Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLVII

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

When I concluded my last, I hoped that my next attendance upon this surprising lady would furnish me with some particulars as agreeable as now could be hoped for from the declining way she is in, by reason of the welcome letter she had received from her cousin Morden. But it proved quite otherwise to me, though not to herself; for I think I was never more shocked in my life than on the occasion I shall mention presently.

When I attended her about seven in the evening, she told me that she found herself in a very petulant way after I had left her. Strange, said she, that the pleasure I received from my cousin’s letter should have such an effect upon me! But I could not help giving way to a comparative humour, as I may call it, and to think it very hard that my nearer relations did not take the methods which my cousin Morden kindly took, by inquiring into my merit or demerit, and giving my cause a fair audit before they proceeded to condemnation.

She had hardly said this, when she started, and a blush overspread her sweet face, on hearing, as I also did, a sort of lumbering noise upon the stairs, as if a large trunk were bringing up between two people: and, looking upon me with an eye of concern, Blunderers! said she, they have brought in something two hours before the time.—Don’t be surprised, Sir —it is all to save you trouble.

Before I could speak, in came Mrs. Smith: O Madam, said she, what have you done?—Mrs. Lovick, entering, made the same exclamation. Lord have mercy upon me, Madam! cried I, what have you done?—For she, stepping at the same instant to the door, the women told me it was a coffin.—O Lovelace! that thou hadst been there at that moment!—Thou, the causer of all these shocking scenes! Surely thou couldst not have been less affected than I, who have no guilt, as to her, to answer for.

With an intrepidity of a piece with the preparation, having directed them to carry it to her bed-chamber, she returned to us: they were not to have brought it in till after dark, said she—Pray, excuse me, Mr. Belford: and don’t you, Mrs. Lovick, be concerned: nor you, Mrs. Smith.—Why should you? There is nothing more in it than the unusualness of the thing. Why may we not be as reasonably shocked at going to church where are the monuments of our ancestors, with whose dust we even hope our dust shall be one day mingled, as to be moved at such a sight as this?

We all remaining silent, the women having their aprons at their eyes, Why this concern for nothing at all? said she. If I am to be blamed for any thing, it is for showing too much solicitude, as it may be thought, for this earthly part. I love to do every thing for myself that I can do. I ever did. Every other material point is so far done, and taken care of, that I have had leisure for things of lesser moment. Minutenesses may be observed, where greater articles are not neglected for them. I might have had this to order, perhaps, when less fit to order it. I have no mother, no sister, no Mrs. Norton, no Miss Howe, near me. Some of you must have seen this in a few days, if not now; perhaps have had the friendly trouble of directing it. And what is the difference of a few days to you, when I am gratified rather than discomposed by it? I shall not die the sooner for such a preparation. Should not every body that has any thing to bequeath make their will? And who, that makes a will, should be afraid of a coffin?—My dear friends, [to the women] I have considered these things; do not, with such an object before you as you have had in me for weeks, give me reason to think you have not.

How reasonable was all this!—It showed, indeed, that she herself had well considered it. But yet we could not help being shocked at the thoughts of the coffin thus brought in; the lovely person before our eyes who is, in all likelihood, so soon to fill it.

We were all silent still, the women in grief; I in a manner stunned. She would not ask me, she said; but would be glad, since it had thus earlier than she had intended been brought in, that her two good friends would walk in and look upon it. They would be less shocked when it was made more familiar to their eye: don’t you lead back, said she, a starting steed to the object he is apt to start at, in order to familiarize him to it, and cure his starting? The same reason will hold in this case. Come, my good friends, I will lead you in.

I took my leave; telling her she had done wrong, very wrong; and ought not, by any means, to have such an object before her.

The women followed her in.—’Tis a strange sex! Nothing is too shocking for them to look upon, or see acted, that has but novelty and curiosity in it.

Down I posted; got a chair; and was carried home, extremely shocked and discomposed: yet, weighing the lady’s arguments, I know not why I was so affected—except, as she said, at the unusualness of the thing.

While I waited for a chair, Mrs. Smith came down, and told me that there were devices and inscriptions upon the lid. Lord bless me! is a coffin a proper subject to display fancy upon?—But these great minds cannot avoid doing extraordinary things!