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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

An Essay in Criticism

By Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1723–1793)

[To Miss Bartlett. Written, May 2, 1742.]

DEAR MISS BARTLETT: I send by the bearer my compliments to Mrs. Pinckney, and the last volume of “Pamela.” She is a good girl, and as such I love her dearly; but I must think her very defective, and even blush for her, while she allows herself that disgusting liberty of praising herself, or what is very like it, repeating all the fine speeches made to her by others,—when a person distinguished for modesty in every other respect should have chosen rather to conceal them, or at least let them come from some other hand; especially as she might have considered those high compliments might have proceeded from the partiality of her friends, or with a view to encourage her and make her aspire after those qualifications which are ascribed to her, which I know experimentally to be often the case. But then you answer, she was a young country girl, had seen nothing of life, and it was natural for her to be pleased with praise; and she had not art enough to conceal it. True, before she was Mrs. B——, it be excusable, when only wrote to her father and mother; but after she had the advantage of Mr. B.’s conversation, and others of sense and distinction, I must be of another opinion. But here arises a difficulty,—we are to be made acquainted by the author of all particulars; how then is it to be done? I think by Miss Darnford, or some other lady very intimate with Mrs. B. How you smile at my presumption for instructing one so far above my own level as the author of “Pamela” (whom I esteem much for the regard he pays to virtue and religion throughout his whole piece); but, my dear Miss Bartlett, contract your smile into a mortified look, for I acquit the author. He designed to paint no more than a woman; and he certainly designed it as a reflection upon the vanity of our sex, that a character, so complete in every other instance, should be so greatly defective in this. Defective indeed, for when she mentions that poor creature, Mr. H’s applauses, it puts me in mind of the observation in “Don Quixote,” how grateful is praise, even from a madman.

I have run thus far before I was aware, for I have neither capacity nor inclination for criticism; though Pamela sets me the example by criticising Mr. Locke, and has taken the liberty to dissent from that admirable author. One word more, and I have done; and that is, I think the author has kept up to nature (one of the greatest beauties in the whole piece), for, had his heroine no defect, the character must be unnatural,—as it would be in me to forget my respects to your worthy Uncle and Aunt Pinckney, and that I am,

Yours, etc.,