Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXVII


We had at dinner, besides Miss Rawlins, a young widow-niece of Mrs. Moore, who is come to stay a month with her aunt—Bevis her name; very forward, very lively, and a great admirer of me, I assure you;—hanging smirkingly upon all I said; and prepared to approve of every word before I spoke: and who, by the time we had half-dined, (by the help of what she had collected before,) was as much acquainted with our story as either of the other two.

As it behoved me to prepare them in my favour against whatever might come from Miss Howe, I improved upon the hint I had thrown out above-stairs against that mischief-making lady. I represented her to be an arrogant creature, revengeful, artful, enterprising, and one who, had she been a man, would have sworn and cursed, and committed rapes, and played the devil, as far as I knew: [I have no doubt of it, Jack!] but who, by advantage of a female education, and pride and insolence, I believed was personally virtuous.

Mrs. Bevis allowed, that there was a vast deal in education—and in pride too, she said. While Miss Rawlins came with a prudish God forbid that virtue should be owing to education only! However, I declared that Miss Howe was a subtle contriver of mischief; one who had always been my enemy: her motives I knew not: but despised the man whom her mother was desirous she should have, one Hickman; although I did not directly aver that she would rather have had me; yet they all immediately imagined that that was the ground of her animosity to me, and of her envy to my beloved: and it was pity, they said, that so fine a young lady did not see through such a pretended friend.

And yet nobody [added I] has more reason than she to know by experience the force of a hatred founded in envy; as I hinted to you above, Mrs. Moore, and to you, Miss Rawlins, in the case of her sister Arabella.

I had compliments made to my person and talents on this occasion: which gave me a singular opportunity of displaying my modesty, by disclaiming the merit of them, with a No, indeed!—I should be very vain, Ladies, if I thought so. While thus abusing myself, and exalting Miss Howe, I got their opinion both for modesty and generosity; and had all the graces which I disclaimed thrown in upon me besides.

In short, they even oppressed that modesty, which (to speak modestly of myself) their praises created, by disbelieving all I said against myself.

And, truly, I must needs say, they have almost persuaded even me myself, that Miss Howe is actually in love with me. I have often been willing to hope this. And who knows but she may? The Captain and I have agreed, that it shall be so insinuated occasionally—And what’s thy opinion, Jack? She certainly hates Hickman; and girls who are disengaged seldom hate, though they may not love: and if she had rather have another, why not that other ME? For am I not a smart fellow, and a rake? And do not your sprightly ladies love your smart fellow, and your rakes? And where is the wonder, that the man who could engage the affections of Miss Harlowe, should engage those of a lady (with her* alas’s) who would be honoured in being deemed her second?

* See Letter XX. of this volume, where Miss Howe says, Alas! my dear, I know you loved him!

Nor accuse thou me of SINGULAR vanity in this presumption, Belford. Wert thou to know the secret vanity that lurks in the hearts of those who disguise or cloke it best, thou wouldst find great reason to acquit, at least, to allow for me: since it is generally the conscious over-fulness of conceit, that makes the hypocrite most upon his guard to conceal it. Yet with these fellows, proudly humble as they are, it will break out sometimes in spite of their clokes, though but in self-denying, compliment-begging self-degradation.

But now I have undervalued myself, in apologizing to thee on this occasion, let me use another argument in favour of my observation, that the ladies generally prefer a rake to a sober man; and of my presumption upon it, that Miss Howe is in love with me: it is this: common fame says, That Hickman is a very virtuous, a very innocent fellow—a male-virgin, I warrant!—An odd dog I always thought him. Now women, Jack, like not novices. Two maidenheads meeting together in wedlock, the first child must be a fool, is their common aphorism. They are pleased with a love of the sex that is founded in the knowledge of it. Reason good; novices expect more than they can possibly find in the commerce with them. The man who knows them, yet has ardours for them, to borrow a word from Miss Howe,* though those ardours are generally owing more to the devil within him, than to the witch without him, is the man who makes them the highest and most grateful compliment. He knows what to expect, and with what to be satisfied.

* See Vol. IV. Letters XXIX. and XXXIV.

Then the merit of a woman, in some cases, must be ignorance, whether real or pretended. The man, in these cases, must be an adept. Will it then be wondered at, that a woman prefers a libertine to a novice?—While she expects in the one the confidence she wants, she considers the other and herself as two parallel lines, which, though they run side by side, can never meet.

Yet in this the sex is generally mistaken too; for these sheepish fellows are sly. I myself was modest once; and this, as I have elsewhere hinted to thee,* has better enabled me to judge of both sexes.

* See Vol. III. Letter XXIII.

But to proceed with my narrative:

Having thus prepared every one against any letter should come from Miss Howe, and against my beloved’s messenger returns, I thought it proper to conclude that subject with a hint, that my spouse could not bear to have any thing said that reflected upon Miss Howe; and, with a deep sigh, added, that I had been made very unhappy more than once by the ill-will of ladies whom I had never offended.

The widow Bevis believed that might very easily be. Will. both without and within, [for I intend he shall fall in love with widow Moore’s maid, and have saved one hundred pounds in my service, at least,] will be great helps, as things may happen.