March 2018: Eighteenth Century Literati at the Middle Temple

The Inn has a great many prominent literary connections, two of the most famous, of course, being the first recorded performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in Hall at Candlemas 1602, and the membership of Charles Dickens from 1839 to 1855. However, the eighteenth century also saw a number of prominent men of letters as members, residents and frequenters of the Inn. This month we look at a handful of these, and showcase recently digitised portrait engravings of them from the Archive, as well as other records relating to their time at the Middle Temple.

Henry Fielding was born in 1707, and after his education in England and Leiden started writing satirical dramas for the theatre in the late 1720s. He found some success in this area until the passage of the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737. This largely outlawed satire on the stage, and in order to support his family he turned to the law as a profession. He was admitted to the Inn in the same year as the Act, and was Called to the Bar in 1740. His bondsmen, George Smith and John Jenkins, were both Barber-Surgeons of Fleet Street.

Engraving of Henry Fielding, by T.H. Baker, after William Hogarth (MT.19/PTR/287)

Fielding supplemented the income from his practice as a barrister by writing novels, the most famous of which today is Tom Jones, a novel which exhibits in several places its author's understanding of and respect for the law and its proper administration. He also found time to be London's chief magistrate, in which position he founded the Bow Street Runners, said to be London's first police force, in 1749. His entry in the Barristers' Ledgers records that he continued to pay his termly duties assiduously until 1754, at which point it rather starkly notes 'Dead at Lisbon 8 October' - he had travelled to Portugal in search of a cure for ill health, evidently to no avail.