Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXIII


You might well apprehend that I should think you were playing me booty in communicating my letter to the lady.

You ask, Who would think you might not read to her the least exceptionable parts of a letter written in my own defence?—I’ll tell you who—the man who, in the same letter that he asks this question, tells the friend whom he exposes to her resentment, ’That there is such an air of levity runs through his most serious letters, that those of this are least fit to be seen which ought to be most to his credit:’ And now what thinkest thou of thyself-condemned folly? Be, however, I charge thee, more circumspect for the future, that so this clumsy error may stand singly by itself.

’It is painful to her to think of me!’ ’Libertine froth!’ ’So pernicious and so despicable a plotter!’ ’A man whose friendship is no credit to any body!’ ’Hardened wretch!’ ’The devil’s counterpart!’ ’A wicked, wicked man!’—But did she, could she, dared she, to say, or imply all this?—and say it to a man whom she praises for humanity, and prefers to myself for that virtue; when all the humanity he shows, and she knows it too, is by my direction—so robs me of the credit of my own works; admirably entitled, all this shows her, to thy refinement upon the words resentment and revenge. But thou wert always aiming and blundering at some thing thou never couldst make out.

The praise thou givest to her ingenuousness, is another of thy peculiars. I think not as thou dost, of her tell-tale recapitulations and exclamations:—what end can they answer?—only that thou hast a holy love for her, [the devil fetch thee for thy oddity!] or it is extremely provoking to suppose one sees such a charming creature stand upright before a libertine, and talk of the sin against her, that cannot be forgiven!—I wish, at my heart, that these chaste ladies would have a little modesty in their anger!—It would sound very strange, if I Robert Lovelace should pretend to have more true delicacy, in a point that requires the utmost, than Miss Clarissa Harlowe.

I think I will put it into the head of her nurse Norton, and her Miss Howe, by some one of my agents, to chide the dear novice for her proclamations.

But to be serious: let me tell thee, that, severe as she is, and saucy, in asking so contemptuously, ’What a man is your friend, Sir, to set himself to punish guilty people!’ I will never forgive the cursed woman, who could commit this last horrid violence on so excellent a creature.

The barbarous insults of the two nymphs, in their visits to her; the choice of the most execrable den that could be found out, in order, no doubt, to induce her to go back to theirs; and the still more execrable attempt, to propose to her a man who would pay the debt; a snare, I make no question, laid for her despairing and resenting heart by that devilish Sally, (thinking her, no doubt, a woman,) in order to ruin her with me; and to provoke me, in a fury, to give her up to their remorseless cruelty; are outrages, that, to express myself in her style, I never can, never will forgive.

But as to thy opinion, and the two women’s at Smith’s, that her heart is broken! that is the true women’s language: I wonder how thou camest into it: thou who hast seen and heard of so many female deaths and revivals.

I’ll tell thee what makes against this notion of theirs.

Her time of life, and charming constitution: the good she ever delighted to do, and fancified she was born to do; and which she may still continue to do, to as high a degree as ever; nay, higher: since I am no sordid varlet, thou knowest: her religious turn: a turn that will always teach her to bear inevitable evils with patience: the contemplation upon her last noble triumph over me, and over the whole crew; and upon her succeeding escape from us all: her will unviolated: and the inward pride of having not deserved the treatment she has met with.

How is it possible to imagine, that a woman, who has all these consolations to reflect upon, will die of a broken heart?

On the contrary, I make no doubt, but that, as she recovers from the dejection into which this last scurvy villany (which none but wretches of her own sex could have been guilty of) has thrown her, returning love will re-enter her time-pacified mind: her thoughts will then turn once more on the conjugal pivot: of course she will have livelier notions in her head; and these will make her perform all her circumvolutions with ease and pleasure; though not with so high a degree of either, as if the dear proud rogue could have exalted herself above the rest of her sex, as she turned round.

Thou askest, on reciting the bitter invectives that the lady made against thy poor friend, (standing before her, I suppose, with thy fingers in thy mouth,) What couldst thou say FOR me?

Have I not, in my former letters, suggested an hundred things, which a friend, in earnest to vindicate or excuse a friend, might say on such an occasion?

But now to current topics, and the present state of matters here.—It is true, as my servant told thee, that Miss Howe had engaged, before this cursed woman’s officiousness, to use her interest with her friend in my behalf: and yet she told my cousins, in the visit they made her, that it was her opinion that she would never forgive me. I send to thee enclosed copies of all that passed on this occasion between my cousins Montague, Miss Howe, myself, Lady Betty, Lady Sarah, and Lord M.

I long to know what Miss Howe wrote to her friend, in order to induce her to marry the despicable plotter; the man whose friendship is no credit to any body; the wicked, wicked man. Thou hadst the two letters in thy hand. Had they been in mine, the seal would have yielded to the touch of my warm finger, (perhaps without the help of the post-office bullet;) and the folds, as other placations have done, opened of themselves to oblige my curiosity. A wicked omission, Jack, not to contrive to send them down to me by man and horse! It might have passed, that the messenger who brought the second letter, took them both back. I could have returned them by another, when copied, as from Miss Howe, and nobody but myself and thee the wiser.

That’s a charming girl! her spirit, her delightful spirit!—not to be married to it—how I wish to get that lively bird into my cage! how would I make her flutter and fly about!—till she left a feather upon every wire!

Had I begun there, I am confident, as I have heretofore said,* that I should not have had half the difficulty with her as I have had with her charming friend. For these passionate girls have high pulses, and a clever fellow may make what sport he pleases with their unevenness—now too high, now too low, you need only to provoke and appease them by turns; to bear with them, and to forbear to tease and ask pardon; and sometimes to give yourself the merit of a sufferer from them; then catching them in the moment of concession, conscious of their ill usage of you, they are all your own.

* See Vol. VI. Letter VII.

But these sedate, contemplative girls, never out of temper but with reason; when that reason is given them, hardly ever pardon, or afford you another opportunity to offend.

It was in part the apprehension that this would be so with my dear Miss Harlowe, that made me carry her to a place where I believed she would be unable to escape me, although I were not to succeed in my first attempts. Else widow Sorlings’s would have been as well for me as widow Sinclair’s. For early I saw that there was no credulity in her to graft upon: no pretending to whine myself into her confidence. She was proof against amorous persuasion. She had reason in her love. Her penetration and good sense made her hate all compliments that had not truth and nature in them. What could I have done with her in any other place? and yet how long, even there, was I kept in awe, in spite of natural incitement, and unnatural instigations, (as I now think them,) by the mere force of that native dignity, and obvious purity of mind and manners, which fill every one with reverence, if not with holy love, as thou callest it,* the moment he sees her!—Else, thinkest thou not, it was easy for me to be a fine gentleman, and a delicate lover, or, at least a specious and flattering one?

* See Letter XXI. of this volume.

Lady Sarah and Lady Betty, finding the treaty, upon the success of which they have set their foolish hearts, likely to run into length, are about departing to their own seats; having taken from me the best security the nature of the case will admit of, that is to say, my word, to marry the lady, if she will have me.

And after all, (methinks thou asked,) art thou still resolved to repair, if reparation be put into thy power?

Why, Jack, I must needs own that my heart has now-and-then some retrograde motions upon thinking seriously of the irrevocable ceremony. We do not easily give up the desire of our hearts, and what we imagine essential to our happiness, let the expectation or hope of compassing it be ever so unreasonable or absurd in the opinion of others. Recurrings there will be; hankerings that will, on every but-remotely-favourable incident, (however before discouraged and beaten back by ill success,) pop up, and abate the satisfaction we should otherwise take in contrariant overtures.

’Tis ungentlemanly, Jack, man to man, to lie.——But matrimony I do not heartily love—although with a CLARISSA—yet I am in earnest to marry her.

But I am often thinking that if now this dear creature, suffering time, and my penitence, my relations’ prayers, and Miss Howe’s mediation to soften her resentments, (her revenge thou hast prettily* distinguished away,) and to recall repulsed inclination, should consent to meet me at the altar—How vain will she then make all thy eloquent periods of execration!—How many charming interjections of her own will she spoil! And what a couple of old patriarchs shall we become, going in the mill-horse round; getting sons and daughters; providing nurses for them first, governors and governesses next; teaching them lessons their fathers never practised, nor which their mother, as her parents will say, was much the better for! And at last, perhaps, when life shall be turned into the dully sober stillness, and I become desirous to forget all my past rogueries, what comfortable reflections will it afford to find them all revived, with equal, or probably greater trouble and expense, in the persons and manners of so many young Lovelaces of the boys; and to have the girls run away with varlets, perhaps not half so ingenious as myself; clumsy fellows, as it might happen, who could not afford the baggages one excuse for their weakness, besides those disgraceful ones of sex and nature!—O Belford! who can bear to think of these things!——Who, at my time of life especially, and with such a bias for mischief!

* See Letter XVIII. of this volume.

Of this I am absolutely convinced, that if a man ever intends to marry, and to enjoy in peace his own reflections, and not be afraid retribution, or of the consequences of his own example, he should never be a rake.

This looks like conscience; don’t it, Belford?

But, being in earnest still, as I have said, all I have to do in my present uncertainty, is, to brighten up my faculties, by filing off the rust they have contracted by the town smoke, a long imprisonment in my close attendance to so little purpose on my fair perverse; and to brace up, if I can, the relaxed fibres of my mind, which have been twitched and convulsed like the nerves of some tottering paralytic, by means of the tumults she has excited in it; that so I may be able to present to her a husband as worthy as I can be of her acceptance; or, if she reject me, be in a capacity to resume my usual gaiety of heart, and show others of the misleading sex, that I am not discouraged, by the difficulties I have met with from this sweet individual of it, from endeavouring to make myself as acceptable to them as before.

In this latter case, one tour to France and Italy, I dare say, will do the business. Miss Harlowe will by that time have forgotten all she has suffered from her ungrateful Lovelace: though it will be impossible that her Lovelace should ever forget a woman, whose equal he despairs to meet with, were he to travel from one end of the world to the other.

If thou continuest paying off the heavy debts my long letters, for so many weeks together, have made thee groan under, I will endeavour to restrain myself in the desires I have, (importunate as they are,) of going to town, to throw myself at the feet of my soul’s beloved. Policy and honesty, both join to strengthen the restraint my own promise and thy engagement have laid me under on this head. I would not afresh provoke: on the contrary, would give time for her resentments to subside, that so all that follows may be her own act and deed.


Hickman, [I have a mortal aversion to that fellow!] has, by a line which I have just now received, requested an interview with me on Friday at Mr. Dormer’s, as at a common friend’s. Does the business he wants to meet me upon require that it should be at a common friend’s?—A challenge implied: Is it not, Belford?—I shall not be civil to him, I doubt. He has been an intermeddler?—Then I envy him on Miss Howe’s account: for if I have a right notion of this Hickman, it is impossible that that virago can ever love him.

Every one knows that the mother, (saucy as the daughter sometimes is,) crams him down her throat. Her mother is one of the most violent-spirited women in England. Her late husband could not stand in the matrimonial contention of Who should? but tipt off the perch in it, neither knowing how to yield, nor knowing how to conquer.

A charming encouragement for a man of intrigue, when he has reason to believe that the woman he has a view upon has no love for her husband! What good principles must that wife have, who is kept in against temptation by a sense of her duty, and plighted faith, where affection has no hold of her!

Pr’ythee let’s know, very particularly, how it fares with poor Belton. ’Tis an honest fellow. Something more than his Thomasine seems to stick with him.

Thou hast not been preaching to him conscience and reformation, hast thou?—Thou shouldest not take liberties with him of this sort, unless thou thoughtest him absolutely irrecoverable. A man in ill health, and crop-sick, cannot play with these solemn things as thou canst, and be neither better nor worse for them.—Repentance, Jack, I have a notion, should be set about while a man is in health and spirits. What’s a man fit for, [not to begin a new work, surely!] when he is not himself, nor master of his faculties?—Hence, as I apprehend, it is that a death-bed repentance is supposed to be such a precarious and ineffectual thing.

As to myself, I hope I have a great deal of time before me; since I intend one day to be a reformed man. I have very serious reflections now-and-then. Yet am I half afraid of the truth of what my charmer once told me, that a man cannot repent when he will.—Not to hold it, I suppose she meant! By fits and starts I have repented a thousand times.

Casting my eye over the two preceding paragraphs, I fancy there is something like contradiction in them. But I will not reconsider them. The subject is a very serious one. I don’t at present quite understand it. But now for one more airy.

Tourville, Mowbray, and myself, pass away our time as pleasantly as possibly we can without thee. I wish we don’t add to Lord M.’s gouty days by the joy we give him.

This is one advantage, as I believe I have elsewhere observed, that we male-delinquents in love-matters have of the other sex:—for while they, poor things! sit sighing in holes and corners, or run to woods and groves to bemoan themselves on their baffled hopes, we can rant and roar, hunt and hawk; and, by new loves, banish from our hearts all remembrance of the old ones.

Merrily, however, as we pass our time, my reflections upon the injuries done to this noble creature bring a qualm upon my heart very often. But I know she will permit me to make her amends, after she has plagued me heartily; and that’s my consolation.

An honest fellow still—clap thy wings, and crow, Jack!——