Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLIX

MISS HOWE, TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE THURSDAY, JULY 25.*

* Text error: should be Tuesday.

Your two affecting letters were brought to me (as I had directed any letter from you should be) to the Colonel’s, about an hour before we broke up. I could not forbear dipping into them there; and shedding more tears over them than I will tell you of; although I dried my eyes as well as I could, that the company I was obliged to return to, and my mother, should see as little of my concern as possible.

I am yet (and was then still more) excessively fluttered. The occasion I will communicate to you by-and-by: for nothing but the flutters given by the stroke of death could divert my first attention from the sad and solemn contents of your last favour. These therefore I must begin with.

How can I bear the thoughts of losing so dear a friend! I will not so much as suppose it. Indeed I cannot! such a mind as your’s was not vested in humanity to be snatched away from us so soon. There must still be a great deal for you to do for the good of all who have the happiness to know you.

You enumerate in your letter of Thursday last,* the particulars in which your situation is already mended: let me see by effects that you are in earnest in that enumeration; and that you really have the courage to resolve to get above the sense of injuries you could not avoid; and then will I trust to Providence and my humble prayers for your perfect recovery: and glad at my heart shall I be, on my return from the little island, to find you well enough to be near us according to the proposal Mr. Hickman has to make to you.

* See Vol. VII. Letter XXV.

You chide me in your’s of Sunday on the freedom I take with your friends.*

* Ibid. Letter XLII.

I may be warm. I know I am—too warm. Yet warmth in friendship, surely, cannot be a crime; especially when our friend has great merit, labours under oppression, and is struggling with undeserved calamity.

I have no opinion of coolness in friendship, be it dignified or distinguished by the name of prudence, or what it will.

You may excuse your relations. It was ever your way to do so. But, my dear, other people must be allowed to judge as they please. I am not their daughter, nor the sister of your brother and sister—I thank Heaven, I am not.

But if you are displeased with me for the freedoms I took so long ago as you mention, I am afraid, if you knew what passed upon an application I made to your sister very lately, (in hopes to procure you the absolution your heart is so much set upon,) that you would be still more concerned. But they have been even with me—but I must not tell you all. I hope, however, that these unforgivers [my mother is among them] were always good, dutiful, passive children to their parents.

Once more forgive me. I owned I was too warm. But I have no example to the contrary but from you: and the treatment you meet with is very little encouragement to me to endeavour to imitate you in your dutiful meekness.

You leave it to me to give a negative to the hopes of the noble family, whose only disgrace is, that so very vile a man is so nearly related to them. But yet—alas! my dear, I am so fearful of consequences, so selfishly fearful, if this negative must be given—I don’t know what I should say—but give me leave to suspend, however, this negative till I hear from you again.

This earnest courtship of you into their splendid family is so very honourable to you—they so justly admire you—you must have had such a noble triumph over the base man—he is so much in earnest—the world knows so much of the unhappy affair—you may do still so much good—your will is so inviolate—your relations are so implacable—think, my dear, and re-think.

And let me leave you to do so, while I give you the occasion of the flutter I mentioned at the beginning of this letter; in the conclusion of which you will find the obligation I have consented to lay myself under, to refer this important point once more to your discussion, before I give, in your name, the negative that cannot, when given, be with honour to yourself repented of or recalled.

Know, then, my dear, that I accompanied my mother to Colonel Ambrose’s on the occasion I mentioned to you in my former. Many ladies and gentlemen were there whom you know; particularly Miss Kitty D’Oily, Miss Lloyd, Miss Biddy D’Ollyffe, Miss Biddulph, and their respective admirers, with the Colonel’s two nieces; fine women both; besides many whom you know not; for they were strangers to me but by name. A splendid company, and all pleased with one another, till Colonel Ambrose introduced one, who, the moment he was brought into the great hall, set the whole assembly into a kind of agitation.

It was your villain.

I thought I should have sunk as soon as I set my eyes upon him. My mother was also affected; and, coming to me, Nancy, whispered she, can you bear the sight of that wretch without too much emotion?—If not, withdraw into the next apartment.

I could not remove. Every body’s eyes were glanced from him to me. I sat down and fanned myself, and was forced to order a glass of water. Oh! that I had the eye the basilisk is reported to have, thought I, and that his life were within the power of it!—directly would I kill him.

He entered with an air so hateful to me, but so agreeable to every other eye, that I could have looked him dead for that too.

After the general salutations he singled out Mr. Hickman, and told him he had recollected some parts of his behaviour to him, when he saw him last, which had made him think himself under obligation to his patience and politeness.

And so, indeed, he was.

Miss D’Oily, upon his complimenting her, among a knot of ladies, asked him, in their hearing, how Miss Clarissa Harlowe did?

He heard, he said, you were not so well as he wished you to be, and as you deserved to be.

O Mr. Lovelace, said she, what have you to answer for on that young lady’s account, if all be true that I have heard.

I have a great deal to answer for, said the unblushing villain: but that dear lady has so many excellencies, and so much delicacy, that little sins are great ones in her eye.

Little sins! replied Miss D’Oily: Mr. Lovelace’s character is so well known, that nobody believes he can commit little sins.

You are very good to me, Miss D’Oily.

Indeed I am not.

Then I am the only person to whom you are not very good: and so I am the less obliged to you.

He turned, with an unconcerned air, to Miss Playford, and made her some genteel compliments. I believe you know her not. She visits his cousins Montague. Indeed he had something in his specious manner to say to every body: and this too soon quieted the disgust each person had at his entrance.

I still kept my seat, and he either saw me not, or would not yet see me; and addressing himself to my mother, taking her unwilling hand, with an air of high assurance, I am glad to see you here, Madam, I hope Miss Howe is well. I have reason to complain greatly of her: but hope to owe to her the highest obligation that can be laid on man.

My daughter, Sir, is accustomed to be too warm and too zealous in her friendships for either my tranquility or her own.

There had indeed been some late occasion given for mutual displeasure between my mother and me: but I think she might have spared this to him; though nobody heard it, I believe, but the person to whom it was spoken, and the lady who told it me; for my mother spoke it low.

We are not wholly, Madam, to live for ourselves, said the vile hypocrite: it is not every one who had a soul capable of friendship: and what a heart must that be, which can be insensible to the interests of a suffering friend?

This sentiment from Mr. Lovelace’s mouth! said my mother—forgive me, Sir; but you can have no end, surely, in endeavouring to make me think as well of you as some innocent creatures have thought of you to their cost.

She would have flung from him. But, detaining her hand—Less severe, dear Madam, said he, be less severe in this place, I beseech you. You will allow, that a very faulty person may see his errors; and when he does, and owns them, and repents, should he not be treated mercifully?

Your air, Sir, seems not to be that of a penitent. But the place may as properly excuse this subject, as what you call my severity.

But, dearest Madam, permit me to say, that I hope for your interest with your charming daughter (was his syncophant word) to have it put in my power to convince all the world that there never was a truer penitent. And why, why this anger, dear Madam, (for she struggled to get her hand out of his,) these violent airs—so maidenly! [impudent fellow!]—May I not ask, if Miss Howe be here?

She would not have been here, replied my mother, had she known whom she had been to see.

And is she here, then?—Thank Heaven!—he disengaged her hand, and stept forward into company.

Dear Miss Lloyd, said he, with an air, (taking her hand as he quitted my mother’s,) tell me, tell me, is Miss Arabella Harlowe here? Or will she be here? I was informed she would—and this, and the opportunity of paying my compliments to your friend Miss Howe, were great inducements with me to attend the Colonel.

Superlative assurance! was it not, my dear?

Miss Arabella Harlowe, excuse me, Sir, said Miss Lloyd, would be very little inclined to meet you here, or any where else.

Perhaps so, my dear Miss Lloyd: but, perhaps, for that very reason, I am more desirous to see her.

Miss Harlowe, Sir, and Miss Biddulph, with a threatening air, will hardly be here without her brother. I imagine, if one comes, both will come.

Heaven grant they both may! said the wretch. Nothing, Miss Biddulph, shall begin from me to disturb this assembly, I assure you, if they do. One calm half-hour’s conversation with that brother and sister, would be a most fortunate opportunity to me, in presence of the Colonel and his lady, or whom else they should choose.

Then, turning round, as if desirous to find out the one or the other, he ’spied me, and with a very low bow, approached me.

I was all in a flutter, you may suppose. He would have taken my hand. I refused it, all glowing with indignation: every body’s eyes upon us.

I went down from him to the other end of the room, and sat down, as I thought, out of his hated sight; but presently I heard his odious voice, whispering, behind my chair, (he leaning upon the back of it, with impudent unconcern,) Charming Miss Howe! looking over my shoulder: one request—[I started up from my seat; but could hardly stand neither, for very indignation]—O this sweet, but becoming disdain! whispered on the insufferable creature—I am sorry to give you all this emotion: but either here, or at your own house, let me entreat from you one quarter of an hour’s audience.—I beseech you, Madam, but one quarter of an hour, in any of the adjoining apartments.

Not for a kingdom, fluttering my fan. I knew not what I did.—But I could have killed him.

We are so much observed—else on my knees, my dear Miss Howe, would I beg your interest with your charming friend.

She’ll have nothing to say to you.

(I had not then your letters, my dear.)

Killing words!—But indeed I have deserved them, and a dagger in my heart besides. I am so conscious of my demerits, that I have no hope, but in your interposition—could I owe that favour to Miss Howe’s mediation which I cannot hope for on any other account—

My mediation, vilest of men!—My mediation!—I abhor you!—From my soul, I abhor you, vilest of men!—Three or four times I repeated these words, stammering too.—I was excessively fluttered.

You can tell me nothing, Madam, so bad as I will call myself. I have been, indeed, the vilest of men; but now I am not so. Permit me—every body’s eyes are upon us!—but one moment’s audience—to exchange but ten words with you, dearest Miss Howe—in whose presence you please—for your dear friend’s sake—but ten words with you in the next apartment.

It is an insult upon me to presume that I would exchange with you, if I could help it!—Out of my way! Out of my sight—fellow!

And away I would have flung: but he took my hand. I was excessively disordered—every body’s eyes more and more intent upon us.

Mr. Hickman, whom my mother had drawn on one side, to enjoin him a patience, which perhaps needed not to have been enforced, came up just then, with my mother who had him by his leading-strings—by his sleeve I should say.

Mr. Hickman, said the bold wretch, be my advocate but for ten words in the next apartment with Miss Howe, in your presence; and in your’s, Madam, to my mother.

Hear, Nancy, what he has to say to you. To get rid of him, hear his ten words.

Excuse me, Madam! his very breath—Unhand me, Sir!

He sighed and looked—O how the practised villain sighed and looked! He then let go my hand, with such a reverence in his manner, as brought blame upon me from some, that I would not hear him.—And this incensed me the more. O my dear, this man is a devil! This man is indeed a devil!— So much patience when he pleases! So much gentleness!—Yet so resolute, so persisting, so audacious!

I was going out of the assembly in great disorder. He was at the door as soon as I.

How kind this is, said the wretch; and, ready to follow me, opened the door for me.

I turned back upon this: and, not knowing what I did, snapped my fan just in his face, as he turned short upon me; and the powder flew from his hair.

Every body seemed as much pleased as I was vexed.

He turned to Mr. Hickman, nettled at the powder flying, and at the smiles of the company upon him; Mr. Hickman, you will be one of the happiest men in the world, because you are a good man, and will do nothing to provoke this passionate lady; and because she has too much good sense to be provoked without reason: but else the Lord have mercy upon you!

This man, this Mr. Hickman, my dear, is too meek for a man. Indeed he is.—But my patient mother twits me, that her passionate daughter ought to like him the better for that. But meek men abroad are not always meek at home. I have observed that in more instances than one: and if they were, I should not, I verily think, like them the better for being so.

He then turned to my mother, resolved to be even with her too: Where, good Madam, could Miss Howe get all this spirit?

The company around smiled; for I need not tell you that my mother’s high spiritedness is pretty well known; and she, sadly vexed, said, Sir, you treat me, as you do the rest of the world—but—

I beg pardon, Madam, interrupted he: I might have spared my question—and instantly (I retiring to the other end of the hall) he turned to Miss Playford; What would I give, Madam, to hear you sing that song you obliged us with at Lord M.’s!

He then, as if nothing had happened, fell into a conversation with her and Miss D’Ollyffe, upon music; and whisperingly sung to Miss Playford; holding her two hands, with such airs of genteel unconcern, that it vexed me not a little to look round, and see how pleased half the giddy fools of our sex were with him, notwithstanding his notorious wicked character. To this it is that such vile fellows owe much of their vileness: whereas, if they found themselves shunned, and despised, and treated as beasts of prey, as they are, they would run to their caverns; there howl by themselves; and none but such as sad accident, or unpitiable presumption, threw in their way, would suffer by them.

He afterwards talked very seriously, at times, to Mr. Hickman: at times, I say; for it was with such breaks and starts of gaiety, turning to this lady, and to that, and then to Mr. Hickman again, resuming a serious or a gay air at pleasure, that he took every body’s eye, the women’s especially; who were full of their whispering admirations of him, qualified with if’s and but’s, and what pity’s, and such sort of stuff, that showed in their very dispraises too much liking.

Well may our sex be the sport and ridicule of such libertines! Unthinking eye-governed creatures!—Would not a little reflection teach us, that a man of merit must be a man of modesty, because a diffident one? and that such a wretch as this must have taken his degrees in wickedness, and gone through a course of vileness, before he could arrive at this impenetrable effrontery? an effrontery which can produce only from the light opinion he has of us, and the high one of himself.

But our sex are generally modest and bashful themselves, and are too apt to consider that which in the main is their principal grace, as a defect: and finely do they judge, when they think of supplying that defect by choosing a man that cannot be ashamed.

His discourse to Mr. Hickman turned upon you, and his acknowledged injuries of you: though he could so lightly start from the subject, and return to it.

I have no patience with such a devil—man he cannot be called. To be sure he would behave in the same manner any where, or in any presence, even at the altar itself, if a woman were with him there.

It shall ever be a rule with me, that he who does not regard a woman with some degree of reverence, will look upon her and occasionally treat her with contempt.

He had the confidence to offer to take me out; but I absolutely refused him, and shunned him all I could, putting on the most contemptuous airs; but nothing could mortify him.

I wished twenty times I had not been there.

The gentlemen were as ready as I to wish he had broken his neck, rather than been present, I believe: for nobody was regarded but he. So little of the fop; yet so elegant and rich in his dress: his person so specious: his air so intrepid: so much meaning and penetration in his face: so much gaiety, yet so little affectation; no mere toupet-man; but all manly; and his courage and wit, the one so known, the other so dreaded, you must think the petits-maĆ®tres (of which there were four or five present) were most deplorably off in his company; and one grave gentleman observed to me, (pleased to see me shun him as I did,) that the poet’s observation was too true, that the generality of ladies were rakes in their hearts, or they could not be so much taken with a man who had so notorious a character.

I told him the reflection both of the poet and applier was much too general, and made with more ill-nature than good manners.

When the wretch saw how industriously I avoided him, (shifting from one part of the hall to another,) he at last boldly stept up to me, as my mother and Mr. Hickman were talking to me; and thus before them accosted me:

I beg your pardon, Madam; but by your mother’s leave, I must have a few moments’ conversation with you, either here, or at your own house; and I beg you will give me the opportunity.

Nancy, said my mother, hear what he has to say to you. In my presence you may: and better in the adjoining apartment, if it must be, than to come to you at our own house.

I retired to one corner of the hall, my mother following me, and he, taking Mr. Hickman under his arm, following her—Well, Sir, said I, what have you to say?—Tell me here.

I have been telling Mr. Hickman, said he, how much I am concerned for the injuries I have done to the most excellent woman in the world: and yet, that she obtained such a glorious triumph over me the last time I had the honour to see her, as, with my penitence, ought to have abated her former resentments: but that I will, with all my soul, enter into any measures to obtain her forgiveness of me. My cousins Montague have told you this. Lady Betty and Lady Sarah and my Lord M. are engaged for my honour. I know your power with the dear creature. My cousins told me you gave them hopes you would use it in my behalf. My Lord M. and his two sisters are impatiently expecting the fruits of it. You must have heard from her before now: I hope you have. And will you be so good as to tell me, if I may have any hopes?

If I must speak on this subject, let me tell you that you have broken her heart. You know not the value of the lady you have injured. You deserve her not. And she despises you, as she ought.

Dear Miss Howe, mingle not passion with denunciations so severe. I must know my fate. I will go abroad once more, if I find her absolutely irreconcileable. But I hope she will give me leave to attend upon her, to know my doom from her own mouth.

It would be death immediate for her to see you. And what must you be, to be able to look her in the face?

I then reproached him (with vehemence enough you may believe) on his baseness, and the evils he had made you suffer: the distress he had reduced you to; all your friends made your enemies: the vile house he had carried you to; hinted at his villanous arts; the dreadful arrest: and told him of your present deplorable illness, and resolution to die rather than to have him.

He vindicated not any part of his conduct, but that of the arrest; and so solemnly protested his sorrow for his usage of you, accusing himself in the freest manner, and by deserved appellations, that I promised to lay before you this part of our conversation. And now you have it.

My mother, as well as Mr. Hickman, believes, from what passed on this occasion, that he is touched in conscience for the wrongs he has done you: but, by his whole behaviour, I must own, it seems to me that nothing can touch him for half an hour together. Yet I have no doubt that he would willingly marry you; and it piques his pride, I could see, that he should be denied; as it did mine, that such a wretch had dared to think it in his power to have such a woman whenever he pleased; and that it must be accounted a condescension, and matter of obligation (by all his own family at least) that he would vouchsafe to think of marriage.

Now, my dear, you have before you the reason why I suspend the decisive negative to the ladies of his family. My mother, Miss Lloyd, and Miss Biddulph, who were inquisitive after the subject of our retired conversation, and whose curiosity I thought it was right, in some degree, to gratify, (especially as these young ladies are of our select acquaintance,) are all of opinion that you should be his.

You will let Mr. Hickman know your whole mind; and when he acquaint me with it, I will tell you all my own.

Mean time, may the news he will bring me of the state of your health be favourable! prays, with the utmost fervency,

Your ever faithful and affectionate ANNA HOWE.