Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXI


I am just come from the lady. I was admitted into the dining-room, where she was sitting in an elbow-chair, in a very weak and low way. She made an effort to stand up when I entered; but was forced to keep her seat. You’ll excuse me, Mr. Belford: I ought to rise to thank you for all your kindness to me. I was to blame to be so loth to leave that sad place; for I am in heaven here, to what I was there; and good people about me too!—I have not had good people about me for a long, long time before; so that [with a half-smile] I had begun to wonder whither they were all gone.

Her nurse and Mrs. Smith, who were present, took occasion to retire: and, when we were alone, You seem to be a person of humanity, Sir, said she: you hinted, as I was leaving my prison, that you were not a stranger to my sad story. If you know it truly, you must know that I have been most barbarously treated; and have not deserved it at the man’s hands by whom I have suffered.

I told her I knew enough to be convinced that she had the merit of a saint, and the purity of an angel: and was proceeding, when she said, No flighty compliments! no undue attributes, Sir!

I offered to plead for my sincerity; and mentioned the word politeness; and would have distinguished between that and flattery. Nothing can be polite, said she, that is not just: whatever I may have had; I have now no vanity to gratify.

I disclaimed all intentions of compliment: all I had said, and what I should say, was, and should be, the effect of sincere veneration. My unhappy friend’s account of her had entitled her to that.

I then mentioned your grief, your penitence, your resolutions of making her all the amends that were possible now to be made her: and in the most earnest manner, I asserted your innocence as to the last villanous outrage.

Her answer was to this effect—It is painful to me to think of him. The amends you talk of cannot be made. This last violence you speak of, is nothing to what preceded it. That cannot be atoned for: nor palliated: this may: and I shall not be sorry to be convinced that he cannot be guilty of so very low a wickedness.——Yet, after his vile forgeries of hands—after his baseness in imposing upon me the most infamous persons as ladies of honour of his own family—what are the iniquities he is not capable of?

I would then have given her an account of the trial you stood with your friends: your own previous resolutions of marriage, had she honoured you with the requested four words: all your family’s earnestness to have the honour of her alliance: and the application of your two cousins to Miss Howe, by general consent, for that young lady’s interest with her: but, having just touched upon these topics, she cut me short, saying, that was a cause before another tribunal: Miss Howe’s letters to her were upon the subject; and as she would write her thoughts to her as soon as she was able.

I then attempted more particularly to clear you of having any hand in the vile Sinclair’s officious arrest; a point she had the generosity to wish you cleared of: and, having mentioned the outrageous letter you had written to me on this occasion, she asked, If I had that letter about me?

I owned I had.

She wished to see it.

This puzzled me horribly: for you must needs think that most of the free things, which, among us rakes, pass for wit and spirit, must be shocking stuff to the ears or eyes of persons of delicacy of that sex: and then such an air of levity runs through thy most serious letters; such a false bravery, endeavouring to carry off ludicrously the subjects that most affect thee; that those letters are generally the least fit to be seen, which ought to be most to thy credit.

Something like this I observed to her; and would fain have excused myself from showing it: but she was so earnest, that I undertook to read some parts of it, resolving to omit the most exceptionable.

I know thou’lt curse me for that; but I thought it better to oblige her than to be suspected myself; and so not have it in my power to serve thee with her, when so good a foundation was laid for it; and when she knows as bad of thee as I can tell her.

Thou rememberest the contents, I suppose, of thy furious letter.* Her remarks upon the different parts of it, which I read to her, were to the following effect:

* See Letter XII. of this volume.

Upon the last two lines, All undone! undone, by Jupiter! Zounds, Jack, what shall I do now? a curse upon all my plots and contrivances! thus she expressed herself:

’O how light, how unaffected with the sense of its own crimes, is the heart that could dictate to the pen this libertine froth?’

The paragraph which mentions the vile arrest affected her a good deal.

In the next I omitted thy curse upon thy relations, whom thou wert gallanting: and read on the seven subsequent paragraphs down to thy execrable wish; which was too shocking to read to her. What I read produced the following reflections from her:

’The plots and contrivances which he curses, and the exultings of the wicked wretches on finding me out, show me that all his guilt was premeditated: nor doubt I that his dreadful perjuries, and inhuman arts, as he went along, were to pass for fine stratagems; for witty sport; and to demonstrate a superiority of inventive talents!—O my cruel, cruel brother! had it not been for thee, I had not been thrown upon so pernicious and so despicable a plotter!—But proceed, Sir; pray proceed.’

At that part, Canst thou, O fatal prognosticator! tell me where my punishment will end?—she sighed. And when I came to that sentence, praying for my reformation, perhaps—Is that there? said she, sighing again. Wretched man!—and shed a tear for thee.—By my faith, Lovelace, I believe she hates thee not! she has at least a concern, a generous concern for thy future happiness—What a noble creature hast thou injured!

She made a very severe reflection upon me, on reading the words—On your knees, for me, beg her pardon—’You had all your lessons, Sir, said she, when you came to redeem me—You was so condescending as to kneel: I thought it was the effect of your own humanity, and good-natured earnestness to serve me—excuse me, Sir, I knew not that it was in consequence of a prescribed lesson.’

This concerned me not a little; I could not bear to be thought such a wretched puppet, such a Joseph Leman, such a Tomlinson. I endeavoured, therefore, with some warmth, to clear myself of this reflection; and she again asked my excuse: ’I was avowedly, she said, the friend of a man, whose friendship, she had reason to be sorry to say, was no credit to any body.’—And desired me to proceed.

I did; but fared not much better afterwards: for on that passage where you say, I had always been her friend and advocate, this was her unanswerable remark: ’I find, Sir, by this expression, that he had always designs against me; and that you all along knew that he had. Would to Heaven, you had had the goodness to have contrived some way, that might not have endangered your own safety, to give me notice of his baseness, since you approved not of it! But you gentlemen, I suppose, had rather see an innocent fellow-creature ruined, than be thought capable of an action, which, however generous, might be likely to loosen the bands of a wicked friendship!’

After this severe, but just reflection, I would have avoided reading the following, although I had unawares begun the sentence, (but she held me to it:) What would I now give, had I permitted you to have been a successful advocate! And this was her remark upon it—’So, Sir, you see, if you had been the happy means of preventing the evils designed me, you would have had your friend’s thanks for it when he came to his consideration. This satisfaction, I am persuaded every one, in the long run, will enjoy, who has the virtue to withstand, or prevent, a wicked purpose. I was obliged, I see, to your kind wishes—but it was a point of honour with you to keep his secret; the more indispensable with you, perhaps, the viler the secret. Yet permit me to wish, Mr. Belford, that you were capable of relishing the pleasures that arise to a benevolent mind from VIRTUOUS friendship!—none other is worthy of the sacred name. You seem an humane man: I hope, for your own sake, you will one day experience the difference: and, when you do, think of Miss Howe and Clarissa Harlowe, (I find you know much of my sad story,) who were the happiest creatures on earth in each other’s friendship till this friend of your’s’—And there she stopt, and turned from me.

Where thou callest thyself a villanous plotter; ’To take a crime to himself, said she, without shame, O what a hardened wretch is this man!’

On that passage, where thou sayest, Let me know how she has been treated: if roughly, woe be to the guilty! this was her remark, with an air of indignation: ’What a man is your friend, Sir!—Is such a one as he to set himself up to punish the guilty?—All the rough usage I could receive from them, was infinitely less’—And there she stopt a moment or two: then proceeding—’And who shall punish him? what an assuming wretch!— Nobody but himself is entitled to injure the innocent;—he is, I suppose, on the earth, to act the part which the malignant fiend is supposed to act below—dealing out punishments, at his pleasure, to every inferior instrument of mischief!’

What, thought I, have I been doing! I shall have this savage fellow think I have been playing him booty, in reading part of his letter to this sagacious lady!—Yet, if thou art angry, it can only, in reason, be at thyself; for who would think I might not communicate to her some of thy sincerity in exculpating thyself from a criminal charge, which thou wrotest to thy friend, to convince him of thy innocence? But a bad heart, and a bad cause are confounded things: and so let us put it to its proper account.

I passed over thy charge to me, to curse them by the hour; and thy names of dragon and serpents, though so applicable; since, had I read them, thou must have been supposed to know from the first what creatures they were; vile fellow as thou wert, for bringing so much purity among them! And I closed with thy own concluding paragraph, A line! a line! a kingdom for a line! &c. However, telling her (since she saw that I omitted some sentences) that there were farther vehemences in it; but as they were better fitted to show to me the sincerity of the writer than for so delicate an ear as her’s to hear, I chose to pass them over.

You have read enough, said she—he is a wicked, wicked man!—I see he intended to have me in his power at any rate; and I have no doubt of what his purposes were, by what his actions have been. You know his vile Tomlinson, I suppose—You know—But what signifies talking?—Never was there such a premeditated false heart in man, [nothing can be truer, thought I!] What has he not vowed! what has he not invented! and all for what?—Only to ruin a poor young creature, whom he ought to have protected; and whom he had first deceived of all other protection!

She arose and turned from me, her handkerchief at her eyes: and, after a pause, came towards me again—’I hope, said she, I talk to a man who has a better heart: and I thank you, Sir, for all your kind, though ineffectual pleas in my favour formerly, whether the motives for them were compassion, or principle, or both. That they were ineffectual, might very probably be owing to your want of earnestness; and that, as you might think, to my want of merit. I might not, in your eye, deserve to be saved!—I might appear to you a giddy creature, who had run away from her true and natural friends; and who therefore ought to take the consequence of the lot she had drawn.’

I was afraid, for thy sake, to let her know how very earnest I had been: but assured her that I had been her zealous friend; and that my motives were founded upon a merit, that, I believed, was never equaled: that, however indefensible Mr. Lovelace was, he had always done justice to her virtue: that to a full conviction of her untainted honour it was owing that he so earnestly desired to call so inestimable a jewel his—and was proceeding, when she again cut me short—

Enough, and too much, of this subject, Sir!—If he will never more let me behold his face, that is all I have now to ask of him.—Indeed, indeed, clasping her hands, I never will, if I can, by any means not criminally desperate, avoid it.

What could I say for thee?—There was no room, however, at that time, to touch this string again, for fear of bringing upon myself a prohibition, not only of the subject, but of ever attending her again.

I gave some distant intimations of money-matters. I should have told thee, when I read to her that passage, where thou biddest me force what sums upon her I can get her to take—she repeated, No, no, no, no! several times with great quickness; and I durst no more than just intimate it again—and that so darkly, as left her room to seem not to understand me.

Indeed I know not the person, man or woman, I should be so much afraid of disobliging, or incurring a censure from, as from her. She has so much true dignity in her manner, without pride or arrogance, (which, in those who have either, one is tempted to mortify,) such a piercing eye, yet softened so sweetly with rays of benignity, that she commands all one’s reverence.

Methinks I have a kind of holy love for this angel of a woman; and it is matter of astonishment to me, that thou couldst converse with her a quarter of an hour together, and hold thy devilish purposes.

Guarded as she was by piety, prudence, virtue, dignity, family, fortune, and a purity of heart that never woman before her boasted, what a real devil must he be (yet I doubt I shall make thee proud!) who could resolve to break through so many fences!

For my own part, I am more and more sensible that I ought not to have contented myself with representing against, and expostulating with thee upon, thy base intentions: and indeed I had it in my head, more than once, to try to do something for her. But, wretch that I was! I was with-held by notions of false honour, as she justly reproached me, because of thy own voluntary communications to me of thy purposes: and then, as she was brought into such a cursed house, and was so watched by thyself, as well as by thy infernal agents, I thought (knowing my man!) that I should only accelerate the intended mischiefs.—Moreover, finding thee so much over-awed by her virtue, that thou hadst not, at thy first carrying her thither, the courage to attempt her; and that she had, more than once, without knowing thy base views, obliged thee to abandon them, and to resolve to do her justice, and thyself honour; I hardly doubted, that her merit would be triumphant at last.

It is my opinion, (if thou holdest thy purposes to marry,) that thou canst not do better than to procure thy real aunts, and thy real cousins, to pay her a visit, and to be thy advocates. But if they decline personal visits, letters from them, and from my Lord M. supported by Miss Howe’s interest, may, perhaps, effect something in thy favour.

But these are only my hopes, founded on what I wish for thy sake. The lady, I really think, would choose death rather than thee: and the two women are of opinion, though they knew not half of what she has suffered, that her heart is actually broken.

At taking my leave, I tendered my best services to her, and besought her to permit me frequently to inquire after her health.

She made me no answer, but by bowing her head.