Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XX


Well, but now my heart is a little at ease, I will condescend to take brief notice of some other passages in thy letters.

I find I am to thank thee, that the dear creature has avoided my visit. Things are now in so good a train that I must forgive thee; else thou shouldst have heard more of this new instance of disloyalty to thy general.

Thou art continually giving thyself high praise, by way of opposition, as I may say, to others; gently and artfully blaming thyself for qualities thou wouldst at the same time have to be thought, and which generally are thought, praise-worthy.

Thus, in the airs thou assumest about thy servants, thou wouldst pass for a mighty humane mortal; and that at the expense of Mowbray and me, whom thou representest as kings and emperors to our menials. Yet art thou always unhappy in thy attempts of this kind, and never canst make us, who know thee, believe that to be a virtue in thee, which is but the effect of constitutional phlegm and absurdity.

Knowest thou not, that some men have a native dignity in their manner, that makes them more regarded by a look, than either thou canst be in thy low style, or Mowbray in his high?

I am fit to be a prince, I can tell thee, for I reward well, and I punish seasonably and properly; and I am generally as well served by any man.

The art of governing these underbred varlets lies more in the dignity of looks than in words; and thou art a sorry fellow, to think humanity consists in acting by thy servants, as men must act who are not able to pay them their wages; or had made them masters of secrets, which, if divulged, would lay them at the mercy of such wretches.

Now to me, who never did any thing I was ashamed to own, and who have more ingenuousness than ever man had; who can call a villany by its own right name, though practised by myself, and (by my own readiness to reproach myself) anticipate all reproach from others; who am not such a hypocrite, as to wish the world to think me other or better than I am— it is my part, to look a servant into his duty, if I can; nor will I keep one who knows not how to take me by a nod, or a wink; and who, when I smile, shall not be all transport; when I frown, all terror. If, indeed, I am out of the way a little, I always take care to reward the varlets for patiently bearing my displeasure. But this I hardly ever am but when a fellow is egregiously stupid in any plain point of duty, or will be wiser than his master; and when he shall tell me, that he thought acting contrary to my orders was the way to serve me best.

One time or other I will enter the lists with thee upon thy conduct and mine to servants; and I will convince thee, that what thou wouldst have pass for humanity, if it be indiscriminately practised to all tempers, will perpetually subject thee to the evils thou complainest of; and justly too; and that he only is fit to be a master of servants, who can command their attention as much by a nod, as if he were to pr’ythee a fellow to do his duty, on one hand, or to talk of flaying, and horse-whipping, like Mowbray, on the other: for the servant who being used to expect thy creeping style, will always be master of his master, and he who deserves to be treated as the other, is not fit to be any man’s servant; nor would I keep such a fellow to rub my horse’s heels.

I shall be the readier to enter the lists with thee upon this argument, because I have presumption enough to think that we have not in any of our dramatic poets, that I can at present call to mind, one character of a servant of either sex, that is justly hit off. So absurdly wise some, and so sottishly foolish others; and both sometime in the same person. Foils drawn from lees or dregs of the people to set off the characters of their masters and mistresses; nay, sometimes, which is still more absurd, introduced with more wit than the poet has to bestow upon their principals.—Mere flints and steels to strike fire with—or, to vary the metaphor, to serve for whetstones to wit, which, otherwise, could not be made apparent; or, for engines to be made use of like the machinery of the antient poets, (or the still more unnatural soliloquy,) to help on a sorry plot, or to bring about a necessary eclaircissement, to save the poet the trouble of thinking deeply for a better way to wind up his bottoms.

Of this I am persuaded, (whatever my practice be to my own servants,) that thou wilt be benefited by my theory, when we come to controvert the point. For then I shall convince thee, that the dramatic as well as natural characteristics of a good servant ought to be fidelity, common sense, cheerful obedience, and silent respect; that wit in his station, except to his companions, would be sauciness; that he should never presume to give his advice; that if he venture to expostulate upon any unreasonable command, or such a one a appeared to him to be so, he should do it with humility and respect, and take a proper season for it. But such lessons do most of the dramatic performances I have seen give, where servants are introduced as characters essential to the play, or to act very significant or long parts in it, (which, of itself, I think a fault;) such lessons, I say, do they give to the footmen’s gallery, that I have not wondered we have so few modest or good men-servants among those who often attend their masters or mistresses to plays. Then how miserably evident must that poet’s conscious want of genius be, who can stoop to raise or give force to a clap by the indiscriminate roar of the party-coloured gallery!

But this subject I will suspend to a better opportunity; that is to say, to the happy one, when my nuptials with my Clarissa will oblige me to increase the number of my servants, and of consequence to enter more nicely into their qualifications.


Although I have the highest opinion that man can have of the generosity of my dear Miss Harlowe, yet I cannot for the heart of me account for this agreeable change in her temper but one way. Faith and troth, Belford, I verily believe, laying all circumstances together, that the dear creature unexpectedly finds herself in the way I have so ardently wished her to be in; and that this makes her, at last, incline to favour me, that she may set the better face upon her gestation, when at her father’s.

If this be the case, all her falling away, and her fainting fits, are charmingly accounted for. Nor is it surprising, that such a sweet novice in these matters should not, for some time, have known to what to attribute her frequent indispositions. If this should be the case, how I shall laugh at thee! and (when I am sure of her) at the dear novice herself, that all her grievous distresses shall end in a man-child; which I shall love better than all the cherubims and seraphims that may come after; though there were to be as many of them as I beheld in my dream; in which a vast expanse of firmament was stuck as full of them as it could hold!

I shall be afraid to open thy next, lest it bring me the account of poor Belton’s death. Yet, as there are no hopes of his recovery—but what should I say, unless the poor man were better fitted—but thy heavy sermon shall not affect me too much neither.

I enclose thy papers; and do thou transcribe them for me, or return them; for there are some things in them, which, at a proper season, a mortal man should not avoid attending to; and thou seemest to have entered deeply into the shocking subject.—But here I will end, lest I grow too serious.


Thy servant called here about an hour ago, to know if I had any commands; I therefore hope that thou wilt have this early in the morning. And if thou canst let me hear from thee, do. I’ll stretch an hour or two in expectation of it. Yet I must be at Lord M.’s to-morrow night, if possible, though ever so late.

Thy fellow tells me the poor man is much as he was when Mowbray left him.

Wouldst thou think that this varlet Mowbray is sorry that I am so near being happy with Miss Harlowe? And, ’egad, Jack, I know not what to say to it, now the fruit seems to be within my reach—but let what will come, I’ll stand to’t: for I find I can’t live without her.