Clarissa Harlowe LETTER VI


The Ladies, instead of taking up the subject where we had laid it down, must needs touch upon passage in my fair accuser’s letter, which I was in hopes they would have let rest, as we were in a tolerable way. But, truly, they must hear all they could hear of our story, and what I had to say to those passages, that they might be better enabled to mediate between us, if I were really and indeed inclined to do her the hoped-for justice.

These passages were, 1st, ’That, after I had compulsorily tricked her into the act of going off with me, I carried her to one of the worst houses in London.’

2nd, ’That I had made a wicked attempt upon her; in resentment of which she fled to Hampstead privately.’

3dly, Came the forgery, and personating charges again; and we were upon the point of renewing out quarrel, before we could get to the next charge: which was still worse.

For that (4thly) was ’That having betrayed her back to the vile house, I first robbed her of her senses, and then her honour; detaining her afterwards a prisoner there.’

Were I to tell thee the glosses I put upon these heavy charges, what would it be, but repeat many of the extenuating arguments I have used in my letters to thee?—Suffice it, therefore, to say, that I insisted much, by way of palliation, on the lady’s extreme niceness: on her diffidence in my honour: on Miss Howe’s contriving spirit; plots on their parts begetting plots on mine: on the high passions of the sex. I asserted, that my whole view, in gently restraining her, was to oblige her to forgive me, and to marry me; and this for the honour of both families. I boasted of my own good qualities; some of which none that knew me deny; and to which few libertines can lay claim.

They then fell into warm admirations and praises of the lady; all of them preparatory, as I knew, to the grand question: and thus it was introduced by Lady Sarah.

We have said as much as I think we can say upon these letters of the poor lady. To dwell upon the mischiefs that may ensue from the abuse of a person of her rank, if all the reparation be not made that now can be made, would perhaps be to little purpose. But you seem, Sir, still to have a just opinion of her, as well as affection for her. Her virtue is not in the least questionable. She could not resent as she does, had she any thing to reproach herself with. She is, by every body’s account, a fine woman; has a good estate in her own right; is of no contemptible family; though I think, with regard to her, they have acted as imprudently as unworthily. For the excellency of her mind, for good economy, the common speech of her, as the worthy Dr. Lewen once told me, is that her prudence would enrich a poor man, and her piety reclaim a licentious one. I, who have not been abroad twice this twelvemonth, came hither purposely, so did Lady Betty, to see if justice may not be done her; and also whether we, and my Lord M. (your nearest relations, Sir,) have, or have not, any influence over you. And, for my own part, as your determination shall be in this article, such shall be mine, with regard to the disposition of all that is within my power.

Lady Betty. And mine.

And mine, said my Lord: and valiantly he swore to it.

Lovel. Far be it from me to think slightly of favours you may any of you be glad I would deserve! but as far be it from me to enter into conditions against my own liking, with sordid views!—As to future mischiefs, let them come. I have not done with the Harlowes yet. They were the aggressors; and I should be glad they would let me hear from them, in the way they should hear from me in the like case. Perhaps I should not be sorry to be found, rather than be obliged to seek, on this occasion.

Miss Charlotte. [Reddening.] Spoke like a man of violence, rather than a man of reason! I hope you’ll allow that, Cousin.

Lady Sarah. Well, but since what is done, and cannot be undone, let us think of the next best, Have you any objection against marrying Miss Harlowe, if she will have you?

Lovel. There can possibly be but one: That she is to every body, no doubt, as well as to Lady Betty, pursuing that maxim peculiar to herself, (and let me tell you so it ought to be:) that what she cannot conceal from herself, she will publish to the world.

Miss Patty. The lady, to be sure, writes this in the bitterness of her grief, and in despair.——

Lovel. And so when her grief is allayed; when her despairing fit is over—and this from you, Cousin Patty!—Sweet girl! And would you, my dear, in the like case [whispering her] have yielded to entreaty—would you have meant no more by the like exclamations?

I had a rap with her fan, and blush; and from Lord M. a reflection, That I turn’d into jest every thing they said.

I asked, if they thought the Harlowes deserved any consideration from me? And whether that family would not exult over me, were I to marry their daughter, as if I dared not to do otherwise?

Lady Sarah. Once I was angry with that family, as we all were. But now I pity them; and think, that you have but too well justified the worse treatment they gave you.

Lord M. Their family is of standing. All gentlemen of it, and rich, and reputable. Let me tell you, that many of our coronets would be glad they could derive their descents from no worse a stem than theirs.

Lovel. The Harlowes are a narrow-souled and implacable family. I hate them: and, though I revere the lady, scorn all relation to them.

Lady Betty. I wish no worse could be said of him, who is such a scorner of common failings in others.

Lord M. How would my sister Lovelace have reproached herself for all her indulgent folly to this favourite boy of her’s, had she lived till now, and been present on this occasion!

Lady Sarah. Well, but, begging your Lordship’s pardon, let us see if any thing can be done for this poor lady.

Miss Ch. If Mr. Lovelace has nothing to object against the lady’s character, (and I presume to think he is not ashamed to do her justice, though it may make against himself,) I cannot but see her honour and generosity will compel from him all that we expect. If there be any levities, any weaknesses, to be charged upon the lady, I should not open my lips in her favour; though in private I would pity her, and deplore her hard hap. And yet, even then, there might not want arguments, from honour to gratitude, in so particular a case, to engage you, Sir, to make good the vows it is plain you have broken.

Lady Betty. My niece Charlotte has called upon you so justly, and has put the question to you so properly, that I cannot but wish you would speak to it directly, and without evasion.

All in a breath then bespoke my seriousness, and my justice: and in this manner I delivered myself, assuming an air sincerely solemn.

’I am very sensible that the performance of the task you have put me upon will leave me without excuse: but I will not have recourse either to evasion or palliation.

’As my cousin Charlotte has severely observed, I am not ashamed to do justice to Miss Harlowe’s merit.

’I own to you all, and, what is more, with high regret, (if not with shame, cousin Charlotte,) that I have a great deal to answer for in my usage of this lady. The sex has not a nobler mind, nor a lovelier person of it. And, for virtue, I could not have believed (excuse me, Ladies) that there ever was a woman who gave, or could have given, such illustrious, such uniform proofs of it: for, in her whole conduct, she has shown herself to be equally above temptation and art; and, I had almost said, human frailty.

’The step she so freely blames herself for taking, was truly what she calls compulsatory: for though she was provoked to think of going off with me, she intended it not, nor was provided to do so: neither would she ever have had the thought of it, had her relations left her free, upon her offered composition to renounce the man she did not hate, in order to avoid the man she did.

’It piqued my pride, I own, that I could so little depend upon the force of those impressions which I had the vanity to hope I had made in a heart so delicate; and, in my worst devices against her, I encouraged myself that I abused no confidence; for none had she in my honour.

’The evils she has suffered, it would have been more than a miracle had she avoided. Her watchfulness rendered more plots abortive than those which contributed to her fall; and they were many and various. And all her greater trials and hardships were owing to her noble resistance and just resentment.

’I know, proceeded I, how much I condemn myself in the justice I am doing to this excellent creature. But yet I will do her justice, and cannot help it if I would. And I hope this shows that I am not so totally abandoned as I have been thought to be.

’Indeed, with me, she has done more honour to her sex in her fall, if it be to be called a fall, (in truth it ought not,) than ever any other could do in her standing.

’When, at length, I had given her watchful virtue cause of suspicion, I was then indeed obliged to make use of power and art to prevent her escaping from me. She then formed contrivances to elude mine; but all her’s were such as strict truth and punctilious honour would justify. She could not stoop to deceit and falsehood, no, not to save herself. More than once justly did she tell me, fired by conscious worthiness, that her soul was my soul’s superior!—Forgive me, Ladies, for saying, that till I knew her, I questioned a soul in a sex, created, as I was willing to suppose, only for temporary purposes.—It is not to be imagined into what absurdities men of free principle run in order to justify to themselves their free practices; and to make a religion to their minds: and yet, in this respect, I have not been so faulty as some others.

’No wonder that such a noble creature as this looked upon every studied artifice as a degree of baseness not to be forgiven: no wonder that she could so easily become averse to the man (though once she beheld him with an eye not wholly indifferent) whom she thought capable of premeditated guilt. Nor, give me leave, on the other hand, to say, is it to be wondered at, that the man who found it so difficult to be forgiven for the slighter offences, and who had not the grace to recede or repent, (made desperate,) should be hurried on to the commission of the greater.

’In short, Ladies, in a word, my Lord, Miss Clarissa Harlowe is an angel; if ever there was or could be one in human nature: and is, and ever was, as pure as an angel in her will: and this justice I must do her, although the question, I see by every glistening eye, is ready to be asked, What then, Lovelace, art thou?’—

Lord M. A devil!—a d——d devil! I must answer. And may the curse of God follow you in all you undertake, if you do not make her the best amends now in your power to make her!

Lovel. From you, my Lord, I could expect no other: but from the Ladies I hope for less violence from the ingenuousness of my confession.

The Ladies, elder and younger, had their handkerchiefs to their eyes, at the just testimony which I bore to the merits of this exalted creature; and which I would make no scruple to bear at the bar of a court of justice, were I to be called to it.

Lady Betty. Well, Sir, this is a noble character. If you think as you speak, surely you cannot refuse to do the lady all the justice now in your power to do her.

They all joined in this demand.

I pleaded, that I was sure she would not have me: that, when she had taken a resolution, she was not to be moved. Unpersuadableness was an Harlowe sin: that, and her name, I told them, were all she had of theirs.

All were of opinion, that she might, in her present desolate circumstances, be brought to forgive me. Lady Sarah said, that Lady Betty and she would endeavour to find out the noble sufferer, as they justly called her; and would take her into their protection, and be guarantees of the justice that I would do her; as well after marriage as before.

It was some pleasure to me, to observe the placability of these ladies of my own family, had they, any or either of them, met with a LOVELACE. But ’twould be hard upon us honest fellows, Jack, if all women were CLARISSAS.

Here I am obliged to break off.