Clarissa Harlowe LETTER L

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE THURSDAY, JULY 27.

MY DEAREST MISS HOWE,

After I have thankfully acknowledged your favour in sending Mr. Hickman to visit me before you set out upon your intended journey, I must chide you (in the sincerity of that faithful love, which could not be the love it is if it would not admit of that cementing freedom) for suspending the decisive negative, which, upon such full deliberation, I had entreated you to give to Mr. Lovelace’s relations.

I am sorry that I am obliged to repeat to you, my dear, who know me so well, that, were I sure I should live many years, I would not have Mr. Lovelace; much less can I think of him, as it is probable I may not live one.

As to the world and its censures, you know, my dear, that, however desirous I always was of a fair fame, yet I never thought it right to give more than a second place to the world’s opinion. The challenges made to Mr. Lovelace, by Miss D’Oily, in public company, are a fresh proof that I have lost my reputation: and what advantage would it be to me, were it retrievable, and were I to live long, if I could not acquit myself to myself?

Having in my former said so much on the freedoms you have taken with my friends, I shall say the less now; but your hint, that something else has newly passed between some of them and you, gives me great concern, and that as well for my own sake as for theirs, since it must necessarily incense them against me. I wise, my dear, that I had been left to my own course on an occasion so very interesting to myself. But, since what is done cannot be helped, I must abide the consequences: yet I dread more than before, what may be my sister’s answer, if an answer will be at all vouchsafed.

Will you give me leave, my dear, to close this subject with one remark? —It is this: that my beloved friend, in points where her own laudable zeal is concerned, has ever seemed more ready to fly from the rebuke, than from the fault. If you will excuse this freedom, I will acknowledge thus far in favour of your way of thinking, as to the conduct of some parents in these nice cases, that indiscreet opposition does frequently as much mischief as giddy love.

As to the invitation you are so kind as to give me, to remove privately into your neighbourhood, I have told Mr. Hickman that I will consider of it; but believe, if you will be so good as to excuse me, that I shall not accept of it, even should I be able to remove. I will give you my reasons for declining it; and so I ought, when both my love and my gratitude would make a visit now-and-then from my dear Miss Howe the most consolate thing in the world to me.

You must know then, that this great town, wicked as it is, wants not opportunities of being better; having daily prayers at several churches in it; and I am desirous, as my strength will permit, to embrace those opportunities. The method I have proposed to myself (and was beginning to practise when that cruel arrest deprived me of both freedom and strength) is this: when I was disposed to gentle exercise, I took a chair to St. Dunstan’s church in Fleet-street, where are prayers at seven in the morning; I proposed if the weather favoured, to walk (if not, to take chair) to Lincoln’s-inn chapel, where, at eleven in the morning, and at five in the afternoon, are the same desirable opportunities; and at other times to go no farther than Covent-garden church, where are early morning prayers likewise.

This method pursued, I doubt not, will greatly help, as it has already done, to calm my disturbed thoughts, and to bring me to that perfect resignation after which I aspire: for I must own, my dear, that sometimes still my griefs and my reflections are too heavy for me; and all the aid I can draw from religious duties is hardly sufficient to support my staggering reason. I am a very young creature you know, my dear, to be left to my own conduct in such circumstances as I am in.

Another reason why I choose not to go down into your neighbourhood, is the displeasure that might arise, on my account, between your mother and you.

If indeed you were actually married, and the worthy man (who would then have a title to all your regard) were earnestly desirous of near neighbourhood, I know not what I might do: for although I might not perhaps intend to give up my other important reasons at the time I should make you a congratulatory visit, yet I might not know how to deny myself the pleasure of continuing near you when there.

I send you enclosed the copy of my letter to my sister. I hope it will be thought to be written with a true penitent spirit; for indeed it is. I desire that you will not think I stoop too low in it; since there can be no such thing as that in a child to parents whom she has unhappily offended.

But if still (perhaps more disgusted than before at your freedom with them) they should pass it by with the contempt of silence, (for I have not yet been favoured with an answer,) I must learn to think it right in them to do so; especially as it is my first direct application: for I have often censured the boldness of those, who, applying for a favour, which it is in a person’s option to grant or refuse, take the liberty of being offended, if they are not gratified; as if the petitioned had not as good a right to reject, as the petitioner to ask.

But if my letter should be answered, and that in such terms as will make me loth to communicate it to so warm a friend—you must not, my dear, take it upon yourself to censure my relations; but allow for them as they know not what I have suffered; as being filled with just resentments against me, (just to them if they think them just;) and as not being able to judge of the reality of my penitence.

And after all, what can they do for me?—They can only pity me: and what will that but augment their own grief; to which at present their resentment is an alleviation? for can they by their pity restore to me my lost reputation? Can they by it purchase a sponge that will wipe out from the year the past fatal four months of my life?*

* She takes in the time that she appointed to meet Mr. Lovelace.

Your account of the gay, unconcerned behaviour of Mr. Lovelace, at the Colonel’s, does not surprise me at all, after I am told that he had the intrepidity to go there, knowing who were invited and expected.—Only this, my dear, I really wonder at, that Miss Howe could imagine that I could have a thought of such a man for a husband.

Poor wretch! I pity him, to see him fluttering about; abusing talents that were given him for excellent purposes; taking in consideration for courage; and dancing, fearless of danger, on the edge of a precipice!

But indeed his threatening to see me most sensibly alarms and shocks me. I cannot but hope that I never, never more shall see him in this world.

Since you are so loth, my dear, to send the desired negative to the ladies of his family, I will only trouble you to transmit the letter I shall enclose for that purpose; directed indeed to yourself, because it was to you that those ladies applied themselves on this occasion; but to be sent by you to any one of the ladies, at your own choice.

I commend myself, my dearest Miss Howe, to your prayers; and conclude with repeated thanks for sending Mr. Hickman to me; and with wishes for your health and happiness, and for the speedy celebration of your nuptials;

Your ever affectionate and obliged, CLARISSA HARLOWE.