Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXIII


But with all this dear creature’s resentment against me, I cannot, for my heart, think but she will get all over, and consent to enter the pale with me. Were she even to die to-morrow, and to know she should, would not a woman of her sense, of her punctilio, and in her situation, and of so proud a family, rather die married, than otherwise?—No doubt but she would; although she were to hate the man ever so heartily. If so, there is now but one man in the world whom she can have—and that is me.

Now I talk [familiar writing is but talking, Jack] thus glibly of entering the pale, thou wilt be ready to question me, I know, as to my intentions on this head.

As much of my heart, as I know of it myself, will I tell thee.—When I am from her, I cannot still help hesitating about marriage; and I even frequently resolve against it, and determine to press my favourite scheme for cohabitation. But when I am with her, I am ready to say, to swear, and to do, whatever I think will be the most acceptable to her, and were a parson at hand, I should plunge at once, no doubt of it, into the state.

I have frequently thought, in common cases, that it is happy for many giddy fellows [there are giddy fellows, as well as giddy girls, Jack; and perhaps those are as often drawn in, as these] that ceremony and parade are necessary to the irrevocable solemnity; and that there is generally time for a man to recollect himself in the space between the heated over-night, and the cooler next morning; or I know not who could escape the sweet gypsies, whose fascinating powers are so much aided by our own raised imaginations.

A wife at any time, I used to say. I had ever confidence and vanity enough to think that no woman breathing could deny her hand when I held out mine. I am confoundedly mortified to find that this lady is able to hold me at bay, and to refuse all my honest vows.

What force [allow me a serious reflection, Jack: it will be put down! What force] have evil habits upon the human mind! When we enter upon a devious course, we think we shall have it in our power when we will return to the right path. But it is not so, I plainly see: For, who can acknowledge with more justice this dear creature’s merits, and his own errors, than I? Whose regret, at times, can be deeper than mine, for the injuries I have done her? Whose resolutions to repair those injuries stronger?—Yet how transitory is my penitence!—How am I hurried away—Canst thou tell by what?—O devil of youth, and devil of intrigue, how do you mislead me!—How often do we end in occasions for the deepest remorse, what we begin in wantonness!—

At the present writing, however, the turn of the scale is in behalf of matrimony—for I despair of carrying with her my favourite point.

The lady tells Dorcas, that her heart is broken: and that she shall live but a little while. I think nothing of that, if we marry. In the first place, she knows not what a mind unapprehensive will do for her, in a state to which all the sex look forwards with high satisfaction. How often have the whole of the sacred conclave been thus deceived in their choice of a pope; not considering that the new dignity is of itself sufficient to give new life! A few months’ heart’s ease will give my charmer a quite different notion of things: and I dare say, as I have heretofore said,* once married, and I am married for life.

* See Letter IX. of this volume.

I will allow that her pride, in one sense, has suffered abasement: but her triumph is the greater in every other. And while I can think that all her trials are but additions to her honour, and that I have laid the foundations of her glory in my own shame, can I be called cruel, if I am not affected with her grief as some men would be?

And for what should her heart be broken? Her will is unviolated;—at present, however, her will is unviolated. The destroying of good habits, and the introducing of bad, to the corrupting of the whole heart, is the violation. That her will is not to be corrupted, that her mind is not to be debased, she has hitherto unquestionably proved. And if she give cause for farther trials, and hold fast her integrity, what ideas will she have to dwell upon, that will be able to corrupt her morals? What vestigia, what remembrances, but such as will inspire abhorrence of the attempter?

What nonsense then to suppose that such a mere notional violation as she has suffered should be able to cut asunder the strings of life?

Her religion, married, or not married, will set her above making such a trifling accident, such an involuntary suffering fatal to her.

Such considerations as these they are that support me against all apprehensions of bugbear consequences; and I would have them have weight with thee; who are such a doughty advocate for her. And yet I allow thee this; that she really makes too much of it; takes it too much to heart. To be sure she ought to have forgot it by this time, except the charming, charming consequence happen, that still I am in hopes will happen, were I to proceed no farther. And, if she apprehended this herself, then has the dear over-nice soul some reason for taking it so much to heart; and yet would not, I think, refuse to legitimate.

O Jack! had I am imperial diadem, I swear to thee, that I would give it up, even to my enemy, to have one charming boy by this lady. And should she escape me, and no such effect follow, my revenge on her family, and, in such a case, on herself, would be incomplete, and I should reproach myself as long as I lived.

Were I to be sure that this foundation is laid [And why may I not hope it is?] I should not doubt to have her still (should she withstand her day of grace) on my own conditions; nor should I, if it were so, question that revived affection in her, which a woman seldom fails to have for the father of her first child, whether born in wedlock, or out of it.

And pr’ythee, Jack, see in this my ardent hope, a distinction in my favour from other rakes; who, almost to a man, follow their inclinations without troubling themselves about consequences. In imitation, as one would think, of the strutting villain of a bird, which from feathered lady to feathered lady pursues his imperial pleasures, leaving it to his sleek paramours to hatch the genial product in holes and corners of their own finding out.