Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLII


But what a pretty scheme of life hast thou drawn out for thyself and thy old widow! By my soul, Jack, I was mightily taken with it. There is but one thing wanting in it; and that will come of course: only to be in the commission, and one of the quorum. Thou art already provided with a clerk, as good as thou’lt want, in the widow Lovick; for thou understandest law, and she conscience: a good Lord Chancellor between ye! —I should take prodigious pleasure to hear thee decide in a bastard case, upon thy new notions and old remembrances.

But raillery apart. [All gloom at heart, by Jupiter! although the pen and the countenance assume airs of levity!] If, after all, thou canst so easily repent and reform, as thou thinkest thou canst: if thou canst thus shake off thy old sins, and thy old habits: and if thy old master will so readily dismiss so tried and so faithful a servant, and permit thee thus calmly to enjoy thy new system; no room for scandal; all temptation ceasing: and if at last (thy reformation warranted and approved by time) thou marriest, and livest honest:—why, Belford, I cannot but say, that if all these IF’s come to pass, thou standest a good chance to be a happy man!

All I think, as I told thee in my last, is, that the devil knows his own interest too well, to let thee off so easily. Thou thyself tellest me, that we cannot repent when we will. And indeed I found it so: for, in my lucid intervals, I made good resolutions: but as health turned its blithe side to me, and opened my prospects of recovery, all my old inclinations and appetites returned; and this letter, perhaps, will be a thorough conviction to thee, that I am as wild a fellow as ever, or in the way to be so.

Thou askest me, very seriously, if, upon the faint sketch thou hast drawn, thy new scheme be not infinitely preferable to any of those which we have so long pursued?—Why, Jack—Let me reflect—Why, Belford—I can’t say—I can’t say—but it is. To speak out—It is really, as Biddy in the play says, a good comfortable scheme.

But when thou tellest me, that it was thy misfortune to love me, because thy value for me made thee a wickeder man than otherwise thou wouldst have been; I desire thee to revolve this assertion: and I am persuaded that thou wilt not find thyself in so right a train as thou imaginest.

No false colourings, no glosses, does a true penitent aim at. Debasement, diffidence, mortification, contrition, are all near of a kin, Jack, and inseparable from a repentant spirit. If thou knowest not this, thou art not got three steps (out of threescore) towards repentance and amendment. And let me remind thee, before the grand accuser come to do it, that thou wert ever above being a passive follower in iniquity. Though thou hadst not so good an invention as he to whom thou writest, thou hadst as active an heart for mischief, as ever I met with in man.

Then for improving an hint, thou wert always a true Englishman. I never started a roguery, that did not come out of thy forge in a manner ready anvilled and hammered for execution, when I have sometimes been at a loss to make any thing of it myself.

What indeed made me appear to be more wicked than thou was, that I being a handsome fellow, and thou an ugly one, when we had started a game, and hunted it down, the poor frighted puss generally threw herself into my paws, rather than into thine: and then, disappointed, hast thou wiped thy blubber-lips, and marched off to start a new game, calling me a wicked fellow all the while.

In short, Belford, thou wert an excellent starter and setter. The old women were not afraid for their daughters, when they saw such a face as thine. But, when I came, whip was the key turned upon the girls. And yet all signified nothing; for love, upon occasion, will draw an elephant through a key-hole. But for thy HEART, Belford, who ever doubted the wickedness of that?

Nor even in this affair, that sticks most upon me, which my conscience makes such a handle of against me, art thou so innocent as thou fanciest thyself. Thou wilt stare at this: but it is true; and I will convince thee of it in an instant.

Thou sayest, thou wouldst have saved the lady from the ruin she met with. Thou art a pretty fellow for this: For how wouldst thou have saved her? What methods didst thou take to save her?

Thou knewest my designs all along. Hadst thou a mind to make thyself a good title to the merit to which thou now pretendest to lay claim, thou shouldest, like a true knight-errant, have sought to set the lady free from the enchanted castle. Thou shouldst have apprized her of her danger; have stolen in, when the giant was out of the way; or, hadst thou had the true spirit of chivalry upon thee, and nothing else would have done, have killed the giant; and then something wouldst thou have had to brag of.

’Oh! but the giant was my friend: he reposed a confidence in me: and I should have betrayed my friend, and his confidence!’ This thou wouldst have pleaded, no doubt. But try this plea upon thy present principles, and thou wilt see what a caitiff thou wert to let it have weight with thee, upon an occasion where a breach of confidence is more excusable than to keep the secret. Did not the lady herself once putt his very point home upon me? And didst thou not, on that occasion, heavily blame thyself?*

* See Vol. VII. Letter XXI.

Thou canst not pretend, and I know thou wilt not, that thou wert afraid of thy life by taking such a measure: for a braver fellow lives not, nor a more fearless, than Jack Belford. I remember several instances, and thou canst not forget them, where thou hast ventured thy bones, thy neck, thy life, against numbers, in a cause of roguery; and hadst thou had a spark of that virtue, which now thou art willing to flatter thyself thou hast, thou wouldst surely have run a risk to save an innocence, and a virtue, that it became every man to protect and espouse. This is the truth of the case, greatly as it makes against myself. But I hate a hypocrite from my soul.

I believe I should have killed thee at the time, if I could, hadst thou betrayed me thus. But I am sure now, that I would have thanked thee for it, with all my heart; and thought thee more a father, and a friend, than my real father, and my best friend—and it was natural for thee to think, with so exalted a merit as this lady had, that this would have been the case, when consideration took place of passion; or, rather, when the d——d fondness for intrigue ceased, which never was my pride so much, as it is now, upon reflection, my curse.

Set about defending myself, and I will probe thee still deeper, and convince thee still more effectually, that thou hast more guilt than merit even in this affair. And as to all the others, in which we were accustomed to hunt in couples, thou wert always the forwardest whelp, and more ready, by far, to run away with me, than I with thee. Yet canst thou now compose thy horse-muscles, and cry out, How much more hadst thou, Lovelace, to answer for than I have!—Saying nothing, neither, when thou sayest this, were it true: for thou wilt not be tried, when the time comes, by comparison. In short, thou mayest, at this rate, so miserably deceive thyself, that, notwithstanding all thy self-denial and mortification, when thou closest thy eyes, thou mayst perhaps open them in a place where thou thoughtest least to be.

However, consult thy old woman on this subject. I shall be thought to be out of character, if I go on in this strain. But really, as to a title to merit in this affair, I do assure thee, Jack, that thou less deservest praise than a horsepond; and I wish I had the sousing of thee.


I am actually now employed in taking leave of my friends in the country. I had once thought of taking Tomlinson, as I called him, with me: but his destiny has frustrated that intention.

Next Monday I think to see you in town; and then you, and I, and Mowbray, and Tourville, will laugh off that evening together. They will both accompany me (as I expect you will) to Dover, if not cross the water. I must leave you and them good friends. They take extremely amiss the treatment you have given them in your last letters. They say, you strike at their understandings. I laugh at them; and tell them, that those people who have least, are the most apt to be angry when it is called into question.

Make up all the papers and narratives you can spare me against the time. The will, particularly, I expect to take with me. Who knows but that those things, which will help to secure you in the way you are got into, may convert me?

Thou talkest of a wife, Jack: What thinkest you of our Charlotte? Her family and fortune, I doubt, according to thy scheme, are a little too high. Will those be an objection? Charlotte is a smart girl. For piety (thy present turn) I cannot say much: yet she is as serious as most of her sex at her time of life—Would flaunt it a little, I believe, too, like the rest of them, were her reputation under covert.

But it won’t do neither, now I think of it:—Thou art so homely, and so awkward a creature! Hast such a boatswain-like air!—People would think she had picked thee up in Wapping, or Rotherhithe; or in going to see some new ship launched, or to view the docks at Chatham, or Portsmouth. So gaudy and so clumsy! Thy tawdriness won’t do with Charlotte!—So sit thee down contented, Belford: although I think, in a whimsical way, as now, I mentioned Charlotte to thee once before.* Yet would I fain secure thy morals too, if matrimony will do it.—Let me see!—Now I have it.—— Has not the widow Lovick a daughter, or a niece? It is not every girl of fortune and family that will go to prayers with thee once or twice a day. But since thou art for taking a wife to mortify with, what if thou marriest the widow herself?—She will then have a double concern in thy conversation. You and she may, tête à tête, pass many a comfortable winter’s evening together, comparing experiences, as the good folks call them.

* See the Postscript to Letter XL. of Vol. VIII.

I am serious, Jack, faith I am. And I would have thee take it into thy wise consideration.


Mr. Belford returns a very serious answer to the preceding letter; which

appears not.

In it, he most heartily wishes that he had withstood Mr. Lovelace,

whatever had been the consequence, in designs so elaborately base

and ungrateful, and so long and steadily pursued, against a lady

whose merit and innocence entitled her to the protection of every

man who had the least pretences to the title of a gentleman; and

who deserved to be even the public care.

He most severely censures himself for his false notions of honour to his

friend, on this head; and recollects what the divine lady, as he

calls her, said to him on this very subject, as related by himself

in his letter to Lovelace No. XXI. Vol. VII., to which Lovelace

also (both instigator and accuser) refers, and to his own regret

and shame on the occasion. He distinguishes, however, between an

irreparable injury intended to a CLARISSA, and one designed to such

of the sex, as contribute by their weakness and indiscretion to

their own fall, and thereby entitle themselves to a large share of

the guilt which accompanies the crime.

He offers not, he says, to palliate or extenuate the crimes he himself

has been guilty of: but laments, for Mr. Lovelace’s own sake, that

he gives him, with so ludicrous and unconcerned an air, such solemn

and useful lessons and warnings. Nevertheless, he resolves to make

it his whole endeavour, he tells him, to render them efficacious to

himself: and should think himself but too happy, if he shall be

enabled to set him such an example as may be a mean to bring about

the reformation of a man so dear to him as he has always been, from

the first of their acquaintance; and who is capable of thinking so

rightly and deeply; though at present to such little purpose, as

make his very knowledge add to his condemnation.