Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LXII

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MRS. NORTON SUNDAY EVENING, JULY 2.

How kindly, my beloved Mrs. Norton, do you soothe the anguish of a bleeding heart! Surely you are mine own mother; and, by some unaccountable mistake, I must have been laid to a family that, having newly found out, or at least suspected, the imposture, cast me from their hearts, with the indignation that such a discovery will warrant.

Oh! that I had been indeed your own child, born to partake of your humble fortunes, an heiress only to that content in which you are so happy! then should I have had a truly gentle spirit to have guided my ductile heart, which force and ungenerous usage sit so ill upon: and nothing of what has happened would have been.

But let me take heed that I enlarge not, by impatience, the breach already made in my duty by my rashness! since, had I not erred, my mother, at least, could never have been thought hard-hearted and unforgiving. Am I not then answerable, not only for my own faults, but for the consequences of them; which tend to depreciate and bring disgrace upon a maternal character never before called in question?

It is kind, however, in you to endeavour to extenuate the faults of one so greatly sensible of it: and could it be wiped off entirely, it would render me more worthy of the pains you have taken in my education: for it must add to your grief, as it does to my confusion, that, after such promising beginnings, I should have so behaved as to be a disgrace instead of a credit to you and my other friends.

But that I may not make you think me more guilty than I am, give me leave briefly to assure you, that, when my story is known, I shall be to more compassion than blame, even on the score of going away with Mr. Lovelace.

As to all that happened afterwards, let me only say, that although I must call myself a lost creature as to this world, yet have I this consolation left me, that I have not suffered either for want of circumspection, or through careful credulity or weakness. Not one moment was I off my guard, or unmindful of your early precepts. But (having been enabled to baffle many base contrivances) I was at last ruined by arts the most inhuman. But had I not been rejected by every friend, this low-hearted man had not dared, nor would have had opportunity, to treat me as he has treated me.

More I cannot, at this time, nor need I say: and this I desire you to keep to yourself, lest resentments should be taken up when I am gone, that may spread the evil which I hope will end with me.

I have been misinformed, you say, as to my principal relations being at my uncle Harlowe’s. The day, you say, was not kept. Nor have my brother and Mr. Solmes—Astonishing!—What complicated wickedness has this wretched man to answer for!—Were I to tell you, you would hardly believe that there could have been such a heart in man.—

But one day you may know the whole story!—At present I have neither inclination nor words—O my bursting heart!—Yet a happy, a wished relief!—Were you present my tears would supply the rest!

I resume my pen!

And so you fear no letter will be received from me. But DON’T grieve to tell me so! I expect every thing bad—and such is my distress, that had you not bid me hope for mercy from the throne of mercy, I should have been afraid that my father’s dreadful curse would be completed with regard to both worlds.

For here, an additional misfortune!—In a fit of phrensical heedlessness, I sent a letter to my beloved Miss Howe, without recollecting her private address; and it has fallen into her angry mother’s hands: and so that dear friend perhaps has anew incurred displeasure on my account. And here too your worthy son is ill; and my poor Hannah, you think, cannot come to me—O my dear Mrs. Norton, will you, can you censure those whose resentments against me Heaven seems to approve of? and will you acquit her whom that condemns?

Yet you bid me not despond.—I will not, if I can help it. And, indeed, most seasonable consolation has your kind letter afforded me.—Yet to God Almighty do I appeal, to avenge my wrongs, and vindicate my inno——

But hushed be my stormy passions!—Have I not but this moment said that your letter gave me consolation?—May those be forgiven who hinder my father from forgiving me!—and this, as to them, shall be the harshest thing that shall drop from my pen.

But although your son should recover, I charge you, my dear Mrs. Norton, that you do not think of coming to me. I don’t know still but your mediation with my mother (although at present your interposition would be so little attended to) may be of use to procure me the revocation of that most dreadful part of my father’s curse, which only remains to be fulfilled. The voice of Nature must at last be heard in my favour, surely. It will only plead at first to my friends in the still conscious plaintiveness of a young and unhardened beggar. But it will grow more clamorous when I have the courage to be so, and shall demand, perhaps, the paternal protection from farther ruin; and that forgiveness, which those will be little entitled to expect, for their own faults, who shall interpose to have it refused to me, for an accidental, not a premeditated error: and which, but for them, I had never fallen into.

But again, impatiency, founded perhaps on self-partiality, that strange misleader! prevails.

Let me briefly say, that it is necessary to my present and future hopes that you keep well with my family. And moreover, should you come, I may be traced out by that means by the most abandoned of men. Say not then that you think you ought to come up to me, let it be taken as it will:—For my sake, let me repeat, (were my foster-brother recovered, as I hope he is,) you must not come. Nor can I want your advice, while I can write, and you can answer me. And write I will as often as I stand in need of your counsel.

Then the people I am now with seem to be both honest and humane: and there is in the same house a widow-lodger, of low fortunes, but of great merit:—almost such another serious and good woman as the dear one to whom I am now writing; who has, as she says, given over all other thoughts of the world but such as should assist her to leave it happily.—How suitable to my own views!—There seems to be a comfortable providence in this at least—so that at present there is nothing of exigence; nothing that can require, or even excuse, your coming, when so many better ends may be answered by your staying where you are. A time may come, when I shall want your last and best assistance: and then, my dear Mrs. Norton—and then, I will speak it, and embrace it with all my whole heart—and then, will it not be denied me by any body.

You are very obliging in your offer of money. But although I was forced to leave my clothes behind me, yet I took several things of value with me, which will keep me from present want. You’ll say, I have made a miserable hand of it—so indeed I have—and, to look backwards, in a very little while too.

But what shall I do, if my father cannot be prevailed upon to recall his malediction? O my dear Mrs. Norton, what a weight must a father’s curse have upon a heart so appreciative as mine!—Did I think I should ever have a father’s curse to deprecate? And yet, only that the temporary part of it is so terribly fulfilled, or I should be as earnest for its recall, for my father’s sake, as for my own!

You must not be angry with me that I wrote not to you before. You are very right and very kind to say you are sure I love you. Indeed I do. And what a generosity, [so like yourself!] is there in your praise, to attribute to me more than I merit, in order to raise an emulation to me to deserve your praises!—you tell me what you expect from me in the calamities I am called upon to bear. May I behave answerably!

I can a little account to myself for my silence to you, my kind, my dear maternal friend! How equally sweetly and politely do you express yourself on this occasion! I was very desirous, for your sake, as well as for my own, that you should have it to say that we did not correspond: had they thought we did, every word you could have dropt in my favour would have been rejected; and my mother would have been forbid to see you, or pay any regard to what you should say.

Then I had sometimes better and sometimes worse prospects before me. My worst would only have troubled you to know: my better made me frequently hope, that, by the next post, or the next, and so on for weeks, I should have the best news to impart to you that then could happen: cold as the wretch had made my heart to that best.—For how could I think to write to you, with a confession that I was not married, yet lived in the house (for I could not help it) with such a man?—Who likewise had given it out to several, that we were actually married, although with restrictions that depended on the reconciliation with my friends? And to disguise the truth, or be guilty of a falsehood, either direct or equivocal, that was what you had never taught me.

But I might have written to you for advice, in my precarious situation, perhaps you will think. But, indeed, my dear Mrs. Norton, I was not lost for want of advice. And this will appear clear to you from what I have already hinted, were I to explain myself no further:—For what need had the cruel spoiler to have recourse to unprecedented arts—I will speak out plainer still, (but you must not at present report it,) to stupifying potions, and to the most brutal and outrageous force, had I been wanting in my duty?

A few words more upon this grievous subject—

When I reflect upon all that has happened to me, it is apparent, that this generally-supposed thoughtless seducer has acted by me upon a regular and preconcerted plan of villany.

In order to set all his vile plots in motion, nothing was wanting, from the first, but to prevail upon me, either by force or fraud, to throw myself into his power: and when this was effected, nothing less than the intervention of the paternal authority, (which I had not deserved to be exerted in my behalf,) could have saved me from the effect of his deep machinations. Opposition from any other quarter would but too probably have precipitated his barbarous and ungrateful violence: and had you yourself been with me, I have reason now to think, that somehow or other you would have suffered in endeavouring to save me: for never was there, as now I see, a plan of wickedness more steadily and uniformly pursued than his has been, against an unhappy creature who merited better of him: but the Almighty has thought fit, according to the general course of His providence, to make the fault bring on its own punishment: but surely not in consequence of my father’s dreadful imprecation, ‘That I might be punished here,’ [O my mamma Norton, pray with me, if so, that here it stop!] ‘by the very wretch in whom I had placed my wicked confidence!’

I am sorry, for your sake, to leave off so heavily. Yet the rest must be brief.

Let me desire you to be secret in what I have communicated to you; at least till you have my consent to divulge it.

God preserve to you your more faultless child!

I will hope for His mercy, although I should not obtain that of any earthly person.

And I repeat my prohibition:—You must not think of coming up to

Your ever dutiful CL. HARLOWE.

The obliging person, who left your’s for me this day, promised to call to-morrow, to see if I should have any thing to return. I would not lose so good an opportunity.