Clarissa Harlowe LETTER L


I send you the papers with this. You must account to me honestly and fairly, when I see you, for the earnestness with which you write for them. And then also will we talk about the contents of your last dispatch, and about some of your severe and unfriendly reflections.

Mean time, whatever thou dost, don’t let the wonderful creature leave us! Set before her the sin of her preparation, as if she thought she could depart when she pleased. She’ll persuade herself, at this rate, that she has nothing to do, when all is ready, but to lie down, and go to sleep: and such a lively fancy as her’s will make a reality of a jest at any time.

A jest I call all that has passed between her and me; a mere jest to die for—For has not her triumph over me, from first to last, been infinitely greater than her sufferings from me?

Would the sacred regard I have for her purity, even for her personal as well as intellectual purity, permit, I could prove this as clear as the sun. Tell, therefore, the dear creature that she must not be wicked in her piety. There is a too much, as well as too little, even in righteousness. Perhaps she does not think of that.—Oh! that she would have permitted my attendance, as obligingly as she does of thine!—The dear soul used to love humour. I remember the time that she knew how to smile at a piece of apropos humour. And, let me tell thee, a smile upon the lips, or a sparkling in the eye, must have had its correspondent cheerfulness in a heart so sincere as her’s.

Tell the doctor I will make over all my possessions, and all my reversions, to him, if he will but prolong her life for one twelvemonth to come. But for one twelvemonth, Jack!—He will lose all his reputation with me, and I shall treat him as Belton did his doctor, if he cannot do this for me, on so young a subject. But nineteen, Belford!—nineteen cannot so soon die of grief, if the doctor deserve that title; and so blooming and so fine a constitution as she had but three or four months ago!

But what need the doctor to ask her leave to write to her friends? Could he not have done it without letting her know any thing of the matter? That was one of the likeliest means that could be thought of to bring some of them about her, since she is so desirous to see them. At least it would have induced them to send up her favourite Norton. But these plaguy solemn fellows are great traders in parade. They’ll cram down your throat their poisonous drugs by wholesale, without asking you a question; and have the assurance to own it to be prescribing: but when they are to do good, they are to require your consent.

How the dear creature’s character rises in every line of thy letters! But it is owing to the uncommon occasions she has met with that she blazes out upon us with such a meridian lustre. How, but for those occasions, could her noble sentiments, her prudent consideration, her forgiving spirit, her exalted benevolence, and her equanimity in view of the most shocking prospects (which set her in a light so superior to all her sex, and even to the philosophers of antiquity) have been manifested?

I know thou wilt think I am going to claim some merit to myself, for having given her such opportunities of signalizing her virtues. But I am not; for, if I did, I must share that merit with her implacable relations, who would justly be entitled to two-thirds of it, at least: and my soul disdains a partnership in any thing with such a family.

But this I mention as an answer to thy reproaches, that I could be so little edified by perfections, to which, thou supposest, I was for so long together daily and hourly a personal witness—when, admirable as she was in all she said, and in all she did, occasion had not at that time ripened, and called forth, those amazing perfections which now astonish and confound me.

Hence it is that I admire her more than ever; and that my love for her is less personal, as I may say, more intellectual, than ever I thought it could be to a woman.

Hence also it is that I am confident (would it please the Fates to spare her, and make her mine) I could love her with a purity that would draw on my own FUTURE, as well as ensure her TEMPORAL, happiness.—And hence, by necessary consequence, shall I be the most miserable of all men, if I am deprived of her.

Thou severely reflectest upon me for my levity: the Abbey instance in thine eye, I suppose. And I will be ingenuous enough to own, that as thou seest not my heart, there may be passages, in every one of my letters, which (the melancholy occasion considered) deserve thy most pointed rebukes. But faith, Jack, thou art such a tragi-comical mortal, with thy leaden aspirations at one time, and thy flying hour-glasses and dreaming terrors at another, that, as Prior says, What serious is, thou turn’st to farce; and it is impossible to keep within the bounds of decorum or gravity when one reads what thou writest.

But to restrain myself (for my constitutional gayety was ready to run away with me again) I will repeat, I must ever repeat, that I am most egregiously affected with the circumstances of the case: and, were this paragon actually to quit the world, should never enjoy myself one hour together, though I were to live to the age of Methusalem.

Indeed it is to this deep concern, that my levity is owing: for I struggle and struggle, and try to buffet down my cruel reflections as they rise; and when I cannot, I am forced, as I have often said, to try to make myself laugh, that I may not cry; for one or other I must do: and is it not philosophy carried to the highest pitch, for a man to conquer such tumults of soul as I am sometimes agitated by, and, in the very height of the storm, to be able to quaver out an horse-laugh?

Your Seneca’s, your Epictetus’s, and the rest of your stoical tribe, with all their apathy nonsense, could not come up to this. They could forbear wry faces: bodily pains they could well enough seem to support; and that was all: but the pangs of their own smitten-down souls they could not laugh over, though they could at the follies of others. They read grave lectures; but they were grave. This high point of philosophy, to laugh and be merry in the midst of the most soul-harrowing woes, when the heart-strings are just bursting asunder, was reserved for thy Lovelace.

There is something owing to constitution, I own; and that this is the laughing-time of my life. For what a woe must that be, which for an hour together can mortify a man six or seven and twenty, in high blood and spirits, of a naturally gay disposition, who can sing, dance, and scribble, and take and give delight in them all?—But then my grief, as my joy, is sharper-pointed than most other men’s; and, like what Dolly Welby once told me, describing the parturient throes, if there were not lucid intervals, if they did not come and go, there would be no bearing them.


After all, as I am so little distant from the dear creature, and as she is so very ill, I think I cannot excuse myself from making her one visit. Nevertheless, if I thought her so near—[what word shall I use, that my soul is not shocked at!] and that she would be too much discomposed by a visit, I would not think of it.—Yet how can I bear the recollection, that, when she last went from me (her innocence so triumphant over my premeditated guilt, as was enough to reconcile her to life, and to set her above the sense of injuries so nobly sustained, that) she should then depart with an incurable fracture in her heart; and that that should be the last time I should ever see her!—How, how, can I bear this reflection!

O Jack! how my conscience, that gives edge even to thy blunt reflections, tears me!—Even this moment would I give the world to push the cruel reproacher from me by one ray of my usual gayety!—Sick of myself!—sick of the remembrance of my vile plots; and of my light, my momentary ecstacy [villanous burglar, felon, thief, that I was!] which has brought on me such durable and such heavy remorse! what would I give that I had not been guilty of such barbarous and ungrateful perfidy to the most excellent of God’s creatures!

I would end, methinks, with one sprightlier line!—but it will not be.— Let me tell thee then, and rejoice at it if thou wilt, that I am

Inexpressibly miserable!