Professor Carolyn Woodward presented “Sarah Fielding and Jane Collier: Music Parties!” at the February 12 meeting of the Western Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (WSECS). She is preparing a monograph “Jane Collier and Sarah Fielding: the London Years,” which focuses on the few years in the middle of the eighteenth century Collier and Fielding lived together in London. Her presentation at the WSECS meeting was Woodward’s first venture toward a chapter on the importance of music to Collier and Fielding. Music appears often as a motif in Fielding and Collier’s remarkable work of metafiction, The Cry: A New Dramatic Fable(1754).
Here’s the gist of Woodward’s conference paper in Woodward’s own words: Music was a particularly keen source of pleasure for Jane Collier and Sarah Fielding. Their good friend James Harris initiated and each year organized the Salisbury Musical Festivals. His younger brother Thomas, a close friend to Handel, was himself a fine cellist. Fielding’s sister, Beatrice played the violin and harpsichord. A 1748 letter from Ursula Fielding says that “Bea” is “fiddling”, and Hester Thrale remembered Arthur Collier’s praise of Beatrice’s “exquisite hand upon the harpsichord.” As a child, Sarah had studied dancing. In 1744, Jane Collier and Margaret Collier sent James Harris thanks for the gift of the songs of Handel’s operaSemele: “Many thanks are due to a gentleman of our acquaintance for the songs of Semele; if you guess to whompray deliver them, and let him know we are his most obliged and obedient humble servants.” Indeed, Harris later reports having enjoyed listening to the two sisters singing duets from the opera. Fielding and Collier lived together for a few years in the early 1750s, with James Harris and his brother Thomas often living nearby; it is pleasant to imagine musical parties among these friends.