The author of Tom Jones lived for some time at Twerton, then near Bath, but now within the city’s boundaries. He was there in 1748, and is believed to have written part of his famous novel during that visit. The house, long known as Fielding’s Lodge, has been demolished, and a small block of flats bearing the defaced legend Fielding’s House, now stands on the site. * Fielding’s sister Sarah was also a novelist, and lived at Widcombe Lodge in the village of Widcombe; like Twerton, it was then near Bath, and is now part of the city. Fielding often stayed with her, and was frequently a guest at Prior Park, Ralph Allen‘s stately mansion nearby. He was a man who led an indulgent life, and although only in his late thirties at the time, his health was far from good; one of Allen’s guests at Prior Park described him unflatteringly as ‘a poor, emaciated, worn-out rake, whose gout and infirmities have got the better of his buffoonery’.
Ralph Allen was the model for Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones, and Sophia, the heroine, is said to have been inspired by Fielding’s first wife, Charlotte, whose early death caused him prolonged grief. He sold the copyright of the novel outright to a publisher for £600. Later, his work as a London magistrate claimed much of his time and energy, and his health declined to such an extent that he was advised to live in a warmer climate. In the spring of 1754 he sailed with his wife and family to Lisbon, hoping to assuage the miseries of his gout, jaundice and asthma. Two months later, at the age of forty-seven, he died, and was buried among the cypresses of the English cemetery in Portugal’s capital.
Tom Jones is happily still in print, and continues to delight readers after more than two hundred years. And the reputation of the ‘poor, emaciated, worn-out rake’ is fittingly enshrined in the more charitable words of a later voluptuary; he was, said Byron, ‘the prose Homer of human nature’. A bronze tablet at Widcombe Lodge records the fact that Sarah and Henry Fielding stayed there. It was unveiled by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in June, 1906.