Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XL

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.

And now will I favour thee with a brief account of our present situation.

From the highest to the lowest we are all extremely happy.—Dorcas stands well in her lady’s graces. Polly has asked her advice in relation to a courtship-affair of her own. No oracle ever gave better. Sally has had a quarrel with her woollen-draper; and made my charmer lady-chancellor in it. She blamed Sally for behaving tyrannically to a man who loves her. Dear creature! to stand against a glass, and to shut her eyes because she will not see her face in it!—Mrs. Sinclair has paid her court to so unerring a judge, by requesting her advice with regard to both nieces.

This the way we have been in for several days with the people below. Yet sola generally at her meals, and seldom at other times in their company. They now, used to her ways, [perseverance must conquer,] never press her; so when they meet, all is civility on both sides. Even married people, I believe, Jack, prevent abundance of quarrels, by seeing one another but seldom.

But how stands it between thyself and the lady, methinks thou askest, since her abrupt departure from thee, and undutiful repulse of Wednesday morning?

Why, pretty well in the main. Nay, very well. For why? the dear saucy- face knows not how to help herself. Can fly to no other protection. And has, besides, overheard a conversation [who would have thought she had been so near?] which passed between Mrs. Sinclair, Miss Martin, and myself, that very Wednesday afternoon; which has set her heart at ease with respect to several doubtful points.

Such as, particularly, ’Mrs. Fretchville’s unhappy state of mind—most humanely pitied by Miss Martin, who knows her very well—the husband she has lost, and herself, (as Sally says,) lovers from their cradles. Pity from one begets pity from another, be the occasion for it either strong or weak; and so many circumstances were given to poor Mrs. Fretchville’s distress, that it was impossible but my beloved must extremely pity her whom the less tender-hearted Miss Martin greatly pitied.

’My Lord M.’s gout his only hindrance from visiting my spouse. Lady Betty and Miss Montague soon expected in town.

’My earnest desire signified to have my spouse receive those ladies in her own house, if Mrs. Fretchville would but know her own mind; and I pathetically lamented the delay occasioned by her not knowing it.

’My intention to stay at Mrs. Sinclair’s, as I said I had told them before, while my spouse resides in her own house, (when Mrs. Fretchville could be brought to quit it,) in order to gratify her utmost punctilio.

’My passion for my beloved (which, as I told them in a high and fervent accent, was the truest that man could have for woman) I boasted of. It was, in short, I said, of the true platonic kind; or I had no notion of what platonic love was.’

So it is, Jack; and must end as platonic love generally does end.

’Sally and Mrs. Sinclair next praised, but not grossly, my beloved. Sally particularly admired her purity; called it exemplary; yet (to avoid suspicion) expressed her thoughts that she was rather over-nice, if she might presume to say so before me. But nevertheless she applauded me for the strict observation I made of my vow.

’I more freely blamed her reserves to me; called her cruel; inveighed against her relations; doubted her love. Every favour I asked of her denied me. Yet my behaviour to her as pure and delicate when alone, as when before them. Hinted at something that had passed between us that very day, that shewed her indifference to me in so strong a light, that I could not bear it. But that I would ask her for her company to the play of Venice Preserved, given out for Sunday night as a benefit-play; the prime actors to be in it; and this, to see if I were to be denied every favour.—Yet, for my own part, I loved not tragedies; though she did, for the sake of the instruction, the warning, and the example generally given in them.

’I had too much feeling, I said. There was enough in the world to make our hearts sad, without carrying grief in our diversions, and making the distresses of others our own.’

True enough, Belford; and I believe, generally speaking, that all the men of our cast are of my mind—They love not any tragedies but those in which they themselves act the parts of tyrants and executioners; and, afraid to trust themselves with serious and solemn reflections, run to comedies, in order to laugh away compunction on the distresses they have occasioned, and to find examples of men as immoral as themselves. For very few of our comic performances, as thou knowest, give us good ones.— I answer, however, for myself—yet thou, I think, on recollection, lovest to deal in the lamentable.

Sally answered for Polly, who was absent; Mrs. Sinclair for herself, and for all her acquaintance, even for Miss Partington, in preferring the comic to the tragic scenes.—And I believe they are right; for the devil’s in it, if a confided-in rake does not give a girl enough of tragedy in his comedy.

’I asked Sally to oblige my fair-one with her company. She was engaged, [that was right, thou’lt suppose]. I asked Mrs. Sinclair’s leave for Polly. To be sure, she answered, Polly would think it an honour to attend Mrs. Lovelace: but the poor thing was tender-hearted; and as the tragedy was deep, would weep herself blind.

’Sally, meantime, objected Singleton, that I might answer the objection, and save my beloved the trouble of making it, or debating the point with me; and on this occasion I regretted that her brother’s projects were not laid aside; since, if they had been given up, I would have gone in person to bring up the ladies of my family to attend my spouse.

’I then, from a letter just before received from one in her father’s family, warned them of a person who had undertaken to find us out, and whom I thus in writing [having called for pen and ink] described, that they might arm all the family against him—”A sun-burnt, pock-fretten sailor, ill-looking, big-boned; his stature about six foot; an heavy eye, an overhanging brow, a deck-treading stride in his walk; a couteau generally by his side; lips parched from his gums, as if by staring at the sun in hot climates; a brown coat; a coloured handkerchief about his neck; an oaken plant in his hand near as long as himself, and proportionately thick.”

’No questions asked by this fellow must be answered. They should call me to him. But not let my beloved know a tittle of this, so long as it could be helped. And I added, that if her brother or Singleton came, and if they behaved civilly, I would, for her sake, be civil to them: and in this case, she had nothing to do but to own her marriage, and there could be no pretence for violence on either side. But most fervently I swore, that if she was conveyed away, either by persuasion or force, I would directly, on missing her but one day, go to demand her at Harlowe-place, whether she were there or not; and if I recovered not a sister, I would have a brother; and should find out a captain of a ship as well as he.’

And now, Jack, dost thou think she’ll attempt to get from me, do what I will?

’Mrs. Sinclair began to be afraid of mischief in her house—I was apprehensive that she would over-do the matter, and be out of character. I therefore winked at her. She primed; nodded, to show she took me; twanged out a high-ho through her nose, lapped one horse-lip over the other, and was silent.’

Here’s preparation, Belford!—Dost think I will throw it all away for any thing thou canst say, or Lord M. write?—No, indeed—as my charmer says, when she bridles.

***

And what must necessarily be the consequence of all this with regard to my beloved’s behaviour to me? Canst thou doubt, that it was all complaisance next time she admitted me into her presence?

Thursday we were very happy. All the morning extremely happy. I kissed her charming hand.—I need not describe to thee her hand and arm. When thou sawest her, I took notice that thy eyes dwelt upon them whenever thou couldst spare them from that beauty spot of wonders, her face—fifty times kissed her hand, I believe—once her cheek, intending her lip, but so rapturously, that she could not help seeming angry.

Had she not thus kept me at arms-length; had she not denied me those innocent liberties which our sex, from step to step, aspire to; could I but have gained access to her in her hours of heedlessness and dishabille, [for full dress creates dignity, augments consciousness, and compels distance;] we had familiarized to each other long ago. But keep her up ever so late, meet her ever so early, by breakfast-time she is dressed for the day, and at her earliest hour, as nice as others dressed. All her forms thus kept up, wonder not that I have made so little progress in the proposed trial.—But how must all this distance stimulate!

Thursday morning, as I said, we were extremely happy—about noon, she numbered the hours she had been with me; all of them to be but as one minute; and desired to be left to herself. I was loth to comply: but observing the sun-shine began to shut in, I yielded.

I dined out. Returning, I talked of the house, and of Mrs. Fretchville— had seen Mennell—had pressed him to get the widow to quit: she pitied Mrs. Fretchville [another good effect of the overheard conversation]—had written to Lord M., expected an answer soon from him. I was admitted to sup with her. I urged for her approbation or correction of my written terms. She again promised an answer as soon as she had heard from Miss Howe.

Then I pressed for her company to the play on Saturday night. She made objections, as I had foreseen: her brother’s projects, warmth of the weather, &c. But in such a manner, as if half afraid to disoblige me [another happy effect of the overheard conversation]. I soon got over these, therefore; and she consented to favour me.

Friday passed as the day before.

Here were two happy days to both. Why cannot I make every day equally happy? It looks as if it were in my power to do so. Strange, I should thus delight in teasing a woman I so dearly love! I must, I doubt, have something in my temper like Miss Howe, who loves to plague the man who puts himself in her power.—But I could not do thus by such an angel as this, did I not believe that, after her probation time shall be expired, and if she be not to be brought to cohabitation, (my darling view,) I shall reward her as she wishes.

Saturday is half over. We are equally happy—preparing for the play. Polly has offered her company, and is accepted. I have directed her where to weep: and this not only to show her humanity, [a weeping eye indicates a gentle heart,] but to have a pretence to hide her face with a fan or handkerchief.—Yet Polly is far from being every man’s girl; and we shall sit in the gallery green-box.

The woes of others, so well represented as those of Belvidera particularly will be, must, I hope, unlock and open my charmer’s heart. Whenever I have been able to prevail upon a girl to permit me to attend her to a play, I have thought myself sure of her. The female heart (all gentleness and harmony by nature) expands, and forgets its forms, when its attention is carried out of itself at an agreeable or affecting entertainment—music, and perhaps a collation afterwards, co-operating.

Indeed, I have no hope of such an effect here; but I have more than one end to answer by getting her to a play. To name but one.—Dorcas has a master-key, as I have told thee.—But it were worth while to carry her to the play of Venice Preserved, were it but to show her, that there have been, and may be, much deeper distresses than she can possibly know.

Thus exceedingly happy are we at present. I hope we shall not find any of Nat. Lee’s left-handed gods at work, to dash our bowl of joy with wormwood.

R. LOVELACE.