Clarissa Harlowe LETTER VIII


And now it is time to confess (and yet I know that thy conjectures are aforehand with my exposition) that this Captain Tomlinson, who is so great a favourite with my charmer, and who takes so much delight in healing breaches, and reconciling differences, is neither a greater man nor a less than honest Patrick M’Donald, attended by a discarded footman of his own finding out.

Thou knowest what a various-lifed rascal he is; and to what better hopes born and educated. But that ingenious knack of forgery, for which he was expelled the Dublin-University, and a detection since in evidenceship, have been his ruin. For these have thrown him from one country to another; and at last, into the way of life, which would make him a fit husband for Miss Howe’s Townsend with her contrabands. He is, thou knowest, admirably qualified for any enterprize that requires adroitness and solemnity. And can there, after all, be a higher piece of justice, than to keep one smuggler in readiness to play against another?

’Well, but, Lovelace, (methinks thou questionest,) how camest thou to venture upon such a contrivance as this, when, as thou hast told me, the Lady used to be a month at a time at this uncle’s; and must therefore, in all probability, know, that there was not a Captain Tomlinson in all the neighbourhood, at least no one of the name so intimate with him as this man pretends to be?’

This objection, Jack, is so natural a one, that I could not help observing to my charmer, that she must surely have heard her uncle speak of this gentleman. No, she said, she never had. Besides she had not been at her uncle Harlowe’s for near ten months [this I had heard from her before]: and there were several gentlemen who used the same green, whom she knew not.

We are all very ready, thou knowest, to believe what she likes.

And what was the reason, thinkest thou, that she had not been of so long a time at this uncle’s?—Why, this old sinner, who imagines himself entitled to call me to account for my freedoms with the sex, has lately fallen into familiarities, as it is suspected, with his housekeeper; who assumes airs upon it.—A cursed deluding sex!—In youth, middle age, or dotage, they take us all in.

Dost thou not see, however, that this housekeeper knows nothing, nor is to know any thing, of the treaty of reconciliation designed to be set on foot; and therefore the uncle always comes to the Captain, the Captain goes not to the uncle? And this I surmised to the lady. And then it was a natural suggestion, that the Captain was the rather applied to, as he is a stranger to the rest of the family—Need I tell thee the meaning of all this?

But this intrigue of the antient is a piece of private history, the truth of which my beloved cares not to own, and indeed affects to disbelieve: as she does also some puisny gallantries of her foolish brother; which, by way of recrimination, I have hinted at, without naming my informant in their family.

’Well but, methinks, thou questionest again, Is it not probable that Miss Howe will make inquiry after such a man as Tomlinson?—And when she cannot—’

I know what thou wouldst say—but I have no doubt, that Wilson will be so good, if I desire it, as to give into my own hands any letter that may be brought by Collins to his house, for a week to come. And now I hope thou art satisfied.

I will conclude with a short story.

’Two neighbouring sovereigns were at war together, about some pitiful chuck-farthing thing or other; no matter what; for the least trifles will set princes and children at loggerheads. Their armies had been drawn up in battalia some days, and the news of a decisive action was expected every hour to arrive at each court. At last, issue was joined; a bloody battle was fought; and a fellow who had been a spectator of it, arriving, with the news of a complete victory, at the capital of one of the princes some time before the appointed couriers, the bells were set a ringing, bonfires and illuminations were made, and the people went to bed intoxicated with joy and good liquor. But the next day all was reversed: The victorious enemy, pursuing his advantage, was expected every hour at the gates of the almost defenceless capital. The first reporter was hereupon sought for, and found; and being questioned, pleaded a great deal of merit, in that he had, in so dismal a situation, taken such a space of time from the distress of his fellow-citizens, and given it to festivity, as were the hours between the false good news and the real bad.’

Do thou, Belford, make the application. This I know, that I have given greater joy to my beloved, than she had thought would so soon fall to her share. And as the human life is properly said to be chequerwork, no doubt but a person of her prudence will make the best of it, and set off so much good against so much bad, in order to strike as just a balance as possible.

[The Lady, in three several letters, acquaints her friend with the most material passages and conversations contained in those of Mr. Lovelace’s preceding. These are her words, on relating what the commission of the pretended Tomlinson was, after the apprehensions that his distant inquiry had given her:]

At last, my dear, all these doubts and fears were cleared up, and banished; and, in their place, a delightful prospect was opened to me. For it comes happily out, (but at present it must be an absolute secret, for reasons which I shall mention in the sequel,) that the gentleman was sent by my uncle Harlowe [I thought he could not be angry with me for ever]: all owing to the conversation that passed between your good Mr. Hickman and him. For although Mr. Hickman’s application was too harshly rejected at the time, my uncle could not but think better of it afterwards, and of the arguments that worthy gentleman used in my favour.

Who, upon a passionate repulse, would despair of having a reasonable request granted?—Who would not, by gentleness and condescension, endeavour to leave favourable impressions upon an angry mind; which, when it comes cooly to reflect, may induce it to work itself into a condescending temper? To request a favour, as I have often said, is one thing; to challenge it as our due, is another. And what right has a petitioner to be angry at a repulse, if he has not a right to demand what he sues for as a debt?

[She describes Captain Tomlinson, on his breakfast-visit, to be, a grave, good sort of man. And in another place, a genteel man of great gravity, and a good aspect; she believes upwards of fifty years of age. ’I liked him, says she, as soon as I saw him.’

As her projects are now, she says, more favourable than heretofore, she wishes, that her hopes of Mr. Lovelace’s so-often-promised reformation were better grounded than she is afraid they can be.]

We have both been extremely puzzled, my dear, says she, to reconcile some parts of Mr. Lovelace’s character with other parts of it: his good with his bad; such of the former, in particular, as his generosity to his tenants; his bounty to the innkeeper’s daughter; his readiness to put me upon doing kind things by my good Norton, and others.

A strange mixture in his mind, as I have told him! for he is certainly (as I have reason to say, looking back upon his past behaviour to me in twenty instances) a hard-hearted man.—Indeed, my dear, I have thought more than once, that he had rather see me in tears than give me reason to be pleased with him.

My cousin Morden says, that free livers are remorseless.* And so they must be in the very nature of things.

* See Vol. IV. Letter XIX. See also Mr. Lovelace’s own confession of the delight he takes in a woman’s tears, in different parts of his letters.

Mr. Lovelace is a proud man. We have both long ago observed that he is. And I am truly afraid, that his very generosity is more owing to his pride and his vanity, that that philanthropy (shall I call it?) which distinguishes a beneficent mind.

Money he values not, but as a mean to support his pride and his independence. And it is easy, as I have often thought, for a person to part with a secondary appetite, when, by so doing, he can promote or gratify a first.

I am afraid, my dear, that there must have been some fault in his education. His natural bias was not, perhaps (as his power was likely to be large) to do good and beneficent actions; but not, I doubt, from proper motives.

If he had, his generosity would not have stopt at pride, but would have struck into humanity; and then would he not have contented himself with doing praiseworthy things by fits and starts, or, as if relying on the doctrine of merits, he hoped by a good action to atone for a bad one;* but he would have been uniformly noble, and done the good for its own sake.

* That the Lady judges rightly of him in this place, see Vol. I. Letter XXXIV. where, giving the motive for his generosity to his Rosebud, he says—’As I make it my rule, whenever I have committed a very capital enormity, to do some good by way of atonement; and as I believe I am a pretty deal indebted on that score; I intend to join an hundred pounds to Johnny’s aunt’s hundred pounds, to make one innocent couple happy.’— Besides which motive, he had a further view in answer in that instance of his generosity; as may be seen in Vol. II. Letters XXVI. XXVII. XXVIII. See also the note, Vol. II. pp. 170, 171.

To show the consistence of his actions, as they now appear, with his views and principles, as he lays them down in his first letters, it may be not amiss to refer the reader to his letters, Vol. I. No. XXXIV. XXXV.

See also Vol. I. Letter XXX.—and Letter XL. for Clarissa’s early opinion of Mr. Lovelace.—Whence the coldness and indifference to him, which he so repeatedly accuses her of, will be accounted for, more to her glory, than to his honour.

O my dear! what a lot have I drawn! pride, this poor man’s virtue; and revenge, his other predominating quality!—This one consolation, however, remains:—He is not an infidel, and unbeliever: had he been an infidel, there would have been no room at all for hope of him; (but priding himself, as he does, in his fertile invention) he would have been utterly abandoned, irreclaimable, and a savage.

[When she comes to relate those occasions, which Mr. Lovelace in his narrative acknowledges himself to be affected by, she thus expresses herself:]

He endeavoured, as once before, to conceal his emotion. But why, my dear, should these men (for Mr. Lovelace is not singular in this) think themselves above giving these beautiful proofs of a feeling heart? Were it in my power again to choose, or to refuse, I would reject the man with contempt, who sought to suppress, or offered to deny, the power of being visibly affected upon proper occasions, as either a savage-hearted creature, or as one who was so ignorant of the principal glory of the human nature, as to place his pride in a barbarous insensibility.

These lines translated from Juvenal by Mr. Tate, I have been often pleased with:

Compassion proper to mankind appears:

Which Nature witness’d, when she lent us tears.

Of tender sentiments we only give

These proofs: To weep is our prerogative:

To show by pitying looks, and melting eyes,

How with a suff’ring friend we sympathise.

Who can all sense of other ills escape,

Is but a brute at best, in human shape.

It cannot but yield me some pleasure, hardly as I have sometimes thought of the people of the house, that such a good man as Captain Tomlinson had spoken well of them, upon inquiry.

And here I stop a minute, my dear, to receive, in fancy, your kind congratulation.

My next, I hope, will confirm my present, and open still more agreeable prospects. Mean time be assured, that there cannot possibly any good fortune befal me, which I shall look upon with equal delight to that I have in your friendship.

My thankful compliments to your good Mr. Hickman, to whose kind invention I am so much obliged on this occasion, conclude me, my dearest Miss Howe,

Your ever affectionate and grateful CL. HARLOWE.