Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLVIII



You have a worse opinion of your invention than you ought to have. I must praise it again. Of a plain man’s head, I have not known many better than yours. How often have your forecast and discretion answered my wishes in cases which I could not foresee, not knowing how my general directions would succeed, or what might happen in the execution of them! You are too doubtful of your own abilities, honest Joseph; that’s your fault.—But it being a fault that is owing to natural modesty, you ought rather to be pitied for it than blamed.

The affair of Miss Betterton was a youthful frolic. I love dearly to exercise my invention. I do assure you, Joseph, that I have ever had more pleasure in my contrivances, than in the end of them. I am no sensual man: but a man of spirit—one woman is like another—you understand me, Joseph.—In coursing, all the sport is made by the winding hare—a barn-door chick is better eating—now you take me, Joseph.

Miss Betterton was but a tradesman’s daughter. The family, indeed, was grown rich, and aimed at a new line of gentry; and were unreasonable enough to expect a man of my family would marry her. I was honest. I gave the young lady no hope of that; for she put it to me. She resented—kept up, and was kept up. A little innocent contrivance was necessary to get her out. But no rape in the case, I assure you, Joseph. She loved me—I loved her. Indeed, when I got her to the inn, I asked her no question. It is cruel to ask a modest woman for her consent. It is creating difficulties to both. Had not her friends been officious, I had been constant and faithful to her to this day, as far as I know—for then I had not known my angel.

I went not abroad upon her account. She loved me too well to have appeared against me; she refused to sign a paper they had drawn up for her, to found a prosecution upon; and the brutal creatures would not permit the mid-wife’s assistance, till her life was in danger; and, I believe, to this her death was owing.

I went into mourning for her, though abroad at the time. A distinction I have ever paid to those worthy creatures who dies in childbed by me.

I was ever nice in my loves.—These were the rules I laid down to myself on my entrance into active life:—To set the mother above want, if her friends were cruel, and if I could not get her a husband worthy of her: to shun common women—a piece of justice I owed to innocent ladies, as well as to myself: to marry off a former mistress, if possible, before I took to a new one: to maintain a lady handsomely in her lying-in: to provide for the little-one, if it lived, according to the degree of its mother: to go into mourning for the mother, if she died. And the promise of this was a great comfort to the pretty dears, as they grew near their times.

All my errors, all my expenses, have been with and upon women. So I could acquit my conscience (acting thus honourably by them) as well as my discretion as to point of fortune.

All men love women—and find me a man of more honour, in these points, if you can, Joseph.

No wonder the sex love me as they do!

But now I am strictly virtuous. I am reformed. So I have been for a long time, resolving to marry as soon as I can prevail upon the most admirable of women to have me. I think of nobody else—it is impossible I should. I have spared very pretty girls for her sake. Very true, Joseph! So set your honest heart at rest—You see the pains I take to satisfy your qualms.

But, as to Miss Betterton—no rape in the case, I repeat: rapes are unnatural things, and more are than are imagined, Joseph. I should be loth to be put to such a streight; I never was. Miss Betterton was taken from me against her own will. In that case her friends, not I, committed the rape.

I have contrived to see the boy twice, unknown to the aunt who takes care of him; loves him; and would not now part with him on any consideration. The boy is a fine boy I thank God. No father need be ashamed of him. He will be well provided for. If not, I would take care of him. He will have his mother’s fortune. They curse the father, ungrateful wretches! but bless the boy—Upon the whole, there is nothing vile in this matter on my side—a great deal on the Bettertons.

Wherefore, Joseph, be not thou in pain, either for my head, or for thy own neck; nor for the Blue Boar; nor for the pretty Sow.

I love your jesting. Jesting better becomes a poor man than qualms. I love to have you jest. All we say, all we do, all we wish for, is a jest. He that makes life itself not so is a sad fellow, and has the worst of it.

I doubt not, Joseph, but you have had your joys, as you say, as well as your betters. May you have more and more, honest Joseph!—He that grudges a poor man joy, ought to have none himself. Jest on, therefore.—Jesting, I repeat, better becomes thee than qualms.

I had no need to tell you of Miss Betterton. Did I not furnish you with stories enough, without hers, against myself, to augment your credit with your cunning masters? Besides, I was loth to mention Miss Betterton, her friends being all living, and in credit. I loved her too—for she was taken from me by her cruel friends, while our joys were young.

But enough of dear Miss Betterton.—Dear, I say; for death endears.—Rest to her worthy soul!—There, Joseph, off went a deep sigh to the memory of Miss Betterton!

As to the journey of little Titus, (I now recollect the fellow by his name) let that take its course: a lady dying in childbed eighteen months ago; no process begun in her life-time; refusing herself to give evidence against me while she lived—pretty circumstances to found an indictment for a rape upon!

As to your young lady, the ever-admirable Miss Clarissa Harlowe, I always courted her for a wife. Others rather expected marriage from the vanity of their own hearts, than from my promises; for I was always careful of what I promised. You know, Joseph, that I have gone beyond my promises to you. I do to every body; and why? because it is the best way of showing that I have no grudging or narrow spirit. A promise is an obligation. A just man will keep his promise, a generous man will go beyond it.—This is my rule.

If you doubt my honour to your young lady, it is more than she does. She would not stay with me an hour if she did. Mine is the steadiest heart in the world. Hast thou not reason to think it so? Why this squeamishness then, honest Joseph?

But it is because thou art honest—so I forgive thee. Whoever loves my divine Clarissa, loves me.

Let James Harlowe call me what names he will, for his sister’s sake I will bear them. Do not be concerned for me; her favour will make me rich amends; his own vilely malicious heart will make his blood boil over at any time; and when it does, thinkest thou that I will let it touch thine? Ah! Joseph, Joseph! what a foolish teaser is thy conscience! Such a conscience as gives a plain man trouble, when he intends to do for the best, is weakness, not conscience.

But say what thou wilt, write all thou knowest or hearest of to me, I’ll have patience with every body. Why should I not, when it is as much the desire of my heart, as it is of thine, to prevent mischief?

So now, Joseph, having taken all this pains to satisfy thy conscience, and answer all thy doubts, and to banish all thy fears, let me come to a new point.

Your endeavours and mine, which were designed, by round-about ways, to reconcile all, even against the wills of the most obstinate, have not, we see answered the end we hoped they would answer; but, on the contrary, have widened the differences between our families. But this has not been either your fault or mine: it is owing to the black, pitch-like blood of your venomous-hearted young master, boiling over, as he owns, that our honest wishes have hitherto been frustrated.

Yet we must proceed in the same course. We shall tire them out in time, and they will propose terms; and when they do, they shall find out how reasonable mine shall be, little as they deserve from me.

Persevere, therefore, Joseph, honest Joseph, persevere; and unlikely as you may imagine the means, our desires will at last be obtained.

We have nothing for it now, but to go through with our work in the way we have begun. For since (as I told you in my last) my beloved mistrusts you, she will blow you up, if she be not mine; if she be, I can, and will, protect you; and as, if there will be any fault, in her opinion, it will be rather mine than yours, she must forgive you, and keep her husband’s secrets, for the sake of his reputation; else she will be guilty of a great failure in her duty. So now you have set your hand to the plough, Joseph, there is no looking back.

And what is the consequence of all this: one labour more, and that will be all that will fall to your lot; at least, of consequence.

My beloved is resolved not to think of marriage till she has tried to move her friends to a reconciliation with her. You know they are determined not to be reconciled. She has it in her head, I doubt not, to make me submit to the people I hate; and if I did, they would rather insult me, than receive my condescension as they ought. She even owns, that she will renounce me, if they insist upon it, provided they will give up Solmes: so, to all appearance, I am still as far as ever from the happiness of calling her mine; Indeed I am more likely than ever to lose her, (if I cannot contrive some way to avail myself of the present critical situation;) and then, Joseph, all I have been studying, and all you have been doing, will signify nothing.

At the place where we are, we cannot long be private. The lodgings are inconvenient for us, while both together, and while she refuses to marry. She wants to get me at a distance from her; there are extraordinary convenient lodgings, in my eye, in London, where we could be private, and all mischief avoided. When there, (if I get her thither,) she will insist that I leave her. Miss Howe is for ever putting her upon contrivances. That, you know, is the reason I have been obliged, by your means, to play the family off at Harlowe-place upon Mrs. Howe, and Mrs. Howe upon her daughter—Ah, Joseph! Little need for your fears for my angel! I only am in danger: but were I the free-liver I am reported to be, all this could I get over with a wet finger, as the saying is.

But, by the help of one of your hints, I have thought of an expedient which will do ever thing, and raise your reputation, though already so high, higher still. This Singleton, I hear, is a fellow who loves enterprising: the view he has to get James Harlowe to be his principal owner in a large vessel which he wants to be put into the command of, may be the subject of their present close conversation. But since he is taught to have so good an opinion of you, Joseph, cannot you (still pretending an abhorrence of me, and of my contrivances) propose to Singleton to propose to James Harlowe (who so much thirsts for revenge upon me) to assist him, with his whole ship’s crew, upon occasion, to carry off his sister to Leith, where both have houses, or elsewhere?

You may tell them, that if this can be effected, it will make me raving mad; and bring your young lady into all their measures.

You can inform them, as from my servant, of the distance she keeps me at, in hopes of procuring her father’s forgiveness, by cruelly giving me up, if insisted upon.

You can tell them, that as the only secret my servant has kept from you is the place we are in, you make no doubt, that a two-guinea bribe will bring that out, and also an information when I shall be at a distance from her, that the enterprise may be conducted with safety.

You may tell them, (still as from my servant,) that we are about to remove from inconvenient lodgings to others more convenient, (which is true,) and that I must be often absent from her.

If they listen to your proposal, you will promote your interest with Betty, by telling it to her as a secret. Betty will tell Arabella of it; Arabella will be overjoyed at any thing that will help forward her revenge upon me; and will reveal it (if her brother do not) to her uncle Antony; he probably will whisper it to Mrs. Howe; she can keep nothing from her daughter, though they are always jangling. Her daughter will acquaint my beloved with it. And if it will not, or if it will, come to my ears from some of those, you can write it to me, as in confidence, by way of preventing msicheif; which is the study of us both.

I can then show it to my beloved; then will she be for placing a greater confidence in me—that will convince me of her love, which I am now sometimes ready to doubt. She will be for hastening to the safer lodgings. I shall have a pretence to stay about her person, as a guard. She will be convinced that there is no expectation to be had of a reconciliation. You can give James Harlowe and Singleton continual false scents, as I shall direct you; so that no mischief can possibly happen.

And what will be the happy, happy, thrice happy consequence?—The lady will be mine in an honourable way, we shall all be friends in good time. The two guineas will be an agreeable addition to the many gratuities I have helped you to, by the like contrivances, from this stingy family. Your reputation, both for head and heart, as I hinted before, will be heightened. The Blue Boar also will be yours; nor shall you have the least difficulty about raising money to buy the stock, if it be worth your while to have it.

Betty will likewise then be yours. You have both saved money, it seems. The whole Harlowe family, whom you have so faithfully served, [’tis serving them, surely, to prevent the mischief which their violent son would have brought upon them,] will throw you in somewhat towards housekeeping. I will still add to your store—so nothing but happiness before you!

Crow, Joseph, crow!—a dunghill of thy own in view; servants to snub at thy pleasure; a wife to quarrel with, or to love, as thy humour leads thee; Landlord and Landlady at every word; to be paid, instead of paying, for thy eating and drinking. But not thus happy only in thyself: happy in promoting peace and reconciliation between two good families, in the long run, without hurting any christian soul. O Joseph, honest Joseph! what envy wilt thou raise, and who would be squeamish with such prospects before him.

This one labour, I repeat, crowns the work. If you can get but such a design entertained by them, whether they prosecute it or not, it will be equally to the purpose of

Your loving friend, R. LOVELACE.