Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLIV


My mother will not comply with your condition, my dear. I hinted it to her, as from myself. But the Harlowes (excuse me) have got her entirely in with them. It is a scheme of mine, she told me, formed to draw her into your party against your parents. Which, for your own sake, she is very careful about.

Don’t be so much concerned about my mother and me, once more, I beg of you. We shall do well enough together—now a falling out, now a falling in.

It used to be so, when you were not in the question.

Yet do I give you my sincere thanks for every line of your reprehensive letters; which I intend to read as often as I find my temper rises.

I will freely own, however, that I winced a little at first reading them. But I see that, on every re-perusal, I shall love and honour you still more, if possible, than before.

Yet, I think I have one advantage over you; and which I will hold through this letter, and through all my future letters; that is, that I will treat you as freely as you treat me; and yet will never think an apology necessary to you for my freedom.

But that you so think with respect to me is the effect of your gentleness of temper, with a little sketch of implied reflection on the warmth of mine. Gentleness in a woman you hold to be no fault: nor do I a little due or provoked warmth—But what is this, but praising on both sides what what neither of us can help, nor perhaps wish to help? You can no more go out of your road, than I can go out of mine. It would be a pain to either to do so: What then is it in either’s approving of her own natural bias, but making a virtue of necessity?

But one observation I will add, that were your character, and my character, to be truly drawn, mine would be allowed to be the most natural. Shades and lights are equally necessary in a fine picture. Yours would be surrounded with such a flood of brightness, with such a glory, that it would indeed dazzle; but leave one heartless to imitate it.

O may you not suffer from a base world for your gentleness; while my temper, by its warmth, keeping all imposition at a distance, though less amiable in general, affords me not reason, as I have mentioned heretofore, to wish to make an exchange with you!

I should indeed be inexcusable to open my lips by way of contradiction to my mother, had I such a fine spirit as yours to deal with. Truth is truth, my dear! Why should narrowness run away with the praises due to a noble expansion of heart? If every body would speak out, as I do, (that is to say, give praise where only praise is due; dispraise where due likewise,) shame, if not principle, would mend the world—nay, shame would introduce principle in a generation or two. Very true, my dear. Do you apply. I dare not.—For I fear you, almost as much as I love you.

I will give you an instance, nevertheless, which will a-new demonstrate, that none but very generous and noble-minded people ought to be implicitly obeyed. You know what I said above, that truth is truth.

Inconveniencies will sometimes arise from having to do with persons of modest and scrupulousness. Mr. Hickman, you say, is a modest man. He put your corrective packet into my hand with a very fine bow, and a self-satisfied air [we’ll consider what you say of this honest man by-and-by, my dear]: his strut was no gone off, when in came my mother, as I was reading it.

When some folks find their anger has made them considerable, they will be always angry, or seeking occasions for anger.

Why, now, Mr. Hickman—why, now, Nancy, [as I was huddling in the packet between my gown and my stays, at her entrance.] You have a letter brought you this instant.—While the modest man, with his pausing brayings, Mad-da—Mad-dam, looked as if he knew not whether to fight it out, or to stand his ground, and see fair play.

It would have been poor to tell a lie for it. She flung away. I went out at the opposite door, to read the contents; leaving Mr. Hickman to exercise his white teeth upon his thumb-nails.

When I had read your letters, I went to find out my mother. I told her the generous contents, and that you desired that the prohibition might be adhered to. I proposed your condition, as for myself; and was rejected, as above.

She supposed, she was finely painted between two ’young creatures, who had more wit than prudence:’ and instead of being prevailed upon by the generosity of your sentiments, made use of your opinion only to confirm her own, and renewed her prohibitions, charging me to return no other answer, but that she did renew them: adding, that they should stand, till your relations were reconciled to you; hinting as if she had engaged for as much: and expected my compliance.

I thought of your reprehensions, and was meek, though not pleased. And let me tell you, my dear, that as long as I can satisfy my own mind, that good is intended, and that it is hardly possible that evil should ensue from our correspondence—as long as I know that this prohibition proceeds originally from the same spiteful minds which have been the occasion of all these mischiefs—as long as I know that it is not your fault if your relations are not reconciled to you, and that upon conditions which no reasonable people would refuse—you must give me leave, with all deference to your judgment, and to your excellent lessons, (which would reach almost every case of this kind but the present,) to insist upon your writing to me, and that minutely, as if this prohibition had not been laid.

It is not from humour, from perverseness, that I insist upon this. I cannot express how much my heart is in your concerns. And you must, in short, allow me to think, that if I can do you service by writing, I shall be better justified in continuing to write, than my mother is in her prohibition.

But yet, to satisfy you all I can, I will as seldom return answers, while the interdict lasts, as may be consistent with my notions of friendship, and with the service I owe you, and can do you.

As to your expedient of writing by Hickman [and now, my dear, your modest man comes in: and as you love modesty in that sex, I will do my endeavour, by holding him at a proper distance, to keep him in your favour] I know what you mean by it, my sweet friend. It is to make that man significant with me. As to the correspondence, THAT shall go on, I do assure you, be as scrupulous as you please—so that that will not suffer if I do not close with your proposal as to him.

I must tell you, that I think it will be honour enough for him to have his name made use of so frequently betwixt us. This, of itself, is placing a confidence in him, that will make him walk bolt upright, and display his white hand, and his fine diamond ring; and most mightily lay down his services, and his pride to oblige, and his diligence, and his fidelity, and his contrivances to keep our secret, and his excuses, and his evasions to my mother, when challenged by her; with fifty ana’s beside: and will it not moreover give him pretence and excuse oftener than ever to pad-nag it hither to good Mrs. Howe’s fair daughter?

But to admit him into my company tete-a-tete, and into my closet, as often as I would wish to write to you, I only dictate to his pen—my mother all the time supposing that I was going to be heartily in love with him—to make him master of my sentiments, and of my heart, as I may say, when I write to you—indeed, my dear, I won’t. Nor, were I married to the best HE in England, would I honour him with the communication of my correspondences.

No, my dear, it is sufficient, surely, for him to parade in the character of our letter-conveyor, and to be honoured in a cover, and never fear but, modest as you think him, he will make enough of that.

You are always blaming me for want of generosity to this man, and for abuse of power. But I profess, my dear, I cannot tell how to help it. Do, dear, now, let me spread my plumes a little, and now-and-then make myself feared. This is my time, you know, since it would be no more to my credit than to his, to give myself those airs when I am married. He has a joy when I am pleased with him that he would not know, but for the pain my displeasure gives him.

Men, no more than women, know how to make a moderate use of power. Is not that seen every day, from the prince to the peasant? If I do not make Hickman quake now-and-then, he will endeavour to make me fear. All the animals in the creation are more or less in a state of hostility with each other. The wolf, that runs away from a lion, will devour a lamb the next moment. I remember, that I was once so enraged at a game chicken that was continually pecking at another (a poor humble one, as I thought him) that I had the offender caught, and without more ado, in a pet of humanity, wrung his neck off. What followed this execution? Why that other grew insolent, as soon as his insulter was gone, and was continually pecking at one or two under him. Peck and be hanged, said I,—I might as well have preserved the first, for I see it is the nature of the beast.

Excuse my flippancies. I wish I were with you. I would make you smile in the midst of your gravest airs, as I used to do. O that you had accepted of my offer to attend you! but nothing that I offer will you accept——Take care!—You will make me very angry with you: and when I am, you know I value nobody: for, dearly as I love you, I must be, and cannot always help it,

Your saucy ANNA HOWE.