University of Virginia Library


Dr. Thomas Birch, a close acquaintance of Richardson during the whole of his literary career, gives us from time to time in his letters some interesting details of the printer's business:

The Business of Printing has of late met with great Interruption from a Rebellion of the Compositors against their Masters upon a Demand of a Shilling a Sheet to be added to their Pay: which the latter have refus'd, & are resolv'd to stand still for the present, & starve the Seceders into Submission, who have no Pretence for Complaint, a Compositor of common Skill & Industry being able to earn 30 s. a Week: & I am told, that Bettenham, when he was a Journeyman, us'd constantly to get near 50 s. Richardson has kept the Masters firm to their Interests, & drawn his Pen (which, you know, is a very ready & copious one) upon the Subject, & wrote a Circular Letter to his Brethren.[5]

Birch gives us the fullest account we have of the fire of 1752 in Richardson's printing house:

The Element of Fire has this Year shown a peculiar Enmity to the Interests of Learning; of which the irreparable Calamity at your


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Brother's Chambers is one Instance, & Mr. Richardson' [sic] the printer's whole House & Magazines narrowly escap'd being another on Thursday sennight. I knew nothing of the Accident when I last wrote to you, my first Intelligence of it being from the Bishop of Oxford in a Visit on Sunday Afternoon. It was occasion'd by the Negligence of a Boy, who in a back Room full of paper printed or unprinted, on the Ground floor, was folding of Sheets, which caught fire from his Candle about seven at night, fortunately before the Men had left their Work, & while Mr. Richardson himself was at home; who felt the Heat in the Floor of the room where he was, so intense, that it was scarce tolerable, for the Boy had not given the Alarm till after his own fruitless Efforts to suppress the Flame, which however was restrain'd from spreading beyond the room, where it began, tho' the Mischief done there by Water as well as Fire is computed at 600 £. The Destruction fell chiefly on the Journals of the House of Commons & Chambers's Encylopaedia. But the Transactions, of which between thirty & forty sheets are printed off, escap'd unhurt.[6]

Mr. Sam: Richardson is reputed to have died worth fifteen thousand Pounds; in which Sum is probably included 3000 £. given to his eldest Daughter married to a Surgeon at Bath. His Widow, besides an Annuity of 40 £ during her Widowhood from the Stationers Company is, according to the Custom of the City, intitled to a third of his fortune. He had form'd a Plan for carrying on his Busines after his Death for the benefit of his Family: but they have no Inclination to continue it, & seem resolv'd to part with his spacious & well furnish'd Printing House as soon as a proper Offer shall be made them.[7]

Birch, though a friend and admirer of Richardson, remarked unsympathetically some weeks later: "Sam. Richardson's Will is a real Curiosity, as I am inform'd by all, that have seen it, being an odd Compound of Vanity and Spleen."[8]