Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XVII


Well sayest thou, that mine is the most plotting heart in the world. Thou dost me honour; and I thank thee heartily. Thou art no bad judge. How like Boileau’s parson I strut behind my double chin! Am I not obliged to deserve thy compliment? And wouldst thou have me repent of a murder before I have committed it?

’The Virtues and Graces are this Lady’s handmaids. She was certainly born to adorn the age she was given to.’—Well said, Jack—’And would be an ornament to the first dignity.’ But what praise is that, unless the first dignity were adorned with the first merit?—Dignity! gew-gaw!— First dignity! thou idiot!—Art thou, who knowest me, so taken with ermine and tinsel?—I, who have won the gold, am only fit to wear it. For the future therefore correct thy style, and proclaim her the ornament of the happiest man, and (respecting herself and sex) the greatest conqueror in the world.

Then, that she loves me, as thou imaginest, by no means appears clear to me. Her conditional offers to renounce me; the little confidence she places in me; entitle me to ask, What merit can she have with a man, who won her in spite of herself; and who fairly, in set and obstinate battle, took her prisoner?

As to what thou inferrest from her eye when with us, thou knowest nothing of her heart from that, if thou imaginest there was one glance of love shot from it. Well did I note her eye, and plainly did I see, that it was all but just civil disgust to me and to the company I had brought her into. Her early retiring that night, against all entreaty, might have convinced thee, that there was very little of the gentle in her heart for me. And her eye never knew what it was to contradict her heart.

She is, thou sayest, all mind. So say I. But why shouldst thou imagine that such a mind as hers, meeting with such a one as mine, and, to dwell upon the word, meeting with an inclination in hers, should not propagate minds like her own?

Were I to take thy stupid advice, and marry; what a figure should I make in rakish annals! The lady in my power: yet not have intended to put herself in my power: declaring against love, and a rebel to it: so much open-eyed caution: no confidence in my honour: her family expecting the worst hath passed: herself seeming to expect that the worst will be attempted: [Priscilla Partington for that!] What! wouldst thou not have me act in character?

But why callest thou the lady innocent? And why sayest thou she loves me?

By innocent, with regard to me, and not taken as a general character, I must insist upon it she is not innocent. Can she be innocent, who, by wishing to shackle me in the prime and glory of my youth, with such a capacity as I have for noble mischief,* would make my perdition more certain, were I to break, as I doubt I should, the most solemn vow I could make? I say no man ought to take even a common oath, who thinks he cannot keep it. This is conscience! This is honour!—And when I think I can keep the marriage-vow, then will it be time to marry.

* See Vol. III. Letter XXIII. Paragr. 4.

No doubt of it, as thou sayest, the devils would rejoice in the fall of such a woman. But this is my confidence, that I shall have it in my power to marry when I will. And if I do her this justice, shall I not have a claim of her gratitude? And will she not think herself the obliged, rather than the obliger? Then let me tell thee, Belford, it is impossible so far to hurt the morals of this lady, as thou and thy brother varlets have hurt others of the sex, who now are casting about the town firebrands and double death. Take ye that thistle to mumble upon.


A short interruption. I now resume.

That the morals of this lady cannot fail, is a consideration that will lessen the guilt on both sides. And if, when subdued, she knows but how to middle the matter between virtue and love, then will she be a wife for me: for already I am convinced that there is not a woman in the world that is love-proof and plot-proof, if she be not the person.

And now imagine (the charmer overcome) thou seest me sitting supinely cross-kneed, reclining on my sofa, the god of love dancing in my eyes, and rejoicing in every mantling feature; the sweet rogue, late such a proud rogue, wholly in my power, moving up slowly to me, at my beck, with heaving sighs, half-pronounced upbraidings from murmuring lips, her finger in her eye, and quickening her pace at my Come hither, dearest!

One hand stuck in my side, the other extended to encourage her bashful approach—Kiss me, love!—sweet, as Jack Belford says, are the joys that come with willingness.

She tenders her purple mouth [her coral lips will be purple then, Jack!]: sigh not so deeply, my beloved!—Happier hours await thy humble love, than did thy proud resistance.

Once more bent to my ardent lips the swanny glossiness of a neck late so stately.—

There’s my precious!


Obliging loveliness!

O my ever-blooming glory! I have tried thee enough. To-morrow’s sun—

Then I rise, and fold to my almost-talking heart the throbbing-bosom’d charmer.

And now shall thy humble pride confess its obligation to me!

To-morrow’s sun—and then I disengage myself from the bashful passive, and stalk about the room—to-morrow’s sun shall gild the altar at which my vows shall be paid thee!

Then, Jack, the rapture! then the darted sun-beams from her gladdened eye, drinking up, at one sip, the precious distillation from the pearl- dropt cheek! Then hands ardently folded, eyes seeming to pronounce, God bless my Lovelace! to supply the joy-locked tongue: her transports too strong, and expression too weak, to give utterance to her grateful meanings!—All—all the studies—all the studies of her future life vowed and devoted (when she can speak) to acknowledge and return the perpetual obligation!

If I could bring my charmer to this, would it not be the eligible of eligibles?—Is it not worth trying for?—As I said, I can marry her when I will. She can be nobody’s but mine, neither for shame, nor by choice, nor yet by address: for who, that knows my character, believes that the worst she dreads is now to be dreaded?

I have the highest opinion that man can have (thou knowest I have) of the merit and perfections of this admirable woman; of her virtue and honour too, although thou, in a former, art of opinion that she may be overcome.* Am I not therefore obliged to go further, in order to contradict thee, and, as I have often urged, to be sure that she is what I really think her to be, and, if I am ever to marry her, hope to find her?

* See Vol. III. Letter LI. Paragr. 9.

Then this lady is a mistress of our passions: no one ever had to so much perfection the art of moving. This all her family know, and have equally feared and revered her for it. This I know too; and doubt not more and more to experience. How charmingly must this divine creature warble forth (if a proper occasion be given) her melodious elegiacs!—Infinite beauties are there in a weeping eye. I first taught the two nymphs below to distinguish the several accents of the lamentable in a new subject, and how admirably some, more than others, become their distresses.

But to return to thy objections—Thou wilt perhaps tell me, in the names of thy brethren, as well as in thy own name, that, among all the objects of your respective attempts, there was not one of the rank and merit of my charming Miss Harlowe.

But let me ask, Has it not been a constant maxim with us, that the greater the merit on the woman’s side, the nobler the victory on the man’s? And as to rank, sense of honour, sense of shame, pride of family, may make rifled rank get up, and shake itself to rights: and if any thing come of it, such a one may suffer only in her pride, by being obliged to take up with a second-rate match instead of a first; and, as it may fall out, be the happier, as well as the more useful, for the misadventure; since (taken off of her public gaddings, and domesticated by her disgrace) she will have reason to think herself obliged to the man who has saved her from further reproach; while her fortune and alliance will lay an obligation upon him; and her past fall, if she have prudence and consciousness, will be his present and future security.

But a poor girl [such a one as my Rosebud for instance] having no recalls from education; being driven out of every family that pretends to reputation; persecuted most perhaps by such as have only kept their secret better; and having no refuge to fly to—the common, the stews, the street, is the fate of such a poor wretch; penury, want, and disease, her sure attendants; and an untimely end perhaps closes the miserable scene.

And will you not now all join to say, that it is more manly to attach a lion than a sheep?—Thou knowest, that I always illustrated my eagleship, by aiming at the noblest quarries; and by disdaining to make a stoop at wrens, phyl-tits,* and wag-tails.

* Phyl-tits, q. d. Phyllis-tits, in opposition to Tom-tits. It needs not now be observed, that Mr. Lovelace, in this wanton gaiety of his heart, often takes liberties of coining words and phrases in his letters to this his familiar friend. See his ludicrous reason for it in Vol. III. Letter XXV. Paragr. antepenult.

The worst respecting myself, in the case before me, is that my triumph, when completed, will be so glorious a one, that I shall never be able to keep up to it. All my future attempts must be poor to this. I shall be as unhappy, after a while, from my reflections upon this conquest, as Don Juan of Austria was in his, on the renowned victory of Lepanto, when he found that none of future achievements could keep pace with his early glory.

I am sensible that my pleas and my reasoning may be easily answered, and perhaps justly censured; But by whom censured? Not by any of the confraternity, whose constant course of life, even long before I became your general, to this hour, has justified what ye now in a fit of squeamishness, and through envy, condemn. Having, therefore, vindicated myself and my intentions to YOU, that is all I am at present concerned for.

Be convinced, then, that I (according to our principles) am right, thou wrong; or, at least, be silent. But I command thee to be convinced. And in thy next be sure to tell me that thou art.