Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXVII

MISS HOWE, TO MRS. JUDITH NORTON SATURDAY EVENING, MAY 13.

DEAR, GOOD WOMAN,

Your beloved’s honour is inviolate!—Must be inviolate! and will be so, in spite of men and devils. Could I have had hope of a reconciliation, all my view was, that she should not have had this man.—All that can be said now, is, she must run the risk of a bad husband: she of whom no man living is worthy!

You pity her mother—so do not I! I pity no mother that puts it out of her power to show maternal love, and humanity, in order to patch up for herself a precarious and sorry quiet, which every blast of wind shall disturb.

I hate tyrants in ever form and shape: but paternal and maternal tyrants are the worst of all: for they can have no bowels.

I repeat, that I pity none of them. Our beloved friend only deserves pity. She had never been in the hands of this man, but for them. She is quite blameless. You don’t know all her story. Were I to tell you that she had no intention to go off with this man, it would avail her nothing. It would only deserve to condemn, with those who drove her to extremities, him who now must be her refuge. I am

Your sincere friend and servant, ANNA HOWE.

LETTER XXVIII

MRS. HARLOWE, TO MRS. NORTON [NOT COMMUNICATED TILL THE LETTERS CAME TO BE COLLECTED.] SATURDAY, MAY 13.

I return an answer in writing, as I promised, to your communication. But take no notice either to my Bella’s Betty, (who I understand sometimes visits you,) or to the poor wretch herself, nor to any body, that I do write. I charge you don’t. My heart is full: writing may give some vent to my griefs, and perhaps I may write what lies most upon my heart, without confining myself strictly to the present subject.

You know how dear this ungrateful creature ever was to us all. You know how sincerely we joined with every one of those who ever had seen her, or conversed with her, to praise and admire her; and exceeded in our praise even the bounds of that modesty, which, because she was our own, should have restrained us; being of opinion, that to have been silent in the praise of so apparent a merit must rather have argued blindness or affectation in us, than that we should incur the censure of vain partiality to our own.

When therefore any body congratulated us on such a daughter, we received their congratulations without any diminution. If it was said, you are happy in this child! we owned, that no parents ever were happier in a child. If, more particularly, they praised her dutiful behaviour to us, we said, she knew not how to offend. If it were said, Miss Clarissa Harlowe has a wit and penetration beyond her years; we, instead of disallowing it, would add—and a judgment no less extraordinary than her wit. If her prudence was praised, and a forethought, which every one saw supplied what only years and experience gave to others—nobody need to scruple taking lessons from Clarissa Harlowe, was our proud answer.

Forgive me, O forgive me, my dear Norton—But I know you will; for yours, when good, was this child, and your glory as well as mine.

But have you not heard strangers, as she passed to and from church, stop to praise the angel of a creature, as they called her; when it was enough for those who knew who she was, to cry, Why, it is Miss Clarissa Harlowe! —as if every body were obliged to know, or to have heard of Clarissa Harlowe, and of her excellencies. While, accustomed to praise, it was too familiar to her, to cause her to alter either her look or her pace.

For my own part, I could not stifle a pleasure that had perhaps a faulty vanity for its foundation, whenever I was spoken of, or addressed to, as the mother of so sweet a child: Mr. Harlowe and I, all the time, loving each other the better for the share each had in such a daughter.

Still, still indulge the fond, the overflowing heart of a mother! I could dwell for ever upon the remembrance of what she was, would but that remembrance banish from my mind what she is!

In her bosom, young as she was, could I repose all my griefs—sure of receiving from her prudence and advice as well as comfort; and both insinuated in so dutiful a manner, that it was impossible to take those exceptions which the distance of years and character between a mother and a daughter would have made one apprehensive of from any other daughter. She was our glory when abroad, our delight when at home. Every body was even covetous of her company; and we grudged her to our brothers Harlowe, and to our sister and brother Hervey. No other contention among us, then, but who should be next favoured by her. No chiding ever knew she from us, but the chiding of lovers, when she was for shutting herself up too long together from us, in pursuit of those charming amusements and useful employments, for which, however, the whole family was the better.

Our other children had reason (good children as they always were) to think themselves neglected. But they likewise were so sensible of their sister’s superiority, and of the honour she reflected upon the whole family, that they confessed themselves eclipsed, without envying the eclipser. Indeed, there was not any body so equal with her, in their own opinions, as to envy what all aspired but to emulate. The dear creature, you know, my Norton, gave an eminence to us all!

Then her acquirements. Her skill in music, her fine needle-works, her elegance in dress; for which she was so much admired, that the neighbouring ladies used to say, that they need not fetch fashions from London; since whatever Miss Clarissa Harlowe wore was the best fashion, because her choice of natural beauties set those of art far behind them. Her genteel ease, and fine turn of person; her deep reading, and these, joined to her open manners, and her cheerful modesty—O my good Norton, what a sweet child was once my Clary Harlowe!

This, and more, you knew her to be: for many of her excellencies were owing to yourself; and with the milk you gave her, you gave her what no other nurse in the world could give her.

And do you think, my worthy woman, do you think, that the wilful lapse of such a child is to be forgiven? Can she herself think that she deserves not the severest punishment for the abuse of such talents as were intrusted to her?

Her fault was a fault of premeditation, of cunning, of contrivance. She had deceived every body’s expectations. Her whole sex, as well as the family she sprung from, is disgraced by it.

Would any body ever have believed that such a young creature as this, who had by her advice saved even her over-lively friend from marrying a fop, and a libertine, would herself have gone off with one of the vilest and most notorious of libertines? A man whose character she knew; and knew it to be worse than the character of him from whom she saved her friend; a man against whom she was warned: one who had her brother’s life in her hands; and who constantly set our whole family at defiance.

Think for me, my good Norton; think what my unhappiness must be both as a wife and a mother. What restless days, what sleepless nights; yet my own rankling anguish endeavoured to be smoothed over, to soften the anguish of fiercer spirits, and to keep them from blazing out to further mischief! O this naughty, naughty girl, who knew so well what she did; and who could look so far into consequences, that we thought she would have died rather than have done as she had done!

Her known character for prudence leaves her absolutely without excuse. How then can I offer to plead for her, if, through motherly indulgence, I would forgive her myself?—And have we not moreover suffered all the disgrace that can befall us? Has not she?

If now she has so little liking to his morals, has she not reason before to have as little? Or has she suffered by them in her own person?—O my good woman, I doubt—I doubt—Will not the character of the man make one doubt an angel, if once in his power? The world will think the worst. I am told it does. So likewise her father fears; her brother hears; and what can I do?

Our antipathy to him she knew before, as well as his character. These therefore cannot be new motives without a new reason.—O my dear Mrs. Norton, how shall I, how can you, support ourselves under the apprehensions to which these thoughts lead!

He continually pressing her, you say, to marry him: his friends likewise. She has reason, no doubt she has reason, for this application to us: and her crime is glossed over, to bring her to us with new disgrace! Whither, whither, does one guilty step lead the misguided heart!—And now, truly, to save a stubborn spirit, we are only to be sounded, that the application may be occasionally retracted or denied!

Upon the whole: were I inclined to plead for her, it is now the most improper of all times. Now that my brother Harlowe has discouraged (as he last night came hither on purpose to tell us) Mr. Hickman’s insinuated application; and been applauded for it. Now, that my brother Antony is intending to carry his great fortune, through her fault, into another family:—she expecting, no doubt, herself to be put into her grandfather’s estate, in consequence of a reconciliation, and as a reward for her fault: and insisting still upon the same terms which she offered before, and which were rejected—Not through my fault, I am sure, rejected!

From all these things you will return such an answer as the case requires. It might cost me the peace of my whole life, at this time, to move for her. God forgive her! If I do, nobody else will. And let it, for your own sake, as well as mine, be a secret that you and I have entered upon this subject. And I desire you not to touch upon it again but by particular permission: for, O my dear, good woman, it sets my heart a bleeding in as many streams as there are veins in it!

Yet think me not impenetrable by a proper contrition and remorse—But what a torment is it to have a will without a power!

Adieu! adieu! God give us both comfort; and to the once dear—the ever- dear creature (for can a mother forget her child?) repentance, deep repentance! and as little suffering as may befit his blessed will, and her grievous fault, prays

Your real friend, CHARLOTTE HARLOWE.