Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLI

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE FRIDAY, MAY 19.

I would not, if I could help it, be so continually brooding over the dark and gloomy face of my condition [all nature, you know, my dear, and every thing in it, has a bright and a gloomy side] as to be thought unable to enjoy a more hopeful prospect. And this, not only for my own sake, but for yours, who take such generous concern in all that befalls me.

Let me tell you then, my dear, that I have known four-and-twenty hours together not unhappy ones, my situation considered.

[She then gives the particulars of the conversation which she had

overheard between Mr. Lovelace, Mrs. Sinclair, and Miss Martin; but

accounts more minutely than he had done for the opportunity she had of

overhearing it, unknown to them.

She gives the reasons she has to be pleased with what she heard from

each: but is shocked at the measure he is resolved to take, if he

misses her but for one day. Yet is pleased that he proposes to avoid

aggressive violence, if her brother and he meet in town.]

Even Dorcas, says she, appears less exceptionable to me than before; and I cannot but pity her for her neglected education, as it is matter of so much regret to herself: else, there would not be much in it; as the low and illiterate are the most useful people in the common-wealth (since such constitute the labouring part of the public); and as a lettered education but too generally sets people above those servile offices by which the businesses of the world is carried on. Nor have I any doubt but there are, take the world through, twenty happy people among the unlettered, to one among those who have had a school-education.

This, however, concludes not against learning or letters; since one would wish to lift to some little distinction, and more genteel usefulness, those who have capacity, and whose parentage one respects, or whose services one would wish to reward.

Were my mind quite at ease, I could enlarge, perhaps not unusefully, upon this subject; for I have considered it with as much attention as my years, and little experience and observation, will permit.

But the extreme illiterateness and indocility of this maid are surprising, considering that she wants not inquisitiveness, appears willing to learn, and, in other respects, has quick parts. This confirms to me what I have heard remarked, That there is a docible season, a learning-time, as I may say, for every person, in which the mind may be led, step by step, from the lower to the higher, (year by year,) to improvement. How industriously ought these seasons, as they offer, to be taken hold of by tutors, parents, and other friends, to whom the cultivation of the genius of children and youth is committed; since, once elapsed, and no foundation laid, they hardly ever return!—And yet it must be confessed, that there are some geniuses, which, like some fruits, ripen not till late. And industry and perseverance will do prodigious things—but for a learner to have those first rudiments to master at twenty years of age, suppose, which others are taught, and they themselves might have attained, at ten, what an uphill labour!

These kind of observations you have always wished me to intersperse, as they arise to my thoughts. But it is a sign that my prospects are a little mended, or I should not, among so many more interesting ones that my mind has been of late filled with, have had heart’s ease enough to make them.

Let me give you my reflections on my more hopeful prospects.

I am now, in the first place, better able to account for the delays about the house than I was before—Poor Mrs. Fretchville!—Though I know her not, I pity her!—Next, it looks well, that he had apprized the women (before this conversation with them), of his intention to stay in this house, after I was removed to the other. By the tone of his voice he seemed concerned for the appearance of this new delay would have with me.

So handsomely did Miss Martin express herself of me, that I am sorry, methinks, that I judged so hardly of her, when I first came hither—free people may go a great way, but not all the way: and as such are generally unguarded, precipitate, and thoughtless, the same quickness, changeableness, and suddenness of spirit, as I may call it, may intervene (if the heart be not corrupted) to recover them to thought and duty.

His reason for declining to go in person to bring up the ladies of his family, while my brother and Singleton continue their machinations, carries no bad face with it; and one may the rather allow for their expectations, that so proud a spirit as his should attend them for this purpose, as he speaks of them sometimes as persons of punctilio.

Other reasons I will mention for my being easier in my mind than I was before I overheard this conversation.

Such as, the advice he had received in relation to Singleton’s mate; which agrees but too well with what you, my dear, wrote to me in your’s of May the 10th.*

* See Letter XXIII. of this volume.

His not intending to acquaint me with it.

His cautions to the servants about the sailor, if he should come and make inquiries about us.

His resolution to avoid violence, were he to fall in either with my brother, or this Singleton; and the easy method he has chalked out, in this case, to prevent mischief; since I need only not to deny my being his. But yet I should be driven into such a tacit acknowledgement to any new persons, till I am so, although I have been led (so much against my liking) to give countenance to the belief of the persons below that we are married.

I think myself obliged, from what passed between Mr. Lovelace and me on Wednesday, and from what I overheard him say, to consent to go with him to the play; and the rather, as he had the discretion to propose one of the nieces to accompany me.

I cannot but acknowledge that I am pleased to find that he has actually written to Lord M.

I have promised to give Mr. Lovelace an answer to his proposals as soon as I have heard from you, my dear, on the subject.

I hope that in my next letter I shall have reason to confirm these favourable appearances. Favourable I must think them in the wreck I have suffered.

I hope, that in the trial which you hint may happen between me and myself, (as you* express it,) if he should so behave as to oblige me to leave him, I shall be able to act in such a manner as to bring no discredit upon myself in your eye; and that is all now that I have to wish for. But, if I value him so much as you are pleased to suppose I do, the trial, which you imagine will be so difficult to me, will not, I conceive, be upon getting from him, when the means to affect my escape are lent me; but how I shall behave when got from him; and if, like the Israelites of old, I shall be so weak as to wish to return to my Egyptian bondage.

* See Letter XXXIV. of this volume.

I think it will not be amiss, notwithstanding the present favourable appearances, that you should perfect the scheme (whatever it be) which you tell me* you have thought of, in order to procure for me an asylum, in case of necessity. Mr. Lovelace is certainly a deep and dangerous man; and it is therefore but prudence to be watchful, and to be provided against the worst. Lord bless me, my dear, how I am reduced!—Could I ever have thought to be in such a situation, as to be obliged to stay with a man, of whose honour by me I could have but the shadow of a doubt! —But I will look forward, and hope the best.

* Ibid.

I am certain that your letters are safe. Be perfectly easy, therefore, on that head.

Mr. Lovelace will never be out of my company by his good will, otherwise I have no doubt that I am mistress of my goings-out and comings-in; and did I think it needful, and were I not afraid of my brother and Captain Singleton, I would oftener put it to trial.