Henry Fielding visited Lyme Regis in the summer of 1725, shortly after leaving Eton. The choice of Lyme as a holiday destination was almost certainly influenced by the presence in the town of Sarah Andrew, a distant cousin, who at the age of 15 was in possession of both good looks and a large fortune, having recently come into her inheritance on the early death of her father.
The eldest of seven children, Henry Fielding was born on April 22, 1707, at Sharpham Park, in Somerset, England. He was the son of General Edmund Fielding. His mother, Sarah Gould Fielding, was the daughter of a judge. Their marriage had been highly disapproved of by Sarah's parents on the grounds that Edmund was too poor and could not even manage what little money he did have.
When Henry was two, his father ‘retired’ to an estate near East Stour in Dorset, where he was unsuccessful as a gentleman farmer and eventually lost all his money.
Accompanied by several friends and a servant named James Lewis, Henry was soon involved in a drunken brawl. On September 2nd he was brought before the town's magistrates on a charge of assault against Joseph Channon, a servant of the town miller.
Although the outcome is not known, suspicions are that the attack may have been at the instigation of Sarah’s guardian, Andrew Tucker, who had hopes that Sarah would marry his own son John, and viewed Henry as an unwelcome rival.
Nevertheless, it appears that Henry was having some success in his pursuit of Sarah, since he was still in Lyme (or returned to the town) two months later. On Sunday 11th November matters came to a head when Henry, assisted by his servant, attempted to abduct Sarah as she was walking to church with Andrew Tucker and his family.
The attempt failed and the same day Tucker laid a charge before the magistrates against Fielding and his servant for an attack on his person. Angered, Fielding left Lyme Regis - but not before he had posted a public notice, now on display in Lyme Regis Museum:
This is to give notice to the World that Andrew Tucker and his Son John Tucker are Clowns, and Cowards. Witness my hand
Henry Fielding's comic masterpiece and best known work was published in 1749. The heroine, Sophia Weston, is surely based in some degree on Sarah Andrew, his ‘first love’.
”… His cousin was afterwards married to a plain country gentleman, and
in that alliance found, perhaps, more solid happiness than she would
have experienced in an early and improvident marriage with her gifted
kinsman. Her image, however, was never effaced from his recollection;
and there is a charming picture (so tradition tells) of her luxuriant
beauty in the portrait of Sophia Western, in ‘Tom Jones .’”
From a letter to the Athenaeum, 2nd June 1883