SAMUEL RICHARDSON, a celebrated writer of novels, or, as his have been called, moral romances, was born in 1689, in Derbyshire, but in what part of that county has not been ascertained. His father descended of a family of middling note in the county of Surrey, and his business was that of a joiner. He intended his son Samuel for the church, but from losses in business, was unable to support the expence of a learned education, and all our author received was at the grammar school. It appears from his own statement that he had a love for letter-writing, that he was a general favourite of the ladies, and fond of their company, and that when no more than thirteen, three young women, unknown to each other, revealed to him their love secrets, in order to induce him to give them copies to write after, or correct, for answers to their lovers' letters. In this employment some readers may think they can trace the future inventor of the love secrets of Pamela and Clarissa, and letter-writing certainly grew into a habit with him.
In 1706 he was bound apprentice to Mr. John Wilde, a printer of some eminence in his day; whom, though a severe task-master, he served diligently for seven years. He afterwards worked as a journeyman and corrector of the press for about six years, when he, in 1719, took up his freedom, and commenced business on his own account, in a court in Fleet-street; and filled up his leisure hours in compiling indexes for the booksellers, and writing prefaces, and what he calls "honest dedications." Dissimilar as their geniuses may seem, when the witty and wicked duke of Wharton (a kind of Lovelace), about 1723, fomented the spirit of opposition in the city, and became a member of the Wax-chandlers' company, Mr. Richardson, though his political principles were very different, was much connected with and favoured by him, and for some little time was the printer of his "True Briton," published twice a week. He so far exercised his judgment, however, in peremptorily refusing to be concerned in such papers as he apprehended might endanger his safety, that he stopt at the end of the sixth number, which was possibly his own production. He printed for some time a newspaper called "The Daily Journal;" and afterwards "The Daily Gazetteer." Through the interest of his friend Mr. Speaker Onslow, he printed the first edition of the "Journals of the House of Commons," of which he completed 26 volumes. Mr. Onslow had a high esteem for him; and not only might, but actually would, have promoted him to some honourable and profitable station at court; but Mr. Richardson, whose business was extensive and profitable, neither desired nor would accept of such a favour.
His "Pamela," the first work that procured him a name s a writer, was published in 1741, and arose out of a scheme proposed to him by two reputable booksellers, Mr. Rivington and Mr. Osborne, of writing a volume of "Familiar Letters to and from several persons upon business .and other subjects;" which he performed with great readiness, and in the progress of it was soon led to expand his thoughts in the two volumes of the "History of Pamela," which appear to have been written in less than three months. Never was a book read with more avidity, for these two volumes went through five editions in one year. It was even recommended from the pulpit, particularly by Dr. Slocock, of Christ church, Surrey, although its defects as to moral tendency are now universally acknowledged to be so obvious, that the wonder is, it ever obtained the approbation of men of any reflection. For this it undoubtedly was indebted to the novelty of the plan, as well as to many individual passages of great beauty, and many interesting traits of character. Its imperfections, however, were not totally undiscovered even during its popularity. The indelicate scenes could not escape observation; and his late biographer, who has given an excellent criticism on the work, informs us that Dr. Watts, to whom Richardson sent the volumes, instead of compliments, writes to him, that "he understands the ladies complain they cannot read them without blushing." Other inconsistencies in the history of Pamela were admirably ridiculed by Fielding in his "Joseph Andrews," an injury which Richardson never forgave, and in his correspondence with his flattering friends, predicted that Fielding would soon be no more heard of — Fielding, whose popularity has outlived Richardson's by nearly half a century!
The success of Pamela occasioned a spurious continuation of it, called "Pamela in high Life; and on this the author prepared to give a second part, which appeared in two volumes, greatly inferior to the first. They are, as Mrs. Barbauld justly observes, superfluous, for the plan was already completed, and they are dull; for, instead of incident and passion, they are filled with heavy sentiment, in diction far from elegant. A great part of it aims to palliate, by counter-criticism, the faults which had been found in the first part; and it is less a continuation, than the author's defence of himself. But if Richardson sunk in this second part, it was only to rise with new lustre in his "Clarissa," the first two volumes of which were published eight years after the preceding. This is unquestionably the production upon which the fame of Richardson is principally founded; and although it has lost much of its original popularity, owing to the change in the taste of novel-readers, wherever it is read it will appear a noble monument of the author's genius. This will be allowed, even by those who can easily perceive that it has many blemishes. These have been pointed out, with just discrimination, by his biographer. Clarissa was much admired on the continent. The abbe Prevost gave a version of it into French; but rather an abridgment than a translation. It was afterwards rendered more faithfully by Le Tourneur; and was also translated into Dutch by Mr. Stinstra; and into German under the auspices of the celebrated Dr. HaIler.
After he had published two works, in each of which the principal character is a female, he determined to give the world an example of a perfect man: this design produced his "Sir Charles Grandison," a character certainly instructive, while in some measure repulsive. But that of Clementina is the highest effort of genius in this work. Dr. Warton says, "I know not whether even the madness of Lear is wrought up and expressed by so many little strokes of nature and passion. It is absolute pedantry to prefer and compare the madness of Orestes, in Euripides, with that of Clementina." Yet even here Mrs. Barbauld has, with great acuteness, pointed out Richardson's want of judgment in the management of his Clementina. It is, as this lady justly observes, the fault of Richardson that he never knew when to have done with a character; and this propensity to tediousness and prolixity in all his narratives, while the bulk is increased, has undoubtedly contributed to procure him more patient than willing readers, and to occasion those who have once gone through his volumes, to select favourite passages only for a second reading.
By these works, and by his business, which was very prosperous, Mr. Richardson gradually improved his fortune In 1755, he was engaging in, building, both in Salisbury court, Fleet-street, and at Parson's-green near Fulham, where he fitted up a house. In 1760, he purchased a moiety of the patent of Law-printer, and carried on that department of business in partnership with Miss Catherine Lintot, afterwards the wife of Henry Fletcher, esq. M.P. for Westmoreland.
By many family misfortunes, and his own writings, which in a manner realized every feigned distress, his nerves naturally weak, or, as Pope expresses it, "tremblingly alive all o'er," were so unhinged, that for many years before his death his hand shook, he had frequent vertigoes, and would sometimes have fallen, had he not supported himself by his cane under his coat. His paralytic disorder affected his nerves to such a degree, for a considerable time before his death, that he could not lift a glass of wine to his mouth without assistance. This disorder at length terminating in an apoplexy, deprived the world of this amiable man, and truly original genius, on July 4, 1761, at the age of seventy-two. He was buried, by his own direction, with his first wife, in the middle aile, near the pulpit of St. Bride's church. His picture was painted by Mr. Highmore, whence a mezzotinto has been taken.
His first wife was Martha Wilde, daughter of Mr. Allington Wilde, printer, in Clerkenwell, by whom he had five sons and a daughter, who all died young. His second wife (who survived him many years) was Elizabeth sister of Mr. Leake, bookseller, of Bath. By her he had a sort and five daughters. The son died young; but four of the daughters survived him; viz. Mary, married in 1757 to Mr. Ditcher, an eminent surgeon of Bath; Martha, married in 1762 to Edward Bridgen, esq. F.R. and A. SS.; Anne, unmarried; and Sarah, married to Mr. Crowther, surgeon of Boswell-court. All these are now dead.
Mr. Richardson was a plain man, who seldom exhibited his talents in mixed company. He heard the sentiments of others with attention, but seldom gave his own; rather desirous of gaining friendship by his modesty than his parts. Besides his being a great genius, he was truly a good man in all respects; in his family, in commerce, in conversation, and in every instance of conduct. He was pious, virtuous, exemplary, benevolent, friendly, generous, and humane, to an uncommon degree; glad of every opportunity of doing good offices to his fellow-creatures in. distress, and relieving many without their knowledge. His chief delight was doing good. He was highly revered and beloved by his domestics for his happy temper and discreet conduct. He had great tenderness towards his wife and children, and great condescension towards his servants. He was always very sedulous in business, and almost always employed in it; and dispatched a great deal by the prudence of his management. His turn of temper led him to improve his fortune with mechanical assiduity; and having no violent passions, nor any desire of being triflingly distinguished from others, he at last became rich, and left his family in easy independence, though his house and table, both in town and country, were ever open to his numerous friends.
Besides his three great works, his "Pamela, Clarissa, and Grandison," he published, 1. "The Negotiation of Sir Thomas Roe, in his Embassy to the Ottoman Porte, from 1621 to 1628 inclusive," &c. 1740, folio, inscribed to the King in a short dedication, which does honour to the ingenious writer. 2. An edition of "Aesop's Fables, with Reflections." And, 3. A volume of "Familiar Letters to and from several persons upon business, and other subjects." He had also a share in "The Christian Magazine, by Dr. James A 1748;" and in the additions to the sixth edition of De Foe's "Tour through Great Britain." "Six original Letters upon Duelling" were printed after his death, in "The Literary Repository, 1765," p. 227. A letter of his to Mr. Duncombe is in the "Letters of eminent Persons, 1733," vol. III. p. 71; and some verses in the "Anecdotes of Bowyer," p. 160. Mr. Richardson also published a large single sheet, relative to the married state, entitled "The Duties of Wives to Husbands;" and was under the disagreeable necessity of publishing "The Case of Samuel Richardson of London, Printer, on the Invasion of his Property in the History of Sir Charles Grandison, before publication, by certain Booksellers in Dublin," which bears date Sept. 14, 1753. "A Collection of the moral sentences in Pamela, Clarissa, and Grandison," was printed in 1755, 12mo.
No. 97, vol. II. of the "Rambler," it is well known, was written by Mr. Richardson; in the preamble to which Dr. Johnson styles him "an author from whom the age has received greater favours, who has enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue." In 1804, was published "The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson," in six volumes octavo. The best consequence of the design of publishing this collection of letters, is the excellent life and criticism on his works by Mrs. Barbauld. — As to the letters, every real admirer of Richardson must peruse them with regret. Such a display of human weakness has seldom been permitted to sully the reputation of any man.
In our last edition some testimonies of a different kind to the merits and memory of Richardson were given. Of these we may still retain the sentiments of Mr. Sherlock, the celebrated English traveller, who observes, "The greatest effort of genius that perhaps was ever made was, forming the plan of Clarissa Harlowe." — "Richardson is not yet arrived at the fulness of his glory." — "Richardson is admirable for every species of delicacy; for delicacy of wit, sentiment, language, action, every thing." "His genius was immense. His misfortune was, that he did not know the ancients. Had he but been acquainted with one single principle, 'Omne supervacuum pleno de pectore manat,' (all superfluities tire); he would not have satiated his reader as he has done. There might be made out of Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison TWO works, which would be both the most entertaining, and the most useful, that ever were written. — His views were grand. His soul was noble, and his heart was excellent. He formed a plan that embraced all human nature. His object was to benefit mankind. His knowledge of the world shewed him, that happiness was to be attained by man only in proportion as he practised virtue. His good sense then skewed him, that no practical system of morality existed; and the same good sense told him, that nothing but a body of morality, put into action, could work with efficacy on the minds of youth."
Dr. Johnson, in his preface to Rowe observes, "The character of Lothario seems to have been expanded by Richardson into 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 carnage, naturally excite; and to lose at last the hero in the villain."