he found out it was his own father’s 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.” Then, turning his eyes again upon Hamlet, “Ay, you may draw your sword: what signifies a sword against the power of the Devil?”  11
  During the second act, Partridge made very few remarks. He greatly admired the fineness of the dresses; nor could he help observing upon the King’s 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 King’s face, that he had ever committed a murder?” He then inquired after the Ghost; but Jones, who intended that he should be surprised, gave him no other satisfaction than that he might possibly see him again soon, and in a flash of fire.  12
  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 me; and to be sure, nobody can help some fears. I would not be in so bad a condition as what’s-his-name, Squire Hamlet, is there, for all the world. Bless me! What’s become of the spirit? As I am a living soul, I thought I saw him sink into the earth.”  13
  “Indeed, you saw right,” answered Jones.  14
  “Well, well,” cries Partridge, “I know it is only a play; and besides, if there was anything in all this, Madam 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—ay, no wonder you are in such a passion; shake the vile wicked wretch to pieces. If she was my own mother I should serve her so. To be sure, all duty to a mother is forfeited by such wicked doings. Ay, go about your business; I hate the sight of you.”  15
  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 than 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 I’ll never trust an innocent face again.”  16
  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.”  17
  “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 should 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. Ay, ay, you may sing. You had rather sing than work, I believe.” Upon Hamlet’s 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. Nemo omnibus horis sapit.”  18
  Little more worth remembering occurred during the play, at the end of which Jones asked him which of the players he had liked best?  19
  To this he answered, with some appearance of indignation at the question, “The King, without doubt.”  20
  “Indeed, Mr. Partridge,” says Mrs. Miller, “you are not of the same opinion as the town; for they are all agreed that Hamlet is acted by the best player who was ever on the stage.”  21
  “He the best player!” cried 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 call it, between him and his mother, where you told me he acted so fine, why, Lord help me! any man,—that is, any good man,—that had 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; and 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.”  22
  While Mrs. Miller was thus engaged in conversation with Partridge, a lady came up to Mr. Jones whom he immediately knew to be Mrs. Fitzpatrick. She said she had seen him from the other part of the gallery, and had taken that opportunity of speaking to him, as she had something to say which might be of great service to himself. She then acquainted him with her lodgings, and made him an appointment the next day in the morning, which upon recollection she presently changed to the afternoon; at which time Jones promised to attend her.  23
  Thus ended the adventure at the play-house; where Partridge had afforded great mirth, not only to Jones and Mrs. Miller, but to all who sat within hearing, who were more attentive to what he said than to anything that passed on the stage.  24
  He durst not go to bed all that night for fear of the Ghost; and for many nights after, sweat two or three hours before he went to sleep with the same apprehensions; and waked several times in great horrors, crying out, “Lord have mercy upon us! there it is.”  25
 
 
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