On April 27, Katherine Larsen wrote:
"I'm not quite caught up with the reading yet but I've been puzzling
over that book Anna sent to Clarissa, Norris's Miscellanies in Letter
148 along with some money. In the next letter Clarissa sends it back,
"Pardon me my best, my kindest friend, that I return you Norris. In these
more promising prospects, I cannot have occasion for your favour,"
she writes to Anna just after describing Lovelace's heartfelt proposal.
And in the next letter Anna, sounding a tad piqued begins, by writing
"I am sorry you returned my Norris. But you must be allowed to
do as you please."
It seems to me that more than just a book is changing hands here.
Is not this the same John Norris, one of the last of the Cambridge
Platonists and the man who carried on a correspondance with Mary
Astell about - and here is where my memory may falter - platonic love?
I know Norris was a sometime writer for John Dunton's "Athenian
Mercury" and actually figures in a book Dunton wrote about platonic
love called "The Athenian Spy" where he sets Norris up in a platonic
love affair and asks him to perform a platonic wedding ceremony for
him. Not that Richardson would have known of Dunton's book - but
what he would have known of Norris makes this an odd book to be
passed from one woman who recommends her friend's speedy marriage
to another who would seem to have embraced just the sort of message
Norris was sending but then returns the book as soon as marriage seems
likely, which should please Anna but does not seem to judging by her
snippy opening to Letter 150. It seems that Anna is really less eager
for this marriage than she lets on (and this only seems confirmed by
her reflections on how much happier they would all be if they had
only switched suitors later in L.150) and Clarissa is actually more eager
than she is willing to let on. Sending back Norris is tantamount to
Just some early morning musings,
Cheers, Kathy L.
To which I replied:
How about the idea that if Richardson means
to allude to some strain of thought or imagery
in John Norris of Bemerton found in the
1710 book, it's not the platonic love material
specifically but more generally the whole
feel of retirement and withdrawal from the
world. I was also stirred by Katherine
Larsen's comments to return to some old notes
and a handwritten copy I made of poems
(a kind of commonplace book--perhaps
others did this too before the xerox machine
became so ubiquitous) a commonplace
book I made, I say, from a 1710
copy of Norris I read in the New York Public
Library (42nd street). If you look at the
whole book you see there are a number
of Pindariques and Horatian odes which recall
Elizabeth Carter's Ode to Wisdom in tone and attitude.
Titles of these include "The Retirement" (pp 18-9),
"The Invitation" (pp 30-31, this one though
a curious amalgam which recalls Herrick
just a little); "The Prospect" (pp 95-6). There
is also a strong tone in some of the better
of the poems which looks forward to
the "graveyard" poetry of the 18th century,
into which the fourth volume of _Clarissa_
fits (I remember Hervey's Meditations are
Well, for the kind of 17th century poem
which Elizabeth Carter's harks back to,
here are some stanzas from
Norris's "The Retirement:"
Well, I have thought on't, and I find,
This busie World is Nonsense all;
I here despair to please my Mind,
Here sweetest Honey is so mixt with Gall.
Come then, I will try how tis to be alone,
Love to myself a while, and be my own.
I've try'd, and bless the happy change;
So happy, I could almost vow
Never from this Retreat to range,
For sure I ne'r can be so blest as now.
From all Th'allays of Bliss I here am free,
I pity others, and none envy me.
Here in this shady lonely Grove,
I sweetly think my hours away
Neither with Business vex'd, nor Love,
Which in the World beat such _Tryannick sway:
No tumults in my close Apartment find,
Calm as those Seats above, which know no Storm nor Wind ...
While it is perfectly possible that Richardson's
use of books are, as John Dussinger suggests,
"mere artifacts," used as "household items
the mention of which in [Richardson's]
text conveys a sense of realism to the story,"
Still, the book's there (and why this one
rather than another) as well as a whole
host of sermons and other kinds of books
Tillotson, South, Gauden) so obligingly provided
by Lovelace; and there are many other strains
and choices of artifacts & quotations &
allusions in Clarissa which seem deliberately woven in,
and various critics (including Margaret Doody) have uncovered
relevant threads of literary and other allusion;
Murray talked of the Christian emblem tradition
embedded in the book.
So while it's hard to imagine Anna patiently
enduring Norris's platonic mysticism & eroticism
or indulging with him happily in melancholy
withdrawals, at least the latter is right up
Clarissa's alley. Looking forward to the fourth
volume of the novel and all the long meditations
on death, there are a number of such poems
in this Norris, two of which are actually
not bad and are printed in some modern
anthologies of 17th century poetry: "The
Meditation" (in Broadbent's 2 volume Poets of
the 17th Century) and "Hymn to Darkness"
(printed in Helen Gardner's Metaphysical
Poets). These two poems could
easily have been embedded in Volume IV of Clarissa;
they would have fit right in. They are also interesting
because of their intellectual approach: the first
is the sort of metaphysical questioning of what
comes after; the second uses the image of
darkness and night for God as something the
poet longs for.