Clarissa Harlowe LETTER V


Now, Jack, have I a subject with a vengeance. I am in the very height of my trial for all my sins to my beloved fugitive. For here to-day, at about five o’clock, arrived Lady Sarah Sadleir and Lady Betty Lawrance, each in her chariot-and-six. Dowagers love equipage; and these cannot travel ten miles without a sett, and half a dozen horsemen.

My time had hung heavy upon my hands; and so I went to church after dinner. Why may not handsome fellows, thought I, like to be looked at, as well as handsome wenches? I fell in, when service was over, with Major Warneton; and so came not home till after six; and was surprised, at entering the court-yard here, to find it littered with equipages and servants. I was sure the owners of them came for no good to me.

Lady Sarah, I soon found, was raised to this visit by Lady Betty; who has health enough to allow her to look out to herself, and out of her own affairs, for business. Yet congratulation to Lord M. on his amendment, [spiteful devils on both accounts!] was the avowed errand. But coming in my absence, I was their principal subject; and they had opportunity to set each other’s heart against me.

Simon Parsons hinted this to me, as I passed by the steward’s office; for it seems they talked loud; and he was making up some accounts with old Pritchard.

However, I hastened to pay my duty to them—other people not performing theirs, is no excuse for the neglect of our own, you know.

And now I enter upon my TRIAL.

With horrible grave faces was I received. The two antiquities only bowed their tabby heads; making longer faces than ordinary; and all the old lines appearing strong in their furrowed foreheads and fallen cheeks; How do you, Cousin? And how do you, Mr. Lovelace? looking all round at one another, as who should say, do you speak first: and, do you: for they seemed resolved to lose no time.

I had nothing for it, but an air as manly, as theirs was womanly. Your servant, Madam, to Lady Betty; and, Your servant, Madam, I am glad to see you abroad, to Lady Sarah.

I took my seat. Lord M. looked horribly glum; his fingers claspt, and turning round and round, under and over, his but just disgouted thumb; his sallow face, and goggling eyes, on his two kinswomen, by turns; but not once deigning to look upon me.

Then I began to think of the laudanum, and wet cloth, I told thee of long ago; and to call myself in question for a tenderness of heart that will never do me good.

At last, Mr. Lovelace!——Cousin Lovelace!——Hem!—Hem!—I am sorry, very sorry, hesitated Lady Sarah, that there is no hope of your ever taking up——

What’s the matter now, Madam?

The matter now!——Why Lady Betty has two letters from Miss Harlowe, which have told us what’s the matter——Are all women alike with you?

Yes; I could have answered; ’bating the difference which pride makes.

Then they all chorus’d upon me—Such a character as Miss Harlowe’s! cried one——A lady of so much generosity and good sense! Another—How charmingly she writes! the two maiden monkeys, looking at her find handwriting: her perfections my crimes. What can you expect will be the end of these things! cried Lady Sarah—d——d, d——d doings! vociferated the Peer, shaking his loose-fleshe’d wabbling chaps, which hung on his shoulders like an old cow’s dewlap.

For my part, I hardly knew whether to sing or say what I had to reply to these all-at-once attacks upon me! Fair and softly, Ladies—one at a time, I beseech you. I am not to be hunted down without being heard, I hope. Pray let me see these letters. I beg you will let me see them.

There they are:—that’s the first—read it out, if you can.

I opened a letter from my charmer, dated Thursday, June 29, our wedding-day, that was to be, and written to Lady Betty Lawrance. By the contents, to my great joy, I find the dear creature is alive and well, and in charming spirits. But the direction where to send an answer to was so scratched out that I could not read it; which afflicted me much.

She puts three questions in it to Lady Betty.

1st. About a letter of her’s, dated June 7, congratulating me on my nuptials, and which I was so good as to save Lady Betty the trouble of writing——A very civil thing of me, I think!

Again—’Whether she and one of her nieces Montague were to go to town, on an old chancery suit?’—And, ’Whether they actually did go to town accordingly, and to Hampstead afterwards?’ and, ’Whether they brought to town from thence the young creature whom they visited?’ was the subject of the second and third questions.

A little inquisitive, dear rogue! and what did she expect to be the better for these questions?——But curiosity, d——d curiosity, is the itch of the sex—yet when didst thou know it turned to their benefit?— For they seldom inquire, but what they fear—and the proverb, as my Lord has it, says, It comes with a fear. That is, I suppose, what they fear generally happens, because there is generally occasion for the fear.

Curiosity indeed she avows to be her only motive for these interrogatories: for, though she says her Ladyship may suppose the questions are not asked for good to me, yet the answer can do me no harm, nor her good, only to give her to understand, whether I have told her a parcel of d——d lyes; that’s the plain English of her inquiry.

Well, Madam, said I, with as much philosophy as I could assume; and may I ask—Pray, what was your Ladyship’s answer?

There’s a copy of it, tossing it to me, very disrespectfully.

This answer was dated July 1. A very kind and complaisant one to the lady, but very so-so to her poor kinsman—That people can give up their own flesh and blood with so much ease!—She tells her ’how proud all our family would be of an alliance with such an excellence.’ She does me justice in saying how much I adore her, as an angel of a woman; and begs of her, for I know not how many sakes, besides my soul’s sake, ’that she will be so good as to have me for a husband:’ and answers—thou wilt guess how—to the lady’s questions.

Well, Madam; and pray, may I be favoured with the lady’s other letter? I presume it is in reply to your’s.

It is, said the Peer: but, Sir, let me ask you a few questions, before you read it—give me the letter, Lady Betty.

There it is, my Lord.

Then on went the spectacles, and his head moved to the lines—a charming pretty hand!—I have often heard that this lady is a genius.

And so, Jack, repeating my Lord’s wise comments and questions will let thee into the contents of this merciless letter.

’Monday, July 3,’ [reads my Lord.]—Let me see!—that was last Monday; no longer ago! ’Monday, July the third—Madam—I cannot excuse myself’—um, um, um, um, um, um, [humming inarticulately, and skipping,]—’I must own to you, Madam, that the honour of being related’——

Off went the spectacles—Now, tell me, Sir-r, Has not this lady lost all the friends she had in the world for your sake?

She has very implacable friends, my Lord: we all know that.

But has she not lost them all for your sake?—Tell me that.

I believe so, my Lord.

Well then!—I am glad thou art not so graceless as to deny that.

On went the spectacles again—’I must own to you, Madam, that the honour of being related to ladies as eminent for their virtue as for their descent.’—Very pretty, truly! saith my Lord, repeating, ’as eminent for their virtue as for their descent, was, at first, no small inducement with me to lend an ear to Mr. Lovelace’s address.’

There is dignity, born-dignity, in this lady, cried my Lord.

Lady Sarah. She would have been a grace to our family.

Lady Betty. Indeed she would.

Lovel. To a royal family, I will venture to say.

Lord M. Then what a devil—-

Lovel. Please to read on, my Lord. It cannot be her letter, if it does not make you admire her more and more as you read. Cousin Charlotte, Cousin Patty, pray attend——Read on, my Lord.

Miss Charlotte. Amazing fortitude!

Miss Patty only lifted up her dove’s eyes.

Lord M. [Reading.] ’And the rather, as I was determined, had it come to effect, to do every thing in my power to deserve your favourable opinion.’

Then again they chorus’d upon me!

A blessed time of it, poor I!—I had nothing for it but impudence!

Lovel. Pray read on, my Lord—I told you how you would all admire her ——or, shall I read?

Lord M. D——d assurance! [Then reading.] ’I had another motive, which I knew would of itself give me merit with your whole family: [they were all ear:] a presumptuous one; a punishably-presumptuous one, as it has proved: in the hope that I might be an humble mean, in the hand of Providence, to reclaim a man who had, as I thought, good sense enough at bottom to be reclaimed; or at least gratitude enough to acknowledge the intended obligation, whether the generous hope were to succeed or not.’ —Excellent young creature!—

Excellent young creature! echoed the Ladies, with their handkerchiefs at their eyes, attended with music.

Lovel. By my soul, Miss Patty, you weep in the wrong place: you shall never go with me to a tragedy.

Lady Betty. Hardened wretch.

His Lordship had pulled off his spectacles to wipe them. His eyes were misty; and he thought the fault in his spectacles.

I saw they were all cocked and primed—to be sure that is a very pretty sentence, said I——that is the excellency of this lady, that in every line, as she writes on, she improves upon herself. Pray, my Lord, proceed—I know her style; the next sentence will still rise upon us.

Lord M. D——d fellow! [Again saddling, and reading.] ’But I have been most egregiously mistaken in Mr. Lovelace!’ [Then they all clamoured again.]—’The only man, I persuade myself’——

Lovel. Ladies may persuade themselves to any thing: but how can she answer for what other men would or would not have done in the same circumstances?

I was forced to say any thing to stifle their outcries. Pox take ye altogether, thought I; as if I had not vexation enough in losing her!

Lord M. [Reading.] ’The only man, I persuade myself, pretending to be a gentleman, in whom I could have been so much mistaken.’

They were all beginning again—Pray, my Lord, proceed!—Hear, hear—pray, Ladies, hear!—Now, my Lord, be pleased to proceed. The Ladies are silent.

So they were; lost in admiration of me, hands and eyes uplifted.

Lord M. I will, to thy confusion; for he had looked over the next sentence.

What wretches, Belford, what spiteful wretches, are poor mortals!—So rejoiced to sting one another! to see each other stung!

Lord M. [Reading.] ’For while I was endeavouring to save a drowning wretch, I have been, not accidentally, but premeditatedly, and of set purpose, drawn in after him.’—What say you to that, Sir-r?

Lady S. | Ay, Sir, what say you to this? Lady B. |

Lovel. Say! Why I say it is a very pretty metaphor, if it would but hold.—But, if you please, my Lord, read on. Let me hear what is further said, and I will speak to it all together.

Lord M. I will. ’And he has had the glory to add to the list of those he has ruined, a name that, I will be bold to say, would not have disparaged his own.’

They all looked at me, as expecting me to speak.

Lovel. Be pleased to proceed, my Lord: I will speak to this by-and-by— How came she to know I kept a list?—I will speak to this by-and-by.

Lord M. [Reading on.] ’And this, Madam, by means that would shock humanity to be made acquainted with.’

Then again, in a hurry, off went the spectacles.

This was a plaguy stroke upon me. I thought myself an oak in impudence; but, by my troth, this almost felled me.

Lord M. What say you to this, SIR-R!

Remember, Jack, to read all their Sirs in this dialogue with a double rr, Sir-r! denoting indignation rather than respect.

They all looked at me as if to see if I could blush.

Lovel. Eyes off, my Lord!——Eyes off, Ladies! [Looking bashfully, I believe.]—What say I to this, my Lord!—Why, I say, that this lady has a strong manner of expressing herself!—That’s all.—There are many things that pass among lovers, which a man cannot explain himself upon before grave people.

Lady Betty. Among lovers, Sir-r! But, Mr. Lovelace, can you say that this lady behaved either like a weak, or a credulous person?—Can you say—

Lovel. I am ready to do the lady all manner of justice.—But, pray now, Ladies, if I am to be thus interrogated, let me know the contents of the rest of the letter, that I may be prepared for my defence, as you are all for my arraignment. For, to be required to answer piecemeal thus, without knowing what is to follow, is a cursed ensnaring way of proceeding.

They gave me the letter: I read it through to myself:—and by the repetition of what I said, thou wilt guess at the remaining contents.

You shall find, Ladies, you shall find, my Lord, that I will not spare myself. Then holding the letter in my hand, and looking upon it, as a lawyer upon his brief,

Miss Harlowe says, ’That when your Ladyship,’ [turning to Lady Betty,] ’shall know, that, in the progress to her ruin, wilful falsehoods, repeated forgeries, and numberless perjuries, were not the least of my crimes, you will judge that she can have no principles that will make her worthy of an alliance with ladies of your’s, and your noble sister’s character, if she could not, from her soul, declare, that such an alliance can never now take place.’

Surely, Ladies, this is passion! This is not reason. If our family would not think themselves dishonoured by my marrying a person whom I had so treated; but, on the contrary, would rejoice that I did her this justice: and if she has come out pure gold from the assay; and has nothing to reproach herself with; why should it be an impeachment of her principles, to consent that such an alliance take place?

She cannot think herself the worse, justly she cannot, for what was done against her will.

Their countenances menaced a general uproar—but I proceeded.

Your Lordship read to us, that she had an hope, a presumptuous one: nay, a punishably-presumptuous one, she calls it; ’that she might be a mean, in the hand of Providence, to reclaim me; and that this, she knew, if effected, would give her a merit with you all.’ But from what would she reclaim me?—She had heard, you’ll say, (but she had only heard, at the time she entertained that hope,) that, to express myself in the women’s dialect, I was a very wicked fellow!—Well, and what then?—Why, truly, the very moment she was convinced, by her own experience, that the charge against me was more than hearsay; and that, of consequence, I was a fit subject for her generous endeavours to work upon; she would needs give me up. Accordingly, she flies out, and declares, that the ceremony which would repair all shall never take place!—Can this be from any other motive than female resentment?

This brought them all upon me, as I intended it should: it was as a tub to a whale; and after I had let them play with it a while, I claimed their attention, and, knowing that they always loved to hear me prate, went on.

The lady, it is plain, thought, that the reclaiming of a man from bad habits was a much easier task than, in the nature of things, it can be.

She writes, as your Lordship has read, ’That, in endeavouring to save a drowning wretch, she had been, not accidentally, but premeditatedly, and of set purpose, drawn in after him.’ But how is this, Ladies?—You see by her own words, that I am still far from being out of danger myself. Had she found me, in a quagmire suppose, and I had got out of it by her means, and left her to perish in it; that would have been a crime indeed. —But is not the fact quite otherwise? Has she not, if her allegory prove what she would have it prove, got out herself, and left me floundering still deeper and deeper in?—What she should have done, had she been in earnest to save me, was, to join her hand with mine, that so we might by our united strength help one another out.—I held out my hand to her, and besought her to give me her’s:—But, no truly! she was determined to get out herself as fast as she could, let me sink or swim: refusing her assistance (against her own principles) because she saw I wanted it.—You see, Ladies, you see, my Lord, how pretty tinkling words run away with ears inclined to be musical.

They were all ready to exclaim again: but I went on, proleptically, as a rhetorician would say, before their voices would break out into words.

But my fair accuser says, that, ’I have added to the list of those I have ruined, a name that would not have disparaged my own.’ It is true, I have been gay and enterprising. It is in my constitution to be so. I know not how I came by such a constitution: but I was never accustomed to check or controul; that you all know. When a man finds himself hurried by passion into a slight offence, which, however slight, will not be forgiven, he may be made desperate: as a thief, who only intends a robbery, is often by resistance, and for self-preservation, drawn in to commit murder.

I was a strange, a horrid wretch, with every one. But he must be a silly fellow who has not something to say for himself, when every cause has its black and its white side.—Westminster-hall, Jack, affords every day as confident defences as mine.

But what right, proceeded I, has this lady to complain of me, when she as good as says—Here, Lovelace, you have acted the part of a villain by me! —You would repair your fault: but I won’t let you, that I may have the satisfaction of exposing you; and the pride of refusing you.

But, was that the case? Was that the case? Would I pretend to say, I would now marry the lady, if she would have me?

Lovel. You find she renounces Lady Betty’s mediation——

Lord M. [Interrupting me.] Words are wind; but deeds are mind: What signifies your cursed quibbling, Bob?—Say plainly, if she will have you, will you have her? Answer me, yes or no; and lead us not a wild-goose chace after your meaning.

Lovel. She knows I would. But here, my Lord, if she thus goes on to expose herself and me, she will make it a dishonour to us both to marry.

Charl. But how must she have been treated—

Lovel. [Interrupting her.] Why now, Cousin Charlotte, chucking her under the chin, would you have me tell you all that has passed between the lady and me? Would you care, had you a bold and enterprizing lover, that proclamation should be made of every little piece of amorous roguery, that he offered to you?

Charlotte reddened. They all began to exclaim. But I proceeded.

The lady says, ’She has been dishonoured’ (devil take me, if I spare myself!) ’by means that would shock humanity to be made acquainted with them.’ She is a very innocent lady, and may not be a judge of the means she hints at. Over-niceness may be under-niceness: Have you not such a proverb, my Lord?—tantamount to, One extreme produces another!——Such a lady as this may possibly think her case more extraordinary than it is. This I will take upon me to say, that if she has met with the only man in the world who would have treated her, as she says I have treated her, I have met in her with the only woman in the world who would have made such a rout about a case that is uncommon only from the circumstances that attend it.

This brought them all upon me; hands, eyes, voices, all lifted at once. But my Lord M. who has in his head (the last seat of retreating lewdness) as much wickedness as I have in my heart, was forced (upon the air I spoke this with, and Charlotte’s and all the rest reddening) to make a mouth that was big enough to swallow up the other half of his face; crying out, to avoid laughing, Oh! Oh!—as if under the power of a gouty twinge.

Hadst thou seen how the two tabbies and the young grimalkins looked at one another, at my Lord, and at me, by turns, thou would have been ready to split thy ugly face just in the middle. Thy mouth hath already done half the work. And, after all, I found not seldom in this conversation, that my humourous undaunted airs forced a smile into my service from the prim mouths of the young ladies. They perhaps, had they met with such another intrepid fellow as myself, who had first gained upon their affections, would not have made such a rout as my beloved has done, about such an affair as that we were assembled upon. Young ladies, as I have observed on an hundred occasions, fear not half so much for themselves as their mothers do for them. But here the girls were forced to put on grave airs, and to seem angry, because the antiques made the matter of such high importance. Yet so lightly sat anger and fellow-feeling at their hearts, that they were forced to purse in their mouths, to suppress the smiles I now-and-then laid out for: while the elders having had roses (that is to say, daughters) of their own, and knowing how fond men are of a trifle, would have been very loth to have had them nipt in the bud, without saying to the mother of them, By your leave, Mrs. Rose-bush.

The next article of my indictment was for forgery; and for personating of Lady Betty and my cousin Charlotte.

Two shocking charges, thou’lt say: and so they were!—The Peer was outrageous upon the forgery charge. The Ladies vowed never to forgive the personating part.

Not a peace-maker among them. So we all turned women, and scolded.

My Lord told me, that he believed in his conscience there was not a viler fellow upon God’s earth than me.—What signifies mincing the matter? said he—and that it was not the first time I had forged his hand.

To this I answered, that I supposed, when the statute of Scandalum Magnatum was framed, there were a good many in the peerage who knew they deserved hard names; and that that law therefore was rather made to privilege their qualities, than to whiten their characters.

He called upon me to explain myself, with a Sir-r, so pronounced, as to show that one of the most ignominious words in our language was in his head.

People, I said, that were fenced in by their quality, and by their years, should not take freedoms that a man of spirit could not put up with, unless he were able heartily to despise the insulter.

This set him in a violent passion. He would send for Pritchard instantly. Let Pritchard be called. He would alter his will; and all he could leave from me, he would.

Do, do, my Lord, said I: I always valued my own pleasure above your estate. But I’ll let Pritchard know, that if he draws, he shall sign and seal.

Why, what would I do to Pritchard?—shaking his crazy head at me.

Only, what he, or any man else, writes with his pen, to despoil me of what I think my right, he shall seal with his ears; that’s all, my Lord.

Then the two Ladies interposed.

Lady Sarah told me, that I carried things a great way; and that neither Lord M. nor any of them, deserved the treatment I gave them.

I said, I could not bear to be used ill by my Lord, for two reasons; first, because I respected his Lordship above any man living; and next, because it looked as if I were induced by selfish considerations to take that from him, which nobody else would offer to me.

And what, returned he, shall be my inducement to take what I do at your hands?—Hay, Sir?

Indeed, Cousin Lovelace, said Lady Betty, with great gravity, we do not any of us, as Lady Sarah says, deserve at your hands the treatment you give us: and let me tell you, that I don’t think my character and your cousin Charlotte’s ought to be prostituted, in order to ruin an innocent lady. She must have known early the good opinion we all have of her, and how much we wished her to be your wife. This good opinion of ours has been an inducement to her (you see she says so) to listen to your address. And this, with her friends’ folly, has helped to throw her into your power. How you have requited her is too apparent. It becomes the character we all bear, to disclaim your actions by her. And let me tell you, that to have her abused by wicked people raised up to personate us, or any of us, makes a double call upon us to disclaim them.

Lovel. Why this is talking somewhat like. I would have you all disclaim my actions. I own I have done very vilely by this lady. One step led to another. I am curst with an enterprizing spirit. I hate to be foiled—

Foiled! interrupted Lady Sarah. What a shame to talk at this rate!—Did the lady set up a contention with you? All nobly sincere, and plain-hearted, have I heard Miss Clarissa Harlowe is: above art, above disguise; neither the coquette, nor the prude!—Poor lady! she deserved a better fare from the man for whom she took the step which she so freely blames!

This above half affected me.—Had this dispute been so handled by every one, I had been ashamed to look up. I began to be bashful.

Charlotte asked if I did not still seem inclinable to do the lady justice, if she would accept of me? It would be, she dared to say, the greatest felicity the family could know (she would answer for one) that this fine lady were of it.

They all declared to the same effect; and Lady Sarah put the matter home to me.

But my Lord Marplot would have it that I could not be serious for six minutes together.

I told his Lordship that he was mistaken; light as he thought I made of his subject, I never knew any that went so near my heart.

Miss Patty said she was glad to hear that: and her soft eyes glistened with pleasure.

Lord M. called her sweet soul, and was ready to cry.

Not from humanity neither, Jack. This Peer has no bowels; as thou mayest observe by this treatment of me. But when people’s minds are weakened by a sense of their own infirmities, and when they are drawing on to their latter ends, they will be moved on the slightest occasions, whether those offer from within or without them. And this, frequently, the unpenetrating world, calls humanity; when all the time, in compassionating the miseries of human nature, they are but pitying themselves; and were they in strong health and spirits, would care as little for any body else as thou or I do.

Here broke they off my trial for this sitting. Lady Sarah was much fatigued. It was agreed to pursue the subject in the morning. They all, however, retired together, and went into private conference.