Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LX

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ. [IN ANSWER TO LETTER LVII.] UXBRIDGE, TUESDAY MORN, BETWEEN 4 AND 5.

And can it be, that this admirable creature will so soon leave this cursed world! For cursed I shall think it, and more cursed myself, when she is gone. O, Jack! thou who canst sit so cool, and, like Addison’s Angel, direct, and even enjoy, the storm, that tears up my happiness by the roots; blame me not for my impatience, however unreasonable! If thou knowest, that already I feel the torments of the damned, in the remorse that wrings my heart, on looking back upon my past actions by her, thou wouldst not be the devil thou art, to halloo on a worrying conscience, which, without my merciless aggravations, is altogether intolerable.

I know not what to write, nor what I would write. When the company that used to delight me is as uneasy to me as my reflections are painful, and I can neither help nor divert myself, must not every servant about me partake in a perturbation so sincere!

Shall I give thee a faint picture of the horrible uneasiness with which my mind struggles? And faint indeed it must be; for nothing but outrageous madness can exceed it; and that only in the apprehension of others; since, as to the sufferer, it is certain, that actual distraction (take it out of its lucid intervals) must be an infinitely more happy state than the state of suspense and anxiety, which often brings it on.

Forbidden to attend the dear creature, yet longing to see her, I would give the world to be admitted once more to her beloved presence. I ride towards London three or four times a day, resolving pro and con, twenty times in two or three miles; and at last ride back; and, in view of Uxbridge, loathing even the kind friend, and hospitable house, turn my horse’s head again towards the town, and resolve to gratify my humour, let her take it as she will; but, at the very entrance of it, after infinite canvassings, once more alter my mind, dreading to offend and shock her, lest, by that means, I should curtail a life so precious.

Yesterday, in particular, to give you an idea of the strength of that impatience, which I cannot avoid suffering to break out upon my servants, I had no sooner dispatched Will., than I took horse to meet him on his return.

In order to give him time, I loitered about on the road, riding up this lane to the one highway, down that to the other, just as my horse pointed; all the way cursing my very being; and though so lately looking down upon all the world, wishing to change conditions with the poorest beggar that cried to me for charity as I rode by him—and throwing him money, in hopes to obtain by his prayers the blessing my heart pants after.

After I had sauntered about an hour or two, (which seemed three or four tedious ones,) fearing I had slipt the fellow, I inquired at every turnpike, whether a servant in such a livery had not passed through in his return from London, on a full gallop; for woe had been to the dog, had I met him on a sluggish trot! And lest I should miss him at one end of Kensingtohn, as he might take either the Acton or Hammersmith road; or at the other, as he might come through the Park, or not; how many score times did I ride backwards and forwards from the Palace to the Gore, making myself the subject of observation to all passengers whether on horseback or on foot; who, no doubt, wondered to see a well-dressed and well-mounted man, sometimes ambling, sometimes prancing, (as the beast had more fire than his master) backwards and forwards in so short a compass!

Yet all this time, though longing to espy the fellow, did I dread to meet him, lest he should be charged with fatal tidings.

When at distance I saw any man galloping towards me, my resemblance-forming fancy immediately made it to be him; and then my heart choked me. But when the person’s nearer approach undeceived me, how did I curse the varlet’s delay, and thee, by turns! And how ready was I to draw my pistol at the stranger, for having the impudence to gallop; which none but my messenger, I thought, had either right or reason to do! For all the business of the world, I am ready to imagine, should stand still on an occasion so melancholy and so interesting to me. Nay, for this week past, I could cut the throat of any man or woman I see laugh, while I am in such dejection of mind.

I am now convinced that the wretches who fly from a heavy scene, labour under ten times more distress in the intermediate suspense and apprehension, than they could have, were they present at it, and to see and know the worst: so capable is fancy or imagination, the more immediate offspring of the soul, to outgo fact, let the subject be either joyous or grievous.

And hence, as I conceive, it is, that all pleasures are greater in the expectation, or in the reflection, than in fruition; as all pains, which press heavy upon both parts of that unequal union by which frail mortality holds its precarious tenure, are ever most acute in the time of suffering: for how easy sit upon the reflection the heaviest misfortunes, when surmounted!—But most easy, I confess, those in which body has more concern than soul. This, however, is a point of philosophy I have neither time nor head just now to weigh: so take it as it falls from a madman’s pen.

Woe be to either of the wretches who shall bring me the fatal news that she is no more! For it is but too likely that a shriek-owl so hated will never hoot or scream again; unless the shock, that will probably disorder my whole frame on so sad an occasion, (by unsteadying my hand,) shall divert my aim from his head, heart, or bowels, if it turn not against my own.

But, surely, she will not, she cannot yet die! Such a matchless excellence,

——whose mind

Contains a world, and seems for all things fram’d,

could not be lent to be so soon demanded back again!

But may it not be, that thou, Belford, art in a plot with the dear creature, (who will not let me attend her to convince myself,) in order to work up my soul to the deepest remorse; and that, when she is convinced of the sincerity of my penitence, and when my mind is made such wax, as to be fit to take what impression she pleases to give it, she will then raise me up with the joyful tidings of her returning health and acceptance of me!

What would I give to have it so! And when the happiness of hundreds, as well as the peace and reconciliation of several eminent families, depend upon her restoration and happiness, why should it not be so?

But let me presume it will. Let me indulge my former hope, however improbable—I will; and enjoy it too. And let me tell thee how ecstatic my delight would be on the unravelling of such a plot as this!

Do, dear Belford, let it be so!—And, O, my dearest, and ever-dear Clarissa, keep me no loner in this cruel suspense; in which I suffer a thousand times more than ever I made thee suffer. Nor fear thou that I will resent, or recede, on an ecclaircissement so desirable; for I will adore thee for ever, and without reproaching thee for the pangs thou hast tortured me with, confess thee as much my superior in virtue and honour!

But once more, should the worst happen—say not what that worst is—and I am gone from this hated island—gone for ever—and may eternal—but I am crazed already—and will therefore conclude myself,

Thine more than my own, (and no great compliment neither) R.L.