Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLII

MR. BELFORD, TO ROBERT LOVELACE, ESQ. WEDNESDAY NIGHT, AUG. 30.

It was lucky enough that our two servants met at Hannah’s,* which gave them so good an opportunity of exchanging their letters time enough for each to return to his master early in the day.

* The Windmill, near Slough.

Thou dost well to boast of thy capacity for managing servants, and to set up for correcting our poets in their characters of this class of people,* when, like a madman, thou canst beat their teeth out, and attempt to shoot them through the head, for not bringing to thee what they had no power to obtain.

* See Letter XX. of this volume.

You well observe* that you would have made a thorough-paced lawyer. The whole of the conversation-piece between you and the Colonel affords a convincing proof that there is a black and a white side to every cause: But what must the conscience of a partial whitener of his own cause, or blackener of another’s, tell him, while he is throwing dust in the eyes of his judges, and all the time knows his own guilt?

* See Letter XL. of this volume.

The Colonel, I see, is far from being a faultless man: but while he sought not to carry his point by breach of faith, he has an excuse which thou hast not. But, with respect to him, and to us all, I can now, with the detestation of some of my own actions, see, that the taking advantage of another person’s good opinion of us to injure (perhaps to ruin) that other, is the most ungenerous wickedness that can be committed.

Man acting thus by man, we should not be at a loss to give such actions a name: But is it not doubly and trebly aggravated, when such advantage is taken of an unexperienced and innocent young creature, whom we pretend to love above all the women in the world; and when we seal our pretences by the most solemn vows and protestations of inviolable honour that we can invent?

I see that this gentleman is the best match thou ever couldest have had, upon all accounts: his spirit such another impetuous one as thy own; soon taking fire; vindictive; and only differing in this, that the cause he engages in is a just one. But commend me to honest brutal Mowbray, who, before he knew the cause, offers his sword in thy behalf against a man who had taken the injured side, and whom he had never seen before.

As soon as I had run through your letters, and the copy of that of the incendiary Brand’s, (by the latter of which I saw to what cause a great deal of this last implacableness of the Harlowe family is owing,) I took coach to Smith’s, although I had been come from thence but about an hour, and had taken leave of the lady for the night.

I sent up for Mrs. Lovick, and desired her, in the first place, to acquaint the lady (who was busied in her closet,) that I had letters from Berks: in which I was informed, that the interview between Colonel Morden and Mr. Lovelace had ended without ill consequences; that the Colonel intended to write to her very soon, and was interesting himself mean while, in her favour, with her relations; that I hoped that this agreeable news would be means of giving her good rest; and I would wait upon her in the morning, by the time she should return from prayers, with all the particulars.

She sent me word that she should be glad to see me in the morning; and was highly obliged to me for the good news I had sent her up.

I then, in the back shop, read to Mrs. Lovick and to Mrs. Smith the copy of Brand’s letter, and asked them if they could guess at the man’s informant? They were not at a loss; Mrs. Smith having seen the same fellow Brand who had talked with her, as I mentioned in the former,* come out of a milliner’s shop over against them; which milliner, she said, had also lately been very inquisitive about the lady.

* See Vol. VII. Letter LXXXI.

I wanted no farther hint; but, bidding them take no notice to the lady of what I had read, I shot over the way, and, asking for the mistress of the house, she came to me.

Retiring with her, at her invitation, into her parlour, I desired to know if she were acquainted with a young country clergyman of the name of Brand. She hesitatingly, seeing me in some emotion, owned that she had some small knowledge of the gentleman. Just then came in her husband, who is, it seems, a petty officer of excise, (and not an ill-behaved man,) who owned a fuller knowledge of him.

I have the copy of a letter, said I, from this Brand, in which he has taken great liberties with my character, and with that of the most unblamable lady in the world, which he grounds upon information that you, Madam, have given him. And then I read to them several passages in his letter, and asked what foundation she had for giving that fellow such impressions of either of us?

They knew not what to answer: but at last said, that he had told them how wickedly the young lady had run away from her parents: what worthy and rich people they were: in what favour he stood with them; and that they had employed him to inquire after her behaviour, visiters, &c.

They said, ’That indeed they knew very little of the young lady; but that [curse upon their censoriousness!] it was but too natural to think, that, where a lady had given way to a delusion, and taken so wrong a step, she would not stop there: that the most sacred places and things were but too often made clokes for bad actions; that Mr. Brand had been informed (perhaps by some enemy of mine) that I was a man of very free principles, and an intimado, as he calls it, of the man who had ruined her. And that their cousin Barker, a manteau-maker, who lodged up one pair of stairs,’ (and who, at their desire, came down and confirmed what they said,) ’had often, from her window, seen me with the lady in her chamber, and both talking very earnestly together; and that Mr. Brand, being unable to account for her admiring my visits, and knowing I was but a new acquaintance of her’s, and an old one of Mr. Lovelace, thought himself obliged to lay these matters before her friends.’

This was the sum and substance of their tale. O how I cursed the censoriousness of this plaguy triumvirate! A parson, a milliner, and a mantua-maker! The two latter, not more by business led to adorn the persons, than generally by scandal to destroy the reputations, of those they have a mind to exercise their talents upon!

The two women took great pains to persuade me that they themselves were people of conscience;—of consequence, I told them, too much addicted, I feared, to censure other people who pretended not to their strictness; for that I had ever found censoriousness, with those who affected to be thought more pious than their neighbours.

They answered, that that was not their case; and that they had since inquired into the lady’s character and manner of life, and were very much concerned to think any thing they had said should be made use of against her: and as they heard from Mrs. Smith that she was not likely to live long, they should be sorry she should go out of the world a sufferer by their means, or with an ill opinion of them, though strangers to her. The husband offered to write, if I pleased, to Mr. Brand, in vindication of the lady; and the two women said they should be glad to wait upon her in person, to beg her pardon for any thing she had reason to take amiss from them; because they were now convinced that there was not such another young lady in the world.

I told them that the least said of the affair to the lady, in her present circumstances, was best. That she was a heavenly creature, and fond of taking all occasions to find excuses for her relations on their implacableness to her: that therefore I should take some notice to her of the uncharitable and weak surmises which gave birth to so vile a scandal: but that I would have him, Mr. Walton, (for that is the husband’s name,) write to his acquaintance Brand as soon as possible, as he had offered; and so I left them.

As to what thou sayest of thy charming cousin, let me know if thou hast any meaning in it. I have not the vanity to think myself deserving of such a lady as Miss Montague; and should not therefore care to expose myself to her scorn and to thy derision. But were I assured I might avoid both of these, I would soon acquaint thee that I should think no pains nor assiduity too much to obtain a share in the good graces of such a lady.

But I know thee too well to depend upon any thing thou sayest on this subject. Thou lovest to make thy friends the objects of ridicule to ladies; and imaginest, from the vanity, (and, in this respect, I will say littleness,) of thine own heart, that thou shinest the brighter for the foil.

Thus didst thou once play off the rough Mowbray with Miss Hatton, till the poor fellow knew not how to go either backward or forward.