Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXI


You will imagine how affecting her noble speech and behaviour were to me, at the time when the bare recollecting and transcribing them obliged me to drop my pen. The women had tears in their eyes. I was silent for a few moments.—At last, Matchless excellence! Inimitable goodness! I called her, with a voice so accented, that I was half-ashamed of myself, as it was before the women—but who could stand such sublime generosity of soul in so young a creature, her loveliness giving grace to all she said? Methinks, said I, [and I really, in a manner, involuntarily bent my knee,] I have before me an angel indeed. I can hardly forbear prostration, and to beg your influence to draw me after you to the world you are aspiring to!—Yet—but what shall I say—Only, dearest excellence, make me, in some small instances, serviceable to you, that I may (if I survive you) have the glory to think I was able to contribute to your satisfaction, while among us.

Here I stopt. She was silent. I proceeded—Have you no commission to employ me in; deserted as you are by all your friends; among strangers, though I doubt not, worthy people? Cannot I be serviceable by message, by letter-writing, by attending personally, with either message or letter, your father, your uncles, your brother, your sister, Miss Howe, Lord M., or the Ladies his sisters?—any office to be employed to serve you, absolutely independent of my friend’s wishes, or of my own wishes to oblige him?—Think, Madam, if I cannot?

I thank you, Sir: very heartily I thank you: but in nothing that I can at present think of, or at least resolve upon, can you do me service. I will see what return the letter I have written will bring me.—Till then ——

My life and my fortune, interrupted I, are devoted to your service. Permit me to observe, that here you are, without one natural friend; and (so much do I know of your unhappy case) that you must be in a manner destitute of the means to make friends——

She was going to interrupt me, with a prohibitory kind of earnestness in her manner.

I beg leave to proceed, Madam: I have cast about twenty ways how to mention this before, but never dared till now. Suffer me now, that I have broken the ice, to tender myself—as your banker only.—I know you will not be obliged: you need not. You have sufficient of your own, if it were in your hands; and from that, whether you live or die, will I consent to be reimbursed. I do assure you, that the unhappy man shall never know either my offer, or your acceptance—Only permit me this small ——

And down behind her chair dropt a bank note of 100£. which I had brought with me, intending some how or other to leave it behind me: nor shouldst thou ever have known it, had she favoured me with the acceptance of it; as I told her.

You give me great pain, Mr. Belford, said she, by these instances of your humanity. And yet, considering the company I have seen you in, I am not sorry to find you capable of such. Methinks I am glad, for the sake of human nature, that there could be but one such man in the world, as he you and I know. But as to your kind offer, whatever it be, if you take it not up, you will greatly disturb me. I have no need of your kindness. I have effects enough, which I never can want, to supply my present occasion: and, if needful, can have recourse to Miss Howe. I have promised that I would—So, pray, Sir, urge not upon me this favour.—Take it up yourself.—If you mean me peace and ease of mind, urge not this favour.—And she spoke with impatience.

I beg, Madam, but one word——

Not one, Sir, till you have taken back what you have let fall. I doubt not either the honour, or the kindness, of your offer; but you must not say one word more on this subject. I cannot bear it.

She was stooping, but with pain. I therefore prevented her; and besought her to forgive me for a tender, which, I saw, had been more discomposing to her than I had hoped (from the purity of my intentions) it would be. But I could not bear to think that such a mind as her’s should be distressed: since the want of the conveniencies she was used to abound in might affect and disturb her in the divine course she was in.

You are very kind to me, Sir, said she, and very favourable in your opinion of me. But I hope that I cannot now be easily put out of my present course. My declining health will more and more confirm me in it. Those who arrested and confined me, no doubt, thought they had fallen upon the most ready method to distress me so as to bring me into all their measures. But I presume to hope that I have a mind that cannot be debased, in essential instances, by temporal calamities.

Little do those poor wretches know of the force of innate principles, (forgive my own implied vanity, was her word,) who imagine, that a prison, or penury, can bring a right-turned mind to be guilty of a wilful baseness, in order to avoid such short-lived evils.

She then turned from me towards the window, with a dignity suitable to her words; and such as showed her to be more of soul than of body at that instant.

What magnanimity!—No wonder a virtue so solidly founded could baffle all thy arts: and that it forced thee (in order to carry thy accursed point) to have recourse to those unnatural ones, which robbed her of her charming senses.

The women were extremely affected, Mrs. Lovick especially; who said, whisperingly to Mrs. Smith, We have an angel, not a woman, with us, Mrs. Smith!

I repeated my offers to write to any of her friends; and told her, that, having taken the liberty to acquaint Dr. H. with the cruel displeasure of her relations, as what I presumed lay nearest to her heart, he had proposed to write himself, to acquaint her friends how ill she was, if she would not take it amiss.

It was kind in the Doctor, she said: but begged, that no step of that sort might be taken without her knowledge or consent. She would wait to see what effects her letter to her sister would have. All she had to hope for was, that her father would revoke his malediction, previous to the last blessing she should then implore. For the rest, her friends would think she could not suffer too much; and she was content to suffer: for now nothing could happen that could make her wish to live.

Mrs. Smith went down; and, soon returning, asked, if the lady and I would not dine with her that day; for it was her wedding-day. She had engaged Mrs. Lovick she said; and should have nobody else, if we would do her that favour.

The charming creature sighed, and shook her head.—Wedding-day, repeated she!—I wish you, Mrs. Smith, many happy wedding-days!—But you will excuse me.

Mr. Smith came up with the same request. They both applied to me.

On condition the lady would, I should make no scruple; and would suspend an engagement: which I actually had.

She then desired they would all sit down. You have several times, Mrs. Lovick and Mrs. Smith, hinted your wishes, that I would give you some little history of myself: now, if you are at leisure, that this gentleman, who, I have reason to believe, knows it all, is present, and can tell you if I give it justly, or not, I will oblige your curiosity.

They all eagerly, the man Smith too, sat down; and she began an account of herself, which I will endeavour to repeat, as nearly in her own words as I possibly can: for I know you will think it of importance to be apprized of her manner of relating your barbarity to her, as well as what her sentiments are of it; and what room there is for the hopes your friends have in your favour for her.

’At first when I took these lodgings, said she, I thought of staying but a short time in them; and so Mrs. Smith, I told you: I therefore avoided giving any other account of myself than that I was a very unhappy young creature, seduced from good, and escaped from very vile wretches.

’This account I thought myself obliged to give, that you might the less wonder at seeing a young creature rushing through your shop, into your back apartment, all trembling and out of breath; an ordinary garb over my own; craving lodging and protection; only giving my bare word, that you should be handsomely paid: all my effects contained in a pocket-handkerchief.

’My sudden absence, for three days and nights together when arrested, must still further surprise you: and although this gentleman, who, perhaps, knows more of the darker part of my story, than I do myself, has informed you (as you, Mrs. Lovick, tell me) that I am only an unhappy, not a guilty creature; yet I think it incumbent upon me not to suffer honest minds to be in doubt about my character.

’You must know, then, that I have been, in one instance (I had like to have said but in one instance; but that was a capital one) an undutiful child to the most indulgent of parents: for what some people call cruelty in them, is owing but to the excess of their love, and to their disappointment, having had reason to expect better from me.

’I was visited (at first, with my friends connivance) by a man of birth and fortune, but of worse principles, as it proved, than I believed any man could have. My brother, a very headstrong young man, was absent at that time; and, when he returned, (from an old grudge, and knowing the gentleman, it is plain, better than I knew him) entirely disapproved of his visits: and, having a great sway in our family, brought other gentlemen to address me: and at last (several having been rejected) he introduced one extremely disagreeable: in every indifferent person’s eyes disagreeable. I could not love him. They all joined to compel me to have him; a rencounter between the gentleman my friends were set against, and my brother, having confirmed them all his enemies.

’To be short; I was confined, and treated so very hardly, that, in a rash fit, I appointed to go off with the man they hated. A wicked intention, you’ll say! but I was greatly provoked. Nevertheless, I repented, and resolved not to go off with him: yet I did not mistrust his honour to me neither; nor his love; because nobody thought me unworthy of the latter, and my fortune was not to be despised. But foolishly (wickedly and contrivingly, as my friends still think, with a design, as they imagine, to abandon them) giving him a private meeting, I was tricked away; poorly enough tricked away, I must needs say; though others who had been first guilty of so rash a step as the meeting of him was, might have been so deceived and surprised as well as I.

’After remaining some time at a farm-house in the country, and behaving to me all the time with honour, he brought me to handsome lodgings in town till still better provision could be made for me. But they proved to be (as he indeed knew and designed) at a vile, a very vile creature’s; though it was long before I found her to be so; for I knew nothing of the town, or its ways.

’There is no repeating what followed: such unprecedented vile arts!—For I gave him no opportunity to take me at any disreputable advantage.’—

And here (half covering her sweet face, with her handkerchief put to her tearful eyes) she stopt.

Hastily, as if she would fly from the hateful remembrance, she resumed:— ’I made escape afterward from the abominable house in his absence, and came to your’s: and this gentleman has almost prevailed on me to think, that the ungrateful man did not connive at the vile arrest: which was made, no doubt, in order to get me once more to those wicked lodgings: for nothing do I owe them, except I were to pay them’—[she sighed, and again wiped her charming eyes—adding in a softer, lower voice]—’for being ruined.’

Indeed, Madam, said I, guilty, abominably guilty, as he is in all the rest, he is innocent of this last wicked outrage.

’Well, and so I wish him to be. That evil, heavy as it was, is one of the slightest evils I have suffered. But hence you’ll observe, Mrs. Lovick, (for you seemed this morning curious to know if I were not a wife,) that I never was married.—You, Mr. Belford, no doubt, knew before that I am no wife: and now I never will be one. Yet, I bless God, that I am not a guilty creature!

’As to my parentage, I am of no mean family; I have in my own right, by the intended favour of my grandfather, a fortune not contemptible: independent of my father; if I had pleased; but I never will please.

’My father is very rich. I went by another name when I came to you first: but that was to avoid being discovered to the perfidious man: who now engages, by this gentleman, not to molest me.

’My real name you now know to be Harlowe: Clarissa Harlowe. I am not yet twenty years of age.

’I have an excellent mother, as well as father; a woman of family, and fine sense—worthy of a better child!—they both doated upon me.

’I have two good uncles: men of great fortune; jealous of the honour of their family; which I have wounded.

’I was the joy of their hearts; and, with theirs and my father’s, I had three houses to call my own; for they used to have me with them by turns, and almost kindly to quarrel for me; so that I was two months in the year with the one; two months with the other; six months at my father’s; and two at the houses of others of my dear friends, who thought themselves happy in me: and whenever I was at any one’s, I was crowded upon with letters by all the rest, who longed for my return to them.

’In short, I was beloved by every body. The poor—I used to make glad their hearts: I never shut my hand to any distress, wherever I was—but now I am poor myself!

’So Mrs. Smith, so Mrs. Lovick, I am not married. It is but just to tell you so. And I am now, as I ought to be, in a state of humiliation and penitence for the rash step which has been followed by so much evil. God, I hope, will forgive me, as I am endeavouring to bring my mind to forgive all the world, even the man who has ungratefully, and by dreadful perjuries, [poor wretch! he thought all his wickedness to be wit!] reduced to this a young creature, who had his happiness in her view, and in her wish, even beyond this life; and who was believed to be of rank, and fortune, and expectations, considerable enough to make it the interest of any gentleman in England to be faithful to his vows to her. But I cannot expect that my parents will forgive me: my refuge must be death; the most painful kind of which I would suffer, rather than be the wife of one who could act by me, as the man has acted, upon whose birth, education, and honour, I had so much reason to found better expectations.

’I see, continued she, that I, who once was every one’s delight, am now the cause of grief to every one—you, that are strangers to me, are moved for me! ’tis kind!—but ’tis time to stop. Your compassionate hearts, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Lovick, are too much touched,’ [For the women sobbed, and the man was also affected.] ’It is barbarous in me, with my woes, thus to sadden your wedding-day.’ Then turning to Mr. and Mrs. Smith— ’May you see many happy ones, honest, good couple!—how agreeable is it to see you both join so kindly to celebrate it, after many years are gone over you!—I once—but no more!—All my prospects of felicity, as to this life, are at an end. My hopes, like opening buds or blossoms in an over-forward spring, have been nipt by a severe frost!—blighted by an eastern wind!—but I can but once die; and if life be spared me, but till I am discharged from a heavy malediction, which my father in his wrath laid upon me, and which is fulfilled literally in every article relating to this world; that, and a last blessing, are all I have to wish for; and death will be welcomer to me, than rest to the most wearied traveller that ever reached his journey’s end.’

And then she sunk her head against the back of her chair, and, hiding her face with her handkerchief, endeavoured to conceal her tears from us.

Not a soul of us could speak a word. Thy presence, perhaps, thou hardened wretch, might have made us ashamed of a weakness which perhaps thou wilt deride me in particular for, when thou readest this!——

She retired to her chamber soon after, and was forced, it seems, to lie down. We all went down together; and, for an hour and a half, dwelt upon her praises; Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Lovick repeatedly expressing their astonishment, that there could be a man in the world, capable of offending, much more of wilfully injuring such a lady; and repeating, that they had an angel in their house.—I thought they had; and that as assuredly as there is a devil under the roof of good Lord M.

I hate thee heartily!—by my faith I do!—every hour I hate thee more than the former!——