Letter 2: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWEHarlowe Place, Jan. 13
How you oppress me, my dearest friend, with your politeness! I cannot doubt your sincerity; but you should take care that you give me not reason from your kind partiality to call in question your judgement. You do not distinguish that I take many admirable hints from you, and have the art to pass them upon you for my own. For in all you do, in all you say, nay, in your very looks (so animated!) you give lessons, to one who loves you and observes you as I love and observe you, without knowing that you do. So, pray, my dear, be more sparing of your praise for the future, lest after this confession we should suspect that you secretly intend to praise yourself, while you would be thought only to commend another.
Our family has indeed been strangely discomposed— Discomposed !—It has been in tumults , ever since the unhappy transaction; and I have borne all the blame; yet should have had too much concern from myself had I been more justly spared by everyone else.
For, whether it be owing to a faulty impatience, having been too indulgently treated to be inured to blame, or to the regret I have to hear those censured on my account whom it is my duty to vindicate; I have sometimes wished that it had pleased God to have taken me in my last fever, when I had everybody’s love and good opinion; but oftener, that I had never been distinguished by my grandpapa as I was: which has estranged me, I doubt, my brother’s and sister’s affections; at least, has raised a jealousy, with regard to the apprehended favour of my two uncles, that now and then overshadows their love.
My brother being happily recovered of his fever and his wound in a hopeful way, although he has not yet ventured abroad, I will be as particular as you desire in the little history you demand of me. But heaven forbid that anything should ever happen which may require it to be produced for the purpose you so kindly mention!
I will begin as you command, with Mr Lovelace’s address to my sister, and be as brief as possible. I will recite facts only, and leave you to judge of the truth of the report raised that the younger sister has robbed the elder.
It was in pursuance of a conference between Lord M. and my uncle Antony, that Mr Lovelace (my papa and mamma not forbidding) paid his respects to my sister Arabella. My brother was then in Scotland, busying himself in viewing the condition of the considerable estate which was left him there by his generous godmother, together with one as considerable in Yorkshire. I was also absent at my dairy-house , as it is called, 2 busied in the accounts relating to the estate which my grandfather had the goodness to bequeath me, and which once a year are left to my inspection, although I have given the whole into my papa’s power.
My sister made me a visit there the day after Mr Lovelace had been introduced, and seemed highly pleased with the gentleman. His birth, his fortune in possession a clear 2000 [pounds a year] as Lord M. had assured my uncle; presumptive heir to that nobleman’s large estate; his great expectations from Lady Sarah Sadleir and Lady Betty Lawrance who, with his uncle, interested themselves very warmly (he being the last of his line) to see him married.
‘So handsome a man!—Oh her beloved Clary!’ (for then she was ready to love me dearly, from the overflowings of her good humour on his account!) ‘He was but too handsome a man for her !—Were she but as amiable as somebody , there would be a probability of holding his affections!—For he was wild; she heard; very wild, very gay; loved intrigue. But he was young; a man of sense: would see his error, could she but have patience with his faults, if his faults were not cured by marriage.’
Thus she ran on; and then wanted me ‘to see the charming man,’ as she called him. Again concerned ‘that she was not handsome enough for him’; with ‘a sad thing, that the man should have the advantage of the woman in that particular.’—But then, stepping to the glass she complimented herself, ‘That she was very well : that there were many women deemed passable who were inferior to herself: that she was always thought comely; and, let her tell me, that comeliness having not so much to lose as beauty had would hold, when that would evaporate and fly off-Nay, for that matter’ (and again she turned to the glass), ‘her features were not irregular, her eyes not at all amiss.’ And I remember they were more than usually brilliant at that time.—‘Nothing, in short, to be found fault with, though nothing very engaging, she doubted—was there, Clary?’
Excuse me, my dear, I never was thus particular before; no, not to you. Nor would I now have written thus freely of a sister, but that she makes a merit to my brother of disowning that she ever liked him, as I shall mention hereafter: and then you will always have me give you minute descriptions, nor suffer me to pass by the air and manner in which things are spoken that are to be taken notice of; rightly observing that air and manner often express more than the accompanying words.
I congratulated her upon her prospects. She received my compliments with a great deal of self-complacency.
She liked the gentleman still more at his next visit; and yet he made no particular address to her, although an opportunity was given him for it. This was wondered at, as my uncle had introduced him into our family declaredly as a visitor to my sister. But as we are ever ready to make excuses, when in good humour with ourselves, for the supposed slights of those whose approbation we wish to engage, so my sister found out a reason, much to Mr Lovelace’s advantage, for his not improving the opportunity that was given him—It was bashfulness, truly, in him. (Bashfulness in Mr Lovelace, my dear!)—Indeed, gay and lively as he is, he has not the look of an impudent man. But I fancy it is many, many years ago, since he was bashful.
Thus, however, could my sister make it out—‘Upon her word, she believed Mr Lovelace deserved not the bad character he had as to women. He was really, to her thinking, a modest man. He would have spoken out, she believed; but once or twice, as he seemed to intend to do so, he was under so agree-able a confusion!
Such a profound respect he seemed to show her; a perfect reverence , she thought. She loved dearly that a gentleman in courtship should show a reverence to his mistress.’—So indeed we all do, I believe; and with reason, since, if I may judge from what I have seen in many families, there is little enough of it shown afterwards—And she told my aunt Hervey that she would be a little less upon the reserve next time he came: ‘She was not one of those flirts , not she, who would give pain to a person that deserved to be well treated; and the more for the greatness of his value for her.’—I wish she had not somebody whom I love in her eye. Yet is not her censure unjust, I believe. Is it, my dear?—Excepting in one undue and harsh word?
In this third visit, Bella governed herself by this kind and considerate principle; so that, according to her own account of the matter, the man mighthave spoken out—but he was still bashful ; he was not able to overcome this unseasonable reverence. So this visit went off as the former.
But now she began to be dissatisfied with him. She compared his general character with this particular behaviour to her; and having never been courted before, owned herself puzzled how to deal with so odd a lover. ‘What did the man mean!—Had not her uncle brought him declaredly as a suitor to her?—It could not be bashfulness (now she thought of it), since he might have opened his mind to her uncle , if he wanted courage to speak directly to her —Not that she cared much for the man neither; but it was right, surely, that a woman should be put out of doubt, early, as to a man’s intentions in such a case as this, from his own mouth.—But, truly, she had begun to think that he was more solicitous to cultivate hermamma’s good opinion than hers !—Everybody, she owned, admired her mamma’s conversation—But he was mistaken if he thought that would do with her. And then, for his own sake, surely he should put it into her power to be complaisant to him, if he gave her cause of approbation. This distant behaviour, she must take upon her to say, was the more extraordinary, as he continued his visits and declared himself extremely desirous to cultivate a friendship with the whole family; and as he could have no doubt about her sense, if she might take upon her to join her own with the general opinion, he having taken great notice of, and admired many of her good things as they fell from her lips—Reserves were painful, she must needs say, to open and free spirits like hers; and yet she must tell my aunt’ (to whom all this was directed) ‘that she should never forget what she owed to her sex, and to herself, were Mr Lovelace as unexceptionable in his morals as in his figure, and were he to urge his suit ever so warmly.’
I was not of her council. I was still absent. And it was agreed between my aunt Hervey and her that she was to be quite solemn and shy in his next visit, if there were not a peculiarity in his address to her.
But my sister, it seems, had not considered the matter well. This was not the way, as it proved, to be taken with a man of Mr Lovelace’s penetration, for matters of mere omission —nor with any man; since if love has not taken root deep enough to cause it to shoot out into declaration, if an opportunity be fairly given for it, there is little room to expect that the blighting winds of anger or resentment will bring it forward. Then my poor sister is not naturally good-humoured. This is too well-known a truth for me to endeavour to conceal it, especially from you. She must therefore, I doubt, have appeared to great disadvantage when she aimed to be worse-tempered than ordinary.
How they managed it in this conversation I know not. One would be tempted to think by the issue that Mr Lovelace was ungenerous enough to seek the occasion given, 3 and to improve it. Yet he thought fit to put the question too. But, she says, it was not till by some means or other (she knew not how) he had wrought her up to such a pitch of displeasure with him that it was impossible for her to recover herself at the instant. Nevertheless he re-urged his question, as expecting a definitive answer, without waiting for the return of her temper, or endeavouring to mollify her; so that she was under a necessity of persisting in her denial; yet gave him reason to think that she did not dislike his address, only the mannerof it; his court being rather made to her mamma than to herself, as if he were sure of her consent at any time.
A good encouraging denial, I must own—as was the rest of her plea, to wit, ‘a disinclination to change her state. Exceedingly happy as she was, she never could be happier!’ And such-like consenting negatives , as I may call them, and yet not intend a reflection upon my sister; for what can any young creature in the like circumstances say, when she is not sure but a too ready consent may subject her to the slights of a sex that generally values a blessing either more or less as it is obtained with difficulty or ease? Miss Biddulph’s answer to a copy of verses from a gentleman, reproaching our sex as acting in disguise, is not a bad one, although you perhaps may think it too acknowledging for the female character.
Ungen’rous sex!—To scorn us, if we’re kind ;
And yet upbraid us, if we seem severe !
Do You , t’encourage us to tell our mind,
Yourselves put off disguise, and be sincere.
You talk of coquetry!—Your own false hearts
Compel our sex to act dissembling parts.
Here I am obliged to lay down my pen. I will soon resume it.