Clarissa: Preface, Hints of Prefaces, and Postscript

       Samuel Richardson / Thrillers & Crime

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Clarissa: Preface, Hints of Prefaces, and Postscript
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SAMUEL RICHARDSON, _CLARISSA:_ Preface, Hints of Prefaces, and Postscript.

_Introduction_ BY R. F. BRISSENDEN.



Richard C. Boys, _University of Michigan_ Earl R. Miner, _University of California, Los Angeles_ Maximillian E. Novak, _University of California, Los Angeles_ Lawrence Clark Powell, _Wm. Andrews Clark Memorial Library_


John Butt, _University of Edinburgh_ James L. Clifford, _Columbia University_ Ralph Cohen, _University of California, Los Angeles_ Vinton A. Dearing, _University of California, Los Angeles_ Arthur Friedman, _University of Chicago_ Louis A. Landa, _Princeton University_ Samuel H. Monk, _University of Minnesota_ Everett T. Moore, _University of California, Los Angeles_ James Sutherland, _University College, London_ H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., _University of California, Los Angeles_


Edna C. Davis, _Clark Memorial Library_


The seven volumes of the first edition of _Clarissa_ were published inthree instalments during the twelve months from December 1747 toDecember 1748. Richardson wrote a Preface for Volume I and a Postscriptfor Volume VII, and William Warburton supplied an additional Preface forVolume III (or IV).[1] A second edition, consisting merely of a reprintof Volumes I-IV was brought out in 1749. In 1751 a third edition ofeight volumes in duodecimo and a fourth edition of seven volumes inoctavo were published simultaneously.

For the third and fourth editions the author revised the text of thenovel, rewrote his own Preface and Postscript, substantially expandingthe latter, and dropped the Preface written by Warburton. The additionsto the Postscript, like the letters and passages 'restored' to the novelitself, are distinguished in the new editions by points in the margin.

The revised Preface and Postscript, which in the following pages arereproduced from the fourth edition, constitute the most extensive andfully elaborated statement of a theory of fiction ever published byRichardson. The Preface and concluding Note to _Sir Charles Grandison_are, by comparison, brief and restricted in their application; while theintroductory material in _Pamela_ is, so far as critical theory isconcerned, slight and incoherent.

The _Hints of Prefaces for Clarissa_, a transcript of which is alsoincluded in this publication, is an equally important and in some waysan even more interesting document. It appears to have been put togetherby Richardson while he was revising the Preface and Postscript to thefirst edition. Certain sections of it are preliminary drafts of some ofthe new material incorporated in the revised Postscript. Large portionsof _Hints of Prefaces_, however, were not used then and have neverpreviously appeared in print. Among these are two critical assessmentsof the novel by Philip Skelton and Joseph Spence; and a number ofobservations--some merely jottings--by Richardson himself on thestructure of the novel and the virtues of the epistolary style. Thestatements of Skelton and Spence are unusual amongst contemporarydiscussions of _Clarissa_ for their brevity, lucidity, and sustainedcritical relevance. Richardson's own comments, though disorganized andfragmentary, show that he was attempting to develop a theory of theepistolary novel as essentially dramatic, psychologically realistic, andinherently superior to 'the dry Narrative',[2] particularly asexemplified in the novels of Henry Fielding.

It is impossible to determine how much of _Hints of Prefaces_ or of thepublished Preface and Postscript is Richardson's own work. All were tosome extent the result of collaborative effort, and Richardson did notalways distinguish clearly between what he had written and what had beensupplied by other people.[3] The concluding paragraph of the Postscript,for example, appears in the first edition to be the work of Richardsonhimself, although in the revised version he indicates that it wascomposed by someone else. In this instance due acknowledgment may havebeen easy; but in many other places it may have been extraordinarilydifficult for the author/editor to disentangle his own words and ideasfrom those of his friends.

In preparing the Preface and Postscript Richardson was faced with agenuine problem. He realised that his achievement in _Clarissa_ was ofsufficient magnitude and novelty to demand some theoretical defence andexplanation. But he realised also that he was himself inadequate to thetask. 'The very great Advantage of an Academical Education, I havewanted,'[4] he confessed to Mr. D. Graham of King's College. He lackedthat familiarity with literature and with the conventions of literarycriticism which would have made it easy for him to produce the analysisof his novel which he felt was needed. No wonder he told Graham that 'ofall the Species of Writing, I love not Preface-Writing;'[5] and it isnot surprising that, both before and after the publication of_Clarissa_, he should have besieged his friends with requests for theiropinions of the novel.

In making these requests he was not simply seeking flattery. What heneeded were sympathetic critics who could clothe in acceptable languagestatements which he would recognise as expressing the truth about hismasterpiece. _Hints of Prefaces_, especially if read in the context ofthe numerous replies Richardson received, reveals very plainly theextent to which he was aware of what he wanted from his correspondents.Most, unfortunately, were sadly incapable of producing a _critical_account of the novel. In this company Skelton and Spence were brilliantexceptions; and Richardson's adoption of their statements, apparently tothe exclusion of all others, indicates the soundness of his own criticalintuitions. Equally interesting is his treatment of Warburton's Preface.Although he did not reprint this in the third and fourth editions, oneparagraph from it is preserved in _Hints of Prefaces_.[6] Significantly,it is the only paragraph in Warburton's essay which has something to sayabout the distinctive qualities of _Clarissa_.

In formulating all these critical statements Richardson is concernedless with developing a theory of fiction for its own sake than withjustifying his action in writing a novel. His main defence, of course,is that _Clarissa_ is morally valuable. The reader who expects it to bea 'mere _Novel_ or _Romance_'[7] will be disappointed; and, as 'in allWorks of This, and of the Dramatic Kind, STORY, or AMUSEMENT, should beconsidered as little more than the _Vehicle_ to the more necessaryINSTRUCTION'[8]--a dictum that Fielding was to quote with approval.[9]

The argument, though valid, is excessively laboured. In the Postscript,especially, Richardson is so preoccupied with demonstrating that_Clarissa_ is a Christian tragedy that he neglects to develop in anydetail the other claims he makes for it. Yet _Hints of Prefaces_ showsthat he had given considerable thought to what might be called thepurely fictive qualities of his novel, and that at one stage he intendedto present a much fuller account of them than he finally did. It is alsoclear that he realized that his didactic purposes could be achieved onlyif the novel succeeded first at the level of imaginative realism.

From the beginning Richardson claimed to be a realist: _Pamela_, it isannounced on the title page, is a 'Narrative which has its Foundation inTRUTH and NATURE;' and the main purpose of the Postscript to _Clarissa_is to demonstrate that the story and the manner in which it is told areconsonant both with the high artistic standards set by the Greekdramatists and with the facts of everyday life. The decision not toconclude the story with the reformation of Lovelace and his marriage tothe heroine is defended on the grounds that 'the Author ... alwaysthought, that _sudden Conversions_ ... had neither _Art_, nor _Nature_,nor even _Probability_, in them;'[10] and in the passage in _Hints ofPrefaces_[11] of which this is a condensation, he attempts to make out acase for the second part of _Pamela_ as a realistic study of marriedlife. _Clarissa_ is stated to be superior to pagan tragedies because itdispenses with the old ideas of poetic justice and takes into accountthe continuance of life after death. (Richardson has his cake whileeating it, however, for he points out that 'the notion of _PoeticalJustice_ founded on the _modern rules_'[12] is strictly observed in_Clarissa_).

The claim that _Clarissa_ presents a generally truthful rendering oflife is given its clearest expression by Skelton and Spence. Bothemphasize that it is different from conventional romances and novels:'it is another kind of Work, or rather a new Species of Novel,'[13] wehave 'a Work of a new kind among us'.[14] _Clarissa_ is concerned with'the Workings of private and domestic Passions', says Skelton, and'[not] those of Kings, Heroes, Heroines ... it comes home to the Heart,and to common Life, in every Line.'[15] The author, says Spence, has notfollowed the example of the writers of romances, but 'has attempted togive a plain and natural Account of an Affair that happened in a privateFamily, just in the manner that it did happen.'[16]

Richardson's decision not to include these two essays in the Postscriptwas perhaps influenced by the fact that he was able to use a similartestimonial which had the added virtue of being patently unsolicited.This is the 'Critique on the History of CLARISSA, written in French, andpublished at Amsterdam',[17] an English translation of which had beenprinted in the _Gentleman's Magazine_ of June and August, 1749.Published anonymously, but written by Albrecht von Haller,[18] thisreview must have been particularly attractive also to Richardson becauseof the singular praise it accords his Epistolary method'. It had alreadybeen asserted by de Freval, in the first of the introductory letters to_Pamela_, that with this way of writing 'the several Passions of theMind must ... be more affectingly described, and Nature may be traced inher undisguised Inclinations with much more Propriety and Exactness,than can possibly be found in a Detail of Actions long past;'[19] andvon Haller carries the charge even further by claiming not only that itallows the author a greater degree of psychological veracity but alsothat the convention itself is inherently more realistic than ordinarynarrative: 'Romances in general ... are wholly improbable; because theysuppose the History to be written after the series of events is closedby the catastrophe: A circumstance which implies a strength of memorybeyond all example and probability in the persons concerned.'[20]

Richardson also believed that the epistolary method was superior to thenarrative because it was essentially dramatic. Aaron Hill, in one of theintroductory letters to _Pamela_, had maintained that 'one of thebest-judg'd Peculiars of the Plan' was that the moral instruction wasconveyed 'as in a kind of Dramatical Representation';[21] while in thePostscript to _Clarissa_ Richardson describes it as a 'History (orrather Dramatic Narrative)'.[22] The parallels which he draws between_Clarissa_ and Greek tragedy are directed mainly to illuminating thetragic rather than the specifically dramatic qualities of the novel. Butit is clear that he regarded his work as being closer in every way tothe drama than to the epic.

The basic distinction between drama and epic (or any other form ofnarrative) had been drawn by Aristotle:

The poet, imitating the same object ... may do it either in narration--and that, again, either by personating other characters, as Homer does, or in his own person throughout ... --or he may imitate by representing all his characters as real, and employed in the action itself.[23]

Le Bossu, in his _Treatise of the Epick Poem_, gives his own restatementof this, and amplifies it by pointing to the particular virtues of thedrama: by presenting characters directly to the spectators drama 'has noparts exempt from the Action,' and is thus 'entire and perfect'.Fielding was familiar with the _Treatise_, and it is possible thatRichardson had also looked at Le Bossu to prepare himself for dealingwith the epic theory of his rival.[24]

There were also precedents for placing the novel in the dramatic ratherthan the epic tradition. Congreve, when he wrote _Incognita_ (1692),took the drama as his model. 'Since all Traditions must indisputablygive place to the _Drama_,' he wrote in the Preface, 'and since there isno possibility of giving that life to the Writing or Repetition of aStory which it has in the Action, I resolved ... to imitate _Dramatick_Writing ... in the Design, Contexture, and Result of the Plot. I havenot observed it before in a Novel.'[25] The analogy with drama had alsobeen drawn by Henry Gally in his _Critical Essay onCharacteristic-Writings_ (1725), who, after maintaining that 'theessential Parts of the Characters, in the _Drama_, and in_Characteristic-Writings_ are the same,' goes on to praise the _Tatler_and the _Spectator_ for the 'excellent Specimens in theCharacteristic-Way' that they offered their readers.[26] Suchacknowledgments of the dramatic potentialities in prose fiction were,however, unusual. The romances were modelled on the epic (Fielding, infact, describes _Joseph Andrews_ in his Preface as a 'comic Romance');and the picaresque mode in which Smollett wrote had no obviouslydramatic qualities. Richardson's advocacy of the novel in which actionis presented rather than retailed seems, indeed, curiously modern: it issomething Henry James would certainly have understood and approved.

In formulating his own theory of fiction Richardson had Fielding verymuch in mind. It would be surprising if he had not: the rivalry betweenthe two novelists was open and recognised, although by the time_Clarissa_ was published it had assumed the appearance of friendliness.Sarah Fielding's association with Richardson probably had something todo with this; but the reconciliation was largely her brother's own work.His just and generous praise of _Clarissa_--publicly in the _Jacobite'sJournal_ and privately in a letter to the author--[27] makes full andhonourable amends for his mockery of Richardson in _Shamela_ and _JosephAndrews_. If he had not published _Tom Jones_ all might have been well.But Richardson could not forgive his old enemy for achieving a triumphin his chosen field so soon after the publication of his ownmasterpiece. He abused Fielding covertly in letters to his friends; andhis revisions of the Preface and Postscript were designed in part tocounter the claims for the comic prose epic advanced in _Tom Jones_ andelsewhere. _Hints of Prefaces_ reveals this more clearly than thepublished versions of the Preface and Postscript: Richardsonunfortunately lacked the courage and confidence to press home theattack.

_Hints of Prefaces_ bears no date, but there is evidence that it wasassembled after the first edition of _Clarissa_ had appeared and, inpart at least, after the publication of _Tom Jones_. Richardson refersdirectly at one point to 'this Second Publication',[28] and severalsections in it are printed (either in full or in a condensed form) onlyin the revised Postscript. _Hints of Prefaces_ therefore cannot be adiscarded draft of the Preface and Postscript to the first edition. Thefinal volumes of this first edition came out in December 1748, and _TomJones_ was published in the following February. A letter from Skelton,dated June 10th, 1749,[29] which mentions an 'inclosed Paper' on_Clarissa_, indicates that his essay did not reach Richardson untilafter this date; and in the letter to Graham, from which I have alreadyquoted, we find him in the May of 1750 still seeking assistance in thepreparation of his Preface.

Apart from such evidence it is obvious that one section of _Hints ofPrefaces_ is directed specifically at Fielding. In pages [12] and [13]of the manuscript Richardson seems to be answering, consciously and insequence, arguments brought forward in the Preface to _Joseph Andrews_;the Prefaces contributed by Fielding to the second edition of _TheAdventures of David Simple_ (1744), by his sister, Sarah, and itssequel, _Familiar Letters between the Principal Characters in DavidSimple_ (1747); and, of course, the introductory chapters in _TomJones_. Richardson begins this part of _Hints of Prefaces_ with adiscussion of the three kinds of romance: those that offer us'_Ridicule_; or _Serious Adventure_; or, lastly, a _Mixture of both_'.He admits 'that there are some Works under the First of these Heads,which have their Excellencies,' but doubts 'whether _Ridicule_ is aproper basis ... whereon to build instruction.'[30] The reference hereseems clearly to be to the Preface to _Joseph Andrews_ where Fieldingpresents his theory of the comic romance and the ridiculous. Richardsonthen proceeds to defend his epistolary method--a convention whichFielding had singled out for attack in his Preface to _FamiliarLetters_, remarking that 'no one will contend, that the epistolary Styleis in general the most proper to a Novelist, or that it hath been usedby the best Writers of this Kind.'[31] Even if Richardson had not been asubscriber to Miss Fielding's small volume, he could scarcely haveoverlooked a challenge so unequivocal as this. In _Clarissa_ he knewthat the challenge had been answered triumphantly: among other things itis a complete vindication of the epistolary technique:

We need not insist on the evident Superiority of this Method to the dry Narrative; where the _Novelist_ moves on, his own dull Pace, to the End of his Chapter and Book, interweaving impertinent Digressions, for fear the Reader's Patience should be exhausted...[32]

_Tom Jones_, with its books, chapters, critical interpolations, andironical apologies to the reader, is the target here; and Richardsonclearly longed to inflict a defeat on its author in the realm of theoryas resounding as the one he believed he had achieved over him inpractice. His nerve failed him, however, and his defence of theepistolary method as it finally appears in the revised Postscript iscursory and deceptively restrained: 'The author ... perhaps mistrustedhis talents for the narrative kind of writing. He had the good fortuneto succeed in the Epistolary way once before.'[33]

After completing _Clarissa_ Richardson had a clear and consciousapprehension of the scope and unique qualities of his achievement. Hisability to give an account of these things, however, was limited, thoughnot so limited as he feared: for his theory of the novel to be fullyunderstood, the final versions of his Preface and Postscript need to beread in conjunction with the hitherto unpublished _Hints of Prefaces forClarissa_.

R. F. Brissenden Australian National University Canberra.

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