Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLIX

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ. FRIDAY, JUNE 30.

I am ruined, undone, blown up, destroyed, and worse than annihilated, that’s certain!—But was not the news shocking enough, dost thou think, without thy throwing into the too-weighty scale reproaches, which thou couldst have had no opportunity to make but for my own voluntary communications? at a time too, when, as it falls out, I have another very sensible disappointment to struggle with?

I imagine, if there be such a thing as future punishment, it must be none of the smallest mortifications, that a new devil shall be punished by a worse old one. And, take that! And, take that! to have the old satyr cry to the screaming sufferer, laying on with a cat-o’-nine-tails, with a star of burning brass at the end of each: and, for what! for what!—-Why, if the truth may be fairly told, for not being so bad a devil as myself.

Thou art, surely, casuist good enough to know, (what I have insisted upon* heretofore,) that the sin of seducing a credulous and easy girl, is as great as that of bringing to your lure an incredulous and watchful one.

* See Vol. IV. Letter XVII.

However ungenerous an appearance what I am going to say may have from my pen, let me tell thee, that if such a woman as Miss Harlowe chose to enter into the matrimonial state, [I am resolved to disappoint thee in thy meditated triumph over my rage and despair!] and, according to the old patriarchal system, to go on contributing to get sons and daughters, with no other view than to bring them up piously, and to be good and useful members of the commonwealth, what a devil had she to do, to let her fancy run a gadding after a rake? one whom she knew to be a rake?

Oh! but truly she hoped to have the merit of reclaiming him. She had formed pretty notions how charming it would look to have a penitent of her own making dangling at her side at church, through an applauding neighbourhood: and, as their family increased, marching with her thither, at the head of their boys and girls, processionally, as it were, boasting of the fruits of their honest desires, as my good lord bishop has it in his license. And then, what a comely sight, all kneeling down together in one pew, according to eldership as we have seen in effigy, a whole family upon some old monument, where the honest chevalier in armour is presented kneeling, with up-lifted hands, and half a dozen jolter-headed crop-eared boys behind him, ranged gradatim, or step-fashion according to age and size, all in the same posture—facing his pious dame, with a ruff about her neck, and as many whey-faced girls all kneeling behind her: an altar between them, and an open book upon it: over their heads semiluminary rays darting from gilded clouds, surrounding an achievement-motto, IN COELO SALUS—or QUIES—perhaps, if they have happened to live the usual married life of brawl and contradiction.

It is certainly as much my misfortune to have fallen in with Miss Clarissa Harlowe, were I to have valued my reputation or ease, as it is that of Miss Harlowe to have been acquainted with me. And, after all, what have I done more than prosecute the maxim, by which thou and I and every rake are governed, and which, before I knew this lady, we have pursued from pretty girl to pretty girl, as fast as we have set one down, taking another up;—just as the fellows do with their flying coaches and flying horses at a country fair——with a Who rides next! Who rides next!

But here in the present case, to carry on the volant metaphor, (for I must either be merry, or mad,) is a pretty little miss just come out of her hanging-sleeve-coat, brought to buy a pretty little fairing; for the world, Jack, is but a great fair, thou knowest; and, to give thee serious reflection for serious, all its joys but tinselled hobby-horses, gilt gingerbread, squeaking trumpets, painted drums, and so forth.

Now behold this pretty little miss skimming from booth to booth, in a very pretty manner. One pretty little fellow called Wyerley, perhaps; another jiggeting rascal called Biron, a third simpering varlet of the name of Symmes, and a more hideous villain than any of the reset, with a long bag under his arm, and parchment settlements tagged to his heels, yelped Solmes: pursue her from raree-show to raree-show, shouldering upon one another at every turn, stopping when she stops, and set a spinning again when she moves. And thus dangled after, but still in the eye of her watchful guardians, traverses the pretty little miss through the whole fair, equally delighted and delighting: till at last, taken with the invitation of the laced-hat orator, and seeing several pretty little bib-wearers stuck together in the flying-coaches, cutting safely the yielding air, in the one-go-up the other go-down picture-of-the-world vehicle, and all with as little fear as wit, is tempted to ride next.

In then suppose she slily pops, when none of her friends are near her: And if, after two or three ups and downs, her pretty head turns giddy, and she throws herself out of the coach when at its elevation, and so dashes out her pretty little brains, who can help it?—And would you hang the poor fellow, whose professed trade it was to set the pretty little creature a flying?

’Tis true, this pretty little miss, being a very pretty little miss, being a very much-admired little miss, being a very good little miss, who always minded her book, and had passed through her sampler-doctrine with high applause; had even stitched out, in gaudy propriety of colors, an Abraham offering up Isaac, a Sampson and the Philistines; and flowers, and knots, and trees, and the sun and the moon, and the seven stars, all hung up in frames with glasses before them, for the admiration of her future grand children: who likewise was entitled to a very pretty little estate: who was descended from a pretty little family upwards of one hundred years gentility; which lived in a very pretty little manner, respected a very little on their own accounts, a great deal on her’s:——

For such a pretty little miss as this to come to so great a misfortune, must be a very sad thing: But, tell me, would not the losing of any ordinary child, of any other less considerable family, or less shining or amiable qualities, have been as great and heavy a loss to that family, as the losing this pretty little miss could be to her’s?

To descend to a very low instance, and that only as to personality; hast thou any doubt, that thy strong-muscled bony-faced was as much admired by thy mother, as if it had been the face of a Lovelace, or any other handsome fellow? And had thy picture been drawn, would she have forgiven the painter, had he not expressed so exactly thy lineaments, as that every one should have discerned the likeness? The handsome likeness is all that is wished for. Ugliness made familiar to us, with the partiality natural to fond parents, will be beauty all the world over.—Do thou apply.

But, alas! Jack, all this is but a copy of my countenance, drawn to evade thy malice!—Though it answer thy unfriendly purpose to own it, I cannot forbear to own it, that I am stung to the very soul with this unhappy—accident, must I call it!—Have I nobody, whose throat, either for carelessness or treachery, I ought to cut, in order to pacify my vengeance?

When I reflect upon my last iniquitous intention, the first outrage so nobly resented, as well as, so far as she was able, so nobly resisted, I cannot but conclude, that I was under the power of fascination from these accursed Circes; who, pretending to know their own sex, would have it, that there is in every woman a yielding, or a weak-resisting moment to be met with: and that yet, and yet, and yet, I had not tried enough; but that, if neither love nor terror should enable me to hit that lucky moment, when, by help of their cursed arts, she was once overcome, she would be for ever overcome:—appealing to all my experience, to all my knowledge of the sex, for justification of their assertion.

My appeal to experience, I own, was but too favourable to their argument: For dost thou think I could have held my purpose against such an angel as this, had I ever before met with a woman so much in earnest to defend her honour against the unwearied artifices and perseverance of the man she loved? Why then were there not more examples of a virtue so immovable? Or, why was this singular one to fall to my lot? except indeed to double my guilt; and at the same time to convince all that should hear her story, that there are angels as well as devils in the flesh?

So much for confession; and for the sake of humouring my conscience; with a view likewise to disarm thy malice by acknowledgement: since no one shall say worse of me, than I will of myself on this occasion.

One thing I will nevertheless add, to show the sincerity of my contrition—’Tis this, that if thou canst by any means find her out within these three days, or any time before she has discovered the stories relating to Captain Tomlinson and her uncle to be what they are; and if thou canst prevail upon her to consent, I will actually, in thy presence and his, (he to represent her uncle,) marry her.

I am still in hopes it may be so—she cannot be long concealed—I have already set all engines at work to find her out! and if I do, what indifferent persons, [and no one of her friends, as thou observest, will look upon her,] will care to embroil themselves with a man of my figure, fortune, and resolution? Show her this part, then, or any other part of this letter, at thy own discretion, if thou canst find her: for, after all, methinks, I would be glad that this affair, which is bad enough in itself, should go off without worse personal consequences to any body else: and yet it runs in my mind, I know not why, that, sooner or later it will draw a few drops of blood after it; except she and I can make it up between ourselves. And this may be another reason why she should not carry her resentment too far—not that such an affair would give me much concern neither, were I to choose any man of men, for I heartily hate all her family, but herself; and ever shall.

Let me add, that the lady’s plot to escape appears to me no extraordinary one. There was much more luck than probability that it should do: since, to make it succeed, it was necessary that Dorcas and Will., and Sinclair and her nymphs, should be all deceived, or off their guard. It belongs to me, when I see them, to give them my hearty thanks that they were; and that their selfish care to provide for their own future security, should induce them to leave their outward door upon their bolt-latch, and be curs’d to them.

Mabell deserves a pitch suit and a bonfire, rather than the lustring; and as her clothes are returned, let the lady’s be put to her others, to be sent to her when it can be told whither—but not till I give the word neither; for we must get the dear fugitive back again if possible.

I suppose that my stupid villain, who knew not such a goddess-shaped lady with a mien so noble, from the awkward and bent-shouldered Mabell, has been at Hampstead to see after her. And yet I hardly think she would go thither. He ought to go through every street where bills for lodgings are up, to inquire after a new-comer. The houses of such as deal in women’s matters, and tea, coffee, and such-like, are those to be inquired at for her. If some tidings be not quickly heard of her, I would not have either Dorcas, Will., or Mabell, appear in my sight, whatever their superiors think fit to do.

This, though written in character, is a very long letter, considering it is not a narrative one, or a journal of proceedings, like most of my former; for such will unavoidably and naturally, as I may say, run into length. But I have so used myself to write a great deal of late, that I know not how to help it. Yet I must add to its length, in order to explain myself on a hint I gave at the beginning of it; which was, that I have another disappointment, besides this of Miss Harlowe’s escape, to bemoan.

And what dost thou think it is? Why, the old Peer, pox of his tough constitution, (for that malady would have helped him on,) has made shift by fire and brimstone, and the devil knows what, to force the gout to quit the counterscarp of his stomach, just as it had collected all its strength, in order to storm the citadel of his heart. In short, they have, by the mere force of stink-pots, hand-granades, and pop-guns, driven the slow-working pioneer quite out of the trunk into the extremities; and there it lies nibbling and gnawing upon his great toe; when I had a fair end of the distemper and the distempered.

But I, who could write to thee of laudanum, and the wet cloth, formerly, yet let 8000£. a year slip through my fingers, when I had entered upon it more than in imagination, [for I had begun to ask the stewards questions, and to hear them talk of fines and renewals, and such sort of stuff,] deserve to be mortified.

Thou canst not imagine how differently the servants, and even my cousins, look upon me, since yesterday, to what they did before. Neither the one nor the other bow or courtesy half so low—nor am I a quarter so often his honour and your honour, as I was within these few hours, with the former: and as to the latter—it is cousin Bobby again, with the usual familiarity, instead of Sir, and Sir, and If you please, Mr. Lovelace. And now they have the insolence to congratulate me on the recovery of the best of uncles; while I am forced to seem as much delighted as they, when, would it do me good, I could sit down and cry my eyes out.

I had bespoke my mourning in imagination, after the example of a certain foreign minister, who, before the death, or even last illness of Charles II., as honest White Kennet tells us, had half exhausted Blackwell-hall of its sables—an indication, as the historian would insinuate, that the monarch was to be poisoned, and the ambassador in the secret.—And yet, fool that I was, I could not take the hint—What the devil does a man read history for, if he cannot profit by the examples he find in it?

But thus, Jack, is an observation of the old Peer’s verified, that one misfortune seldom comes alone: and so concludes

Thy doubly mortified LOVELACE.