Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXII


There is certainly a good deal in the observation, that it costs a man ten times more pains to be wicked, than it would cost him to be good. What a confounded number of contrivances have I had recourse to, in order to carry my point with this charming creature; and yet after all, how have I puzzled myself by it; and yet am near tumbling into the pit which it was the end of all my plots to shun! What a happy man had I been with such an excellence, could I have brought my mind to marry when I first prevailed upon her to quit her father’s house! But then, as I have often reflected, how had I known, that a but blossoming beauty, who could carry on a private correspondence, and run such risques with a notorious wild fellow, was not prompted by inclination, which one day might give such a free-liver as myself as much pain to reflect upon, as, at the time it gave me pleasure? Thou rememberest the host’s tale in Ariosto. And thy experience, as well as mine, can furnish out twenty Fiametta’s in proof of the imbecility of the sex.

But to proceed with my narrative.

The dear creature resumed the topic her heart was so firmly fixed upon; and insisted upon quitting the odious house, and that in very high terms.

I urged her to meet me the next day at the altar in either of the two churches mentioned in the license. And I besought her, whatever was her resolution, to let me debate this matter calmly with her.

If, she said, I would have her give what I desired the least moment’s consideration, I must not hinder her from being her own mistress. To what purpose did I ask her consent, if she had not a power over either her own person or actions?

Will you give me your honour, Madam, if I consent to your quitting a house so disagreeable to you?—

My honour, Sir! said the dear creature—Alas!—And turned weeping from me with inimitable grace—as if she had said—Alas!—you have robbed me of my honour!

I hoped then, that her angry passions were subsiding; but I was mistaken; for, urging her warmly for the day; and that for the sake of our mutual honour, and the honour of both our families; in this high-flown and high-souled strain she answered me:

And canst thou, Lovelace, be so mean—as to wish to make a wife of the creature thou hast insulted, dishonoured, and abused, as thou hast me? Was it necessary to humble me down to the low level of thy baseness, before I could be a wife meet for thee? Thou hadst a father, who was a man of honour: a mother, who deserved a better son. Thou hast an uncle, who is no dishonour to the Peerage of a kingdom, whose peers are more respectable than the nobility of any other country. Thou hast other relations also, who may be thy boast, though thou canst not be theirs—and canst thou not imagine, that thou hearest them calling upon thee; the dead from their monuments; the living from their laudable pride; not to dishonour thy ancient and splendid house, by entering into wedlock with a creature whom thou hast levelled with the dirt of the street, and classed with the vilest of her sex?

I extolled her greatness of soul, and her virtue. I execrated myself for my guilt: and told her, how grateful to the manes of my ancestors, as well as to the wishes of the living, the honour I supplicated for would be.

But still she insisted upon being a free agent; of seeing herself in other lodgings before she would give what I urged the least consideration. Nor would she promise me favour even then, or to permit my visits. How then, as I asked her, could I comply, without resolving to lose her for ever?

She put her hand to her forehead often as she talked; and at last, pleading disorder in her head, retired; neither of us satisfied with the other. But she ten times more dissatisfied with me, than I with her.

Dorcas seems to be coming into favour with her—

What now!—What now!


How determined is this lady!—Again had she like to have escaped us!—What a fixed resentment!—She only, I find, assumed a little calm, in order to quiet suspicion. She was got down, and actually had unbolted the street-door, before I could get to her; alarmed as I was by Mrs. Sinclair’s cookmaid, who was the only one that saw her fly through the passage: yet lightning was not quicker than I.

Again I brought her back to the dining-room, with infinite reluctance on her part. And, before her face, ordered a servant to be placed constantly at the bottom of the stairs for the future.

She seemed even choked with grief and disappointment.

Dorcas was exceedingly assiduous about her; and confidently gave it as her own opinion, that her dear lady should be permitted to go to another lodging, since this was so disagreeable to her: were she to be killed for saying so, she would say it. And was good Dorcas for this afterwards.

But for some time the dear creature was all passion and violence—

I see, I see, said she, when I had brought her up, what I am to expect from your new professions, O vilest of men!—

Have I offered to you, my beloved creature, any thing that can justify this impatience after a more hopeful calm?

She wrung her hands. She disordered her head-dress. She tore her ruffles. She was in a perfect phrensy.

I dreaded her returning malady: but, entreaty rather exasperating, I affected an angry air.—I bid her expect the worst she had to fear—and was menacing on, in hopes to intimidate her; when, dropping to my feet,

’Twill be a mercy, said she, the highest act of mercy you can do, to kill me outright upon this spot—this happy spot, as I will, in my last moments, call it!—Then, baring, with a still more frantic violence, part of her enchanting neck—Here, here, said the soul-harrowing beauty, let thy pointed mercy enter! and I will thank thee, and forgive thee for all the dreadful past!—With my latest gasp will I forgive and thank thee!—Or help me to the means, and I will myself put out of the way so miserable a wretch! And bless thee for those means!

Why all this extravagant passion? Why all these exclamations? Have I offered any new injury to you, my dearest life? What a phrensy is this! Am I not ready to make you all the reparation that I can make you? Had I not reason to hope—

No, no, no, no, as before, shaking her head with wild impatience, as resolved not to attend to what I said.

My resolutions are so honourable, if you will permit them to take effect, that I need not be solicitous where you go, if you will but permit my visits, and receive my vows.—And God is my witness, that I bring you not back from the door with any view to your dishonour, but the contrary: and this moment I will send for a minister to put an end to all your doubts and fears.

Say this, and say a thousand times more, and bind every word with a solemn appeal to that God whom thou art accustomed to invoke to the truth of the vilest falsehoods, and all will still be short of what thou has vowed and promised to me. And, were not my heart to abhor thee, and to rise against thee, for thy perjuries, as it does, I would not, I tell thee once more, I would not, bind my soul in covenant with such a man, for a thousand worlds!

Compose yourself, however, Madam; for your own sake, compose yourself. Permit me to raise you up; abhorred as I am of your soul!

Nay, if I must not touch you; for she wildly slapt my hands; but with such a sweet passionate air, her bosom heaving and throbbing as she looked up to me, that although I was most sincerely enraged, I could with transport have pressed her to mine.

If I must not touch you, I will not.—But depend upon it, [and I assumed the sternest air I could assume, to try what it would do,] depend upon it, Madam, that this is not the way to avoid the evils you dread. Let me do what I will, I cannot be used worse—Dorcas, begone!

She arose, Dorcas being about to withdraw; and wildly caught hold of her arm: O Dorcas! If thou art of mine own sex, leave me not, I charge thee!—Then quitting Dorcas, down she threw herself upon her knees, in the furthermost corner of the room, clasping a chair with her face laid upon the bottom of it!—O where can I be safe?—Where, where can I be safe, from this man of violence?—

This gave Dorcas an opportunity to confirm herself in her lady’s confidence: the wench threw herself at my feet, while I seemed in violent wrath; and embracing my knees, Kill me, Sir, kill me, Sir, if you please!—I must throw myself in your way, to save my lady. I beg your pardon, Sir—but you must be set on!—God forgive the mischief-makers!—But your own heart, if left to itself, would not permit these things—spare, however, Sir! spare my lady, I beseech you!—bustling on her knees about me, as if I were intending to approach her lady, had I not been restrained by her.

This, humoured by me, Begone, devil!—Officious devil, begone!—startled the dear creature: who, snatching up hastily her head from the chair, and as hastily popping it down again in terror, hit her nose, I suppose, against the edge of the chair; and it gushed out with blood, running in a stream down her bosom; she herself was too much frighted to heed it!

Never was mortal man in such terror and agitation as I; for I instantly concluded, that she had stabbed herself with some concealed instrument.

I ran to her in a wild agony—for Dorcas was frighted out of all her mock interposition——

What have you done!—O what have you done!—Look up to me, my dearest life!—Sweet injured innocence, look up to me! What have you done!—Long will I not survive you!—And I was upon the point of drawing my sword to dispatch myself, when I discovered—[What an unmanly blockhead does this charming creature make me at her pleasure!] that all I apprehended was but a bloody nose, which, as far as I know (for it could not be stopped in a quarter of an hour) may have saved her head and her intellects.

But I see by this scene, that the sweet creature is but a pretty coward at bottom; and that I can terrify her out of her virulence against me, whenever I put on sternness and anger. But then, as a qualifier to the advantage this gives me over her, I find myself to be a coward too, which I had not before suspected, since I was capable of being so easily terrified by the apprehensions of her offering violence to herself.