Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LIII

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ. THURSDAY, MAY 25.

Thou seest, Belford, how we now drive before the wind.—The dear creature now comes almost at the first word, whenever I desire the honour of her company. I told her last night, that apprehending delay from Pritchard’s slowness, I was determined to leave it to my Lord to make his compliments in his own way; and had actually that afternoon put my writings into the hands of a very eminent lawyer, Counsellor Willians, with directions for him to draw up settlements from my own estate, and conformably to those of my mother! which I put into his hands at the same time. It had been, I assured her, no small part of my concern, that her frequent displeasure, and our mutual misapprehensions, had hindered me from advising with her before on this subject. Indeed, indeed, my dearest life, said I, you have hitherto afforded me but a very thorny courtship.

She was silent. Kindly silent. For well know I, that she could have recriminated upon me with a vengeance. But I was willing to see if she were not loth to disoblige me now. I comforted myself, I said, with the hopes that all my difficulties were now over; and that every past disobligations would be buried in oblivion.

Now, Belford, I have actually deposited these writings with Counsellor Williams; and I expect the draughts in a week at farthest. So shall be doubly armed. For if I attempt, and fail, these shall be ready to throw in, to make her have patience with me till I can try again.

I have more contrivances still in embryo. I could tell thee of an hundred, and yet hold another hundred in petto, to pop in as I go along, to excite thy surprize, and to keep up thy attention. Nor rave thou at me; but, if thou art my friend, think of Miss Howe’s letters, and of her smuggling scheme. All owing to my fair captive’s informations incitements. Am I not a villain, a fool, a Beelzebub, with them already? —Yet no harm done by me, nor so much as attempted?

Every thing of this nature, the dear creature answered, (with a downcast eye, and a blushing cheek,) she left to me.

I proposed my Lord’s chapel for the celebration, where we might have the presence of Lady Betty, Lady Sarah, and my two cousins Montague.

She seemed not to favour a public celebration! and waved this subject for the present. I doubted not but she would be as willing as I to decline a public wedding; so I pressed not this matter farther just then.

But patterns I actually produced; and a jeweller was to bring as this day several sets of jewels for her choice. But the patterns she would not open. She sighed at the mention of them: the second patterns, she said, that had been offered to her:* and very peremptorily forbid the jeweller’s coming; as well as declined my offer of causing my mother’s to be new-set, at least for the present.

* See Vol. I. Letter XLI.

I do assure thee, Belford, I was in earnest in all this. My whole estate is nothing to me, put in competition with her hoped-for favour.

She then told me, that she had put into writing her opinion of my general proposals; and there had expressed her mind as to clothes and jewels: but on my strange behaviour to her (for no cause that she knew of) on Sunday night, she had torn the paper in two.

I earnestly pressed her to let me be favoured with a sight of this paper, torn as it was. And, after some hesitation, she withdrew, and sent it to me by Dorcas.

I perused it again. It was in a manner new to me, though I had read it so lately: and, by my soul, I could hardly stand it. An hundred admirable creatures I called her to myself. But I charge thee, write not a word to me in her favour, if thou meanest her well; for, if I spare her, it must be all ex mero motu.

You may easily suppose, when I was re-admitted to her presence, that I ran over in her praises, and in vows of gratitude, and everlasting love. But here’s the devil; she still receives all I say with reserve; or if it be not with reserve, she receives it so much as her due, that she is not at all raised by it. Some women are undone by praise, by flattery. I myself, a man, am proud of praise. Perhaps thou wilt say, that those are most proud of it who least deserve it; as those are of riches and grandeur who are not born to either. I own, that to be superior to these foibles, it requires a soul. Have I not then a soul?—Surely, I have.— Let me then be considered as an exception to the rule.

Now have I foundation to go upon in my terms. My Lord, in the exuberance of his generosity, mentions a thousand pounds a year penny-rents. This I know, that were I to marry this lady, he would rather settle upon her all he has a mind to settle, than upon me. He has even threatened, that if I prove not a good husband to her, he will leave all he can at his death from me to her. Yet considers not that a woman so perfect can never be displeased with her husband but to his disgrace: For who will blame her? —Another reason why a LOVELACE should not wish to marry a CLARISSA.

But what a pretty fellow of an uncle is this foolish peer, to think of making a wife independent of her emperor, and a rebel of course; yet smarted himself for an error of this kind!

My beloved, in her torn paper, mentions but two hundred pounds a year, for her separate use. I insisted upon her naming a larger sum. She said it might be three; and I, for fear she should suspect very large offers, named only five; but added the entire disposal of all arrears in her father’s hands for the benefit of Mrs. Norton, or whom she pleased.

She said, that the good woman would be uneasy if any thing more than a competency were done for her. She was more for suiting all her dispositions of this kind, she said, to the usual way of life of the person. To go beyond it, was but to put the benefited upon projects, or to make them awkward in a new state; when they might shine in that to which they were accustomed. And to put it into so good a mother’s power to give her son a beginning in his business at a proper time; yet to leave her something for herself, to set her above want, or above the necessity of taking back from her child what she had been enabled to bestow upon him; would be the height of such a worthy parent’s ambition.

Here’s prudence! Here’s judgment in so young a creature! How do I hate the Harlowes for producing such an angel!—O why, why, did she refuse my sincere address to tie the knot before we came to this house!

But yet, what mortifies my pride is, that this exalted creature, if I were to marry her, would not be governed in her behaviour to me by love, but by generosity merely, or by blind duty; and had rather live single, than be mine.

I cannot bear this. I would have the woman whom I honour with my name, if ever I confer this honour upon any, forego even her superior duties for me. I would have her look after me when I go out as far as she can see me, as my Rosebud after her Johnny; and meet me at my return with rapture. I would be the subject of her dreams, as well as of her waking thoughts. I would have her think every moment lost that is not passed with me: sing to me, read to me, play to me when I pleased: no joy so great as in obeying me. When I should be inclined to love, overwhelm me with it; when to be serious or solitary, if apprehensive of intrusion, retiring at a nod; approaching me only if I smiled encouragement: steal into my presence with silence; out of it, if not noticed, on tiptoe. Be a lady easy to all my pleasures, and valuing those most who most contributed to them; only sighing in private, that it was not herself at the time. Thus of old did the contending wives of the honest patriarchs; each recommending her handmaid to her lord, as she thought it would oblige him, and looking upon the genial product as her own.

The gentle Waller says, women are born to be controuled. Gentle as he was, he knew that. A tyrant husband makes a dutiful wife. And why do the sex love rakes, but because they know how to direct their uncertain wills, and manage them?

***

Another agreeable conversation. The day of days the subject. As to fixing a particular one, that need not be done, my charmer says, till the settlements are completed. As to marrying at my Lord’s chapel, the Ladies of my family present, that would be making a public affair of it; and the dear creature observed, with regret, that it seemed to be my Lord’s intention to make it so.

It could not be imagined, I said, but that his Lordship’s setting out in a litter, and coming to town, as well as his taste for glare, and the joy he would take to see me married at last, and to her dear self, would give it as much the air of a public marriage as if the ceremony were performed at his own chapel, all the Ladies present.

I cannot, said she, endure the thoughts of a public day. It will carry with it an air of insult upon my whole family. And for my part, if my Lord will not take it amiss, [and perhaps he will not, as the motion came not from himself, but from you, Mr. Lovelace,] I will very willingly dispense with his Lordship’s presence; the rather, as dress and appearance will then be unnecessary; for I cannot bear to think of decking my person while my parents are in tears.

How excellent this! Yet do not her parents richly deserve to be in tears?

See, Belford, with so charming a niceness, we might have been a long time ago upon the verge of the state, and yet found a great deal to do before we entered into it.

All obedience, all resignation—no will but her’s. I withdrew, and wrote directly to my Lord; and she not disapproving of it, I sent it away. The purport as follows; for I took no copy.

’That I was much obliged to his Lordship for his intended goodness to me on an occasion the most solemn of my life. That the admirable Lady, whom he so justly praised, thought his Lordship’s proposals in her favour too high. That she chose not to make a public appearance, if, without disobliging my friends, she could avoid it, till a reconciliation with her own could be effected. That although she expressed a grateful sense of his Lordship’s consent to give her to me with his own hand; yet, presuming that the motive to this kind intention was rather to do her honour, than it otherwise would have been his own choice, (especially as travelling would be at this time so inconvenient to him,) she thought it advisable to save his Lordship trouble on this occasion; and hoped he would take as meant her declining the favour.

’That The Lawn will be most acceptable to us both to retire to; and the rather, as it is so to his Lordship.

’But, if he pleases, the jointure may be made from my own estate; leaving to his Lordship’s goodness the alternative.’

I conclude with telling him, ’that I had offered to present the Lady his Lordship’s bill; but on her declining to accept of it (having myself no present occasion for it) I return it enclosed, with my thanks, &c.’

And is not this going a plaguy length? What a figure should I make in rakish annals, if at last I should be caught in my own gin?

The sex may say what they will, but a poor innocent fellow had need to take great care of himself, when he dances upon the edge of the matrimonial precipice. Many a faint-hearted man, when he began to jest, or only designed to ape gallantry, has been forced into earnest, by being over-prompt, and taken at his word, not knowing how to own that he meant less than the lady supposed he meant. I am the better enabled to judge that this must have been the case of many a sneaking varlet; because I, who know the female world as well as any man in it of my standing, am so frequently in doubt of myself, and know not what to make of the matter.

Then these little sly rogues, how they lie couchant, ready to spring upon us harmless fellows the moment we are in their reach!—When the ice is once broken for them, how swiftly can they make to port!—Mean time, the subject they can least speak to, they most think of. Nor can you talk of the ceremony, before they have laid out in their minds how it is all to be. Little saucy-faced designers! how first they draw themselves in, then us!

But be all these things as they will, Lord M. never in his life received so handsome a letter as this from his nephew

LOVELACE. ***

[The Lady, after having given to Miss Howe on the particulars contained

in Mr. Lovelace’s last letter, thus expresses herself:]

A principal consolation arising from these favourable appearances, is, that I, who have now but one only friend, shall most probably, and if it be not my own fault, have as many new ones as there are persons in Mr. Lovelace’s family; and this whether Mr. Lovelace treat me kindly or not. And who knows, but that, by degrees, those new friends, by their rank and merit, may have weight enough to get me restored to the favour of my relations? till which can be effected, I shall not be tolerably easy. Happy I never expect to be. Mr. Lovelace’s mind and mine are vastly different; different in essentials.

But as matters are at present circumstanced, I pray you, my dear friend, to keep to yourself every thing that might bring discredit to him, if revealed.—Better any body expose a man than a wife, if I am to be his; and what is said by you will be thought to come from me.

It shall be my constant prayer, that all the felicities which this world can afford may be your’s: and that the Almighty will never suffer you nor your’s, to the remotest posterity, to want such a friend as my Anna Howe has been to

Her CLARISSA HARLOWE.