The Life of this excellent man, and ingenious author, has been written, with equal spirit and candour, by Mrs. Barbauld, a name long dear to elegant literature, and is prefixed to her publication of the Author's Correspondence, published by Philips, in six volumes, in 1804. The leading circumstances of these simple annals are necessarily extracted from that performance, to which the present Editor has no means of adding anything of consequence.
SAMUEL RICHARDSON was born in Derbyshire, in the year 1689. His father, a joiner by profession, was one of many sons, sprung from a family of middling note, which had been so far reduced, that the children were brought up to mechanical trades. His mother was also decently descended, but an orphan, left such in infancy by the death of both her parents, cut off within half-an-hour of each other by the great pestilence in 1663. Her name is not mentioned. Old Richardson was connected by employment with the unhappy Duke of Monmouth, after whose execution he retired to Shrewsbury, apprehensive, perhaps, of a fate similar to that of College, his brother-in-trade, well known in those times by the title of the Protestant Joiner, who was executed for high treason in the reign of Charles II.
Having sustained severe losses in trade, the elder Richardson was unable to give his son Samuel more than a very ordinary education; and our author, who was to rise so high in one department of literature, was left unacquainted with any language excepting his own. Under all these disadvantages, and perhaps in some degree owing to their existence, young Richardson very early followed, with a singular bias, the course which was most likely to render his name immortal. We give his own words, for they cannot he amended:—
"I recollect, that I was early noted for having invention. I was not fond of play, as other boys: my school-fellows used to call me Serious and Gravity; and five of them particularly delighted to single me out, either for a walk, or at their fathers' houses, or at mine, to tell them stories, as they phrased it. Some I told them, from my reading, as true; others from my head, as mere invention; of which they would be most fond, and often were affected by them. One of them particularly, I remember, was for putting me to write a history, as he called it, on the model of Tommy Pots [author's note: Tommy Potts is the name of an old ballad published in Ritson's Ancient Songs]; I now forget what it was, only that it was of a servant-man preferred by a fine young lady (for his goodness) to a lord, who was a libertine. All my stories carried with them, I am bold to say, an useful moral."
But young Richardson found a still more congenial body of listeners among the female sex. An old lady, indeed, seems to have resented an admonitory letter, in which the future teacher of morals contrasted her pretensions to religion with her habitual indulgence in slander and backbiting; but with the young and sentimental his reception was more gracious. "As a bashful and not forward boy, he says, "I was an early favourite with all the young women of taste and reading in the neighbourhood. Half-a-dozen of them, when met to work with their needles, used, when they got a book they liked, and thought I should, to borrow me to read to them; their mothers sometimes with them; and both mothers and daughters used to be pleased with the observations they put me upon making. — l was not more than thirteen, when three of these young women, unknown to each other, having an high opinion of my taciturnity, revealed to me their love-secrets, in order to induce me to give them copies to write after, or correct, for answers to their lovers' letters; nor did any one of them ever know that I was the secretary to the others. I have been directed to chide, and even repulse, when an offence was either taken or given, at the very time when the heart of the chider or repulser was open before me, overflowing with esteem and affection; and the fair repulser, dreading to be taken at her word, directing this word, or that expression, to be softened or changed. One, highly gratified with her lover's fervour, and vows of everlasting love, has said, when I have asked her direction, I cannot tell you what to write; but (her heart on her lips) you cannot write too kindly. All her fear was only, that she should incur slight for her kindness."
His father had nourished some ambitious views of dedicating young Richardson to the ministry, but, as his circumstances denied him the means of giving him necessary education, Samuel was destined to that profession most nearly connected with literature, and was bound apprentice to Mr. John Wilde, of Stationers' Hall, in the year 1706. Industrious as well as intelligent, regulated in his habits, and diverted by no head-strong passion from the strictest course of duty, Richardson made rapid progress in his employment as a printer.
"I served," he says, "a diligent seven years to it; to a master who grudged every hour to me that tended not to his profit, even of those times of leisure and diversion, which the refractoriness of my fellow-servants obliged him to allow them, and were usually allowed by other masters to their apprentices. I stole from the hours of rest and relaxation, my reading times for improvement of my mind; and, being engaged in a correspondence with a gentleman, greatly my superior in degree, and of ample fortune, who, had he lived, intended high things for me; those were all the opportunities I had in my apprenticeship to carry it on. But this little incident I may mention; I took care that even my candle was of my own purchasing, that 1 might not, in the most trifling instance, make my master a sufferer, (and who used to call me the pillar of his house,) and not to disable myself by watching or sitting-up, to perform my duty to him in the day time."
The correspondence betwixt Richardson and the gentleman who had so well selected an object of patronage, was voluminous; but at the untimely death of his friend, it was, by his particular desire, consigned to the flames.
Several years more were spent in the obscure drudgery of the printing-house ere Richardson took out his freedom, and set up as a Master-printer. His talents for literature were soon discovered; and, in addition to his proper business, he used to oblige the booksellers, by furnishing them with prefaces, dedications, and suchlike garnishing of the works submitted to his press. He printed several of the popular periodical papers of the day, and at length, through the interest of Mr. Onslow, the Speaker, obtained the lucrative employment of printing the Journals of the House of Commons, by which he must have reaped considerable advantages, although he occasionally had to complain of delay of payment on the part of government.
Punctual in his engagements, and careful in the superintendance of his business, fortune, and respect, its sure accompaniment, began to flow in upon Richardson. In 1754, he was chosen Master of the Stationers' Company; and in 1760, he purchased a moiety of the patent of printer to the King, which seems to have added considerably to his revenue. He was now a man in very easy circumstances; and, besides his premises in Salisbury Court, he enjoyed the luxury of a villa, first at North-End, near Hammersmith, afterwards at Parsons-green.
Richardson was twice married; first to Allington Wilde, his master's daughter, and after her death, in 1731, to the sister of James Leake, bookseller, who survived her distinguished husband. He has made a feeling commemoration of the family misfortunes which he sustained, in a letter to Lady Bradshaigh. "I told you, madam, that I have been married twice; both times happily: you will guess so, as to my first, when I tell you that I cherish the memory of my lost wife to this hour: and as to the second, when I assure you that I can do so without derogating from the merits of, or being disallowed by, my present, who speaks of her, on all occasions, as respectfully and affectionately as I do myself.
"By my first wife I had five sons and one daughter; some of them living, to be delightful prattlers, with all the appearances of sound health, lively in their features, and promising as to their minds; and the death of one of them, I doubt, accelerating, from grief, that of the otherwise laudably afflicted mother. I have had, by my present wife, five girls and one boy; I have buried of these the promising boy, and one girl: four girls I have living, all at present very good; their mother a true and instructing mother to them.
"Thus have I lost six sons (all my sons) and two daughters, every one of which, to answer your question, I parted with with the utmost regret. Other heavy deprivations of friends, very near, and very dear, have I also suffered. I am very susceptible, I will venture to say, of impressions of this nature. A father, an honest, worthy father, I lost by the accident of a broken thigh, snapped by a sudden jirk, endeavouring to recover a slip passing through his own yard. My father, whom I attended in every stage of his last illness, I long mourned for. Two brothers, very dear to me, I lost abroad. A friend, more valuable than most brothers, was taken from me. No less than eleven affecting deaths in two years! My nerves were so affected with these repeated blows, that I have been forced, after trying the whole materia medica, and consulting many physicians, as the only palliative (not a remedy to he expected), to go into a regimen; and, for seven years past, have I forborne wine, and flesh, and fish; and, at this time, I and all my family are in mourning, for a good sister, with whom neither I would have parted, could I have had my choice. From these affecting dispensations, will you not allow me, madam, to remind an unthinking world, immersed in pleasures, what a life this is that they are so fond of, and to arm them against the affecting changes of it?"
But this amiable and excellent man was net deprived of the most pleasing exercise of his affections, notwithstanding the breaches which had been made among his offspring. Four daughters survived to render those duties which the affectionate temper of their father rendered peculiarly precious to him. Mary was married during her father's lifetime to Mr. Ditcher, a respectable surgeon at Bath. His daughter Martha, who had been his principal amanuensis, became, after his decease, the wife of Edward Bridgen, Esq.; and Sarah married Mr. Crowther, surgeon, in Court. Anne, a woman of a most amiable disposition, but whose weak health had often alarmed the affections of her parents, survived, nevertheless, her sisters, as well as her parents. A nephew of Richardson's paid him, in his declining years, the duties of a son, and assisted him in the conducting of his business; which concludes all it is necessary to say concerning the descendants and connexions of this distinguished author.
The private life of Richardson has nothing to detain the biographer. We have mentioned the successive opportunities, which, cautiously yet ably improved, led him to eminence in his highly respectable profession, by that slow but secure progress, which has nothing in it to arrest attention, or to gratify curiosity. He was unceasingly industrious; led astray by no idle views of speculation, and seduced by no temptations to premature expenditure. Industry brought independence, and, finally, wealth in its train; and that well-won fortune was husbanded with prudence, and expended with liberality. A kind and generous master, he was eager to encourage his servants to persevere in the same course of patient labour by which he had himself attained fortune; and it is said to have been his common practice to hide half-a-crown among the types, that it might reward the diligence of the workman who should first be in the office in the morning. His hospitality was of the most liberal, as well as the most judicious kind. One of his correspondents describes him as sitting at his door like an old patriarch, and inviting all who passed by to enter, and be refreshed; — and this, says Mrs. Barbauld, "whether they brought with them the means of amusing their host, or only required this kind notice and that of his family. He was generous and benevolent to distressed authors, a class of men with whom his profession brought him into contact; and had occasion, more than once, to succour Dr. Johnson during his days of poverty, and to assist his efforts to force himself into public notice. The domestic revolutions of his life, after mentioning the losses he had sustained in his family, may be almost summed up in two great events. He changed his villa, in which he indulged, like other wealthy citizens, from North-End to Parsons-Green and his printing establishment, from the one side of Salisbury-Court to the other; which last alteration, he complains, did not meet Mrs. Richardson's approbation.
If we look yet closer into Richardson's private life, (and who loves not to know the slightest particulars concerning a man of his genius?) we find so much to praise, and so very little deserving censure, that we almost think we are reading the description of one of the amiable characters he has drawn in his own works. A love of the human species; a desire to create happiness and to witness it; a life undisturbed by passion, and spent in doing good; pleasures which centred in elegant conversation, in bountiful hospitality, in the exchange of all the kindly intercourse of life, — marked the worth and unsophisticated simplicity of the good man's character. He loved children, and knew the rare art of winning their attachment; for, partaking in that respect the sagacity of the canine race, they are not to be deceived by dissembling attention. A lady, who shared the hospitality of Richardson, and gives an excellent account of the internal regulations of his virtuous and orderly family, remembers creeping to his knee, and hanging on his words, as well as the good nature with which he backed her petitions, to be permitted to remain a little longer when she was summoned to bed, and his becoming her guarantee, that she would not require the servant's assistance to put her to bed, and to extinguish the candle. Trifling as these reflections may seem, they are pleasing proofs that the author of Clarissa was, in private life, the mild good man which we wish to suppose him.
The predominant failing of Richardson seems certainly to have been vanity; vanity naturally excited by his great and unparalleled popularity at home and abroad, and by the continual and concentred admiration of the circle in which he lived. Such a weakness finds root in the mind of every one who has obtained general applause, but Richardson, the gentleness of whose mind was almost feminine, was peculiarly susceptible of this feminine weakness, and he fostered and indulged its growth, which a man of firmer character would have crushed and restrained. The cup of Circe converted men into beasts; and that of praise, when deeply and eagerly drained, seldom fails to make wise men in some degree fools. There seems to have been a want of masculine firmness in Richardson's habits of thinking, which combined with his natural tenderness of heart in inducing him to prefer the society of women; and women, from the quickness of their feelings, as well as their natural desire to please, are always the admirers, or rather the idolaters, of genius, and generally its willing flatterers. Richardson was in the daily habit of seeing, conversing, and corresponding with many of the fair sex; and the unvaried, and, it would seem, the inexhaustible theme, was his own writings. Hence, Johnson, whose lofty pride never suffered him to cherish the meaner foible of vanity, has passed upon Richardson, after a just tribute to his worth, the severe sentence recorded by Boswell: — "I only remember," says the biographer, "that Johnson expressed a high value for his talents and virtues: But that his perpetual study was to ward off petty inconveniences, and to procure petty pleasures; that his love of continual superiority was such, that he took care always to be surrounded by women, who listened to him implicitly, and did not venture to contradict his opinions; and that his desire of distinction was so great, that he used to give large vails to Speaker Onslow's servants, that they might treat him with respect." An anecdote, which seems to confirm Johnson's statement, is given by Boswell, on authority of a lady who was present when the circumstance took place. A gentleman, who had lately been at Paris, sought, while in a large company at Richardson's villa at North-End, to gratify the landlord, by informing him that he had seen his Clarissa lying on the king's brother's table. Richardson observing that a part of the company were engaged in conversation apart, affected not to hear what had been said, but took advantage of the first general pause, to address the gentleman with — "Sir, I think you were saying something about" — and then stopped, in a flutter of expectation; which his guest mortified, by replying, "A mere trifle, sir, not worth repeating."
The truth seems to be, that Richardson, by nature shy, and of a nervous constitution, limited also by a very narrow education, cared not to encounter in conversation with those rougher spirits of the age, where criticism might have had too much severity in it. And he seems to have been reserved even in the presence of Johnson, though bound to him by obligation, and although that mighty aristarch professed to have the talent of "making him rear," and of calling forth his powers. Nor does he appear to have associated much with any of the distinguished geniuses of the age, saving Dr. Young, with whom he corresponded late in life. Aaron Hill, who patriotically endeavoured to make him a convert to wines of British manufacture; and Mr. Edwards, author of the Cartons of Criticism, though both clever men, do not deserve to be mentioned as exceptions.
The society of Richardson was limited to a little circle of amiable and accomplished persons, who were contented to allow a central position to the author of Clarissa, and to revolve around him in inferior orbits. The families of Highmore and Duncombe produced more than one individual of this description; and besides Mrs. Donellan, and the Miss Fieldings, whom Richardson loved, notwithstanding the offences of their brother, there was a Miss Mulso, Miss Westcombe, and other ladies besides, full of veneration for the kind instructor, whom they were permitted to term their adopted father. Mrs. Charlotte Lennox was also a regular visiter at Parsons-Green, and scarce could remember a visit in which her host had not rehearsed at least one, but probably two or three, voluminous letters, if he found her in the humour of listening with attention.
While Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison were in progress, Richardson used to read a part of his labours to some of this chosen circle every morning, and receive, it may readily be supposed, a liberal tribute of praise, with a very moderate portion of criticism. Miss Highmore, who inherited a paternal taste for painting, has recorded one of those scenes in a small drawing, where Richardson, in a morning-gown and cap, is introduced reading the manuscript of Sir Charles Grandison to such a little group.
This was all very amiable, though perhaps bordering on an effeminate love of flattery and applause; but it must be owned that our author disdained not flattery from less pure hands than those of his ordinary companions. We will not dwell upon poor Laetitia Pilkington, whose wants, rather than her extravagant praises, may be supposed to have conciliated the kindness of Richardson, notwithstanding the infamy of her character: but we are rather scandalized that the veteran iniquity of old Cibber should not have excluded him from the intimacy of the virtuous Richardson, and that the gray profligate could render himself acceptable to the author of Sir Charles Grandison by such effusions of vulgar vivacity as the following, which we cannot forbear inserting: — "I have just finished the sheets you favoured me with; but never found so strong a proof of your sly ill-nature, as to have hung me up upon tenters till I see you again. Z—ds! I have not patience, till I know what's become of her. — Why, you! I don't know what to call you! — Ah! ah! you may laugh if you please: but how will you be able to look me in the face, if the lady should ever be able to show hers again? What piteous, d—d, disgraceful pickle have you plunged her in? For God's sake send me the sequel; or — I don't know what to say!" — Yet another delectable quotation from the letters of that merry old good-for-nothing, which, as addressed by a rake of the theatre to the most sentimental author of the age, and as referring to one of his favourite and most perfect characters, is, in its way, a matchless specimen of elegant vivacity. — "The delicious meal I made of Miss Byron on Sunday last, has given me an appetite for another slice of her, off from the spit, before she is served up to the public table; if about five o'clock tomorrow afternoon will not be inconvenient, Mrs. Brown and I will come and piddle upon a bit more of her: but pray let your whole family, with Mrs. Richardson at the head of them, come in for their share."
An appetite for praise, and an over-indulgence of that appetite, not only teaches an author to be gratified with the applause of the unworthy, and to prefer it to the censure of the wise, but it leads to the less pardonable error of begrudging others their due share of public favour. Richardson was too good, too kind a man to let literary envy settle deep in his bosom, yet an overweening sense of his own importance seems to have prevented his doing entire justice to the claims of those who might be termed his rivals. He appears to have been rather too prone to believe ill of those authors, against whose works exceptions, in point of delicacy, might justly be taken. He has inserted in his Correspondence an account of Swift's earlier life, highly injurious to the character of that eminent writer, and which the industry of Dr. Barrett has since shown to be a gross misrepresentation. The same tone of feeling has made him denounce, with the utmost severity, the indecorum of Tristram Shandy, without that tribute of applause which, in every view of the case, was so justly due to the genius of the author, and which would have come with particular propriety from Richardson, himself a master of the pathetic style of composition. Richardson seems also to have joined Aaron Hill in the cuckoo-song, that Pope had written himself out; — and, finally, the dislike which he manifests towards Fielding, though it originated in a gratuitous insult on the part of the latter, breaks out too often, and is too anxiously veiled under an affectation of charity and candour, not to lead us to suspect that the author of Tom Jones was at least as obnoxious to Richardson through the success, as from the alleged immorality, of his productions. It would have been generous in the wealthier and happier of these competitors for public fame, to have reflected, that, while his own bark lay safe in harbour, or was wafted on by the favouring gale of applause, his less fortunate rival had to struggle with the current and the storm. But as this disagreeable subject will be found canvassed in Fielding's Life, we will not further dwell on it here. Of all pictures of literary life, that which exhibits two men, of transcendant, though different talents, engaged in the depreciation of each other, is most humbling to human nature, most unpleasing to a candid and enlightened reader. Excepting against Fielding, Richardson seems to have nourished no positive literary feud. But it is to be regretted, that, in his Correspondence, we find few traces that he either loved or admired contemporary genius.
It may appear invidious to dwell thus long on a sufficiently venial speck in a character so fair and amiable. But it is no useless lesson to show, that a love of praise, and a feeling of literary emulation, not to say vanity, foibles pardonable in themselves, and rarely separated from the poetical temperament, lead to consequences detrimental to the deserved reputation of the most ingenious author, and the most worthy man, as a dead fly will pollute the most precious unguent. Every author, but especially those who cultivate the lighter kinds of literature, should teach themselves the stern lesson, that their art must fall under the frequent censure, "Non est tanti"; and, for this reason, they should avoid, as they would the circle of Alcina, that sort of society, who so willingly form around every popular writer an atmosphere of assentation and flattery, and represent his labours as a matter of great consequence to the world, and his popularity as a matter to be defended on all occasions, and against all rivals.
Dismissing these considerations, we cannot omit to state, that Richardson's correspondence with one of his most intelligent and enthusiastic admirers, commenced, and was for some time carried on, in a manner which might have formed a pleasing incident in one of the author's own romances. This was Lady Bradshaigh, the wife of Sir Roger Bradshaigh, of Haigh, in Lancashire, whose very considerable talent, and ardent taste for literature, had to contend with the prejudices which in those days seem to have rendered it ridiculous for a lady of rank and fashion, the wife of a country gentle. man of estate and consideration, to enter into correspondence with a professed author. To gratify the strong propensity she felt to engage in literary intercourse with an author of Richardson's distinction, Lady Bradshaigh had recourse to the romantic expedient of commencing the correspondence with him under an assumed name. Thus, with all the precautions against discovery which are sometimes resorted to for less honest purposes, Richardson and his incognita maintained a close exchange of letters, until they seem on both sides to have grown desirous of becoming personally known to each other; and the author was induced to walk in the Park at a particular hour, and to send an accurate description of his person, that his fair correspondent might be able, herself unknown, to distinguish him from the vulgar herd of passengers. The following portrait exhibits all the graphical accuracy with which the author was accustomed to detail the appearance of his imaginary personages, and is at the same time very valuable, as it describes the external appearance of a man of genius, in whom great powers of observing life and manners were combined with bashful and retired habits.
"I go through the park," says Richardson, "once or twice a-week to my little retirement; but I will, for a week together, be in it every day three or four hours, at your command, till you tell me you have seen a person who answers to this description; namely, Short; rather plump than emaciated, notwithstanding his complaints; about five foot five inches; fair wig; lightish cloth coat, all black besides; one hand generally in his bosom, the other a cane in it, which, he leans upon under the skirts of his coat usually, that it may imperceptibly serve him as a support, when attacked by sudden tremors or startings, and dizziness, which too frequently attack him, but, thank God, not so often as formerly; looking directly fore-right, as passers-by would imagine, but observing all that stirs on either hand of him without moving his short neck; hardly ever turning back; of a light brown complexion; teeth not yet failing him; smoothish-faced, and ruddy-checked at sometimes looking to be about sixty-five, at other times much younger; a regular even pace, stealing away ground, rather than seeming to rid it: a gray eye, too often over-clouded by mistinesses from the head; by chance lively; very lively it will be, if he have hope of seeing a lady whom he loves and honours; his eye always on the ladies; if they have very large hoops, he looks down and supercilious, and, as if he would be thought wise, but perhaps the sillier for that: as he approaches a lady, his eye is never fixed first upon her face, but upon her feet, and thence he raises it up, pretty quickly for a dull eye; and one would think (if we thought him at all worthy of observation,) that from her air and (the last beheld) her face, he sets her down in his mind as so or so, and then passes on to, the next object he meets; only then looking back, if he greatly likes or dislikes, as if he would see if the lady appear to be all of a piece, in the one light or in the other. Are these, marks distinct enough, if you are resolved to keep all the advantages you set out with? And from this odd, this grotesque figure, think you, madam, that you have any thing to apprehend? Any thing that will not rather promote than check your mirth? I dare be bold to say (and allow it too) that you would rather see this figure than any other you ever saw, whenever you should find yourself graver than you wish to be."
Lady Bradshaigh, like other ladies upon similar occasions, could not resist the opportunity of exercising a little capricious tyranny. Richardson's walks in the Park were for some time unnoticed. Both parties seem to have indulged in a gentle coquetry, until both were likely to lose temper, and the complaints on the gentleman's side became a little keen and eager. At length Lady Bradshaigh dropped the masque, and continued afterwards to be in her own person the valued correspondent of the author. It is but justice to say, that the sense and spirit with which she supports her own views, even when contrary to those of Richardson, render her letters the most agreeable in the collection, and constitute a great difference betwixt her and some others of the author's female correspondents, who are satisfied with becoming the echoes of his sentiments and opinions. Lady Bradshaigh had a sister, Lady Echlin, who also corresponded with Richardson; but although she appears to have been an excellent woman, her letters want both the vivacity and talent displayed in those of Lady Bradshaigh. Yet Lady Echlin, too, had her moments of ambitious criticism. She even tried her hand at reforming Lovelace, as Mrs. Barbauld informs us, by the aid of a Dr. Christian; a consummation, as the reader will anticipate, much better meant than successfully executed.
Neither the admiration of the public, the applause of admirers, nor the deserved affection of his friends and family, could screen this amiable author from his share in the lot of humanity. Besides his family misfortunes, Richardson was afflicted with indifferent health, in the painful shape of nervous disorders. Sedentary habits, and close attention to business, had rendered a constitution delicate, which nature had never made strong; and it will readily be believed, that the workings of an imagination, constantly labouring in the fields of fiction, increased, rather than relieved, complaints, which affected his nerves at an early period. If, as he somewhere says, be made the distress of his characters his own, and wept for Clarissa and Clementina, as if they had not been the creatures of his own fancy, the exhaustion of his spirits must have exasperated his malady. His nerves were latterly so much shaken, that be could net convey a glass of wine to his mouth, unless it was put into a large tumbler and becoming unable to undergo the fatigue of communicating with the principal superintendant of his business, who chanced unluckily to be hard of hearing, all communication between them was maintained by means of writing. He did not long survive the space assigned by the Psalmist as the ordinary duration of human life. On the 4th July 1761, Samuel Richardson died, aged seventy-two, and was buried, according to his own directions, beside his first wife, in the middle aisle of St. Bride's Church, followed by the affectionate grief of those who were admitted to his society, and the sorrow of all who mourned over talents uniformly and conscientiously dedicated to the service of virtue. The following epitaph was written by his learned friend, Mrs. Carter, but is not, we believe, inscribed on his tomb.
If ever warm benevolence was dear,
If ever wisdom gain'd esteem sincere,
Or genuine fancy deep attention won,
Approach with awe the dust — of Richardson.
What though his muse, through distant regions known,
Might scorn the tribute of this humble stone;
Yet pleasing to his gentle shade, must prove
The meanest pledge, of Friendship, and of Love;
For oft will these, from venal throngs exil'd,
And oft will innocence, of aspect mild,
And white-robed Charity, with streaming eyes,
Frequent the cloister where their patron lies.
This, reader, learn; and learn from one whose woe
Bids her wild verse in artless accents flow:
For, could she frame her numbers to commend
The husband, father, citizen, and friend;
How would her muse display, in equal strain,
The critic's judgment, and the writer's vein!—
Ah, no! expect not from the chisel'd stone
The praises, graven on our hearts alone.
There shall his fame a lasting shrine acquire;
And ever shall his moving page inspire
Pure truth, flxt honour, virtue's pleasing lore;
While taste and science crown this favour'd shore.
Richardson's character as a man, after all deductions have been made for circumstances and for human frailty, cannot be too highly estimated. It remains only to consider him as an author, and, for this purpose, to review his literary career, and the productions which it gave rise to.
It was by mere accident that Richardson appears to have struck out the line of composition so peculiarly adapted to his genius. He had at all times the pen of a ready correspondent; and, from his early age, had, as we have seen, been accustomed to lend it to others, and to write, of course, under different characters from his own. There can be no doubt, that, in the service of the young women who employed him as their amanuensis and confidant, this natural talent must have been considerably improved; and as little that the exercise of such a power was pleasing to the possessor. Chance at length occasioned its being employed in the service of the public. The account will be best given in the words of his own letter to Aaron Hill, who, in common with the public at large, had become pressingly anxious to know if there was any foundation in fact for the history of Pamela.
"I will now write to your question — Whether there was any original ground-work of fact, for the general foundation of Pamela's story.
"About twenty-five years ago, a gentleman, with whom I was intimately acquainted, but who, alas! is now no more [probably the correspondent of fortune and rank, mentioned p. 6.] met with such a story as that of Pamela, in one of the summer tours which he used to take for his pleasure, attended with one servant only. At every inn he put up at, it was his way to enquire alter curiosities in its neighbourhood, either ancient or modern; and particularly he asked who was the owner of a fine house, as it seemed to him, beautifully situated, which he had passed by, (describing it,) within a mile or two of the inn.
"It was a fine house, the landlord said.. The owner was Mr. B—, a gentleman of a large estate in more counties than one. That his and his lady's history engaged the attention of every body who tame that way, and put a stop to all other enquiries, though the house and gardens were well worth seeing. The lady, he said, was one of the greatest beauties in England; but the qualities of her mind had no equal: beneficent, prudent, and equally beloved and admired by high and low. That she had been taken at twelve years of age, for the sweetness of her manners and modesty, and for an understanding above her years, by Mr. B—'s mother, a truly worthy lady, to wait on her person. Her parents, ruined by suretiships, were remarkably honest and pious, and had instilled into their daughter's mind the best principles. When their misfortunes happened first, they attempted a little school, in their village, where they were much beloved; he teaching writing and the first rules of arithmetic to boys; his wife plain needle-work to girls, and to knit and spin; but that it answered not and, when the lady took their child, the industrious man earned his bread by day labour, and the lowest kind of husbandry.
"That the girl, improving daily in beauty, modesty, and genteel and good behaviour, by the time she was fifteen, engaged the attention of her lady's son, a young gentleman of free principles, who, on her lady's death, attempted, by all manner of temptations and devices, to seduce her. That she had recourse to as many innocent stratagems to escape the snares laid for her virtue; once, however, in despair, having been near drowning; that, at last, her noble resistance, watchfulness, and excellent qualities, subdued him, and he thought fit to make her his wife. That she behaved herself with so much dignity, sweetness, and humility, that she made herself beloved of every body, and even by his relations, who at first despised her; and now had the blessings both of rich and poor, and the love of her husband.
"The gentleman who told me this, added, that he had the curiosity to stay in the neighbourhood from Friday to Sunday, that he might see this happy couple at church, from which they never absented themselves: that, in short, he did see them; that her deportment was all sweetness, ease, and dignity mingled; that he never saw a lovelier woman: that her husband was as fine a man, and seemed even proud of his choice; and that she attracted the respects of the persons of rank present, and had the blessings of the poor. — The relater of the story told me all this with transport.
"This, sir, was the foundation of Pamela's story; but little did I think to make a story of it for the press. That was owing to this occasion.
"Mr. Rivington and Mr. Osborne, whose names are on the title-page, had long been urging me to give them a little book (which, they said, they were often asked after) of familiar letters on the useful concerns in common life; and, at last, I yielded to their opportunity, and began to recollect such subjects as I thought would be useful in such a design, and formed several letters accordingly. And, among the rest, I thought of giving one or two as cautions to young folks circumstanced as Pamela was. Little did I think, at first, of making one, much less two volumes of it. But, when I began to recollect what had, so many years before, been told me by my friend, I thought the story, if written in an easy and natural manner, suitable to the simplicity of it, might possibly introduce a new species of writing, that might possibly turn young people into a course of reading different from the pomp and parade of romance-writing, and, dismissing the improbable and marvellous, with which novels generally abound, might tend to promote the cause of religion and virtue. I therefore gave way to enlargement; and so Pamela became as you see her. But so little did I hope for the approbation of judges, that I had not the courage to send the two volumes to your ladies, until I found the books well received by the public.
"While I was writing the two volumes, my worthy-hearted wife, and the young lady who is with us, when I had read them some part of the story, which I had begun without their knowing it, used to come in to my little closet every night, with — 'Have you any more of Pamela, Mr. R.? We are come to hear a little more of Pamela,' &c. This encouraged me to prosecute it, which I did so diligently, through all my, other business, that, by a memorandum, on my copy, I began it Nov. 10, 1739, and finished it Jan. 10, 1739-40. And I have often, censurable as I might be thought for my vanity for it, and lessening to the taste of my two female friends, had the story of Moliere's Old Woman in my thoughts upon the occasion.
"If justly low were my thoughts of this little history, you will wonder how it came by such an assuming and very impudent preface. It was thus: — The approbation of these two female friends, and of two more, who were so kind as to give me prefaces for it, but which were much too long and circumstantial, as I thought, made me resolve myself on writing a preface; 1 therefore, spirited by the good opinion of these four, and knowing that the judgments of nine parts in ten of readers were but in hanging-sleeves, struck a bold stroke in the preface you see, having the umbrage of the editor's character to screen myself behind. — And thus, sir, all is out."
Pamela, of which the reader has thus learned the origin, appeared in 1740, and made a most powerful sensation in the public. Hitherto, romances had been written, generally speaking, in the old French taste, containing the protracted amours of princes and princesses, told in language coldly extravagant, and metaphysically absurd. In these wearisome performances, there appeared not the most distant allusion to the ordinary tone of feeling, the slightest attempt to paint mankind as it exists in the ordinary walks of life — all was rant and bombast, stilt and buskin. It will be Richardson's eternal praise, did he merit no more, that he tore from his personages those painted vizards, which concealed, under a clumsy and affected disguise, every thing like the natural lineaments of the human countenance, and placed them before us bare-faced, in all the actual changes of feature and complexion, and all the light and shade of human passion. It requires a reader to be in some degree acquainted with the huge folios of inanity, over which our ancestors yawned themselves to sleep, ere he can estimate the delight they must have experienced from this unexpected return to truth and nature.
The simplicity of Richardson's tale, aided the effect of surprise. An innocent young woman, whose virtue a dissolute master assails by violence, as well as all the milder means of seduction, conquers him at last, by persevering in the paths of rectitude; and is rewarded, by being raised to the station of his wife, the lawful participator in his rank and fortune. Such is the simple story by which the world was so much surprised and affected.
The judicious criticism of Mrs. Barbauld has pointed out, that the character of Pamela is far from attaining a heroic cast of excellence. On the contrary, there is a strain of cold-blooded prudence which runs through all the latter part of the novel, to which we are obliged almost to deny the name of virtue. She appears originally to have had no love for Mr. B—; no passion to combat in her own bosom; no treachery to subdue in the garrison while the enemy was before the walls. Richardson voluntarily evaded giving this colouring to his tale, because it was intended more for edification than for effect; and because the example of a "soubrette" falling desperately in love with a handsome young master, might have been imitated by many in that rank of life, who could not have defended themselves exactly like Pamela against the object of so dangerous a passion. Besides, Richardson was upon principle unwilling to exhibit his favoured characters as greatly subject to violent passion of any kind, and was much disposed to dethrone Cupid, whom romance-writers had installed as the literal sovereign of gods and men. Still, the character of Pamela is somewhat sunk by the eager gratitude with which she accepts the hand of a tyrannical and cruel master, when he could not at a cheaper rate make himself master of her person. There is a parade of generosity on his side, and a humiliating degree of creeping submission on hers, which the case by no means calls for, and unless, like her namesake in Pope's Satire, Pamela could console herself with the "gilt chariot and the Flanders mares," we should have thought her more likely to be happy as the humble wife of poor Mr. Williams, of whose honest affection she makes somewhat too politic a use in the course of her trials, and whom she discards too coolly when better prospects seem to open upon her.
It is, perhaps, invidious to enter too closely upon the general tendency of a work of entertainment. But when the admirers of Pamela challenged for that work the merit of doing more good than twenty sermons, we demur to the motion. Its good effects must of course have operation among young women in circumstances somewhat similar to those of the heroine; and, in that rank, it may be questioned, whether the example is not as well calculated to encourage a spirit of rash enterprize, as of virtuous resistance. If Pamela became Esquire B—'s lady, it was only on account of her virtuous resistance to his criminal attacks; but it may occur to a humble maiden, (and the case we believe is not hypothetical,) that to merit Pamela's reward, she must go through Pamela's trials; and that there can be no great harm in affording some encouragement to the assailant. We need not add how dangerous this experiment must be for both parties.
But we have elsewhere intimated an opinion, that the direct and obvious moral to be deduced from a fictitious narrative, is of much less consequence to the public, than the mode in which the story is treated in the course of its details. If the author introduces scenes which excite evil passions, if he familiarizes the mind of the readers with impure ideas, or sophisticates their understanding with false views of morality, it will be an unavailing defence, that, in the end of his book, he has represented virtue as triumphant. In the same manner, although some objections may be made to the deductions which the author desired and expected should be drawn from the story of Pamela, yet the pure and modest character of the English maiden is so well maintained during the work; her sorrows and afflictions are borne with so much meekness; her little intervals of hope or comparative tranquillity break in on her troubles so much like the specks of blue sky through a cloudy atmosphere, that the whole recollection is soothing, tranquillizing, and doubtless edifying. We think little of Mr. B—, his character, or his motives, and are only delighted with the preferment of our favourite, because it seems to give so much satisfaction to herself. The pathetic passage, in which she describes her ineffectual attempt to escape, may be selected, among many, as an example of the beautiful propriety and truth with which the author was able to throw himself into the character of his heroine, and to think and reason, and express those thoughts and reasons, exactly as she must have done had the fictitious incident really befallen such a person.
The inferior persons are sketched with great truth, and may be considered as a group of English portraits of the period. In particular, the characters of the father and mother, old Andrews and his wife, are, like that of Pamela herself, in the very best style of drawing and colouring; and the interview of the former with his landlord, when he enquires after the fate of his daughter, would have immortalized Richardson, had he never wrote another line.
It may be here observed, that, had the author lived in the present day, he would probably have thrown into the character of the deeply-injured peasant a spirit of manly indignation, which the occasion demanded. But in Richardson's time, the bonds of subordination in society were drawn very strictly, and he himself appears to have had high and exaggerated ideas of the importance of wealth and rank, as well as of domestic authority of every kind. Mr. B— does not seem to have incurred any severe censure among his neighbours for the villainies which he practices upon Pamela; she herself supposes them more than atoned for by his condescension in wedding her, and consents to receive into favour even the unwomanly and infamous Mrs. Jewkes, because the old procuress had acted a part she should have been hanged for, at the command, forsooth, of a generous master. There is want of taste in this humiliation; and a touch of spirit upon the occasion would not have misbecome even the all-forgiving Pamela.
Notwithstanding such defects, which, in fact, only occur to us upon a critical perusal, the pleasing simplicity of a tale so true to nature commanded the general and enthusiastic applause of the public. It was in vain that the mischievous wit of Fielding found a source for ridicule in that very simplicity of moral and of incident, and gave the world Joseph Andrews, an avowed parody upon the Pamela of Richardson. It chanced with that very humorous performance, as with the Shepherd's Week of Gay, that readers lost sight altogether of the satirical purpose with which it was written, and were delighted with it on account of its own intrinsic merit. We may be permitted to regret, therefore, the tone of mind with which Fielding composed a work, in professed ridicule of such genius as that of Richardson but how can we wish that undone, without which Parson Adams would not have existed?
The success of Pamela induced some wretched imitator to carry on the story in a continuation, entitled Pamela in High Life. This intrusion provoked Richardson to a similar attempt, in which he represents Pamela's husband as reclaimed from the prosecution of a guilty intrigue by the patient sorrows of his virtuous wife. The work met with the usual fate of continuations, and has been always justly accounted an unnatural and unnecessary appendage to a tale so complete within itself as the first part of Pamela.
Eight years after the appearance of Pamela, Richardson published Clarissa, the work on which his fame as a classic of England will rest for ever. The tale, like that of its predecessor, is very simple; but the scene is laid in a higher rank of life, the characters are drawn with a bolder pencil, and the whole accompaniments are of a far loftier mood.
Clarissa, a character as nearly approaching to perfection as the pencil of the author could draw, is persecuted by a tyrannical father and brother, an envious sister, and the other members of a family, who devoted everything to its aggrandizement, in order to compel her to marry a very disagreeable suitor. These intrigues and distresses she communicates, in a series of letters, to her friend Miss Howe, a young lady of an ardent, impetuous disposition, and an enthusiast in friendship. After a series of sufferings, rising almost beyond endurance, Clarissa is tempted to throw herself upon the protection of her admirer Lovelace, a character, in painting whom Richardson has exerted his utmost skill, until he has attained the very difficult and critical point, of rendering every reader pleased with his wit and abilities, even while detesting the villainy of his conduct. Lovelace is represented as having devoted his life and his talents to the subversion of female virtue; and not even the charms of Clarissa, or the generosity due to her unprotected situation, can reconcile him to the idea of marriage. This species of perverted Quixotry is not much understood in the present age, when a modern voluptuary seeks the gratification of his passions where it is most easily obtained, and is seldom at the trouble of assault, when there is any probability of the fortress being resolutely defended. But in former days, when men, like Lord Baltimore, were found, at the risk of life itself, capable of employing the most violent means for the ruin of innocence, a character approaching that of Lovelace was not perhaps so unnatural. That he should have been so successful in previous amours, is not very probable; and, as Mrs. Barbauld justly observes, he was more likely to have been run through the body long before ever he saw Colonel Morden. But some exaggeration must be allowed to the author of a romance; and considering the part which Lovelace had to perform, it was necessary that his character should be highly coloured. This perfidious lover, actuated, it would seem, as much by the love of intrigue and of enterprize, as by his desire to humble the Harlowe family, and lower the pride of this their beloved daughter, whose attachment to him was not of the devoted character which he conceived was due to his merits, forms a villainous scheme for the destruction of her virtue. Without the least regard for the character of a woman, whom he always seems to have intended for his wife at some future period, he contrives to lodge her with the keeper of a common brothel, and to place around her the inmates of such a place. At length, every effort to accomplish his guilty purpose having failed, he administers opiates, and violates the person of his victim while under their influence. But he obtains nothing by his crime, save infamy and remorse. The lady dies of a broken heart, and he himself falls by the sword of one of her kinsmen.
It cannot be denied, that this story is attended with many improbabilities. Allowing for Lovelace's very peculiar character, admitting that his selfishness, his pride, and his love of intrigue, had hardened his heart to all consequences, surrounded it, as he himself says, "with flint and callus," and induced him to prefer a crooked and most foul path to one which was fair and honourable, there is no excuse for his correspondent Belford, as a man and a gentleman, keeping his friend's infamous secret. Nay, we are apt to blame Clarissa herself, who, in her escape to Hampstead, did not place herself under the guardianship of a magistrate. We will venture to say, that Justice Fielding would have afforded her his most effectual protection; and that if Tomlinson, the false Miss Montague, or any other of Lovelace's agents, had ventured to appear in the office, they would have been committed by his worship as old acquaintances. In our own day too, though that was not a feature of the writer's age, the whole story of the elopement would have flown on the wings of the newspapers, not to Hampstead and Highgate only, but to Truro and Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and not a Mrs. Moore or a Mrs. Rawlins in England but would have been too particularly acquainted with "the mysterious affair of Harlowe-Place," to be deceived by the representations of Lovelace. But it is unfair to tax an author too severely upon improbabilities, without conceding which his story could have no existence; and we have the less title to do so, because, in the history of real life, that which is actually true bears often very little resemblance to that which is probable. If every assault were skilfully parried, and every man played with ability, life would become like a trial of skill with foils, or like a game at chess, and strength and address would no longer be defeated by time and chance, which, in the words of Solomon, happen unto all men.
The conduct of the injured Clarissa through the subsequent scenes, which are perhaps among the most affecting and sublime in the English school of romance, raises her, in her calamitous condition, so far above all around her, that her character beams on the reader with something like superhuman splendour. Our eyes weep, our hearts ache; yet our feelings triumph with the triumph of virtue, as it rises over all the odds which the deepest misfortune, and even degradation, have thrown into the scale. There is a noble pride amid the sorrow with which we contemplate the distresses of such a being as Clarissa, becoming more exalted over that personal dishonour, which, when it has once taken place, under what circumstances soever, is generally understood to infer degradation. It was reserved to Richardson to show there is a chastity of the soul, which can beam out spotless and unsullied even after that of the person has been violated; and the dignity of Clarissa, under her disgrace and her misfortunes, reminds us of the saying of the ancient poet, that a good man, struggling with the tide of adversity, and surmounting it, was a sight which the immortal gods might look down upon with pleasure. This is a subject which Mrs. Barbauld has dwelt upon with a suitable feeling of the dignity of her sex. The more contracted and limited view of Clarissa's merit, merely as resisting the efforts of a practised seducer, although it was unquestionably in Richardson's view, his biographer reasonably spurns as degrading to womanhood. Clarissa, bred in a superior rank in life, led astray by no strong passion, courted by a lover, who had immediate marriage in his power, must have been a subordinate person indeed, if incapable of repelling his attempts at dishonouring her person. I cannot avoid transcribing the excellent reflections which follow this reasoning: — "The real moral of Clarissa is, that virtue is triumphant in every situation; that in circumstances the most painful and degrading, in a prison, in a brothel, in grief, in destruction, in despair, it is still lovely, still commanding, still the object of our veneration, of our fondest affections; that, if it is seated on the ground, it can still say with Constance,
Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.
"The Novelist that has produced this effect, has performed his office well, and it is immaterial what particular maxim is selected under the name of a moral, while such are the reader's feelings. If our feelings are in favour of virtue the novel is virtuous; if of vice, the novel is vicious. The greatness of Clarissa is shown by her, separating herself from her lover, as soon as she perceives his dishonourable views; in her choosing death rather than a repetition of the outrage; in her rejection of those overtures of marriage, which a common mind might have accepted of, as a refuge against worldly dishonour; in her firm indignant carriage, mixed with calm patience and Christian resignation, and in the greatness of mind with which she views and enjoys the approaches of death, and her meek forgiveness of her unfeeling relations."
These arguments, however, were not at first readily admitted by Richardson's warmest admirers. The first four volumes of Clarissa having appeared, and a report having been spread that the catastrophe was to be unfortunate, many remonstrances were made on the subject by those readers who shrunk from the extreme pain inflicted by the tragical part of the narrative, and, laying aside the contemplation of the moral, complained, that in a professed work of amusement, the author had contrived to harrow up their feelings to a degree that was intolerably painful. Old Cibber raved on the subject like a profane Bedlamite; and, what was perhaps of more consequence to Richardson, the rumour of Lovelace's success, and death, occasioned Lady Bradshaigh's opening her romantic correspondence with him under the assumed name of Belfour. In reply to the expostulations of the latter, Richardson frankly stated his own noble plan, of which he had too just a conception to alter it, in compliance with the remonstrances of his correspondents.
"Indeed, you are not particular in your wishes for a happy ending, as it is called. Nor can I go through some of the scenes myself without being sensibly touched. (Did I not say that I was another Pygmalion?) But yet I had to show, for example sake, a young lady struggling nobly with the greatest difficulties, and triumphing from the best motives, in the course of distresses, the tenth part of which would have sunk even manly hearts; yet tenderly educated, born to affluence, naturally meek, although, where an exertion of spirit was necessary, manifesting herself to be a true heroine."
Defeated in this point, the friends and correspondents of Richardson became even more importunate for the reformation of Lovelace, and the winding up the story by his happy union with Clarissa. On this subject also, Cibber ranted and the ladies implored, with an earnestness that seems to imply at once a belief that the persons in whom they interested themselves had an existence, and that it was in the power of the writer of their memoirs to turn their destiny which way, he pleased; and one damsel, eager for the conversion of Lovelace, implores Richardson to "save his soul;" as if there had been actually a living sinner in the case, and his future state had literally depended on the decision to be pronounced by her admired author.
Against all these expostulations Richardson hardened himself. He knew that to bestow Clarissa upon the repentant Lovelace would have been to undermine the fabric he had built. This was the very purpose which the criminal had proposed to himself in the atrocious crime he had committed, and it was to dismiss him from the scene rewarded, not punished. The sublimity of the moral would have been altogether destroyed since vice would have been no longer rendered hateful and miserable through its very success, nor virtue honoured and triumphant even by its degradation. The death of Clarissa alone could draw down on the guilty head of her betrayer the just and necessary retribution, and his guilt was of far too deep a dye to be otherwise expiated. Besides, the author felt, and forcibly pointed out, the degradation which the fervent creation of his fancy must have sustained, could she, with all her wrongs forgotten, and with the duty imposed on her by matrimony, to love, honour, and obey her betrayer, have sat down the common-place good wife of her reformed rake. Indeed, those who peruse the work with attention, will perceive that the author has been careful, in the earlier stages of his narrative, to bar out every prospect of such a union. Notwithstanding the levities and constitutional good-humour of Lovelace, his mind is too much perverted, his imagination too much inflamed, by his own insane Quixotism, and above all, his heart is too much hardened, to render it possible for any one seriously to think of his conversion as sincere, or his union with Clarissa as happy. He had committed a crime for which be deserved death, by the law of the country; and notwithstanding those good qualities with which the author has invested him, that he may not seem an actual incarnate fiend, there is no reader but feels vindictive pleasure when Morden passes the sword through his body.
On the other hand, Clarissa, reconciled to her violator, must have lost, in the eye of the reader, that dignity, with which the refusal of his hand, the only poor reparation he could offer, at present invests her; and it was right and fitting that a creature, every way so excellent, should, as is fabled of the ermine, pine to death on account of the stain with which she had been so injuriously sullied. We cannot, consistently with the high idea which we have previously entertained of her purity of character, imagine her surviving the contamination. On the whole, as Richardson himself pleaded, Clarissa has, as the narrative presently stands, the greatest of triumphs even in this world — the greatest, even in and after the outrage, and because of the outrage, that any woman ever had.
It has often been observed, that the extreme severity of the parents and relatives in this celebrated novel does not belong to our day, or perhaps even to Richardson's; and that Clarissa's dutiful scruples at assuming her own estate, or extricating herself by Miss Howe's means, are driven to extremity. Something, no doubt, is to be allowed for the license of an author, who must necessarily, in order to command interest and attention, extend his incidents to the extreme verge of probability; but, besides, it is well known, that at least within the century, the notions of the "patria potestas" were of a much severer nature than those now entertained. Forced marriages in those days did sometimes actually take place, and that in houses of considerable rank; and the voice of public opinion had then comparatively little effect upon great and opulent families, inhabiting their country-seats, and living amid their own dependants, where strange violences were sometimes committed, under the specious pretext of enforcing domestic discipline. Each family was a little tribe within itself; and the near relations, like the elders among the Jews, had their Sanhedrim, where resolutions were adopted, as laws to control the free will of each individual member. It is upon this family compact that the Harlowes ground the rights which they assert with so much tyranny; and, before the changes which have slackened the bonds of relationship, we believe that such incidents were not infrequent. But whether we consider Richardson as exhibiting a state of manners which may have lingered in the remote parts of England down to his own time, or suppose that he coloured them according to his own invention, and particularly according to his high notions of the "awful rule and right supremacy," lodged in the head of a family, there can be no doubt of the spirit with which the picture is executed; and particularly of the various gradations in which the Harlowe spirit exhibits itself, in the insolent and conceited brother, the mean and envious sister, the stern and unrelenting father, softened down in the elder brother James, and again roughened and exaggerated in the old seaman Anthony, each of whom in various modifications, exhibits the same family features of avarice, pride, and ambition.
Miss Howe is an admirably sketched character, drawn in strong contrast to that of Clarissa, yet worthy of being her friend —†with more of worldly perspicacity, though less of abstracted principle; and who, when they argue upon points of doubt and delicacy, is often able, by going directly to the question at issue, to start the game, while her more gifted correspondent does but beat the bush. Her high spirit and disinterested devotion for her friend, acknowledging, as she does on all occasions, her own inferiority, show her in a noble point of view; and though we are afraid she must have given honest Hickman (notwithstanding her resolutions to the contrary) rather an uneasy time of it after marriage, yet it is impossible not to think that she was a prize worth suffering for.
The publication of Clarissa raised the fame of the author to the height. No work had appeared before, perhaps none has appeared since, containing so many direct appeals to the passions, stated too in a manner so irresistible. And high as his reputation stood in his own country, it was even more exalted in those of France and Germany, whose imaginations are more easily excited, and their passions more easily moved by tales of fictitious distress, than are the cold-blooded English. Foreigners of distinction have been known to visit Hampstead, and to enquire for the Flask-walk, distinguished as a scene in Clarissa's history, just as travellers visit the rocks of Meillerie to view the localities of Rousseau's tale of passion. Diderot vied with Rousseau in heaping incense upon the shrine of the English author. The former compares him to Homer, and predicts for his memory the same honours which are rendered to the Father of Epic poetry; and the last, besides his well-known burst of eloquent panegyric, records his opinion in a letter to D'Alembert: "On jamais fait encore, en quelque langue que ce soit, de roman egal a Clarisse, ni meme approchant."
There was never, perhaps, an author who was not encouraged by popular applause again to venture himself before the public; and Richardson, secure, moreover, in the prepossession of a large party of friends and admirers, was of course no exception to the general rule.
The subject of the third and last novel of this eminent author seems to have been in a great degree dictated by the criticism which Ciarissa had undergone. To his own surprise, as he assured his correspondents, he found that the gaiety, spirit, and occasionally, generosity of Lovelace, joined to his courage and ingenuity, had, in spite of his crimes, made him find too much grace in the eyes of his fair readers. He had been so studious to prevent this, that when he perceived his rake was rising into an undue and dangerous degree of favour with some of the young ladies of his own school, he threw in some darker shades of character. In this, according to the eulogy of Johnson, he was eminently successful; but still Lovelace appeared too captivating in the eyes of his fair friends, and even of Lady Bradshaigh; so that nothing remained for the author, in point of morality, but to prepare with all speed an antidote to the poison which he had incautiously administered.
With this view, the writer tasked his talents to embody the beau ideal of a virtuous character, who should have all the title to admiration which he could receive from wit, rank, figure, accomplishment, and fashion, yet compounded inseparably with the still higher qualifications which form the virtuous citizen and the faithful votary of religion. It was with this view that Richardson produced the work, originally denominated The Good Man; a title which, before publication, he judiciously exchanged for that of Sir Charles Grandison.
It must be acknowledged, that although the author exerted his utmost ability to succeed in the task which he had assumed, and, so far as detached parts of the work are considered, has given the same marks of genius which he employed in his former novels, yet this last production has neither the simplicity of the two first volumes of Pamela, nor the deep and overwhelming interest of the inimitable Clarissa and must, considering it as a whole, be ranked considerably beneath both these works.
The principal cause of failure may be perhaps traced to Richardson's too strong recollection of the aversion which his friendly critics and correspondents had displayed to the melancholy scenes in Clarissa, in which, darkening and deepening as the story proceeds, his heroine is involved, until the scene is closed by death. He was resolved (perhaps) to give his readers some indemnification, and having formerly shown them virtue in its state of earthly persecution and calamity, now resolved to introduce her, as John Bunyan says, in her golden slippers, and walking abroad in the sunshine. But the author did not sufficiently reflect, that the beacon, upon an exposed headland, sending forth its saving light amid the rain and the storm, and burning where all around combines to its extinction, is a far grander and more interesting object to the imagination than the chandelier in a lordly hall, secured by walls and casements from the possibility even of a transient breeze agitating its brilliancy of lustre.
Sir Charles Grandison is a man of large fortune, of rank and of family, high in the opinion of all who know him, and discharging with the most punctilious accuracy his duties in every relation of life. But in order to his doing so, he is accommodated with all those exterior advantages which command awe and attract respect, although entirely adventitious to excellence of principle. He is munificent, but his fortune bears out his generosity; he is affectionate in his domestic relations, but the devoted attachment of his family leaves him no temptation to be otherwise; his temperament is averse from excess; his passions are under the command of his reason; his courage has been so often proved, that he can safely, and without reproach of the world, prefer the dictates of Christianity to the rules of modern honour; and in adventuring himself into danger, he has all the strength and address of Lovelace himself to trust to. Sir Charles encounters no misfortunes, and can hardly be said to undergo any trials. The author, in a word, has sent him forth
Happy, and glorious.
The only dilemma to which he is exposed in the course of the seven volumes, is the doubt which of two beautiful and accomplished women, excellent in disposition and high in rank, sister excellencies as it were, both being devotedly attached to him, he shall be pleased to select for his bride; and this with so small a shade of partiality towards either, that we cannot conceive his happiness to be endangered wherever his lot may fall, except by a generous compassion for her, whom be must necessarily relinquish. Whatever other difficulties surround him occasionally, vanish before his courage and address; and he is almost secure to make friends, and even converts, of those whose machinations may for a moment annoy him. In a word, Sir Charles Grandison "walks the course" without competition or rivalry.
All this does well enough in a funeral sermon or monumental inscription, where, by privilege of suppressing the worst qualities and exaggerating the better, such images of perfection are sometimes presented. But in the living world, a state of trial and a valley of tears, such unspotted worth, such unvarying perfection, is not to be met with; and, what is still more important, it could not, if we suppose it to have existence, be attended by all those favours of fortune which are accumulated upon Richardson's hero; — and hence the fatal objection, of Sir Charles Grandison being the
—Faultless monster that the world ne'er saw.
It is not the moral and religious excellence of Sir Charles which the reader is so much disposed to quarrel with, as that, while Richardson designs to give a high moral lesson by the success of his hero, he has failed through resting that success on circumstances which have nothing to do either with morality or religion, but might have been, if indeed they are not, depicted as the properties of Lovelace himself. It is impossible that any very deep lesson can be derived from contemplating a character, at once of unattainable excellence, and which is placed in circumstances of worldly ease and prosperity that render him entirely superior to temptation. Propose the example of Sir Charles Grandison to the sordid spirit, he will answer, I will be generous when I have such an estate — to the unkind brother or the cold friend, I will be affectionate, is the ready answer, when I meet such reciprocity of tenderness. Ask him who fears the reproach of the world, why he gives or accepts a challenge? — I would do neither, he replies, were my reputation for courage established like that of Sir Charles Grandison. The timid may excuse himself for not being bold in the defence of innocence, because he has neither Sir Charles's resolution, nor that inimitable command of his sword, which enables the hero to baffle, and, in case of need, to disarm, all who may oppose his interference. Even the libertine will plead difference of temperament and habits, and contend, that Sir Charles had all his passions under such complete subjugation, that there was no more danger of his being hurried off by them, than that his six long-tailed horses should run away with his chariot. He does, unquestionably, now and then, in his communications to Dr. Bartlett and others, speak of his naturally passionate temperament as if it were still existing; but we see so little of its effects, or rather it appears, in spite of his own report, so utterly subdued and withered within him, that the only purpose of the confession seems to be, the adding this trait of modesty and humiliation to the more splendid virtues of the hero.
After all, there may, in this reasoning, be much of the perversity of human nature, which is always ready, like Job's tempter, to dispute that worth which has not been proved by adversity. But it was human nature which the author proposed to instruct; and, therefore, to human nature and its feelings, he should have adapted his example of piety and morality.
To take the matter less gravely, and consider Sir Charles Grandison as a work of amusement, it must be allowed, that the interest is destroyed in a great measure by the unceasing ascendency given to the fortune, as well as the character, of the hero. We feel he is too much under the special protection of the author to need any sympathy of ours, and that he has nothing to dread from all the Pollexfens, O'Haras, and so forth, in the world, so long as Richardson is decidedly his friend. Neither are our feelings much interested about him even while his fate is undetermined. He evinces too little passion, and certainly no preference, being clearly ready, with heart and good-will, to marry either Clementina or Harriet Byron, as circumstances may render most proper, and to bow gracefully upon the hand of the rejected lady, and hid her adieu.
Lady Bradshaigh, the frankest of Richardson's correspondents, states this objection to him in full force, and without ceremony: — "You have made me bounce off my chair with reading that two good girls were in love with your hero, and that he was fond of both. I have such despicable notions of a divided love, that I cannot have an idea how a worthy object can entertain such a thought." The truth is, that Richardson was always arguing for the superiority of duty and principle over feeling, and, not very wisely perhaps, in an abstract view at least, set himself willingly to the task of combating even the sentiment of honest and virtuous love, considered as a passion, although implanted by nature in our breasts for the wisest, as well as kindest purposes, and leading, were it only by carrying our views and wishes beyond ourselves, to many more good consequences, under the modification of reason, than to evil, numerous as these may be, when it hurries us beyond reason's limits. So far did the author carry his contempt and defiance of Cupid, who had, down to his time, been the omnipotent deity of romance, as even to alarm Lady Bradshaigh by some hypothetical arguments in favour of polygamy, a system which goes to exclude individual preferences with a vengeance.
All this must be pardoned to the honest and kindhearted Richardson, partly for argument's sake, partly because he had very high notions of the rights of the husband, as well as those of the master. It may be some comfort to the ladies to know, as appears from some passages in his Correspondence, that, like James the First of England, his despotism consisted more in theory than in practice; and that Mrs. Richardson appears to have had her full share of practical authority and control in whatever related to their quiet family.
Regarding Sir Charles, then, merely as the twenty-thousand prize, which was to be drawn by either of the ladies who might be so lucky as to win it, and whose own inclinations scarcely decided him more to the one than to the other, it is clear that the interest must rest — no very flattering thing for the fair sex — upon that predilection which the reader may entertain for the English or for the Italian lady. And with respect to Miss Byron, amiable as she is represented, and with qualities supposed to approach almost to those of Clarissa in her happiest state, there attaches a sort of indelicacy, of which we must suppose Clarissa, in similar circumstances, entirely incapable. She literally forms a league in Sir Charles's family, and among his friends, for the purpose of engaging his affections, and is contented to betray the secret of her own love, even when she believes it unreturned — a secret which every delicate mind holds so sacred — not only to the sister of Sir Charles and old Dr. Bartlett, but to all her own relations, and the Lord knows whom besides, who are all to be edified by the perusal of Sir Charles's letters. Most readers have felt that this conduct on Miss Byron's part, though designed only to elevate the hero, has the contrary effect of degrading the character of the heroine.
The real heroine of the work, and the only one in whose fortunes we take a deep and decided interest, is the unhappy Clementina, whose madness, and indeed her whole conduct, is sketched with the same exquisite pencil which drew the distresses of Clarissa. There are, in those passages relating to her, upon which we do not dwell, familiar as they must be to all our readers, scenes which equal any thing that Richardson ever wrote, and which would alone be sufficient to rank him with the highest name in his line of composition. These, with other detached passages in the work, serve to show that it was no diminution in Richardson's powers, but solely the adoption of an inferior plan, which renders his two earlier works preferable to Sir Charles Grandison.
The structure of Sir Charles Grandison being wholly different from that of Pamela and Clarissa, enabled the author entirely to avoid, in his last work, some free and broad descriptions, which were unavoidable while detailing the enterprizes of Mr. B— or Lovelace. But though he was freed from all temptation to fall into indelicate warmth of description, a fault which the grosser age of our fathers endured better than ours, Richardson was still unfortunate in assuming the tone of elegance and of high fashion, to which, in his last work, he evidently aspired. Mr. B— is a country squire; the Harlowes, a purse-proud and vulgar race; Lovelace himself a roue in point of manners; Lord M— has the manners and sentiments of an old rural gossip; and the vivacity of Miss Howe often approaches to vulgarity. Many models must have been under the observant eye of Richardson, extensive as his acquaintance was through all, excepting the highest circle of fashion, from which he might have drawn such characters, or at least have borrowed their manners and language.
But our author's aspiring to trace the manners of the great, as in Sir Charles Grandison, has called down the censure of an unquestionable judge, and who appears, in his case, disposed to be a severe critic. Lady Mary Wortley Montague, in her inimitable Letters, has the following passages: — "His Anna Howe and Charlotte Grandison are recommended as patterns of charming pleasantry, and applauded by his saint-like dames, who mistake folly for wit and humour, and impudence and ill-nature for spirit and fire. Charlotte behaves like a humoursome child, and should have been used like one, and whipped in the presence of her friendly confederate, Harriet. — He (Richardson) has no idea of the manners of high life; his old Lord M— talks in the style of a country justice, and his virtuous young ladies romp like the wenches round a May-pole. Such liberties as pass between Mr. Lovelace and his cousins, are not to be excused by the relation. I should have been much astonished if Lord Denbigh should have offered to kiss me; and I dare swear, Lord Trentham never attempted such impertinence to you."
It is no disrespect to Richardson to say, that he could not have had many opportunities of seeing the manners of high life; for society is formed upon principles different entirely from a selection of the best and wisest men; and the author's condition, though far from being low, indigent, or disrespectable, placed him in a humbler and happier rank. But there is one sort of goodbreeding which is natural and unchangeable, and another, which, consisting of an acquaintance with the evanescent manners and fashions of the day, is merely conventional, and is perpetually changing, like the modes of dress observed in the same circles. The principles of the first are imprinted in every bosom of sense and delicacy. But to be ignorant of the latter, only shows that an author is not very conversant with the society where those flitting rules are observed, or, what may be equally the case, is incapable of tracing their changeful and fading hues. To transgress the rules of natural good-breeding, or to represent characters by whom they should be practised as doing so, is a want of taste which must adhere as a blemish to the work so long as it is read. But crimes against conventional good-breeding run a prescriptive course, and cease to be observed when the rules transgressed have, according to the usual mutability of fashion, been superseded by others. Such errors are like Livy's patavinity, which became imperceptible to latter readers. It was natural that a person of Lady Mary Wortley Montague's taste and rank should be shocked at the want of decorum which she complains of, but at this distance of time we are not sufficiently acquainted with the fashions of George the Second's reign to share her displeasure. We know in general, that salutation continued for a long period to be permitted by fashion, as much as the more lately licensed freedoms of shaking hands and offering the arm; and with this general knowledge it is of little consequence to us, at what particular year of God men of quality were restrained from kissing their cousins, or whether Richardson has made an anachronism in that important matter. The merit of Lovelace, considered as a portrait, remains to us the same, notwithstanding that wig, which is now frozen to his head amid his sentimental attendance in the ivy-coppice, and anon skimmed into the fire when he receives the fatal news of Clarissa's death. We think as little of dress or fashion as when we gaze on the portraits of Vandyke, without asking whether the ruff and this sleeve be or be not precisely of the cut of the period. Lovelace, whether exactly corresponding to the minute fashions of his own time or no, continues equally to be what he is described in the nervous language of Johnson, in his Life of Rowe. "The character of Lothario seems to have been expanded by Richardson into that of Lovelace; but he has excelled his original in the moral effect of the fiction. Lothario, with gaiety which cannot be hated, and bravery which cannot be despised, retains too much of the spectator's kindness. It was in the power of Richardson alone, to teach us at once esteem and detestation; to make virtuous resentment overpower all the benevolence which wit, and elegance, and courage, naturally excite and to lose at last the hero in the villain."
Still, however, it is impossible altogether to vindicate Richardson from Lady Mary's charge, or to pronounce him wholly guiltless of trespassing upon the essence of good-breeding, as well as upon its temporary rules and modifications. Lady G— has as much horse-play in her raillery as Miss Howe, and her lord is a double of Mr. Hickman. Now there ought to have been a difference betwixt the vivacity of a country-bred young lady, trained up under a sufficiently vulgar mother, and that of Miss Grandison, who had always lived in the very first society; and this Lady Mary has a just right to complain of.
There is a fault also attaches to the manners of Sir Charles Grandison himself, though doubtless intended as a model of elegance and courtesy. The very care which the author has taken to deck his manners and conversation with every becoming grace of action and words, has introduced a heavy formality, and a sort of flourishing politeness, into his whole person and deportment. His manner, in short, seems too much studied, and his talk too stiffly complimentary, too like a printed book, to use a Scottish phrase, to permit us to associate the ideas of gentlemanlike ease and affability, either to the one or the other. We believe this objection has been very generally entertained by the fairer sex, for whose protection the laws of politeness are introduced, and who must therefore be the best judges how far they are complied with.
Notwithstanding these imperfections, and the disadvantage which a new work always sustains at first comparison with its predecessors, Richardson's fame was not diminished by the publication of his Sir Charles Grandison, and his fortune would have been increased but for a mercantile fraud, of a nature peculiarly audacious. By some means which he could not detect, sheet after sheet of the work as it passed the press was stolen from the author's printing-house, and sent to Dublin where, availing themselves of the relations between the two countries as they then stood, some unprincipled booksellers prepared an Irish edition of the book, which they were thus enabled to bring into the market as soon as the author, and, by underselling him, greatly limited his deserved profits. Richardson appears in vain to have sought redress for this injustice by means of his correspondents in Ireland. The union with the sister kingdom has, among other beneficial effects, had that of rendering such frauds impossible in future; and in that respect has been of the greatest service to literature.
Such is the succinct history of Richardson's productions, and such was its conclusion. It is only necessary to mention, that, besides his three celebrated novels, he completed that collection of Familiar Letters, the commencement of which led the way to Pamela — "A work," says Mrs. Barbauld, "usually found in the servant's drawer, but which, when so found, has not unfrequently detained the eye of the mistress, wondering all the while by what secret charm she was induced to turn over a book, apparently too low for her perusal, and that charm was — Richardson." This work, which we have never seen, is said, by the same authority, to illustrate the extreme accuracy with which Richardson had attended to all the duties of life.
Richardson also wrote, in order to assist Dr. Johnson, the ninety-seventh number of the Rambler, which the editor ushered in by the following deserved encomium: — "The reader is indebted for this day's entertainment to an author from whom the age has received greater favours, who has enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to wove at the command of virtue."
In our detailed remarks on Richardson's several novels, we have, as usual, anticipated much which we otherwise had to say concerning his general merits as an author. It will be to his immortal praise, that he was perhaps the first author in this line of composition, who, in fictitious narrative, threw aside the trappings of romance, with all its extravagance, and appealed to the genuine passions of the human heart. The circumstances which led him to descend from the stilts of bombast into the walks of nature, are described in his own account of the origin of Pamela, and he quickly discovered that it was not in humble life only that those feelings exist which find sympathy in every reader's bosom; for, if the sympathy which the distresses and the magnanimity of Clarissa excite, be not universal, we cannot envy those who are proof against their charm.
Richardson was well qualified to be the discoverer of a new style of writing, for he was a cautious, deep, and minute examiner of the human heart, and, like Cooke or Parry, left neither head, bay, nor inlet behind him, until he had traced its soundings, and laid it down in his chart, with all its minute sinuosities, its depths, and its shallows. Hence the high, and, comparatively considered, perhaps the undue superiority assigned by Johnson to Richardson over Fielding, against whom he seems to have entertained some prejudice. In one passage he asserts, that "there is more knowledge of the human heart in one letter of Richardson's than in all Tom Jones." And in another, he thus explains the proposition: "There is all the difference in the world between characters of nature and characters of manners, and there is this difference between the characters of Fielding and those of Richardson. Characters of manners are very entertaining; but they are to be understood by a more superficial observer than characters of nature, where a man must dive into the recesses of the human heart." Again, in comparing these two distinguished authors, the critic uses this illustration, — "that there was as great a difference between them, as between a man who knew how a watch was made, and a man who could tell the hour by looking at the dial-plate." Dissenting as we do from the conclusions to be deduced from Dr. Johnson's simile, we would rather so modify it as to describe both authors as excellent mechanics; the time-pieces of Richardson showing a great deal of the internal work by which the index is regulated; while those of Fielding merely point to the hour of the day, being all that most men desire to know. Or, to take a more manageable comparison, the analogy betwixt the writings of Fielding and Richardson resembles that which free, bold, and true sketches bear to paintings that have been very minutely laboured, and which, amid their excellence, still exhibit some of the heaviness that almost always attends the highest degree of finishing. This, indeed, is admitted by Johnson himself, in his reply to the observation of the Honourable Thomas Erskine, that Richardson was tedious. — "Why, sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted, that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story only as giving occasion to the sentiment." Were we to translate the controversy into plain language, it might be summed up in pronouncing the works of Richardson the more instructive, and the more deeply affecting, those of Fielding the more amusing; and that a reader might select the one or the other for his studies, according to Tony Lumpkin's phrase, as he felt himself "in a concatenation accordingly;" — with this difference, however, that he who would laugh with Fielding, may open Tom Jones at a venture: but he who would weep with Richardson, must be content to read through many pages, until his mind is in the mood fittest to appreciate the pathetic scenes introduced by a succession of minute and highly laboured details. This no doubt frequently occasions a suspension of the narrative, in order to afford time for the minute delineation of character. "Richardson himself has explained his principle," as is well observed by Mr. D'lsraeli. "If," he tells us, "I give speeches and conversations, I ought to give them justly, for the humours and persons of characters cannot be known, unless I repeat what they say, and their manner of saying it." This process of miniature painting has, however, its bounds; and many readers will be disposed to acquiesce in the remark of D'Alembert, — "La Nature est bonne a imiter, mais non pas jusqu' a l'ennui."
It is impossible to tell whether Richardson's peculiar and circumstantial mode of narrative arose entirely out of the mode in which he evolves his story by the correspondence of the actors, or whether his early partiality for letter-writing was not rather founded upon his innate love of detail. But these talents and propensities must have borne upon and fortified each other. To the letter-writer every event is recent, and is described while immediately under the eye, without a corresponding degree of reference to its relative importance to what has past and what is to come. All is, so to speak, painted in the fore-ground, and nothing in the distance. A game at whist, if the subject of a letter, must be detailed as much at length as a debate in the House of Commons, upon a subject of great national interest; and hence, perhaps, that tendency to prolixity, of which the readers of Richardson frequently complain.
There is an additional advantage, tending to the same disagreeable impression, since it requires that incidents must be, in many instances, detailed again and again, by the various actors, to their different correspondents. If this affords the opportunity of placing the characters, each in their own peculiar light, and contrasting their thoughts, plans, and sentiments, that advantage is at least partly balanced, by arresting the progress of the story, which stands still while the characters show all their paces, like horses in the manege, without advancing a yard. But then it gives the reader, as Mrs. Barbauld well remarks, the assurance of being thoroughly acquainted with those in whose fate he is to be interested. In consequence of this, adds that accomplished lady, "our feelings are not transient, elicited here and there by a pathetic stroke, but we regard his characters as real personages, whom we know and converse with, and whose fate remains to be decided in the course of events." The minute style of Richardson, is accordingly attended with this peculiar advantage, that as strong a light as can be necessary is thrown on every personage who advances on the scene, and that we have as distinct an idea of the individual and peculiar character of every female in Mrs. Sinclair's family whom it is necessary to name; of the greedy and hypocritical Joseph Leman; of the plausible Captain Singleton, and of Lovelace's other agents, as we have of Lovelace himself. The character of Colonel Morden, for example, although we see so little of him, is quite individual. He is high-spirited, bold, and skilful at his weapon; a man of the world and a man of honour; neither violent enough to precipitate his revenge, nor forbearing enough to avoid grasping it when the fitting opportunity offers. The awe with which he is regarded by the Harlowes even before his appearance, the respect which Clarissa entertains for him as a natural protector, prepares us for his approach as he enters on the scene, like the Avenger of Blood; too late, indeed, to save Clarissa, but a worthy vindicator of her wrongs, and a no less worthy conqueror of Lovelace. Whatever piety and forbearance there is in his cousin's last charge to such a man as Colonel Morden, we cannot for a moment be either surprised or sorry that it is disobeyed.
It must not be overlooked, that, by the circumstantial detail of minute, trivial, and even uninteresting circumstances, the author gives to his fiction an air of reality that can scarcely otherwise be obtained. In every real narrative, he who tells it, dwells upon slight and inconsiderable circumstances, no otherwise interesting than because they are associated in his mind with the more important events which he desires to communicate. De Foe, who understood, and availed himself on all occasions of this mode of garnishing an imaginary history with all the minute accompaniments which distinguish a true one, was scarce a greater master of this peculiar art, than was our author Richardson.
Still, with all these advantages, which so peculiarly adapted the mode of carrying on the story by epistolary correspondence to Richardson's peculiar genius, it has its corresponding defects. In order that all may be written, which must be known for the purpose of the narrative, the characters must frequently write, when it would be more natural for them to be acting — must frequently write what it is not natural to write at all — and must at all times write a great deal oftener, and a great deal more, than one would now think human life has time for. But these arguments did not probably weigh much with Richardson, an inveterate letter-writer from his youth upwards, and himself certainly as indefatigable (we had almost said formidable) a correspondent as any of the characters he has drawn.
Richardson was himself aware of the luxuriance of his imagination, and that he was sometimes apt to exceed the patience of the reader. He indulged his own vein, by writing without any fixed plan, and at great length, which he afterwards curtailed and compressed; so that, strange as it may seem, his compositions were reduced almost one-half in point of size before they were committed to the press. In his two first novels, he showed much attention to the plot; and though diffuse and prolix in narration, can never be said to be rambling or desultory. No characters are introduced, but for the purpose of advancing the plot; and there are but few of those digressive dialogues and dissertations with which Sir Charles Grandison abounds. The story of Pamela and of Clarissa keeps the direct road, though it moves slowly. But in his last work, the author is much more excursive. There is indeed little in the plot to require attention; the various events, which are successively narrated, being no otherwise connected together, than as they place the character of the hero in some new and peculiar point of view. The same may be said of the numerous and long conversations upon religious and moral topics, which compose so great a part of the work, that a venerable old lady, whom we well knew, when in advanced age she became subject to drowsy fits, chose to hear Sir Charles Grandison read to her as she sat in her elbow-chair, in preference to any other work, "because," said she, "should I drop asleep in course of the reading, I am sure when I awake, I shall have lost none of the story, but shall find the party, where I left them, conversing in the cedar-parlour." — It is probable, after all, that the prolixity of Richardson, which, to our giddy-paced times, is the greatest fault of his writing, was not such an objection to his contemporaries. Those who with patience had studied rant and bombast in the folios of Scuderi, could not readily tire of nature, sense, and genius, in the octavos of Richardson. But a modern reader may be permitted to wish that Clarissa had been a good deal abridged at the beginning, and Sir Charles Grandison at the end; that the last two volumes of Pamela had been absolutely cancelled, and the second much compressed. And, upon the whole, it might be desired that many of those trivial details of dresses and decorations, which relish, to say truth, of the mantua-makers' shops in which Richardson made his first efforts at composition, were altogether abolished, especially where they are put into the letters of sensible persons, or impertinently thrust upon us during the currency of a scene of passion. It requires the recollection of Richardson's highest powers to maintain our respect for him, where he makes Lovelace, amidst all his triumph at Clarissa's elopement, describe her dress to Belford, from top to toe, with all the professional accuracy of a man-milliner. But it is ungracious to dwell on defects, redeemed by so many excellencies.
The style of Richardson was of that pliable and facile kind, which could, with slight variety, be adapted to what best befitted his various personages. When he wrote in his higher characters, it was copious, expressive, and appropriate, but, through the imperfection of his education, not always strictly elegant, nor even accurate. During his life, the common cant as usual was, that he received assistance, which, as a practical admission of personal incompetence to the task they have undertaken, we believe few men of reputed talent would stoop to accept of. It is now known that he wrote his whole works without any such aid, excepting the
Ode to Wisdom by Mrs. Carter, and a number of Latin quotations, furnished by a learned friend to bedizen the epistle of Elias Brand.
The power of Richardson's painting in his deeper scenes of tragedy, never has been, and probably never will be, excelled. Those of distressed innocence, as in the history of Clarissa and Clementina, rend the very heart; and few, jealous of manly equanimity, should read them for the first time in presence of society. In others, where the same heroines, and particularly Clarissa, display noble elevation of soul, rising above earthly considerations and earthly oppression, the reader is perhaps as much elevated towards a pure sympathy with virtue and religion, as uninspired composition can raise him. His scenes of unmixed horror, as the deaths of Belton and of the infamous Sinclair, are as dreadful as the former are elevating; and they are directed to the same noble purpose, increasing our fear and hatred of vice, as the former are qualified to augment our love and veneration of virtue. In this respect Fielding might have paid to Richardson's genius the just tribute, which, after much depreciation of his talents in other respects, Dryden rendered to Otway — "Yet he succeeds in moving the passions, which I cannot do."
The lighter qualities of the novelist were less proper to this distinguished author than those which are allied to tragedy. Yet not even in these was Richardson deficient; and his sketches of this kind display the same accurate knowledge of humanity manifested in his higher efforts. His comedy is not overstrained; he never steps beyond the bounds of nature, and never sacrifices truth and probability to brilliancy of effect. Without what is properly termed wit, the author possessed liveliness and gaiety sufficient to colour those comic scenes; and though he is never, like his rival Fielding, irresistibly ludicrous, nor indeed ever essays to be so, there is a fund of quaint drollery pervades his lighter sketches, which renders them very agreeable to the reader.
Without a complete copy of the Works of this distinguished and truly English classic, a collection would be deplorably deficient; yet the change of taste and of fashion, from the causes we have freely stated, has thrown a temporary shade over Richardson's popularity. Or, perhaps, he may, in the present generation, be only paying, by comparative neglect, the price of the very high reputation which he enjoyed during his own age. For if immortality, or any thing approaching to it, is granted to authors and to their works, it seems only to be on the conditions assigned to that of Nourjahad, in the beautiful Eastern tale, that they shall be liable to occasional intervals of slumber and comparative oblivion. Yet, under all these disadvantages, the genius of Richardson must be ever acknowledged to have done honour to the language in which he wrote, and his manly and virtuous application of his talents to have been of service to morality, and to human nature in general.