The History of Tom Jones HTML version
Containing The Space Of Five Days.
I have heard of a dramatic writer who used to say, he would rather write a play
than a prologue; in like manner, I think, I can with less pains write one of the
books of this history than the prefatory chapter to each of them.
To say the truth, I believe many a hearty curse hath been devoted on the head of
that author who first instituted the method of prefixing to his play that portion of
matter which is called the prologue; and which at first was part of the piece itself,
but of latter years hath had usually so little connexion with the drama before
which it stands, that the prologue to one play might as well serve for any other.
Those indeed of more modern date, seem all to be written on the same three
topics, viz., an abuse of the taste of the town, a condemnation of all
contemporary authors, and an eulogium on the performance just about to be
represented. The sentiments in all these are very little varied, nor is it possible
they should; and indeed I have often wondered at the great invention of authors,
who have been capable of finding such various phrases to express the same
In like manner I apprehend, some future historian (if any one shall do me the
honour of imitating my manner) will, after much scratching his pate, bestow some
good wishes on my memory, for having first established these several initial
chapters; most of which, like modern prologues, may as properly be prefixed to
any other book in this history as to that which they introduce, or indeed to any
other history as to this.
But however authors may suffer by either of these inventions, the reader will find
sufficient emolument in the one as the spectator hath long found in the other.
First, it is well known that the prologue serves the critic for an opportunity to try
his faculty of hissing, and to tune his cat-call to the best advantage; by which
means, I have known those musical instruments so well prepared, that they have
been able to play in full concert at the first rising of the curtain.
The same advantages may be drawn from these chapters, in which the critic will
be always sure of meeting with something that may serve as a whetstone to his
noble spirit; so that he may fall with a more hungry appetite for censure on the
history itself. And here his sagacity must make it needless to observe how artfully
these chapters are calculated for that excellent purpose; for in these we have
always taken care to intersperse somewhat of the sour or acid kind, in order to
sharpen and stimulate the said spirit of criticism.
Again, the indolent reader, as well as spectator, finds great advantage from both
these; for, as they are not obliged either to see the one or read the others, and
both the play and the book are thus protracted, by the former they have a quarter
of an hour longer allowed them to sit at dinner, and by the latter they have the
advantage of beginning to read at the fourth or fifth page instead of the first, a
matter by no means of trivial consequence to persons who read books with no