Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Richardson, Samuel (1689-1761)
RICHARDSON, SAMUEL (1689–1761), novelist, was born in 1689 at some place in Derbyshire never identified. His father was the descendant of a family ‘of middling note’ in Surrey, which had so multiplied that his share in the inheritance was small. He became a joiner and carpenter. He had also some knowledge of architecture, and was employed by the Duke of Monmouth and the first Earl of Shaftesbury. Their favour led to suspicions of his loyalty, and upon the failure of Monmouth's rebellion he gave up business in London and retired to the country. His wife was of a family ‘not ungenteel,’ and it would appear that in some way she was connected with persons able to be of use to her family.
Samuel, one of nine children, was intended for the church, but losses of money compelled his father to put him to trade instead of sending him to the university. He is said to have been for a time at Christ's Hospital (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iv. 578). His name, however, does not appear in the school registers (information from Mr. Lempriere of Christ's Hospital), and, in any case, he never acquired more than a smattering of learned languages. His early recollections imply that he lived till the age of thirteen in the country. He says that he was ‘bashful and not forward,’ but he gave early proofs of his peculiar talent. He cared little for boyish games, but used to tell stories to amuse his playfellows, one of which was a history of a ‘fine young lady’ who preferred a virtuous ‘servant man’ to a ‘libertine lord.’ Before he was eleven he also wrote an admonitory letter to a sanctimonious widow of near fifty, proving by a collection of texts the wickedness of scandal. He became a favourite with young women, read to them while they were sewing, and was employed by three of them independently to compose love-letters.
In 1706 he was bound apprentice to John Wilde, a stationer, and served an exacting master faithfully. He managed to employ his brief leisure in reading and in carrying on a correspondence with ‘a gentleman of ample fortune,’ who, ‘had he lived, intended high things for me.’ These letters were burnt at his correspondent's desire, and it does not appear who the gentleman was. After serving his time, Richardson worked for some years as compositor and corrector of the press at a printing office, and in 1719 took up his freedom and started in business—first in Fleet Street, and soon afterwards in Salisbury Court, where he lived for the rest of his life. He is mentioned as of ‘Salisbury Court’ in 1724, when he was one of the printers ‘said to be high-flyers’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iii. 311). He married Martha, the daughter of Allington Wilde of Aldersgate Street, another ‘high-flying’ printer (whom Mrs. Barbauld confuses with his master, John Wilde). In 1723 he printed the first six numbers of the ‘True Briton,’ a violent opposition paper, for the Duke of Wharton, and is conjectured to have written the last number himself (ib. iv. 580). He appears, however, to have been prudent enough to avoid libellous publications. He had some connection with Arthur Onslow [q. v.], who in 1728 became speaker, and through Onslow's interest he was entrusted with printing the ‘Journals’ of the House of Commons. He ultimately printed twenty-six volumes, and he mentions that a sum of 3,000l. was due to him at one time upon this account. He also, in 1736–7, printed the ‘Daily Journal,’ and in 1738 the ‘Daily Gazetteer.’ He had clearly not allowed his high-flying principles to interfere with his business. Some noblemen and authors formed in 1736 ‘a society for the encouragement of learning,’ and appointed him to be one of their printers. The society, which was intended to make authors independent of publishers, and was looking out vainly for a man of genius to start their business, soon collapsed (ib. ii. 90–5).
In 1739 two booksellers, Rivington and Osborne, proposed to Richardson that he should write a volume of familiar letters as patterns for illiterate country writers. He remembered, as he says, an anecdote which he had heard from a friend, and made the incidents a theme for the imaginary letters. In this way ‘Pamela’ was composed between 10 Nov. 1739 and 10 Jan. 1740. A similar story by Hughes in the ‘Spectator’ (No. 375) has been supposed to have given the hint. It was published by the end of 1740 (Correspondence, i. 53), and made at once a surprising success. It was soon translated into French and Dutch, and numerous English correspondents rivalled each other in eulogy. It was recommended from the pulpit; one writer placed it next to the bible, and ladies at Ranelagh held it up to their friends to show that they were not behindhand in the study. A spurious continuation, called ‘Pamela in High Life,’ was published, and Richardson was induced to add two volumes of his own of inferior merit. Warburton wrote to him (28 Dec. 1742) conveying praises from Pope and himself, and giving hints for future applications of the scheme. Richardson's correspondence shows that at a later time he felt little esteem for either of these great authorities. He was exceedingly provoked when Fielding ridiculed his performance in ‘Joseph Andrews,’ and ever afterwards spoke very bitterly of his rival, even to his rival's sisters. The contrast between the two men sufficiently explains Richardson's judgment without laying too much stress upon the merely personal resentment. Goldoni turned the novel into two plays—‘Pamela Nubile’ and ‘Pamela Maritata.’ It was also dramatised by James Dance, alias Love [q. v.], in 1742.
Richardson was beginning his next novel, ‘Clarissa Harlowe,’ in 1744 (ib. i. 97, 102). It was being read by Cibber in June 1745 (ib. ii. 127). The first four volumes, with a preface by Warburton, appeared in 1747, and the last four were published by the end of 1748 (ib. iv. 237). It eclipsed ‘Pamela,’ and very soon won for him a European reputation. In 1753 Richardson says that he had received from the famous Haller a translation into German, and that a Dutch translation by Stinstra was appearing (ib. vi. 244). There was a French translation, with omissions ‘to suit the delicacy of French taste,’ by the Abbé Prevost, and a fuller one afterwards by Le Tourneur. It brought Richardson a number of enthusiastic correspondents, especially Lady Bradshaigh, wife of Sir Roger Bradshaigh of Haigh, near Wigan. She began by anonymous letters of unbounded enthusiasm, though professing little acquaintance with literature. When he sent her his portrait, she changed her name to Dickenson, that she might not be supposed to correspond with an author. This was possibly the portrait which was afterwards in possession of ‘long’ Sir Thomas Robinson at Rokeby, who had a star and a blue riband painted upon it and christened it ‘Sir Robert Walpole,’ to fit it for aristocratic company (Southey's Life and Correspondence, iii. 347). Lady Bradshaigh, however, consented to become personally known to Richardson at the beginning of 1750, and afterwards saw him occasionally in the little circle where he received the worship of numerous, chiefly feminine, admirers. With them he elaborately discussed the moral and literary problems suggested by his works, and especially by his final performance, ‘Sir Charles Grandison.’ It was to be a pendant to the portrait of a good woman in ‘Clarissa,’ and he originally intended to call it ‘The Good Man.’ He was reading the manuscript and consulting various friends about it in 1751. It was published in 1753, and, though it has never held so high a position as ‘Clarissa,’ was received with equal enthusiasm at the time. His fame had attracted pirates, and the treachery of some of his workmen enabled Dublin booksellers to obtain and reprint an early, though not quite complete, copy. Richardson published a pamphlet, dated 14 Sept. 1755, complaining of his wrongs, and appears to have been greatly vexed by the injury. He was, however, prospering in his business. In 1754 he was chosen master of the Stationers' Company, a position, it is said, ‘not only honourable but lucrative’ (Correspondence, i. xlvi). In 1755 he pulled down his house at Salisbury Court, bought a row of eight houses, upon the site of which he erected a new printing office, and made a new dwelling-house of what had formerly been his warehouse. Everybody, he says, was better pleased with the new premises than his wife, which, as the new dwelling-house was less convenient than the old one, was not surprising. The trouble of the arrangement had, he said, diverted his mind from any further literary projects (ib. v. 63, 64). This house was demolished in 1896. In 1760 he bought half the patent of ‘law-printer to his majesty,’ and carried on the business in partnership with Miss Catherine Lintot. He had taken into partnership a nephew, who succeeded to the business. He had become nervous and hypochondriacal. He was rarely seen by his workmen in later years, and communicated with them by written notes, a circumstance perhaps explained by the deafness of his foreman. He died of apoplexy on 4 July 1761, and was buried by the side of his first wife in St. Bride's Church.
Richardson's first wife died on 25 Jan. 1730–1. All their children (five sons and a daughter) died in childhood—two boys in 1730. By his second wife, Elizabeth, sister of James Leake, a bookseller at Bath, he had a son, who died young, and five daughters. Four daughters survived him—Mary, married in 1757 to Philip Ditcher, a Bath surgeon; she died a widow in 1783; Martha, married in 1762 to Edward Bridgen; Anne, who died unmarried on 27 Dec. 1803; and Sarah, who married a surgeon named Crowther. The second Mrs. Richardson died on 3 Nov. 1773, aged 77, and was buried with her husband.
Richardson had a country house at North End, Hammersmith, now occupied by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. In this most of his novels were composed. He generally spent his Saturdays and Sundays there (ib. vi. 21). A picture of the house forms the frontispiece to the fourth volume of his ‘Correspondence,’ and a picture of the ‘grotto’ in the gardens, with Richardson reading the manuscript of ‘Sir Charles Grandison’ to his friends in 1751, forms the frontispiece to the second volume. In 1754 he moved to Parson's Green, Fulham (ib. iii. 99), where he generally had some friends to stay with him. The little circle of admirers never failed him, and he seems to have deserved their affection.
Richardson was a type of the virtuous apprentice—industrious, regular, and honest. He was a good master, and used to hide a half-crown among the types in the office so that the earliest riser might find it. Though cautious, and even fidgety, about business, he was exceedingly liberal in his dealings. He was generous to poor authors; he helped Lætitia Pilkington [q. v.] in her distresses; forgave a debt to William Webster [q. v.], who calls him ‘the most amiable man in the world’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 165). Johnson, when under arrest for debt in 1756, applied to him with a confidence in his kindness justified by the result (see anecdotes in Birkbeck Hill's Boswell, i. 303 n.) Richardson appears to have made Johnson's acquaintance through the ‘Rambler’ (1750), to which he contributed No. 97. Johnson prefaced the paper with a note to the effect that the author was one who ‘taught the passions to move at the command of virtue,’ and, though not blind to Richardson's foibles, always extolled him as far superior to Fielding. Aaron Hill [q. v.] and Thomas Edwards [q. v.], who died in his house, and Young of the ‘Night Thoughts’ were among the authors with whom he exchanged compliments, and who found in him both a friend and a publisher. He appears to have been respected by his fellow-tradesmen, especially Cave, who exchanged verses with him (given in Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 75) on occasion of a dinner of printers. Richardson, however, was unfit for the coarse festivities of the time, and was probably regarded as a milksop, fitter for the society of admiring ladies. He refers constantly to his nervous complaints, which grew upon him, and describes his own appearance minutely in a letter to Lady Bradshaigh (Correspondence, iv. 290). He was about 5 ft. 5 in. in height, plump, and fresh-coloured; he carried a cane to support him in ‘sudden tremors;’ stole quietly along, lifting ‘a grey eye too often overclouded by mistinesses from the head’ to observe all the ladies whom he passed, looking first humbly at their feet, and then taking a rapid but observing glance at their whole persons. A portrait, by Joseph Highmore [q. v.] (with a companion portrait of Mrs. Richardson), is in the Stationers' Hall. An engraving from this forms the frontispiece to the first volume of the ‘Correspondence.’ Two others by Highmore are in the National Portrait Gallery. A portrait, by Mason Chamberlin [q. v.], ‘in possession of the Earl of Onslow,’ was engraved by Scriven in 1811.
Richardson's vanity, stimulated by the little coterie in which he lived, was an appeal for tenderness as much as an excessive estimate of his own merits. He fully accepted the narrow moral standard of his surroundings, and his dislike of Fielding and Sterne shows his natural prejudices. His novels represented the didacticism of his time, and are edifying tracts developed into great romances. They owe their power partly to the extreme earnestness with which they are written. His correspondents discuss his persons as if they were real, and beg him to save Lovelace's soul (Corresp. iv. 195). Richardson takes the same tone. He wrote, as he tells us (ib. v. 258, vi. 116), ‘without a plan,’ and seems rather to watch the incidents than to create them. He spared no pains to give them reality, and applied to his friends to help him in details with which he was not familiar. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu could not help weeping over Clarissa ‘like a milkmaid,’ but declares that Richardson knew nothing of the manners of good society (Letters, 1 March and 20 Oct. 1752), and was no doubt a good judge upon that point. Chesterfield, who, however, recognises his truth to nature, and Horace Walpole make similar criticisms (Walpole, Correspondence, ed. Cunningham, iv. 305 n.) The minute realism of his stories convinced most readers of their truthfulness. But his influence was no doubt due chiefly to his sentimentalism. Lady Bradshaigh begs him in 1749 to tell her the meaning of this new word ‘sentimental,’ which has come into vogue for ‘everything that is clever and agreeable’ (Corresp. iv. 283). Richardson's works answer her inquiry, and, though polite circles were offended by his slovenly style and loose morality, the real pathos attracted the world at large. He was admired in Germany, whence Klopstock's first wife wrote him some charming letters, and the Moravians invited him to visit them. A Dutch minister declared that parts of ‘Clarissa,’ if found in the Bible, would be ‘pointed out as manifest proofs of divine inspiration’ (Corresp. v. 242). His success was most remarkable in France, where Diderot wrote of him with enthusiasm (see remarks in Morley's Diderot, ii. 44–9; cf. Texte, Rousseau et le Cosmopolitisme Littéraire au xviiie siècle, chap. v. 1895), and Rousseau made him a model for the ‘Nouvelle Héloïse.’ In his letter to D'Alembert, Rousseau says that there is in no language a romance equal to or approaching ‘Clarissa.’ Richardson, it is said (Nichols, Anecd. iv. 198), annotated his disciple's performance in a way which showed ‘disgust.’ In England, Richardson's tediousness was felt from the first. ‘You would hang yourself from impatience,’ as Johnson said to Boswell (6 April 1772), if you read him for the story. The impatience, in spite of warm eulogies by orthodox critics, has probably grown stronger. His last enthusiastic reader was Macaulay, who told Charles Greville (Queen Victoria, ii. 70) that he could almost restore ‘Clarissa’ if it were lost. The story of his success in infecting his friends in India with his enthusiasm is told in Thackeray's ‘Roundabout Papers’ (Nil nisi bonum), and confirmed in Sir G. Trevelyan's ‘Life.’ Probably Indian society was then rather at a loss for light literature.
The dates of publication of Richardson's three novels have been given above. The British Museum contains French translations of ‘Pamela,’ dated 1741 (first two volumes) and 1742; of ‘Clarissa Harlowe,’ 1785, and, by Jules Janin, 1846; of ‘Grandison,’ 1784; Italian translations of ‘Clarissa,’ 1783, and of ‘Grandison,’ 1784–9; and a Spanish translation of ‘Grandison,’ 1798. Abridgments of ‘Clarissa’ by E. S. Dallas and one by Mrs. Ward were published in 1868; and an abridgment of ‘Grandison’ by M. Howell in 1873. An edition of the novels by Mangin, in nineteen volumes, crown 8vo, appeared in 1811. ‘Clarissa’ and ‘Grandison’ are in the ‘British Novelists’ (1820), vols. i. to xv.; the three novels are in Ballantyne's ‘Novelists Library’ (1824), vols. vi. to viii.; and an edition of the three in twelve volumes, published by Sotheran, appeared in 1883. A ‘Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments,’ &c., in the three volumes, was published in 1755. Richardson published editions of De Foe's ‘Tour through Great Britain’ in 1742 and later years with additions; and in 1740 edited Sir Thomas Roe's ‘Negotiations in his Embassy to the Ottoman Porte.’ His ‘Correspondence,’ selected from the ‘Original Manuscripts bequeathed to his family,’ was edited by Anna Letitia Barbauld in 1804 (London, 6 vols. 8vo).[The chief authority for Richardson's life is the biographical account by Mrs. Barbauld prefixed to his Correspondence, 1804. Most of the letters, from which the correspondence is extracted, are now in the Forster Library at South Kensington. The collection includes many unpublished letters, copies of poems, &c., but does not contain all the letters used by Mrs. Barbauld. There is also a life in Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iv. 578–98, and many references in other volumes, see index. In ‘Notes and Queries,’ 5th ser. viii. 107, are extracts from a copy of ‘Clarissa,’ annotated by Richardson and Lady Bradshaigh; and in 4th ser. i. 885, iii. 375, some unpublished letters of Richardson.]