Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLI

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE SUNDAY, JULY 23.

What pain, my dearest friend, does your kind solicitude for my welfare give me! How much more binding and tender are the ties of pure friendship, and the union of like minds, than the ties of nature! Well might the sweet-singer of Israel, when he was carrying to the utmost extent the praises of the friendship between him and his beloved friend, say, that the love of Jonathan to him was wonderful; that it surpassed the love of women! What an exalted idea does it give of the soul of Jonathan, sweetly attempered for the sacred band, if we may suppose it but equal to that of my Anna Howe for her fallen Clarissa?—But, although I can glory in your kind love for me, think, my dear, what concern must fill a mind, not ungenerous, when the obligation lies all on one side. And when, at the same time that your light is the brighter for my darkness, I must give pain to a dear friend, to whom I delighted to give pleasure; and not pain only, but discredit, for supporting my blighted fame against the busy tongues of uncharitable censures!

This is that makes me, in the words of my admired exclaimer, very little altered, often repeat: ’Oh! that I were as in months past! as in the days when God preserved me! when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness! As I was in the days of my childhood—when the Almighty was yet with me: when I was in my father’s house: when I washed my steps with butter, and the rock poured me out rivers of oil.’

You set before me your reasons, enforced by the opinion of your honoured mother, why I should think of Mr. Lovelace for a husband.*

* See the preceding Letter.

And I have before me your letter of the 13th,* containing the account of the visit and proposals, and kind interposition of the two Misses Montague, in the names of the good Ladies Sadleir and Betty Lawrance, and in that of my Lord M.

* See Letter IX. of this vol.

Also your’s of the 18th,* demanding me, as I may say, of those ladies, and of that family, when I was so infamously and cruelly arrested, and you knew not what was become of me.

* See Letter XI. ibid.

The answer likewise of those ladies, signed in so full and generous a manner by themselves,* and by that nobleman, and those two venerable ladies; and, in his light way, by the wretch himself.

* See Letter XIV. ibid.

Thse, my dearest Miss Howe; and your letter of the 16th,* which came when I was under arrest, and which I received not till some days after; are all before me.

* See Letter X. of this volume.

And I have as well weighed the whole matter, and your arguments in support of your advice, as at present my head and my heart will let me weigh them.

I am, moreover, willing to believe, not only from your own opinion, but from the assurances of one of Mr. Lovelace’s friends, Mr. Belford, a good-natured and humane man, who spares not to censure the author of my calamities (I think, with undissembled and undesigning sincerity) that that man is innocent of the disgraceful arrest.

And even, if you please, in sincere compliment to your opinion, and to that of Mr. Hickman, that (over-persuaded by his friends, and ashamed of his unmerited baseness to me) he would in earnest marry me, if I would have him.

’*Well, and now, what is the result of all?—It is this—that I must abide by what I have already declared—and that is, [don’t be angry at me, my best friend,] that I have much more pleasure in thinking of death, than of such a husband. In short, as I declared in my last, that I cannot [forgive me, if I say, I will not] ever be his.

* Those parts of this letter which are marked with an inverted comma [thus ’ ] were afterwards transcribed by Miss Howe in Letter LV. written to the Ladies of Mr. Lovelace’s family; and are thus distinguished to avoid the necessity of repeating them in that letter.

’But you will expect my reasons; I know you will: and if I give them not, will conclude me either obstinate, or implacable, or both: and those would be sad imputations, if just, to be laid to the charge of a person who thinks and talks of dying. And yet, to say that resentment and disappointment have no part in my determination, would be saying a thing hardly to be credited. For I own I have resentment, strong resentment, but not unreasonable ones, as you will be convinced, if already you are not so, when you know all my story—if ever you do know it—for I begin to fear (so many things more necessary to be thought of than either this man, or my own vindication, have I to do) that I shall not have time to compass what I have intended, and, in a manner, promised you.*

* See Vol. VI. Letter LXXIII.

’I have one reason to give in support of my resolution, that, I believe, yourself will allow of: but having owned that I have resentments, I will begin with those considerations in which anger and disappointment have too great a share; in hopes that, having once disburdened my mind upon paper, and to my Anna Howe, of those corroding uneasy passions, I shall prevent them for ever from returning to my heart, and to have their place supplied by better, milder, and more agreeable ones.

’My pride, then, my dearest friend, although a great deal mortified, is not sufficiently mortified, if it be necessary for me to submit to make that man my choice, whose actions are, and ought to be, my abhorrence!— What!—Shall I, who have been treated with such premeditated and perfidious barbarity, as is painful to be thought of, and cannot, with modesty be described, think of taking the violator to my heart? Can I vow duty to one so wicked, and hazard my salvation by joining myself to so great a profligate, now I know him to be so? Do you think your Clarissa Harlowe so lost, so sunk, at least, as that she could, for the sake of patching up, in the world’s eye, a broken reputation, meanly appear indebted to the generosity, or perhaps compassion, of a man, who has, by means so inhuman, robbed her of it? Indeed, my dear, I should not think my penitence for the rash step I took, any thing better than a specious delusion, if I had not got above the least wish to have Mr. Lovelace for my husband.

’Yes, I warrant, I must creep to the violator, and be thankful to him for doing me poor justice!

’Do you not already see me (pursuing the advice you give) with a downcast eye, appear before his friends, and before my own, (supposing the latter would at last condescend to own me,) divested of that noble confidence which arises from a mind unconscious of having deserved reproach?

’Do you not see me creep about mine own house, preferring all my honest maidens to myself—as if afraid, too, to open my lips, either by way of reproof or admonition, lest their bolder eyes should bid me look inward, and not expect perfection from them?

’And shall I entitle the wretch to upbraid me with his generosity, and his pity; and perhaps to reproach me for having been capable of forgiving crimes of such a nature?

’I once indeed hoped, little thinking him so premeditatedly vile a man, that I might have the happiness to reclaim him: I vainly believed that he loved me well enough to suffer my advice for his good, and the example I humbly presumed I should be enabled to set him, to have weight with him; and the rather, as he had no mean opinion of my morals and understanding: But now what hope is there left for this my prime hope?—Were I to marry him, what a figure should I make, preaching virtue and morality to a man whom I had trusted with opportunities to seduce me from all my own duties!—And then, supposing I were to have children by such a husband, must it not, think you, cut a thoughtful person to the heart; to look round upon her little family, and think she had given them a father destined, without a miracle, to perdition; and whose immoralities, propagated among them by his vile example, might, too probably, bring down a curse upon them? And, after all, who knows but that my own sinful compliances with a man, who might think himself entitled to my obedience, might taint my own morals, and make me, instead of a reformer, an imitator of him?—For who can touch pitch, and not be defiled?

’Let me then repeat, that I truly despise this man! If I know my own heart, indeed I do!—I pity him! beneath my very pity as he is, I nevertheless pity him!—But this I could not do, if I still loved him: for, my dear, one must be greatly sensible of the baseness and ingratitude of those we love. I love him not, therefore! my soul disdains communion with him.

’But, although thus much is due to resentment, yet have I not been so far carried away by its angry effects as to be rendered incapable of casting about what I ought to do, and what could be done, if the Almighty, in order to lengthen the time of my penitence, were to bid me to live.

’The single life, at such times, has offered to me, as the life, the only life, to be chosen. But in that, must I not now sit brooding over my past afflictions, and mourning my faults till the hour of my release? And would not every one be able to assign the reason why Clarissa Harlowe chose solitude, and to sequester herself from the world? Would not the look of every creature, who beheld me, appear as a reproach to me? And would not my conscious eye confess my fault, whether the eyes of others accused me or not? One of my delights was, to enter the cots of my poor neighbours, to leave lessons to the boys, and cautions to the elder girls: and how should I be able, unconscious, and without pain, to say to the latter, fly the delusions of men, who had been supposed to have run away with one?

’What then, my dear and only friend, can I wish for but death?—And what, after all, is death? ’Tis but a cessation from mortal life: ’tis but the finishing of an appointed course: the refreshing inn after a fatiguing journey; the end of a life of cares and troubles; and, if happy, the beginning of a life of immortal happiness.

’If I die not now, it may possibly happen that I may be taken when I am less prepared. Had I escaped the evils I labour under, it might have been in the midst of some gay promising hope; when my heart had beat high with the desire of life; and when the vanity of this earth had taken hold of me.

’But now, my dear, for your satisfaction let me say that, although I wish not for life, yet would I not, like a poor coward, desert my post when I can maintain it, and when it is my duty to maintain it.

’More than once, indeed, was I urged by thoughts so sinful: but then it was in the height of my distress: and once, particularly, I have reason to believe, I saved myself by my desperation from the most shocking personal insults; from a repetition, as far as I know, of his vileness; the base women (with so much reason dreaded by me) present, to intimidate me, if not to assist him!—O my dear, you know not what I suffered on that occasion!—Nor do I what I escaped at the time, if the wicked man had approached me to execute the horrid purposes of his vile heart.’

As I am of opinion, that it would have manifested more of revenge and despair than of principle, had I committed a violence upon myself, when the villany was perpetrated; so I should think it equally criminal, were I now wilfully to neglect myself; were I purposely to run into the arms of death, (as that man supposes I shall do,) when I might avoid it.

Nor, my dear, whatever are the suppositions of such a short-sighted, such a low-souled man, must you impute to gloom, to melancholy, to despondency, nor yet to a spirit of faulty pride, or still more faulty revenge, the resolution I have taken never to marry this: and if not this, any man. So far from deserving this imputation, I do assure you, (my dear and only love,) that I will do every thing I can to prolong my life, till God, in mercy to me, shall be pleased to call for it. I have reason to think my punishment is but the due consequence of my fault, and I will not run away from it; but beg of Heaven to sanctify it to me. When appetite serves, I will eat and drink what is sufficient to support nature. A very little, you know, will do for that. And whatever my physicians shall think fit to prescribe, I will take, though ever so disagreeable. In short, I will do every thing I can do to convince all my friends, who hereafter may think it worth their while to inquire after my last behaviour, that I possessed my soul with tolerable patience; and endeavoured to bear with a lot of my own drawing; for thus, in humble imitation of the sublimest exemplar, I often say:—Lord, it is thy will; and it shall be mine. Thou art just in all thy dealings with the children of men; and I know thou wilt not afflict me beyond what I can bear: and, if I can bear it, I ought to bear it; and (thy grace assisting me) I will bear it.

’But here, my dear, is another reason; a reason that will convince you yourself that I ought not to think of wedlock; but of a preparation for a quite different event. I am persuaded, as much as that I am now alive, that I shall not long live. The strong sense I have ever had of my fault, the loss of my reputation, my disappointments, the determined resentment of my friends, aiding the barbarous usage I have met with where I least deserved it, have seized upon my heart: seized upon it, before it was so well fortified by religious considerations as I hope it now is. Don’t be concerned, my dear—But I am sure, if I may say it with as little presumption as grief, That God will soon dissolve my substance; and bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living.’

And now, my dearest friend, you know all my mind. And you will be pleased to write to the ladies of Mr. Lovelace’s family, that I think myself infinitely obliged to them for their good opinion of me; and that it has given me greater pleasure than I thought I had to come in this life, that, upon the little knowledge they have of me, and that not personal, I was thought worthy (after the ill usage I have received) of an alliance with their honourable family: but that I can by no means think of their kinsman for a husband: and do you, my dear, extract from the above such reasons as you think have any weight with them.

I would write myself to acknowledge their favour, had I not more employment for my head, my heart, and my fingers, than I doubt they will be able to go through.

I should be glad to know when you set out on your journey; as also your little stages; and your time of stay at your aunt Harman’s; that my prayers may locally attend you whithersoever you go, and wherever you are.

CLARISSA HARLOWE.