Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLVI

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE SUNDAY MORNING, SEVEN O’CLOCK.

I was at the play last night with Mr. Lovelace and Miss Horton. It is, you know, a deep and most affecting tragedy in the reading. You have my remarks upon it, in the little book you made me write upon the principal acting-plays. You will not wonder, that Miss Horton, as well as I, was greatly moved at the representation, when I tell you, and have some pleasure in telling you, that Mr. Lovelace himself was very sensibly touched with some of the most affecting scenes. I mention this in praise of the author’s performance; for I take Mr. Lovelace to be one of the most hard-hearted men in the world. Upon my word, my dear, I do.

His behaviour, however, on this occasion, and on our return, was unexceptionable; only that he would oblige me to stay to supper with the women below, when we came back, and to sit up with him and them till near one o’clock this morning. I was resolved to be even with him; and indeed I am not very sorry to have the pretence; for I love to pass the Sundays by myself.

To have the better excuse to avoid his teasing, I am ready dressed to go to church this morning. I will go only to St. James’s church, and in a chair; that I may be sure I can go out and come in when I please, without being intruded upon by him, as I was twice before.

*** NEAR NINE O’CLOCK.

I have your kind letter of yesterday. He knows I have. And I shall expect, that he will be inquisitive next time I see him after your opinions of his proposals. I doubted not your approbation of them, and had written an answer on that presumption; which is ready for him. He must study for occasions of procrastination, and to disoblige me, if now any thing happens to set us at variance again.

He is very importunate to see me. He has desired to attend me to church. He is angry that I have declined to breakfast with him. I am sure that I should not have been at my own liberty if I had. I bid Dorcas tell him, that I desired to have this day to myself. I would see him in the morning as early as he pleased. She says, she knows not what ails him, but that he is out of humour with every body.

He has sent again in a peremptory manner. He warns me of Singleton. I sent him word, that if he was not afraid of Singleton at the playhouse last night, I need not at church to-day: so many churches to one playhouse. I have accepted of his servant’s proposed attendance. But he is quite displeased, it seems. I don’t care. I will not be perpetually at his insolent beck.—Adieu my dear, till I return. The chair waits. He won’t stop me, sure, as I go down to it.

***

I did not see him as I went down. He is, it seems, excessively out of humour. Dorcas says, not with me neither, she believes: but something has vexed him. This is perhaps to make me dine with him. But I will not, if I can help it. I shan’t get rid of him for the rest of the day, if I do.

***

He was very earnest to dine with me. But I was resolved to carry this one small point; and so denied to dine myself. And indeed I was endeavouring to write to my cousin Morden; and had begun three different times, without being able to please myself.

He was very busy in writing, Dorcas says; and pursued it without dining, because I denied him my company.

He afterwards demanded, as I may say, to be admitted to afternoon-tea with me: and appealed by Dorcas to his behaviour to me last night; as if I sent him word by her, he thought he had a merit in being unexceptionable. However, I repeated my promise to meet him as early as he pleased in the morning, or to breakfast with him.

Dorcas says, he raved: I heard him loud, and I heard his servant fly from him, as I thought. You, my dearest friend, say, in one of yours,* that you must have somebody to be angry at, when your mother sets you up. I should be very loth to draw comparisons; but the workings of passion, when indulged, are but too much alike, whether in man or woman.

* See Letter X. of this volume, Parag. 2.

***

He has just sent me word, that he insists upon supping with me. As we had been in a good train for several days past, I thought it not prudent to break with him for little matters. Yet, to be, in a manner, threatened into his will, I know not how to bear that.

While I was considering, he came up, and, tapping at my door, told me, in a very angry tone, he must see me this night. He could not rest, till he had been told what he had done to deserve the treatment I gave him.

Treatment I gave him! a wretch! Yet perhaps he has nothing new to say to me. I shall be very angry with him.

***

[As the Lady could not know what Mr. Lovelace’s designs were, nor the

cause of his ill humour, it will not be improper to pursue the subject

from his letter.

Having described his angry manner of demanding, in person, her company at

supper, he proceeds as follows:]

’’Tis hard, answered the fair perverse, that I am to be so little my own mistress. I will meet you in the dining-room half an hour hence.

’I went down to wait the half hour. All the women set me hard to give her cause for this tyranny. They demonstrated, as well from the nature of the sex, as of the case, that I had nothing to hope for from my tameness, and could meet with no worse treatment, were I to be guilty of the last offence. They urge me vehemently to try at least what effect some greater familiarities than I had ever taken with her would have: and their arguments being strengthened by my just resentments on the discoveries I had made, I was resolved to take some liberties, as they were received, to take still greater, and lay all the fault upon her tyranny. In this humour I went up, and never had paralytic so little command of his joints, as I had, while I walked about the dining-room, attending her motions.

’With an erect mien she entered, her face averted, her lovely bosom swelling, and the more charmingly protuberant for the erectness of her mien. O Jack! that sullenness and reserve should add to the charms of this haughty maid! but in every attitude, in every humour, in every gesture, is beauty beautiful. By her averted face, and indignant aspect, I saw the dear insolent was disposed to be angry—but by the fierceness of mine, as my trembling hand seized hers, I soon made fear her predominant passion. And yet the moment I beheld her, my heart was dastardized; and my reverence for the virgin purity, so visible in her whole deportment, again took place. Surely, Belford, this is an angel. And yet, had she not been known to be a female, they would not from babyhood have dressed her as such, nor would she, but upon that conviction, have continued the dress.

’Let me ask you, Madam, I beseech you tell me, what I have done to deserve this distant treatment?

’And let me ask you, Mr. Lovelace, why are my retirements to be thus invaded?—What can you have to say to me since last night, that I went with you so much against my will to the play? and after sitting up with you, equally against my will, till a very late hour?

’This I have to say, Madam, that I cannot bear to be kept at this distance from you under the same roof.

’Under the same roof, Sir!—How came you——

’Hear me out, Madam—[letting go her trembling hands, and snatching them back again with an eagerness that made her start]—I have a thousand things to say, to talk of, relating to our present and future prospects; but when I want to open my whole soul to you, you are always contriving to keep me at a distance. You make me inconsistent with myself. Your heart is set upon delays. You must have views that you will not own. Tell me, Madam, I conjure you to tell me, this moment, without subterfuge or reserve, in what light am I to appear to you in future? I cannot bear this distance. The suspense you hold me in I cannot bear.

’In what light, Mr. Lovelace! [visibly terrified.] In no bad light, I hope.—Pray, Mr. Lovelace, do not grasp my hands so hard [endeavouring to withdraw them.] Pray let me go.—

’You hate me, Madam—

’I hate nobody, Sir—

’You hate me, Madam, repeated I.

’Instigated and resolved, as I came up, I wanted some new provocation. The devil indeed, as soon as my angel made her appearance, crept out of my heart; but he had left the door open, and was no farther off than my elbow.

’You come up in no good temper, I see, Mr. Lovelace.—But pray be not violent—I have done you no hurt.—Pray be not violent—

’Sweet creature! and I clasped one arm about her, holding one hand in my other.—You have done me no hurt.—I could have devoured her—but restraining myself—You have done me the greatest hurt!—In what have I deserved the distance you keep me at?—I knew not what to say.

’She struggled to disengage herself.—Pray, Mr. Lovelace, let me withdraw. I know not why this is. I know not what I have done to offend you. I see you are come with a design to quarrel with me. If you would not terrify me by the ill humour you are in, permit me to withdraw. I will hear all you have to say another time—to-morrow morning, as I sent you word.—But indeed you frighten me—I beseech you, if you have any value for me, permit me to withdraw.

’Night, mid-night, is necessary, Belford. Surprise, terror, must be necessary to the ultimate trial of this charming creature, say the women below what they will. I could not hold my purposes. This was not the first time that I had intended to try if she could forgive.

’I kissed her hand with a fervour, as if I would have left my lips upon it.—Withdraw, then, dearest, and ever-dear creature. Indeed I entered in a very ill humour. I cannot bear the distance at which you so causelessly keep me. Withdraw, Madam, since it is your will to withdraw; and judge me generously; judge me but as I deserve to be judged; and let me hope to meet you to-morrow morning early in such a temper as becomes our present situation, and my future hopes.

’And so saying, I conducted her to the door, and left her there. But, instead of going down to the women, I went into my own chamber, and locked myself in; ashamed of being awed by her majestic loveliness, and apprehensive virtue, into so great a change of purpose, notwithstanding I had such just provocations from the letters of her saucy friend, formed on her own representations of facts and situations between herself and me.

***

[The Lady (dated Sunday night) thus describes her terrors, and Mr.

Lovelace’s behaviour, on the occasion.]

On my entering the dining-room, he took my hand in his, in such a humour, I saw plainly he was resolved to quarrel with me—And for what?—What had I done to him?—I never in my life beheld in any body such wild, such angry, such impatient airs. I was terrified; and instead of being as angry as I intended to be, I was forced to be all mildness. I can hardly remember what were his first words, I was so frighted. But you hate me, Madam! you hate me, Madam! were some of them—with such a fierceness—I wished myself a thousand miles distant from him. I hate nobody, said I: I thank God I hate nobody—You terrify me, Mr. Lovelace—let me leave you.—The man, my dear, looked quite ugly—I never saw a man look so ugly as passion made him look—and for what?—And so he grasped my hands!— fierce creature;—he so grasped my hands! In short, he seemed by his looks, and by his words (once putting his arms about me) to wish me to provoke him. So that I had nothing to do but to beg of him (which I did repeatedly) to permit me to withdraw: and to promise to meet him at his own time in the morning.

It was with a very ill grace that he complied, on that condition; and at parting he kissed my hand with such a savageness, that a redness remains upon it still.

Do you not think, my dear, that I have reason to be incensed at him, my situation considered? Am I not under a necessity, as it were, of quarrelling with him; at least every other time I see him? No prudery, no coquetry, no tyranny in my heart, or in my behaviour to him, that I know of. No affected procrastination. Aiming at nothing but decorum. He as much concerned, and so he ought to think, as I, to have that observed. Too much in his power: cast upon him by the cruelty of my relations. No other protection to fly to but his. One plain path before us; yet such embarrasses, such difficulties, such subjects for doubt, for cavil, for uneasiness; as fast as one is obviated, another to be introduced, and not by myself—know not how introduced—What pleasure can I propose to myself in meeting such a wretch?

Perfect for me, my dearest Miss Howe, perfect for me, I beseech you, your kind scheme with Mrs. Townsend; and I will then leave this man.

My temper, I believe, is changed. No wonder if it be. I question whether ever it will be what it was. But I cannot make him half so uneasy by the change, as I am myself. See you not how, from step to step, he grows upon me?—I tremble to look back upon his encroachments. And now to give me cause to apprehend more evil from him, than indignation will permit me to express!—O my dear, perfect your scheme, and let me fly from so strange a wretch!

Yet, to be first an eloper from my friends to him, as the world supposes; and now to be so from him [to whom I know not!] how hard to one who ever endeavoured to shun intricate paths! But he must certainly have views in quarrelling with me thus, which he dare not own!—Yet what can they be?— I am terrified but to think of what they may be!

Let me but get from him!—As to my reputation, if I leave him—that is already too much wounded for me, now, to be careful about any thing, but how to act so as that my own heart shall not reproach me. As to the world’s censure, I must be content to suffer that—an unhappy composition, however.—What a wreck have my fortunes suffered, to be obliged to throw overboard so many valuables, to preserve, indeed, the only valuable!—A composition that once it would have half broken my heart to think there would have been the least danger that I should be obliged to submit to.

You, my dear, could not be a stranger to my most secret failings, although you would not tell me of them. What a pride did I take in the applause of every one!—What a pride even in supposing I had not that pride!—Which concealed itself from my unexamining heart under the specious veil of humility, doubling the merit to myself by the supposed, and indeed imputed, gracefulness in the manner of conferring benefits, when I had not a single merit in what I did, vastly overpaid by the pleasure of doing some little good, and impelled, as I may say, by talents given me—for what!—Not to be proud of.

So, desirous, in short, to be considered as an example! A vanity which my partial admirers put into my head!—And so secure in my own virtue!

I am punished enough, enough mortified, for this my vanity—I hope, enough, if it so please the all-gracious inflictor: since now, I verily think, I more despise myself for my presumptuous self-security, as well as vanity, than ever I secretly vaunted myself on my good inclinations: secretly, I say, however; for, indeed, I had not given myself leisure to reflect, till I was thus mortified, how very imperfect I was; nor how much truth there is in what divines tell us, that we sin in our best performances.

But I was very young.—But here let me watch over myself again: for in those four words, I was very young, is there not a palliation couched, that were enough to take all efficacy from the discovery and confession?

What strange imperfect beings!—but self here, which is at the bottom of all we do, and of all we wish, is the grand misleader.

I will not apologize to you, my dear, for these grave reflections. Is it not enough to make the unhappy creature look into herself, and endeavour to detect herself, who, from such a high reputation, left to proud and presumptuous self, should by one thoughtless step, be brought to the dreadful situation I am in?

Let me, however, look forward: to despond would be to add sin to sin. And whom have I to raise me up, whom to comfort me, if I desert myself?— Thou, O Father, who, I hope, hast not yet deserted, hast not yet cursed me!—For I am thine!—It is fit that mediation should supply the rest.—

***

I was so disgusted with him, as well as frighted by him, that on my return to my chamber, in a fit of passionate despair, I tore almost in two the answer I had written to his proposals.

I will see him in the morning, because I promised I would. But I will go out, and that without him, or any attendant. If he account not tolerably for his sudden change of behaviour, and a proper opportunity offer of a private lodging in some creditable house, I will not any more return to this:—at present I think so.—And there will I either attend the perfecting of your scheme; or, by your epistolary mediation, make my own terms with the wretch; since it is your opinion, that I must be his, and cannot help myself: or, perhaps, take a resolution to throw myself at once into Lady Betty’s protection; and this will hinder him from making his insolently-threatened visit to Harlowe-place.

[The Lady writes again on Monday evening; and gives her friend an account

of all that passed between herself and Mr. Lovelace that day; and of

her being terrified out of her purpose, of going out: but Mr.

Lovelace’s next letters giving a more ample account of all, hers are

omitted.

It is proper, however, to mention, that she re-urges Miss Howe (from the

dissatisfaction she has reason for from what passed between Mr.

Lovelace and herself) to perfect her scheme in relation to Mrs.

Townsend. She concludes this letter in these words:]

I should say something of your last favour (but a few hours ago received) and of your dialogue with your mother—Are you not very whimsical, my dear? I have but two things to wish for on this occasion.—The one, that your charming pleasantry had a better subject than that you find for it in this dialogue—the other, that my situation were not such, as must too often damp that pleasantry in you, and will not permit me to enjoy it, as I used to do. Be, however, happy in yourself, though you cannot in

Your CLARISSA HARLOWE.