Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLVI



I cannot help congratulating myself as well as you that we have already got through with the family every article of the will where they have any concern.

You left me a discretional power in many instances; and, in pursuance of it, I have had my dear cousin’s personal jewels, and will account to you for them, at the highest price, when I come to town, as well as for other matters that you were pleased to intrust to my management.

These jewels I have presented to my cousin Dolly Hervey, in acknowledgement of her love to the dear departed. I have told Miss Howe of this; and she is as well pleased with what I have done as if she had been the purchaser of them herself. As that young lady has jewels of her own, she could only have wished to purchase these because they were her beloved friend’s.—The grandmother’s jewels are also valued; and the money will be paid me for you, to be carried to the uses of the will.

Mrs. Norton is preparing, by general consent, to enter upon her office as housekeeper at The Grove. But it is my opinion that she will not be long on this side Heaven.

I waited upon Miss Howe myself, as I told you I would, with what was bequeathed to her and her mother. You will not be displeased, perhaps, if I make a few observations with regard to that young lady, so dear to my beloved cousin, as you have not a personal acquaintance with her.

There never was a firmer or nobler friendship in women, than between my dear cousin and Miss Howe, to which this wretched man had given a period.

Friendship, generally speaking, Mr. Belford, is too fervent a flame for female minds to manage: a light that but in few of their hands burns steady, and often hurries the sex into flight and absurdity. Like other extremes, it is hardly ever durable. Marriage, which is the highest state of friendship, generally absorbs the most vehement friendships of female to female; and that whether the wedlock be happy, or not.

What female mind is capable of two fervent female friendships at the same time?—This I mention as a general observation; but the friendship that subsisted between these two ladies affords a remarkable exception to it: which I account for from those qualities and attainments in both, which, were they more common, would furnish more exceptions still in favour of the sex.

Both had an enlarged, and even a liberal education: both had minds thirsting after virtuous knowledge; great readers both; great writers— [and early familiar writing I take to be one of the greatest openers and improvers of the mind that man or woman can be employed in.] Both generous. High in fortune, therefore above that dependence each on the other that frequently destroys that familiarity which is the cement of friendship. Both excelling in different ways, in which neither sought to envy the other. Both blessed with clear and distinguishing faculties; with solid sense; and, from their first intimacy, [I have many of my lights, Sir, from Mrs. Norton,] each seeing something in the other to fear, as well as to love; yet making it an indispensable condition of their friendship, each to tell the other of her failings; and to be thankful for the freedom taken. One by nature gentle; the other made so by her love and admiration of her exalted friend—impossible that there could be a friendship better calculated for duration.

I must, however, take the liberty to blame Miss Howe for her behaviour to Mr. Hickman. And I infer from it, that even women of sense are not to be trusted with power.

By the way, I am sure I need not desire you not to communicate to this fervent young lady the liberties I have taken with her character.

I dare say my cousin could not approve of Miss Howe’s behaviour to this gentleman; a behaviour which is talked of by as many as know Mr. Hickman and her. Can a wise young lady be easy under such censure? She must know it.

Mr. Hickman is really a very worthy man. Every body speaks well of him. But he is gentle-dispositioned, and he adores Miss Howe; and love admits not of an air of even due dignity to the object of it. Yet will Mr. Hickman hardly ever get back the reins he has yielded up; unless she, by carrying too far the power of which she seems at present too sensible, should, when she has no favours to confer which he has not a right to demand, provoke him to throw off the too-heavy yoke. And should he do so, and then treat her with negligence, Miss Howe, of all the women I know, will be the least able to support herself under it. She will then be more unhappy than she ever made him; for a man who is uneasy at home, can divert himself abroad; which a woman cannot so easily do, without scandal.—Permit me to take farther notice, as to Miss Howe, that it is very obvious to me, that she has, by her haughty behaviour to this worthy man, involved herself in one difficulty, from which she knows not how to extricate herself with that grace which accompanies all her actions. She intends to have Mr. Hickman. I believe she does not dislike him. And it will cost her no small pains to descend from the elevation she has climbed to.

Another inconvenience she will suffer from her having taught every body (for she is above disguise) to think, by her treatment of Mr. Hickman, much more meanly of him than he deserves to be thought of. And must she not suffer dishonour in his dishonour?

Mrs. Howe is much disturbed at her daughter’s behaviour to the gentleman. He is very deservedly a favourite of her’s. But [another failing in Miss Howe] her mother has not all the authority with her that a mother ought to have. Miss Howe is indeed a woman of fine sense; but it requires a high degree of good understanding, as well as a sweet and gentle disposition of mind, and great discretion, in a child, when grown up, to let it be seen, that she mingles reverence with her love, to a parent, who has talents visibly inferior to her own.

Miss Howe is open, generous, noble. The mother has not any of her fine qualities. Parents, in order to preserve their children’s veneration for them, should take great care not to let them see any thing in their conduct, or behaviour, or principles, which they themselves would not approve of in others.

Mr. Hickman has, however, this consideration to comfort himself with, that the same vivacity by which he suffers, makes Miss Howe’s own mother, at times, equally sensible. And as he sees enough of this beforehand, he will have more reason to blame himself than the lady, should she prove as lively a wife as she was a mistress, for having continued his addresses, and married her, against such threatening appearances.

There is also another circumstance which good-natured men, who engage with even lively women, may look forward to with pleasure; a circumstance which generally lowers the spirits of the ladies, and domesticates them, as I may call it; and which, as it will bring those of Mr. Hickman and Miss Howe nearer to a par, that worthy gentleman will have double reason, when it happens, to congratulate himself upon it.

But after all, I see that there is something so charmingly brilliant and frank in Miss Howe’s disposition, although at present visibly overclouded by grief, that it is impossible not to love her, even for her failings. She may, and I hope she will, make Mr. Hickman an obliging wife. And if she does, she will have additional merit with me; since she cannot be apprehensive of check or controul; and may therefore, by her generosity and prudence, lay an obligation upon her husband, by the performance of what is no more than her duty.

Her mother both loves and fears her. Yet is Mrs. Howe also a woman of vivacity, and ready enough, I dare say, to cry out when she is pained. But, alas! she has, as I hinted above, weakened her authority by the narrowness of her mind.

Yet once she praised her daughter to me with so much warmth for the generosity of her spirit, that had I not known the old lady’s character, I should have thought her generous herself. And yet I have always observed, that people of narrow tempers are ready to praise generous ones:—and thus have I accounted for it—that such persons generally find it to their purpose, that all the world should be open-minded but themselves.

The old lady applied herself to me, to urge to the young one the contents of the will, in order to hasten her to fix a day for her marriage; but desired that I would not let Miss Howe know that she did.

I took the liberty upon it to tell Miss Howe that I hoped that her part of a will, so soon, and so punctually, in almost all its other articles, fulfilled, would not be the only one that would be slighted.

Her answer was, she would consider of it: and made me a courtesy with such an air, as showed me that she thought me more out of my sphere, than I could allow her to think me, had I been permitted to argue the point with her.

I found Miss Howe and her own servant-maid in deep mourning. This, it seems, had occasioned a great debate at first between her mother and her. Her mother had the words of the will on her side; and Mr. Hickman’s interest in her view; her daughter having said that she would wear it for six months at least. But the young lady carried her point—’Strange,’ said she, ’if I, who shall mourn the heavy, the irreparable loss to the last hour of my life, should not show my concern to the world for a few months!’

Mr. Hickman, for his part, was so far from uttering an opposing word on this occasion, that, on the very day that Miss Howe put on her’s, he waited on her in a new suit of mourning, as for a near relation. His servants and equipage made the same respectful appearance.

Whether the mother was consulted by him in it, I cannot say; but the daughter knew nothing of it, till she saw him in it; she looked at him with surprise, and asked him for whom he mourned?

The dear, and ever-dear Miss Harlowe, he said.

She was at a loss, it seems. At last—All the world ought to mourn for my Clarissa, said she; But whom, man, [that was her whimsical address to him,] thinkest thou to oblige by this appearance?

It is more than appearance, Madam. I love not my own sister, worthy as she is, better than I loved Miss Clarissa Harlowe. I oblige myself by it. And if I disoblige not you, that is all I wish.

She surveyed him, I am told, from head to foot. She knew not, at first, whether to be angry or pleased.—At length, ’I thought at first,’ said she, ’that you might have a bolder and freer motive—but (as my Mamma says) you may be a well-meaning man, though generally a little wrong-headed—however, as the world is censorious, and may think us nearer of kin than I would have it supposed, I must take care that I am not seen abroad in your company.’

But let me add, Mr. Belford, that if this compliment of Mr. Hickman (or this more than compliment, as I may call it, since the worthy man speaks not of my dear cousin without emotion) does not produce a short day, I shall think Miss Howe has less generosity in her temper than I am willing to allow her.

You will excuse me, Mr. Belford, for the particularities which you invited and encouraged. Having now seen every thing that relates to the will of my dear cousin brought to a desirable issue, I will set about making my own. I shall follow the dear creature’s example, and give my reasons for every article, that there may be no room for after-contention.

What but a fear of death, a fear unworthy of a creature who knows that he must one day as surely die as he was born, can hinder any one from making such a disposition?

I hope soon to pay my respects to you in town. Mean time, I am, with great respect, dear Sir,

Your faithful and affectionate humble servant, WM. MORDEN.