Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLIII


And now, my dear, a few words, as to the prohibition laid upon you; a subject that I have frequently touched upon, but cursorily, because I was afraid to trust myself with it, knowing that my judgment, if I did, would condemn my practice.

You command me not to attempt to dissuade you from this correspondence; and you tell me how kindly Mr. Hickman approves of it; and how obliging he is to me, to permit it to be carried on under cover to him—but this does not quite satisfy me.

I am a very bad casuist; and the pleasure I take in writing to you, who are the only one to whom I can disburden my mind, may make me, as I have hinted, very partial to my own wishes: else, if it were not an artful evasion beneath an open and frank heart to wish to be complied with, I would be glad methinks to be permitted still to write to you; and only to have such occasional returns by Mr. Hickman’s pen, as well as cover, as might set me right when I am wrong; confirm me, when right, and guide me where I doubt. This would enable me to proceed in the difficult path before me with more assuredness. For whatever I suffer from the censure of others, if I can preserve your good opinion, I shall not be altogether unhappy, let what will befall me.

And indeed, my dear, I know not how to forbear writing. I have now no other employment or diversion. And I must write on, although I were not to send it to any body. You have often heard me own the advantages I have found from writing down every thing of moment that befalls me; and of all I think, and of all I do, that may be of future use to me; for, besides that this helps to form one to a style, and opens and expands the ductile mind, every one will find that many a good thought evaporates in thinking; many a good resolution goes off, driven out of memory perhaps by some other not so good. But when I set down what I will do, or what I have done, on this or that occasion; the resolution or action is before me either to be adhered to, withdrawn, or amended; and I have entered into compact with myself, as I may say; having given it under my own hand to improve, rather than to go backward, as I live longer.

I would willingly, therefore, write to you, if I might; the rather as it would be the more inspiriting to have some end in view in what I write; some friend to please; besides merely seeking to gratify my passion for scribbling.

But why, if your mother will permit our correspondence on communicating to her all that passes in it, and if she would condescend to one only condition, may it not be complied with?

Would she not, do you think, my dear, be prevailed upon to have the communication made to her, in confidence?

If there were any prospect of a reconciliation with my friends, I should not have so much regard for my pride, as to be afraid of any body’s knowing how much I have been outwitted as you call it. I would in that case (when I had left Mr. Lovelace) acquaint your mother, and all my own friends, with the whole of my story. It would behove me so to do, for my own reputation, and for their satisfaction.

But, if I have no such prospect, what will the communication of my reluctance to go away with Mr. Lovelace, and of his arts to frighten me away, avail me? Your mother has hinted, that my friends would insist upon my returning home to them (as a proof of the truth of my plea) to be disposed of, without condition, at their pleasure. If I scrupled this, my brother would rather triumph over me, than keep my secret. Mr. Lovelace, whose pride already so ill brooks my regrets for meeting him, (when he thinks, if I had not, I must have been Mr. Solmes’s wife,) would perhaps treat me with indignity: and thus, deprived of all refuge and protection, I should become the scoff of men of intrigue; a disgrace to my sex—while that avowed love, however indiscreetly shown, which is followed by marriage, will find more excuses made for it, than generally it ought to find.

But, if your mother will receive the communication in confidence, pray shew her all that I have written, or shall write. If my past conduct in that case shall not be found to deserve heavy blame, I shall then perhaps have the benefit of her advice, as well as yours. And if, after a re-establishment in her favour, I shall wilfully deserve blame for the time to come, I will be content to be denied yours as well as hers for ever.

As to cramping my spirit, as you call it, (were I to sit down to write what I know your mother must see,) that, my dear, is already cramped. And do not think so unhandsomely of your mother, as to fear that she would make partial constructions against me. Neither you nor I can doubt, but that, had she been left unprepossessedly to herself, she would have shown favour to me. And so, I dare say, would my uncle Antony. Nay, my dear, I can extend my charity still farther: for I am sometimes of opinion, that were my brother and sister absolutely certain that they had so far ruined me in the opinion of both my uncles, as that they need not be apprehensive of my clashing with their interests, they would not oppose a pardon, although they might not wish a reconciliation; especially if I would make a few sacrifices to them: which, I assure you, I should be inclined to make were I wholly free, and independent on this man. You know I never valued myself upon worldly acquisitions, but as they enlarged my power to do things I loved to do. And if I were denied the power, I must, as I now do, curb my inclination.

Do not however think me guilty of an affectation in what I have said of my brother and sister. Severe enough I am sure it is, in the most favourable sense. And an indifferent person will be of opinion, that they are much better warranted than ever, for the sake of the family honour, to seek to ruin me in the favour of all my friends.

But to the former topic—try, my dear, if your mother will, upon the condition above given, permit our correspondence, on seeing all we write. But if she will not, what a selfishness would there be in my love to you, were I to wish you to forego your duty for my sake?

And now, one word, as to the freedom I have treated you with in this tedious expostulatory address. I presume upon your forgiveness of it, because few friendships are founded on such a basis as ours: which is, ’freely to give reproof, and thankfully to receive it as occasions arise; that so either may have opportunity to clear up mistakes, to acknowledge and amend errors, as well in behaviour as in words and deeds; and to rectify and confirm each other in the judgment each shall form upon persons, things, and circumstances.’ And all this upon the following consideration; ’that it is much more eligible, as well as honourable, to be corrected with the gentleness that may be expected from an undoubted friend, than, by continuing either blind or wilful, to expose ourselves to the censures of an envious and perhaps malignant world.’

But it is as needless, I dare say, to remind you of this, as it is to repeat my request, so often repeated, that you will not, in your turn, spare the follies and the faults of

Your ever affectionate CL. HARLOWE.


I said, that I would avoid writing any thing of my own particular affairs in the above address, if I could.

I will write one letter more, to inform you how I stand with this man. But, my dear, you must permit that one, and your answer to it (for I want your advice upon the contents of mine) and the copy of one I have written to my aunt, to be the last that shall pass between us, while the prohibition continues.

I fear, I very much fear, that my unhappy situation will draw me in to being guilty of evasion, of little affectations, and of curvings from the plain simple truth which I was wont to delight in, and prefer to every other consideration. But allow me to say, and this for your sake, and in order to lessen your mother’s fears of any ill consequences that she might apprehend from our correspondence, that if I am at any time guilty of a failure in these respects, I will not go on in it, but endeavour to recover my lost ground, that I may not bring error into habit.

I have deferred going to town, at Mrs. Sorlings’s earnest request. But have fixed my removal to Monday, as I shall acquaint you in my next.

I have already made a progress in that next; but, having an unexpected opportunity, will send this by itself.