1750 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Susanna Duncombe

Samuel Richardson to Susanna Duncombe, 22 June 1750; Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Barbauld (1804) 2:237-50.



London, June 22, 1750.

I am very much pleased, my dear Miss Highmore, with the declaration of your easy and happy state of mind. I do not take delight in finding fault with my girl; but it was because I wished you happy, and thought you ought to think yourself so, that made me take notice of an expression or two that looked another way.

But what mean you by the word "even"? "I behave, I hope, in such a manner that even you would approve." What mean you by this word "even," I once more ask you?

Your little heart-ach, and tender sigh, occasionally given way to, I, even I, do allow. "People have talked of poor me," say you: and could you doubt it? But who dare to tax you with silliness or imprudence? — Would not the sister shield you from such bold censure? Your visit, and your stay, was to her and with her: and yet, at North End, I saw that the brother and sister neither were, nor deserved to be, equal favourites. — But no more of this subject: shall I—?

Your reasons of prudence I greatly approve relating to the new station of the good family you are in. But as to your Bower of Temptation, I don't know what to say to that. I will therefore keep my thoughts on that subject "in petto."

You could not doubt, Madam, had you staid in or about town, that I, and my wife and daughters [I will put myself in, though you (half prudishly, I doubt) leave me out, and name them] would have engrossed you as much as we could.

As to what you say of the young lady — But this is of a piece with the Bower of Temptation; so down it sinks into "petto." But when she tells you, that she desires not to conceal her sentiments from me in any respect, I am afraid she is guilty of one of Lady B—'s white fibs. Yet she may deceive herself too in this particular (as she says she more likely to do than to deceive me) as far as I know.

And so "her heart is not in danger," yet "it has escaped by flying." — Not much in danger, that word, I see, I left out. But, O! the pretty pride shewn in taking hold of the greater concern which I had expressed for the gentleman's heart, than the lady's! Did you know, my dear, (would I say to her, were I near her) that you are a little of the coquet in this place?

"And now will I misconstrue her curiosity, if she asks you whether her friend has visited me at North End, or at Salisbury Court?" To this I answer, that I will not, I believe I cannot, misconstrue her curiosity. Her friend has visited me at both places. Twice at Salisbury Court — But silent as the night as to the business you wot, yet wot not of. He sent me, anonymously, a copy of verses on Clarissa. "Pish! (so you said before) I know it." — Well, and don't you want to know what I think of the gentleman? You laid out once or twice for my opinion on this subject before. Well! but on Tuesday last I had visitors at North End; to dinner too! — And who think you they were? — Guess! — "You cannot." Then I'll tell you: — In the first place, there was Mr. Mulso — "And Miss Prescott, I am sure, say you:" — True! Then there was Miss Bundy; then there was Mr. Holcombe. — "And who else?" — Have patience — Then there was Mr. Duncombe, senior — "And who else? who else?" The girl's mad with impatience, I think.

"Lord, how teazing!" — Why, if you must know, there was — there was — Miss Duncombe. — Oh! and lest I forget, Mr. Cibber (my brother elder) came to tea, by my pre-engagement: and there he read his Pindaric and Horatian Ode, and the translation of another Ode "Ad Melpomene," and please you. Now don't you wish you had been there? It was a hot day; and he read till he was in a breathing, and wiped and acted like any thing and every body was pleased. — But let me see: was there not somebody else present? I know you won't be satisfied unless I find one more gentleman-guest. — Let me see — Let me see — Oh! now I recollect. There was — there was — what call you the gentleman's name? — I saw him at your papa's once. His name is — a tall gentleman, and thin. You must know who I mean. Mr. — he has written a tale or two, and other things. Mr. — Oh! Now I have it — Mr. Jefferies: — not the diamond-cutter Jefferies, who cut me, that am no diamond. — But no more of that. Mr. Jefferies, whom I saw at Mr. Duncombe's, in Frith-street; a relation of the Duke of Chandos's, another elder. Now are you satisfied? No, you are not. Why then you are an unreasonable girl, and you shall speak out. What a duce, are you again afraid of a misconstruction? Well! and we had a most agreeable day. And what do you think I Miss Prescott was so very enchantingly urgent with me to give them my company upon a party of pleasure to Richmond the next day, that I could not resist; so went home that night: and Wednesday morning, nine o'clock, met them at Whitehall, and we proceeded to Richmond "Who proceeded?" — Patience, child. But I have had this day for it (though I got a little better to write the above) one of the worst days in my nervous way, that I have known for some time past. "But your company your party?" Why there were seven of us, in a very bad boat, without awning, without cushions; and only a bended hooped tilt, opened up in it, and a violent hot day. "But who were the seven?" Why, except Mr. Duncombe, senior, and Mr. Jefferies, and Mr. Cibber, we were the same we had the day before at North End "Let me see: — You named, Sir, Mr. Mulso and Miss Prescott, two Mr. Holcombe and Miss Bundy, four; Miss Duncombe, five; yourself, six: — Mr. Duncombe, and Mr. Jefferies, and Mr. Cibber, not there." Why the seventh was — was — why the seventh was Mr. Duncombe, junior. "O! oh! Mr. Richardson! was it so? You have such a way of making one spring, and change countenance. Why did you not name him before?" Are you sure, Miss Highmore, that I did not? "Sure? yes that I am!" I believe you, my girl.

"But yet, Sir, you have not told me what you think of the verses? Not that I would have you misconstrue my curiosity." No fear, child. Why, I think them (for all they praise a simple man, named in them Richardson) exceeding good ones. There now! And so thinks the speaker of the House of Commons. "Well, but, Sir" — Be quiet, Miss Highmore; I will answer no more questions this night. My catchings return: and so good night.

Friday morning. — My apprehensions "for the gentleman's heart raises more concern to a certain lady's good nature, than gratification to her pride." May be so, Miss Highmore! "For she does not correspond with him at present." May be so, Miss Highmore! So said the gentleman. You have agreed not to correspond at present I question not. To be sure, when you fly to escape the Bower of Temptation, you should not correspond at present. Not such a novice in these cases as that comes to at present. And yet, as correspondence implies good nature, I agree with you, "that it is very unreasonable that a young lady may not be as good-natured to a male, as to a female, friend."

I don't wonder that you are in such raptures with Spenser! What an imagination! What an invention! What painting! What colouring displayed throughout the works of that admirable author! and yet, for want of time, or opportunity, I have not read his Fairy Queen through in series, or at a heat, as I may call it. What honour do you do to our worthy friend, Mr. Edwards, when you say, you think he could equal Spenser! I have a very high opinion of the genius of that valuable friend. But no man that ever yet was born could equal Spenser in his own way; and I wish none but Mr. Edwards would attempt his style and his manner; and he, only in sonnets: for there he may undoubtedly, I think, rival that prince of English poets. But, in description, no man ever will come up to Spenser.

I told Mr. Edwards, that you and your bulfinch loved him. He gave me his company in Salisbury Court several times, and Saturday and Sunday last at North End; and often mentioned you with honour, and with love; and so he did your favourite.

I am afraid we shall want matter of Molly Leaper's works to make out the bulk of the new volume. We must try, if so, to get more of her letters.

"You cannot help thinking, that rural scenes and rural pleasures are more delightful as described by poetical pens, than when really beheld and enjoyed." Have you not found it so, in every thing that these math men touch upon? If you have not, in every thing, you will. I wrote a letter once for a girl mad after arcadian scenery; who teazed her mother to death, to let her go from their more charming Greenwich residence, to a country cousin's. When there, I made her write to her female friend, raving at the poets, at her disappointments, and begging to be permitted to return before the time allowed her; but denied, till she herself; thought her choice, her punishment. I don't know where it is; but one or two to whom I shewed it, thought it, I remember, whimsical stuff.

I sent to your papa for an address to you, for my last letter; and finding that my communication of what passed between us last summer, gave your papa a kind of generous curiosity and expectation: next time I went, I read to them, in your closet, what I thought proper of your's and mine. But I had beforehand, inclosed, in hooks, [ ] what I thought you would not wish them, or any body to see; with proper connections, &c. so that the sense was not imperfect; and yet, to be sincere with you, I hinted, that there were two or three passages that I should not read, wherein I had treated our girl a little freely; and your good mamma looked so pitiful for you — she sighed. — Then I wish not, said she, to see them. Mr. Edwards accuses me of loving to "tarantalise;" a soft

word, with him, for tyrannise, borrowed from a girl he once heard sing the Polly Peachum song

O! how I then would tarantalise!
With a stand-by — clear the way.

But I subscribe not to the censure.

I don't see that I can shew any part of your last favour, or of this my answer to it, to your insatiable, yet modestly curious, papa. Do you think I can? — No, say.

Friday night. — I sent to know about Master H. Browne. On Monday last, your papa says, he was left well at Drayton. But how many fears! how many apprehensions have that dear mother, and fond father, to combat with, before that promising child shall be a man! and when a man, who knows whether he will be answerable to these promises! — whether he may reward the indulgent parents for their care! But we must hope for the best, and the best I hope will happen to them.

But I, my dear Miss Highmore, have been in danger of losing a valuable friend! Nor is the danger over. When, says Clarissa in a state so uncertain as this, shall poor mortals be said to be out of danger? How unhappily active is the human mind, to torment itself! — The last time we saw this dear friend, or that, had we known it would have been the last! — and such fruitless, such unavailing reflections! How happy are you, Madam, if, on like occasions, with such a feeling heart, as I said in my last, you can stand to what you say. Teach me the noble philosophy — I will be your pupil.

"Contented, I assure you, I am (say you?) and more and more contented every day I will be; for my happiness shall depend on within, and not on without." Heroically, truly heroically said, let me repeat. Shew me how to bear a loss, by your magnaminity; for my friend is a friend of your's. Suspense is painful. Good Mrs. God—ll, my dear child, is likely soon to reap the reward of all her piety, of all her motherly cares, of all her conjugal duty. It is painful to me to breathe this to my girl. But, I call upon you, for the exertion of the promised fortitude — dcceive me not in my hope of it. I loved Mrs. God—ll, more than you can imagine, on so short a knowledge. Such a matronly goodness! Whenever, since I knew her, I heard the word matron used, I put the word worthy to it, and thought of Mrs. God—ll. But God's will must be submitted to. It is God's will; and while we are grieving for lost friends, are not our own lives hastening to their period. Let me know how you bear this affliction, my dear child! that I may form a judgment of your future equanimity. The person who lives long, which is what we are all desirous of, must have very, very many, afflicting scenes of this nature, to pass through — so witness, my dear Miss Highmore,

Your truly affectionate Friend,

and humble Servant,

S. RICHARDSON.