Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LV

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.

If, Belford, thou likest not my plot upon Miss Howe, I have three or four more as good in my own opinion; better, perhaps, they will be in thine: and so ’tis but getting loose from thy present engagement, and thou shalt pick and choose. But as for thy three brethren, they must do as I would have them: and so, indeed, must thou—Else why am I your general? But I will refer this subject to its proper season. Thou knowest, that I never absolutely conclude upon a project, till ’tis time for execution; and then lightning strikes not quicker than I.

And now to the subject next my heart.

Wilt thou believe me, when I tell thee, that I have so many contrivances rising up and crowding upon me for preference, with regard to my Gloriana, that I hardly know which to choose?—I could tell thee of no less than six princely ones, any of which must do. But as the dear creature has not grudged giving me trouble, I think I ought not, in gratitude, to spare combustibles for her; but, on the contrary, to make her stare and stand aghast, by springing three or four mines at once.

Thou remembrest what Shakespeare, in his Troilus and Cressida, makes Hector, who, however, is not used to boast, say to Achilles in an interview between them; and which, applied to this watchful lady, and to the vexation she has given me, and to the certainty I now think I have of subduing her, will run thus: supposing the charmer before me; and I meditating her sweet person from head to foot:

Henceforth, O watchful fair-one, guard thee well:

For I’ll not kill thee there! nor there! nor there!

But, by the zone that circles Venus’ waist,

I’ll kill thee ev’ry where; yea, o’er and o’er.—

Thou, wisest Belford, pardon me this brag:

Her watchfulness draws folly from my lips;

But I’ll endeavour deeds to match the words,

Or I may never——

Then I imagine thee interposing to qualify my impatience, as Ajax did to Achilles:

——Do not chafe thee, cousin:

——And let these threats alone,

Till accident or purpose bring thee to it.

All that vexes me, in the midst of my gloried-in devices, is, that there is a sorry fellow in the world, who has presumed to question, whether the prize, when obtained, is worthy of the pains it costs me: yet knows, with what patience and trouble a bird-man will spread an acre of ground with gins and snares; set up his stalking horse, his glasses; plant his decoy- birds, and invite the feathered throng by his whistle; and all his prize at last (the reward of early hours, and of a whole morning’s pains) only a simple linnet.

To be serious, Belford, I must acknowledge, that all our pursuits, from childhood to manhood, are only trifles of different sort and sizes, proportioned to our years and views: but then is not a fine woman the noblest trifle, that ever was or could be obtained by man?—And to what purpose do we say obtained, if it be not in the way we wish for?—If a man is rather to be her prize, than she his?

***

And now, Belford, what dost think?

That thou art a cursed fellow, if—

If—no if’s—but I shall be very sick to-morrow. I shall, ’faith.

Sick!—Why sick? What a-devil shouldst thou be sick for?

For more good reasons than one, Jack.

I should be glad to hear but one.—Sick, quotha! Of all thy roguish inventions I should not have thought of this.

Perhaps thou thinkest my view to be, to draw the lady to my bedside. That’s a trick of three or four thousand years old; and I should find it much more to my purpose, if I could get to her’s. However, I’ll condescend to make thee as wise as myself.

I am excessively disturbed about this smuggling scheme of Miss Howe. I have no doubt, that my fair-one, were I to make an attempt, and miscarry, will fly from me, if she can. I once believed she loved me: but now I doubt whether she does or not: at least, that it is with such an ardour, as Miss Howe calls it, as will make her overlook a premeditated fault, should I be guilty of one.

And what will being sick do for thee?

Have patience. I don’t intend to be so very bad as Dorcas shall represent me to be. But yet I know I shall reach confoundedly, and bring up some clotted blood. To be sure, I shall break a vessel: there’s no doubt of that: and a bottle of Eaton’s styptic shall be sent for; but no doctor. If she has humanity, she will be concerned. But if she has love, let it have been pushed ever so far back, it will, on this occasion, come forward, and show itself; not only in her eye, but in every line of her sweet face.

I will be very intrepid. I will not fear death, or any thing else. I will be sure of being well in an hour or two, having formerly found great benefit by this astringent medicine, on occasion of an inward bruise by a fall from my horse in hunting, of which perhaps this malady may be the remains. And this will show her, that though those about me may make the most of it, I do not; and so can have no design in it.

Well, methinks thou sayest, I begin to think tolerably of this device.

I knew thou wouldst, when I explained myself. Another time prepare to wonder; and banish doubt.

Now, Belford, I shall expect, that she will show some concern at the broken vessel, as it may be attended with fatal effects, especially to one so fiery in his temper as I have the reputation to be thought to be: and the rather, as I shall calmly attribute the accident to the harasses and doubts under which I have laboured for some time past. And this will be a further proof of my love, and will demand a grateful return—

And what then, thou egregious contriver?

Why then I shall have the less remorse, if I am to use a little violence: for can she deserve compassion, who shows none?

And what if she shows a great deal of concern?

Then shall I be in hopes of building on a good foundation. Love hides a multitude of faults, and diminishes those it cannot hide. Love, when acknowledged, authorizes freedom; and freedom begets freedom; and I shall then see how far I can go.

Well but, Lovelace, how the deuce wilt thou, with that full health and vigour of constitution, and with that bloom in thy face, make any body believe thou art sick?

How!—Why, take a few grains of ipecacuanha; enough to make me reach like a fury.

Good!—But how wilt thou manage to bring up blood, and not hurt thyself?

Foolish fellow! Are there no pigeons and chickens in every poulterer’s shop?

Cry thy mercy.

But then I will be persuaded by Mrs. Sinclair, that I have of late confined myself too much; and so will have a chair called, and be carried to the Park; where I will try to walk half the length of the Mall, or so; and in my return, amuse myself at White’s or the Cocoa.

And what will this do?

Questioning again!—I am afraid thou’rt an infidel, Belford—Why then shall I not know if my beloved offers to go out in my absence?—And shall I not see whether she receives me with tenderness at my return? But this is not all: I have a foreboding that something affecting will happen while I am out. But of this more in its place.

And now, Belford, wilt thou, or wilt thou not, allow, that it is a right thing to be sick?—Lord, Jack, so much delight do I take in my contrivances, that I shall be half sorry when the occasion for them is over; for never, never, shall I again have such charming exercise for my invention.

Mean time these plaguy women are so impertinent, so full of reproaches, that I know not how to do any thing but curse them. And then, truly, they are for helping me out with some of their trite and vulgar artifices. Sally, particularly, who pretends to be a mighty contriver, has just now, in an insolent manner, told me, on my rejecting her proffered aids, that I had no mind to conquer; and that I was so wicked as to intend to marry, though I would not own it to her.

Because this little devil made her first sacrifice at my altar, she thinks she may take any liberty with me: and what makes her outrageous at times is, that I have, for a long time, studiously, as she says, slighted her too-readily-offered favours: But is it not very impudent in her to think, that I will be any man’s successor? It is not come to that neither. This, thou knowest, was always my rule—Once any other man’s, and I know it, and never more mine. It is for such as thou, and thy brethren, to take up with harlots. I have been always aiming at the merit of a first discoverer.

The more devil I, perhaps thou wilt say, to endeavour to corrupt the uncorrupted.

But I say, not; since, hence, I have but very few adulteries to answer for.

One affair, indeed, at Paris, with a married lady [I believe I never told thee of it] touched my conscience a little: yet brought on by the spirit of intrigue, more than by sheer wickedness. I’ll give it thee in brief:

’A French marquis, somewhat in years, employed by his court in a public function at that of Madrid, had put his charming young new-married wife under the controul and wardship, as I may say, of his insolent sister, an old prude.

’I saw the lady at the opera. I liked her at first sight, and better at second, when I knew the situation she was in. So, pretending to make my addresses to the prude, got admittance to both.

’The first thing I had to do, was to compliment the prude into shyness by complaints of shyness: next, to take advantage of the marquise’s situation, between her husband’s jealousy and his sister’s arrogance; and to inspire her with resentment; and, as I hoped, with a regard to my person. The French ladies have no dislike to intrigue.

’The sister began to suspect me: the lady had no mind to part with the company of the only man who had been permitted to visit her; and told me of her sister’s suspicions. I put her upon concealing the prude, as if unknown to me, in a closet in one of her own apartments, locking her in, and putting the key in her own pocket: and she was to question me on the sincerity of my professions to her sister, in her sister’s hearing.

’She complied. My mistress was locked up. The lady and I took our seats. I owned fervent love, and made high professions: for the marquise put it home to me. The prude was delighted with what she heard.

’And how dost thou think it ended?—I took my advantage of the lady herself, who durst not for her life cry out; and drew her after me to the next apartment, on pretence of going to seek her sister, who all the time was locked up in the closet.’

No woman ever gave me a private meeting for nothing; my dearest Miss Harlowe excepted.

’My ingenuity obtained my pardon: the lady being unable to forbear laughing throughout the whole affair, to find both so uncommonly tricked; her gaoleress her prisoner, safe locked up, and as much pleased as either of us.’

The English, Jack, do not often out-wit the French.

’We had contrivances afterwards equally ingenious, in which the lady, the ice once broken [once subdued, always subdued] co-operated. But a more tender tell-tale revealed the secret—revealed it, before the marquise could cover the disgrace. The sister was inveterate; the husband irreconcilable; in every respect unfit for a husband, even for a French one—made, perhaps, more delicate to these particulars by the customs of a people among whom he was then resident, so contrary to those of his own countrymen. She was obliged to throw herself into my protection—nor thought herself unhappy in it, till childbed pangs seized her: then penitence, and death, overtook her the same hour!’

Excuse a tear, Belford!—She deserved a better fate! What hath such a vile inexorable husband to answer for!—The sister was punished effectually—that pleases me on reflection—the sister effectually punished!—But perhaps I have told thee this story before.

END OF VOL.4