The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 4. Continuation, Stage adaptation and Parody; Fielding and Richardson
The success of Pamela, whether it was due to a dim recognition of this merit, or, more simply, as we have reason for thinking, to the sentimental interest taken in a moving tale, is a landmark in the history of the novel. Directly through the imitations, or indirectly through the satires or parodies which it called forth, the book stands at the very fountain-head of the teeming period in which the ascendency of modern fiction asserted itself. (A fourth edition came out within six months of the first.) We know from contemporary evidence that it was the fashion to have read Pamela; and that, while fine ladies made a point of holding a copy of it in their hands, it stirred the emotions of middle-class or lower-class readers; and, in at least one instance, it was recommended from the pulpit. In September, 1741, was published an anonymous sequel, Pamela’s Conduct in High Life, which thus preceded the author’s own continuation of his novel. The story was adapted for the stage so early as 1741. According to Richardson, “the publication of the History of Pamela gave birth to no less than 16 pieces, as remarks, imitations, etc.” Among the less famous skits directed against it, mention should be made of An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (April, 1741), the authorship of which is still under discussion; it was followed by Fielding’s History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, and his friend Mr. Abraham Adams (February, 1742). It must be left to a subsequent chapter to show how Richardson’s sentimentalism and overstrained morality provoked into expression the broader naturalism of his great rival, and how the English novel thus started, at the same time, on the two main lines of its modern advance.
Though Pamela was published without its author’s name, and Richardson was not, at once, generally associated with it, its unexpected reception gradually raised him to literary fame. No material change, however, seems to have taken place in his regular, precise and laborious way of living; and he did not give up his business as a printer. But the circle of his friends and correspondents was much enlarged; and he was brought into contact with not a few of the distinguished men of the time. The group of admirers, principally ladies, of which he was the centre, and the ways of the quiet country household in which he was wont to read out his morning’s work to appreciative listeners, are of moment to us here only because they throw light upon the far more deliberate method and clearer knowledge of his own powers which distinguish his second novel from the first. How far he was indebted to the suggestions and criticism of his daily audience cannot, of course, be estimated; but we know that he expanded in an atmosphere of warm, responsive sympathy, and that, to his sensitive nature, encouragement and praise were as the bread of life.