Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

notwithstanding his masculine acumen, his scholarly style, and his flowing humour, has dropped into oblivion; only he has fared better than Richardson, because (to follow Johnson's distinction between the novel of manners in which he, and the novel of character in which his rival, excelled,) he hit the local feeling, he caught the manners of his day and generation, he made himself all at home with his own people, studying their ways. But now that we have got tired even of this favourite writer, with all his strong sense, and all his power of adapting himself to our insular humours, perhaps I may be heard in Richardson's behalf. I challenge for him, as I have said, in all the courts of English criticism, and in the regard of all his countrymen, a reconsideration of his claims. They are the claims of a man, who, though inferior in culture and in comedy to Fielding, went deeper into the heart than he, rose higher, and carried further; who was more in literature than a local magnate; and who deserves more than temporary fame. He alone, of Englishmen in the last century, had the ear of Europe; and his work is for all time.

SE

2.
SI

DI

Richardson is so little known to English readers, that they may expect here some account of his private history. There is not much to be told, and that little

SO

is not of a nature to fill us with awe. Like the great Apostle, he was weak of presence; and whatever he might be to foreigners, he was in his own country neither a prophet nor a hero. Yet the facts of his life are interesting, and indeed worthy of note.

He was the son of a carpenter, and was born somewhere in Derbyshire in the year 1689. Of his early life we know little more than he has himself told us. “I recollect,” he says, “ 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 Pots; 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, an useful moral.” And then he goes on to describe how his faculty for letter writing, which formed the basis of his style, came to be formed;

TOW

and how he obtained his first insight into the intricacies of feminine character. “As a bashful and not forward boy,” he says, “I was an early favourite with all the young women of taste and reading in the neighbourhood. Half a dozen of them, when 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 answers 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 was only that she should incur slight for her kindness.” If in this coterie of mantuamakers he learned much of the feminine mind, and became an adept in letter-writing, it may be added that among them also was nurtured that interest in the trifling details of feminine attire, which in his novels he loved to dwell upon, and which at times led him to call the attention of his readers to a sash or a tippet or a piece of lace, while they are all breathless for news of life or death.

Richardson came to London at the age of seventeen, and bound himself to a printer. He was a most industrious, prudent man; and ere long was able to set up on his own account, marrying his master's daughter. At the same time his literary talents became manifest; and he not only printed books, but furnished the booksellers with prefaces, dedications, and indexes. And so he flourishedone thing leading to another—until, at length, he had a large business; he became printer to the House of Commons, printer also to the King; he was exceedingly well to do; and he could afford the luxury of a villa first at Northend, near Hammersmith, then at Parson's Green, in addition to his establishment in Salisbury Court, now called Salisbury Square. He married a second time; and led, in honour and prosperity, the happy, peaceful life of a plain, thrifty, good-hearted burgess ; disturbed only

[ocr errors]

ear

by this, that with grief of soul he had to see most of his children to the grave. He had to encounter no less than eleven deaths in two years (but these were of more than his children); his nerves were so shaken that he suffered much in health ; he flew to the popular nostrums, tarwater and a vegetable diet; he exercised himself diligently in town and country on a chamber-horse; and so he kept going to the age of seventy-two, when he died and was buried in the middle aisle of St. Bride's, near the pulpit.

He took to novel writing apparently by chance. Two of the booksellers, his friends, had long urged him to prepare for them a complete letter-writer suitable for the class of persons likely to need such a work. He undertook the task, and imagining a servant maid in the position of Pamela, he wrote letters of good advice to her till they grew into a story. The story is not a pleasant one to read, and it is made so nauseous by the excess of prosy advice which it contains that the public went not a little with Fielding when he turned it into ridicule by his parody of Joseph Andrews. The ridicule was so pungent and so deserved—for the work, with all its parade of morality, is not moral and is altogether unhealthy in tone—that it went some way to damage the author's reputation as a novelist; and its effect has been lasting, for it is in fact partly

« VorigeDoorgaan »