Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XIV


Difficulties still to be got over in procuring this plaguy license. I ever hated, and ever shall hate, these spiritual lawyers, and their court.

And now, Jack, if I have not secured victory, I have a retreat.

But hold—thy servant with a letter—


A confounded long one, though not a narrative one—Once more in behalf of this lady?—Lie thee down, oddity! What canst thou write that can have force upon me at this crisis?—And have I not, as I went along, made thee to say all that was necessary for thee to say?


Yet once more I will take thee up.

Trite, stale, poor, (sayest thou,) are some of my contrivances; that of the widow particularly!—I have no patience with thee. Had not that contrivance its effect at that time, for a procrastination? and had I not then reason to fear, that the lady would find enough to make her dislike this house? and was it not right (intending what I intended) to lead her on from time to time with a notion that a house of her own would be ready for her soon, in order to induce her to continue here till it was?

Trite, stale, and poor!—Thou art a silly fellow, and no judge, when thou sayest this. Had I not, like a blockhead, revealed to thee, as I went along, the secret purposes of my heart, but had kept all in till the event had explained my mysteries, I would have defied thee to have been able, any more than the lady, to have guessed at what was to befall her, till it had actually come to pass. Nor doubt I, in this case, that, instead of presuming to reflect upon her for credulity, as loving me to her misfortune, and for hoping against probability, thou wouldest have been readier, by far, to censure her for nicety and over-scrupulousness. And, let me tell thee, that had she loved me as I wished her to love me, she could not possibly have been so very apprehensive of my designs, nor so ready to be influenced by Miss Howe’s precautions, as she has always been, although my general character made not for me with her.

But, in thy opinion, I suffer for that simplicity in my contrivances, which is their principal excellence. No machinery make I necessary. No unnatural flights aim I at. All pure nature, taking advantage of nature, as nature tends; and so simple my devices, that when they are known, thou, even thou, imaginest thou couldest have thought of the same. And indeed thou seemest to own, that the slight thou puttest upon them is owing to my letting thee into them before-hand—undistingushing as well as ungrateful as thou art!

Yet, after all, I would not have thee think that I do not know my weak places. I have formerly told thee, that it is difficult for the ablest general to say what he will do, or what he can do, when he is obliged to regulate his motions by those of a watchful enemy.* If thou givest due weight to this consideration, thou wilt not wonder that I should make many marches and countermarches, some of which may appear, to a slight observer, unnecessary.

* See Vol. III. Letter XXXIX.

But let me cursorily enter into debate with thee on this subject, now I am within sight of my journey’s end.

Abundance of impertinent things thou tellest me in this letter; some of which thou hadst from myself; others that I knew before.

All that thou sayest in this charming creature’s praise is short of what I have said and written on the inexhaustible subject.

Her virtue, her resistance, which are her merits, are my stimulatives. have I not told thee so twenty times over?

Devil, as these girls between them call me, what of devil am I, but in my contrivances? I am not more a devil than others in the end I aim at; for when I have carried my point, it is still but one seduction. And I have perhaps been spared the guilt of many seductions in the time.

What of uncommon would there be in this case, but for her watchfulness!—As well as I love intrigue and stratagem, dost think that I had not rather have gained my end with less trouble and less guilt?

The man, let me tell thee, who is as wicked as he can be, is a worse man than I am. Let me ask any rake in England, if, resolving to carry his point, he would have been so long about it? or have had so much compunction as I have had?

Were every rake, nay, were every man, to sit down, as I do, and write all that enters into his head, or into his heart, and to accuse himself with equal freedom and truth, what an army of miscreants should I have to keep me in countenance!

It is a maxim with some, that if they are left alone with a woman, and make not an attempt upon her, she will think herself affronted—Are not such men as these worse than I am? What an opinion must they have of the whole sex!

Let me defend the sex I so dearly love. If these elder brethren of ours think they have general reason for their assertion, they must have kept very bad company, or must judge of women’s hearts by their own. She must be an abandoned woman, who will not shrink as a snail into its shell at a gross and sudden attempt. A modest woman must be naturally cold, reserved, and shy. She cannot be so much and so soon affected as libertines are apt to imagine. She must, at least, have some confidence in the honour and silence of a man, before desire can possibly put forth in her, to encourage and meet his flame. For my own part, I have been always decent in the company of women, till I was sure of them. Nor have I ever offered a great offence, till I have found little ones passed over; and that they shunned me not, when they knew my character.

My divine Clarissa has puzzled me, and beat me out of my play: at one time, I hope to overcome by intimidating her; at another, by love; by the amorous see-saw, as I have called it.* And I have only now to join surprise to the other two, and see what can be done by all three.

* See Vol. III. Letter XVI.

And whose property, I pray thee, shall I invade, if I pursue my schemes of love and vengeance? Have not those who have a right to her renounced that right? Have they not wilfully exposed her to dangers? Yet must know, that such a woman would be considered as lawful prize by as many as could have the opportunity to attempt her?—And had they not thus cruelly exposed her, is she not a single woman? And need I tell thee, Jack, that men of our cast, the best of them [the worst stick at nothing] think it a great grace and favour done to the married men, if they leave them their wives to themselves; and compound for their sisters, daughters, wards and nieces? Shocking as these principles must be to a reflecting mind, yet such thou knowest are the principles of thousands (who would not act so generously as I have acted by almost all of the sex, over whom I have obtained a power); and as often carried into practice, as their opportunities or courage will permit.—Such therefore have no right to blame me.

Thou repeatedly pleadest her sufferings from her family. But I have too often answered this plea, to need to say any more now, than that she has not suffered for my sake. For has she not been made the victim of the malice of her rapacious brother and envious sister, who only waited for an occasion to ruin her with her other relations; and took this as the first to drive her out of the house; and, as it happened, into my arms?— Thou knowest how much against her inclination.

As for her own sins, how many has the dear creature to answer for to love and to me!—Twenty times, and twenty times twenty, has she not told me, that she refused not the odious Solmes in favour to me? And as often has she not offered to renounce me for the single life, if the implacables would have received her on that condition?—Of what repetitions does thy weak pity make me guilty?

To look a litter farther back: Canst thou forget what my sufferings were from this haughty beauty in the whole time of my attendance upon her proud motions, in the purlieus of Harlowe-place, and at the little White Hart, at Neale, as we called it?—Did I not threaten vengeance upon her then (and had I not reason?) for disappointing me of a promised interview?

O Jack! what a night had I in the bleak coppice adjoining to her father’s paddock! My linen and wig frozen; my limbs absolutely numbed; my fingers only sensible of so much warmth as enabled me to hold a pen; and that obtained by rubbing the skin off, and by beating with my hands my shivering sides! Kneeling on the hoar moss on one knee, writing on the other, if the stiff scrawl could be called writing! My feet, by the time I had done, seeming to have taken root, and actually unable to support me for some minutes!—Love and rage then kept my heart in motion, [and only love and rage could do it,] or how much more than I did suffer must I have suffered!

I told thee, at my melancholy return, what were the contents of the letter I wrote.* And I showed thee afterwards her tyrannical answer to it.** Thou, then, Jack, lovedst thy friend; and pitiedst thy poor suffering Lovelace. Even the affronted God of Love approved then of my threatened vengeance against the fair promiser; though of the night of my sufferings, he is become an advocate for her.

* See Vol. II. Letter XX. ** Ibid.

Nay, was it not he himself that brought to me my adorable Nemesis; and both together put me upon this very vow, ’That I would never rest till I had drawn in this goddess-daughter of the Harlowes to cohabit with me; and that in the face of all their proud family?’

Nor canst thou forget this vow. At this instant I have thee before me, as then thou sorrowfully lookedst. Thy strong features glowing with compassion for me; thy lips twisted; thy forehead furrowed; thy whole face drawn out from the stupid round into the ghastly oval; every muscle contributing its power to complete the aspect grievous; and not one word couldst thou utter, but Amen! to my vow.

And what of distinguishing love, or favour, or confidence, have I had from her since, to make me forego this vow!

I renewed it not, indeed, afterwards; and actually, for a long season, was willing to forget it; till repetitions of the same faults revived the remembrance of the former. And now adding to those the contents of some of Miss Howe’s virulent letters, so lately come at, what canst thou say for the rebel, consistent with thy loyalty to thy friend?

Every man to his genius and constitution. Hannibal was called The father of warlike stratagems. Had Hannibal been a private man, and turned his plotting head against the other sex; or had I been a general, and, turned mine against such of my fellow-creatures of my own, as I thought myself entitled to consider as my enemies, because they were born and lived in a different climate; Hannibal would have done less mischief; Lovelace more.—That would have been the difference.

Not a sovereign on earth, if he be not a good man, and if he be of a warlike temper, but must do a thousand times more mischief than I. And why? Because he has it in his power to do more.

An honest man, perhaps thou’lt say, will not wish to have it in his power to do hurt. He ought not, let me tell him: for, if he have it, a thousand to one but it makes him both wanton and wicked.

In what, then, am I so singularly vile?

In my contrivances thou wilt say, (for thou art my echo,) if not in my proposed end of them.

How difficult does every man find it, as well as I, to forego a predominant passion! I have three passions that sway me by turns; all imperial ones—love, revenge, ambition or a desire of conquest.

As to this particular contrivance of Tomlinson and the uncle, which perhaps thou wilt think a black one; that had been spared, had not these innocent ladies put me upon finding a husband for their Mrs. Townsend: that device, therefore, is but a preventive one. Thinkest thou that I could bear to be outwitted? And may not this very contrivance save a world of mischief? for dost thou think I would have tamely given up the lady to Townsend’s tars?

What meanest thou, except to overthrow thy own plea, when thou sayest, that men of our cast know no other bound to their wickedness, but want of power; yet knowest this lady to be in mine?

Enough, sayest thou, have I tried this paragon of virtue. Not so; for I have not tried her at all—all I have been doing is but preparation to a trial.

But thou art concerned for the means that I may have recourse to in the trial, and for my veracity.

Silly fellow!—Did ever any man, thinkest thou, deceive a woman, but at the expense of his veracity; how, otherwise, can he be said to deceive?

As to the means, thou dost not imagine that I expect a direct consent. My main hope is but in a yielding reluctance; without which I will be sworn, whatever rapes have been attempted, none ever were committed, one person to one person. And good Queen Bess of England, had she been living, and appealed to, would have declared herself of my mind.

It would not be amiss for the sex to know what our opinions are upon this subject. I love to warn them. I wish no man to succeed with them but myself. I told thee once, that though a rake, I am not a rake’s friend.*

* See Vol. III. Letter XVIII.

Thou sayest, that I ever hated wedlock. And true thou sayest. And yet as true, when thou tellest me, that I would rather marry than lose this lady. And will she detest me for ever, thinkest thou, if I try her, and succeed not?—Take care—take care, Jack!—Seest thou not that thou warnest me that I do not try without resolving to conquer?

I must add, that I have for some time been convinced that I have done wrong to scribble to thee so freely as I have done (and the more so, if I make the lady legally mine); for has not every letter I have written to thee been a bill of indictment against myself? I may partly curse my vanity for it; and I think I will refrain for the future; for thou art really very impertinent.

A good man, I own, might urge many of the things thou urgest; but, by my soul, they come very awkwardly from thee. And thou must be sensible, that I can answer every tittle of what you writest, upon the foot of the maxims we have long held and pursued.—By the specimen above, thou wilt see that I can.

And pr’ythee tell me, Jack, what but this that follows would have been the epitome of mine and my beloved’s story, after ten years’ cohabitation, had I never written to thee upon the subject, and had I not been my own accuser?

’Robert Lovelace, a notorious woman-eater, makes his addresses in an honourable way to Miss Clarissa Harlowe; a young lady of the highest merit—fortunes on both sides out of the question.

’After encouragement given, he is insulted by her violent brother; who thinks it his interest to discountenance the match; and who at last challenging him, is obliged to take his worthless life at his hands.

’The family, as much enraged, as if he had taken the life he gave, insult him personally, and find out an odious lover for the young lady.

’To avoid a forced marriage, she is prevailed upon to take a step which throws her into Mr. Lovelace’s protection.

’Yet, disclaiming any passion for him, she repeatedly offers to renounce him for ever, if, on that condition, her relations will receive her, and free her from the address of the man she hates.

’Mr. Lovelace, a man of strong passions, and, as some say, of great pride, thinks himself under very little obligation to her on this account; and not being naturally fond of marriage, and having so much reason to hate her relations, endeavours to prevail upon her to live with him what he calls the life of honour; and at last, by stratagem, art, and contrivance, prevails.

’He resolves never to marry any other woman: takes a pride to have her called by his name: a church-rite all the difference between them: treats her with deserved tenderness. Nobody questions their marriage but those proud relations of her’s, whom he wishes to question it. Every year a charming boy. Fortunes to support the increasing family with splendor. A tender father. Always a warm friend; a generous landlord; and a punctual paymaster. Now-and-then however, perhaps, indulging with a new object, in order to bring him back with greater delight to his charming Clarissa—his only fault, love of the sex—which, nevertheless, the women say, will cure itself—defensible thus far, that he breaks no contracts by his rovings.’—

And what is there so very greatly amiss, AS THE WORLD GOES, in all this?

Let me aver, that there are thousands and ten thousands, who have worse stories to tell than this would appear to be, had I not interested thee in the progress to my great end. And besides, thou knowest that the character I gave myself to Joseph Leman, as to my treatment of my mistress, is pretty near the truth.*

* See Vol. III. Letter XLVIII.

Were I to be as much in earnest in my defence, as thou art warm in my arraignment, I could convince thee, by other arguments, observations, and comparisons, [Is not all human good and evil comparative?] that though from my ingenuous temper (writing only to thee, who art master of every secret of my heart) I am so ready to accuse myself in my narrations, yet I have something to say for myself to myself, as I go along; though no one else, perhaps, that was not a rake, would allow any weight to it.— And this caution might I give to thousands, who would stoop for a stone to throw at me: ’See that your own predominant passions, whatever they be, hurry you not into as much wickedness as mine do me. See, if ye happen to be better than I in some things, that ye are not worse in others; and in points too, that may be of more extensive bad consequence, than that of seducing a girl, (and taking care of her afterwards,) who, from her cradle, is armed with cautions against the delusions of men.’ And yet I am not so partial to my own follies as to think lightly of this fault, when I allow myself to think.

Another grave thing I will add, now my hand is in: ’So dearly do I love the sex, that had I found that a character for virtue had been generally necessary to recommend me to them, I should have had a much greater regard to my morals, as to the sex, than I have had.’

To sum all up—I am sufficiently apprized, that men of worthy and honest hearts, who never allowed themselves in premeditated evil, and who take into the account the excellencies of this fine creature, will and must not only condemn, but abhor me, were they to know as much of me as thou dost. But, methinks, I would be glad to escape the censure of those men, and of those women too, who have never known what capital trials and temptations are; of those who have no genius for enterprise; of those who want rather courage than will; and most particularly of those who have only kept their secret better than I have kept, or wish to keep, mine. Were those exceptions to take place, perhaps, Jack, I should have ten to acquit to one that should condemn me. Have I not often said, that human nature is a rogue?


I threatened above to refrain writing to thee. But take it not to heart, Jack—I must write on, and cannot help it.