Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LIII


But now I have cleared myself of any intentional levity on occasion of my beloved’s meditation; which, as you observe, is finely suited to her case, (that is to say, as she and you have drawn her case;) I cannot help expressing my pleasure, that by one or two verses of it, [the arrow, Jack, and what she feared being come upon her!] I am encouraged to hope, what it will be very surprising to me if it do not happen: that is, in plain English, that the dear creature is in the way to be a mamma.

This cursed arrest, because of the ill effects the terror might have had upon her, in that hoped-for circumstance, has concerned me more than on any other account. It would be the pride of my life to prove, in this charming frost-piece, the triumph of Nature over principle, and to have a young Lovelace by such an angel: and then, for its sake, I am confident she will live, and will legitimate it. And what a meritorious little cherub would it be, that should lay an obligation upon both parents before it was born, which neither of them would be able to repay!—Could I be sure it is so, I should be out of all pain for her recovery: pain, I say; since, were she to die—[die! abominable word! how I hate it!] I verily think I should be the most miserable man in the world.

As for the earnestness she expresses for death, she has found the words ready to her hand in honest Job; else she would not have delivered herself with such strength and vehemence.

Her innate piety (as I have more than once observed) will not permit her to shorten her own life, either by violence or neglect. She has a mind too noble for that; and would have done it before now, had she designed any such thing: for to do it, like the Roman matron, when the mischief is over, and it can serve no end; and when the man, however a Tarquin, as some may think me in this action, is not a Tarquin in power, so that no national point can be made of it; is what she has too much good sense to think of.

Then, as I observed in a like case, a little while ago, the distress, when this was written, was strong upon her; and she saw no end of it: but all was darkness and apprehension before her. Moreover, has she it not in her power to disappoint, as much as she has been disappointed? Revenge, Jack, has induced many a woman to cherish a life, to which grief and despair would otherwise have put an end.

And, after all, death is no such eligible thing, as Job in his calamities, makes it. And a death desired merely from worldly disappointments shows not a right mind, let me tell this lady, whatever she may think of it.* You and I Jack, although not afraid, in the height of passion or resentment, to rush into those dangers which might be followed by a sudden and violent death, whenever a point of honour calls upon us, would shudder at his cool and deliberate approach in a lingering sickness, which had debilitated the spirits.

* Mr. Lovelace could not know, that the lady was so thoroughly sensible of the solidity of this doctrine, as she really was: for, in her letter to Mrs. Norton, (Letter XLIV. of this volume,) she says,—’Nor let it be imagined, that my present turn of mind proceeds from gloominess or melancholy: for although it was brought on by disappointment, (the world showing me early, even at my first rushing into it, its true and ugly face,) yet I hope, that it has obtained a better root, and will every day more and more, by its fruits, demonstrate to me, and to all my friends, that it has.’

So we read of a famous French general [I forget as well the reign of the prince as the name of the man] who, having faced with intrepidity the ghastly varlet on an hundred occasions in the field, was the most dejected of wretches, when, having forfeited his life for treason, he was led with all the cruel parade of preparation, and surrounding guards, to the scaffold.

The poet says well:

’Tis not the stoic lesson, got by rote,

The pomp of words, and pedant dissertation,

That can support us in the hour of terror.

Books have taught cowards to talk nobly of it:

But when the trial comes, they start, and stand aghast.

Very true: for then it is the old man in the fable, with his bundle of sticks.

The lady is well read in Shakspeare, our English pride and glory; and must sometimes reason with herself in his words, so greatly expressed, that the subject, affecting as it is, cannot produce any thing greater.

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;

To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;

This sensible, warm motion to become

A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit

To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside

In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice:

To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,

Or blown, with restless violence, about

The pendant worlds; or to be worse than worst

Of those that lawless and uncertain thought

Imagines howling: ’tis too horrible!

The weariest and most loaded worldly life,

That pain, age, penury, and imprisonment,

Can lay on nature, is a paradise

To what we fear of death.——

I find, by one of thy three letters, that my beloved had some account from Hickman of my interview with Miss Howe, at Col. Ambrose’s. I had a very agreeable time of it there; although severely rallied by several of the assembly. It concerns me, however, not a little, to find our affair so generally known among the flippanti of both sexes. It is all her own fault. There never, surely, was such an odd little soul as this.—Not to keep her own secret, when the revealing of it could answer no possible good end; and when she wants not (one would think) to raise to herself either pity or friends, or to me enemies, by the proclamation!—Why, Jack, must not all her own sex laugh in their sleeves at her weakness? what would become of the peace of the world, if all women should take it into their heads to follow her example? what a fine time of it would the heads of families have? Their wives always filling their ears with their confessions; their daughters with theirs: sisters would be every day setting their brothers about cutting of throats, if the brothers had at heart the honour of their families, as it is called; and the whole world would either be a scene of confusion; or cuckoldom as much the fashion as it is in Lithuania.*

* In Lithuania, the women are said to have so allowedly their gallants, called adjutores, that the husbands hardly ever enter upon any part of pleasure without them.

I am glad, however, that Miss Howe (as much as she hates me) kept her word with my cousins on their visit to her, and with me at the Colonel’s, to endeavour to persuade her friend to make up all matters by matrimony; which, no doubt, is the best, nay, the only method she can take, for her own honour, and that of her family.

I had once thoughts of revenging myself on that vixen, and, particularly, as thou mayest* remember, had planned something to this purpose on the journey she is going to take, which had been talked of some time. But, I think—let me see—yet, I think, I will let this Hickman have her safe and entire, as thou believest the fellow to be a tolerable sort of a mortal, and that I have made the worst of him: and I am glad, for his own sake, he has not launched out too virulently against me to thee.

* See Vol. IV. Letter LIV.

But thou seest, Jack, by her refusal of money from him, or Miss Howe,* that the dear extravagant takes a delight in oddnesses, choosing to part with her clothes, though for a song. Dost think she is not a little touched at times? I am afraid she is. A little spice of that insanity, I doubt, runs through her, that she had in a stronger degree, in the first week of my operations. Her contempt of life; her proclamations; her refusal of matrimony; and now of money from her most intimate friends; are sprinklings of this kind, and no other way, I think, to be accounted for.

* See Letter XLVIII. of this volume.

Her apothecary is a good honest fellow. I like him much. But the silly dear’s harping so continually upon one string, dying, dying, dying, is what I have no patience with. I hope all this melancholy jargon is owing entirely to the way I would have her to be in. And it being as new to her, as the Bible beauties to thee,* no wonder she knows not what to make of herself; and so fancies she is breeding death, when the event will turn out quite the contrary.

* See Letter XLVI. of this volume.

Thou art a sorry fellow in thy remarks on the education and qualification of smarts and beaux of the rakish order; if by thy we’s and us’s thou meanest thyself or me:* for I pretend to say, that the picture has no resemblance of us, who have read and conversed as we have done. It may indeed, and I believe it does, resemble the generality of the fops and coxcombs about town. But that let them look to; for, if it affects not me, to what purpose thy random shot?—If indeed thou findest, by the new light darted in upon thee, since thou hast had the honour of conversing with this admirable creature, that the cap fits thy own head, why then, according to the qui capit rule, e’en take and clap it on: and I will add a string of bells to it, to complete thee for the fore-horse of the idiot team.

* Ibid. and Letter LXVIII.

Although I just now said a kind thing or two for this fellow Hickman; yet I can tell thee, I could (to use one of my noble peer’s humble phrases) eat him up without a corn of salt, when I think of his impudence to salute my charmer twice at parting:* And have still less patience with the lady herself for presuming to offer her cheek or lip [thou sayest not which] to him, and to press his clumsy fist between her charming hands. An honour worth a king’s ransom; and what I would give—what would I not give? to have!—And then he, in return, to press her, as thou sayest he did, to his stupid heart; at that time, no doubt, more sensible, than ever it was before!

* See Letter XLVIII. of this volume.

By thy description of their parting, I see thou wilt be a delicate fellow in time. My mortification in this lady’s displeasure, will be thy exaltation from her conversation. I envy thee as well for thy opportunities, as for thy improvements: and such an impression has thy concluding paragraph* made upon me, that I wish I do not get into a reformation-humour as well as thou: and then what a couple of lamentable puppies shall we make, howling in recitative to each other’s discordant music!

* Ibid.

Let me improve upon the thought, and imagine that, turned hermits, we have opened the two old caves at Hornsey, or dug new ones; and in each of our cells set up a death’s head, and an hour-glass, for objects of contemplation—I have seen such a picture: but then, Jack, had not the old penitent fornicator a suffocating long grey beard? What figures would a couple of brocaded or laced-waistcoated toupets make with their sour screw’d up half-cock’d faces, and more than half shut eyes, in a kneeling attitude, recapitulating their respective rogueries? This scheme, were we only to make trial of it, and return afterwards to our old ways, might serve to better purpose by far, than Horner’s in the Country Wife, to bring the pretty wenches to us.

Let me see; the author of Hudibras has somewhere a description that would suit us, when met in one of our caves, and comparing our dismal notes together. This is it. Suppose me described—

—He sat upon his rump,

His head like one in doleful dump:

Betwixt his knees his hands apply’d

Unto his cheeks, on either side:

And by him, in another hole,

Sat stupid Belford, cheek by jowl.

I know thou wilt think me too ludicrous. I think myself so. It is truly, to be ingenuous, a forced put: for my passions are so wound up, that I am obliged either to laugh or cry. Like honest drunken Jack Daventry, [poor fellow!—What an unhappy end was his!]—thou knowest, I used to observe, that whenever he rose from an entertainment, which he never did sober, it was his way, as soon as he got to the door, to look round him like a carrier pigeon just thrown up, in order to spy out his course; and then, taking to his heels, he would run all the way home, though it were a mile or two, when he could hardly stand, and must have tumbled on his nose if he had attempted to walk moderately. This then must be my excuse, in this my unconverted estate, for a conclusion so unworthy of the conclusion to thy third letter.

What a length have I run!—Thou wilt own, that if I pay thee not in quality, I do in quantity: and yet I leave a multitude of things unobserved upon. Indeed I hardly at this present know what to do with myself but scribble. Tired with Lord M. who, in his recovery, has played upon me the fable of the nurse, the crying child, and the wolf—tired with my cousins Montague, though charming girls, were they not so near of kin—tired with Mowbray and Tourville, and their everlasting identity— tired with the country—tired of myself—longing for what I have not—I must go to town; and there have an interview with the charmer of my soul: for desperate diseases must have desperate remedies; and I only wait to know my doom from Miss Howe! and then, if it be rejection, I will try my fate, and receive my sentence at her feet.—But I will apprize thee of it beforehand, as I told thee, that thou mayest keep thy parole with the lady in the best manner thou canst.