Letter 4: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE
THIS, my dear, was the situation Mr Lovelace and I were in when my brother arrived from Scotland.
The moment Mr Lovelace’s visits were mentioned to him, he, without either hesitation or apology, expressed his disapprobation of them. He found great flaws in his character, and took the liberty to say in so many words that he wondered how it came into the hearts of his uncles to encourage such a man for either of his sisters; at the same time returning his thanks to my father for declining his consent till he arrived, in such a manner, I thought, as a superior would do when he commended an inferior for having well performed his duty in his absence.
He justified his avowed inveteracy by common fame, and by what he had known
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of him at college; declaring that he had ever hated him; ever should hate him; and would never own him for a brother, or me for a sister, if I married him.
That college-begun antipathy I have heard accounted for in this manner:
Mr Lovelace was always noted for his vivacity and courage; and no less, it seems, for the swift and surprising progress he made in all parts of literature; for diligence in his studies, in the hours of study, he had hardly his equal. This, it seems, was his general character at the university, and it gained him many friends among the more learned youth; while those who did not love him feared him by reason of the offence his vivacity made him too ready to give, and of the courage he showed in supporting the offence when given, which procured him as many followers as he pleased among the mischievous sort. No very amiable character, you’ll say, upon the whole.
But my brother’s temper was not happier. His native haughtiness could not bear a superiority so visible; and whom we fear more than love, we are not far from hating: and having less command of his passions than the other, was evermore the subject of his, perhaps indecent , ridicule: so that they never met without quarrelling. And everybody, either from love or fear, siding with his antagonist, he had a most uneasy time of it, while both continued in the same college. It was the less wonder, therefore, that a young man who is not noted for the gentleness of his temper should resume an antipathy early begun, and so deeply-rooted.
He found my sister, who waited but for the occasion, ready to join him in his resentments against the man he hated. She utterly disclaimed all manner of regard for him: ‘Never liked him at all—His estate was certainly much encumbered: it was impossible it should be otherwise, so entirely devoted as he was to his pleasures. He kept no house; had no equipage: nobody pretended that he wanted pride: the reason therefore was easy to be guessed at.’ And then did she boast of, and my brother praise her for, refusing him; and both joined on all occasions to depreciate him, and not seldom made the occasions; their displeasure against him causing every subject to run into this, if it began not with it.
I was not solicitous to vindicate him when I was not joined in their reflections. I told them I did not value him enough to make a difference in the family on his account; and as he was supposed to have given too much cause for their ill opinion of him, I thought he ought to take the consequence of his own faults.
Now and then, indeed, when I observed that their vehemence carried them beyond all bounds of probability, I thought it but justice to put in a word for him. But this only subjected me to reproach, as having a prepossession in his favour that I would not own. So that when I could not change the subject, I used to retire either to my music or to my closet.
Their behaviour to him when they could not help seeing him was very cold and disobliging; but as yet not directly affrontive; for they were in hopes of prevailing upon my papa to forbid his visits. But as there was nothing in his behaviour that might warrant such a treatment of a man of his birth and fortune, they succeeded not; and then they were very earnest with me to forbid them. I asked what authority I had to take such a step in my father’s house; and when my behaviour to him was so distant, that he seemed to be as much the guest of any other person of the family, themselves excepted, as mine? In revenge, they told me that it was cunning management between us; and that we both understood one another better than we pretended to do. And at last they gave such a loose to their passions all of
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a sudden, 4 as I may say, that instead of withdrawing as they used to do when he came, they threw themselves in his way purposely to affront him.
Mr Lovelace, you may believe, very ill brooked this; but nevertheless contented himself to complain of it to me, in high terms, however, telling me that but for my sake my brother’s treatment of him was not to be borne.
I was sorry for the merit this gave him, in his own opinion, with me; and the more as some of the affronts he received were too flagrant to be excused. But I told him that I was determined not to fall out with my brother, if I could help it, whatever were his faults; and since they could not see one another with temper, should be glad that he would not throw himself in my brother’s way, and I was sure my brother would not seek him.
He was very much nettled at this answer; but said he must bear his affronts if I would have it so. He had been accused himself of violence in his temper, but he hoped to show on this occasion that he had a command of his passions which few young men, so provoked, would be able to show; and doubted not but it would be attributed to proper motive by a person of my generosity and penetration.
My brother had just before, with the approbation of my uncles, employed a person related to a discharged bailiff or steward of Lord M. who had had the management of some part of Mr Lovelace’s affairs (from which he was also dismissed by him) to inquire into his debts, after his companions, into his amours, and the like.
My aunt Hervey, in confidence, gave me the following particulars of what the man said of him.
‘That he was a generous landlord; that he spared nothing for solid and lasting improvements upon his estate; and that he looked into his own affairs and understood them; that he had, when abroad, been very expensive, and contracted a large debt (for he made no secret of his affairs); yet chose to limit himself to an annual sum and to decline equipage in order to avoid being obliged to his uncle and aunts, from whom he might have what money he pleased; but that he was very jealous of their control; had often quarrels with them and treated them so freely, that they were all afraid of him. However, that his estate was never mortgaged, as my brother had heard it was; his credit was always high; and, he believed, he was by this time near upon, if not quite, clear of the world.
He was a sad gentleman, he said, as to women. If his tenants had pretty daughters, they chose to keep them out of his sight. He believed he kept no particular mistress, for he had heard newelty , that was the man’s word, was everything with him. But for his uncle’s and aunt’s teasings, fancied he would not think of marriage; was never known to be disguised with liquor; but was a great plotter and a great writer; that he lived a wild life in town, by what he had heard; had six or seven companions as bad as himself whom now and then he brought down with him; and the country was always glad when they went up again. He would have it that, although passionate, he was good humoured; loved as well to take a jest as to give one, and would rally himself, upon occasion, the freest of any man he ever knew.’
This was his character from an enemy; for, as my aunt observed, everything the man said commendably of him came grudgingly, with a must needs say — to do him
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justice , etc., while the contrary was delivered with a free good will. And this character, as a worse was expected, though this was bad enough, not answering the end of inquiring after it, my brother and sister were more apprehensive than before that his address would be encouraged, since the worst part of it was known, or supposed, when he was first introduced to my sister.
But with regard to myself, I must observe in his disfavour that, notwithstanding the merit he wanted to make with me for his patience upon my brother’s ill-treatment of him, I owed him no compliments for trying to conciliate with him. Not that I believe it would have signified anything if he had made ever such court either to him or to my sister; yet one might have expected from a man of his politeness, and from his pretensions, you know, that he would have been willing to try. Instead of which, such a hearty contempt he showed of them both, of my brother especially, that I ever heard of it with aggravations. And for me to have hinted at an alteration in his behaviour to my brother was an advantage I knew he would have been proud of, and which therefore I had no mind to give him. But I doubted not that having so very little encouragement from anybody, his pride would soon take fire and he would of himself discontinue his visits or go to town, where, till he came acquainted with our family, he used chiefly to reside; and in this latter case he had no reason to expect that I would receive , much less answer , his letters, the occasion which he led me to receive any of his being by this time over.
But my brother’s antipathy would not permit him to wait for such an event; and after several excesses, which Mr Lovelace still returned with contempt and a haughtiness too much like that of the aggressor, my brother took upon himself to fill up the doorway once when he came, as if to oppose his entrance; and upon his asking for me, demanded what his business were with his sister?
The other, with a challenging air, as my brother says, told him he would answer a gentleman any question, but he wished that Mr James Harlowe, who had of late given himself high airs, would remember that he was not now at college.
Just then the good Dr Lewin, who frequently honours me with a visit of conversation as he is pleased to call it, and had parted with me in my own parlour, came to the door; and hearing the words, interposed, both having their hands upon their swords; and telling Mr Lovelace where I was, he burst by my brother, to come to me, leaving him chafing he said like a hunted boar at bay.
This alarmed us all. My father was pleased to hint to Mr Lovelace, and I by his command spoke a great deal plainer, that he wished he would discontinue his visits for the peace-sake of the family.
But Mr Lovelace is not a man to be easily brought to give up his purpose, in a point especially wherein he pretends his heart is so much engaged; and an absolute prohibition not having been given, things went on for a little while as before. For I saw plainly that to have denied myself to his visits (which, however, I declined receiving as often as I could) was to bring forward some desperate issue between the two, since the offence so readily given on one side was only brooked by the other out of consideration to me. And thus did my brother’s rashness lay me under an obligation where I would least have owed it.
The intermediate proposals of Mr Symmes and Mr Mullins, both (in turn) encouraged by my brother, were inducements for him to be more patient for a while, he being in hopes, as nobody thought me over-forward in Mr Lovelace’s
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favour, that he should engage my father and uncles to espouse the one or the other in opposition to him. But when he found that I had interest enough to disengage myself from their addresses, as I had (before he went to Scotland and before Mr Lovelace visited here) of Mr Wyerley’s, he then kept no measures; and first set himself to upbraid me for a supposed prepossession, which be treated as if it were criminal; and then to insult Mr Lovelace in person. And it being at Mr Edward Symmes’s, the brother of the other Symmes, two miles off, and no good Dr Lewin again to interpose, the unhappy rencounter followed. My brother was disarmed in it, as you have heard; and on being brought home, and giving us ground to suppose he was much worse hurt than he really was, and a fever ensuing, everyone flamed out; and all was laid at my door.
Mr Lovelace for three days together sent twice each day to inquire after my brother’s health, and although he received rude and even shocking returns he thought fit, on the fourth day, to make in person the same inquiries, and received still greater incivilities from my two uncles who happened to be both there. My papa also was held by force from going to him with his sword in his hand, although he had the gout upon him.
I fainted away with terror, seeing everyone so violent; and hearing his voice swearing he would not depart without seeing me, or making my uncles ask his pardon for the indignities he had received at their hands; a door being also held fast locked between them; my mamma struggling with my papa; and my sister, after treating him with virulence, insulting me, as fast as I recovered. But when he was told how ill I was, he departed, vowing revenge.
He was ever a favourite with our domestics. His bounty to them, and having always something facetious to say to each, had made them all of his party; and on this occasion they privately blamed everybody else, and reported his patience and gentlemanly behaviour (till the provocations given him ran very high) in such favourable terms that those reports, and my apprehensions of the consequence of this treatment, induced me to read a letter he sent me that night; and, it being written in the most respectful terms, offering to submit the whole of my decision, and to govern himself entirely by my will, to answer it some days after.
To this unhappy necessity was owing our renewed correspondence, as I may call it; yet I did not write till I had informed myself from Mr Symmes’s brother, that he was really insulted into the act of drawing his sword by my brother’s repeatedly threatening, upon his excusing himself out of regard to me, to brand him if he did not; and, by all the inquiry I could make, that he was again the sufferer from my uncles in a more violent manner than I have related.
The same circumstances were related to my papa, and other friends, by Mr Symmes; but they had gone too far in making themselves parties to the quarrel either to retract or forgive; and I was forbid corresponding with him, or to be seen a moment in his company.
But one thing I can say, but that in confidence, because my mamma commanded me not to mention it: that, expressing her apprehension of the consequences of the indignities offered to Mr Lovelace, she told me she would leave it to my prudence to prevent, all I could, the impending mischief on one side.
I am obliged to break off. But I believe I have written enough to answer very fully all that you have commanded from me. It is not for a child to seek to clear her own character, or to justify her actions, at the expense of the most revered ones;
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yet, as I know that the account of all those further proceedings by which I may be affected will be interesting to so dear a friend (who will communicate to others no more than what is fitting), I will continue to write as I have opportunity, as minutely as we are used to write to each other. Indeed I have no delight, as I have often told you, equal to that which I take in conversing with you—by letter , when I cannot in person.
Meantime, I can’t help saying that I am exceedingly concerned to find, that I am become so much the public talk, as you tell me, and as everybodytells me, I am. Your kind, your precautionary regard for my fame, and the opportunity you have given me to tell my own story, previous to any new accident (which heaven avert!), is so like the warm friend I have ever found my dear Miss Howe, that with redoubled obligation you bind me to be
Your ever-grateful and affectionate CLARISSA HARLOWE
Copy of the requested PREAMBLE to the clauses in her grandfather’s will, in her favour, enclosed in the preceding letter
As the particular estate I have mentioned and described above is principally of my own raising; as my three sons have been uncommonly prosperous, and are very rich: the eldest by means of the unexpected benefits he reaps from his new-found mines; the second by what has as unexpectedly fallen in to him on the deaths of several relations of his present wife, the worthy daughter by both sides of very honourable families, over and above the very large portion which he received with her in marriage; my son Antony by his East India traffic and successful voyages: As furthermore my grandson James will be sufficiently provided for by his godmother Lovell’s kindness to him, who having no near relations assures me that she has, as well by deed of gift as by will, left him both her Scottish and English estates: for never (blessed be God therefore!) was there a family more prosperous in all its branches: and as my second son James will very probably make it up to my grandson, and also to my grand-daughter Arabella; to whom I intend no disrespect, nor have reason, for she is a very hopeful and dutiful child: and as my sons John and Antony seem not inclined to a married life, so that my son James is the only one who has children, or is likely to have any: For all these reasons; and because my dearest and beloved grand-daughter Clarissa Harlowe has been from infancy a matchless young creature in her duty to me, and admired by all who knew her as a very extraordinary child; I must therefore take the pleasure of considering her as my own peculiar child; and this without intending offence, and I hope it will not be taken as any, since my son James can bestow his favours accordingly, and in greater proportion, upon Miss Arabella and Master James: These, I say, are the reasons which move me to dispose of the above-described estate in the precious child’s favour, who is the delight of my old age; and I verily think has contributed, by her amiable duty, and kind and tender regards, to prolong my life.
Wherefore it is my express will and commandment, and I enjoin my three sons John, James and Antony, and my grandson James, and my grand-daughter Arabella, as they value my blessing, and my memory, and would wish with their own last wills and desires to be fulfilled by their survivors, that they will not impugn or contest the following bequests and dispositions in favour of my said granddaughter Clarissa, although they should not be strictly conformable to law, or the
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forms thereof; nor suffer them to be controverted or disputed on any pretence whatsoever.
And in this confidence, etc.