Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fielding, John

FIELDING, Sir JOHN (d. 1780), magistrate, was the son of General Fielding by his second wife, and half-brother of Henry Fielding [q. v.] He was blind, apparently from his birth. He was associated with his brother as assisting magistrate for three or four years (Origin … of a Police, &c.), and the office was given to him upon his brother's death. He carried on the plan for breaking up gangs of robbers introduced by Henry Fielding. In a pamphlet called ‘Plan for Preventing Robberies within twenty miles of London’ (1755) he gives some details of this. He denies that he or his brother had employed a certain M'Daniel, who was tried in 1755 for trepanning some wretches into a robbery in order to get a reward by informing against them (Howell, State Trials, xix. 746–864). In 1758 he published another pamphlet on the same subject called ‘An Account of the Origin and Effects of a Police set on foot in 1753 by the Duke of Newcastle on a plan suggested by the late Henry Fielding.’ To this is added a plan for rescuing deserted girls. He mentions another scheme which he had started at the end of 1755 for sending ‘distressed boys’ into the royal navy. Considerable sums were raised for this purpose, which appears to have been successfully carried out; and after the peace he proposed to modify it by finding employment for the boys in the mercantile navy. The accounts were published in 1770. A story of uncertain origin is given by Lawrence (Life of Fielding, p. 273) that Sir John knew more than three thousand thieves by their voices. His energy, however, did not protect him from the ordinary imputations upon ‘trading magistrates.’ In Cole's ‘Collections’ (Addit. MS. 5832, f. 226 b) there is a letter from the ‘Cambridge Chronicle’ of 7 June 1766, in which Fielding thanks some Jews for helping to recover stolen property. Cole observes that ‘though stark blind, and of no great reputation as to strict integrity, [ Fielding] was generally esteemed a very useful member of society.’ He is denounced with great bitterness in a pamphlet of 1773 called ‘A Letter to Sir John Fielding, occasioned by his extraordinary request to Mr. Garrick for the suppression of the “Beggar's Opera.”’ A ‘letter of reconciliation’ to Garrick, referring apparently to this, is in the ‘Garrick Correspondence,’ ii. 169–70. A later quarrel with Garrick, arising out of the discovery of Henry Fielding's posthumous comedy, is noticed in Forster's ‘Oliver Goldsmith’ (2nd edit. ii. 56). Miles speaks of Fielding's ‘turbulent disposition,’ insomuch that he makes money by encouraging and then detecting criminals, and declares that eight out of ten of the persons executed at Tyburn owe their ruin to the ‘fatal and numerous examples of vice’ collected about Bow Street. He adds that Fielding was wicked enough to admit reporters and supply them with pen and ink, which cruelly exposes the criminals; and further that he receives fifty guineas a year from two papers for procuring them police advertisements. In ‘Bedford Correspondence’ (iii. 411) Fielding appeals to the Duke of Bedford against some false reports, and it is stated that the duke had considered him ‘irresolute’ on the occasion of the ‘Bloomsbury riots in 1765.’ In 1768 he published ‘Extracts from such of the Penal Laws as particularly relate to the peace and good order of the Metropolis …’ (described as a new edition), to which is appended ‘A Treatise on the Office of Constable,’ completed from papers left by Henry Fielding. Some cautions against common modes of theft appended to a ‘Brief Description of the Cities of London and Westminster …’ (1776) are also attributed to him; but he disclaimed the book (Public Advertiser, 6 Jan. 1777). Some ‘Regal Tables’ and ‘Hackney Coach Fares’ attributed to him in the British Museum Catalogue are by a bookseller, John Fielding of Paternoster Row, and in no way connected with him.

Fielding was concerned for some years in a ‘Universal Register Office.’ He seems to have started it with his brother, who added some curious puffs of it (afterwards suppressed) to the first edition of ‘Amelia.’ A ‘plan’ was published in 1752, and an eighth edition in 1755. It was intended as a sort of general agency for houses, servants, and various advertising purposes. Fielding was knighted in 1761, and died at Brompton Place 4 Sept. 1780.

A book called ‘Sir John Fielding's Jests’ (n. d.), published after his death, is a catchpenny production, which seems, however, to imply that he had a reputation for wit.

[Gent. Mag. 1761, p. 475, 1780, p. 1446; Fielding's pamphlets as above; Addit. MS. 5726 (letter of congratulation to Lord Bute, 26 June 1769); Lawrence's Life of Fielding, pp. 368, 372; Austin Dobson's Fielding, p. 194.]

L. S.