Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXVI



If any man in the world has power over my nephew, it is you. I therefore write this, to beg you to interfere in the affair depending between him and the most accomplished of women, as every one says; and what every one says must be true.

I don’t know that he has any bad designs upon her; but I know his temper too well, not to be apprehensive upon such long delays: and the ladies here have been for some time in fear for her: Lady Sarah in particular, who (as you must know) is a wise woman, says, that these delays, in the present case, must be from him, rather than from the lady.

He had always indeed a strong antipathy to marriage, and may think of playing his dog’s tricks by her, as he has by so many others. If there’s any danger of this, ’tis best to prevent it in time: for when a thing is done, advice comes too late.

He has always had the folly and impertinence to make a jest of me for using proverbs: but as they are the wisdom of whole nations and ages collected into a small compass, I am not to be shamed out of sentences that often contain more wisdom in them than the tedious harangues of most of our parsons and moralists. Let him laugh at them, if he pleases: you and I know better things, Mr. Belford—Though you have kept company with a wolf, you have not learnt to howl of him.

But nevertheless, you must let him know that I have written to you on this subject. I am ashamed to say it; but he has ever treated me as if I were a man of very common understanding; and would, perhaps, think never the better of the best advice in the world for coming from me. Those, Mr. Belford, who most love, are least set by.—But who would expect velvet to be made out of a sow’s ear?

I am sure he has no reason however to slight me as he does. He may and will be the better for me, if he outlives me; though he once told me to my face, that I might do as I would with my estate; for that he, for his part, loved his liberty as much as he despised money. And at another time, twitting me with my phrases, that the man was above controul, who wanted not either to borrow or flatter. He thought, I suppose, that I could not cover him with my wings, without pecking at him with my bill; though I never used to be pecking at him, without very great occasion: and, God knows, he might have my very heart, if he would but endeavour to oblige me, by studying his own good; for that is all I desire of him. Indeed, it was his poor mother that first spoiled him; and I have been but too indulgent to him since. A fine grateful disposition, you’ll say, to return evil for good! but that was always his way. It is a good saying, and which was verified by him with a witness—Children when little, make their parents fools; when great, mad. Had his parents lived to see what I have seen of him, they would have been mad indeed.

This match, however, as the lady has such an extraordinary share of wisdom and goodness, might set all to rights; and if you can forward it, I would enable him to make whatever settlements he could wish; and should not be unwilling to put him in possession of another pretty estate besides. I am no covetous man, he knows. And, indeed, what is a covetous man to be likened to so fitly, as to a dog in a wheel which roasts meat for others? And what do I live for, (as I have often said,) but to see him and my two nieces well married and settled. May Heaven settle him down to a better mind, and turn his heart to more of goodness and consideration!

If the delays are on his side, I tremble for the lady; and, if on hers, (as he tells my niece Charlotte,) I could wish she were apprized that delays are dangerous. Excellent as she is, she ought not to depend on her merits with such a changeable fellow, and such a profest marriage- hater, as he has been. Desert and reward, I can assure her, seldom keep company together.

But let him remember, that vengeance though it comes with leaden feet, strikes with iron hands. If he behaves ill in this case, he may find it so. What a pity it is, that a man of his talents and learning should be so vile a rake! Alas! alas! Une poignée de bonne vie vaut mieux que plein muy de clergée; a handful of good life is better than a whole bushel of learning.

You may throw in, too, as a friend, that, should he provoke me, it may not be too late for me to marry. My old friend Wycherly did so, when he was older than I am, on purpose to plague his nephew: and, in spite of this gout, I might have a child or two still. I have not been without some thoughts that way, when he has angered me more than ordinary: but these thoughts have gone off again hitherto, upon my considering, that the children of very young and very old men (though I am not so very old neither) last not long; and that old men, when they marry young women, are said to make much of death: Yet who knows but that matrimony might be good against the gouty humours I am troubled with?

No man is every thing—you, Mr. Belford, are a learned man. I am a peer. And do you (as you best know how) inculcate upon him the force of these wise sayings which follow, as well as those which went before; but yet so indiscreetly, as that he may not know that you borrow your darts from my quiver. These be they—Happy is the man who knows his follies in his youth. He that lives well, lives long. Again, He that lives ill one year, will sorrow for it seven. And again, as the Spaniards have it—Who lives well, sees afar off! Far off indeed; for he sees into eternity, as a man may say. Then that other fine saying, He who perishes in needless dangers, is the Devil’s martyr. Another proverb I picked up at Madrid, when I accompanied Lord Lexington in his embassy to Spain, which might teach my nephew more mercy and compassion than is in his nature I doubt to shew; which is this, That he who pities another, remembers himself. And this that is going to follow, I am sure he has proved the truth of a hundred times, That he who does what he will seldom does what he ought. Nor is that unworthy of his notice, Young men’s frolics old men feel. My devilish gout, God help me—but I will not say what I was going to say.

I remember, that you yourself, complimenting me for my taste in pithy and wise sentences, said a thing that gave me a high opinion of you; and it was this: ’Men of talents,’ said you, ’are sooner to be convinced by short sentences than by long preachments, because the short sentences drive themselves into the heart and stay there, while long discourses, though ever so good, tire the attention; and one good thing drives out another, and so on till all is forgotten.’

May your good counsel, Mr. Belford, founded upon these hints which I have given, pierce his heart, and incite him to do what will be so happy for himself, and so necessary for the honour of that admirable lady whom I long to see his wife; and, if I may, I will not think of one for myself.

Should he abuse the confidence she has placed in him, I myself shall pray, that vengeance may fall upon his head—Raro—I quite forget all my Latin; but I think it is, Raro antecedentem scelestum deseruit pede paean claudo: where vice goes before, vengeance (sooner or later) will follow. But why do I translate these things for you?

I shall make no apologies for this trouble. I know how well you love him and me; and there is nothing in which you could serve us both more importantly, than in forwarding this match to the utmost of your power. When it is done, how shall I rejoice to see you at M. Hall! Mean time, I shall long to hear that you are likely to be successful with him; and am,

Dear Sir, Your most faithful friend and servant, M.

[Mr. Lovelace having not returned an answer to Mr. Belford’s expostulary

letter so soon as Mr. Belford expected, he wrote to him, expressing

his apprehension that he had disobliged him by his honest freedom.

Among other things, he says—]

I pass my time here at Watford, attending my dying uncle, very heavily. I cannot therefore, by any means, dispense with thy correspondence. And why shouldst thou punish me, for having more conscience and more remorse than thyself? Thou who never thoughtest either conscience or remorse an honour to thee. And I have, besides, a melancholy story to tell thee, in relation to Belton and his Thomasine; and which may afford a lesson to all the keeping-class.

I have a letter from each of our three companions in the time. They have all the wickedness that thou hast, but not the wit. Some new rogueries do two of them boast of, which, I think, if completed, deserve the gallows.

I am far from hating intrigue upon principle. But to have awkward fellows plot, and commit their plots to paper, destitute of the seasonings, of the acumen, which is thy talent, how extremely shocking must their letters be!—But do thou, Lovelace, whether thou art, or art not, determined upon thy measures with regard to the fine lady in thy power, enliven my heavy heart by thy communications; and thou wilt oblige

Thy melancholy friend, J. BELFORD.