Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLIV

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ. SUNDAY, MAY 21.

I am too much disturbed in my mind to think of any thing but revenge; or I did intend to give thee an account of Miss Harlowe’s observations on the play. Miss Harlowe’s I say. Thou knowest that I hate the name of Harlowe; and I am exceedingly out of humour with her, and with her saucy friend.

What’s the matter now? thou’lt ask.

Matter enough; for while we were at the play, Dorcas, who had her orders, and a key to her lady’s chamber, as well as a master-key to her drawers and mahogany chest, closet-key and all, found means to come at some of Miss Howe’s last-written letters. The vigilant wench was directed to them by seeing her lady take a letter out of her stays, and put it to the others, before she went out with me—afraid, as the women upbraidingly tell me, that I should find it there.

Dorcas no sooner found them, than she assembled three ready writers of the non-apparents; and Sally, and she, and they employed themselves with the utmost diligence, in making extracts, according to former directions, from these cursed letters, for my use. Cursed, may I well call them— Such abuses!—Such virulence!—O this little fury Miss Howe!—Well might her saucy friend (who has been equally free with me, or the occasion could not have been given) be so violent as she lately was, at my endeavouring to come at one of these letters.

I was sure, that this fair-one, at so early an age, with a constitution so firm, health so blooming, eyes so sparkling, expectations therefore so lively, and hope so predominating, could not be absolutely, and from her own vigilance, so guarded, and so apprehensive, as I have found her to be.

Sparkling eyes, Jack, when the poetical tribe have said all they can for them, are an infallible sign of a rogue, or room for a rogue, in the heart.

Thou mayest go on with thy preachments, and Lord M. with his wisdom of nations, I am now more assured of her than ever. And now my revenge is up, and joined with my love, all resistance must fall before it. And most solemnly do I swear, that Miss Howe shall come in for her snack.

And here, just now, is another letter brought from the same little virulent devil. I hope to procure scripts from that too, very speedily, if it be put to the test; for the saucy fair-one is resolved to go to church this morning; no so much from a spirit of devotion, I have reason to think, as to try whether she can go out without check, controul, or my attention.

***

I have been denied breakfasting with her. Indeed she was a little displeased with me last night: because, on our return from the play, I obliged her to pass the rest of the night with the women and me, in their parlour, and to stay till near one. She told me at parting, that she expected to have the whole next day to herself. I had not read the extracts then; so I had resolved to begin a new course, and, if possible, to banish all jealousy and suspicion from her heart: and yet I had no reason to be much troubled at her past suspicions; since, if a woman will continue with a man whom she suspects, when she can get from him, or thinks she can, I am sure it is a very hopeful sign.

***

She is gone. Slipt down before I was aware. She had ordered a chair, on purpose to exclude my personal attendance. But I had taken proper precautions. Will. attended her by consent; Peter, the house-servant, was within Will.’s call.

I had, by Dorcas, represented her danger from Singleton, in order to dissuade her from going at all, unless she allowed me to attend her; but I was answered, with her usual saucy smartness, that if there were no cause of fear of being met with at the playhouse, when there were but two playhouses, surely there was less at church, when there were so many churches. The chairmen were ordered to carry her to St. James’s Church.

But she would not be so careless of obliging me, if she knew what I have already come at, and how the women urge me on; for they are continually complaining of the restraint they lie under in their behaviour; in their attendance; neglecting all their concerns in the front house; and keeping this elegant back one entirely free from company, that she may have no suspicion of them. They doubt not my generosity, they say: But why for my own sake, in Lord M.’s style, should I make so long a harvest of so little corn?

Women, ye reason well. I think I will begin my operations the moment she comes in.

***

I have come at the letter brought her from Miss Howe to-day. Plot, conjuration, sorcery, witchcraft, all going forward! I shall not be able to see this Miss Harlowe with patience. As the nymphs below ask, so do I, Why is night necessary? And Sally and Polly upbraidingly remind me of my first attempts upon themselves. Yet force answers not my end—and yet it may, if there be truth in that part of the libertine’s creed, That once subdued, is always subdued! And what woman answers affirmatively to the question?

***

She is returned: But refuses to admit me: and insists upon having the day to herself. Dorcas tells me, that she believes her denial is from motives of piety.—Oons, Jack, is there impiety in seeing me?—Would it not be the highest act of piety to reclaim me? And is this to be done by her refusing to see me when she is in a devouter frame than usual?—But I hate her, hate her heartily! She is old, ugly, and deformed.—But O the blasphemy! yet she is a Harlowe: and I do and can hate her for that.

But since I must not see her, [she will be mistress of her own will, and of her time, truly!] let me fill up my time, by telling thee what I have come at.

The first letter the women met with, is dated April 27.* Where can she have put the preceding ones!—It mentions Mr. Hickman as a busy fellow between them. Hickman had best take care of himself. She says in it, ’I hope you have no cause to repent returning my Norris—it is forthcoming on demand.’ Now, what the devil can this mean!—Her Norris forthcoming on demand!—the devil take me, if I am out-Norris’d!—If such innocents can allow themselves to plot (to Norris), well may I.

* See Vol. IV. Letter II.

She is sorry, that ’her Hannah can’t be with her.’—And what if she could?—What could Hannah do for her in such a house as this?

’The women in the house are to be found out in one breakfasting.’ The women are enraged at both the correspondents for this; and more than ever make a point of my subduing her. I had a good mind to give Miss Howe to them in full property. Say but the word, Jack, and it shall be done.

’She is glad that Miss Harlowe had thoughts of taking me at my word. She wondered I did not offer again.’ Advises her, if I don’t soon, ’not to stay with me.’ Cautions her, ’to keep me at a distance; not to permit the least familiarity.’—See, Jack! see Belford!—Exactly as I thought!— Her vigilance all owing to a cool friend; who can sit down quietly, and give that advice, which in her own case she could not take. What an encouragement to me to proceed in my devices, when I have reason to think that my beloved’s reserves are owing more to Miss Howe’s cautions than to her own inclinations! But ’it is my interest to be honest,’ Miss Howe tells her.—INTEREST, fools!—I thought these girls knew, that my interest was ever subservient to my pleasure.

What would I give to come at the copies of the letters to which those of Miss Howe are answers!

The next letter is dated May 3.* In this the little termagant expresses her astonishment, that her mother should write to Miss Harlowe, to forbid her to correspond with her daughter. Mr. Hickman, she says, is of opinion, ’that she ought not to obey her mother.’ How the creeping fellow trims between both! I am afraid, that I must punish him, as well as this virago; and I have a scheme rumbling in my head, that wants but half an hour’s musing to bring into form, that will do my business upon both. I cannot bear, that the parental authority should be thus despised, thus trampled under foot. But observe the vixen, ’’Tis well he is of her opinion; for her mother having set her up, she must have somebody to quarrel with.’—Could a Lovelace have allowed himself a greater license? This girl’s a devilish rake in her heart. Had she been a man, and one of us, she’d have outdone us all in enterprise and spirit.

* See Vol. IV. Letter X.

’She wants but very little farther provocation,’ she says, ’to fly privately to London. And if she does, she will not leave her till she sees her either honourably married, or quit of the wretch.’ Here, Jack, the transcriber Sally has added a prayer—’For the Lord’s sake, dear Mr. Lovealce, get this fury to London!’—Her fate, I can tell thee, Jack, if we had her among us, should not be so long deciding as her friend’s. What a gantelope would she run, when I had done with her, among a dozen of her own pitiless sex, whom my charmer shall never see!—But more of this anon.

I find by this letter, that my saucy captive has been drawing the characters of every varlet of ye. Nor am I spared in it more than you. ’The man’s a fool, to be sure, my dear.’ Let me perish, if they either of them find me one!—’A silly fellow, at least.’ Cursed contemptible!— ’I see not but they are a set of infernals!’ There’s one for thee, Lovelace! and yet she would have her friend marry a Beelzebub.—And what have any of us done, (within the knowledge of Miss Harlowe,) that she should give such an account of us, as should excuse so much abuse from Miss Howe!—But the occasion that shall warrant this abuse is to come!

She blames her, for ’not admitting Miss Partington to her bed—watchful, as you are, what could have happened?—If violence were intended, he would not stay for the night.’ I am ashamed to have this hinted to me by this virago. Sally writes upon this hint—’See, Sir, what is expected from you. An hundred, and an hundred times have we told you of this.’— And so they have. But to be sure, the advice from them was not half the efficacy as it will be from Miss Howe.—’You might have sat up after her, or not gone to bed,’ proceeds she.

But can there be such apprehensions between them, yet the one advise her to stay, and the other resolve to wait my imperial motion for marriage? I am glad I know that.

She approves of my proposal of Mrs. Fretchville’s house. She puts her upon expecting settlements; upon naming a day: and concludes with insisting upon her writing, notwithstanding her mother’s prohibitions; or bids her ’take the consequence.’ Undutiful wretches! How I long to vindicate against them both the insulted parental character!

Thou wilt say to thyself, by this time, And can this proud and insolent girl be the same Miss Howe, who sighed for an honest Sir George Colmar; and who, but for this her beloved friend, would have followed him in all his broken fortunes, when he was obliged to quit the kingdom?

Yes, she is the very same. And I always found in others, as well as in myself, that a first passion thoroughly subdued, made the conqueror of it a rover; the conqueress a tyrant.

Well, but now comes mincing in a letter, from one who has ’the honour of dear Miss Howe’s commands’* to acquaint Miss Harlowe, that Miss Howe is ’excessively concerned for the concern she has given her.’

* See Vol. IV. Letter XII.

’I have great temptations, on this occasion,’ says the prim Gothamite, ’to express my own resentments upon your present state.’

’My own resentments!’——And why did he not fall into this temptation? —Why, truly, because he knew not what that state was which gave him so tempting a subject—only by a conjecture, and so forth.

He then dances in his style, as he does in his gait! To be sure, to be sure, he must have made the grand tour, and come home by way of Tipperary.

’And being moreover forbid,’ says the prancer, ’to enter into the cruel subject.’—This prohibition was a mercy to thee, friend Hickman!—But why cruel subject, if thou knowest not what it is, but conjecturest only from the disturbance it gives to a girl, that is her mother’s disturbance, will be thy disturbance, and the disturbance, in turn, of every body with whom she is intimately acquainted, unless I have the humbling of her?

In another letter,* the little fury professes, ’that she will write, and that no man shall write for her,’ as if some medium of that kind had been proposed. She approves of her fair friend’s intention ’to leave me, if she can be received by her relations. I am a wretch, a foolish wretch. She hates me for my teasing ways. She has just made an acquaintance with one who knows a vast deal of my private history.’ A curse upon her, and upon her historiographer!—’The man is really a villain, an execrable one.’ Devil take her!—’Had I a dozen lives, I might have forfeited them all twenty crimes ago.’ An odd way of reckoning, Jack!

* See Letter XXIII. of this volume.

Miss Betterton, Miss Lockyer, are named—the man, (she irreverently repeats) she again calls a villain. Let me perish, I repeat, if I am called a villain for nothing!—She ’will have her uncle,’ as Miss Harlowe requests, ’sounded about receiving her. Dorcas is to be attached to her interest: my letters are to be come at by surprise or trick’—

What thinkest thou of this, Jack?

Miss Howe is alarmed at my attempt to come at a letter of hers.

’Were I to come at the knowledge of her freedoms with my character,’ she says, ’she should be afraid to stir out without a guard.’ I would advise the vixen to get her guard ready.

’I am at the head of a gang of wretches,’ [thee, Jack, and thy brother varlets, she owns she means,] ’who join together to betray innocent creatures, and to support one another in their villanies.’—What sayest thou to this, Belford?

’She wonders not at her melancholy reflections for meeting me, for being forced upon me, and tricked by me.’—I hope, Jack, thou’lt have done preaching after this!

But she comforts her, ’that she will be both a warning and an example to all her sex.’ I hope the sex will thank me for this!

The nymphs had not time, they say, to transcribe all that was worthy of my resentment in this letter: so I must find an opportunity to come at it myself. Noble rant, they say, it contains—But I am a seducer, and a hundred vile fellows, in it.—’And the devil, it seems, took possession of my heart, and of the hearts of all her friends, in the same dark hour, in order to provoke her to meet me.’ Again, ’There is a fate in her error,’ she says—Why then should she grieve?—’Adversity is her shining time,’ and I can’t tell what; yet never to thank the man to whom she owes the shine!

In the next letter,* wicked as I am, ’she fears I must be her lord and master.’

* See Letter XXIX. of this volume.

I hope so.

She retracts what she said against me in her last.—My behaviour to my Rosebud; Miss Harlowe to take possession of Mrs. Fretchville’s house; I to stay at Mrs. Sinclair’s; the stake I have in my country; my reversions; my economy; my person; my address; [something like in all this!] are brought in my favour, to induce her now not to leave me. How do I love to puzzle these long-sighted girls!

Yet ’my teasing ways,’ it seems, ’are intolerable.’—Are women only to tease, I trow? The sex may thank themselves for teaching me to out-tease them. So the headstrong Charles XII. of Sweden taught the Czar Peter to beat him, by continuing a war with the Muscovites against the ancient maxims of his kingdom.

’May eternal vengeance PURSUE the villain, [thank heaven, she does not say overtake,] if he give room to doubt his honour!’—Women can’t swear, Jack—sweet souls! they can only curse.

I am said, to doubt her love—Have I not reason? And she, to doubt my ardour—Ardour, Jack!—why, ’tis very right—women, as Miss Howe says, and as every rake knows, love ardours!

She apprizes her, of the ’ill success of the application made to her uncle.’—By Hickman no doubt!—I must have this fellow’s ears in my pocket, very quickly I believe.

She says, ’she is equally shocked and enraged against all her family: Mrs. Norton’s weight has been tried upon Mrs. Harlowe, as well as Mr. Hickman’s upon the uncle: but never were there,’ says the vixen, ’such determined brutes in the world. Her uncle concludes her ruined already.’ Is not that a call upon me, as well as a reproach?—’They all expected applications from her when in distress—but were resolved not to stir an inch to save her life.’ Miss Howe ’is concerned,’ she tells her, ’for the revenge my pride may put me upon taking for the distance she has kept me at’—and well she may.—It is now evident to her, that she must be mine (for her cousin Morden, it seems, is set against her too)—an act of necessity, of convenience!—thy friend, Jack, to be already made a woman’s convenience! Is this to be borne by a Lovelace?

I shall make great use of this letter. From Miss Howe’s hints of what passed between her uncle Harlowe and Hickman, [it must be Hickman,] I can give room for my invention to play; for she tells her, that ’she will not reveal all.’ I must endeavour to come at this letter myself. I must have the very words: extracts will not do. This letter, when I have it, must be my compass to steer by.

The fire of friendship then blazes and crackles. I never before imagined that so fervent a friendship could subsist between two sister-beauties, both toasts. But even here it may be inflamed by opposition, and by that contradiction which gives vigour to female spirits of a warm and romantic turn.

She raves about ’coming up, if by doing so she could prevent so noble a creature from stooping too low, or save her from ruin.’—One reed to support another! I think I will contrive to bring her up.

How comes it to pass, that I cannot help being pleased with this virago’s spirit, though I suffer by it? Had I her but here, I’d engage, in a week’s time, to teach her submission without reserve. What pleasure should I have in breaking such a spirit! I should wish for her but for one month, I think. She would be too tame and spiritless for me after that. How sweetly pretty to see the two lovely friends, when humbled and tame, both sitting in the darkest corner of a room, arm in arm, weeping and sobbing for each other!—and I their emperor, their then acknowledged emperor, reclined at my ease in the same room, uncertain to which I should first, grand signor like, throw out my handkerchief!

Again mind the girl: ’She is enraged at the Harlowes;’ she is ’angry at her own mother;’ she is exasperated against her foolish and low-vanity’d Lovelace.’ FOOLISH, a little toad! [God forgive me for calling such a virtuous girl a toad!]—’Let us stoop to lift the wretch out of his dirt, though we soil our fingers in doing it! He has not been guilty of direct indecency to you.’ It seems extraordinary to Miss Howe that I have not. —’Nor dare he!’ She should be sure of that. If women have such things in their heads, why should not I in my heart? Not so much of a devil as that comes to neither. Such villainous intentions would have shown themselves before now if I had them.—Lord help them!—

She then puts her friend upon urging for settlements, license, and so forth.—’No room for delicacy now,’ she says; and tells her what she shall say, ’to bring all forward from me.’ Is it not as clear to thee, Jack, as it is to me, that I should have carried my point long ago, but for this vixen?—She reproaches her for having MODESTY’D away, as she calls it, more than one opportunity, that she ought not to have slipt.— Thus thou seest, that the noblest of the sex mean nothing in the world by their shyness and distance, but to pound the poor fellow they dislike not, when he comes into their purlieus.

Though ’tricked into this man’s power,’ she tells her, she is ’not meanly subjugated to it.’ There are hopes of my reformation, it seems, ’from my reverence for her; since before her I never had any reverence for what was good!’ I am ’a great, a specious deceiver.’ I thank her for this, however. A good moral use, she says, may be made of my ’having prevailed upon her to swerve.’ I am glad that any good may flow from my actions.

Annexed to this letter is a paper the most saucy that ever was written of a mother by a daughter. There are in it such free reflections upon widows and bachelors, that I cannot but wonder how Miss Howe came by her learning. Sir George Colmar, I can tell thee, was a greater fool than thy friend, if she had it all for nothing.

The contents of this paper acquaint Miss Harlowe, that her uncle Antony has been making proposals of marriage to her mother.

The old fellow’s heart ought to be a tough one, if he succeed; or she who broke that of a much worthier man, the late Mr. Howe, will soon get rid of him.

But be this as it may, the stupid family is made more irreconcilable than ever to their goddess-daughter for old Antony’s thoughts of marrying: so I am more secure of her than ever. And yet I believe at last, that my tender heart will be moved in her favour. For I did not wish that she should have nothing but persecution and distress.—But why loves she the brutes, as Miss Howe justly calls them, so much; me so little?

I have still more unpardonable transcripts from other letters.