Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXVI


You have a most implacable family. Another visit from your uncle Antony has not only confirmed my mother an enemy to our correspondence, but has almost put her upon treading in their steps.—

But to other subjects:

You plead generously for Mr. Hickman. Perhaps, with regard to him, I may have done, as I have often done in singing—begun a note or key too high; and yet, rather than begin again, proceed, though I strain my voice, or spoil my tune. But this is evident, the man is the more observant for it; and you have taught me, that the spirit which is the humbler for ill usage, will be insolent upon better. So, good and grave Mr. Hickman, keep your distance a little longer, I beseech you. You have erected an altar to me; and I hope you will not refuse to bow to it.

But you ask me, if I would treat Mr. Lovelace, were he to be in Mr. Hickman’s place, as I do Mr. Hickman? Why really, my dear, I believe I should not.—I have been very sagely considering this point of behaviour (in general) on both sides in courtship; and I will very candidly tell you the result. I have concluded, that politeness, even to excess, is necessary on the men’s part, to bring us to listen to their first addresses, in order to induce us to bow our necks to a yoke so unequal. But, upon my conscience, I very much doubt whether a little intermingled insolence is not requisite from them, to keep up that interest, when once it has got footing. Men must not let us see, that we can make fools of them. And I think, that smooth love; that is to say, a passion without rubs; in other words, a passion without passion; is like a sleepy stream that is hardly seen to give motion to a straw. So that, sometimes to make us fear, and even, for a short space, to hate the wretch, is productive of the contrary extreme.

If this be so, Lovelace, than whom no man was ever more polite and obsequious at the beginning, has hit the very point. For his turbulence since, his readiness to offend, and his equal readiness to humble himself, (as must keep a woman’s passion alive); and at last tire her into a non-resistance that shall make her as passive as a tyrant-husband would wish her to be.

I verily think, that the different behaviour of our two heroes to their heroines make out this doctrine to demonstration. I am so much accustomed, for my own part, to Hickman’s whining, creeping, submissive courtship, that I now expect nothing but whine and cringe from him: and am so little moved with his nonsense, that I am frequently forced to go to my harpsichord, to keep me awake, and to silence his humdrum. Whereas Lovelace keeps up the ball with a witness, and all his address and conversation is one continual game at raquet.

Your frequent quarrels and reconciliations verify this observation: and I really believe, that, could Hickman have kept my attention alive after the Lovelace manner, only that he had preserved his morals, I should have married the man by this time. But then he must have set out accordingly. For now he can never, never recover himself, that’s certain; but must be a dangler to the end of the courtship-chapter; and, what is still worse for him, a passive to the end of his life.

Poor Hickman! perhaps you’ll say.

I have been called your echo—Poor Hickman! say I.

You wonder, my dear, that Mr. Lovelace took not notice to you over-night of the letters of Lady Betty and his cousin. I don’t like his keeping such a material and relative circumstance, as I may call it, one moment from you. By his communicating the contents of them to you next day, when you was angry with him, it looks as if he withheld them for occasional pacifiers; and if so, must he not have had a forethought that he might give you cause for anger? Of all the circumstances that have happened since you have been with him, I think I like this the least: this alone, my dear, small as it might look to an indifferent eye, in mine warrants all your caution. Yet I think that Mrs. Greme’s letter to her sister Sorlings: his repeated motions for Hannah’s attendance; and for that of one of the widow Sorlings’s daughters; and, above all, for that of Mrs. Norton; are agreeable counterbalances. Were it not for these circumstances, I should have said a great deal more of the other. Yet what a foolish fellow, to let you know over-night that he had such letters!—I can’t tell what to make of him.

I am pleased with the contents of these ladies’ letters. And the more, as I have caused the family to be again sounded, and find that they are all as desirous as ever of your alliance.

They really are (every one of them) your very great admirers. And as for Lord M., he is so much pleased with you, and with the confidence, as he calls it, which you have reposed in his nephew, that he vows he will disinherit him, if he reward it not as he ought. You must take care, that you lose not both families.

I hear Mrs. Norton is enjoined, as she values the favour of the other family, not to correspond either with you or with me—Poor creatures!—But they are your—yet they are not your relations, neither, I believe. Had you had any other nurse, I should have concluded you had been changed. I suffer by their low malice—excuse me, therefore.

You really hold this man to his good behaviour with more spirit than I thought you mistress of; especially when I judged of you by that meekness which you always contended for, as the proper distinction of the female character; and by the love, which (think as you please) you certainly have for him. You may rather be proud of than angry at the imputation; since you are the only woman I ever knew, read, or heard of, whose love was so much governed by her prudence. But when once the indifference of the husband takes place of the ardour of the lover, it will be your turn: and, if I am not mistaken, this man, who is the only self-admirer I ever knew who was not a coxcomb, will rather in his day expect homage than pay it.

Your handsome husbands, my dear, make a wife’s heart ache very often: and though you are as fine a person of a woman, at the least, as he is of a man, he will take too much delight in himself to think himself more indebted to your favour, than you are to his distinction and preference of you. But no man, take your finer mind with your very fine person, can deserve you. So you must be contented, should your merit be underrated; since that must be so, marry whom you will. Perhaps you will think I indulge these sort of reflections against your Narcissus’s of men, to keep my mother’s choice for me of Hickman in countenance with myself—I don’t know but there is something in it; at least, enough to have given birth to the reflection.

I think there can be no objection to your going to London. There, as in the centre, you will be in the way of hearing from every body, and sending to any body. And then you will put all his sincerity to the test, as to his promised absence, and such like.

But indeed, my dear, I think you have nothing for it but marriage. You may try (that you may say you have tried) what your relations can be brought to: but the moment they refuse your proposals, submit to the yoke, and make the best of it. He will be a savage, indeed, if he makes you speak out. Yet, it is my opinion, that you must bend a little; for he cannot bear to be thought slightly of.

This was one of his speeches once; I believe designed for me—’A woman who means one day to favour her lover with her hand, should show the world, for her own sake, that she distinguishes him from the common herd.’

Shall I give you another very fine sentence of his, and in the true libertine style, as he spoke it, throwing out his challenging hand?—’D—n him, if he would marry the first princess on earth, if he but thought she balanced a minute in her choice of him, or of an emperor.’

All the world, in short, expect you to have this man. They think, that you left your father’s house for this very purpose. The longer the ceremony is delayed, the worse appearance it will have in the world’s eye. And it will not be the fault of some of your relations, if a slur be not thrown upon your reputation, while you continue unmarried. Your uncle Antony, in particular, speaks rough and vile things, grounded upon the morals of his brother Orson. But hitherto your admirable character has antidoted the poison; the detractor is despised, and every one’s indignation raised against him.

I have written through many interruptions: and you will see the first sheet creased and rumpled, occasioned by putting it into my bosom on my mother’s sudden coming upon me. We have had one very pretty debate, I will assure you; but it is not worth while to trouble you with the particulars.—But upon my world—no matter though—

Your Hannah cannot attend you. The poor girl left her place about a fortnight ago, on account of the rheumatic disorder, which has confined her to her room ever since. She burst into tears, when Kitty carried to her your desire of having her with you; and called herself doubly unhappy, that she could not wait upon a mistress whom she so dearly loved.

Had my mother answered my wishes, I should have been sorry Mr. Lovelace had been the first proposer of my Kitty for your attendant, till Hannah should come. To be altogether among strangers, and a stranger to attend you every time you remove, is a very disagreeable thing. But your considerateness and bounty will make you faithful ones wherever you go.

You must take your own way: but, if you suffer any inconvenience, either as to clothes or money, that it is in my power to remedy, I will never forgive you. My mother, (if that is your objection) need not know any thing of the matter.

We have all our defects: we have often regretted the particular fault, which, though in venerable characters, we must have been blind not to see.

I remember what you once said to me; and the caution was good: Let us, my Nancy, were your words; let us, who have not the same failings as those we censure, guard against other and greater in ourselves. Nevertheless, I must needs tell you, that my mother has vexed me a little very lately, by some instances of her jealous narrowness. I will mention one of them, though I did not intend it. She wanted to borrow thirty guineas of me: only while she got a note changed. I said I could lend her but eight or ten. Eight or ten would not do: she thought I was much richer. I could have told her, I was much cunninger than to let her know my stock; which, on a review, I find ninety-five guineas; and all of them most heartily at your service.

I believe your uncle Tony put her upon this wise project; for she was out of cash in an hour after he left her.

If he did, you will judge that they intend to distress you. If it will provoke you to demand your own in a legal way, I wish they would; since their putting you upon that course will justify the necessity of your leaving them. And as it is not for your credit to own that you were tricked away contrary to your intention, this would afford a reason for your going off, that I should make very good use of. You’ll see, that I approve of Lovelace’s advice upon this subject. I am not willing to allow the weight of your answer to him on that head, which perhaps ought to be allowed it.*

* See Letter XXXI. of this volume.

You must be the less surprised at the inventions of this man, because of his uncommon talents. Whatever he had turned his head to, he would have excelled in; or been (or done things) extraordinary. He is said to be revengeful: a very bad quality! I believe, indeed, he is a devil in every thing but his foot—this, therefore, is my repeated advice—provoke him not too much against yourself: but unchain him, and let him loose upon your sister’ Betty, and your brother’s Joseph Leman. This is resenting low: but I know to whom I write, or else I would go a good deal higher, [I’ll assure you.]

Your next, I suppose, will be from London. Pray direct it, and your future letters, till further notice, to Mr. Hickman, at his own house. He is entirely devoted to you. Don’t take so heavily my mother’s partiality and prejudices. I hope I am past a baby.

Heaven preserve you, and make you as happy as I think you deserve to be, prays

Your ever affectionate ANNA HOWE.