Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXII


What dost hate me for, Belford!—and why more and more! have I been guilty of any offence thou knewest not before?—If pathos can move such a heart as thine, can it alter facts!—Did I not always do this incomparable creature as much justice as thou canst do her for the heart of thee, or as she can do herself?——What nonsense then thy hatred, thy augmented hatred, when I still persist to marry her, pursuant to word given to thee, and to faith plighted to all my relations? But hate, if thou wilt, so thou dost but write. Thou canst not hate me so much as I do myself: and yet I know if thou really hatedst me, thou wouldst not venture to tell me so.

Well, but after all, what need of her history to these women? She will certainly repent, some time hence, that she has thus needless exposed us both.

Sickness palls every appetite, and makes us hate what we loved: but renewed health changes the scene; disposes us to be pleased with ourselves; and then we are in a way to be pleased with every one else. Every hope, then, rises upon us: every hour presents itself to us on dancing feet: and what Mr. Addison says of liberty, may, with still greater propriety, be said of health, for what is liberty itself without health?

It makes the gloomy face of nature gay;

Gives beauty to the sun, and pleasure to the day.

And I rejoice that she is already so much better, as to hold with strangers such a long and interesting conversation.

Strange, confoundedly strange, and as perverse [that is to say, womanly] as strange, that she should refuse, and sooner choose to die [O the obscene word! and yet how free does thy pen make with it to me!] than be mine, who offended her by acting in character, while her parents acted shamefully out of theirs, and when I am now willing to act out of my own to oblige her; yet I am not to be forgiven; they to be faultless with her!—and marriage the only medium to repair all breaches, and to salve her own honour!—Surely thou must see the inconsistence of her forgiving unforgiveness, as I may call it!—yet, heavy varlet as thou art, thou wantest to be drawn up after her! And what a figure dost thou make with thy speeches, stiff as Hickman’s ruffles, with thy aspirations and protestations!—unused, thy weak head, to bear the sublimities that fall, even in common conversation, from the lips of this ever-charming creature!

But the prettiest whim of all was, to drop the bank note behind her chair, instead of presenting it on thy knees to her hand!—To make such a woman as this doubly stoop—by the acceptance, and to take it from the ground!—What an ungrateful benefit-conferrer art thou!—How awkward, to take in into thy head, that the best way of making a present to a lady was to throw the present behind her chair!

I am very desirous to see what she has written to her sister; what she is about to write to Miss Howe; and what return she will have from the Harlowe-Arabella. Canst thou not form some scheme to come at the copies of these letters, or the substance of them at least, and of that of her other correspondencies? Mrs. Lovick, thou seemest to say, is a pious woman. The lady, having given such a particular history of herself, will acquaint her with every thing. And art thou not about to reform!—Won’t this consent of minds between thee and the widow, [what age is she, Jack? the devil never trumpt up a friendship between a man and a woman, of any thing like years, which did not end in matrimony, or in the ruin of their morals!] Won’t it strike out an intimacy between ye, that may enable thee to gratify me in this particular? A proselyte, I can tell thee, has great influence upon your good people: such a one is a saint of their own creation: and they will water, and cultivate, and cherish him, as a plant of their own raising: and this from a pride truly spiritual!

One of my lovers in Paris was a devotée. She took great pains to convert me. I gave way to her kind endeavours for the good of my soul. She thought it a point gained to make me profess some religion. The catholic has its conveniencies. I permitted her to bring a father to me. My reformation went on swimmingly. The father had hopes of me: he applauded her zeal: so did I. And how dost thou think it ended?—Not a girl in England, reading thus far, but would guess!—In a word, very happily: for she not only brought me a father, but made me one: and then, being satisfied with each other’s conversation, we took different routes: she into Navarre; I into Italy: both well inclined to propagate the good lessons in which we had so well instructed each other.

But to return. One consolation arises to me, from the pretty regrets which this admirable creature seems to have in indulging reflections on the people’s wedding-day.—I ONCE!—thou makest her break off with saying.

She once! What—O Belford! why didst thou not urge her to explain what she once hoped?

What once a woman hopes, in love matters, she always hopes, while there is room for hope: And are we not both single? Can she be any man’s but mine? Will I be any woman’s but her’s?

I never will! I never can!—and I tell thee, that I am every day, every hour, more and more in love with her: and, at this instant, have a more vehement passion for her than ever I had in my life!—and that with views absolutely honourable, in her own sense of the word: nor have I varied, so much as in wish, for this week past; firmly fixed, and wrought into my very nature, as the life of honour, or of generous confidence in me, was, in preference to the life of doubt and distrust. That must be a life of doubt and distrust, surely, where the woman confides nothing, and ties up a man for his good behaviour for life, taking church-and-state sanctions in aid of the obligation she imposes upon him.

I shall go on Monday to a kind of ball, to which Colonel Ambrose has invited me. It is given on a family account. I care not on what: for all that delights me in the thing is, that Mrs. and Miss Howe are to be there;—Hickman, of course; for the old lady will not stir abroad without him. The Colonel is in hopes that Miss Arabella Harlowe will be there likewise; for all the men and women of fashion round him are invited.

I fell in by accident with the Colonel, who I believe, hardly thought I would accept of the invitation. But he knows me not, if he thinks I am ashamed to appear at any place, where women dare show their faces. Yet he hinted to me that my name was up, on Miss Harlowe’s account. But, to allude to one of Lord M.’s phrases, if it be, I will not lie a bed when any thing joyous is going forward.

As I shall go in my Lord’s chariot, I would have had one of my cousins Montague to go with me: but they both refused: and I shall not choose to take either of thy brethren. It would look as if I thought I wanted a bodyguard: besides, one of them is too rough, the other too smooth, and too great a fop for some of the staid company that will be there; and for me in particular. Men are known by their companions; and a fop [as Tourville, for example] takes great pains to hang out a sign by his dress of what he has in his shop. Thou, indeed, art an exception; dressing like a coxcomb, yet a very clever fellow. Nevertheless so clumsy a beau, that thou seemest to me to owe thyself a double spite, making thy ungracefulness appear the more ungraceful, by thy remarkable tawdriness, when thou art out of mourning.

I remember, when I first saw thee, my mind laboured with a strong puzzle, whether I should put thee down for a great fool, or a smatterer in wit. Something I saw was wrong in thee, by thy dress. If this fellow, thought I, delights not so much in ridicule, that he will not spare himself, he must be plaguy silly to take so much pains to make his ugliness more conspicuous than it would otherwise be.

Plain dress, for an ordinary man or woman, implies at least modesty, and always procures a kind quarter from the censorious. Who will ridicule a personal imperfection in one that seems conscious, that it is an imperfection? Who ever said an anchoret was poor? But who would spare so very absurd a wrong-head, as should bestow tinsel to make his deformity the more conspicuous?

But, although I put on these lively airs, I am sick at my soul!—My whole heart is with my charmer! with what indifference shall I look upon all the assembly at the Colonel’s, my beloved in my ideal eye, and engrossing my whole heart?