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SAMUEL RICHARDSON, the first parent of that countless tribe, the modern novel, was a joiner's son. Born in Derbyshire in 1689, the little fellow went to a village school, where he became a great favourite with his class-fellows by the exercise of his remarkable gift of story-telling. Ragged and bare-footed the little circle may have been that hemmed in the boy-novelist with its line of berry-brown cheeks and sun-bleached hair; but it was a pleasant picture for the old printer to look back upon through the lens of many years, as the beginning of his fame. We have a companion picture in the group that gathered so often in the Yards of the Edinburgh High School round little Walter Scott, clamorous for another story out of the teeming brain and glowing fancy, which were destined to delight the world with the richlycoloured fictions of a riper time. Nor was it only among the school-boys of the village that young Sam Richardson was a favourite. His quiet, womanly nature, made him love the society of the gentler sex; and while his rougher audiences were scattered through the woods enjoying the savage glories of bird-nesting, or were filling the village green with their noisy games at fives or hockey, he sat, through spring afternoons and long summer evenings, the centre of a little group of needle-women, who sewed and listened while he read some pleasant book, or told one of his enchaining tales. Three of these kind girl-friends pat his abilities to another use, when they secretly begged him to write their love-letters for
them, or at least to put what they had already written into a polished shape. In these occupations of his boyhood we can easily trace the germs, which grew in later years into Pamela and Clarissa Harlowe.
In his fifteenth year young Richardson was bound apprentice to Mr. John Wilde, a London printer. And thenceforward his career of prosperity in trade and of advancement in civic dig. nity resembles strongly the upward progress of the honest apprentice, as delineated by Hogarth's graphic pencil. During his seven years of servitude he is honoured and trusted by his master, who calls him “the pillar of the house." His seven years over, he remains for some time as foreman among the old familiar types and presses. Then, setting up in business for himself in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, he marries his master's daughter, and rises high in the estimation of the booksellers; for he possesses all the qualities most prized in a man of business, and, in addition, a certain literary faculty, which lifts him high above the mere mechanical craftsman. He continues in a small way to use the pen he had found so telling in the service of the Derbyshire lasses. Booksellers whom he knew used often to ask him for a preface or a dedication for the books he was printing. And so this honest London printer flourished and throve, winning, by his gentle, feminine kindness, the good-will of all around him, and amassing, by steady industry and attention to his trade, a very considerable fortune. His position as a business man may be judged from the fact, that the printing of the Journals of the House of Commons was given to him while he was yet comparatively young. He was elected Master of the Stationers' Company in 1754; and, six years later, he bought one-half share in the patent of King's Printer.
But it is not as King's Printer that we remember Samuel Richardson with such reverent affection. When more than fifty years of this printer's life had passed, a talent, which had been slumbering almost unknown in the keen business brain, awoke to active life. A couple of bookselling friends requested him to draw à series of familiar letters, containing hints for guiding the affairs of common life. Richardson undertook the task, but,
inspired with the happy idea of giving a deeper human interest to the letters, he made them tell a connected story, which he justly thought would barb the moral with a keener and surer point. In a similar way the “ Pickwick Papers,” perhaps the most humorous book in English fiction, grew into being. A young writer, who had already furnished picturesque sketches of London life. to an evening paper, was invited by a publishing firm to write some comic adventures in illustration of a set of sporting plates. He began to write, and, losing sight very soon of the original idea of the work, he produced the narrative over which so many hearty, honest laughs have been enjoyed.
The subject of Richardson's first novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, is the domestic history of a pretty peasant girl who goes out to service; and, after enduring many mishaps and escaping many dangers, becomes the wife of her rich
young master. 1740 A simple, common theme, and quite unlike the subjectA.D. matter of those heavy, affected, licentious romances,
which had hitherto supplied readers of fiction with poisonous amusement in their leisure hours. It is surprising with how much truth Richardson has painted the life of this persecuted girl. That spice of the woman in his own nature, to which reference has been already made, and his early love for the playful and innocent chat which beguiles the gentle toil of a circle of happy girls, busy with their needle-work or knitting, give a peculiarly feminine colouring to the pictures of Pamela's life.
Little more than three months were occupied with the composition of the first part of this book. It appeared in 1740, and became the rage at once. Five editions were sold within the year. The ladies went wild with rapture over its pages, and began almost to idolize the successful author. The appearance of “Pamela" has been chosen, in our plan, as the opening of a new era in English literature. It marks the turning of the tide. The affectation and deep depravity of the earlier school of fiction had been slowly wearing away. People were sick, without knowing it, of the paint and patches, the brocades and strutting airs, which disguised the foul spirit lurking under the garb of romance; and when a simple tale
appeared, whose faults we are disposed to magnify by a contrast with our purer books, the reaction commenced, and a flood began to rise, whose even, steady flow, has cleansed the deepening channels of our literature from many pollutions.
“ Pamela” was followed in 1748 by a yet greater work, The History of Clarissa Harlowe. So powerful was the hold with which this first of our great novelists had grasped the public mind, that during the progress of “Clarissa," he was deluged with letters, entreating him to save his heroine from the web of misery he was slowly weaving round her. Happily for his own fame, he turned a deaf ear to such requests, and has added to our literary treasures a grand tragedy in prose, of which the catastrophe has been worthily compared to “the noblest efforts of pathetic conception in Scott, in our elder dramatists, or in the Greek tragedians.”
In less than five years, Richardson was ready with the first volumes of his third great work, Sir Charles Grandison; in which, adopting a similar epistolary style, he paints with the same minuteness of touch the character of a gentleman and a Christian. Here, it must be confessed, he somewhat fails; for we get very tired of the long-winded and ceremonious Sir Charles, and his prim sweetheart. The truth seems to be, that Richardson hardly drew Sir Charles from the life; for although well to do as a citizen of rich London, he had not the entrée of those drawing-rooms, where one or two genuine Grandisons mingled with scores of gaily dressed and foully cankered Lovelaces.
Few read Richardson's novels in this fast age; for their extreme length and minuteness of description,-in which there appears something of a womanish love of gossip--repel any but earnest students of English fiction. Our appetite for such tedious works has been spoiled by the banquets which Scott and Thackeray and Dickens have spread before us. But when we compare “Pamela” and “Clarissa” with the works that had preceded them, leaving out of sight those modern fictions which have since enriched our libraries, we shall be better able to appreciate the value of such productions, and we shall be less disposed to cavil at their faults,
SPECIMEN OF RICHARDSON'S PROSE.
which stand clearly out in the light of modern refinement. Their naturalness and comparative purity of tone made them a precious boon to reading England in the day when they were written.
Richardson's last years were spent in his villa at Parson's Green, where the ladies, whose friendship he had won by his gentle life and charming books, vied with one another in soothing the last hours of the good old man.
He died in 1761, at the ripe age of seventy-two.
PAMELA AT CHURCH.
Yesterday we set out, attended by John, Abraham, Benjamin, and Isaac, in fine new liveries, in the best chariot, which had been cleaned, lined, and new harnessed; so that it looked like a quite new one; but I had no arms to quarter with my dear lord and master's, though he jocularly, upon my noticing my obscurity, said that he had a good mind to have the olive branch quartered for mine. I was dressed in the suit of white, flowered with silver, a rich head-dress, and the diamond necklace, ear-rings, &c., I mentioned before: and my dear sir, in a fine laced silk waistcoat of blue Paduasoy, and his coat a pearl-coloured fine cloth, with gold buttons and button-holes, and lined with white silk; and he looked charmingly indeed. I said, I was too fine, and would have laid aside some of the jewels; but he said, it would be thought a slight to.me from him, as his wife; and though I apprehended that people might talk as it was, yet he had rather they should say anything, than that I was not put upon an equal foot, as his wife, with any lady he might have married.
It seems the neighrouring gentry had expected us, and there was a great congregation; for (against my wish) we were a little late, so that, as we walked up the church to his seat, we had many gazers and whisperers: but my dear master behaved with so intrepid an air, and was so cheerful and complaisant to me, that he did credit to his kind choice, instead of shewing as if he was ashamed of it: and I was resolved to busy my mind entirely with the duties of the day; my intentness on that occasion, and my thankfulness to God for His unspeakable mercies to me, so took up my thoughts, I was much less concerned than I should otherwise have been, at the gazings and whisperings of the congregation, whose eyes were all turned to our seat. When the sermon was ended, we stayed the longer, for the church to be pretty empty; but we found great numbers at the doors, and in the porch ; and I had the pleasure of hearing many commendations, as well of my person as my dress and behaviour, and not one reflection, or mark of disrespect.