LETTER 10: MISS HOWE TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE

 Febr. 27.

What odd heads some people have! —Miss Clarissa Harlowe to be sacrificed in marriage to Mr. Roger Solmes! Astonishing! I must not, you say, give my advice in favour of this man ! —You now half-convince me, my dear, that you are ally’d to the family that could think of so preposterous a match, or you could never have had the least notion of my advising in his favour. Ask me for his picture: You know I have a good hand at drawing an ugly likeness. But I’ll see a little farther first: For who knows what may happen; since matters are in such a train; and since you have not the courage to oppose so overwhelming a torrent.

You ask me to help you to a little of my spirit. Are you in earnest? But it will not now, I doubt, do you service. —It will not sit naturally upon you. You are your mamma’s girl, think what you will, and have violent spirits to contend with. Alas! my dear, you should have borrowed some of mine a little sooner;—that is to say, before you had given the management of your estate into the hands of those who think they have a prior claim to it. What, tho’ a father’s ? —Has not that father two elder children? —And do they not both bear his stamp and image, more than you do? —Pray, my dear, call me not to account for this free question; lest your application of my meaning prove to be as severe as that .

Now I have launch’d out a little, indulge me one word more in the same strain: I will be decent, I promise you. —I think you might have known, that Avarice and Envy are two passions that are not to be satisfy’d, the one by giving, the other by the envied person’s continuing to deserveand excel . —Fuel, fuel both, all the world over, to flames insatiate and devouring.

But since you ask for my opinion, you must tell me all you know or surmise of their inducements. And if you will not forbid me to make extracts from your letters, for the entertainment of my cousin in the little island, who longs to hear more of your affairs, it will be very obliging.

But you are so tender of some people, who have no tenderness for any body but themselves, that I must conjure you to speak out. Remember, that a friendship like ours admits of no reserves. You may trust my impartiality: It would be an affront to your own judgment, if you did not: For do you not ask my advice? And have you not taught me, that friendship should never give a bias against justice? —Justify them therefore, if you can. Let us see if there be any sense, whether sufficient reason or not, in their choice. At present, I cannot (and yet I know a good deal of your family) have any conception, how all of them, your mamma in particular, and your aunt Hervey, can join with the rest against judgments given. As to some of the others, I cannot wonder at any thing they do, or attempt to do, where Self is concern’d.

You ask, Why may not your brother be first engag’d in wedlock? —I’ll tell you why: His temper and his arrogance are too well known to induce women he would aspire to, to receive his addresses, notwithstanding his great independent acquisitions, and still greater prospects. Let me tell you, my dear, those acquisitions have given him more pride, than reputation. To me he is the most intolerable creature that I ever saw. The treatment you blame, he merited from one whom he would have addressed with the air of a person intending to confer, rather than hoping to receive a favour. I ever loved to mortify proud and insolent spirits. What, think you, makes me bear Hickman near me, but that the man is humble, and knows his distance?

As to your question, Why your elder sister may not be first provided for? I answer, Because she must have no man, but who has a great and clear estate; that’s one thing. Another is, Because she has a younger sister: —Pray, my dear, be so good as to tell me, what man of a great and clear estate would think of that elder sister, while the younger were single?

You are all too rich to be happy, child. For must not each of you, by the constitutions of your family, marry to be still richer? People who know in what their main excellence consists are not to be blam’d (are they?) for cultivating and improving what they think most valuable? Is true happiness any part of your family-view? —So far from it, that none of your family, but yourself, could be happy were they not rich. So let them fret on, grumble and grudge, and accumulate; and wondering what ails them that they have not happiness when they have riches, think the cause is want of more; and so go on heaping up, till death, as greedy an accumulator as themselves, gathers them into his garner!

Well then once more, I say, do you, my dear, tell me what you know of their avowed and general motives; and I will tell you more than you will tell me of their failings! Your aunt Hervey, you say, ( a ) has told you : —Why, as I hinted above, must I ask you to let me know them; when you condescend to ask my advice on the occasion? That they prohibit your corresponding with me, is a wisdom I neither wonder at, nor blame them for: Since it is an evidence to me, that they know their own folly: And if they do, is it strange that they should be afraid to trust another’s judgment upon it? I am glad you have found out a way to correspond with me. I approve it much. I shall more, if this first tryal of it proves successful. But should it not, and should it fall into their hands, it would not concern me, but for your sake.

We had heard before you wrote, that all was not right between your relations and you, at your coming home: That Mrs. Solmes visited you, and that with a prospect of success. But I concluded, the mistake lay in the person; and that his address was to Miss Arabella: And indeed had she been as good-natur’d as your plump ones generally are, I should have thought her too good for him by half: —Thought I, this must be the thing; and my beloved friend is sent for to advise and assist in her nuptial preparations. Who knows, said I to my mamma, but that, when the man has thrown aside his yellow, full-buckled peruke, and his broad-brimm’d beaver, both of which I suppose were Sir Oliver’s Best of long standing, he may cut a tolerable figure dangling to church with Miss Bell! —The woman, as she observes, should excel the man in features: And where can she match so well for a foil?

I indulged this surmize against rumour, because I could not believe, that the absurdest people in England could be so very absurd, as to think of this man for you. We heard moreover, that you received no visitors: I could assign no reason for this; except that the preparations for your sister were to be private, and the ceremony sudden: Miss Lloyd and Miss Biddulph were with me to inquire what I knew of this; and of your not being at church, either morning or afternoon, the Sunday after your return from us; to the disappointment of a little hundred of your admirers, to use their words. It was easy for me to guess the reason to be what you confirm: —Their apprehensions that Lovelace would be there, and attempt to wait on you home. My mamma takes very kindly your compliments in your letter to her. Her words upon reading it were; ‘Miss Clarissa Harlowe is an admirable young lady: Where-ever she goes, she confers a favour: Whomever she leaves, she fills with regret.’ —And then a little comparative reflection; ‘O my Nancy, that you had a little of her sweet obligingness!’

No matter. The praise was yours. You are me; and I enjoy’d it. The more enjoy’d it, because—shall I tell you the truth? —Because I think myself as well as I am—Were it but for this reason; That had I twenty brother James’s, and twenty sister Bell’s, not one of them, nor all of them join’d together, would dare to treat me, as yours presume to treat you. The person who will bear much shall have much to bear, all the world thro’: ‘Tis your own sentiment, grounded upon the strongest instance that can be given in your own family; tho’ you have so little improv’d by it. The result is this, That I am fitter for this world than you: You for the next than me;—that’s the difference. —But long, long, for my sake, and for hundreds of sakes, may it be, before you quit us for company more congenial, and more worthy of you!—

I communicated to my mamma the account you give of your strange reception; also what a horrid wretch they have found out for you; and the compulsory treatment they give you. It only set her on magnifying her lenity to me, on my tyrannical behaviour, as she will call it (mothers must have their way, you know), to the man she so warmly recommends, against whom, it seems, there can be no just exception; and expatiating upon the complaisance I owe her for her indulgence. So I believe I must communicate to her nothing farther,—especially as I know she would condemn the correspondence between us, and That between you and Lovelace, as a clandestine and undutiful thing: For duty implicit is her cry. And moreover she lends a pretty open ear to the preachments of that starch old bachelor your uncle Antony; and for an example to her daughter, would be more careful how she takes your part, be the cause ever so just. Yet is not this right policy neither. For people who will allow nothing, will be granted nothing: In other words, those who aim at carrying too many points will not be able to carry any.

But can you divine, my dear, what that old preachment-making plump-hearted soul, your uncle Antony, means, by his frequent amblings hither? —There is such smirking and smiling between my mamma and him! Such mutual praises of oeconomy; and ‘ That is my way!’—and ‘This I do!’—and ‘I am glad it has your approbation, Sir!’—and ‘ You look into every thing, Madam!’ —‘Nothing would be done, if I did not !’ —Such exclamations against servants: Such exaltings of self! —And dear-heart, and good-lack ! —and ‘las-a-day ! —And now and then their conversation sinking into a whispering accent, if I come cross them! —I’ll tell you, my dear, I don’t above half like it.

Only that these old bachelors usually take as many years to resolve upon matrimony, as they can reasonably expect to live; or I should be ready to fire upon his visits; and recommend Mr. Hickman, as a much properer man, to my mamma’s acceptance: For what he wants in years, he makes up in gravity: And if you will not chide me, I will say, That there is a primness in both, especially when the man has presumed too much with me upon my mamma’s favour for him, and is under discipline on that account, as makes them seem near of kin: And then in contemplation of my sauciness, and what they both bear from it, they sigh away!—and seem so mightily to compassionate each other, that if Pity be but one remove from Love, I am in no danger, while they both are in a great deal, and don’t know it.

Now, my dear, I know you will be upon me with your grave airs: So in for the lamb, as the saying is, in for the sheep ; and do you yourself look about you: For I’ll have a pull with you, by way of being aforehand. Hannibal, we read, always advised to attack the Romans upon their own territories. You are pleased to say, and upon your word too ! — That your regards (a mighty quaint word for affections) are not so much engag’d, as some of your friends suppose, to another person . What need you give one to imagine, my dear, that the last month or two has been a period extremely favourable to that other person! —whom it has made an obliger of the niece for his patience with the uncles.

But, to pass that by,— So much engag’d! — How much, my dear? Shall I infer? Some of your friends suppose a great deal . —You seem to owna little. Don’t be angry. It is all fair: Because you have not acknowledg’d to me That little . People, I have heard you say, who affect secrets always excite curiosity.

But you proceed with a kind of drawback upon your averrment, as if recollection had given you a doubt. — You know not yourself, if they be[so much engag’d]. Was it necessary to say This, to me?— and to say it upon your word too? —But you know best. —Yet you don’t neither, I believe. For a beginning Love is acted by a subtile spirit; and oftentimes discovers itself to a bystander, when the person possess’d (why should I not call it possess’d ?) knows not it has such a demon. But further you, say, what PREFERABLE favour you may have for him, to any other person, is owing more to the usage he has received, and for your sake borne, than to any personal consideration .

This is generously said. It is in character. But, O my friend, depend upon it, you are in danger. Depend upon it, whether you know it or not, you are a little in for’t. Your native generosity and greatness of mind indanger you: All your friends, by fighting against him with impolitic violence, fight for him . And Lovelace, my life for yours, notwithstanding all his veneration and assiduities, has seen further than that veneration and those assiduities (so well calculated to your meridian) will let him own he has seen. — Has seen, in short, that his work is doing for him more effectually than he could do it for himself. And have you not before now said, That nothing is so penetrating as the vanity of a lover; since it makes the person who has it frequently see in his own favour what is not ; and hardly ever fail of observing what is . And who says Lovelace wants vanity?

In short, my dear, it is my opinion, and that from the easiness of his heart and behaviour, that he has seen more than I have seen; more than you think could be seen;—more than I believe you yourself know, or else you would have let me know it. Already, in order to restrain him from resenting the indignities he has received, and which are daily offer’d him, he has prevailed upon you to correspond with him privately. I know he has nothing to boast of from what you have written. But is not his inducing you to receive his letters, and to answer them, a great point gain’d? —By your insisting, that he should keep this correspondence private, it appears, that there is one secret, that you do not wish the world should know: And he is master of that secret. He is indeed himself, as I may say, that secret! —What an intimacy does this beget for the lover! —How is it distancing the parent!—Yet who, as things are situated, can blame you? — Your condescension has no doubt hitherto prevented great mischiefs: It must be continued, for the same reasons, while the cause remains. You are drawn in by a perverse fate, against inclination: But custom, with such laudable purposes, will reconcile the inconveniency, and make an inclination. —And I would advise you (as you would wish to manage, on an occasion so critical with that prudence which governs all your actions) not to be afraid of entering upon a close examination into the true springs and grounds of this your generosity to that happy man.

It is my humble opinion, I tell you frankly, that, on inquiry, it will come out to be LOVE. —Don’t start, my dear! —Has not your man himself had natural philosophy enough to observe already to your aunt Hervey, that Love takes the deepest root in the steadiest minds? The duce take his sly penetration, I was going to say; for this was six or seven weeks ago.

I have been tinctured, you know. Nor, on the coolest reflection, could I account how, and when, the jaundice began: But had been over head and ears, as the saying is, but for some of that advice from you, which I now return you. Yet my man was not half so—So what, my dear? —To be sure Lovelace is a charming fellow. —And were he only—But I will not make you glow, as you read! —Upon my word, I won’t. —Yet, my dear, don’t you find at your heart somewhat unusual make it go throb, throb, throb, as you read just here? —If you do, don’t be asham’d to own it. —It is your generosity, my love! that’s all. — But, as the Roman augur said, Cæsar, beware of the ides of March!

Adieu, my dearest friend, and forgive; and very speedily, by the new-sound expedient, tell me, that you forgive

Your ever-affectionate
Anna Howe .

 

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