Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LX


Fate is weaving a whimsical web for thy friend; and I see not but I shall be inevitably manacled.

Here have I been at work, dig, dig, dig, like a cunning miner, at one time, and spreading my snares, like an artful fowler, at another, and exulting in my contrivances to get this inimitable creature, absolutely into my power. Every thing made for me. Her brother and uncles were but my pioneers: her father stormed as I directed him to storm: Mrs. Howe was acted by the springs I set at work; her daughter was moving for me, yet imagined herself plumb against me: and the dear creature herself had already run her stubborn neck into my gin, and knew not that she was caught, for I had not drawn my springs close about her—And just as all this was completed, wouldst thou believe, that I should be my own enemy, and her friend? That I should be so totally diverted from all my favourite purposes, as to propose to marry her before I went to town, in order to put it out of my own power to resume them.

When thou knowest this, wilt thou not think that my black angel plays me booty, and has taken it into his head to urge me on to the indissoluble tie, that he might be more sure of me (from the complex transgressions to which he will certainly stimulate me, when wedded) than perhaps he thought he could be from the simple sins, in which I have so long allowed myself, that they seem to have the plea of habit?

Thou wilt be still the more surprised, when I tell thee, that there seems to be a coalition going forward between the black angels and the white ones; for here has her’s induced her, in one hour, and by one retrograde accident, to acknowledge what the charming creature never before acknowledged, a preferable favour for me. She even avows an intention to be mine.—Mine! without reformation-conditions!—She permits me to talk of love to her!—of the irrevocable ceremony!—Yet, another extraordinary! postpones that ceremony; chooses to set out for London; and even to go to the widow’s in town.

Well, but how comes all this about? methinks thou askest.—Thou, Lovelace, dealest in wonders, yet aimest not at the marvellous!—How did all this come about?

I will tell thee—I was in danger of losing my charmer for ever! She was soaring upward to her native skies! She was got above earth, by means too, of the earth-born! And something extraordinary was to be done to keep her with us sublunaries. And what so effectually as the soothing voice of Love, and the attracting offer of matrimony from a man not hated, can fix the attention of the maiden heart, aching with uncertainty, and before impatient of the questionable question?

This, in short, was the case: while she was refusing all manner of obligation to me, keeping me at haughty distance, in hopes that her cousin Morden’s arrival would soon fix her in a full and absolute independence of me—disgusted, likewise, at her adorer, for holding himself the reins of his own passions, instead of giving them up to her controul—she writes a letter, urging an answer to a letter before sent, for her apparel, her jewels, and some gold, which she had left behind her; all which was to save her pride from obligation, and to promote the independence her heart was set upon. And what followed but a shocking answer, made still more shocking by the communication of a father’s curse, upon a daughter deserving only blessings?—A curse upon the curser’s heart, and a double one upon the transmitter’s, the spiteful the envious Arabella!

Absent when it came—on my return I found her recovering from fits, again to fall into stronger fits; and nobody expecting her life; half a dozen messengers dispatched to find me out. Nor wonder at her being so affected; she, whose filial piety gave her dreadful faith in a father’s curses; and the curse of this gloomy tyrant extending (to use her own words, when she could speak) to both worlds—O that it had turned, in the moment of its utterance, to a mortal quinsy, and, sticking in his gullet, had choked the old execrator, as a warning to all such unnatural fathers!

What a miscreant had I been, not to have endeavoured to bring her back, by all the endearments, by all the vows, by all the offers, that I could make her!

I did bring her back. More than a father to her: for I have given her a life her unnatural father had well-nigh taken away: Shall I not cherish the fruits of my own benefaction? I was earnest in my vows to marry, and my ardour to urge the present time was a real ardour. But extreme dejection, with a mingled delicacy, that in her dying moments I doubt not she will preserve, have caused her to refuse me the time, though not the solemnity; for she has told me, that now she must be wholly in my protection [being destitute of every other!] More indebted, still, thy friend, as thou seest, to her cruel relations, than to herself, for her favour!

She has written to Miss Howe an account of their barbarity! but has not acquainted her how very ill she was.

Low, very low, she remains; yet, dreading her stupid brother’s enterprise, she wants to be in London, where, but for this accident, and (wouldst thou have believed it?) for my persuasions, seeing her so very ill, she would have been this night; and we shall actually set out on Wednesday morning, if she be not worse.

And now for a few words with thee, on the heavy preachment of Saturday last.

Thou art apprehensive, that the lady is now truly in danger; and it is a miracle, thou tellest me, if she withstand such an attempter!—’Knowing what we know of the sex, thou sayest, thou shouldst dread, wert thou me, to make further trial, lest thou shouldst succeed.’ And, in another place, tellest me, ’That thou pleadest not for the state for any favour thou hast for it.’

What an advocate art thou for matrimony—!

Thou wert ever an unhappy fellow at argument. Does the trite stuff with which the rest of thy letter abounds, in favour of wedlock, strike with the force that this which I have transcribed does against it?

Thou takest great pains to convince me, and that from the distresses the lady is reduced to (chiefly by her friend’s persecutions and implacableness, I hope thou wilt own, and not from me, as yet) that the proposed trial will not be a fair trial. But let me ask thee, Is not calamity the test of virtue? And wouldst thou not have me value this charming creature upon proof of her merits?—Do I not intend to reward her by marriage, if she stand that proof?

But why repeat I what I have said before?—Turn back, thou egregious arguer, turn back to my long letter of the 13th,* and thou wilt there find every syllable of what thou hast written either answered or invalidated.

* See Letter XVIII. of this volume.

But I am not angry with thee, Jack. I love opposition. As gold is tried by fire, and virtue by temptation, so is sterling wit by opposition. Have I not, before thou settest out as an advocate for my fair-one, often brought thee in, as making objections to my proceedings, for no other reason than to exalt myself by proving thee a man of straw? As Homer raises up many of his champions, and gives them terrible names, only to have them knocked on the head by his heroes.

However, take to thee this one piece of advice—Evermore be sure of being in the right, when thou presumest to sit down to correct thy master.

And another, if thou wilt—Never offer to invalidate the force which a virtuous education ought to have in the sex, by endeavouring to find excuses for their frailty from the frailty of ours. For, are we not devils to each other?—They tempt us—we tempt them. Because we men cannot resist temptation, is that a reason that women ought not, when the whole of their education is caution and warning against our attempts? Do not their grandmothers give them one easy rule—Men are to ask—Women are to deny?

Well, but to return to my principal subject; let me observe, that, be my future resolutions what they will, as to this lady, the contents of the violent letter she has received have set me at least a month forward with her. I can now, as I hinted, talk of love and marriage, without controul or restriction; her injunctions no more my terror.

In this sweetly familiar way shall we set out together for London. Mrs. Sorlings’s eldest daughter, at my motion, is to attend her in the chaise, while I ride by way of escort: for she is extremely apprehensive of the Singleton plot; and has engaged me to be all patience, if any thing should happen on the road. But nothing I am sure will happen: for, by a letter received just now from Joseph, I understand, that James Harlowe has already laid aside his stupid project: and this by the earnest desire of all those of his friends to whom he had communicated it; who were afraid of the consequences that might attend it. But it is not over with me, however; although I am not determined at present as to the uses I may make of it.

My beloved tells me, she shall have her clothes sent her. She hopes also her jewels, and some gold, which she left behind her: but Joseph says, clothes only will be sent. I will not, however, tell her that: on the contrary, I say, there is no doubt but they will send all she wrote for. The greater her disappointment from them, the greater must be her dependence on me.

But, after all, I hope I shall be enabled to be honest to a merit so transcendent. The devil take thee, though, for thy opinion, given so mal-a-propos, that she may be overcome.

If thou designest to be honest, methinkst thou sayest, Why should not Singleton’s plot be over with thee, as it is with her brother?

Because (if I must answer thee) where people are so modestly doubtful of what they are able to do, it is good to leave a loop-hole. And, let me add, that when a man’s heart is set upon a point, and any thing occurs to beat him off, he will find it very difficult, when the suspending reason ceases, to forbear resuming it.