Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXIX

MISS HOWE, TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE SUNDAY, MAY 14.

How it is now, my dear, between you and Mr. Lovelace, I cannot tell. But, wicked as the man is, I am afraid he must be your lord and master.

I called him by several very hard names in my last. I had but just heard of some of his vilenesses, when I sat down to write; so my indignation was raised. But on inquiry, and recollection, I find that the facts laid to his charge were all of them committed some time ago—not since he has had strong hopes of your favour.

This is saying something for him. His generous behaviour to the innkeeper’s daughter is a more recent instance to his credit; to say nothing of the universal good character he has as a kind landlord. And then I approve much of the motion he made to put you in possession of Mrs. Fretchville’s house, while he continues at the other widow’s, till you agree that one house shall hold you. I wish this were done. Be sure you embrace this offer, (if you do not soon meet at the altar,) and get one of his cousins with you.

Were you once married, I should think you cannot be very unhappy, though you may not be so happy with him as you deserve to be. The stake he has in his country, and his reversions; the care he takes of his affairs; his freedom from obligation; nay, his pride, with your merit, must be a tolerable security for you, I should think. Though particulars of his wickedness, as they come to my knowledge, hurt and incense me; yet, after all, when I give myself time to reflect, all that I have heard of him to his disadvantage was comprehended in the general character given of him long ago, by Lord M.’s and his own dismissed bailiff,* and which was confirmed to me by Mrs. Fortescue, as I heretofore told you,** and to you by Mrs. Greme.***

* See Vol. I. Letter IV. ** Ibid. Letter XII. *** See Vol. III. Letter VI.

You can have nothing, therefore, I think, to be deeply concerned about, but his future good, and the bad example he may hereafter set to his own family. These indeed are very just concerns: but were you to leave him now, either with or without his consent, his fortunes and alliances so considerable, his person and address so engaging, (every one excusing you now on those accounts, and because of your relations’ follies,) it would have a very ill appearance for your reputation. I cannot, therefore, on the most deliberate consideration, advise you to think of that, while you have no reason to doubt his honour. May eternal vengeance pursue the villain, if he give room for an apprehension of this nature!

Yet his teasing ways are intolerable; his acquiescence with your slight delays, and his resignedness to the distance you now keep him at, (for a fault so much slighter, as he must think, than the punishment,) are unaccountable: He doubts your love of him, that is very probable; but you have reason to be surprised at his want of ardour; a blessing so great within his reach, as I may say.

By the time you have read to this place, you will have no doubt of what has been the issue of the conference between the two gentlemen. I am equally shocked, and enraged against them all. Against them all, I say; for I have tried your good Norton’s weight with your mother, (though at first I did not intend to tell you so,) to the same purpose as the gentleman sounded your uncle. Never were there such determined brutes in the world! Why should I mince the matter? Yet would I fain, methinks, make an exception for your mother.

Your uncle will have it that you are ruined. ’He can believe every thing bad of a creature, he says, who could run away with a man; with such a one especially as Lovelace. They expected applications from you, when some heavy distress had fallen upon you. But they are all resolved not to stir an inch in your favour; no, not to save your life!’

My dearest soul, resolve to assert your right. Claim your own, and go and live upon it, as you ought. Then, if you marry not, how will the wretches creep to you for your reversionary dispositions!

You were accused (as in your aunt’s letter) ’of premeditation and contrivance in your escape.’ Instead of pitying you, the mediating person was called upon ’to pity them; who once, your uncle said, doated upon you: who took no joy but in your presence: who devoured your words as you spoke them: who trod over again your footsteps, as you walked before them.’—And I know not what of this sort.

Upon the whole, it is now evident to me, and so it must be to you, when you read this letter, that you must be his. And the sooner you are so the better. Shall we suppose that marriage is not in your power?—I cannot have patience to suppose that.

I am concerned, methinks, to know how you will do to condescend, (now you see you must be his,) after you have kept him at such a distance; and for the revenge his pride may put him upon taking for it. But let me tell you, that if my going up, and sharing fortunes with you, will prevent such a noble creature from stooping too low; much more, were it likely to prevent your ruin, I would not hesitate a moment about it. What is the whole world to me, weighed against such a friend as you are? Think you, that any of the enjoyments of this life could be enjoyments to me, were you involved in calamities, from which I could either alleviate or relieve you, by giving up those enjoyments? And what in saying this, and acting up to it, do I offer you, but the frits of a friendship your worth has created?

Excuse my warmth of expression. The warmth of my heart wants none. I am enraged at your relations; for, bad as what I have mentioned is, I have not told you all; nor now, perhaps, ever will. I am angry at my own mother’s narrowness of mind, and at her indiscriminate adherence to old notions. And I am exasperated against your foolish, your low-vanity’d Lovelace. But let us stoop to take the wretch as he is, and make the best of him, since you are destined to stoop, to keep grovellers and worldlings in countenance. He had not been guilty of a direct indecency to you. Nor dare he—not so much of a devil as that comes to neither. Had he such villainous intentions, so much in his power as you are, they would have shewn themselves before now to such a penetrating and vigilant eye, and to such a pure heart as yours. Let us save the wretch then, if we can, though we soil our fingers in lifting him up his dirt.

There is yet, to a person of your fortune and independence, a good deal to do, if you enter upon those terms which ought to be entered upon. I don’t find that he has once talked of settlements; nor yet of the license. A foolish wretch!—But as your evil destiny has thrown you out of all other protection and mediation, you must be father, mother, uncle, to yourself; and enter upon the requisite points for yourself. It is hard upon you; but indeed you must. Your situation requires it. What room for delicacy now?—Or would you have me write to him? yet that would be the same thing as if you were to write yourself. Yet write you should, I think, if you cannot speak. But speaking is certainly best: for words leave no traces; they pass as breath; and mingle with air; and may be explained with latitude. But the pen is a witness on record.

I know the gentleness of your spirit; I know the laudable pride of your heart; and the just notion you have of the dignity of our sex in these delicate points. But once more, all this in nothing now: your honour is concerned that the dignity I speak of should not be stood upon.

’Mr. Lovelace,’ would I say; yet hate the foolish fellow for his low, his stupid pride, in wishing to triumph over the dignity of his own wife;— ’I am by your means deprived of every friend I have in the world. In what light am I to look upon you? I have well considered every thing. You have made some people, much against my liking, think me a wife: others know I am not married; nor do I desire any body should believe I am: Do you think your being here in the same house with me can be to my reputation? You talked to me of Mrs. Fretchville’s house.’ This will bring him to renew his last discourse on the subject, if he does not revive it of himlsef. ’If Mrs. Fretchville knows not her own mind, what is her house to me? You talked of bringing up your cousin Montague to bear me company: if my brother’s schemes be your pretence for not going yourself to fetch her, you can write to her. I insist upon bringing these two points to an issue: off or on ought to be indifferent to me, if so to them.’

Such a declaration must bring all forward. There are twenty ways, my dear, that you would find out for another in your circumstances. He will disdain, from his native insolence, to have it thought he has any body to consult. Well then, will he not be obliged to declare himself? And if he does, no delays on your side, I beseech you. Give him the day. Let it be a short one. It would be derogating from your own merit, not to be so explicit as he ought to be, to seem but to doubt his meaning; and to wait for that explanation for which I should ever despise him, if he makes it necessary. Twice already have you, my dear, if not oftener modesty’d away such opportunities as you ought not to have slipped. As to settlements, if they come not in naturally, e’en leave them to his own justice, and to the justice of his family, And there’s an end of the matter.

This is my advice: mend it as circumstances offer, and follow your own. But indeed, my dear, this, or something like it, would I do. And let him tell me afterwards, if he dared or would, that he humbled down to his shoe-buckles the person it would have been his glory to exalt.

Support yourself, mean time, with reflections worthy of yourself. Though tricked into this man’s power, you are not meanly subjugated to it. All his reverence you command, or rather, as I may say, inspire; since it was never known, that he had any reverence for aught that was good, till you was with him: and he professes now and then to be so awed and charmed by your example, as that the force of it shall reclaim him.

I believe you will have a difficult task to keep him to it; but the more will be your honour, if you effect his reformation: and it is my belief, that if you can reclaim this great, this specious deceiver, who has, morally speaking, such a number of years before him, you will save from ruin a multitude of innocents; for those seem to me to have been the prey for which he has spread his wicked snares. And who knows but, for this very purpose, principally, a person may have been permitted to swerve, whose heart or will never was in her error, and who has so much remorse upon her for having, as she thinks, erred at all? Adieu, my dearest friend.

ANNA HOWE. ENCLOSED IN THE ABOVE.

I must trouble you with my concerns, though your own are so heavy upon you. A piece of news I have to tell you. Your uncle Antony is disposed to marry. With whom, think you? with my mother. True indeed. Your family knows it. All is laid with redoubled malice at your door. And there the old soul himself lays it.

Take no notice of this intelligence, not so much as in your letters to me, for fear of accidents.

I think it can’t do. But were I to provoke my mother, that might afford a pretence. Else, I should have been with you before now, I fancy.

The first likelihood that appears to me of encouragement, I dismiss Hickman, that’s certain. If my mother disoblige me in so important an article, I shan’t think of obliging her in such another. It is impossible, surely, that the desire of popping me off to that honest man can be with such a view.

I repeat, that it cannot come to any thing. But these widows—Then such a love in us all, both old and young, of being courted and admired!—and so irresistible to their elderships to be flattered, that all power is not over with them; but that they may still class and prank it with their daughters.—It vexed me heartily to have her tell me of this proposal with self-complaisant simperings; and yet she affected to speak of it as if she had no intention to encourage it.

These antiquated bachelors (old before they believe themselves to be so) imagine that when they have once persuaded themselves to think of the state, they have nothing more to do than to make their minds known to the woman.

Your uncle’s overgrown fortune is indeed a bait; a tempting one. A saucy daughter to be got rid of! The memory of the father of that daughter not precious enough to weigh much!—But let him advance if he dare—let her encourage—but I hope she won’t.

Excuse me, my dear. I am nettled. They have fearfully rumpled my gorget. You’ll think me faulty. So, I won’t put my name to this separate paper. Other hands may resemble mine. You did not see me write it.