Clarissa Harlowe LETTER III

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE SATURDAY, MAY 27.

Mr. Lovelace, my dear, has been very ill. Suddenly taken. With a vomiting of blood in great quantities. Some vessel broken. He complained of a disorder in his stomach over night. I was the affected with it, as I am afraid it was occasioned by the violent contentions between us.—But was I in fault?

How lately did I think I hated him!—But hatred and anger, I see, are but temporary passions with me. One cannot, my dear, hate people in danger of death, or who are in distress or affliction. My heart, I find, is not proof against kindness, and acknowledgements of errors committed.

He took great care to have his illness concealed from me as long as he could. So tender in the violence of his disorder!—So desirous to make the best of it!—I wish he had not been ill in my sight. I was too much affected—every body alarming me with his danger. The poor man, from such high health, so suddenly taken!—and so unprepared!—

He is gone out in a chair. I advised him to do so. I fear that my advice was wrong; since quiet in such a disorder must needs be best. We are apt to be so ready, in cases of emergency, to give our advice, without judgment, or waiting for it!—I proposed a physician indeed; but he would not hear of one. I have great honour for the faculty; and the greater, as I have always observed that those who treat the professors of the art of healing contemptuously, too generally treat higher institutions in the same manner.

I am really very uneasy. For I have, I doubt, exposed myself to him, and to the women below. They indeed will excuse me, as they think us married. But if he be not generous, I shall have cause to regret this surprise; which (as I had reason to think myself unaccountably treated by him) has taught me more than I knew of myself.

’Tis true, I have owned more than once, that I could have liked Mr. Lovelace above all men. I remember the debates you and I used to have on this subject, when I was your happy guest. You used to say, and once you wrote,* that men of his cast are the men that our sex do not naturally dislike: While I held, that such were not (however that might be) the men we ought to like. But what with my relations precipitating of me, on one hand, and what with his unhappy character, and embarrassing ways, on the other, I had no more leisure than inclination to examine my own heart in this particular. And this reminds me of a transcribe, though it was written in raillery. ’May it not be,’ say you,** ’that you have had such persons to deal with, as have not allowed you to attend to the throbs; or if you had them a little now-and-then, whether, having had two accounts to place them to, you have not by mistake put them to the wrong one?’ A passage, which, although it came into my mind when Mr. Lovelace was least exceptionable, yet that I have denied any efficacy to, when he has teased and vexed me, and given me cause of suspicion. For, after all, my dear, Mr. Lovelace is not wise in all his ways. And should we not endeavour, as much as is possible, (where we are not attached by natural ties,) to like and dislike as reason bids us, and according to the merit or demerit of the object? If love, as it is called, is allowed to be an excuse for our most unreasonable follies, and to lay level all the fences that a careful education has surrounded us by, what is meant by the doctrine of subduing our passions?—But, O my dearest friend, am I not guilty of a punishable fault, were I to love this man of errors? And has not my own heart deceived me, when I thought it did not? And what must be that love, that has not some degree of purity for its object? I am afraid of recollecting some passages in my cousin Morden’s letter.***—And yet why fly I from subjects that, duly considered, might tend to correct and purify my heart? I have carried, I doubt, my notions on this head too high, not for practice, but for my practice. Yet think me not guilty of prudery neither; for had I found out as much of myself before; or, rather, had he given me heart’s ease enough before to find it out, you should have had my confession sooner.

* See Vol. IV. Letter XXXIV. ** See Vol. I. Letter XII. *** See Vol. IV. Letter XIX, & seq.

Nevertheless, let me tell you (what I hope I may justly tell you,) that if again he give me cause to resume distance and reserve, I hope my reason will gather strength enough from his imperfections to enable me to keep my passions under.—What can we do more than govern ourselves by the temporary lights lent us?

You will not wonder that I am grave on this detection—Detection, must I call it? What can I call it?—

Dissatisfied with myself, I am afraid to look back upon what I have written: yet know not how to have done writing. I never was in such an odd frame of mind.—I know not how to describe it.—Was you ever so?— Afraid of the censure of her you love—yet not conscious that you deserve it?

Of this, however, I am convinced, that I should indeed deserve censure, if I kept any secret of my heart from you.

But I will not add another word, after I have assured you, that I will look still more narrowly into myself: and that I am

Your equally sincere and affectionate CL. HARLOWE.