University of Virginia Library

4. The True Briton No. 24 (23 August 1723) Introduction

The editor's head note implies at least some prior familiarity with the writer, and the closing remark by “A.B.” makes clear that he has had letters previously accepted for publication; it seems probable that this person was the same as the one who wrote Nos. 6, 9, and 23. Like Nos. 6 and 23, this letter once again addresses the oppression of the Roman Catholics under the recent governmental decrees in revenge for the Jacobite conspiracy. But the special emphasis on the plight of women who have to take oaths of allegiance to avoid the penalties imposed on their religious beliefs may bring us closer to Richardson's life-long interest in ameliorating the woman's situation in general. The topic concerning the solemn taking of oaths is a frequent occurrence in his novels, especially by way of discrediting the libertines whose


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word is worthless to women. But in contrast to the previous two letters by “A.B.,” this one is mainly an extracting of a long debate that “Dr. Wake (now Archbishop of Canterbury) published” as a “Practical Discourse concerning Swearing, in the Year 1696.”

Although Sale does not provide evidence that Richardson printed anything by Wake, nevertheless the extensive extracting of this churchman's pronouncements on the issue of swearing has at least the format of what Richardson performed, say, in his culling of authorities in the third part of the Vade Mecum. In any case, this is more obviously the “cut-and-paste” technique of sifting other texts for one's own essay that Richardson is known to have used repeatedly and that is also very difficult to identify with any particular writer/editor in the process. It may be more than a coincidence that the Daily Journal (13 May 1723) ran The conduct of Dr. Wake, relating to the Controversy between him and Dr. Atterbury. This letter by “A.B.” appears after the editor's essay on the problem of the goverment's demanding oaths denying any allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church and thus supplements the previous number on religious persecution.

A telltale sign of Richardson's hand in this number is difficult to prove because of its method of borrowing words at length from another author—Dr. William Wake, the Archbishop of Canterbury (1657-1737), on the matter of swearing. When McKillop noted Richardson's “rather perfunctory compilation of extracts from contemporary authors against `skepticism and infidelity,'” for the third part of the Vade Mecum, he need not have stopped there (Introduction to Vade Mecum, p. i). Much of the anonymous material in the newspapers printed and perhaps composed by Richardson is also in the form of perfunctory compilations. Richardson was an expert at the “cut-and-paste” technique in the printerly world of his time, and it is this very technique that lends him the aura of a man of learning. It may be the same writer, for instance, who, in the Daily Journal (13 May 1723), also extracted extensively Dr. Wake's opinions “relating to the controversy between him and Dr. Atterbury,” which according to the DNB is one of the most important among his voluminous writings. As a printer with more than a casual interest in the Atterbury case during the Jacobite scare of 1723, Richardson could well have had on hand Wake's tract in their controversy.

Furthermore, in the True Briton No. 47 (11 November 1723), an advertisement for A Compleat History of Public and Solemn State Oaths, Containing, The Forms of all such as have been taken, either by the Kings of England at their Coronation, or administered to the Subjects upon every Occasion may indicate a source of this letter-writer's authority on the matter of oaths. In the domestic conflicts of his novels, Richardson continually emphasizes the need to distrust the libertine's word and his whole untrustworthiness while making promises. In the moral extracts from Clarissa, included in an appendix at the end of the third edition, Richardson observes: “The man who binds his Promises by Oaths, indirectly confesses that his word is not to be taken” (Clarissa, 3rd edn., 8:393).


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THE following Letter is just come to my Hands from my worthy Friend, whose Honesty, I hope, every TRUE BRITON, who reads this Paper, will acknowledge.