On this day in 1740, writing as Captain Hercules Vinegar, Henry Fielding summoned poet laureate Colley Cibber to court, charged with the murder of the English language. Fielding was not only a satiric playwright and novelist but a lawyer (soon, a Justice of the Peace) and a notorious wag; his joke would have been popular among London's coffee house wits, most of whom would know of Fielding's enmity for Cibber, if not share it. Cibber was a well-known but second-rate writer and actor in London, most famous for his adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III, in which there was no "winter of our discontent" or "my kingdom for a horse," but such Cibberisms as "Off with his head -- so much for Buckingham!" It was the only version of the play acted in England for over 150 years, so popular that attempts to do Shakespeare's original were booed off the stage.
I nearly choked on a swig of my English Breakfast tea when I read that last part. Booed off the stage? I put down a triangle of toast spread with orange marmalade and continued reading:
Cibber was seen by Fielding and the others -- Alexander Pope made Cibber the dunce-hero of The Dunciad -- as a puffed-up, self-promoting, Man of Literature. In chapter one of Joseph Andrews, written several years after the murder charge, Fielding takes aim at Cibber's two-volume autobiography, marveling how it "was written by the great person himself, who lived the life he hath recorded, and is by many thought to have lived such a life only in order to write it."
Go read the rest of the article. As Bertie Wooster would say, it's pretty ripe stuff.
If Mr. Fielding had lived a hundred years later, might he have attempted to rescue the English-speaking world from the "poetry" of William McGonagall? As I finished my tea and toast just now, I had a fine time imagining that.