Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LVI

MRS. NORTON, TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE [IN ANSWER TO HER’S OF THURSDAY, AUGUST 24. SEE LETTER XXX. OF THIS VOLUME.] THURSDAY, AUG. 31.

I had written sooner, my dearest young lady, but that I have been endeavouring, ever since the receipt of your last letter, to obtain a private audience of your mother, in hopes of leave to communicate it to her. But last night I was surprised by an invitation to breakfast at Harlowe-place this morning; and the chariot came early to fetch me—an honour I did not expect.

When I came, I found there was to be a meeting of all your family with Col. Morden, at Harlowe-place; and it was proposed by your mother, and consented to, that I should be present. Your cousin, I understand, had with difficulty brought this meeting to bear; for your brother had before industriously avoided all conversation with him on the affecting subject; urging that it was not necessary to talk to Mr. Morden upon it, who, being a remoter relation than themselves, had no business to make himself a judge of their conduct to their daughter, their niece, and their sister; especially as he had declared himself in her favour; adding, that he should hardly have patience to be questioned by Mr. Morden on that head.

I was in hopes that your mother would have given me an opportunity of talking with her alone before the company met; but she seemed studiously to avoid it; I dare say, however, not with her inclination.

I was ordered in just before Mr. Morden came; and was bid to sit down— which I did in the window.

The Colonel, when he came, began the discourse, by renewing, as he called it, his solicitations in your favour. He set before them your penitence; your ill health; your virtue, though once betrayed, and basely used; he then read to them Mr. Lovelace’s letter, a most contrite one indeed,* and your high-souled answer;** for that was what he justly called it; and he treated as it deserved Mr. Brand’s officious information, (of which I had before heard he had made them ashamed,) by representations founded upon inquiries made by Mr. Alston,*** whom he had procured to go up on purpose to acquaint himself with your manner of life, and what was meant by the visits of that Mr. Belford.

* See Vol. VII. LXXIX. ** Ibid. Letter LXXXIII. *** See Vol. VIII. Letter XXIII.

He then told them, that he had the day before waited upon Miss Howe, and had been shown a letter from you to her,* and permitted to take some memorandums from it, in which you appeared, both by handwriting, and the contents, to be so very ill, that it seemed doubtful to him, if it were possible for you to get over it. And when he read to them that passage, where you ask Miss Howe, ’What can be done for you now, were your friends to be ever so favourable? and wish for their sakes, more than for your own, that they would still relent;’ and then say, ’You are very ill—you must drop your pen—and ask excuse for your crooked writing; and take, as it were, a last farewell of Miss Howe;—adieu, my dear, adieu,’ are your words—

* Ibid. Letter XXXIII.

O my child! my child! said you mamma, weeping, and clasping her hands.

Dear Madam, said your brother, be so good as to think you have more children than this ungrateful one.

Yet your sister seemed affected.

Your uncle Harlowe, wiping his eyes, O cousin, said he, if one thought the poor girl was really so ill—

She must, said your uncle Antony. This is written to her private friend. God forbid she should be quite lost!

Your uncle Harlowe wished they did not carry their resentments too far.

I begged for God’s sake, wringing my hands, and with a bended knee, that they would permit me to go up to you; engaging to give them a faithful account of the way you were in. But I was chidden by your brother; and this occasioned some angry words between him and Mr. Morden.

I believe, Sir, I believe, Madam, said your sister to her father and mother, we need not trouble my cousin to read any more. It does but grieve and disturb you. My sister Clary seems to be ill: I think, if Mrs. Norton were permitted to go up to her, it would be right; wickedly as she has acted, if she be truly penitent—

Here she stopt; and every one being silent, I stood up once more, and besought them to let me go; and then I offered to read a passage or two in your letter to me of the 24th. But I was taken up again by your brother, and this occasioned still higher words between the Colonel and him.

Your mother, hoping to gain upon your inflexible brother, and to divert the anger of the two gentlemen from each other, proposed that the Colonel should proceed in reading the minutes he had taken from your letter.

He accordingly read, ’of your resuming your pen; that you thought you had taken your last farewell; and the rest of that very affecting passage, in which you are obliged to break off more than once, and afterwards to take an airing in a chair.’ Your brother and sister were affected at this; and he had recourse to his snuff-box. And where you comfort Miss Howe, and say, ’You shall be happy;’ It is more, said he, than she will let any body else be.

Your sister called you sweet soul! but with a low voice: then grew hard-hearted again; set said [sic], Nobody could help being affected by your pathetic grief—but that it was your talent.

The Colonel then went on to the good effect your airing had upon you; to your good wishes to Miss Howe and Mr. Hickman; and to your concluding sentence, that when the happy life you wished to her comes to be wound up, she may be as calm and as easy at quitting it, as you hope in God you shall be. Your mother could not stand this; but retired to a corner of the room, and sobbed, and wept. Your father for a few minutes could not speak, though he seemed inclined to say something.

Your uncles were also both affected; but your brother went round to each, and again reminded your mother that she had other children.—What was there, he said, in what was read, but the result of the talent you had of moving the passions? And he blamed them for choosing to hear read what they knew their abused indulgence could not be a proof against.

This set Mr. Morden up again—Fie upon you, Cousin Harlowe, said he, I see plainly to whom it is owing that all relationship and ties of blood, with regard to this sweet sufferer, are laid aside. Such rigours as these make it difficult for a sliding virtue ever to recover itself.

Your brother pretended the honour of the family; and declared, that no child ought to be forgiven who abandoned the most indulgent of parents against warning, against the light of knowledge, as you had done.

But, Sir, and Ladies, said I, rising from the seat in the window, and humbly turning round to each, if I may be permitted to speak, my dear Miss asks only for a blessing. She does not beg to be received to favour; she is very ill, and asks only for a last blessing.

Come, come, good Norton, [I need not tell you who said this,] you are up again with your lamentables!—A good woman, as you are, to forgive so readily a crime, that has been as disgraceful to your part in her education as to her family, is a weakness that would induce one to suspect your virtue, if you were to be encountered by a temptation properly adapted.

By some such charitable logic, said Mr. Morden, as this, is my cousin Arabella captivated, I doubt not. If virtue, you, Mr. James Harlowe, are the most virtuous young man in the world.

I knew how it would be, replied your brother, in a passion, if I met Mr. Morden upon this business. I would have declined it; but you, Sir, to his father, would not permit me to do so.

But, Sir, turning to the Colonel, in no other presence——

Then, Cousin James, interrupted the other gentleman, that which is your protection, it seems, is mine. I am not used to bear defiances thus— you are my Cousin, Sir, and the son and nephew of persons as dear as near to me—There he paused—

Are we, said your father, to be made still more unhappy among ourselves, when the villain lives that ought to be the object of every one’s resentment who has either a value for the family, or for this ungrateful girl?

That’s the man, said your cousin, whom last Monday, as you know, I went purposely to make the object of mine. But what could I say, when I found him so willing to repair his crime?—And I give it as my opinion, and have written accordingly to my poor cousin, that it is best for all round that his offer should be accepted; and let me tell you—

Tell me nothing, said your father, quite enraged, or that very vile fellow! I have a rivetted hatred to him. I would rather see the rebel die an hundred deaths, were it possible, than that she should give such a villain as him a relation to my family.

Well, but there is no room to think, said you mother, that she will give us such a relation, my dear. The poor girl will lessen, I fear, the number of our relations not increase it. If she be so ill as we are told she is, let us send Mrs. Norton up to her.—That’s the least we can do— let us take her, however, out of the hands of that Belford.

Both your uncles supported this motion; the latter part of it especially.

Your brother observed, in his ill-natured way, what a fine piece of consistency it was in you to refuse the vile injurer, and the amends he offered; yet to throw yourself upon the protection of his fast friend.

Miss Harlowe was apprehensive, she said, that you would leave all you could leave to that pert creature, Miss Howe, [so she called her,] if you should die.

O do not, do not suppose that, my Bella, said your poor mother. I cannot think of parting with my Clary—with all her faults, she is my child—her reasons for her conduct are not heard—it would break my heart to lose her.—I think, my dear, to your father, none so fit as I to go up, if you will give me leave, and Mrs. Norton shall accompany me.

This was a sweet motion, and your father paused upon it. Mr. Morden offered his service to escort her; your uncles seemed to approve of it; but your brother dashed all. I hope, Sir, said he, to his father—I hope, Madam, to his mother—that you will not endeavour to recover a faulty daughter by losing an unculpable son. I do declare, that if ever my sister Clary darkens these doors again, I never will. I will set out, Madam, the same hour you go to London, (on such an errand,) to Edinburgh; and there I will reside, and try to forget that I have relations in England, so near and so dear as you are now all to me.

Good God, said the Colonel, what a declaration is this! And suppose, Sir, and suppose, Madam, [turning to your father and mother,] this should be the case, whether it is better, think you, that you should lose for ever such a daughter as my cousin Clary, or that your son should go to Edinburgh, and reside there upon an estate which will be the better for his residence upon it?—

Your brother’s passionate behaviour hereupon is hardly to be described. He resented it as promising an alienation of the affection of the family to him. And to such an height were resentments carried, every one siding with him, that the Colonel, with hands and eyes lifted up, cried out, What hearts of flint am I related to!—O, Cousin Harlowe, to your father, are you resolved to have but one daughter?—Are you, Madam, to be taught, by a son, who has no bowels, to forget you are a mother?

The Colonel turned from them to draw out his handkerchief, and could not for a minute speak. The eyes of every one, but the hard-hearted brother, caught tears from his.

But then turning to them, (with the more indignation, as it seemed, as he had been obliged to show a humanity, which, however, no brave heart should be ashamed of,) I leave ye all, said he, fit company for one another. I will never open my lips to any of you more upon this subject. I will instantly make my will, and in me shall the dear creature have the father, uncle, brother, she has lost. I will prevail upon her to take the tour of France and Italy with me; nor shall she return till ye know the value of such a daughter.

And saying this, he hurried out of the room, went into the court-yard, and ordered his horse.

Mr. Antony Harlowe went to him there, just as he was mounting, and said he hoped he should find him cooler in the evening, (for he, till then, had lodged at his house,) and that then they would converse calmly, and every one, mean time, would weigh all matters well.—But the angry gentleman said, Cousin Harlowe, I shall endeavour to discharge the obligations I owe to your civility since I have been in England; but I have been so treated by that hot-headed young man, (who, as far as I know, has done more to ruin his sister than Lovelace himself, and this with the approbation of you all,) that I will not again enter into your doors, or theirs. My servants shall have orders whither to bring what belongs to me from your house. I will see my dear cousin Clary as soon as I can. And so God bless you altogether!—only this one word to your nephew, if you please—That he wants to be taught the difference between courage and bluster; and it is happy for him, perhaps, that I am his kinsman; though I am sorry he is mine.

I wondered to hear your uncle, on his return to them all, repeat this; because of the consequences it may be attended with, though I hope it will not have bad ones; yet it was considered as a sort of challenge, and so it confirmed every body in your brother’s favour; and Miss Harlowe forgot not to inveigh against that error which had brought on all these evils.

I took the liberty again, but with fear and trembling, to desire leave to attend you.

Before any other person could answer, your brother said, I suppose you look upon yourself, Mrs. Norton, to be your own mistress. Pray do you want our consents and courtship to go up?—If I may speak my mind, you and my sister Clary are the fittest to be together.—Yet I wish you would not trouble your head about our family matters, till you are desired to do so.

But don’t you know, brother, said Miss Harlowe, that the error of any branch of a family splits that family into two parties, and makes not only every common friend and acquaintance, but even servants judges over both?—This is one of the blessed effects of my sister Clary’s fault!

There never was a creature so criminal, said your father, looking with displeasure at me, who had not some weak heads to pity and side with her.

I wept. Your mother was so good as to take me by the hand; come, good woman, said she, come along with me. You have too much reason to be afflicted with what afflicts us, to want additions to your grief.

But, my dearest young lady, I was more touched for your sake than for my own; for I have been low in the world for a great number of years; and, of consequence, have been accustomed to snubs and rebuffs from the affluent. But I hope that patience is written as legibly on my forehead, as haughtiness on that of any of my obligers.

Your mother led me to her chamber; and there we sat and wept together for several minutes, without being able to speak either of us one word to the other. At last she broke silence, asking me, if you were really and indeed so ill as it was said you were?

I answered in the affirmative; and would have shown her your last letter; but she declined seeing it.

I would fain have procured from her the favour of a line to you, with her blessing. I asked, what was intended by your brother and sister? Would nothing satisfy them but your final reprobation?—I insinuated, how easy it would be, did not your duty and humility govern you, to make yourself independent as to circumstances; but that nothing but a blessing, a last blessing, was requested by you. And many other things I urged in your behalf. The following brief repetition of what she was pleased to say in answer to my pleas, will give you a notion of it all; and of the present situation of things.

She said, ’She was very unhappy!—She had lost the little authority she once had over her other children, through one child’s failing! and all influence over Mr. Harlowe and his brothers. Your father, she said, had besought her to leave it to him to take his own methods with you; and, (as she valued him,) to take no step in your favour unknown to him and your uncles; yet she owned, that they were too much governed by your brother. They would, however, give way in time, she knew, to a reconciliation—they designed no other, for they all still loved you.

’Your brother and sister, she owned, were very jealous of your coming into favour again;—yet could but Mr. Morden have kept his temper, and stood her son’s first sallies, who (having always had the family grandeur in view) had carried his resentment so high, that he knew not how to descend, the conferences, so abruptly broken off just now, would have ended more happily; for that she had reason to think that a few concessions on your part, with regard to your grandfather’s estate, and your cousin’s engaging for your submission as from proper motives, would have softened them all.

’Mr. Brand’s account of your intimacy with the friend of the obnoxious man, she said, had, for the time very unhappy effects; for before that she had gained some ground: but afterwards dared not, nor indeed had inclination, to open her lips in your behalf. Your continued intimacy with that Mr. Belford was wholly unaccountable, and as wholly inexcusable.

’What made the wished-for reconciliation, she said, more difficult, was, first, that you yourself acknowledged yourself dishonoured; (and it was too well known, that it was your own fault that you ever were in the power of so great a profligate;) of consequence, that their and your disgrace could not be greater than it was; yet, that you refuse to prosecute the wretch. Next, that the pardon and blessing hoped for must probably be attended with your marriage to the man they hate, and who hates them as much: very disagreeable circumstances, she said, I must allow, to found a reconciliation upon.

’As to her own part, she must needs say, that if there were any hope that Mr. Lovelace would become a reformed man, the letter her cousin Morden had read to them from him to you, and the justice (as she hoped it was) he did your character, though to his own condemnation, (his family and fortunes being unexceptionable,) and all his relations earnest to be related to you, were arguments that would weigh with her, could they have any with your father and uncles.’

To my plea of your illness, ’she could not but flatter herself, she answered, that it was from lowness of spirits, and temporary dejection. A young creature, she said, so very considerate as you naturally were, and fallen so low, must have enough of that. Should they lose you, which God forbid! the scene would then indeed be sadly changed; for then those who now most resented, would be most grieved; all your fine qualities would rise to their remembrance, and your unhappy error would be quite forgotten.

’She wished you would put yourself into your cousin’s protection entirely, and have nothing to more to say to Mr. Belford.

And I would recommend it to your most serious consideration, my dear Miss Clary, whether now, as your cousin (who is your trustee for your grandfather’s estate,) is come, you should not give over all thoughts of Mr. Lovelace’s intimate friend for your executor; more especially, as that gentleman’s interfering in the concerns of your family, should the sad event take place (which my heart aches but to think of) might be attended with those consequences which you are so desirous, in other cases, to obviate and prevent. And suppose, my dear young lady, you were to write one letter more to each of your uncles, to let them know how ill you are?—And to ask their advice, and offer to be governed by it, in relation to the disposition of your estate and effects?—Methinks I wish you would.

I find they will send you up a large part of what has been received from that estate since it was your’s; together with your current cash which you left behind you: and this by your cousin Morden, for fear you should have contracted debts which may make you uneasy.

They seem to expect, that you will wish to live at your grandfather’s house, in a private manner, if your cousin prevail not upon you to go abroad for a year or two.

FRIDAY MORNING.

Betty was with me just now. She tells me, that your cousin Morden is so much displeased with them all, that he has refused to lodge any more at your uncle Antony’s; and has even taken up with inconvenient lodgings, till he is provided with others to his mind. This very much concerns them; and they repent their violent treatment of him: and the more, as he is resolved, he says, to make you his sole executrix, and heir to all his fortune.

What noble fortunes still, my dearest young lady, await you! I am thoroughly convinced, if it please God to preserve your life and your health, that every body will soon be reconciled to you, and that you will see many happy days.

Your mother wished me not to attend you as yet, because she hopes that I may give myself that pleasure soon with every body’s good liking, and even at their desire. Your cousin Morden’s reconciliation with them, which they are very desirous of, I am ready to hope will include theirs with you.

But if that should happen which I so much dread, and I not with you, I should never forgive myself. Let me, therefore, my dearest young lady, desire you to command my attendance, if you find any danger, and if you wish me peace of mind; and no consideration shall withhold me.

I hear that Miss Howe has obtained leave from her mother to see you; and intends next week to go to town for that purpose; and (as it is believed) to buy clothes for her approaching nuptials.

Mr. Hickman’s mother-in-law is lately dead. Her jointure of 600£. a-year is fallen to him; and she has, moreover, as an acknowledgement of his good behaviour to her, left him all she was worth, which was very considerable, a few legacies excepted to her own relations.

These good men are uniformly good: indeed could not else be good; and never fare the worse for being so. All the world agrees he will make that fine young lady an excellent husband: and I am sorry they are not as much agreed in her making him an excellent wife. But I hope a woman of her principles would not encourage his address, if, whether she at present love him or not, she thought she could not love him; or if she preferred any other man to him.

Mr. Pocock undertakes to deliver this; but fears it will be Saturday night first, if not Sunday morning.

May the Almighty protect and bless you!—I long to see you—my dearest young lady, I long to see you; and to fold you once more to my fond heart. I dare to say happy days are coming. Be but cheerful. Give way to hope.

Whether for this world, or the other, you must be happy. Wish to live, however, were it only because you are so well fitted in mind to make every one happy who has the honour to know you. What signifies this transitory eclipse? You are as near perfection, by all I have heard, as any creature in this world can be: for here is your glory—you are brightened and purified, as I may say, by your sufferings!—How I long to hear your whole sad, yet instructive story, from your own lips!

For Miss Howe’s sake, who, in her new engagements will so much want you; for your cousin Morden’s sake, for your mother’s sake, if I must go on farther in your family; and yet I can say, for all their sakes; and for my sake, my dearest Miss Clary; let your resumed and accustomed magnanimity bear you up. You have many things to do which I know not the person who will do if you leave us.

Join your prayers then to mine, that God will spare you to a world that wants you and your example; and, although your days may seem to have been numbered, who knows but that, with the good King Hezekiah, you may have them prolonged? Which God grant, if it be his blessed will, to the prayers of

Your JUDITH NORTON