Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXI

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE TUESDAY, MAY 16.

I think once more we seem to be in a kind of train; but through a storm. I will give you the particulars.

I heard him in the dining-room at five in the morning. I had rested very ill, and was up too. But opened not my door till six: when Dorcas brought me his request for my company.

He approached me, and taking my hand, as I entered the dining-room, I went not to bed, Madam, till two, said he; yet slept not a wink. For God’s sake, torment me not, as you have done for a week past.

He paused. I was silent.

At first, proceeded he, I thought your resentment of a curiosity, in which I had been disappointed, could not be deep; and that it would go off of itself: But, when I found it was to be kept up till you knew the success of some new overtures which you had made, and which, complied with, might have deprived me of you for ever, how, Madam, could I support myself under the thoughts of having, with such an union of interests, made so little impression upon your mind in my favour?

He paused again. I was still silent. He went on.

I acknowledge that I have a proud heart, Madam. I cannot but hope for some instances of previous and preferable favour from the lady I am ambitious to call mine; and that her choice of me should not appear, not flagrantly appear, directed by the perverseness of her selfish persecutors, who are my irreconcilable enemies.

More to the same purpose he said. You know, my dear, the room he had given me to recriminate upon him in twenty instances. I did not spare him.

Every one of these instances, said I, (after I had enumerated them) convinces me of your pride indeed, Sir, but not of your merit. I confess, that I have as much pride as you can have, although I hope it is of another kind than that you so readily avow. But if, Sir, you have the least mixture in yours of that pride which may be expected, and thought laudable, in a man of your birth, alliances, and fortune, you should rather wish, I will presume to say, to promote what you call my pride, than either to suppress it, or to regret that I have it. It is this my acknowledged pride, proceeded I, that induces me to tell you, Sir, that I think it beneath me to disown what have been my motives for declining, for some days past, any conversation with you, or visit from Mr. Mennell, that might lead to points out of my power to determine upon, until I heard from my uncle Harlowe; whom, I confess, I have caused to be sounded, whether I might be favoured with his interest to obtain for me a reconciliation with my friends, upon terms which I had caused to be proposed.

I know not, said he, and suppose must not presume to ask, what those terms were. But I can but too well guess at them; and that I was to have been the preliminary sacrifice. But you must allow me, Madam, to say, That as much as I admire the nobleness of your sentiments in general, and in particular that laudable pride which you have spoken of, I wish that I could compliment you with such an uniformity in it, as had set you as much above all submission to minds implacable and unreasonable, (I hope I may, without offence, say, that your brother’s and sister’s are such,) as it has above all favour and condescension to me.

Duty and nature, Sir, call upon me to make the submissions you speak of: there is a father, there is a mother, there are uncles in the one case, to justify and demand those submissions. What, pray, Sir, can be pleaded for the condescension, as you call it? Will you say, your merits, either with regard to them, or to myself, may?

This, Madam, to be said, after the persecutions of those relations! After what you have suffered! After what you have made me hope! Let me, my dearest creature, ask you, (we have been talking of pride,) What sort of pride must his be, which can dispense with inclination and preference in the lady whom he adores?—What must that love—

Love, Sir! who talks of love?—Was not merit the thing we were talking of?—Have I ever professed, have I ever required of you professions of a passion of that nature?—But there is no end of these debatings; each so faultless, each so full of self—

I do not think myself faultless, Madam:—but—

But what, Sir!—Would you ever more argue with me, as if you were a child?—Seeking palliations, and making promises?—Promises of what, Sir? Of being in future the man it is a shame a gentleman is not?—Of being the man—

Good God! interrupted he, with eyes lifted up, if thou wert to be thus severe—

Well, well, Sir! [impatiently] I need only to observe, that all this vast difference in sentiment shows how unpaired our minds are—so let us—

Let us what, Madam?—My soul is rising into tumults! And he looked so wildly, that I was a good deal terrified—Let us what, Madam?——

I was, however, resolved not to desert myself—Why, Sir! let us resolve to quit every regard for each other.—Nay, flame not out—I am a poor weak-minded creature in some things: but where what I should be, or not deserve to live, if I am not is in the question, I have a great and invincible spirit, or my own conceit betrays me—let us resolve to quit every regard for each other that is more than civil. This you may depend upon: I will never marry any other man. I have seen enough of your sex; at least of you.—A single life shall ever be my choice: while I will leave you at liberty to pursue your own.

Indifference, worse than indifference! said he, in a passion—

Interrupting him—Indifference let it be—you have not (in my opinion at least) deserved that it should be other: if you have in your own, you have cause (at least your pride has) to hate me for misjudging you.

Dearest, dearest creature! snatching my hand with fierceness, let me beseech you to be uniformly noble! Civil regards, Madam!—Civil regards! —Can you so expect to narrow and confine such a passion as mine?

Such a passion as yours, Mr. Lovelace, deserves to be narrowed and confined. It is either the passion you do not think it, or I do not. I question whether your mind is capable of being so narrowed and so widened, as is necessary to make it be what I wish it to be. Lift up your hands and your eyes, Sir, in silent wonder, if you please; but what does that wonder express, what does it convince me of, but that we are not born for one another.

By my soul, said he, and grasped my hand with an eagerness that hurt it, we were born for one another: you must be mine—you shall be mine [and put his other hand round me] although my damnation were to be the purchase!

I was still more terrified—let me leave you, Mr. Lovelace, said I; or do you be gone from me. Is the passion you boast of to be thus shockingly demonstrated?

You must not go, Madam!—You must not leave me in anger—

I will return—I will return—when you can be less violent—less shocking.

And he let me go.

The man quite frighted me; insomuch, that when I got into my chamber, I found a sudden flow of tears a great relief to me.

In half an hour, he sent a little billet, expressing his concern for the vehemence of his behaviour, and prayed to see me.

I went. Because I could not help myself, I went.

He was full of excuses—O my dear, what would you, even you, do with such a man as this; and in my situation?

It was very possible for him now, he said, to account for the workings of a beginning phrensy. For his part, he was near distraction. All last week to suffer as he had suffered; and now to talk of civil regards only, when he had hoped, from the nobleness of my mind—

Hope what you will, interrupted I, I must insist upon it, that our minds are by no means suited to each other. You have brought me into difficulties. I am deserted by every friend but Miss Howe. My true sentiments I will not conceal—it is against my will that I must submit to owe protection from a brother’s projects, which Miss Howe thinks are not given over, to you, who have brought me into these straights: not with my own concurrence brought me into them; remember that—

I do remember that, Madam!—So often reminded, how can I forget it?—

Yet I will owe to you this protection, if it be necessary, in the earnest hope that you will shun, rather than seek mischief, if any further inquiry after me be made. But what hinders you from leaving me?—Cannot I send to you? The widow Fretchville, it is plain, knows not her own mind: the people here are more civil to me every day than other: but I had rather have lodgings more agreeable to my circumstances. I best know what will suit them; and am resolved not to be obliged to any body. If you leave me, I will privately retire to some one of the neighbouring villages, and there wait my cousin Morden’s arrival with patience.

I presume, Madam, replied he, from what you have said, that your application to Harlowe-place has proved unsuccessful: I therefore hope that you will now give me leave to mention the terms in the nature of settlements, which I have long intended to propose to you; and which having till now delayed to do, through accidents not proceeding from myself, I had thoughts of urging to you the moment you entered upon your new house; and upon your finding yourself as independent in appearance as you are in fact. Permit me, Madam, to propose these matters to you— not with an expectation of your immediate answer; but for your consideration.

Were not hesitation, a self-felt glow, a downcast eye, encouragement more than enough? and yet you will observe (as I now do on recollection) that he was in no great hurry to solicit for a day; since he had no thoughts of proposing settlements till I had got into my new house; and now, in his great complaisance to me, he desired leave to propose his terms, not with an expectation of my immediate answer; but for my consideration only —Yet, my dear, your advice was too much in my head at this time. I hesitated.

He urged on upon my silence; he would call God to witness to the justice, nay to the generosity of his intentions to me, if I would be so good as to hear what he had to propose to me, as to settlements.

Could not the man have fallen into the subject without this parade? Many a point, you know, is refused, and ought to be refused, if leave be asked to introduce it; and when once refused, the refusal must in honour be adhered to—whereas, had it been slid in upon one, as I may say, it might have merited further consideration. If such a man as Mr. Lovelace knows not this, who should?

But he seemed to think it enough that he had asked my leave to propose his settlements. He took no advantage of my silence, as I presume men as modest as Mr. Lovelace would have done in a like case: yet, gazing in my face very confidently, and seeming to expect my answer, I thought myself obliged to give the subject a more diffuse turn, in order to save myself the mortification of appearing too ready in my compliance, after such a distance as had been between us; and yet (in pursuance of your advice) I was willing to avoid the necessity of giving him such a repulse as might again throw us out of the course—a cruel alternative to be reduced to!

You talk of generosity, Mr. Lovelace, said I; and you talk of justice; perhaps, without having considered the force of the words, in the sense you use them on this occasion.—Let me tell you what generosity is, in my sense of the word—TRUE GENEROSITY is not confined to pecuniary instances: it is more than politeness: it is more than good faith: it is more than honour; it is more than justice; since all of these are but duties, and what a worthy mind cannot dispense with. But TRUE GENEROSITY is greatness of soul. It incites us to do more by a fellow-creature than can be strictly required of us. It obliges us to hasten to the relief of an object that wants relief; anticipating even such a one’s hope or expectation. Generosity, Sir, will not surely permit a worthy mind to doubt of its honourable and beneficent intentions: much less will it allow itself to shock, to offend any one; and, least of all, a person thrown by adversity, mishap, or accident, into its protection.

What an opportunity had he to clear his intentions had he been so disposed, from the latter part of this home observation!—but he ran away with the first, and kept to that.

Admirably defined! he said—But who, at this rate, Madam, can be said to be generous to you?—Your generosity I implore, while justice, as it must be my sole merit, shall be my aim. Never was there a woman of such nice and delicate sentiments!

It is a reflection upon yourself, Sir, and upon the company you have kept, if you think these notions either nice or delicate. Thousands of my sex are more nice than I; for they would have avoided the devious path I have been surprised into; the consequences of which surprise have laid me under the sad necessity of telling a man, who has not delicacy enough to enter into those parts of the female character which are its glory and distinction, what true generosity is.

His divine monitress, he called me. He would endeavour to form his manners (as he had often promised) by my example. But he hoped I would now permit him to mention briefly the justice he proposed to do me, in the terms of the settlements; a subject so proper, before now, to have entered upon; and which would have been entered upon long ago, had not my frequent displeasure [I am ever in fault, my dear!] taken from him the opportunity he had often wished for: but now, having ventured to lay hold of this, nothing should divert him from improving it.

I have no spirits, just now, Sir, to attend such weighty points. What you have a mind to propose, write to me: and I shall know what answer to return. Only one thing let me remind you of, that if you touch upon a subject, in which my father has a concern, I shall judge by your treatment of the father what value you have for the daughter.

He looked as if he would choose rather to speak than write: but had he said so, I had a severe return to have made upon him; as possibly he might see by my looks.

***

In this way are we now: a sort of calm, as I said, succeeding a storm. What may happen next, whether a storm or a calm, with such a spirit as I have to deal with, who can tell?

But, be that as it will, I think, my dear, I am not meanly off: and that is a great point with me; and which I know you will be glad to hear: if it were only, that I can see this man without losing any of that dignity [What other word can I use, speaking of myself, that betokens decency, and not arrogance?] which is so necessary to enable me to look up, or rather with the mind’s eye, I may say, to look down upon a man of this man’s cast.

Although circumstance have so offered, that I could not take your advice as to the manner of dealing with him; yet you gave me so much courage by it, as has enabled me to conduct things to this issue; as well as determined me against leaving him: which, before, I was thinking to do, at all adventures. Whether, when it came to the point, I should have done so, or not, I cannot say, because it would have depended upon his behaviour at the time.

But let his behaviour be what it will, I am afraid, (with you,) that should any thing offer at last to oblige me to leave him, I shall not mend my situation in the world’s eye; but the contrary. And yet I will not be treated by him with indignity while I have any power to help myself.

You, my dear, have accused me of having modesty’d away, as you phrase it, several opportunities of being—Being what, my dear?—Why, the wife of a libertine: and what a libertine and his wife are my cousin Morden’s letter tells us.—Let me here, once for all, endeavour to account for the motives of behavior to this man, and for the principles I have proceeded upon, as they appear to me upon a close self-examination.

Be pleased to allow me to think that my motives on this occasion rise not altogether from maidenly niceness; nor yet from the apprehension of what my present tormenter, and future husband, may think of a precipitate compliance, on such a disagreeable behaviour as his: but they arise principally from what offers to my own heart; respecting, as I may say, its own rectitude, its own judgment of the fit and the unfit; as I would, without study, answer for myself to myself, in the first place; to him, and to the world, in the second only. Principles that are in my mind; that I found there; implanted, no doubt, by the first gracious Planter: which therefore impel me, as I may say, to act up to them, that thereby I may, to the best of my judgment, be enabled to comport myself worthily in both states, (the single and the married), let others act as they will by me.

I hope, my dear, I do not deceive myself, and, instead of setting about rectifying what is amiss in my heart, endeavour to find excuses for habits and peculiarities, which I am unwilling to cast off or overcome. The heart is very deceitful: do you, my dear friend, lay mine open, [but surely it is always open before you!] and spare me not, if you think it culpable.

This observation, once for all, as I said, I thought proper to make, to convince you that, to the best of my judgment, my errors, in matters as well of lesser moment as of greater, shall rather be the fault of my judgment than of my will.

I am, my dearest friend, Your ever obliged, CLARISSA HARLOWE.