Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XX


When you reflect upon my unhappy situation, which is attended with so many indelicate and even shocking circumstances, some of which my pride will not let me think of with patience; all aggravated by the contents of my cousin’s affecting letter; you will not wonder that the vapourishness which has laid hold of my heart should rise to my pen. And yet it would be more kind, more friendly in me, to conceal from you, who take such a generous interest in my concerns, that worst part of my griefs, which communication and complaint cannot relieve.

But to whom can I unbosom myself but to you: when the man who ought to be my protector, as he has brought upon me all my distresses, adds to my apprehensions; when I have not even a servant on whose fidelity I can rely, or to whom I can break my griefs as they arise; and when his bountiful temper and gay heart attach every one to him; and I am but a cipher, to give him significance, and myself pain!—These griefs, therefore, do what I can, will sometimes burst into tears; and these mingling with my ink, will blot my paper. And I know you will not grudge me the temporary relief.

But I shall go on in the strain I left off with in my last, when I intended rather to apologize for my melancholy. But let what I have above written, once for all, be my apology. My misfortunes have given you a call to discharge the noblest offices of the friendship we have vowed to each other, in advice and consolation; and it would be an injury to it, and to you, to suppose it needed even that call.

[She then tells Miss Howe, that now her clothes are come, Mr. Lovelace is

continually teasing her to go abroad with him in a coach, attended by

whom she pleases of her own sex, either for the air, or to the public


She gives the particulars of a conversation that has passed between them

on that subject, and his several proposals. But takes notice, that he

says not the least word of the solemnity which he so much pressed for

before they came to town; and which, as she observes, was necessary to

give propriety to his proposals.]

Now, my dear, she says, I cannot bear the life I live. I would be glad at my heart to be out of his reach. If I were, he should soon find the difference. If I must be humbled, it had better be by those to whom I owe duty, than by him. My aunt writes in her letter,* that SHE dare not propose any thing in my favour. You tell me, that upon inquiry, you find,* that, had I not been unhappily seduced away, a change of measures was actually resolved upon; and that my mother, particularly, was determined to exert herself for the restoration of the family peace; and, in order to succeed the better, had thoughts of trying to engage my uncle Harlowe in her party.

* See Vol. III. Letter LII. ** Ibid. Letter VIII.

Let me build on these foundations. I can but try, my dear. It is my duty to try all probable methods to restore the poor outcast to favour. And who knows but that once indulgent uncle, who has very great weight in the family, may be induced to interpose in my behalf? I will give up all right and title to my grandfather’s devises and bequests, with all my heart and soul, to whom they please, in order to make my proposal palatable to my brother. And that my surrender may be effectual, I will engage never to marry.

What think you, my dear, of this expedient? Surely, they cannot resolve to renounce me for ever. If they look with impartial eyes upon what has happened, they will have something to blame themselves for, as well as me.

I presume, that you will be of opinion that this expedient is worth trying. But here is my difficulty: If I should write, my hard-hearted brother has so strongly confederated them all against me, that my letter would be handed about from one to another, till he had hardened every one to refuse my request; whereas could my uncle be engaged to espouse my cause, as from himself, I should have some hope, as I presume to think he would soon have my mother and my aunt of his party.

What, therefore, I am thinking of, is this—’Suppose Mr. Hickman, whose good character has gained him every body’s respect, should put himself in my uncle Harlowe’s way? And (as if from your knowledge of the state of things between Mr. Lovelace and me) assure him not only of the above particulars, but that I am under no obligations that shall hinder me from taking his directions?’

I submit the whole to your consideration, whether to pursue it at all, or in what manner. But if it be pursued, and if my uncle refuses to interest himself in my favour upon Mr. Hickman’s application as from you, (for so, for obvious reasons, it must be put,) I can then have no hope; and my next step, in the mind I am in, shall be to throw myself into the protection of the ladies of his family.

It were an impiety to adopt the following lines, because it would be throwing upon the decrees of Providence a fault too much my own. But often do I revolve them, for the sake of the general similitude which they bear to my unhappy, yet undersigned error.

To you, great gods! I make my last appeal:

Or clear my virtue, or my crimes reveal.

If wand’ring in the maze of life I run,

And backward tread the steps I sought to shun,

Impute my error to your own decree:

My FEET are guilty: but my HEART is free.

[The Lady dates again on Monday, to let Miss Howe know, that Mr.

Lovelace, on observing her uneasiness, had introduced to her Mr.

Mennell, Mrs. Fretchville’s kinsman, who managed all her affairs. She

calls him a young officer of sense and politeness, who gave her an

account of the house and furniture, to the same effect that Mr.

Lovelace had done before;* as also of the melancholy way Mrs.

Fretchville is in.

* See Letter IV. of this volume.

She tells Miss Howe how extremely urgent Mr. Lovelace was with the

gentleman, to get his spouse (as he now always calls her before

company) a sight of the house: and that Mr. Mennell undertook that

very afternoon to show her all of it, except the apartment Mrs.

Fretchville should be in when she went. But that she chose not to

take another step till she knew how she approved of her scheme to have

her uncle sounded, and with what success, if tried, it would be


Mr. Lovelace, in his humourous way, gives his friend an account of the

Lady’s peevishness and dejection, on receiving a letter with her

clothes. He regrets that he has lost her confidence; which he

attributes to his bringing her into the company of his four

companions. Yet he thinks he must excuse them, and censure her for

over-niceness; for that he never saw men behave better, at least not


Mentioning his introducing Mr. Mennell to her,]

Now, Jack, says he, was it not very kind of Mr. Mennell [Captain Mennell I sometimes called him; for among the military there is no such officer, thou knowest, as a lieutenant, or an ensign—was it not very kind in him] to come along with me so readily as he did, to satisfy my beloved about the vapourish lady and the house?

But who is Capt. Mennell? methinks thou askest: I never heard of such a man as Captain Mennell.

Very likely. But knowest thou not young Newcomb, honest Doleman’s newphew?

O-ho! Is it he?

It is. And I have changed his name by virtue of my own single authority. Knowest thou not, that I am a great name-father? Preferment I bestow, both military and civil. I give estates, and take them away at my pleasure. Quality too I create. And by a still more valuable prerogative, I degrade by virtue of my own imperial will, without any other act of forfeiture than my own convenience. What a poor thing is a monarch to me!

But Mennell, now he has seen this angel of a woman, has qualms; that’s the devil!—I shall have enough to do to keep him right. But it is the less wonder, that he should stagger, when a few hours’ conversation with the same lady could make four much more hardened varlets find hearts— only, that I am confident, that I shall at least reward her virtue, if her virtue overcome me, or I should find it impossible to persevere—for at times I have confounded qualms myself. But say not a word of them to the confraternity: nor laugh at me for them thyself.

In another letter, dated Monday night, he writes as follows:

This perverse lady keeps me at such a distance, that I am sure something is going on between her and Miss Howe, notwithstanding the prohibition from Mrs. Howe to both: and as I have thought it some degree of merit in myself to punish others for their transgressions, I am of opinion that both these girls are punishable for their breach of parental injunctions. And as to their letter-carrier, I have been inquiring into his way of living; and finding him to be a common poacher, a deer-stealer, and warren-robber, who, under pretence of haggling, deals with a set of customers who constantly take all he brings, whether fish, fowl, or venison, I hold myself justified (since Wilson’s conveyance must at present be sacred) to have him stripped and robbed, and what money he has about him given to the poor; since, if I take not money as well as letters, I shall be suspected.

To serve one’s self, and punish a villain at the same time, is serving public and private. The law was not made for such a man as me. And I must come at correspondences so disobediently carried on.

But, on second thoughts, if I could find out that the dear creature carried any of her letters in her pockets, I can get her to a play or to a concert, and she may have the misfortune to lose her pockets.

But how shall I find this out; since her Dorcas knows no more of her dressing and undressing than her Lovelace? For she is dressed for the day before she appears even to her servant. Vilely suspicious! Upon my soul, Jack, a suspicious temper is a punishable temper. If a woman suspects a rogue in an honest man, is it not enough to make the honest man who knows it a rogue?

But, as to her pockets, I think my mind hankers after them, as the less mischievous attempt. But they cannot hold all the letters I should wish to see. And yet a woman’s pockets are half as deep as she is high. Tied round the sweet levities, I presume, as ballast-bags, lest the wind, as they move with full sail, from whale-ribbed canvass, should blow away the gypsies.

[He then, in apprehension that something is meditating between the two

ladies, or that something may be set on foot to get Miss Harlowe out

of his hands, relates several of his contrivances, and boasts of his

instructions given in writing to Dorcas, and to his servant Will.

Summers; and says, that he has provided against every possible

accident, even to bring her back if she should escape, or in case she

should go abroad, and then refuse to return; and hopes so to manage,

as that, should he make an attempt, whether he succeeded in it or not,

he may have a pretence to detain her.]

He then proceeds as follows:

I have ordered Dorcas to cultivate by all means her lady’s favour; to lament her incapacity as to writing and reading; to shew letters to her lady, as from pretended country relations; to beg her advice how to answer them, and to get them answered; and to be always aiming at scrawling with a pen, lest inky fingers should give suspicion. I have moreover given the wench an ivory-leafed pocket-book, with a silver pencil, that she may make memoranda on occasion.

And, let me tell thee, that the lady has already (at Mrs. Sinclair’s motion) removed her clothes out of the trunks they came in, into an ample mahogany repository, where they will lie at full length, and which has drawers in it for linen. A repository, that used to hold the richest suits which some of the nymphs put on, when they are to be dressed out, to captivate, or to ape quality. For many a countess, thou knowest, has our mother equipped; nay, two or three duchesses, who live upon quality- terms with their lords. But this to such as will come up to her price, and can make an appearance like quality themselves on the occasion: for the reputation of persons of birth must not lie at the mercy of every under-degreed sinner.

A master-key, which will open every lock in this chest, is put into Dorcas’s hands; and she is to take care, when she searches for papers, before she removes any thing, to observe how it lies, that she may replace all to a hair. Sally and Polly can occasionally help to transcribe. Slow and sure with such an Argus-eyed charmer must be all my movements.

It is impossible that one so young and so inexperienced as she is can have all her caution from herself; the behaviour of the women so unexceptionable; no revellings, no company ever admitted into this inner- house; all genteel, quiet, and easy in it; the nymphs well-bred, and well-read; her first disgusts to the old one got over.—It must be Miss Howe, therefore, [who once was in danger of being taken in by one of our class, by honest Sir George Colmar, as thou hast heard,] that makes my progress difficult.

Thou seest, Belford, by the above precautionaries, that I forget nothing. As the song says, it is not to be imagined

On what slight strings

Depend these things

On which men build their glory!

So far, so good. I shall never rest till I have discovered in the first place, where the dear creature puts her letters; and in the next till I have got her to a play, to a concert, or to take an airing with me out of town for a day or two.


I gave thee just now some of my contrivances. Dorcas, who is ever attentive to all her lady’s motions, has given me some instances of her mistress’s precautions. She wafers her letters, it seems, in two places; pricks the wafers; and then seals upon them. No doubt but the same care is taken with regard to those brought to her, for she always examines the seals of the latter before she opens them.

I must, I must come at them. This difficulty augments my curiosity. Strange, so much as she writes, and at all hours, that not one sleepy or forgetful moment has offered in our favour!

A fair contention, thou seest: nor plead thou in her favour her youth, her beauty, her family, her fortune, CREDULITY, she has none; and with regard to her TENDER YEARS, Am I not a young fellow myself? As to BEAUTY; pr’ythee, Jack, do thou, to spare my modesty, make a comparison between my Clarissa for a woman, and thy Lovelace for a man. For her FAMILY; that was not known to its country a century ago: and I hate them all but her. Have I not cause?—For her FORTUNE; fortune, thou knowest, was ever a stimulus with me; and this for reasons not ignoble. Do not girls of fortune adorn themselves on purpose to engage our attention? Seek they not to draw us into their snares? Depend they not, generally, upon their fortunes, in the views they have upon us, more than on their merits? Shall we deprive them of the benefit of their principal dependence?—Can I, in particular, marry every girl who wishes to obtain my notice? If, therefore, in support of the libertine principles for which none of the sweet rogues hate us, a woman of fortune is brought to yield homage to her emperor, and any consequences attend the subjugation, is not such a one shielded by her fortune, as well from insult and contempt, as from indigence—all, then, that admits of debate between my beloved and me is only this—which of the two has more wit, more circumspection—and that remains to be tried.

A sad life, however, this life of doubt and suspense, for the poor lady to live, as well as for me; that is to say, if she be not naturally jealous—if she be, her uneasiness is constitutional, and she cannot help it; nor will it, in that case, hurt her. For a suspicious temper will make occasion for doubt, if none were to offer to its hand. My fair one therefore, if naturally suspicious, is obliged to me for saving her the trouble of studying for these occasions—but, after all, the plainest paths in our journeys through life are the safest and best I believe, although it is not given me to choose them; I am not, however, singular in the pursuit of the more intricate paths; since there are thousands, and ten thousands, who had rather fish in troubled waters than in smooth.