Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXIV


Just come from the women.

‘Have I gone so far, and am I afraid to go farther?—Have I not already, as it is evident by her behaviour, sinned beyond forgiveness?—A woman’s tears used to be to me but as water sprinkled on a glowing fire, which gives it a fiercer and brighter blaze: What defence has this lady but her tears and her eloquence? She was before taken at no weak advantage. She was insensible in her moments of trial. Had she been sensible, she must have been sensible. So they say. The methods taken with her have augmented her glory and her pride. She has now a tale to tell, that she may tell with honour to herself. No accomplice-inclination. She can look me into confusion, without being conscious of so much as a thought which she need to be ashamed of.’

This, Jack, is the substance of the women’s reasonings with me.

To which let me add, that the dear creature now sees the necessity I am in to leave her. Detecting me is in her head. My contrivances are of such a nature, that I must appear to be the most odious of men if I am detected on this side matrimony. And yet I have promised, as thou seest, that she shall set out to Hampstead as soon as she pleases in the morning, and that without condition on her side.

Dost thou ask, What I meant by this promise?

No new cause arising, was the proviso on my side, thou’lt remember. But there will be a new cause.

Suppose Dorcas should drop the promissory note given her by her lady? Servants, especially those who cannot read or write, are the most careless people in the world of written papers. Suppose I take it up?—at a time, too, that I was determined that the dear creature should be her own mistress?—Will not this detection be a new cause?—A cause that will carry with it against her the appearance of ingratitude!

That she designed it a secret to me, argues a fear of detection, and indirectly a sense of guilt. I wanted a pretence. Can I have a better?—If I am in a violent passion upon the detection, is not passion an universally-allowed extenuator of violence? Is not every man and woman obliged to excuse that fault in another, which at times they find attended with such ungovernable effects in themselves?

The mother and sisterhood, suppose, brought to sit in judgment upon the vile corrupted—the least benefit that must accrue from the accidental discovery, if not a pretence for perpetration, [which, however, may be the case,] an excuse for renewing my orders for her detention till my return from M. Hall, [the fault her own,] and for keeping a stricter watch over her than before; with direction to send me any letters that may be written by her or to her.—And when I return, the devil’s in it if I find not a way to make her choose lodgings for herself, (since these are so hateful to her,) that shall answer all my purposes; and yet I no more appear to direct her choice, than I did before in these.

Thou wilt curse me when thou comest to this place. I know thou wilt. But thinkest thou that, after such a series of contrivance, I will lose this inimitable woman for want of a little more? A rake’s a rake, Jack!—And what rake is withheld by principle from the perpetration of any evil his heart is set upon, and in which he thinks he can succeed?—Besides, am I not in earnest as to marriage?—Will not the generality of the world acquit me, if I do marry? And what is that injury which a church-rite will not at any time repair? Is not the catastrophe of every story that ends in wedlock accounted happy, be the difficulties in the progress of it ever so great.

But here, how am I engrossed by this lady, while poor Lord M. as Simon tells me, lies groaning in the most dreadful agonies!—What must he suffer!—Heaven relieve him!—I have a too compassionate heart. And so would the dear creature have found, could I have thought that the worst of her sufferings is equal to the lightest of his. I mean as to fact; for as to that part of her’s, which arises from extreme sensibility, I know nothing of that; and cannot therefore be answerable for it.