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MR. SAMUEL RICHARDSON
With a Prefatory Note by AUSTIN DOBSON, and
Illustrated with reproductions of rare contemporary drawings
and with plates for the text,
The first readers of Richardson had privileges which are unknown to their successors. They were more leisured, more tolerant of tedium, less easily wearied. Moreover, when Pamela made her bow to them in 1740, her story came as a new thing, entirely different from the mouthy old romances to which they were accustomed,-romances filled with impossible heroes and heroines, engaged in unintelligible enterprises, and entangled in interminable discussions. She, on the contrary, delivered herself like a person of this world, thought the thoughts of those about her, endured the hardships which might fall to the lot of any one, and achieved the successes which were supposed to be open to all. If her chronicler was over-prolix, if he was over-didactic, his didacticism only widened his audience by attracting readers other than readers of fiction, while his prolixity, if it was felt, was not seriously resented. His public were not too surfeited with similar work to be fastidious; they could bear to read him over and over, and they had ample time to do so. What is true of Pamela is equally true of Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison, with the addition that, whereas the story of Pamela had practically been completed in the two volumes first published, the stories of Clarissa Harlowe and Sir Charles Grandison were spread over volumes issued at intervals of
several months. What the fate of Clarissa would be, whether Grandison would marry Harriet Byron or Clementina---were problems for the solution of which Richardson's earliest admirers had to wait patiently, bombarding the author meanwhile with hysterical suggestions for endings agreeable to their taste and fancy.
All these things,--the fresh mind, the unjaded appetite, the unravelled mystery,—are denied the modern reader, who can (to use Cibber's figure) read to the finish without drawing bit; and probably sets out on his journey with a traditional knowledge of the course of the fable which deprives it of the attraction of the unexpected. On the other hand, he has advantages which his predecessor never enjoyed. He knows what the first reader could not know: that the little printer of Salisbury Court was to become an English classic; that he founded the novel of sentiment and analysis; that he influenced a whole army of writers in this country and on the Continent, and that, although his style was slipshod and his experience of life restricted, he possessed a faculty which has never yet been rivalled, for sounding the recesses of the human, and especially of the female, heart. Probably no students will now read him, with a view, as he fondly hoped, to regulate their course of action in the more important concerns of life”; they may not even read him for his story; but they will read him for his genius, because if they begin him, he will gradually subjugate them and compel them to go on.
And the outcome of their enterprise will be the discovery that, with all his defects of education, of narrow environment, of surplusage, of bad taste, he possessed the supreme gift of minute imagination in a most exceptional and extraordinary degree, and on this account alone must be numbered among the greatest names in English literature. It is fortunate that the present edition has the benefit of a Life and Prefaces from the practised pen of Professor William Lyon Phelps of Yale University, who has already acquired distinction, both in England and America, by his studies of this particular subject and period.