Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLII


But this subject must not be pursued. Another might, with more pleasure, (though not with more approbation,) upon one of your lively excursions. It is upon the high airs you give yourself upon the word approve.

How comes it about, I wonder, that a young lady so noted for predominating generosity, should not be uniformly generous? That your generosity should fail in an instance where policy, prudence, gratitude, would not permit it to fail? Mr. Hickman (as you confess) had indeed a worthy mind. If I had not long ago known that, he would never have found an advocate in me for my Anna Howe’s favour to him. Often and often have I been concerned, when I was your happy guest, to see him, after a conversation, in which he had well supported his part in your absence, sink at once into silence the moment you came into company.

I have told you of this before: and I believe I hinted to you once, that the superciliousness you put on only to him, was capable of a construction, which at the time would have very little gratified your pride to have had made; since it would have been as much in his favour, as in your disfavour.

Mr. Hickman, my dear, is a modest man. I never see a modest man, but I am sure (if he has not wanted opportunities) that he has a treasure in his mind, which requires nothing but the key of encouragement to unlock it, to make him shine—while a confident man, who, to be confident, must think as meanly of his company as highly of himself, enters with magisterial airs upon any subject; and, depending upon his assurance to bring himself off when found out, talks of more than he is master of.

But a modest man!—O my dear, shall not a modest woman distinguish and wish to consort with a modest man?—A man, before whom, and to whom she may open her lips secure of his good opinion of all she says, and of his just and polite regard for her judgment? and who must therefore inspire her with an agreeable self-confidence.

What a lot have I drawn!—We are all indeed apt to turn teachers—but, surely, I am better enabled to talk, to write, upon these subjects, than ever I was. But I will banish myself, if possible, from an address which, when I began to write, I was determined to confine wholly to your own particular.

My dearest, dearest friend, how ready are you to tell us what others should do, and even what a mother should have done! But indeed you once, I remember, advanced, that, as different attainments required different talents to master them, so, in the writing way, a person might not be a bad critic upon the works of others, although he might himself be unable to write with excellence. But will you permit me to account for all this readiness of finding fault, by placing it to human nature, which, being sensible of the defects of human nature, (that is to say, of its own defects,) loves to be correcting? But in exercising that talent, chooses rather to turn its eye outward than inward? In other words, to employ itself rather in the out-door search, than in the in-door examination.

And here give me leave to add, (and yet it is with tender reluctance,) that although you say very pretty things of notable wives; and although I join with you in opinion, that husbands may have as many inconveniencies to encounter with, as conveniencies to boast of, from women, of that character; yet Lady Hartley perhaps would have had milder treatment from your pen, had it not been dipped in gall with a mother in your eye.

As to the money, you so generously and repeatedly offer, don’t be angry with me, if I again say, that I am very desirous that you should be able to aver, without the least qualifying or reserve, that nothing of that sort has passed between us. I know your mother’s strong way of putting the question she is intent upon having answered. But yet I promise that I will be obliged to nobody but you, when I have occasion.