Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXIII

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE WEDNESDAY MORNING, MAY 17.

Mr. Lovelace would fain have engaged me last night. But as I was not prepared to enter upon the subject of his proposals, (intending to consider them maturely,) and was not highly pleased with his conclusion, I desired to be excused seeing him till morning; and the rather, as there is hardly any getting from him in tolerable time overnight.

Accordingly, about seven o’clock we met in the dining-room.

I find he was full of expectation that I should meet him with a very favourable, who knows but with a thankful, aspect? and I immediately found by his sullen countenance, that he was under no small disappointment that I did not.

My dearest love, are you well? Why look you so solemn upon me? Will your indifference never be over? If I have proposed terms in any respect short of your expectation—

I told him, that he had very considerately mentioned my shewing his proposals to Miss Howe; and as I should have a speedy opportunity to send them to her by Collins, I desired to suspend any talk upon that subject till I had her opinion upon them.

Good God!—If there was but the least loop-hole! the least room for delay!—But he was writing a letter to Lord M. to give him an account of his situation with me, and could not finish it so satisfactorily, either to my Lord or to himself, as if I would condescend to say, whether the terms he had proposed were acceptable, or not.

Thus far, I told him, I could say, that my principal point was peace and reconciliation with my relations. As to other matters, the gentleness of his own spirit would put him upon doing more for me than I should ask, or expect. Wherefore, if all he had to write about was to know what Lord M. would do on my account, he might spare himself the trouble, for that my utmost wishes, as to myself, were much more easily gratified than he perhaps imagined.

He asked me then, if I would so far permit him to touch upon the happy day, as to request the presence of Lord M. on the occasion, and to be my father?

Father had a sweet and venerable sound with it, I said. I should be glad to have a father who would own me!

Was not this plain speaking, think you, my dear? Yet it rather, I must own, appears so to me on reflection, than was designed freely at the time. For I then, with a sigh from the bottom of my heart, thought of my own father; bitterly regretting, that I am an outcast from him and from my mother.

Mr. Lovelace I thought seemed a little affected at the manner of my speaking, and perhaps at the sad reflection.

I am but a very young creature, Mr. Lovelace, said I, [and wiped my eyes as I turned away my face,] although you have kindly, and in love to me, introduced so much sorry to me already: so you must not wonder, that the word father strikes so sensibly upon the heart of a child ever dutiful till she knew you, and whose tender years still require the paternal wing.

He turned towards the window—[rejoice with me, my dear, since I seem to be devoted to him, that the man is not absolutely impenetrable!] His emotion was visible; yet he endeavoured to suppress it. Approaching me again; again he was obliged to turn from me; angelic something, he said: but then, obtaining a heart more suitable to his wish, he once more approached me.—For his own part, he said, as Lord M. was so subject to gout, he was afraid, that the compliment he had just proposed to make him, might, if made, occasion a larger suspension than he could bear to think of; and if it did, it would vex him to the heart that he had made it.

I could not say a single word to this, you know, my dear. But you will guess at my thoughts of what he said—so much passionate love, lip-deep! so prudent, and so dutifully patient at heart to a relation he had till now so undutifully despised!—Why, why, am I thrown upon such a man, thought I!

He hesitated, as if contending with himself; and after taking a turn or two about the room, He was at a great loss what to determine upon, he said, because he had not the honour of knowing when he was to be made the happiest of men—Would to God it might that very instant be resolved upon!

He stopped a moment or two, staring in his usual confident way, in my downcast face, [Did I not, O my beloved friend, think you, want a father or a mother just then?] But if he could not, so soon as he wished, procure my consent to a day; in that case, he thought the compliment might as well be made to Lord M. as not, [See, my dear!] since the settlements might be drawn and engrossed in the intervenient time, which would pacify his impatience, as no time would be lost.

You will suppose how I was affected by this speech, by repeating the substance of what he said upon it; as follows.

But, by his soul, he knew not, so much was I upon the reserve, and so much latent meaning did my eye import, whether, when he most hoped to please me, he was not farthest from doing so. Would I vouchsafe to say, whether I approved of his compliment to Lord M. or not?

To leave it to me, to choose whether the speedy day he ought to have urged for with earnestness, should be accelerated or suspended!—Miss Howe, thought I, at that moment, says, I must not run away from this man!

To be sure, Mr. Lovelace, if this matter be ever to be, it must be agreeable to me to have the full approbation of one side, since I cannot have that of the other.

If this matter be ever to be! Good God! what words are these at this time of day! and full approbation of one side! Why that word approbation? when the greatest pride of all my family is, that of having the honour of so dear a creature for their relation? Would to heaven, my dearest life, added he, that, without complimenting any body, to-morrow might be the happiest day of my life!—What say you, my angel? with a trembling impatience, that seemed not affected—What say you for to-morrow?

It was likely, my dear, I could say much to it, or name another day, had I been disposed to the latter, with such an hinted delay from him.

I was silent.

Next day, Madam, if not to-morrow?—

Had he given me time to answer, it could not have been in the affirmative, you must think—but, in the same breath, he went on—Or the day after that?—and taking both my hands in his, he stared me into a half-confusion—Would you have had patience with him, my dear?

No, no, said I, as calmly as possible, you cannot think that I should imagine there can be reason for such a hurry. It will be most agreeable, to be sure, for my Lord to be present.

I am all obedience and resignation, returned the wretch, with a self- pluming air, as if he had acquiesced to a proposal made by me, and had complimented me with a great piece of self denial.

Is it not plain, my dear, that he designs to vex and tease me? Proud, yet mean and foolish man, if so!—But you say all punctilio is at an end with me. Why, why, will he take pains to make a heart wrap itself up in reserve, that wishes only, and that for his sake as well as my own, to observe due decorum?

Modesty, I think, required of me, that it should pass as he had put it: Did it not?—I think it did. Would to heaven—but what signifies wishing?

But when he would have rewarded himself, as he had heretofore called it, for this self-supposed concession, with a kiss, I repulsed him with a just and very sincere disdain.

He seemed both vexed and surprised, as one who had made the most agreeable proposals and concessions, and thought them ungratefully returned. He plainly said, that he thought our situation would entitle him to such an innocent freedom: and he was both amazed and grieved to be thus scornfully repulsed.

No reply could be made be me on such a subject.

I abruptly broke from him. I recollect, as I passed by one of the pier- glasses, that I saw in it his clenched hand offered in wrath to his forehead: the words, Indifference, by his soul, next to hatred, I heard him speak; and something of ice he mentioned: I heard not what.

Whether he intends to write to my Lord, or Miss Montague, I cannot tell. But, as all delicacy ought to be over with me now, perhaps I am to blame to expect it from a man who may not know what it is. If he does not, and yet thinks himself very polite, and intends not to be otherwise, I am rather to be pitied, than he to be censured.

And after all, since I must take him as I find him, I must: that is to say, as a man so vain and so accustomed to be admired, that, not being conscious of internal defect, he has taken no pains to polish more than his outside: and as his proposals are higher than my expectations; and as, in his own opinion, he has a great deal to bear from me, I will (no new offence preventing) sit down to answer them; and, if possible, in terms as unobjectionable to him, as his are to me.

But after all, see you not, my dear, more and more, the mismatch that there is in our minds?

However, I am willing to compound for my fault, by giving up, (if that may be all my punishment) the expectation of what is deemed happiness in this life, with such a husband as I fear he will make. In short, I will content myself to be a suffering person through the state to the end of my life.—A long one it cannot be!

This may qualify him (as it may prove) from stings of conscience from misbehaviour to a first wife, to be a more tolerable one to a second, though not perhaps a better deserving one: while my story, to all who shall know it, will afford these instructions: That the eye is a traitor, and ought ever to be mistrusted: that form is deceitful: in other words; that a fine person is seldom paired by a fine mind: and that sound principle and a good heart, are the only bases on which the hopes of a happy future, either with respect to this world, or the other, can be built.

And so much at present for Mr. Lovelace’s proposals: Of which I desire your opinion.*

* We cannot forbear observing in this place, that the Lady has been particularly censured, even by some of her own sex, as over-nice in her part of the above conversations: but surely this must be owing to want of attention to the circumstances she was in, and to her character, as well as to the character of the man she had to deal with: for, although she could not be supposed to know so much of his designs as the reader does by means of his letters to Belford, yet she was but too well convinced of his faulty morals, and of the necessity there was, from the whole of his behaviour to her, to keep such an encroacher, as she frequently calls him, at a distance. In Letter XXXIII. of Vol. III. the reader will see, that upon some favourable appearances she blames herself for her readiness to suspect him. But his character, his principles, said she, are so faulty!—He is so light, so vain, so various.——Then, my dear, I have no guardian to depend upon. In Letter IX. of Vol. III. Must I not with such a man, says she, be wanting to myself, were I not jealous and vigilant?

By this time the reader will see, that she had still greater reason for her jealousy and vigilance. And Lovelace will tell the sex, as he does in Letter XI. of Vol. V., that the woman who resents not initiatory freedoms, must be lost. Love is an encroacher, says he: loves never goes backward. Nothing but the highest act of love can satisfy an indulged love.

But the reader perhaps is too apt to form a judgment of Clarissa’s conduct in critical cases by Lovelace’s complaints of her coldness; not considering his views upon her; and that she is proposed as an example; and therefore in her trials and distresses must not be allowed to dispense with those rules which perhaps some others of the sex, in her delicate situation, would not have thought themselves so strictly bound to observe; although, if she had not observed them, a Lovelace would have carried all his points.

[Four letters are written by Mr. Lovelace from the date of his last,

giving the state of affairs between him and the Lady, pretty much the

same as in hers in the same period, allowing for the humour in his,

and for his resentments expressed with vehemence on her resolution to

leave him, if her friends could be brought to be reconciled to her.—

A few extracts from them will be only given.]

What, says he, might have become of me, and of my projects, had not her father, and the rest of the implacables, stood my friends?

[After violent threatenings of revenge, he says,]

’Tis plain she would have given me up for ever: nor should I have been able to prevent her abandoning of me, unless I had torn up the tree by the roots to come at the fruit; which I hope still to bring down by a gentle shake or two, if I can but have patience to stay the ripening seasoning.

[Thus triumphing in his unpolite cruelty, he says,]

After her haughty treatment of me, I am resolved she shall speak out. There are a thousand beauties to be discovered in the face, in the accent, in the bush-beating hesitations of a woman who is earnest about a subject she wants to introduce, yet knows not how. Silly fellows, calling themselves generous ones, would value themselves for sparing a lady’s confusion: but they are silly fellows indeed; and rob themselves of prodigious pleasure by their forwardness; and at the same time deprive her of displaying a world of charms, which can only be manifested on these occasions.

I’ll tell thee beforehand, how it will be with my charmer in this case— she will be about it, and about it, several times: but I will not understand her: at least, after half a dozen hem—ings, she will be obliged to speak out—I think, Mr. Lovelace—I think, Sir—I think you were saying some days ago—Still I will be all silence—her eyes fixed upon my shoe-buckles, as I sit over-against her—ladies when put to it thus, always admire a man’s shoe-buckles, or perhaps some particular beauties in the carpet. I think you said that Mrs. Fretchville—Then a crystal tear trickles down each crimson cheek, vexed to have her virgin pride so little assisted. But, come, my meaning dear, cry I to myself, remember what I have suffered for thee, and what I have suffered by thee! Thy tearful pausings shall not be helped out by me. Speak out, love!—O the sweet confusion! Can I rob myself of so many conflicting beauties by the precipitate charmer-pitying folly, by which a politer man [thou knowest, lovely, that I am no polite man!] betrayed by his own tenderness, and unused to female tears, would have been overcome? I will feign an irresolution of mind on the occasion, that she may not quite abhor me—that her reflections on the scene in my absence may bring to her remembrance some beauties in my part of it: an irresolution that will be owing to awe, to reverence, to profound veneration; and that will have more eloquence in it than words can have. Speak out then, love, and spare not.

Hard-heartedness, as it is called, is an essential of the libertine’s character. Familiarized to the distresses he occasions, he is seldom betrayed by tenderness into a complaisant weakness unworthy of himself.

[Mentioning the settlements, he says,]

I am in earnest as to the terms. If I marry her, [and I have no doubt that I shall, after my pride, my ambition, my revenge, if thou wilt, is gratified,] I will do her noble justice. The more I do for such a prudent, such an excellent economist, the more shall I do for myself.— But, by my soul, Belford, her haughtiness shall be brought down to own both love and obligation to me. Nor will this sketch of settlements bring us forwarder than I would have it. Modesty of sex will stand my friend at any time. At the very altar, our hands joined, I will engage to make this proud beauty leave the parson and me, and all my friends who should be present, though twenty in number, to look like fools upon one another, while she took wing, and flew out of the church door, or window, (if that were open, and the door shut); and this only by a single word.

[He mentions his rash expression, That she should be his, although his

damnation was to be the purchase.]

At that instant, says he, I was upon the point of making a violent attempt, but was checked in the very moment, and but just in time to save myself, by the awe I was struck with on again casting my eye upon her terrified but lovely face, and seeing, as I thought, her spotless heart in every line of it.

O virtue, virtue! proceeds he, what is there in thee, that can thus against his will affect the heart of a Lovelace!—Whence these involuntary tremors, and fear of giving mortal offence?—What art thou, that acting in the breast of a feeble woman, which never before, no, not in my first attempt, young as I then was, and frightened at my own boldness (till I found myself forgiven,) had such an effect upon me!

[He paints in lively colours, that part of the scene between him and the

Lady, where she says, The word father has a sweet and venerable sound

with it.]

I was exceedingly affected, says he, upon the occasion, but was ashamed to be surprised into such a fit of unmanly weakness—so ashamed, that I was resolved to subdue it at the instant, and to guard against the like for the future. Yet, at that moment, I more than half regretted that I could not permit her to enjoy a triumph which she so well deserved to glory in—her youth, her beauty, her artless innocence, and her manner, equally beyond comparison or description. But her indifference, Belford! —That she could resolve to sacrifice me to the malice of my enemies; and carry on the design in so clandestine a manner—and yet love her, as I do, to phrensy!—revere her, as I do, to adoration!—These were the recollections with which I fortified my recreant heart against her!—Yet, after all, if she persevere, she must conquer!—Coward, as she has made me, that never was a coward before!

[He concludes his fourth letter in a vehement rage, upon her repulsing

him, when he offered to salute her; having supposed, as he owns, that

she would have been all condescension on his proposals to her.]

This, says he, I will for ever remember against her, in order to steel my heart, that I may cut through a rock of ice to hers; and repay her for the disdain, the scorn, which glowed in her countenance, and was apparent in her air, at her abrupt departure for me, after such obliging behaviour on my side, and after I had so earnestly pressed her for an early day. The women below say she hates me; she despises me!—And ’tis true: she does; she must.—And why cannot I take their advice? I will not long, my fair-one, be despised by thee, and laughed at by them!

Let me acquaint thee, Jack, adds he, by way of postscript, that this effort of hers to leave me, if she could have been received; her sending for a coach on Sunday; no doubt, resolving not to return, if she had gone out without me, (for did she not declare that she had thoughts to retire to some of the villages about town, where she could be safe and private?) have, all together, so much alarmed me, that I have been adding to the written instructions for my fellow and the people below how to act in case she should elope in my absence: particularly letting Will. know what he shall report to strangers in case she shall throw herself upon any such with a resolution to abandon me. To these instructions I shall further add as circumstances offer.