Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon

Author: Henry Fielding

Introduction to the Voyage to Lisbon

In the beginning of August, 1753, when I had taken the duke of Portland’s medicine, as it is called, near a year, the effects of which had been the carrying off the symptoms of a lingering imperfect gout, I was persuaded by Mr. Ranby, the king’s premier sergeant-surgeon, and the ablest advice, I believe, in all branches of the physical profession, to go immediately to Bath. I accordingly wrote that very night to Mrs. Bowden, who, by the next post, informed me she had taken me a lodging for a month certain. Within a few days after this, whilst I was preparing for my journey, and when I was almost fatigued to death with several long examinations, relating to five different murders, all committed within the space of a week, by different gangs of street-robbers, I received a message from his grace the duke of Newcastle, by Mr. Carrington, the king’s messenger, to attend his grace the next morning, in Lincoln’s-inn-fields, upon some business of importance; but I excused myself from complying with the message, as, besides being lame, I was very ill with the great fatigues I had lately undergone added to my distemper.

His grace, however, sent Mr. Carrington, the very next morning, with another summons; with which, though in the utmost distress, I immediately complied; but the duke, happening, unfortunately for me, to be then particularly engaged, after I had waited some time, sent a gentleman to discourse with me on the best plan which could be invented for putting an immediate end to those murders and robberies which were every day committed in the streets; upon which I promised to transmit my opinion, in writing, to his grace, who, as the gentleman informed me, intended to lay it before the privy council.

Though this visit cost me a severe cold, I, notwithstanding, set myself down to work; and in about four days sent the duke as regular a plan as I could form, with all the reasons and arguments I could bring to support it, drawn out in several sheets of paper; and soon received a message from the duke by Mr. Carrington, acquainting me that my plan was highly approved of, and that all the terms of it would be complied with. The principal and most material of those terms was the immediately depositing six hundred pound in my hands; at which small charge I undertook to demolish the then reigning gangs, and to put the civil policy into such order, that no such gangs should ever be able, for the future, to form themselves into bodies, or at least to remain any time formidable to the public.

I had delayed my Bath journey for some time, contrary to the repeated advice of my physical acquaintance, and to the ardent desire of my warmest friends, though my distemper was now turned to a deep jaundice; in which case the Bath waters are generally reputed to be almost infallible. But I had the most eager desire of demolishing this gang of villains and cut-throats, which I was sure of accomplishing the moment I was enabled to pay a fellow who had undertaken, for a small sum, to betray them into the hands of a set of thief-takers whom I had enlisted into the service, all men of known and approved fidelity and intrepidity.

After some weeks the money was paid at the treasury, and within a few days after two hundred pounds of it had come to my hands, the whole gang of cut-throats was entirely dispersed, seven of them were in actual custody, and the rest driven, some out of the town, and others out of the kingdom. Though my health was now reduced to the last extremity, I continued to act with the utmost vigor against these villains; in examining whom, and in taking the depositions against them, I have often spent whole days, nay, sometimes whole nights, especially when there was any difficulty in procuring sufficient evidence to convict them; which is a very common case in street-robberies, even when the guilt of the party is sufficiently apparent to satisfy the most tender conscience. But courts of justice know nothing of a cause more than what is told them on oath by a witness; and the most flagitious villain upon earth is tried in the same manner as a man of the best character who is accused of the same crime. Meanwhile, amidst all my fatigues and distresses, I had the satisfaction to find my endeavors had been attended with such success that this hellish society were almost utterly extirpated, and that, instead of reading of murders and street-robberies in the news almost every morning, there was, in the remaining part of the month of November, and in all December, not only no such thing as a murder, but not even a street-robbery committed. Some such, indeed, were mentioned in the public papers; but they were all found on the strictest inquiry, to be false. In this entire freedom from street-robberies, during the dark months, no man will, I believe, scruple to acknowledge that the winter of 1753 stands unrivaled, during a course of many years; and this may possibly appear the more extraordinary to those who recollect the outrages with which it began. Having thus fully accomplished my undertaking, I went into the country, in a very weak and deplorable condition, with no fewer or less diseases than a jaundice, a dropsy, and an asthma, altogether uniting their forces in the destruction of a body so entirely emaciated that it had lost all its muscular flesh. Mine was now no longer what was called a Bath case; nor, if it had been so, had I strength remaining sufficient to go thither, a ride of six miles only being attended with an intolerable fatigue. I now discharged my lodgings at Bath, which I had hitherto kept. I began in earnest to look on my case as desperate, and I had vanity enough to rank myself with those heroes who, of old times, became voluntary sacrifices to the good of the public. But, lest the reader should be too eager to catch at the word VANITY, and should be unwilling to indulge me with so sublime a gratification, for I think he is not too apt to gratify me, I will take my key a pitch lower, and will frankly own that I had a stronger motive than the love of the public to push me on: I will therefore confess to him that my private affairs at the beginning of the winter had but a gloomy aspect; for I had not plundered the public or the poor of those sums which men, who are always ready to plunder both as much as they can, have been pleased to suspect me of taking: on the contrary, by composing, instead of inflaming the quarrels of porters and beggars (which I blush when I say hath not been universally practiced), and by refusing to take a shilling from a man who most undoubtedly would not have had another left, I had reduced an income of about five hundred pounds[13] a-year of the dirtiest money upon earth to little more than three hundred pounds; a considerable proportion of which remained with my clerk; and, indeed, if the whole had done so, as it ought, he would be but ill paid for sitting almost sixteen hours in the twenty-four in the most unwholesome, as well as nauseous air in the universe, and which hath in his case corrupted a good constitution without contaminating his morals.

[13] A predecessor of mine used to boast that he made one thousand pounds a-year in his office; but how he did this (if indeed he did it) is to me a secret. His clerk, now mine, told me I had more business than he had ever known there; I am sure I had as much as any man could do. The truth is, the fees are so very low, when any are due, and so much is done for nothing, that, if a single justice of peace had business enough to employ twenty clerks, neither he nor they would get much by their labor.

The public will not, therefore, I hope, think I betray a secret when I inform them that I received from the Government a yearly pension out of the public service money; which, I believe, indeed, would have been larger had my great patron been convinced of an error, which I have heard him utter more than once, that he could not indeed say that the acting as a principal justice of peace in Westminster was on all accounts very desirable, but that all the world knew it was a very lucrative office. Now, to have shown him plainly that a man must be a rogue to make a very little this way, and that he could not make much by being as great a rogue as he could be, would have required more confidence than, I believe, he had in me, and more of his conversation than he chose to allow me; I therefore resigned the office and the farther execution of my plan to my brother, who had long been myassistant. And now, lest the case between me and the reader should be the same in both instances as it was between me and the great man, I will not add another word on the subject.

But, not to trouble the reader with anecdotes, contrary to my own rule laid down in my preface, I assure him I thought my family was very slenderly provided for; and that my health began to decline so fast that I had very little more of life left to accomplish what I had thought of too late. I rejoiced therefore greatly in seeing an opportunity, as I apprehended, of gaining such merit in the eve of the public, that, if my life were the sacrifice to it, my friends might think they did a popular act in putting my family at least beyond the reach of necessity, which I myself began to despair of doing. And though I disclaim all pretense to that Spartan or Roman patriotism which loved the public so well that it was always ready to become a voluntary sacrifice to the public good, I do solemnly declare I have that love for my family.

After this confession therefore, that the public was not the principal deity to which my life was offered a sacrifice, and when it is farther considered what a poor sacrifice this was, being indeed no other than the giving up what I saw little likelihood of being able to hold much longer, and which, upon the terms I held it, nothing but the weakness of human nature could represent to me as worth holding at all; the world may, I believe, without envy, allow me all the praise to which I have any title. My aim, in fact, was not praise, which is the last gift they care to bestow; at least, this was not my aim as an end, but rather as a means of purchasing some moderate provision for my family, which, though it should exceed my merit, must fall infinitely short of my service, if I succeeded in my attempt. To say the truth, the public never act more wisely than when they act most liberally in the distribution of their rewards; and here the good they receive is often more to be considered than the motive from which they receive it. Example alone is the end of all public punishments and rewards. Laws never inflict disgrace in resentment, nor confer honor from gratitude. "For it is very hard, my lord," said a convicted felon at the bar to the late excellent judge Burnet, "to hang a poor man for stealing a horse." "You are not to be hanged sir," answered my ever-honored and beloved friend, "for stealing a horse, but you are to be hanged that horses may not be stolen." In like manner it might have been said to the late duke of Marlborough, when the parliament was so deservedly liberal to him, after the battle of Blenheim, "You receive not these honors and bounties on account of a victory past, but that other victories may be obtained."

I was now, in the opinion of all men, dying of a complication of disorders; and, were I desirous of playing the advocate, I have an occasion fair enough; but I disdain such an attempt. I relate facts plainly and simply as they are; and let the world draw from them what conclusions they please, taking with them the following facts for their instruction: the one is, that the proclamation offering one hundred pounds for the apprehending felons for certain felonies committed in certain places, which I prevented from being revived, had formerly cost the government several thousand pounds within a single year. Secondly, that all such proclamations, instead of curing the evil, had actually increased it; had multiplied the number of robberies; had propagated the worst and wickedest of perjuries; had laid snares for youth and ignorance, which, by the temptation of these rewards, had been sometimes drawn into guilt; and sometimes, which cannot be thought on without the highest horror, had destroyed them without it. Thirdly, that my plan had not put the government to more than three hundred pound expense, and had produced none of the ill consequences above mentioned; but, lastly, had actually suppressed the evil for a time, and had plainly pointed out the means of suppressing it for ever. This I would myself have undertaken, had my health permitted, at the annual expense of the above-mentioned sum.

After having stood the terrible six weeks which succeeded last Christmas, and put a lucky end, if they had known their own interests, to such numbers of aged and infirm valetudinarians, who might have gasped through two or three mild winters more, I returned to town in February, in a condition less despaired of by myself than by any of my friends. I now became the patient of Dr. Ward, who wished I had taken his advice earlier. By his advice I was tapped, and fourteen quarts of water drawn from my belly. The sudden relaxation which this caused, added to my enervate, emaciated habit of body, so weakened me that within two days I was thought to be falling into the agonies of death. I was at the worst on that memorable day when the public lost Mr. Pelham. From that day I began slowly, as it were, to draw my feet out of the grave; till in two months’ time I had again acquired some little degree of strength, but was again full of water. During this whole time I took Mr. Ward’s medicines, which had seldom any perceptible operation. Those in particular of the diaphoretic kind, the working of which is thought to require a great strength of constitution to support, had so little effect on me, that Mr. Ward declared it was as vain to attempt sweating me as a deal board. In this situation I was tapped a second time. I had one quart of water less taken from me now than before; but I bore all the consequences of the operation much better. This I attributed greatly to a dose of laudanum prescribed by my surgeon. It first gave me the most delicious flow of spirits, and afterwards as comfortable a nap.

The month of May, which was now begun, it seemed reasonable to expect would introduce the spring, and drive of that winter which yet maintained its footing on the stage. I resolved therefore to visit a little house of mine in the country, which stands at Ealing, in the county of Middlesex, in the best air, I believe, in the whole kingdom, and far superior to that of Kensington Gravel-pits; for the gravel is here much wider and deeper, the place higher and more open towards the south, whilst it is guarded from the north wind by a ridge of hills, and from the smells and smoke of London by its distance; which last is not the fate of Kensington, when the wind blows from any corner of the east.

Obligations to Mr. Ward I shall always confess; for I am convinced that he omitted no care in endeavoring to serve me, without any expectation or desire of fee or reward.

The powers of Mr. Ward’s remedies want indeed no unfair puffs of mine to give them credit; and though this distemper of the dropsy stands, I believe, first in the list of those over which he is always certain of triumphing, yet, possibly, there might be something particular in my case capable of eluding that radical force which had healed so many thousands. The same distemper, in different constitutions, may possibly be attended with such different symptoms, that to find an infallible nostrum for the curing any one distemper in every patient may be almost as difficult as to find a panacea for the cure of all.

But even such a panacea one of the greatest scholars and best of men did lately apprehend he had discovered. It is true, indeed, he was no physician; that is, he had not by the forms of his education acquired a right of applying his skill in the art of physic to his own private advantage; and yet, perhaps, it may be truly asserted that no other modern hath contributed so much to make his physical skill useful to the public; at least, that none hath undergone the pains of communicating this discovery in writing to the world. The reader, I think, will scarce need to be informed that the writer I mean is the late bishop of Cloyne, in Ireland, and the discovery that of the virtues of tar-water.

I then happened to recollect, upon a hint given me by the inimitable and shamefully-distressed author of the Female Quixote, that I had many years before, from curiosity only, taken a cursory view of bishop Berkeley’s treatise on the virtues of tar-water, which I had formerly observed he strongly contends to be that real panacea which Sydenham supposes to have an existence in nature, though it yet remains undiscovered, and perhaps will always remain so.

Upon the reperusal of this book I found the bishop only asserting his opinion that tar-water might be useful in the dropsy, since he had known it to have a surprising success in the cure of a most stubborn anasarca, which is indeed no other than, as the word implies, the dropsy of the flesh; and this was, at that time, a large part of my complaint.

After a short trial, therefore, of a milk diet, which I presently found did not suit with my case, I betook myself to the bishop’s prescription, and dosed myself every morning and evening with half a pint of tar-water.

It was no more than three weeks since my last tapping, and my belly and limbs were distended with water. This did not give me the worse opinion of tar-water; for I never supposed there could be any such virtue in tar-water as immediately to carry off a quantity of water already collected. For my delivery from this I well knew I must be again obliged to the trochar; and that if the tar-water did me any good at all it must be only by the slowest degrees; and that if it should ever get the better of my distemper it must be by the tedious operation of undermining, and not by a sudden attack and storm.

Some visible effects, however, and far beyond what my most sanguine hopes could with any modesty expect, I very soon experienced; the tar-water having, from the very first, lessened my illness, increased my appetite, and added, though in a very slow proportion, to my bodily strength. But if my strength had increased a little my water daily increased much more. So that, by the end of May, my belly became again ripe for the trochar, and I was a third time tapped; upon which, two very favorable symptoms appeared. I had three quarts of water taken from me less than had been taken the last time; and I bore the relaxation with much less (indeed with scarce any) faintness.

Those of my physical friends on whose judgment I chiefly depended seemed to think my only chance of life consisted in having the whole summer before me; in which I might hope to gather sufficient strength to encounter the inclemencies of the ensuing winter. But this chance began daily to lessen. I saw the summer mouldering away, or rather, indeed, the year passing away without intending to bring on any summer at all. In the whole month of May the sun scarce appeared three times. So that the early fruits came to the fullness of their growth, and to some appearance of ripeness, without acquiring any real maturity; having wanted the heat of the sun to soften and meliorate their juices. I saw the dropsy gaining rather than losing ground; the distance growing still shorter between the tappings. I saw the asthma likewise beginning again to become more troublesome. I saw the midsummer quarter drawing towards a close. So that I conceived, if the Michaelmas quarter should steal off in the same manner, as it was, in my opinion, very much to be apprehended it would, I should be delivered up to the attacks of winter before I recruited my forces, so as to be anywise able to withstand them.

I now began to recall an intention, which from the first dawnings of my recovery I had conceived, of removing to a warmer climate; and, finding this to be approved of by a very eminent physician, I resolved to put it into immediate execution. Aix in Provence was the place first thought on; but the difficulties of getting thither were insuperable. The Journey by land, beside the expense of it, was infinitely too long and fatiguing; and I could hear of no ship that was likely to set out from London, within any reasonable time, for Marseilles, or any other port in that part of the Mediterranean.

Lisbon was presently fixed on in its room. The air here, as it was near four degrees to the south of Aix, must be more mild and warm, and the winter shorter and less piercing.

It was not difficult to find a ship bound to a place with which we carry on so immense a trade. Accordingly, my brother soon informed me of the excellent accommodations for passengers which were to be found on board a ship that was obliged to sail for Lisbon in three days. I eagerly embraced the offer, notwithstanding the shortness of the time; and, having given my brother full power to contract for our passage, I began to prepare my family for the voyage with the utmost expedition.

But our great haste was needless; for the captain having twice put off his sailing, I at length invited him to dinner with me at Fordhook, a full week after the time on which he had declared, and that with many asseverations, he must and would weigh anchor.

He dined with me according to his appointment; and when all matters were settled between us, left me with positive orders to be on board the Wednesday following, when he declared he would fall down the river to Gravesend, and would not stay a moment for the greatest man in the world. He advised me to go to Gravesend by land, and there wait the arrival of his ship, assigning many reasons for this, every one of which was, as I well remember, among those that had before determined me to go on board near the Tower.


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Chicago: Henry Fielding, "Introduction to the Voyage to Lisbon," Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, trans. Evans, Sebastian in Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2023,

MLA: Fielding, Henry. "Introduction to the Voyage to Lisbon." Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Fielding, H, 'Introduction to the Voyage to Lisbon' in Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, trans. . cited in , Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2023, from