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'Tom Jones' And Alsatia.

In Book VIII, chapter xiv of Tom Jones, the Man of the Hill describes his arrival in London after leaving Oxford in disgrace. Passing through the Inner Temple, 'very hungry and very miserable', he meets Mr Watson, who subsequently leads him to join a gang of 'Sharpers'. Watson first invites him to go 'into the Friars, which you know is the Scene of all Mirth and Jollity'. Martin Battestin's footnote to the Wesleyan Edition identifies the Friars as Blackfriars, which is 'a few minutes' walk eastward from the Inner Temple' and 'a retreat for disreputable persons of all kinds'.(1) But it seems far more likely that the scene is White friars, popularly known as Alsatia, which immediately abutted the Inner Temple and was connected by a small gate. Whitefriars was more strongly associated with the kind of criminal life to which the Man of the Hill will shortly become involved, and there is a clear precedent in Shadwell's Squire of Alsatia for calling it simply 'the Friars'.

Both neighbourhoods were the sites of former monasteries and continued to enjoy privileges of immunity from arrest for debt long after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. But Whitefriars, which began during the latter part of the seventeenth century to be called Alsatia, after Alsace, the frequently contested region between France and Germany, was far more notorious than Blackfriars as a debtor's sanctuary and criminal haunt. Even after its privileges were removed by an act of Parliament in 1697, Ned Ward's London Spy described it as 'a Soil where Sin could only grow'.(2) Narcissus Luttrell (in a manuscript entry written in 1691 but not published until 1857) describes an attempt by the 'benchers of the Inner Temple' at 'bricking up their little gate leading into Whitefryers'. Before the workmen can finish it, however, 'the Alsatians came and pull'd it down as they built it up', and the resulting fray results in several gunshot wounds and a number of arrests.(3)

Both Whitefriars and Blackfriars are mentioned several times in Elizabethan and seventeenth-century plays.(4) Ben Jonson refers to both, and sometimes calls Blackfriars simply 'the Friers'.(5) But the two places carry quite different connotations. 'Blackfriars' often alludes to Blackfriars Theatre; when an allusion is made to its privileges of sanctuary, it concerns the Puritans who took refuge there, not criminals. Thomas Randolph mentions 'two of the sanctified fraternity of Blackfriars'(6) and Jonson describes a Captain 'whom not a Puritan in Blackfriars will trust so much as for a feather'.(7) 'Whitefriars', on the other hand, is used most often to allude to criminals. In his Prologue to Epicene, Jonson says that some of his play is fit for 'lords, knights, and squires; Some for your men and daughters of Whitefriars', and when Sir Politick in Volpone IV.i says 'The gentleman is of worth and our nation', his wife retorts 'Ay, your whitefriars nation'.

The most extensive treatment of Whitefriars, however, and a likely source for the Man of the Hill's story, is Shadwell's Squire of Alsatia, which was performed several times in the 1730s and 1740s at Covent Garden and Drury Lane (twice with Fielding's favourite, Kitty Clive, in the role of Isabella). The Squire of Alsatia is based, like Fielding's play The Fathers (and Nightingale's story in Tom Jones) on Terence's Adelphi. It also bears some resemblance to the Man of the Hill's story: in both, the young son of a country gentleman joins a company of sharpers and unexpectedly meets his father in London. The father in each story is the victim of criminal violence, and both stories make extensive use of criminal cant. The Man of the Hill's arrival in London, six years before he joins the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion (1685) is roughly contemporary with Shadwell's play, which was first performed in 1688. In the Squire of Alsatia, Whitefriars is often simply referred to as 'the Friers'.(8) Shadwell plays with the juxtaposition of the Inner Temple and Alsatia, setting a number of the scenes there, and it is quite possible that Fielding also had in mind this contiguity of law and lawlessness.(9) While there is some precedent in Jonson for the usage Battestin proposes in his footnote, Fielding's 'Friars' would seem to come via Shadwell.

GEORGE DRAKE University of Washington

1 The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling. by Henry Fielding (Middletown, Connecticut, 1975).

2 Ned Ward, The London-Spy Campleat, In Eighteen Parts (London, 1700), 159.

3 Narcissus Luttrell, A Brief Relation of Sate Affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 6 vols (Oxford, 1857), II, 259-60.

4 See Edward H. Sugden, A Topographical Dictionary to the Works of Shakespeare and his Fellow Dramatists (Manchester, 1925).

5 The Alchemist, I.i; Bartholomew Fair, V.iii. 6 The Muse's Looking Glass, I.i.

7 Alchemist, I.i.

8 I.i ff.

9 Sir Walter Scott later set a substantial part of The Fortunes of Nigel in Alsatia, and is similarly fascinated with the gateway between the Inner Temple and Alsatia, and with the sanctuary's status as an ungovernable territory within London.
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Author:Drake, George
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Jun 1, 1997
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