Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XVIII


Several billets passed between us before I went out, by the internuncioship of Dorcas: for which reason mine are superscribed by her married name.—She would not open her door to receive them; lest I should be near it, I suppose: so Dorcas was forced to put them under the door (after copying them for thee); and thence to take the answers. Read them, if thou wilt, at this place.


Indeed, my dearest life, you carry this matter too far. What will the people below, who suppose us one as to the ceremony, think of so great a niceness? Liberties so innocent! the occasion so accidental!—You will expose yourself as well as me.—Hitherto they know nothing of what has passed. And what indeed has passed to occasion all this resentment?—I am sure you will not, by a breach of your word of honour, give me reason to conclude that, had I not obeyed you, I could have fared no worse.

Most sincerely do I repent the offence given to your delicacy—But must I, for so accidental an occurrence, be branded by such shocking names?— Vilest of men, and most detestable of plotters, are hard words!—From the pen of such a lady too.

If you step up another pair of stairs, you will be convinced, that, however detestable I may be to you, I am no plotter in this affair.

I must insist upon seeing you, in order to take your directions upon some of the subjects we talked of yesterday in the evening.

All that is more than necessary is too much. I claim your promised pardon, and wish to plead it on my knees.

I beg your presence in the dining-room for one quarter of an hour, and I will then leave you for the day, I am,

My dearest life, Your ever adoring and truly penitent LOVELACE.


I will not see you. I cannot see you. I have no directions to give you. Let Providence decide for me as it pleases.

The more I reflect upon your vileness, your ungrateful, your barbarous vileness, the more I am exasperated against you.

You are the last person whose judgment I will take upon what is or is not carried too far in matters of decency.

’Tis grievous to me to write, or even to think of you at present. Urge me no more then. Once more, I will not see you. Nor care I, now you have made me vile to myself, what other people think of me.


Again, Madam, I remind you of your promise: and beg leave to say, I insist upon the performance of it.

Remember, dearest creature, that the fault of a blameable person cannot warrant a fault in one more perfect. Overniceness may be underniceness!

I cannot reproach myself with any thing that deserves this high resentment.

I own that the violence of my passion for you might have carried me beyond fit bounds—but that your commands and adjurations had power over me at such a moment, I humbly presume to say, deserves some consideration.

You enjoin me not to see you for a week. If I have not your pardon before Captain Tomlinson comes to town, what shall I say to him?

I beg once more your presence in the dining-room. By my soul, Madam, I must see you.

I want to consult you about the license, and other particulars of great importance. The people below think us married; and I cannot talk to you upon such subjects with the door between us.

For Heaven’s sake, favour me with your presence for a few minutes: and I will leave you for the day.

If I am to be forgiven, according to your promise, the earlier forgiveness will be most obliging, and will save great pain to yourself, as well as to

Your truly contrite and afflicted LOVELACE.


The more you tease me, the worse it will be for you.

Time is wanted to consider whether I ever should think of you at all.

At present, it is my sincere wish, that I may never more see your face.

All that can afford you the least shadow of favour from me, arises from the hoped-for reconciliation with my real friends, not my Judas protector.

I am careless at present of consequences. I hate myself: And who is it I have reason to value?—Not the man who could form a plot to disgrace his own hopes, as well as a poor friendless creature, (made friendless by himself,) by insults not to be thought of with patience.


MADAM, I will go to the Commons, and proceed in every particular as if I had not the misfortune to be under your displeasure.

I must insist upon it, that however faulty my passion, on so unexpected an incident, made me appear to a lady of your delicacy, yet my compliance with your entreaties at such a moment [as it gave you an instance of your power over me, which few men could have shown] ought, duly considered, to entitle me to the effects of that solemn promise which was the condition of my obedience.

I hope to find you in a kinder, and, I will say, juster disposition on my return. Whether I get the license, or not, let me beg of you to make the soon you have been pleased to bid me hope for, to-morrow morning. This will reconcile every thing, and make me the happiest of men.

The settlements are ready to sign, or will be by night.

For Heaven’s sake, Madam, do not carry your resentment into a displeasure so disproportionate to the offence. For that would be to expose us both to the people below; and, what is of infinite more consequence to us, to Captain Tomlinson. Let us be able, I beseech you, Madam, to assure him, on his next visit, that we are one.

As I have no hope to be permitted to dine with you, I shall not return till evening: and then, I presume to say, I expect [your promise authorizes me to use the word] to find you disposed to bless, by your consent for to-morrow,

Your adoring LOVELACE.


What pleasure did I propose to take, how to enjoy the sweet confusion in which I expected to find her, while all was so recent!—But she must, she shall, see me on my return. It were better to herself, as well as for me, that she had not made so much ado about nothing. I must keep my anger alive, lest it sink into compassion. Love and compassion, be the provocation ever so great, are hard to be separated: while anger converts what would be pity, without it, into resentment. Nothing can be lovely in a man’s eye with which he is thoroughly displeased.

I ordered Dorcas, on putting the last billet under the door, and finding it taken up, to tell her, that I hoped an answer to it before I went out.

Her reply was verbal, tell him that I care not whither he goes, nor what he does.—And this, re-urged by Dorcas, was all she had to say to me.

I looked through the key-hole at my going by her door, and saw her on her knees, at her bed’s feet, her head and bosom on the bed, her arms extended; [sweet creature how I adore her!] and in an agony she seemed to be, sobbing, as I heard at that distance, as if her heart would break.— By my soul, Jack, I am a pityful fellow! Recollection is my enemy!— Divine excellence!—Happy with her for so many days together! Now so unhappy!—And for what?—But she is purity herself. And why, after all, should I thus torment—but I must not trust myself with myself, in the humour I am in.


Waiting here for Mowbray and Mallory, by whose aid I am to get the license, I took papers out of my pocket, to divert myself; and thy last popt officiously the first into my hand. I gave it the honour of a re-perusal; and this revived the subject with me, with which I had resolved not to trust myself.

I remember, that the dear creature, in her torn answer to my proposals, says, condescension is not meanness. She better knows how to make this out, than any mortal breathing. Condescension indeed implies dignity: and dignity ever was there in her condescension. Yet such a dignity as gave grace to the condescension; for there was no pride, no insult, no apparent superiority, indicated by it.—This, Miss Howe confirms to be a part of her general character.*

* See Vol. IV. Letter XXIII.

I can tell her, how she might behave, to make me her own for ever. She knows she cannot fly me. She knows she must see me sooner or later; the sooner the more gracious.—I would allow her to resent [not because the liberties I took with her require resentment, were she not a CLARISSA; but as it becomes her particular niceness to resent]: but would she show more love than abhorrence of me in her resentment; would she seem, if it were but to seem, to believe the fire no device, and all that followed merely accidental; and descend, upon it, to tender expostulation, and upbraiding for the advantage I would have taken of her surprise; and would she, at last, be satisfied (as well she may) that it was attended with no further consequence; and place some generous confidence in my honour, [power loves to be trusted, Jack;] I think I would put an end to all her trials, and pay her my vows at the altar.

Yet, to have taken such bold steps, as with Tomlinson and her uncle—to have made such a progress—O Belford, Belford, how I have puzzled myself, as well as her!—This cursed aversion to wedlock how it has entangled me!—What contradictions has it made me guilty of!

How pleasing to myself, to look back upon the happy days I gave her; though mine would doubtless have been unmixedly so, could I have determined to lay aside my contrivances, and to be as sincere all the time, as she deserved that I should be!

If I find this humour hold but till to-morrow morning, [and it has now lasted two full hours, and I seem, methinks, to have pleasure in encouraging it,] I will make thee a visit, I think, or get thee to come to me; and then will I—consult thee upon it.

But she will not trust me. She will not confide in my honour. Doubt, in this case, is defiance. She loves me not well enough to forgive me generously. She is so greatly above me! How can I forgive her for a merit so mortifying to my pride! She thinks, she knows, she has told me, that she is above me. These words are still in my ears, ’Be gone, Lovelace!—My soul is above thee, man!—Thou hast a proud heart to contend with!—My soul is above thee, man!’* Miss Howe thinks her above me too. Thou, even thou, my friend, my intimate friend and companion, art of the same opinion. Then I fear her as much as I love her.—How shall my pride bear these reflections? My wife (as I have often said, because it so often recurs to my thoughts) to be so much my superior!— Myself to be considered but as the second person in my own family!—Canst thou teach me to bear such a reflection as this!—To tell me of my acquisition in her, and that she, with all her excellencies, will be mine in full property, is a mistake—it cannot be so—for shall I not be her’s; and not my own?—Will not every act of her duty (as I cannot deserve it) be a condescension, and a triumph over me?—And must I owe it merely to her goodness that she does not despise me?—To have her condescend to bear with my follies!—To wound me with an eye of pity!—A daughter of the Harlowes thus to excel the last, and as I have heretofore said, not the meanest of the Lovelaces**—forbid it!

* See Vol. IV. Letter XLVII. ** See Vol. III. Letter XVIII.

Yet forbid it not—for do I not now—do I not every moment—see her before me all over charms, and elegance and purity, as in the struggles of the past midnight? And in these struggles, heart, voice, eyes, hand, and sentiments, so greatly, so gloriously consistent with the character she has sustained from her cradle to the present hour?

But what advantages do I give thee?

Yet have I not always done her justice? Why then thy teasing impertinence?

However, I forgive thee, Jack—since (so much generous love am I capable of!) I had rather all the world should condemn me, than that her character should suffer the least impeachment.

The dear creature herself once told me, that there was a strange mixture in my mind.* I have been called Devil and Beelzebub, between the two proud beauties: I must indeed be a Beelzebub, if I had not some tolerable qualities.

* See Vol. III. Letter XXXIII.

But as Miss Howe says, the suffering time of this excellent creature is her shining time.* Hitherto she has done nothing but shine.

* See Vol. IV. Letter XXIII.

She called me villain, Belford, within these few hours. And what is the sum of the present argument; but that had I not been a villain in her sense of the word, she had not been such an angel?

O Jack, Jack! This midnight attempt has made me mad; has utterly undone me! How can the dear creature say, I have made her vile in her own eyes, when her behaviour under such a surprise, and her resentment under such circumstances, have so greatly exalted her in mine?

Whence, however, this strange rhapsody?—Is it owing to my being here? That I am not at Sinclair’s? But if there be infection in that house, how has my beloved escaped it?

But no more in this strain!—I will see what her behaviour will be on my return—yet already do I begin to apprehend some little sinkings, some little retrogradations: for I have just now a doubt arisen, whether, for her own sake, I should wish her to forgive me lightly, or with difficulty?


I am in a way to come at the wished-for license.

I have now given every thing between my beloved and me a full consideration; and my puzzle is over. What has brought me to a speedier determination is, that I think I have found out what she means by the week’s distance at which she intends to hold me. It is, that she may have time to write to Miss Howe, to put in motion that cursed scheme of her’s, and to take measures upon it which shall enable her to abandon and renounce me for ever. Now, Jack, if I obtain not admission to her presence on my return; but am refused with haughtiness; if her week be insisted upon (such prospects before her); I shall be confirmed in my conjecture; and it will be plain to me, that weak at best was that love, which could give place to punctilio, at a time when that all-reconciling ceremony, as she must think, waits her command:—then will I recollect all her perversenesses; then will I re-peruse Miss Howe’s letters, and the transcripts from others of them; give way to my aversion to the life of shackles: and then shall she be mine in my own way.

But, after all, I am in hopes that she will have better considered of every thing by the evening; that her threat of a week’s distance was thrown out in the heat of passion; and that she will allow, that I have as much cause to quarrel with her for breach of her word, as she has with me for breach of the peace.

These lines of Rowe have got into my head; and I shall repeat them very devoutly all the way the chairman shall poppet me towards her by-and-by.

Teach me, some power, the happy art of speech,

To dress my purpose up in gracious words;

Such as may softly steal upon her soul,

And never waken the tempestuous passions.