Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (1747), p. 891

A Lady took a great fancy to a young lion, or a bear, I forget which--but a bear, or a tiger, I believe, it was. It was made her a present of when a whelp. She fed it with her own hand: she nursed up the wicked cub with great tenderness; and would play with it, without fear or apprehension of danger: and it was obedient to all her commands: and its tameness, as she used to boast, increased with its growth; so that, like a lap-dog, it would follow her all over the house. But mind what followed. At last, somehow, neglecting to satisfy its hungry maw, or having otherwise disobliged it on some occasion, it resumed its nature; and on a sudden fell upon her, and tore her in pieces--And who was most to blame, I pray? The brute, or the lady? The lady, surely!--For what she did, was out of nature, out of character at least: what it did, was in its own nature.

Clarissa argues that the Lady was at fault because she acted out of character, against nature; the brute, on the other hand, returned to its own nature, and thus acted within the law. It seems strange that the natural beast acting in its own nature would be described at the beginning of the passage as "a young lion, or a bear, I forget which--but a bear, or a tiger, I believe, it was." We recognize that Clarissa is writing an allegory, but one whose most basic terms shift as the story progresses. If there is a moral to the story, it is necessarily as byzantine as Clarissa's grammar. A sentence like, "It was made her a present of when a whelp" invites inversion and misreading. Of course, we see that the whelp was given, but it can equally appear that the Lady was made.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography