Letter by Samuel Richardson to Aaron Hill
I will now write to your question -- Whether there was any original ground-work of fact, for the general foundation of Pamela’s story.
About twenty-five years ago, a gentleman, with whom I was intimately acquainted (but who, alas! is now no more!) met with such a story as that of Pamela, in one of the summer tours which he used to take for his pleasure, attended with one servant only. At every inn he put up at, it was his way to inquire after curiosities in its neighbourhood, either ancient or modern; and particularly he asked who was the owner of a fine house, as it seemed to him, beautifully situated, which he had passed by (describing it) within a mile or two of the inn.
It was a fine house, the landlord said. The owner was Mr. B. a gentleman of a large estate in more counties than one. That his and his lady’s history engaged the attention of every body who came that way, and put a stop to all other enquiries, though the house and gardens were well worth seeing. The lady, he said, was one of the greatest beauties in England; but the qualities of her mind had no equal: beneficent, prudent, and equally beloved and admired by high and low. That she had been taken at twelve years of age for the sweetness of her manners and modesty, and for an understanding above her years, by Mr. B----'s mother, a truly worthy lady, to wait upon her person. Her parents, ruined by suretiships, were remarkably honest and pious, and had instilled into their daughter’s mind the best principles. When their misfortunes happened first, they attempted a little school, in their village, where they were much beloved; he teaching writing and the first rules of arithmetic to boys; his wife plain needle-works to girls, and to knit and spin; but that it answered not: and, when the lady took their child, the industrious man earned his bread by day labour, and the lowest kinds of husbandry.
That the girl, improving daily in beauty, modesty, and genteel and good behaviour, by the time she was fifteen, engaged the attention of her lady’s son, a young gentleman of free principles, who, on her lady’s death, attempted, by all manner of temptations and devices, to seduce her. That she had recourse to as many innocent stratagems to escape the snares laid for her virtue; once, however, in despair, having been near drowning; that, at last, her noble resistance, watchfulness, and excellent qualities, subdued him, and he thought fit to make her his wife. That she behaved herself with so much dignity, sweetness, and humility, that she made herself beloved of every body, and even by his relations, who, at first despised her; and now had the blessings both of rich and poor, and the love of her husband.
The gentleman who told me this, added, that he had the curiosity to stay in the neighbourhood from Friday to Sunday, that he might see this happy couple at church, from which they never absented themselves: that, in short, he did see them; that her deportment was all sweetness, ease, and dignity mingled: that he never saw a lovelier woman: that her husband was as fine a man, and seemed even proud of his choice: and that she attracted the respects of the persons of rank present, and had the blessings of the poor.—The relater of the story told me all this with transport.
This, Sir, was the foundation of Pamela’s story; but little did I think to make a story of it for the press. That was owing to this occasion.
Mr. Rivington and Mr. Osborne, whose names are on the title page, had long been urging me to give them a little book (which, they said, they were often asked after) of familiar letters on the useful concerns in common life; and, at last, I yielded to their importunity, and began to recollect such subjects as I thought would be useful in such a design, and formed several letters accordingly. And, among the rest, I thought of giving one or two as cautions to young folks circumstanced as Pamela was. Little did I think, at first, of making one, much less two volumes of it. But, when I began to recollect what had, so many years before, been told me by my friend, I thought the story, if written in an easy and natural manner, suitably to the simplicity of it, might possibly introduce a new species of writing, that might possibly turn young people into a course of reading different from the pomp and parade of romance-writing, and dismissing the improbable and marvellous, with which novels generally abound, might tend to promote the cause of religion and virtue. I therefore gave way to enlargement: and so Pamela became as you see her. But so little did I hope for the approbation of judges, that I had not the courage to send the two volumes to your ladies, until I found the books well received by the public.
While I was writing the two volumes, my worthy-hearted wife, and the young lady who is with us, when I had read them some part of the story, which I had begun without their knowing it, used to come in to my little closet every night, with – ‘Have you any more of Pamela, Mr. R? We are come to hear a little more of Pamela,’ &c. This encouraged me to prosecute it, which I did so diligently, through all my other business, that, by a memorandum on my copy, I began it Nov. 10 1739, and finished it Jan. 10 1739-40. And I have often, censurable as I might be thought for my vanity for it, and lessening to the taste of my two female friends, had the story of Moliere’s Old Woman in my thoughts upon the occasion.
If justly low were my thoughts of this little history, you will wonder how it came by such an assuming and very impudent preface. It was thus: – The approbation of these two female friends, and of two more, who were so kind as to give me prefaces for it, but which were much too long and circumstancial, as I thought, made me resolve myself on writing a preface; I therefore, spirited by the good opinion of these four, and knowing that the judgments of nine parts in ten of readers were but in hanging-sleeves, struck a bold stroke in the preface you see, having the umbrage of the editor’s character to screen myself behind. – And thus, Sir, all is out.
This publication dated 1741.