Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XIII


Mercury, as the fabulist tells us, having the curiosity to know the estimation he stood in among mortals, descended in disguise, and in a statuary’s shop cheapened a Jupiter, then a Juno, then one, then another, of the dii majores; and, at last, asked, What price that same statue of Mercury bore? O Sir, says the artist, buy one of the others, and I’ll throw you in that for nothing.

How sheepish must the god of thieves look upon this rebuff to his vanity!

So thou! a thousand pounds wouldst thou give for the good opinion of this single lady—to be only thought tolerably of, and not quite unworthy of her conversation, would make thee happy. And at parting last night, or rather this morning, thou madest me promise a few lines to Edgware, to let thee know what she thinks of thee, and of thy brethren.

Thy thousand pounds, Jack, is all thy own: for most heartily does she dislike ye all—thee as much as any of the rest.

I am sorry for it too, as to thy part; for two reasons—one, that I think thy motive for thy curiosity was fear of consciousness: whereas that of the arch-thief was vanity, intolerable vanity: and he was therefore justly sent away with a blush upon his cheeks to heaven, and could not brag—the other, that I am afraid, if she dislikes thee, she dislikes me: for are we not birds of a feather?

I must never talk of reformation, she told me, having such companions, and taking such delight, as I seemed to take, in their frothy conversation.

I, no more than you, Jack, imagined she could possibly like ye: but then, as my friends, I thought a person of her education would have been more sparing of her censures.

I don’t know how it is, Belford; but women think themselves entitled to take any freedoms with us; while we are unpolite, forsooth, and I can’t tell what, if we don’t tell a pack of cursed lies, and make black white, in their favour—teaching us to be hypocrites, yet stigmatizing us, at other times, for deceivers.

I defended ye all as well as I could: but you know there was no attempting aught but a palliative defence, to one of her principles.

I will summarily give thee a few of my pleas.

’To the pure, every little deviation seemed offensive: yet I saw not, that there was any thing amiss the whole evening, either in the words or behaviour of any of my friends. Some people could talk but upon one or two subjects: she upon every one: no wonder, therefore, they talked to what they understood best; and to mere objects of sense. Had she honoured us with more of her conversation, she would have been less disgusted with ours; for she saw how every one was prepared to admire her, whenever she opened her lips. You, in particular, had said, when she retired, that virtue itself spoke when she spoke, but that you had such an awe upon you, after she had favoured us with an observation or two on a subject started, that you should ever be afraid in her company to be found most exceptionable, when you intended to be least so.’

Plainly, she said, she neither liked my companions nor the house she was in.

I liked not the house any more than she: though the people were very obliging, and she had owned they were less exceptionable to herself than at first: And were we not about another of our own?

She did not like Miss Partington—let her fortune be what it would, and she had heard a great deal said of her fortune, she should not choose an intimacy with her. She thought it was a hardship to be put upon such a difficulty as she was put upon the preceding night, when there were lodgers in the front-house, whom they had reason to be freer with, than, upon so short an acquaintance, with her.

I pretended to be an utter stranger as to this particular; and, when she explained herself upon it, condemned Mrs. Sinclair’s request, and called it a confident one.

She, artfully, made lighter of her denial of the girl for a bedfellow, than she thought of it, I could see that; for it was plain, she supposed there was room for me to think she had been either over-nice, or over- cautious.

I offered to resent Mrs. Sinclair’s freedom.

No; there was no great matter in it. It was best to let it pass. It might be thought more particular in her to deny such a request, than in Mrs. Sinclair to make it, or in Miss Partington to expect it to be complied with. But as the people below had a large acquaintance, she did not know how often she might indeed have her retirements invaded, if she gave way. And indeed there were levities in the behaviour of that young lady, which she could not so far pass over as to wish an intimacy with her.

I said, I liked Miss Partington as little as she could. Miss Partington was a silly young creature; who seemed to justify the watchfulness of her guardians over her.—But nevertheless, as to her own, that I thought the girl (for girl she was, as to discretion) not exceptionable; only carrying herself like a free good-natured creature who believed herself secure in the honour of her company.

It was very well said of me, she replied: but if that young lady were so well satisfied with her company, she must needs say, that I was very kind to suppose her such an innocent—for her own part, she had seen nothing of the London world: but thought, she must tell me plainly, that she never was in such company in her life; nor ever again wished to be in such.

There, Belford!—Worse off than Mercury!—Art thou not?

I was nettled. Hard would be the lot of more discreet women, as far as I knew, that Miss Partington, were they to be judged by so rigid a virtue as hers.

Not so, she said: but if I really saw nothing exceptionable to a virtuous mind, in that young person’s behaviour, my ignorance of better behaviour was, she must needs tell me, as pitiable as hers: and it were to be wished, that minds so paired, for their own sakes should never be separated.

See, Jack, what I get by my charity!

I thanked her heartily. But said, that I must take the liberty to observe, that good folks were generally so uncharitable, that, devil take me, if I would choose to be good, were the consequence to be that I must think hardly of the whole world besides.

She congratulated me upon my charity; but told me, that to enlarge her own, she hoped it would not be expected of her to approve of the low company I had brought her into last night.

No exception for thee, Belford!—Safe is thy thousand pounds.

I saw not, I said, begging her pardon, that she liked any body.—[Plain dealing for plain dealing, Jack!—Why then did she abuse my friends?] However, let me but know whom and what she did or did not like; and, if possible, I would like and dislike the very same persons and things.

She bid me then, in a pet, dislike myself.

Cursed severe!—Does she think she must not pay for it one day, or one night?—And if one, many; that’s my comfort.

I was in such a train of being happy, I said, before my earnestness to procure her to favour my friends with her company, that I wished the devil had had as well my friends as Miss Partington—and yet, I must say, that I saw not how good people could answer half their end, which is to reform the wicked by precept as well as example, were they to accompany only with the good.

I had the like to have been blasted by two or three flashes of lightning from her indignant eyes; and she turned scornfully from me, and retired to her own apartment.

Once more, Jack, safe, as thou seest, is thy thousand pounds.

She says, I am not a polite man. But is she, in the instance before us, more polite for a woman?

And now, dost thou not think that I owe my charmer some revenge for her cruelty in obliging such a fine young creature, and so vast a fortune, as Miss Partington, to crowd into a press-bed with Dorcas the maid-servant of the proud refuser?—Miss Partington too (with tears) declared, by Mrs. Sinclair, that would Mrs. Lovelace do her the honour of a visit at Barnet, the best bed and best room in her guardian’s house should be at her service. Thinkest thou that I could not guess at her dishonourable fears of me?—that she apprehended, that the supposed husband would endeavour to take possession of his own?—and that Miss Partington would be willing to contribute to such a piece of justice?

Thus, then, thou both remindest, and defiest me, charmer!—And since thou reliest more on thy own precaution than upon my honour; be it unto thee, fair one, as thou apprehendest.

And now, Jack, let me know, what thy opinion, and the opinions of thy brother varlets, are of my Gloriana.

I have just now heard, that Hannah hopes to be soon well enough to attend her young lady, when in London. It seems the girl has had no physician. I must send her one, out of pure love and respect to her mistress. Who knows but medicine may weaken nature, and strengthen the disease?—As her malady is not a fever, very likely it may do so.—But perhaps the wench’s hopes are too forward. Blustering weather in this month yet.—And that is bad for rheumatic complaints.