‘I can scarce hold my pen’

Clare Bucknell

  • The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson with Lady Bradshaigh and Lady Echlin edited by Peter Sabor
    Cambridge, three vols, 1200 pp, £275.00, November 2016, ISBN 978 1 107 14552 8

If you had been in St James’s Park on a fine February day in 1750, you might have seen a short, weary-looking man in his sixties tramping up and down the Mall, looking out for a plump lady of about 45 who was keeping an eye open for him. Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh had travelled to town for the winter from her country seat in Lancashire; the man she was trying to spot in the crowd was Samuel Richardson, who had supplied her with a description and promised to be in the park on sunny days. ‘I passed you four times last Saturday in the Park; knew you by your own description, at least three hundred yards off,’ she wrote to him a few days later. ‘You looked at me every time we passed; but I put on so unconcerned a countenance, that I am almost sure I deceived you.’ Richardson wasn’t amused. ‘Surely, thought I, could not Lady B. have had some mercy on a crazy creature, who was pacing on the verge of the Mall (as of life), conscious of an unfitness to mingle with the gay company in it?’ They met finally in March on Birdcage Walk, almost two years after their correspondence began.

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[*] Affective identification, as Abigail Williams suggests in The Social Life of Books: Reading Together in the 18th-Century Home (Yale, 368 pp., £30, August, 978 0 300 20829 0), was a predicament that women readers were thought especially susceptible to, and occasioned ‘much moral hand-wringing’ in religious circles.