Letter 26: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE
Thursd. morn. Mar. 9
I have another letter from Mr Lovelace, although I had not answered his former.
This man, somehow or other, knows everything that passes in our family: my confinement; Hannah’s dismission; and more of the resentments and resolutions of my father, uncles, and brother, than I can possibly know, and almost as soon as things happen. He cannot come at these intelligences fairly.
He is excessively uneasy upon what he hears; and his expressions both of love to me and resentment to them are very fervent. He solicits me much To engage my honour to him, never to have Mr Solmes.’ I think I may fairly promise him that I will not.
He begs, ‘That I will not think he is endeavouring to make to himself a merit at any man’s expense, since he hopes to obtain my favour on the foot of his own ; nor that he seeks to intimidate me into a consideration for him. But declares that the treatment he meets with from my family is so intolerable that he is perpetually reproached for not resenting it; and that as well by Lord M. and his two aunts, as by all his other friends: and if he must have no hope from me, he cannot answer for what his despair will make him do.’
Indeed, he says, his relations, the ladies particularly, advise him to have recourse to a legal remedy: ‘But how, he asks, can a man of honour go to law for verbal abuses, given by people entitled to wear swords?’
You see, my dear, that my mamma seems as apprehensive of mischief as I, and has indirectly offered to let Shorey carry my answer to the letter he sent me before.
He is full of the favour of the ladies of his family to me: to whom, nevertheless, I am personally a stranger; except, that once I saw Miss Patty Montague at Mrs Knollys’s.
It is natural, I believe, for a person to be the more desirous of making new
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friends in proportion as she loses the favour of old ones, yet had I rather appear amiable in the eyes of my own relations and in your eyes than in those of all the world besides: but these four ladies of his family have such excellent characters that one cannot but wish to be thought well of by them. Cannot there be a way to find our by Mrs Fortescue’s means, or by Mr Hickman, who has some knowledge of Lord M. (covertly, however), what their opinions are of the present situation of things in our family; and of the little likelihood there is that ever the alliance once approved of by them can take effect?—I cannot, for my own part, think so well of myself as to imagine that they can wish him to persevere in his views with regard to me, through such contempts and discouragements—Not that it would concern me should they advise him to the contrary. By my lord’s signing Mr Lovelace’s former letter; by Mr Lovelace’s assurances of the continued favour of all his relations; and by the report of others; I seem to stand still high in their favour. But, methinks, I would be glad to have this confirmed to me, as from themselves, by the lips of an indifferent person; and the rather, as they are known to put a value upon their alliance, fortunes, and family; and take it amiss, as they have reason, to be included by oursin the contempt thrown upon their kinsman.
Curiosity at present is all my motive: nor will there ever, I hope, be a stronger, notwithstanding your questionable throbs ; even were Mr Lovelace to be less exceptionable than he is.
I have answered his letters. If he take me at my word, I shall need to be the less solicitous for his relations’ opinions in my favour: and yet one would be glad to be well thought of by the worthy. This is the substance of my letter:
‘I express my surprise at his knowing (and so early) all that passes here. I assure him, that were there not such a man in the world as himself, I would not have Mr Solmes.’
I tell him, ‘That to return, as I understand he does, defiances for defiances, to my relations, is far from being a proof with me, either of his politeness or of the consideration he pretends to have for me.
‘That the moment I hear he visits any of my friends without their consent, I will make a resolution never to see him more, if I can help it.’
I apprise him, ‘That I am connived at in sending this letter (although no one has seen the contents), provided it shall be the last I will ever write to him: that I had more than once told him that the single life was my choice; and this before Mr Solmes was introduced as a visitor in our family: that Mr Wyerley, and other gentlemen, knew it well to be my choice, before he was acquainted with any of us: that I had never been induced to receive a line from him on the subject, but that I thought he had not acted ungenerously by my brother; and yet had not been so handsomely treated by my friends as he might have expected: that had he even my friends of his side, I should have very great objections to him were I to get over my choice of a single life, so really preferable to me as it is; and that I should have declared as much to him, had I regarded him as more than a common visitor. On all these accounts, I desire that the one more letter which I will allow him to deposit in the usual place may be the very last ; and that only to acquaint me with his acquiescence that it shall be so; at least till happier times!’
This last I put in, that he may not be quite desperate. But if he take me at my word, I shall be rid of one of my tormentors.
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I have promised to lay before you all his letters and my answers. I repeat that promise; and am the less solicitous for that reason to amplify upon the contents of either. But I cannot too often express my vexation to be driven to such straits and difficulties, here at home, as oblige me to answer letters (from a man I had not absolutely intended to encourage and had really great objections to) filled as his are with such warm protestations, and written to me with a spirit of expectation.
For, my dear, you never knew so bold a supposer. As commentators find beauties in an author which the author perhaps was a stranger to, so he sometimes compliments me in high strains of gratitude for favours, and for a consideration, which I never designed him; insomuch that I am frequently under a necessity of explaining away the attributed goodness, which if I showed him, I should have the less opinion of myself.
In short, my dear, like a restive horse he pains one’s hands, and half disjoints one’s arms to rein him in. And when you see his letters, you must form no judgement upon them, till you have read my answers: if you do, you will indeed think you have cause to attribute self-deceit , and throbs , and glows to your friend—And yet, at other times, the contradictory creature complains that I show him as little favour, and my friends as much inveteracy, as if in the rencounter betwixt my brother and him he had been the aggressor; and as if the catastrophe had been as fatal as it might have been.
If he has a design by this conduct (sometimes complaining of my shyness, at others exulting in my imaginary favours) to induce me at one time to acquiesce with his compliments, at another to be more complaisant for his complaints; and if the contradiction be not the effect of his inattention and giddiness; I shall think him as deep and as artful (too probably, as practised ) a creature as ever lived; and were I to be sure of it, should hate him, if possible, worse than I do Solmes.
But enough for the present of a creature so very various!—