Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLVI


[As it was not probable that the Lady could give so particular an account of her own confusion, in the affecting scene she mentions on Mr. Lovelace’s offering himself to her acceptance, the following extracts are made from his letter of the above date.]

And now, Belford, what wilt thou say, if, like the fly buzzing about the bright taper, I had like to have singed the silken wings of my liberty? Never was man in greater danger of being caught in his own snares: all my views anticipated; all my schemes untried; the admirable creature no brought to town; nor one effort made to know if she be really angel or woman.

I offered myself to her acceptance, with a suddenness, ’tis true, that gave her no time to wrap herself in reserves; and in terms less tender than fervent, tending to upbraid her for her past indifference, and to remind her of her injunctions: for it was the fear of her brother, not her love of me, that had inclined her to dispense with those injunctions.

I never beheld so sweet a confusion. What a glory to the pencil, could it do justice to it, and to the mingled impatience which visibly informed every feature of the most meaning and most beautiful face in the world! She hemmed twice or thrice: her look, now so charmingly silly, then so sweetly significant; till at last the lovely teaser, teased by my hesitating expectation of her answer, out of all power of articulate speech, burst into tears, and was turning from me with precipitation, when, presuming to fold her in my happy arms—O think not, best beloved of my heart, said I, think not, that this motion, which you may believe to be so contrary to your former injunctions, proceeds from a design to avail myself of the cruelty of your relations: if I have disobliged you by it, (and you know with what respectful tenderness I have presumed to hint it,) it shall be my utmost care for the future—There I stopped——

Then she spoke, but with vexation—I am—I am—very unhappy—Tears trickling down her crimson cheeks, and her sweet face, as my arms still encircled the finest waist in the world, sinking upon my shoulder; the dear creature so absent, that she knew not the honour she permitted me.

But why, but why unhappy, my dearest life? said I:—all the gratitude that ever overflowed the heart of the most obliged of men—

Justice to myself there stopped my mouth: for what gratitude did I owe her for obligations so involuntary?

Then recovering herself, and her usual reserves, and struggling to free herself from my clasping arms, How now, Sir! said she, with a cheek more indignantly glowing, and eyes of fiercer lustre.

I gave way to her angry struggle; but, absolutely overcome by so charming a display of innocent confusion, I caught hold of her hand as she was flying from me, and kneeling at her fee, O my angel, said I, (quite destitute of reserve, and hardly knowing the tenor of my own speech; and had a parson been there, I had certainly been a gone man,) receive the vows of your faithful Lovelace. Make him yours, and only yours, for ever. This will answer every end. Who will dare to form plots and stratagems against my wife? That you are not so is the ground of all their foolish attempts, and of their insolent hopes in Solmes’s favour.—O be mine!—I beseech you (thus on my knee I beseech you) to be mine. We shall then have all the world with us. And every body will applaud an event that every body expects.

Was the devil in me! I no more intended all this ecstatic nonsense, than I thought the same moment of flying in the air! All power is with this charming creature. It is I, not she, at this rate, that must fail in the arduous trial.

Didst thou ever before hear of a man uttering solemn things by an involuntary impulse, in defiance of premeditation, and of all his proud schemes? But this sweet creature is able to make a man forego every purpose of his heart that is not favourable to her. And I verily think I should be inclined to spare her all further trial (and yet what trial has she had?) were it not for the contention that her vigilance has set on foot, which shall overcome the other. Thou knowest my generosity to my uncontending Rosebud—and sometimes do I qualify my ardent aspirations after even this very fine creature, by this reflection:—That the most charming woman on earth, were she an empress, can excel the meanest in the customary visibles only. Such is the equality of the dispensation, to the prince and the peasant, in this prime gift WOMAN.

Well, but what was the result of this involuntary impulse on my part?—Wouldst thou not think; I was taken at my offer?—An offer so solemnly made, and on one knee too?

No such thing! The pretty trifler let me off as easily as I could have wished.

Her brother’s project; and to find that there were no hopes of a reconciliation for her; and the apprehension she had of the mischiefs that might ensue; these, not my offer, nor love of me, were the causes to which she ascribed all her sweet confusion—an ascription that is high treason against my sovereign pride,—to make marriage with me but a second-place refuge; and as good as to tell me that her confusion was owing to her concern that there were no hopes that my enemies would accept of her intended offer to renounce a man who had ventured his life for her, and was still ready to run the same risque in her behalf!

I re-urged her to make me happy, but I was to be postponed to her cousin Morden’s arrival. On him are now placed all her hopes.

I raved; but to no purpose.

Another letter was to be sent, or had been sent, to her aunt Hervey, to which she hoped an answer.

Yet sometimes I think that fainter and fainter would have been her procrastinations, had I been a man of courage—but so fearful was I of offending!

A confounded thing! The man to be so bashful; the woman to want so much courting!—How shall two such come together—no kind mediatress in the way?

But I must be contented. ’Tis seldom, however, that a love so ardent as mine, meets with a spirit so resigned in the same person. But true love, I am now convinced, only wishes: nor has it any active will but that of the adored object.

But, O the charming creature, again of herself to mention London! Had Singleton’s plot been of my own contriving, a more happy expedient could not have been thought of to induce her to resume her purpose of going thither; nor can I divine what could be her reason for postponing it.

I enclose the letter from Joseph Leman, which I mentioned to thee in mine of Monday last,* with my answer to it. I cannot resist the vanity that urges me to the communication. Otherwise, it were better, perhaps, that I suffer thee to imagine that this lady’s stars fight against her, and dispense the opportunities in my favour, which are only the consequences of my own invention.