Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LVI


Your letter, my dearest young lady, cuts me to the heart! Why will you not let me know all your distresses?—Yet you have said enough!

My son is very good to me. A few hours ago he was taken with a feverish disorder. But I hope it will go off happily, if his ardour for business will give him the recess from it which his good master is willing to allow him. He presents his duty to you, and shed tears at hearing your sad letter read.

You have been misinformed as to your family’s being at your uncle Harlowe’s. They did not intend to be there. Nor was the day kept at all. Indeed, they have not stirred out, but to church (and that but three times) ever since the day you went away.—Unhappy day for them, and for all who know you!—To me, I am sure, most particularly so!—My heart now bleeds more and more for you.

I have not heard a syllable of such a journey as you mentioned of your brother, Captain Singleton, and Mr. Solmes. There has been some talk indeed of your brother’s setting out for his northern estates: but I have not heard of it lately.

I am afraid no letter will be received from you. It grieves me to tell you so, my dearest young lady. No evil can have happened to you, which they do not expect to hear of; so great is their antipathy to the wicked man, and so bad is his character.

I cannot but think hardly of their unforgiveness: but there is no judging for others by one’s self. Nevertheless I will add, that, if you had had as gentle spirits as mine, these evils had never happened either to them or to you. I knew your virtue, and your love of virtue, from your very cradle; and I doubted not but that, with God’s grace, would always be your guard. But you could never be driven; nor was there occasion to drive you—so generous, so noble, so discreet.—But how does my love of your amiable qualities increase my affliction; as these recollections must do your’s!

You are escaped, my dearest Miss—happily, I hope—that is to say, with your honour—else, how great must be your distress!—Yet, from your letter, I dread the worst.

I am very seldom at Harlowe-place. The house is not the house it used to be, since you went from it. Then they are so relentless! And, as I cannot say harsh things of the beloved child of my heart, as well as bosom, they do not take it amiss that I stay away.

Your Hannah left her place ill some time ago! and, as she is still at her mother’s at St. Alban’s, I am afraid she continues ill. If so, as you are among strangers, and I cannot encourage you at present to come into these parts, I shall think it my duty to attend you (let it be taken as it will) as soon as my Tommy’s indisposition will permit; which I hope will be soon.

I have a little money by me. You say you are poor yourself.—How grievous are those words from one entitled and accustomed to affluence!—Will you be so good to command it, my beloved young lady?—It is most of it your own bounty to me. And I should take a pride to restore it to its original owner.

Your Poor bless you, and pray for you continually. I have so managed your last benevolence, and they have been so healthy, and have had such constant employ, that it has held out; and will hold out till the happier times return, which I continually pray for.

Let me beg of you, my dearest young lady, to take to yourself all those aids which good persons, like you, draw from RELIGION, in support of their calamities. Let your sufferings be what they will, I am sure you have been innocent in your intention. So do not despond. None are made to suffer above what they can, and therefore ought to bear.

We know not the methods of Providence, nor what wise ends it may have to serve in its seemingly-severe dispensations to its poor creatures.

Few persons have greater reason to say this than myself. And since we are apt in calamities to draw more comfort from example than precept, you will permit me to remind you of my own lot: For who has had a greater share of afflictions than myself?

To say nothing of the loss of an excellent mother, at a time of life when motherly care is most wanted; the death of a dear father, who was an ornament to his cloth, (and who had qualified me to be his scribe and amanuensis,) just as he came within view of a preferment which would have made his family easy, threw me friendless into the wide world; threw me upon a very careless, and, which was much worse, a very unkind husband. Poor man!—but he was spared long enough, thank God, in a tedious illness, to repent of his neglected opportunities, and his light principles; which I have always thought of with pleasure, although I was left the more destitute for his chargeable illness, and ready to be brought to bed, when he died, of my Tommy.

But this very circumstance, which I thought the unhappiest that I could have been left in, (so short-sighted is human prudence!) became the happy means of recommending me to your mother, who, in regard to my character, and in compassion to my very destitute circumstances, permitted me, as I made a conscience of not parting with my poor boy, to nurse both you and him, born within a few days of each other. And I have never since wanted any of the humble blessings which God has made me contented with.

Nor have I known what a very great grief was, from the day of my poor husband’s death till the day that your parents told me how much they were determined that you should have Mr. Solmes; when I was apprized not only of your aversion to him, but how unworthy he was of you: for then I began to dread the consequences of forcing so generous a spirit; and, till then, I never feared Mr. Lovelace, attracting as was his person, and specious his manners and address. For I was sure you would never have him, if he gave you not good reason to be convinced of his reformation: nor till your friends were as well satisfied in it as yourself. But that unhappy misunderstanding between your brother and Mr. Lovelace, and their joining so violently to force you upon Mr. Solmes, did all that mischief, which has cost you and them so dear, and poor me all my peace! Oh! what has not this ungrateful, this double-guilty man to answer for!

Nevertheless, you know not what God has in store for you yet!—But if you are to be punished all your days here, for example sake, in a case of such importance, for your one false step, be pleased to consider, that this life is but a state of probation; and if you have your purification in it, you will be the more happy. Nor doubt I, that you will have the higher reward hereafter for submitting to the will of Providence here with patience and resignation.

You see, my dearest Miss Clary, that I make no scruple to call the step you took a false one. In you it was less excusable than it would have been in any other young lady; not only because of your superior talents, but because of the opposition between your character and his: so that, if you had been provoked to quit your father’s house, it need not to have been with him. Nor needed I, indeed, but as an instance of my impartial love, to have written this to you.*

* Mrs. Norton, having only the family representation and invectives to form her judgment upon, knew not that Clarissa had determined against going off with Mr. Lovelace; nor how solicitous she had been to procure for herself any other protection than his, when she apprehended that, if she staid, she had no way to avoid being married to Mr. Solmes.

After this, it will have an unkind, and perhaps at this time an unseasonable appearance, to express my concern that you have not before favoured me with a line. Yet if you can account to yourself for your silence, I dare say I ought to be satisfied; for I am sure you love me: as I both love and honour you, and ever will, and the more for your misfortunes.

One consolation, methinks, I have, even when I am sorrowing for your calamities; and that is, that I know not any young person so qualified to shine the brighter for the trials she may be exercised with: and yet it is a consolation that ends in adding to my regrets for your afflictions, because you are blessed with a mind so well able to bear prosperity, and to make every body round you the better for it!—But I will forbear till I know more.

Ruminating on every thing your melancholy letter suggests, and apprehending, from the gentleness of your mind, the amiableness of your person, and your youth, the farther misfortunes and inconveniencies to which you may possibly be subjected, I cannot conclude without asking for your leave to attend you, and that in a very earnest manner—and I beg of you not to deny me, on any consideration relating to myself, or even to the indisposition of my other beloved child, if I can be either of use or of comfort to you. Were it, my dearest young lady, but for two or three days, permit me to attend you, although my son’s illness should increase, and compel me to come down again at the end of those two or three days.—I repeat my request, likewise, that you will command from me the little sum remaining in the hands of your bounty to your Poor, as well as that dispensed to

Your ever-affectionate and faithful servant, JUDITH NORTON.