Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLVIII


The dear creature desires to be excused seeing me till evening. She is not very well, as Dorcas tells me.

Read here, if thou wilt, the paper transcribed by Dorcas. It is impossible that I should proceed with my projects against this admirable woman, were it not that I am resolved, after a few trials more, if as nobly sustained as those she has passed through, to make her (if she really hate me not) legally mine.


’When a woman is married, that supreme earthly obligation requires, that in all instances, where her husband’s real honour is concerned, she should yield her own will to his. But, beforehand, I could be glad, conformably to what I have always signified, to have the most explicit assurances, that every possible way should be tried to avoid litigation with my father. Time and patience will subdue all things. My prospects of happiness are extremely contracted. A husband’s right will be always the same. In my lifetime I could wish nothing to be done of this sort. Your circumstances, Sir, will not oblige you to extort violently from him what is in his hands. All that depends upon me, either with regard to my person, to my diversions, or to the economy that no married woman, of whatever rank or quality, should be above inspecting, shall be done, to prevent a necessity for such measures being taken. And if there will be no necessity for them, it is to be hoped that motives less excusable will not have force—motives which must be founded in a littleness of mind, which a woman, who has not that littleness of mind, will be under such temptations, as her duty will hardly be able at all times to check, to despise her husband for having; especially in cases where her own family, so much a part of herself, and which will have obligations upon her (though then but secondary ones) from which she can never be freed, is intimately concerned.

’This article, then, I urge to your most serious consideration, as what lies next my heart. I enter not here minutely into the fatal misunderstanding between them and you: the fault may be in both. But, Sir, your’s was the foundation-fault: at least, you gave a too-plausible pretence for my brother’s antipathy to work upon. Condescension was no part of your study. You chose to bear the imputations laid to your charge, rather than to make it your endeavour to obviate them.

’But this may lead into hateful recrimination.—Let it be remembered, I will only say, in this place, that, in their eye, you have robbed them of a daughter they doated upon; and that their resentments on this occasion rise but in proportion to their love and their disappointment. If they were faulty in some of the measures they took, while they themselves did not think so, who shall judge for them? You, Sir, who will judge every body as you please, and will let nobody judge you in your own particular, must not be their judge.—It may therefore be expected that they will stand out.

’As for myself, Sir, I must leave it (so seems it to be destined) to your justice, to treat me as you shall think I deserve: but, if your future behaviour to them is not governed by that harsh-sounding implacableness, which you charge upon some of their tempers, the splendour of your family, and the excellent character of some of them (of all indeed, unless your own conscience furnishes you with one only exception) will, on better consideration, do every thing with them: for they may be overcome; perhaps, however, with the more difficulty, as the greatly prosperous less bear controul and disappointment than others: for I will own to you, that I have often in secret lamented, that their great acquirements have been a snare to them; perhaps as great a snare, as some other accidentals have been to you; which being less immediately your own gifts, you have still less reason than they to value yourself upon them.

’Let me only, on this subject, further observe, that condescension is not meanness. There is a glory in yielding, that hardly any violent spirit can judge of. My brother, perhaps, is no more sensible of this than you. But as you have talents, which he has not, (who, however, has, as I hope, that regard for morals, the want of which makes one of his objections to you,) I could wish it may not be owing to you, that your mutual dislikes to each other do not subside! for it is my earnest hope, that in time you may see each other, without exciting the fears of a wife and a sister for the consequence. Not that I should wish you to yield in points that truly concerned your honour: no, Sir; I would be as delicate in such, as you yourself: more delicate, I will venture to say, because more uniformly so. How vain, how contemptible, is that pride, which shows itself in standing upon diminutive observances; and gives up, and makes a jest of, the most important duties!

’This article being considered as I wish, all the rest will be easy. Were I to accept of the handsome separate provision you seem to intend me; added to the considerate sums arisen from my grandfather’s estate since his death (more considerable than perhaps you may suppose from your offer); I should think it my duty to lay up for the family good, and for unforseen events, out of it: for, as to my donations, I would generally confine myself in them to the tenth of my income, be it what it would. I aim at no glare in what I do of that sort. All I wish for, is the power of relieving the lame, the blind, the sick, and the industrious poor, and those whom accident has made so, or sudden distress reduced. The common or bred beggars I leave to others, and to the public provision. They cannot be lower: perhaps they wish not to be higher: and, not able to do for every one, I aim not at works of supererogation. Two hundred pounds a year would do all I wish to do of the separate sort: for all above, I would content myself to ask you; except, mistrusting your own economy, you would give up to my management and keeping, in order to provide for future contingencies, a larger portion; for which, as your steward, I would regularly account.

’As to clothes, I have particularly two suits, which, having been only in a manner tried on, would answer for any present occasion. Jewels I have of my grandmother’s, which want only new-setting: another set I have, which on particular days I used to wear. Although these are not sent me, I have no doubt, being merely personals, but they will, when I should send for them in another name: till when I should not choose to wear any.

’As to your complaints of my diffidences, and the like, I appeal to your own heart, if it be possible for you to make my case your own for one moment, and to retrospect some parts of your behaviour, words, and actions, whether I am not rather to be justified than censured: and whether, of all the men in the world, avowing what you avow, you ought not to think so. If you do not, let me admonish you, Sir, from the very great mismatch that then must appear to be in our minds, never to seek, nor so much as to wish, to bring about the most intimate union of interests between yourself and



The original of this charming paper, as Dorcas tells me, was torn almost in two. In one of her pets, I suppose! What business have the sex, whose principal glory is meekness, and patience, and resignation, to be in a passion, I trow?—Will not she who allows herself such liberties as a maiden take greater when married?

And a wife to be in a passion!—Let me tell the ladies, it is an impudent thing, begging their pardon, and as imprudent as impudent, for a wife to be in a passion, if she mean not eternal separation, or wicked defiance, by it: For is it not rejecting at once all that expostulatory meekness, and gentle reasoning, mingled with sighs as gentle, and graced with bent knees, supplicating hands, and eyes lifted up to your imperial countenance, just running over, that you should make a reconciliation speedy, and as lasting as speedy? Even suppose the husband is in the wrong, will not this being so give the greater force to her expostulation?

Now I think of it, a man should be in the wrong now-and-then, to make his wife shine. Miss Howe tells my charmer, that adversity is her shining- time. ’Tis a generous thing in a man to make his wife shine at his own expense: to give her leave to triumph over him by patient reasoning: for were he to be too imperial to acknowledge his fault on the spot, she will find the benefit of her duty and submission in future, and in the high opinion he will conceive of her prudence and obligingness—and so, by degrees, she will become her master’s master.

But for a wife to come up with kemboed arm, the other hand thrown out, perhaps with a pointing finger—Look ye here, Sir!—Take notice!—If you are wrong, I’ll be wrong!—If you are in a passion, I’ll be in a passion! —Rebuff, for rebuff, Sir!—If you fly, I’ll tear!—If you swear, I’ll curse!—And the same room, and the same bed, shall not hold us, Sir!- For, remember, I am married, Sir!—I am a wife, Sir!—You can’t help yourself, Sir!—Your honour, as well as your peace, is in my keeping! And, if you like not this treatment, you may have worse, Sir!

Ah! Jack! Jack! What man, who has observed these things, either implied or expressed, in other families, would wish to be a husband!

Dorcas found this paper in one of the drawers of her lady’s dressing- table. She was reperusing it, as she supposes, when the honest wench carried my message to desire her to favour me at the tea-table; for she saw her pop a paper into the drawer as she came in; and there, on her mistress’s going to meet me in the dining-room, she found it; and to be this.

But I had better not to have had a copy of it, as far as I know: for, determined as I was before upon my operations, it instantly turned all my resolutions in her favour. Yet I would give something to be convinced that she did not pop it into her drawer before the wench, in order for me to see it; and perhaps (if I were to take notice of it) to discover whether Dorcas, according to Miss Howe’s advice, were most my friend, or her’s.

The very suspicion of this will do her no good: for I cannot bear to be artfully dealt with. People love to enjoy their own peculiar talents in monopoly, as arguments against me in her behalf. But I know every tittle thou canst say upon it. Spare therefore thy wambling nonsense, I desire thee; and leave this sweet excellence and me to our fate: that will determine for us, as it shall please itself: for as Cowley says,

An unseen hand makes all our moves:

And some are great, and some are small;

Some climb to good, some from great fortunes fall:

Some wise men, and some fools we call:

Figures, alas! of speech!—For destiny plays us all.

But, after all, I am sorry, almost sorry (for how shall I do to be quite sorry, when it is not given to me to be so?) that I cannot, until I have made further trials, resolve upon wedlock.

I have just read over again this intended answer to my proposals: and how I adore her for it!

But yet; another yet!—She has not given it or sent it to me.—It is not therefore her answer. It is not written for me, though to me.

Nay, she has not intended to send it to me: she has even torn it, perhaps with indignation, as thinking it too good for me. By this action she absolutely retracts it. Why then does my foolish fondness seek to establish for her the same merit in my heart, as if she avowed it? Pr’ythee, dear Belford, once more, leave us to our fate; and do not thou interpose with thy nonsense, to weaken a spirit already too squeamish, and strengthen a conscience that has declared itself of her party.

Then again, remember thy recent discoveries, Lovelace! Remember her indifference, attended with all the appearance of contempt and hatred. View her, even now, wrapt up in reserve and mystery; meditating plots, as far as thou knowest, against the sovereignty thou hast, by right of conquest, obtained over her. Remember, in short, all thou hast threatened to remember against this insolent beauty, who is a rebel to the power she has listed under.

But yet, how dost thou propose to subdue thy sweet enemy!—Abhorred be force, be the necessity of force, if that can be avoided! There is no triumph in force—no conquest over the will—no prevailing by gentle degrees over the gentle passions!—force is the devil!

My cursed character, as I have often said, was against me at setting out —Yet is she not a woman? Cannot I find one yielding or but half- yielding moment, if she do not absolutely hate me?

But with what can I tempt her?—RICHES she was born to, and despises, knowing what they are. JEWELS and ornaments, to a mind so much a jewel, and so richly set, her worthy consciousness will not let her value. LOVE —if she be susceptible of love, it seems to be so much under the direction of prudence, that one unguarded moment, I fear, cannot be reasonably hoped for: and so much VIGILANCE, so much apprehensiveness, that her fears are ever aforehand with her dangers. Then her LOVE or VIRTUE seems to be principle, native principle, or, if not native, so deeply rooted, that its fibres have struck into her heart, and, as she grew up, so blended and twisted themselves with the strings of life, that I doubt there is no separating of the one without cutting the others asunder.

What then can be done to make such a matchless creature get over the first tests, in order to put her to the grand proof, whether once overcome, she will not be always overcome?

Our mother and her nymphs say, I am a perfect Craven, and no Lovelace: and so I think. But this is no simpering, smiling charmer, as I have found others to be, when I have touched upon affecting subjects at a distance; as once or twice I have tried to her, the mother introducing them (to make sex palliate the freedom to sex) when only we three together. She is above the affectation of not seeming to understand you. She shows by her displeasure, and a fierceness not natural to her eye, that she judges of an impure heart by an impure mouth, and darts dead at once even the embryo hopes of an encroaching lover, however distantly insinuated, before the meaning hint can dawn into double entendre.

By my faith, Jack, as I sit gazing upon her, my whole soul in my eyes, contemplating her perfections, and thinking, when I have seen her easy and serene, what would be her thoughts, did she know my heart as well as I know it; when I behold her disturbed and jealous, and think of the justness of her apprehensions, and that she cannot fear so much as there is room for her to fear; my heart often misgives me.

And must, think I, O creature so divinely excellent, and so beloved of my soul, those arms, those encircling arms, that would make a monarch happy, be used to repel brutal force; all their strength, unavailingly perhaps, exerted to repel it, and to defend a person so delicately framed? Can violence enter into the heart of a wretch, who might entitle himself to all her willing yet virtuous love, and make the blessings he aspireth after, her duty to confer?—Begone, villain-purposes! Sink ye all to the hell that could only inspire ye! And I am then ready to throw myself at her feet, to confess my villainous designs, to avow my repentance, and put it out of my power to act unworthily by such an excellence.

How then comes it, that all these compassionate, and, as some would call them, honest sensibilities go off!—Why, Miss Howe will tell thee: she says, I am the devil.—By my conscience, I think he has at present a great share in me.

There’s ingenuousness!—How I lay myself open to thee!—But seest thou not, that the more I say against myself, the less room there is for thee to take me to task?—O Belford, Belford! I cannot, cannot (at least at present) I cannot marry.

Then her family, my bitter enemies—to supple to them, or if I do not, to make her as unhappy as she can be from my attempts——

Then does she not love them too much, me too little?

She now seems to despise me: Miss Howe declares, that she really does despise me. To be despised by a WIFE—What a thought is that!—To be excelled by a WIFE too, in every part of praise-worthy knowledge!—To take lessons, to take instructions, from a WIFE!—More than despise me, she herself has taken time to consider whether she does not hate me:— I hate you, Lovelace, with my whole heart, said she to me but yesterday! My soul is above thee, man!—Urge me not to tell thee how sincerely I think my soul above thee!—How poor indeed was I then, even in my own heart!—So visible a superiority, to so proud a spirit as mine!—And here from below, from BELOW indeed! from these women! I am so goaded on——

Yet ’tis poor too, to think myself a machine in the hands of such wretches.—I am no machine.—Lovelace, thou art base to thyself, but to suppose thyself a machine.

But having gone thus far, I should be unhappy, if after marriage, in the petulance of ill humour, I had it to reproach myself, that I did not try her to the utmost. And yet I don’t know how it is, but this lady, the moment I come into her presence, half-assimilates me to her own virtue.— Once or twice (to say nothing of her triumph over me on Sunday night) I was prevailed upon to fluster myself, with an intention to make some advances, which, if obliged to recede, I might lay upon raised spirits: but the instant I beheld her, I was soberized into awe and reverence: and the majesty of her even visible purity first damped, and then extinguished, my double flame.

What a surprisingly powerful effect, so much and so long in my power she! so instigated by some of her own sex, and so stimulated by passion I!— How can this be accounted for in a Lovelace!

But what a heap of stuff have I written!—How have I been run away with! —By what?—Canst thou say by what?—O thou lurking varletess CONSCIENCE! —Is it thou that hast thus made me of party against myself?—How camest thou in?—In what disguise, thou egregious haunter of my more agreeable hours?—Stand thou, with fate, but neuter in this controversy; and, if I cannot do credit to human nature, and to the female sex, by bringing down such an angel as this to class with and adorn it, (for adorn it she does in her very foibles,) then I am all your’s, and never will resist you more.

Here I arose. I shook myself. The window was open. Always the troublesome bosom-visiter, the intruder, is flown.—I see it yet!—And now it lessens to my aching eye!—And now the cleft air is closed after it, and it is out of sight!—and once more I am