Samuel Richardson’s Letters Written to and for Particular Friends is a letter-writing manual containing fictional correspondence between characters from all walks of life. The letters were designed to be informative and relevant to their 18th-century readers, with content ranging from the correct way to communicate a marriage proposal to light-hearted social observations. There is also advice for awkward (yet sometimes amusing) situations, such as that in letter LXVIII, ‘To a brother, against making his Wife and Children the constant subject of his Praise and Conversation’ (pp. 95‒97).
Inspiration for Pamela
While composing Letters Written to and for Particular Friends Richardson was inspired to write his sensationally popular epistolary novel, Pamela (1740). Letters CXXXVIII and CXXXIX, ‘A father to a daughter in service, on hearing of her master’s attempting her virtue’ (p. 181) and ‘The Daughter’s Answer’ (p. 182), provide the basis for the novel’s plot, in which Pamela – a 15-year-old maidservant – is pursued and imprisoned by her predatory employer, Mr B. However, her unyielding virtue is eventually rewarded by Mr B’s repentance and subsequent marriage proposal, which she joyously accepts.
The letter-writing manual demonstrates Richardson’s ability to use the appropriate verbal register for characters from a variety of different backgrounds: letter CXXVI, ‘A Sailor to his betrothed Mistress’ (pp. 162‒63), can be seen as a prototype for Pamela’s colloquial, unsophisticated but entertaining narrative voice and epistolary style.
Which letters are digitised here?
- ‘From a young lady to her Father acquainting him with a Proposal of Marriage made to her. Two possible replies – approval, not disapproval’ (pp. 28‒30)
- ‘A young Woman in Town to her Sister in the country, recounting her narrow Escape from a Snare laid for her on her first Arrival, by a wicked Procuress’ (pp. 79‒84)
- ‘From a Father to a Daughter, against a frothy French lover’ (pp. 99‒100)
- ‘The voice of a sailor’ (pp. 162‒63)
- ‘A Father to a Daughter in Service, on hearing of her Master’s attempting her Virtue’ (p. 181)
- ‘The daughter’s answer’ (p. 182)
- ‘On the diversions of the playhouse’ (pp. 234‒36)