« PreviousContinue »
birth is to be attributed, though why, if this be the case, he should have thought it necessary to mention his father's connection with Monmouth at all, is a matter that requires explanation.
However this may be and the point is not of essential importance to this biography - the Richardson family apparently returned to London at some time after the Revolution, for, according to Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, the youthful Samuel is said to have been educated "in the grammar school of Christ's Hospital." But his name is not to be traced in the school registers; and the statement has moreover been held to be inconsistent with the "common-school learning" which he admits to have been his limited equipment. Of this difficulty, Leigh Hunt, who had himself worn the blue gown and yellow stockings, offers what may possibly be regarded as a reasonable solution. "It is a fact not generally known," he says in the London Journal (Supp. No. 2, 1834), "that Richardson . received what education he had (which was very little, and did not go beyond English) at Christ's Hospital. It may be wondered how he could come no better taught from a school which had sent forth so many good scholars; but in his time, and indeed till very lately, that foundation was divided into several schools, none of which partook of the lessons of the others; and Richardson, agreeably to his father's intention of bringing him up to trade, was most probably confined to the writingschool, where all that was taught was writing and arithmetic." Leigh Hunt has the reputation of being an extremely conscientious investigator. He is not likely to have spoken without warranty; and, in any case, his statements serve to show that it was possible
to be educated at Christ's Hospital with very modest results.1
Of Richardson's school days, however, whether at Christ's Hospital or elsewhere, we know nothing save what he himself has told us. But he must clearly have been born with that bias which Emerson regarded as a man's crowning boon from fortune. He was to succeed as a story-teller, and he is a story-teller "e'en from his boyish days." "I recollect," he says, "that I was early noted for having invention. I was not fond of play, as other boys; my school-fellows used to call me Serious and Gravity; and five of them particularly delighted to single me out, either for a walk, or at their father's 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.”
Mrs. Barbauld points out that a subsequent translator of Pamela and Clarissa, M. Prévost, the author of Manon Lescaut, was wont in like manner to amuse the Carthusians of his convent with stories of his contriving; though it may be doubted whether these were of the
1 The matter is still very doubtful; for against Leigh Hunt must be placed the statement of Mr. Bridgen that “it is certain that he [Richardson] was never sent to a more respectable seminary" than “a private grammar school" in Derbyshire.
type of Tommy Pots. But it was part of the bias with which Richardson was born, that he also, in his earliest youth, exhibited the less common proclivity towards letter-writing. Even in his childhood he was copious in his "epistolary correspondence," and his facility in this way must sometimes have been a source of embarrassment, and even annoyance, to those about him. Before he was eleven, he wrote an expostulatory letter to a back-biting widow of near fifty, who, pretending to religion, was nevertheless continually fomenting quarrels and disturbances. He drew up a formidable array of appropriate texts, and, "assuming the style and address of a person in years," warned her of the error of her ways. The letter, of course, was anonymous. But his handwriting was detected, and the recipient of the lecture complained bitterly, and not unnaturally, to the lad's mother. "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." It will be noted that the grown man who penned this reminiscence seems to have had no shadow of misgiving as to the very priggish action of the boy.
Another of Richardson's characteristics closely allied to those already mentioned, may best be referred to in his own language. "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 on making."
"I was not more than thirteen, when some of these young women, unknown to each other, having a high opinion of my taciturnity, revealed to me their lovesecrets, in order to induce me to give them copies to write after, or correct, for answers to their lover's 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."
Literary history, like other history, has a trick of repeating itself, and it has been whispered that a distinguished novelist of our own day, Mr. Thomas Hardy, held a somewhat similar office in his Wessex home, although, to be sure, he was the penman rather than the composer of the letters. The value to Richardson of this elementary school of passion must have been considerable, but it would perhaps be rash to conclude that he found more than Pamela in this early environment. Clarissa and Clementina would be later growths. So much, indeed, he himself
admits to the Dutch minister, Mr. J. Stinstra, who, in 1753, had asked him where he had obtained his accurate knowledge of humanity. "You think, Sir, you can account from my early secretaryship to young women in my father's neighbourhood, for the characters I have drawn of the heroines of my three works. But this opportunity did little more for me, at so tender an age, than point, as I may say, or lead my enquiries, as I grew up, into the knowledge of the female heart." That is to say, when he wrote Pamela, he had only "prospected" the country: when he wrote Clarissa, he had become a scientific explorer. And then he goes on to make certain observations with respect to that other untravelled region, the male heart, to which it may be useful to return hereafter.
The first intention of the elder Richardson had been to make his son a clergyman, a calling for which the boy had obvious qualifications. But owing to losses he sustained, he was unable to give him the requisite education, and he accordingly left him, at fifteen or sixteen, to choose a business for himself. Young Richardson selected that of a printer, chiefly, he alleges, because he thought it would allow him to gratify a thirst for reading, which, in after years, he disclaimed. In 1706, being then seventeen, he was apprenticed to Mr. John Wilde of Stationers' Hall and Aldersgate Street. No picturesque reminiscences of this eventful portion of his life are forthcoming. Whether he was subjected to any of those mysterious rites which, as related in the veracious Memoirs of his contemporary, and subsequent assistant, Thomas Gent, accompanied, in printing-house "Chapels," the admission of a neophyte to the privileges of "Cuzship"; - whether he