Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XVI


Now is my reformation secure; for I never shall love any other woman! Oh! she is all variety! She must ever be new to me! Imagination cannot form; much less can the pencil paint; nor can the soul of painting, poetry, describe an angel so exquisitely, so elegantly lovely!—But I will not by anticipation pacify thy impatience. Although the subject is too hallowed for profane contemplation, yet shalt thou have the whole before thee as it passed: and this not from a spirit wantoning in description upon so rich a subject; but with a design to put a bound to thy roving thoughts. It will be iniquity, greater than a Lovelace was ever guilty of, to carry them farther than I shall acknowledge.

Thus then, connecting my last with the present, I lead to it.

Didst thou not, by the conclusion of my former, perceive the consternation I was in, just as I was about to reperuse thy letter, in order to prevail upon myself to recede from my purpose of awaking in terrors my slumbering charmer? And what dost think was the matter?

I’ll tell thee—

At a little after two, when the whole house was still, or seemed to be so, and, as it proved, my Clarissa in bed, and fast asleep; I also in a manner undressed (as indeed I was for an hour before) and in my gown and slippers, though, to oblige thee, writing on!—I was alarmed by a trampling noise over head, and a confused buz of mixed voices, some louder than others, like scolding, and little short of screaming. While I was wondering what could be the matter, down stairs ran Dorcas, and at my door, in an accent rather frightedly and hoarsely inward than shrilly clamorous, she cried out Fire! Fire! And this the more alarmed me, as she seemed to endeavour to cry out louder, but could not.

My pen (its last scrawl a benediction on my beloved) dropped from my fingers; and up started I; and making but three steps to the door, opening it, cried out, Where! Where! almost as much terrified as the wench; while she, more than half undrest, her petticoats in her hand, unable to speak distinctly, pointed up stairs.

I was there in a moment, and found all owing to the carelessness of Mrs. Sinclair’s cook-maid, who having sat up to read the simple History of Dorastus and Faunia, when she should have been in bed, had set fire to an old pair of calico window-curtains.

She had had the presence of mind, in her fright, to tear down the half- burnt vallens, as well as curtains, and had got them, though blazing, into the chimney, by the time I came up; so that I had the satisfaction to find the danger happily over.

Mean time Dorcas, after she had directed me up stairs, not knowing the worst was over, and expecting every minute the house would be in a blaze, out of tender regard for her lady, [I shall for ever love the wench for it,] ran to her door, and rapping loudly at it, in a recovered voice, cried out, with a shrillness equal to her love, Fire! Fire! The house is on fire!—Rise, Madam!—This instant rise—if you would not be burnt in your bed!

No sooner had she made this dreadful out-cry, but I heard her lady’s door, with hasty violence, unbar, unbolt, unlock, and open, and my charmer’s voice sounding like that of one going into a fit.

Thou mayest believe that I was greatly affected. I trembled with concern for her, and hastened down faster than the alarm of fire had made me run up, in order to satisfy her that all the danger was over.

When I had flown down to her chamber-door, there I beheld the most charming creature in the world, supporting herself on the arm of the gasping Dorcas, sighing, trembling, and ready to faint, with nothing on but an under petticoat, her lovely bosom half open, and her feet just slipped into her shoes. As soon as she saw me, she panted, and struggled to speak; but could only say, O Mr. Lovelace! and down was ready to sink.

I clasped her in my arms with an ardour she never felt before: My dearest life! fear nothing: I have been up—the danger is over—the fire is got under—and how, foolish devil, [to Dorcas,] could you thus, by your hideous yell, alarm and frighten my angel!

O Jack! how her sweet bosom, as I clasped her to mine, heaved and panted! I could even distinguish her dear heart flutter, flutter, against mine; and, for a few minutes, I feared she would go into fits.

Lest the half-lifeless charmer should catch cold in this undress, I lifted her to her bed, and sat down by her upon the side of it, endeavouring with the utmost tenderness, as well of action as expression, to dissipate her terrors.

But what did I get by this my generous care of her, and my successful endeavour to bring her to herself?—Nothing (ungrateful as she was!) but the most passionate exclamations: for we had both already forgotten the occasion, dreadful as it was, which had thrown her into my arms: I, from the joy of encircling the almost disrobed body of the loveliest of her sex; she, from the greater terrors that arose from finding herself in my arms, and both seated on the bed, from which she had been so lately frighted.

And now, Belford, reflect upon the distance at which the watchful charmer had hitherto kept me: reflect upon my love, and upon my sufferings for her: reflect upon her vigilance, and how long I had laid in wait to elude it; the awe I had stood in, because of her frozen virtue and over-niceness; and that I never before was so happy with her; and then think how ungovernable must be my transports in those happy moments!—And yet, in my own account, I was both decent and generous.

But, far from being affected, as I wished, by an address so fervent, (although from a man from whom she had so lately owned a regard, and with whom, but an hour or two before, she had parted with so much satisfaction,) I never saw a bitterer, or more moving grief, when she came fully to herself.

She appealed to Heaven against my treachery, as she called it; while I, by the most solemn vows, pleaded my own equal fright, and the reality of the danger that had alarmed us both.

She conjured me, in the most solemn and affecting manner, by turns threatening and soothing, to quit her apartment, and permit her to hide herself from the light, and from every human eye.

I besought her pardon, yet could not avoid offending; and repeatedly vowed, that the next morning’s sun should witness our espousals. But taking, I suppose, all my protestations of this kind as an indication that I intended to proceed to the last extremity, she would hear nothing that I said; but, redoubling her struggles to get from me, in broken accents, and exclamations the most vehement, she protested, that she would not survive what she called a treatment so disgraceful and villanous; and, looking all wildly round her, as if for some instrument of mischief, she espied a pair of sharp-pointed scissors on a chair by the bed-side, and endeavoured to catch them up, with design to make her words good on the spot.

Seeing her desperation, I begged her to be pacified; that she would hear me speak but one word; declaring that I intended no dishonour to her: and having seized the scissors, I threw them into the chimney; and she still insisting vehemently upon my distance, I permitted her to take the chair.

But, O the sweet discomposure!—Her bared shoulders, and arms so inimitably fair and lovely: her spread hands crossed over her charming neck; yet not half concealing its glossy beauties: the scanty coat, as she rose from me, giving the whole of her admirable shape, and fine- turn’d limbs: her eyes running over, yet seeming to threaten future vengeance: and at last her lips uttering what every indignant look and glowing feature portended: exclaiming as if I had done the worst I could do, and vowing never to forgive me; wilt thou wonder if I resumed the incensed, the already too-much-provoked fair-one?

I did; and clasped her once more to my bosom: but, considering the delicacy of her frame, her force was amazing, and showed how much in earnest she was in her resentment; for it was with the utmost difficulty that I was able to hold her: nor could I prevent her sliding through my arms, to fall upon her knees: which she did at my feet: and there in the anguish of her soul, her streaming eyes lifted up to my face with supplicating softness, hands folded, dishevelled hair; for her night head-dress having fallen off in her struggling, her charming tresses fell down in naturally shining ringlets, as if officious to conceal the dazzling beauties of her neck and shoulders; her lovely bosom too heaving with sighs, and broken sobs, as if to aid her quivering lips in pleading for her—in this manner, but when her grief gave way to her speech, in words pronounced with that emphatical propriety, which distinguishes this admirable creature in her elocution from all the women I ever heard speak, did she implore my compassion and my honour.

’Consider me, dear Lovelace,’ [dear was her charming word!] ’on my knees I beg you to consider me as a poor creature who has no protector but you; who has no defence but your honour: by that honour! by your humanity! by all you have vowed! I conjure you not to make me abhor myself! not to make me vile in my own eyes!’

I mentioned to-morrow as the happiest day of my life.

Tell me not of to-morrow. If indeed you mean me honourably, now, this very instant NOW! you must show it, and be gone! you can never in a whole long life repair the evils you NOW make me suffer!

Wicked wretch!—Insolent villain!—yes, she called me insolent villain, although so much in my power! And for what!—only for kissing (with passion indeed) her inimitable neck, her lips, her cheeks, her forehead, and her streaming eyes, as this assemblage of beauties offered itself at once to my ravished sight; she continuing kneeling at my feet as I sat.

If I am a villain, Madam!—And then my grasping, but trembling hand—I hope I did not hurt the tenderest and loveliest of all her beauties—If I am a villain, Madam—

She tore my ruffle, shrunk from my happy hand, with amazing force and agility, as with my other arm I would have encircled her waist.

Indeed you are!—the worst of villains!—Help! dear, blessed people! and screamed out—No help for a poor creature!

Am I then a villain, Madam?—Am I then a villain, say you?—and clasped both my arms about her, offering to raise her to my bounding heart.

Oh! no!—And yet you are!—And again I was her dear Lovelace!—her hands again clasped over her charming bosom:—Kill me! kill me!—if I am odious enough in your eyes to deserve this treatment: and I will thank you!—Too long, much too long has my life been a burden to me!—Or, (wildly looking all round her,) give me but the means, and I will instantly convince you that my honour is dearer to me than my life!

Then, with still folded hands, and fresh streaming eyes, I was her blessed Lovelace; and she would thank me with her latest breath if I would permit her to make that preference, or free her from farther indignities.

I sat suspended for a moment: by my soul, thought I, thou art, upon full proof, an angel and no woman! still, however, close clasping her to my bosom, as I raised her from her knees, she again slid through my arms, and dropped upon them.—’See, Mr. Lovelace!—Good God! that I should live to see this hour, and to bear this treatment!—See at your feet a poor creature, imploring your pity; who, for your sake, is abandoned of all the world. Let not my father’s curse thus dreadfully operate! be not you the inflicter, who have been the cause of it: but spare me, I beseech you, spare me!—for how have I deserved this treatment from you? for your own sake, if not for my sake, and as you would that God Almighty, in your last hour, should have mercy upon you, spare me!’

What heart but must have been penetrated!

I would again have raised the dear suppliant from her knees; but she would not be raised, till my softened mind, she said, had yielded to her prayer, and bid her rise to be innocent.

Rise then, my angel! rise, and be what you are, and all you wish to be! only pronounce me pardoned for what has passed, and tell me you will continue to look upon me with that eye of favour and serenity which I have been blessed with for some days past, and I will submit to my beloved conqueress, whose power never was at so great an height with me, as now, and retire to my apartment.

God Almighty, said she, hear your prayers in your most arduous moments, as you have heard mine! and now leave me, this moment leave me, to my own recollection: in that you will leave me to misery enough, and more than you ought to wish to your bitterest enemy.

Impute not every thing, my best beloved, to design, for design it was not—

O Mr. Lovelace!

Upon my soul, Madam, the fire was real—[and so it was, Jack!]—The house, my dearest life, might have been consumed by it, as you will be convinced in the morning by ocular demonstration.

O Mr. Lovelace!—

Let my passion for you, Madam, and the unexpected meeting of you at your chamber-door, in an attitude so charming—

Leave me, leave me, this moment!—I beseech you leave me; looking wildly and in confusion about her, and upon herself.

Excuse me, my dearest creature, for those liberties which, innocent as they were, your too great delicacy may make you take amiss—

No more! no more!—leave me, I beseech you! again looking upon herself, and round her, in a sweet confusion—Begone! begone!

Then weeping, she struggled vehemently to withdraw her hands, which all the while I held between mine.—Her struggles!—O what additional charms, as I now reflect, did her struggles give to every feature, every limb, of a person so sweetly elegant and lovely!

Impossible, my dearest life, till you pronounce my pardon!—Say but you forgive me!—say but you forgive me!

I beseech you to be gone! leave me to myself, that I may think what I can do, and what I ought to do.

That, my dearest creature, is not enough. You must tell me that I am forgiven; that you will see me to-morrow as if nothing had happened.

And then I clasped her again in my arms, hoping she would not forgive me—

I will—I do forgive you—wretch that you are!

Nay, my Clarissa! and is it such a reluctant pardon, mingled with a word so upbraiding, that I am to be put off with, when you are thus (clasping her close to me) in my power?

I do, I do forgive you!


Yes, heartily!

And freely?


And will you look upon me to-morrow as if nothing had passed?

Yes, yes!

I cannot take these peevish affirmatives, so much like intentional negatives!—Say, you will, upon your honour.

Upon my honour, then—Oh! now, begone! begone!—and never never—

What! never, my angel!—Is this forgiveness?

Never, said she, let what has passed be remembered more!

I insisted upon one kiss to seal my pardon—and retired like a fool, a woman’s fool, as I was!—I sneakingly retired!—Couldst thou have believed it?

But I had no sooner entered my own apartment, than reflecting upon the opportunity I had lost, and that all I had gained was but an increase of my own difficulties; and upon the ridicule I should meet with below upon a weakness so much out of my usual character; I repented, and hastened back, in hope that, through the distress of mind which I left her in, she had not so soon fastened the door; and I was fully resolved to execute all my purposes, be the consequence what it would; for, thought I, I have already sinned beyond cordial forgiveness, I doubt; and if fits and desperation ensue, I can but marry at last, and then I shall make her amends.

But I was justly punished; for her door was fast: and hearing her sigh and sob, as if her heart would burst, My beloved creature, said I, rapping gently, [the sobbings then ceasing,] I want but to say three words to you, which must be the most acceptable you ever heard from me. Let me see you out for one moment.

I thought I heard her coming to open the door, and my heart leapt in that hope; but it was only to draw another bolt, to make it still the faster; and she either could not or would not answer me, but retired to the farther end of her apartment, to her closet, probably; and, more like a fool than before, again I sneaked away.

This was mine, my plot! and this was all I made of it!—I love her more than ever!—And well I may!—never saw I polished ivory so beautiful as her arms and shoulders; never touched I velvet so soft as her skin: her virgin bosom—O Belford, she is all perfection! then such an elegance!— In her struggling losing her shoe, (but just slipt on, as I told thee,) her pretty foot equally white and delicate as the hand of any other woman, or even her own hand!

But seest thou not that I have a claim of merit for a grace that every body hitherto had denied me? and that is for a capacity of being moved by prayers and tears—Where, where, on this occasion, was the callous, where the flint, by which my heart was said to be surrounded?

This, indeed, is the first instance, in the like case, that ever I was wrought upon. But why? because, I never before encountered a resistance so much in earnest: a resistance, in short, so irresistible.

What a triumph has her sex obtained in my thoughts by this trial, and this resistance?

But if she can now forgive me—can!—she must. Has she not upon her honour already done it?—But how will the dear creature keep that part of her promise which engages her to see me in the morning as if nothing had happened?

She would give the world, I fancy, to have the first interview over!—She had not best reproach me—yet not to reproach me!—what a charming puzzle!—Let her break her word with me at her peril. Fly me she cannot—no appeals lie from my tribunal—What friend has she in the world, if my compassion exert not itself in her favour?—and then the worthy Captain Tomlinson, and her uncle Harlowe, will be able to make all up for me, be my next offence what it may.

As to thy apprehensions of her committing any rashness upon herself, whatever she might have done in her passion, if she could have seized upon her scissors, or found any other weapon, I dare say there is no fear of that from her deliberate mind. A man has trouble enough with these truly pious, and truly virtuous girls; [now I believe there are such;] he had need to have some benefit from, some security in, the rectitude of their minds.

In short, I fear nothing in this lady but grief: yet that’s a slow worker, you know; and gives time to pop in a little joy between its sullen fits.