Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LVIII

MRS. HARLOWE, TO MRS. JUDITH NORTON SUNDAY, JULY 30.

We all know your virtuous prudence, worthy woman: we all do. But your partiality to this your rash favourite is likewise known. And we are no less acquainted with the unhappy body’s power of painting her distresses so as to pierce a stone.

Every one is of opinion that the dear naughty creature is working about to be forgiven and received: and for this reason it is that Betty has been forbidden, [not by me, you may be assured!] to mention any more of her letters; for she did speak to my Bella of some moving passages you read to her.

This will convince you that nothing will be heard in her favour. To what purpose then should I mention any thing about her?—But you may be sure that I will, if I can have but one second. However, that is not at all likely, until we see what the consequences of her crime will be: And who can tell that?—She may—How can I speak it, and my once darling daughter unmarried?—She may be with child!—This would perpetuate her stain. Her brother may come to some harm; which God forbid!—One child’s ruin, I hope, will not be followed by another’s murder!

As to her grief, and her present misery, whatever it be, she must bear with it; and it must be short of what I hourly bear for her! Indeed I am afraid nothing but her being at the last extremity of all will make her father, and her uncles, and her other friends, forgive her.

The easy pardon perverse children meet with, when they have done the rashest and most rebellious thing they can do, is the reason (as is pleaded to us every day) that so may follow their example. They depend upon the indulgent weakness of their parents’ tempers, and, in that dependence, harden their own hearts: and a little humiliation, when they have brought themselves into the foretold misery, is to be a sufficient atonement for the greatest perverseness.

But for such a child as this [I mention what others hourly say, but what I must sorrowfully subscribe to] to lay plots and stratagems to deceive her parents as well as herself! and to run away with a libertine! Can there be any atonement for her crime? And is she not answerable to God, to us, to you, and to all the world who knew her, for the abuse of such talents as she has abused?

You say her heart is half-broken: Is it to be wondered at? Was not her sin committed equally against warning and the light of her own knowledge?

That he would now marry her, or that she would refuse him, if she believed him in earnest, as she has circumstanced herself, is not at all probable; and were I inclined to believe it, nobody else here would. He values not his relations; and would deceive them as soon as any others: his aversion to marriage he has always openly declared; and still occasionally declares it. But, if he be now in earnest, which every one who knows him must doubt, which do you think (hating us too as he professes to hate and despise us all) would be most eligible here, To hear of her death, or of her marriage to such a vile man?

To all of us, yet, I cannot say! For, O my good Mrs. Norton, you know what a mother’s tenderness for the child of her heart would make her choose, notwithstanding all that child’s faults, rather than lose her for ever!

But I must sail with the tide; my own judgment also joining with the general resentment; or I should make the unhappiness of the more worthy still greater, [my dear Mr. Harlowe’s particularly;] which is already more than enough to make them unhappy for the remainder of their days. This I know; if I were to oppose the rest, our son would fly out to find this libertine; and who could tell what would be the issue of that with such a man of violence and blood as that Lovelace is known to be?

All I can expect to prevail for her is, that in a week, or so, Mr. Brand may be sent up to inquire privately about her present state and way of life, and to see she is not altogether destitute: for nothing she writes herself will be regarded.

Her father indeed has, at her earnest request, withdrawn the curse, which, in a passion, he laid upon her, at her first wicked flight from us. But Miss Howe, [it is a sad thing, Mrs. Norton, to suffer so many ways at once,] had made matters so difficult by her undue liberties with us all, as well by speech in all companies, as by letters written to my Bella, that we could hardly prevail upon him to hear her letter read.

These liberties of Miss Howe with us; the general cry against us abroad wherever we are spoken of; and the visible, and not seldom audible, disrespectfulness, which high and low treat us with to our faces, as we go to and from church, and even at church, (for no where else have we the heart to go,) as if none of us had been regarded but upon her account; and as if she were innocent, we all in fault; are constant aggravations, you must needs think, to the whole family.

She has made my lot heavy, I am sure, that was far from being light before!—To tell you truth, I am enjoined not to receive any thing of her’s, from any hand, without leave. Should I therefore gratify my yearnings after her, so far as to receive privately the letter you mention, what would the case be, but to torment myself, without being able to do her good?—And were it to be known—Mr. Harlowe is so passionate—And should it throw his gout into his stomach, as her rash flight did—Indeed, indeed, I am very unhappy!—For, O my good woman, she is my child still!—But unless it were more in my power—Yet do I long to see the letter—you say it tells of her present way and circumstances. The poor child, who ought to be in possession of thousands!—And will!—For her father will be a faithful steward for her.—But it must be in his own way, and at his own time.

And is she really ill?—so very ill?—But she ought to sorrow—she has given a double measure of it.

But does she really believe she shall not long trouble us?—But, O my Norton!—She must, she will, long trouble us—For can she think her death, if we should be deprived of her, will put an end to our afflictions?—Can it be thought that the fall of such a child will not be regretted by us to the last hour of our lives?

But, in the letter you have, does she, without reserve, express her contrition? Has she in it no reflecting hints? Does she not aim at extenuations?—If I were to see it, will it not shock me so much, that my apparent grief may expose me to harshnesses?—Can it be contrived—

But to what purpose?—Don’t send it—I charge you don’t—I dare not see it—

Yet—

But alas!—

Oh! forgive the almost distracted mother! You can.—You know how to allow for all this—so I will let it go.—I will not write over again this part of my letter.

But I choose not to know more of her than is communicated to us all— no more than I dare own I have seen—and what some of them may rather communicate to me, than receive from me: and this for the sake of my outward quiet: although my inward peace suffers more and more by the compelled reserve.

***

I was forced to break off. But I will now try to conclude my long letter.

I am sorry you are ill. But if you were well, I could not, for your own sake, wish you to go up, as Betty tells us you long to do. If you went, nothing would be minded that came from you. As they already think you too partial in her favour, your going up would confirm it, and do yourself prejudice, and her no good. And as every body values you here, I advise you not to interest yourself too warmly in her favour, especially before my Bella’s Betty, till I can let you know a proper time. Yet to forbid you to love the dear naughty creature, who can? O my Norton! you must love her!—And so must I!

I send you five guineas, to help you in your present illness, and your son’s; for it must have lain heavy upon you. What a sad, sad thing, my dear good woman, that all your pains, and all my pains, for eighteen or nineteen years together, have, in so few months, been rendered thus deplorably vain! Yet I must be always your friend, and pity you, for the very reason that I myself deserve every one’s pity.

Perhaps I may find an opportunity to pay you a visit, as in your illness; and then may weep over the letter you mention with you. But, for the future, write nothing to me about the poor girl that you think may not be communicated to us all.

And I charge you, as you value my friendship, as you wish my peace, not to say any thing of a letter you have from me, either to the naughty one, or to any body else. It was with some little relief (the occasion given) to write to you, who must, in so particular a manner, share my affliction. A mother, Mrs. Norton, cannot forget her child, though that child could abandon her mother; and, in so doing, run away with all her mother’s comforts!—As I truly say is the case of

Your unhappy friend, CHARLOTTE HARLOWE.