Samuel Richardson Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The exact date of Samuel Richardson’s birth is uncertain, but it is known that he was born in Derbyshire, probably on July 31, 1689; the record of his baptism is dated August 19, 1869. His father was a joiner and, according to Richardson, a “good draughtsman” who “understood architecture” and whose ancestors had included several generations of small farmers in Surrey; of his mother, the second wife of Richardson père, little is known. The family returned to London, where Richardson may have attended the Merchant Taylor’s School in 1701 and 1702, at which time his formal education ended. In 1706, he was apprenticed to the Stationers’ Company, and in 1715, he became a “freeman” of the Company. He married his former employer’s daughter, Martha Wilde, in November 23, 1721, set up his own business as a printer, was admitted to the Stationers’ Company in 1722, and soon became what his major biographers—T. C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel—term a “prosperous and respected” tradesman. Six children, none of whom survived infancy or early childhood, preceded their mother’s death in January, 1731. Two years later, on February 3, 1733, Richardson remarried, this time to Elizabeth Leake, also the daughter of a printer; four of their six children survived.

Richardson’s career as an editor continued to prosper—among other distinctions, he was eventually awarded the lucrative contract to print the journals of the House of Commons—and by the mid-1730’s, he had moved into a large house in Salisbury Court, where the family would live for the next two decades and where he would write the three novels on which his reputation rests.

For some time, two of Richardson’s “particular friends,” both of them London booksellers, had been urging him to compile a “little bookof familiar letters on the useful concerns of common life.” An almost compulsive letter writer since early childhood—before he was eleven he had written to an elderly widow, reprimanding her for her “uncharitable conduct”—Richardson began the undertaking, one letter of which was an actual account he had heard some years before, the story of a virtuous servant who eventually married her master. The recollection of the incident stimulated his imagination, and so, at the age of fifty, he temporarily abandoned the letters project. In two months, writing as much as three thousand words a day, he completed the novel that, on November 6, 1740, without the author’s name on the title page, was to explode upon the English scene: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded. In a Series of Familiar Letters from a beautiful Young Damsel, to her Parents. Now first published in order to cultivate the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of both Sexes. A Narrative...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201621-Richardson.jpg Samuel Richardson Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Samuel Richardson was born in 1689 in Mackworth, Derbyshire, England, to Samuel Richardson, a woodworker who excelled at ornamentation, and his second wife, Elizabeth. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, but he was baptized on August 19, 1689. The Richardsons were once landowners, but their fortunes had dwindled. The family moved to London, where the young man spent his formative years. He entered the Merchant Taylors’ School in 1701, but strained finances forced his withdrawal the following year. He worked for his father between the ages of twelve and seventeen. Although painfully shy, Richardson was a favorite among young ladies in his neighborhood, who quickly made him their confidant. They had him write letters to their suitors. Writing these intimate letters made Richardson acutely aware early in his life of the disparities between what love-struck young ladies felt and what they expressed.

Richardson, a circumspect listener with whom people felt secure sharing their deepest secrets, was an astute observer of life and an avid reader. When he chose an apprenticeship, this combination of interests led him to work with a printer, John Wilde. In 1715, two years past his apprenticeship, Richardson became a freeman of the Stationers’ Company. He helped the widow of printer John Leake run her printing shop. On her death in 1721, he bought her printing business, leasing John Leake’s house, in which it was situated. In 1721, Richardson, now thirty-two, married twenty-three-year-old Martha Wilde, daughter of his former master. The following year, he was admitted to the livery of the Stationers’ Company, and, in 1727, he was elected to office in that company. He gained recognition printing Tory tracts and...

(The entire section is 705 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In many respects, Samuel Richardson can legitimately be called the first British novelist of note. His deep and accurate psychological understanding of women makes him seem eerily modern as one reads him today. Although Richardson was a circumspect person, his ideas were radical for his time. He expressed them so subversively in his writing that many of them remain undiscovered.

Modern novelists, directly or indirectly, all owe a debt to Richardson. He led the way for such novelists as Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Tobias Smollett, the Brontë sisters, and—perhaps his most obvious literary descendant— Charles Dickens.


Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) was born in Derbyshire, England, and after initially considering a career as a clergyman, he became apprenticed to a printer in 1706 and flourished in the trade for many years. Because Richardson had written and published his own correspondence with some success, two bookselling friends persuaded him to publish a series of letters that became the basis for the novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, in 1740. Although fictional, the story was based on events Richardson had known about in his youth. Throughout his printing career, Richardson had written treatises to individuals suggesting a correct course of moral behavior; these were the result of his acting as a counselor to many of his female friends. Although other written works at this time had essentially functioned as moral guidebooks, Pamela represents one of the first occurrences of a written work to incorporate an identifiable, individual fictional character in an accessible plot of struggle and triumph. The accessibility of the work by its readers was due to the plot, centering around the then-common situation of a girl in the service of a licentious master. The literary transition during this time from a general moral guidebook to a specific individual's life struggles was so great that Richardson's work was considered to be "novel," a term applied to the new class of literature developed during the mid- and late-1700s, and that continues today.

Richardson's second work, Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady, is told in the same letter format as Pamela. However, unlike its predecessor, virtue does not triumph; the heroine is seduced and dies. This tragedy, published in 1748, is considered to be Richardson's greatest work.

His last work, describing the proper conduct of the ideal gentleman, was the History of Sir Charles Grandison, published in 1753.

Richardson died in London in 1761. His works can be considered the genesis of what would today be labeled romance novels, but his "new form," or "novel" format of conveying morals through a series of epistles, was imitated by a number of successive writers, including Jane Austen, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Denis Diderot.