Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LII

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ. FRIDAY, JULY 28.

I have three letters of thine to take notice of:* but am divided in my mind, whether to quarrel with thee on thy unmerciful reflections, or to thank thee for thy acceptable particularity and diligence. But several of my sweet dears have I, indeed, in my time, made to cry and laugh before the cry could go off the other: Why may I not, therefore, curse and applaud thee in the same moment? So take both in one: and what follows, as it shall rise from my pen.

* Letters XLVI. XLVII. and XLVIII. of this volume.

How often have I ingenuously confessed my sins against this excellent creature?—Yet thou never sparest me, although as bad a man as myself. Since then I get so little by my confessions, I had a good mind to try to defend myself; and that not only from antient and modern story, but from common practice; and yet avoid repeating any thing I have suggested before in my own behalf.

I am in a humour to play the fool with my pen: briefly then, from antient story first:—Dost thou not think that I am as much entitled to forgiveness on Miss Harlowe’s account, as Virgil’s hero was on Queen Dido’s? For what an ungrateful varlet was that vagabond to the hospitable princess, who had willingly conferred upon him the last favour?—Stealing away, (whence, I suppose, the ironical phrase of trusty Trojan to this day,) like a thief—pretendedly indeed at the command of the gods; but could that be, when the errand he went upon was to rob other princes, not only of their dominions, but of their lives?—Yet this fellow is, at every word, the pious Æneas, with the immortal bard who celebrates him.

Should Miss Harlowe even break her heart, (which Heaven forbid!) for the usage she has received, (to say nothing of her disappointed pride, to which her death would be attributable, more than to reason,) what comparison will her fate hold to Queen Dido’s? And have I half the obligation to her, that Æneas had to the Queen of Carthage? The latter placing a confidence, the former none, in her man?—Then, whom else have I robbed? Whom else have I injured? Her brother’s worthless life I gave him, instead of taking any man’s; while the Trojan vagabond destroyed his thousands. Why then should it not be the pious Lovelace, as well as the pious Æneas? For, dost thou think, had a conflagration happened, and had it been in my power, that I would not have saved my old Anchises, (as he did his from the Ilion bonfire,) even at the expense of my Creüsa, had I a wife of that name?

But for a more modern instance in my favour—Have I used Miss Harlowe, as our famous Maiden Queen, as she was called, used one of her own blood, a sister-queen, who threw herself into her protection from her rebel-subjects, and whom she detained prisoner eighteen years, and at last cut off her head? Yet do not honest protestants pronounce her pious too?—And call her particularly their Queen?

As to common practice—Who, let me ask, that has it in his power to gratify a predominant passion, be it what it will, denies himself the gratification?—Leaving it to cooler deliberation, (and, if he be a great man, to his flatterers,) to find a reason for it afterwards?

Then, as to the worst part of my treatment of this lady, How many men are there, who, as well as I, have sought, by intoxicating liquors, first to inebriate, then to subdue? What signifies what the potations were, when the same end was in view?

Let me tell thee, upon the whole, that neither the Queen of Carthage, nor the Queen of Scots, would have thought they had any reason to complain of cruelty, had they been used no worse than I have used the queen of my heart: And then do I not aspire with my whole soul to repair by marriage? Would the pious Æneas, thinkest thou, have done such a piece of justice by Dido, had she lived?

Come, come, Belford, let people run away with notions as they will, I am comparatively a very innocent man. And if by these, and other like reasonings, I have quieted my own conscience, a great end is answered. What have I to do with the world?

And now I sit me peaceably down to consider thy letters.

I hope thy pleas in my favour,* when she gave thee, (so generously gave thee,) for me my letters, were urged with an honest energy. But I suspect thee much for being too ready to give up thy client. Then thou hast such a misgiving aspect, an aspect rather inviting rejection than carrying persuasion with it; and art such an hesitating, such a humming and hawing caitiff; that I shall attribute my failure, if I do fail, rather to the inability and ill looks of my advocate, than to my cause. Again, thou art deprived of the force men of our cast give to arguments; for she won’t let thee swear!—Art, moreover, a very heavy, thoughtless fellow; tolerable only at a second rebound; a horrid dunce at the impromptu. These, encountering with such a lady, are great disadvantages.—And still a greater is thy balancing, (as thou dost at present,) between old rakery and new reformation; since this puts thee into the same situation with her, as they told me, at Leipsick, Martin Luther was in, at the first public dispute which he held in defence of his supposed new doctrines with Eckius. For Martin was then but a linsey-wolsey reformer. He retained some dogmas, which, by natural consequence, made others, that he held, untenable. So that Eckius, in some points, had the better of him. But, from that time, he made clear work, renouncing all that stood in his way: and then his doctrines ran upon all fours. He was never puzzled afterwards; and could boldly declare that he would defend them in the face of angels and men; and to his friends, who would have dissuaded him from venturing to appear before the Emperor Charles at Spires, That, were there as many devils at Spires, as tiles upon the houses, he would go. An answer that is admired by every protestant Saxon to this day.

* See Letter XLVII. of this volume.

Since then thy unhappy awkwardness destroys the force of thy arguments, I think thou hadst better (for the present, however) forbear to urge her on the subject of accepting the reparation I offer; lest the continual teasing of her to forgive me should but strengthen her in her denials of forgiveness; till, for consistency sake, she’ll be forced to adhere to a resolution so often avowed—Whereas, if left to herself, a little time, and better health, which will bring on better spirits, will give her quicker resentments; those quicker resentments will lead her into vehemence; that vehemence will subside, and turn into expostulation and parley: my friends will then interpose, and guaranty for me: and all our trouble on both sides will be over.—Such is the natural course of things.

I cannot endure thee for thy hopelessness in the lady’s recovery;* and that in contradiction to the doctor and apothecary.

* See Letter XLVII. of this volume.

Time, in the words of Congreve, thou sayest, will give increase to her afflictions. But why so? Knowest thou not that those words (so contrary to common experience) were applied to the case of a person, while passion was in its full vigour?—At such a time, every one in a heavy grief thinks the same: but as enthusiasts do by Scripture, so dost thou by the poets thou hast read: any thing that carries the most distant allusion from either to the case in hand, is put down by both for gospel, however incongruous to the general scope of either, and to that case. So once, in a pulpit, I heard one of the former very vehemently declare himself to be a dead dog; when every man, woman, and child, were convinced to the contrary by his howling.

I can tell thee that, if nothing else will do, I am determined, in spite of thy buskin-airs, and of thy engagements for me to the contrary, to see her myself.

Face to face have I known many a quarrel made up, which distance would have kept alive, and widened. Thou wilt be a madder Jack than he in the tale of a Tub, if thou givest an active opposition to this interview.

In short, I cannot bear the thought, that a woman whom once I had bound to me in the silken cords of love, should slip through my fingers, and be able, while my heart flames out with a violent passion for her, to despise me, and to set both love and me at defiance. Thou canst not imagine how much I envy thee, and her doctor, and her apothecary, and every one who I hear are admitted to her presence and conversation; and wish to be the one or the other in turn.

Wherefore, if nothing else will do, I will see her. I’ll tell thee of an admirable expedient, just come cross me, to save thy promise, and my own.

Mrs. Lovick, you say, is a good woman: if the lady be worse, you shall advise her to send for a parson to pray by her: unknown to her, unknown to the lady, unknown to thee, (for so it may pass,) I will contrive to be the man, petticoated out, and vested in a gown and cassock. I once, for a certain purpose, did assume the canonicals; and I was thought to make a fine sleek appearance; my broad rose-bound beaver became me mightily; and I was much admired upon the whole by all who saw me.

Methinks it must be charmingly a propos to see me kneeling down by her bed-side, (I am sure I shall pray heartily,) beginning out of the common-prayer book the sick-office for the restoration of the languishing lady, and concluding with an exhortation to charity and forgiveness for myself.

I will consider of this matter. But, in whatever shape I shall choose to appear, of this thou mayest assure thyself, I will apprize thee beforehand of my visit, that thou mayst contrive to be out of the way, and to know nothing of the matter. This will save thy word; and, as to mine, can she think worse of me than she does at present?

An indispensable of true love and profound respect, in thy wise opinion,* is absurdity or awkwardness.—’Tis surprising that thou shouldst be one of those partial mortals who take their measures of right and wrong from what they find themselves to be, and cannot help being!—So awkwardness is a perfection in the awkward!—At this rate, no man ever can be in the wrong. But I insist upon it, that an awkward fellow will do every thing awkwardly: and, if he be like thee, will, when he has done foolishly, rack his unmeaning brain for excuses as awkward as his first fault. Respectful love is an inspirer of actions worthy of itself; and he who cannot show it, where he most means it, manifests that he is an unpolite rough creature, a perfect Belford, and has it not in him.

* See Letter XLVI. of this volume.

But here thou’lt throw out that notable witticism, that my outside is the best of me, thine the worst of thee; and that, if I set about mending my mind, thou wilt mend thy appearance.

But, pr’ythee, Jack, don’t stay for that; but set about thy amendment in dress when thou leavest off thy mourning; for why shouldst thou prepossess in thy disfavour all those who never saw thee before?—It is hard to remove early-taken prejudices, whether of liking or distaste. People will hunt, as I may say, for reasons to confirm first impressions, in compliment to their own sagacity: nor is it every mind that has the ingenuousness to confess itself half mistaken, when it finds itself to be wrong. Thou thyself art an adept in the pretended science of reading men; and, whenever thou art out, wilt study to find some reasons why it was more probable that thou shouldst have been right; and wilt watch every motion and action, and every word and sentiment, in the person thou hast once censured, for proofs, in order to help thee to revive and maintain thy first opinion. And, indeed, as thou seldom errest on the favourable side, human nature is so vile a thing that thou art likely to be right five times in six on what thou findest in thine own heart, to have reason to compliment thyself on thy penetration.

Here is preachment for thy preachment: and I hope, if thou likest thy own, thou wilt thank me for mine; the rather, as thou mayest be the better for it, if thou wilt: since it is calculated for thy own meridian.

Well, but the lady refers my destiny to the letter she has written, actually written, to Miss Howe; to whom it seems she has given her reasons why she will not have me. I long to know the contents of this letter: but am in great hopes that she has so expressed her denials, as shall give room to think she only wants to be persuaded to the contrary, in order to reconcile herself to herself.

I could make some pretty observations upon one or two places of the lady’s mediation: but, wicked as I am thought to be, I never was so abandoned as to turn into ridicule, or even to treat with levity, things sacred. I think it the highest degree of ill manners to jest upon those subjects which the world in general look upon with veneration, and call divine. I would not even treat the mythology of the heathen to a heathen, with the ridicule that perhaps would fairly lie from some of the absurdities that strike every common observer. Nor, when at Rome, and in other popish countries, did I ever behave indecently at those ceremonies which I thought very extraordinary: for I saw some people affected, and seemingly edified, by them; and I contented myself to think, though they were any good end to the many, there was religion enough in them, or civil policy at least, to exempt them from the ridicule of even a bad man who had common sense and good manners.

For the like reason I have never given noisy or tumultuous instances of dislike to a new play, if I thought it ever so indifferent: for I concluded, first, that every one was entitled to see quietly what he paid for: and, next, as the theatre (the epitome of the world) consisted of pit, boxes, and gallery, it was hard, I thought, if there could be such a performance exhibited as would not please somebody in that mixed multitude: and, if it did, those somebodies had as much right to enjoy their own judgments, undisturbedly, as I had to enjoy mine.

This was my way of showing my disapprobation; I never went again. And as a man is at his option, whether he will go to a play or not, he has not the same excuse for expressing his dislike clamorously as if he were compelled to see it.

I have ever, thou knowest, declared against those shallow libertines, who could not make out their pretensions to wit, but on two subjects, to which every man of true wit will scorn to be beholden: PROFANENESS and OBSCENITY, I mean; which must shock the ears of every man or woman of sense, without answering any end, but of showing a very low and abandoned nature. And, till I came acquainted with the brutal Mowbray, [no great praise to myself from such a tutor,] I was far from making so free as I do now, with oaths and curses; for then I was forced to out-swear him sometimes in order to keep him in his allegiance to me his general: nay, I often check myself to myself, for this empty unprofitable liberty of speech; in which we are outdone by the sons of the common-sewer.

All my vice is women, and the love of plots and intrigues; and I cannot but wonder how I fell into those shocking freedoms of speech; since, generally speaking, they are far from helping forward my main end: only, now-and-then, indeed, a little novice rises to one’s notice, who seems to think dress, and oaths, and curses, the diagnostics of the rakish spirit she is inclined to favour: and indeed they are the only qualifications that some who are called rakes and pretty fellows have to boast of. But what must the women be, who can be attracted by such empty-souled profligates!—since wickedness with wit is hardly tolerable; but, without it, is equally shocking and contemptible.

There again is preachment for thy preachment; and thou wilt be apt to think that I am reforming too: but no such matter. If this were new light darting in upon me, as thy morality seems to be to thee, something of this kind might be apprehended: but this was always my way of thinking; and I defy thee, or any of thy brethren, to name a time when I have either ridiculed religion, or talked obscenely. On the contrary, thou knowest how often I have checked that bear, in love-matters, Mowbray, and the finical Tourville, and thyself too, for what ye have called the double-entendre. In love, as in points that required a manly-resentment, it has always been my maxim, to act, rather than to talk; and I do assure thee, as to the first, the women themselves will excuse the one sooner than the other.

As to the admiration thou expressest for the books of scripture, thou art certainly right in it. But ’tis strange to me, that thou wert ignorant of their beauty, and noble simplicity, till now. Their antiquity always made me reverence them: And how was it possible that thou couldest not, for that reason, if for no other, give them a perusal?

I’ll tell thee a short story, which I had from my tutor, admonishing me against exposing myself by ignorant wonder, when I should quit college, to go to town, or travel.

’The first time Dryden’s Alexander’s Feast fell into his hands, he told me, he was prodigiously charmed with it: and, having never heard any body speak of it before, thought, as thou dost of the Bible, that he had made a new discovery.

’He hastened to an appointment which he had with several wits, (for he was then in town,) one of whom was a noted critic, who, according to him, had more merit than good fortune; for all the little nibblers in wit, whose writings would not stand the test of criticism, made it, he said, a common cause to run him down, as men would a mad dog.

’The young gentleman (for young he then was) set forth magnificently in the praises of that inimitable performance; and gave himself airs of second-hand merit, for finding out its beauties.

’The old bard heard him out with a smile, which the collegian took for approbation, till he spoke; and then it was in these mortifying words: ’Sdeath, Sir, where have you lived till now, or with what sort of company have you conversed, young as you are, that you have never before heard of the finest piece in the English language?’

This story had such an effect upon me, who had ever a proud heart, and wanted to be thought a clever fellow, that, in order to avoid the like disgrace, I laid down two rules to myself. The first, whenever I went into company where there were strangers, to hear every one of them speak, before I gave myself liberty to prate: The other, if I found any of them above my match, to give up all title to new discoveries, contenting myself to praise what they praised, as beauties familiar to me, though I had never heard of them before. And so, by degrees, I got the reputation of a wit myself: and when I threw off all restraint, and books, and learned conversation, and fell in with some of our brethren who are now wandering in Erebus, and with such others as Belton, Mowbray, Tourville, and thyself, I set up on my own stock; and, like what we have been told of Sir Richard, in his latter days, valued myself on being the emperor of the company; for, having fathomed the depth of them all, and afraid of no rival but thee, whom also I had got a little under, (by my gaiety and promptitude at least) I proudly, like Addison’s Cato, delighted to give laws to my little senate.

Proceed with thee by-and-by.