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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