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Clarissa Harlowe, Mary Astell, and Elizabeth Carter: John Norris of Bemerton's Female "Descendants" Derek Taylor Had Samuel Richardson wanted only erudite ornamentation for Clarissa, he certainly could have gone to a less troublesome source than the learned Elizabeth Carter's "Ode to Wisdom"; as it was, he went to a greatdealoftrouble—and got afair amountofit in return—to include this particular poem in his masterpiece. The story of Richardson's breach of publishing ethics can be found, among other places, in T.C. Duncan Eaves and Ben Kimpel's SamuelRichardson:A Biography. As they relate it, after the first two volumes of Clarissa were released in 1747 (Clarissa, now a virtual prisoner in Harlowe Place, includes the Ode and her music for its last stanzas in her letter of 24 March to Anna Howe), Carter wrote to Richardson , complaining that "to print any thing without the consent of the person who wrote it, is a proceeding so very ungenerous and unworthy of a man of reputation, that, from the character I have heard of you, I am utterly at a loss how to account for it."1 Richardson immediately sent Carter an exculpatory explanation: he had included the Ode despite having a "redundancy of material" because it answered both his need for excellent supplementary 1 TC. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel, Samuel Richardson: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 214-15. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 12, Number 1, October 1999 20 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION material "from our best Poets" and, since he knew it was "by a lady," his desire to "do honour to the sex." He could not discover the author, but did not credit Clarissa with writing it. He had gone to great expense "by setting it to musick" and by having it "engraved and wrought highly," thus distinguishing the piece within his novel. Richardson's letter, the biographers note, had its intended effect: Carter wrote to Catherine Talbot that she had "received so civil an answer ... that [she] knew not how to be angry with him" (p. 215). But while Eaves and Kimpel's sketch of the events surrounding the "borrowing" allows little more than anecdotal significance to this episode, there is a good deal of evidence, both in Clarissa and in these surrounding events, to suggest that this particular moment in the composition of Clarissa deserves closer inspection. The biographers, for instance, quite rightly connect Richardson's claim that his aim in printing the Ode was to "do honour to the sex" with his knowledge that its author was a woman. Clarissa too believes that the Ode "does honour to our sex, as it was written by one of it."2 But where the biographers leave off, Clarissa continues. The Ode, she suggests, is "not unsuitable to my unhappy situation"; the final three stanzas, she writes, "were my lesson." In other words, for Clarissa, the importance of the Ode derives not only from its author's sex but from what it says to Clarissa, what it teaches a woman much put upon, as well. Just what "lesson" would Clarissa have received from Carter's poem? It is perhaps not one we would have expected in a novel so often thought to support some version of the Lockean claim that "truth can be discovered by the individual through his senses."3 But then Richardson was perhaps not so complete a follower of Locke as is often assumed.4 2 Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, or The History afa Young Lady, ed. Angus Ross (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1985), p. 231. References are to this edition unless otherwise noted. 3 Ian Watt, The Rise ofthe Novel (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1960), p. 12. Locke's influence on Richardson's novels, according to Watt, can safely be assumed, for his "thought everywhere pervades the eighteenth-century climate of opinion" (p. 31). 4 Jocelyn Harris argues for Locke's philosophical influence on Richardson. See "Richardson: Original or Learned Genius?" in Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays, ed. Margaret Anne Doody and Peter Sabor (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 188-202. Yet, after opening a paragraph by contending that "among more secular English philosophical works, Richardson seems...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 19-38
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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