Posted by Declan Kiely
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 6:11:00 PM
Samuel Richardson (1689–1761)
Autograph letter signed, dated London, 29 March 1750, to Frances Grainger
Purchased on the Fellows Endowment Fund, 2008
According to scholars of eighteenth century English literature, this substantial, four-page letter is the most important Samuel Richardson letter to have appeared on the market for decades. It contains a sustained analysis of his great epistolary novel Clarissa, and represents an extended consideration of the moral issues at the heart of Richardson's work.
The recipient was the daughter of a neighbor, the pawnbroker Thomas Grainger, who first wrote to Richardson in 1748, asking him to justify the superior merits of Clarissa's virtuous suitor Hickman over his dashing rival, Lovelace. The novelist relished the ensuing correspondence with his young female admirer, considering it an instance of the sort of moral debate he wished his fiction to stimulate. He discourses at length on the moral duty of a child to obey her parents, arguing that obedience is an absolute principle, and explaining that "Clarissa was not perfect."
The letter also discusses William Whitehead's tragedy The Roman Father. Richardson's remarks are intriguingly indebted to a pamphlet on the play published a few weeks before his was written, and newly attributed to Sarah Fielding. This letter was previously known only from a published transcription which was incomplete and contained a number of errors. The Morgan Library & Museum holds two other letters from Richardson to Grainger written before the composition of this 1750 letter. This acquisition complements those letters. In 2007 the Morgan acquired a group of four important letters on Sir Charles Grandison, exchanged between Richardson and the mathematician Alexis Clairaut in 1753-54, and a letter from Richardson to Benjamin Kennicott.