Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXVIII


I have a conversation to give you that passed between this admirable lady and Dr. H. which will furnish a new instance of the calmness and serenity with which she can talk of death, and prepare for it, as if it were an occurrence as familiar to her as dressing and undressing.

As soon as I had dispatched my servant to you with my letters of the 26th, 28th, and yesterday the 29th, I went to pay my duty to her, and had the pleasure to find her, after a tolerable night, pretty lively and cheerful. She was but just returned from her usual devotions; and Doctor H. alighted as she entered the door.

After inquiring how she did, and hearing her complaints of shortness of breath, (which she attributed to inward decay, precipitated by her late harasses, as well from her friends as from you,) he was for advising her to go into the air.

What will that do for me? said she: tell me truly, good Sir, with a cheerful aspect, (you know you cannot disturb me by it,) whether now you do not put on the true physician; and despairing that any thing in medicine will help me, advise me to the air, as the last resource?—Can you think the air will avail in such a malady as mine?

He was silent.

I ask, said she, because my friends (who will possibly some time hence inquire after the means I used for my recovery) may be satisfied that I omitted nothing which so worthy and skilful a physician prescribed?

The air, Madam, may possibly help the difficulty of breathing, which has so lately attacked you.

But, Sir, you see how weak I am. You must see that I have been consuming from day to day; and now, if I can judge by what I feel in myself, putting her hand to her heart, I cannot continue long. If the air would very probably add to my days, though I am far from being desirous to have them lengthened, I would go into it; and the rather, as I know Mrs. Lovick would kindly accompany me. But if I were to be at the trouble of removing into new lodgings, (a trouble which I think now would be too much for me,) and this only to die in the country, I had rather the scene were to shut up here. For here have I meditated the spot, and the manner, and every thing, as well of the minutest as of the highest consequence, that can attend the solemn moments. So, Doctor, tell me truly, may I stay here, and be clear of any imputations of curtailing, through wilfulness or impatiency, or through resentments which I hope I am got above, a life that might otherwise be prolonged?—Tell me, Sir; you are not talking to a coward in this respect; indeed you are not!— Unaffectedly smiling.

The doctor, turning to me, was at a loss what to say, lifting up his eyes only in admiration of her.

Never had any patient, said she, a more indulgent and more humane physician. But since you are loth to answer my question directly, I will put it in other words—You don’t enjoin me to go into the air, Doctor, do you?

I do not, Madam. Nor do I now visit you as a physician; but as a person whose conversation I admire, and whose sufferings I condole. And, to explain myself more directly, as to the occasion of this day’s visit in particular, I must tell you, Madam, that, understanding how much you suffer by the displeasure of your friends; and having no doubt but that, if they knew the way you are in, they would alter their conduct to you; and believing it must cut them to the heart, when too late, they shall be informed of every thing; I have resolved to apprize them by letter (stranger as I am to their persons) how necessary it is for some of them to attend you very speedily. For their sakes, Madam, let me press for your approbation of this measure.

She paused; and at last said, This is kind, very kind, in you, Sir. But I hope that you do not think me so perverse, and so obstinate, as to have left till now any means unessayed which I thought likely to move my friends in my favour. But now, Doctor, said she, I should be too much disturbed at their grief, if they were any of them to come or to send to me: and perhaps, if I found they still loved me, wish to live; and so should quit unwillingly that life, which I am now really fond of quitting, and hope to quit as becomes a person who has had such a weaning-time as I have been favoured with.

I hope, Madam, said I, we are not so near as you apprehend to that deplorable catastrophe you hint at with such an amazing presence of mind. And therefore I presume to second the doctor’s motion, if it were only for the sake of your father and mother, that they may have the satisfaction, if they must lose you, to think they were first reconciled to you.

It is very kindly, very humanely considered, said she. But, if you think me not so very near my last hour, let me desire this may be postponed till I see what effect my cousin Morden’s mediation may have. Perhaps he may vouchsafe to make me a visit yet, after his intended interview with Mr. Lovelace is over; of which, who knows, Mr. Belford, but your next letters may give an account? I hope it will not be a fatal one to any body. Will you promise me, Doctor, to forbear writing for two days only, and I will communicate to you any thing that occurs in that time; and then you shall take your own way? Mean time, I repeat my thanks for your goodness to me.—Nay, dear Doctor, hurry not away from me so precipitately [for he was going, for fear of an offered fee]: I will no more affront you with tenders that have pained you for some time past: and since I must now, from this kindly-offered favour, look upon you only as a friend, I will assure you henceforth that I will give you no more uneasiness on that head: and now, Sir, I know I shall have the pleasure of seeing you oftener than heretofore.

The worthy gentleman was pleased with this assurance, telling her that he had always come to see her with great pleasure, but parted with her, on the account she hinted at, with as much pain; and that he should not have forborne to double his visits, could he have had this kind assurance as early as he wished for it.

There are few instances of like disinterestedness, I doubt, in this tribe. Till now I always held it for gospel, that friendship and physician were incompatible things; and little imagined that a man of medicine, when he had given over his patient to death, would think of any visits but those of ceremony, that he might stand well with the family, against it came to their turns to go through his turnpike.

After the doctor was gone, she fell into a very serious discourse of the vanity of life, and the wisdom of preparing for death, while health and strength remained, and before the infirmities of body impaired the faculties of the mind, and disabled them from acting with the necessary efficacy and clearness: the whole calculated for every one’s meridian, but particularly, as it was easy to observe, for thine and mine.

She was very curious to know farther particulars of the behaviour of poor Belton in his last moments. You must not wonder at my inquiries, Mr. Belford, said she; For who is it, that is to undertake a journey into a country they never travelled to before, that inquires not into the difficulties of the road, and what accommodations are to be expected in the way?

I gave her a brief account of the poor man’s terrors, and unwillingness to die: and, when I had done, Thus, Mr. Belford, said she, must it always be with poor souls who have never thought of their long voyage till the moment they are to embark for it.

She made other such observations upon this subject as, coming from the mouth of a person who will so soon be a companion for angels, I shall never forget. And indeed, when I went home, that I might engraft them the better on my memory, I entered them down in writing: but I will not let you see them until you are in a frame more proper to benefit by them than you are likely to be in one while.

Thus far had I written, when the unexpected early return of my servant with your packet (your’s and he meeting at Slough, and exchanging letters) obliged me to leave off to give its contents a reading.—Here, therefore, I close this letter.