Samuel Richardson (1689-1761)
From 18th Century Literary Anecdotes

I was not eleven years old when I wrote, spontaneously, a letter to a widow of near fifty, who, pretending to a zeal for religion, and who was a constant frequenter of church ordinances, was continually fomenting quarrels and disturbances by backbiting and scandal among all her acquaintance. I collected from the Scripture texts that made against her. Assuming the style and address of a person in years, I exhorted her; I expostulated with her. But my hand-writing was known: I was challenged with it, and owned the boldness; for she complained of it to my mother with tears. My mother chid me for the freedom taken by such a boy with a woman of her years. But knowing that her son was not of a pert or forward nature, but, on the contrary, shy and bashful, she commended my principles, though she censured the liberty taken.

As a bashful and not forward boy, I was an early favourite with all the young women of taste and reading in the neighbourhood. Half a dozen of them then 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.

I 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 answer 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 that 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 only that she should incur slight for her kindness.

I recollect that I was early noted for having invention. I was not fond of play, as other boys: my schoolfellows 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 Potts. 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, a useful moral.

A. D. McKillop, Samuel Richardson: Printer and Novelist (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1936), pp. 6-7 (Richardson to Johannes Strinstra, 2 June 1753).

WHEN his story of Pamela first came out, some extracts got into the public papers, and used by that means to find their way down as far as Preston in Lancashire, where my aunt who told me the story then resided. One morning as she rose, the bells were set ringing and the flag was observed to fly from the great steeple. She rang her bell and inquired the reason of these rejoicings, when her maid came in bursting with joy, and said,

`Why, madam, poor Pamela's married at last; the news came down to us in this morning's paper.'

Thraliana, i. 145. For other versions of this anecdote, see A. D. McKillop, `Wedding Bells for Pamela', Philological Quarterly, xxviii (1949), 323-5.

ONE day, as Mrs. Barbauld was going to Hampstead in the stage-coach, she had a Frenchman for her companion; and entering into conversation with him, she found that he was making an excursion to Hampstead for the express purpose of seeing the house in the Flask Walk where Clarissa Harlowe lodged. What a compliment to the genius of Richardson!

Rogers, Table Talk, p. 141. The incident is related by Mrs. Barbauld in her edition of The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson (1804), i. cix.

ONE day at his country-house at Northend, where a large company was assembled at dinner, a gentleman who was just returned from Paris, willing to please Mr. Richardson, mentioned to him a very flattering circumstance —that he had seen his Clarissa lying on the King's brother's table. Richardson observing that part of the company were engaged in talking to each other, affected then not to attend to it. But by and by, when there was a general silence, and he thought that the flattery might be fully heard, he addressed himself to the gentleman, `I think, Sir, you were saying something about —', pausing in a high flutter of expectation. The gentleman, provoked at his inordinate vanity, resolved not to indulge it, and with an exquisitely sly air of indifference answered, `A mere trifle, Sir, not worth repeating.' The mortification of Richardson was visible, and he did not speak ten words more the whole day. Dr. Johnson was present, and appeared to enjoy it much.

Boswell, Life of Johnson, iv. 28 n.

I was out of spirits—read the papers—thought what fame was, on reading, in a case of murder, that Mr. Wych, grocer, at Tunbridge, sold some bacon, flour, cheese, and, it is believed, some plums, to some gipsy woman accused. He had on his counter (I quote faithfully) `a book, the Life of Pamela, which he was tearing for waste paper, etc. etc. In the cheese was found, etc., and a leaf of Pamela wrapt round the bacon.' What would Richardson, the vainest and luckiest of living authors (i.e. while alive) —he who, with Aaron Hill, used to prophesy and chuckle over the presumed fall of Fielding (the prose Homer of human nature) and of Pope (the most beautiful of poets) —what would he have said, could he have traced his pages from their place on the French prince's toilets (see Boswell's Johnson) to the grocer's counter and the gipsy-murderess's bacon!!!

Byron, A Self Portrait, ed. Peter Quennell (1950), ii. 551.
An entry in Byron's diary, dated `Ravenna, January 4, 1821'.

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