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Set up and electrotyped November, 1902.
FROM BIRTH TO AUTHORSHIP
A CLOUD hangs over the cradle of the author of Clarissa, which he himself has not sought to dissipate. He was born in 1689, in Derbyshire; but in what place in that county, he was always, from some obscure motive, careful to conceal. His father, Samuel Richardson, like the father of Matthew Prior, was a joiner, business, his son informs us, " then more distinct from that of a carpenter than now it is with us." "He was a good draughtsman," he adds, "and understood architecture." This, if it is to be taken literally, would mean that he must have been very much above the ordinary level of joiners and carpenters.1 We are told further, that he was “a very honest man, descended of a family of middling note, in the county of Surrey, but which having for several generations a large number of children, the not large possessions were split and
1 Mr. Bridgen, Richardson's son-in-law, says "cabinetmakers were, at that time, called Joiners," and he describes the elder Richardson as "a cabinetmaker, and afterwards a considerable importer of mahogany, in Aldersgate-street." He also confirms the statement as to his knowledge of architecture. He "was, in particular, an excellent Architect."
divided, so that he and his brothers were put to trades; and the sisters were married to tradesmen." "My mother," the record goes on, 66 was also a good woman, of a family not ungenteel; but whose father and mother died in her infancy, within halfan-hour of each other, in the London pestilence of 1665."
According to his son, the skill and ingenuity of the elder Richardson, coupled with his superior understanding, and "his remarkable integrity of heart and manners," served to recommend him to the special notice of several persons of rank, among whom were the Duke of Monmouth and the first Earl of Shaftesbury. The favour with which he was regarded by these exalted patrons seems however to have become eventually a danger rather than a distinction, since on "the decollation of the first-named unhappy nobleman," Mr. Richardson, senior, "to his great detriment," found himself constrained to give up his London business, and retire to the unnamed retreat in Derbyshire where, with three more out of a total of nine children, his famous son was born.1 Mrs. Barbauld is perhaps right in concluding that he must have entered more deeply into the political views of the decollated nobleman than he cared to admit, and that it is to this circumstance, rather than to any false pride in connection with the obscurity of his origin, that the persistent reticence of the novelist as to his place of
1 Mr. Malcolm Kingsley Macmillan, who meditated a Life of Richardson, made every effort to discover this place. About 1885, Mr. Macmillan advertised repeatedly in the now defunct Derby and Derbyshire Gazette, offering a reward to any parish clerk who would supply conclusive evidence upon the point, but no information was obtained.