On this day, Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, is commissioned as justice of the peace for Westminster and Middlesex. In this role, he helped break up notorious criminal gangs. Fielding was born in April 1707 in Somerset, England, and attended Eton. However, he dropped out at age 17 and lost his family’s financial support. He went to London to become a playwright and met some success with more than two-dozen plays. However, his career as a playwright ended when his satire Historical Register of the Year 1736 earned him the prime minister’s ire. In search of a new livelihood, Fielding studied law and edited a newspaper for several years.
Meanwhile, in 1740, Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Pamela was published to enormous popularity. A spoof on the book, called Shamela (1741), was generally credited to Fielding, though he never admitted authorship. He did admit to writing Joseph Andrews, another satire, in 1742. The year after he was appointed justice of the peace, Fielding published his masterpiece Tom Jones. The novel, serialized in 10 small volumes, told the humorous story of the attempts of the illegitimate but charming Tom Jones to win his neighbor’s daughter. The novel boasted a vast cast of characters and provided a sweeping comic portrait of 18th-century England. Fielding published one more novel, Amelia (1751), before his death in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1754.