Letter 27: MISS HOWE TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE
Thursday night, March 9
I have no patience with any of the people you are with. I know not what to advise you to do. How do you know that you are not punishable for being the cause, though to your own loss, that the will of your grandfather is not complied with?—Wills are sacred things, child. You see that they, even they , think so, who imagine they suffer by a will through the distinction paid you in it.
I allow of all your noble reasonings for what you did at the time; but since such a charming, such a generous instance of filial duty is to go thus unrewarded, why should you not resume?
Your grandfather knew the family-failing: he knew what a noble spirit you had to do good—He himself, perhaps (excuse me, my dear), had done too little in his lifetime; and therefore he put it in your power to make up for the defects of the whole family. Were it to me, I would resume it. Indeed I would.
You will say, you cannot do it, while you are with them. I don’t know that. Do you think they can use you worse than they do?—And is it not yourright ? And do they not make use of your own generosity to oppress you? Your uncle Harlowe is one trustee, your cousin Morden is the other. Insist upon your right to your uncle;
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and write to your cousin Morden about it. This, I dare say, will make them alter their behaviour to you.
Your insolent brother, what has he to do to control you?—Were it me (I wish it were for one month, and no more), I’d show him the difference. I’d be in my own mansion, pursuing my charming schemes and making all around me happy. I’d set up my own chariot. I’d visit them when they deserved it. But when my brother and sister gave themselves airs, I’d let them know that I was their sister, and not their servant; and if that did not do, I would shut my gates against them; and bid them be company for each other—
It must be confessed, however, that this brother and sister of yours, judging as such narrow spirits will ever judge, have some reason for treating you as they do. It must have long been a mortifying consideration to them (set disappointed love on her side, and avarice on his, out of the question) to be so much eclipsed by a younger sister—Such a sun in a family where there are none but faint twinklers, how could they bear it!—Why, my dear, they must look upon you as a prodigy among them: and prodigies, you know, though they obtain our admiration, never attract our love. The distance between you and them is immense. Their eyes ache to look up at you. What shades does your full day of merit cast upon them!—Can you wonder then, that they should embrace the first opportunity that offered to endeavour to bring you down to their level?
Depend upon it, my dear, you will have more of it, and more still, as you bear it.
As to this odious Solmes, I wonder not at your aversion to him. It is needless to say anything to you, who have so sincere an antipathy to him, to strengthen your dislike: yet who can resist her own talents? One of mine, as I have heretofore said, is to give an ugly likeness. Shall I indulge it?—I will. And the rather as, in doing so, you will have my opinion in justification of your aversion to him, and in approbation of a steadiness that I ever admired, and must for ever approve in your temper.
I was twice in this wretch’s company. At one of the times your Lovelace was there. I need not mention to you, who have such a pretty curiosity , though at present, only a curiosity, you know! the unspeakable difference!—
Lovelace entertained the company in his lively gay way, and made everybody laugh at one of his stories. It was before this creature was thought of for you. Solmes laughed too. It was, however, his laugh; for his first three years, at least, I imagine, must have been one continual fit of crying; and his muscles have never yet been able to recover a risible tone. His very smile (you never saw him smile, I believe; never at least gave him cause to smile) is so little natural to his features, that it appears in him as hideous as the grin of a man in malice.
I took great notice of him, as I do of all the noble lords of the creation in their peculiarities, and was disgusted, nay, shocked at him even then. I was glad, I remember, on that particular occasion, to see his strange features recovering their natural gloominess, though they did this but slowly, as if the muscles which contributed to his distortions had turned upon rusty springs.
What a dreadful thing must even the love of such a husband be! For my part, were I his wife! (but what have I done to myself to make but such a supposition?) I should never have comfort but in his absence, or when I was quarrelling with him. A splenetic lady, who must have somebody to find fault with, might indeed be
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brought to endure such a wretch. The sight of him would always furnish out the occasion, and all her servants, for that reason, and for that only, would have cause to bless their master. But how grievous and apprehensive a thing must it be for his wife, had she the least degree of delicacy, to catch herself in having done something to oblige him?
So much for his person: as to the other half of him, he is said to be an insinuating, creeping mortal to anybody he hopes to be a gainer by; an insolent, overbearing one where he has no such views: and is not this the genuine spirit of meanness?—He is reported to be spiteful and malicious, even to the whole family of any single person who has once disobliged him; and to his own relations most of all. I am told that they are none of them such wretches as himself. This may be one reason why he is for disinheriting them.
My Kitty, from one of his domestics, tells me that his tenants hate him: and that he never had a servant who spoke well of him. Vilely suspicious of their wronging him, probably from the badness of his own heart, he is always changing.
His pockets, they say, are continually crammed with keys, so that when he would treat a guest (a friend he has not out of your family), he is half as long puzzling which is which as his niggardly treat might be concluded in—And if it be wine, he always fetches it himself: nor has he much trouble in doing so, for he has very few visitors—only those whom business or necessity brings; for a gentleman who can help it would rather be benighted than put up at his house.
Yet this is the man they have found out, for the sake of considerations as sordid as those he is governed by, for a husband (that is to say, for a lord and master) for Miss Clarissa Harlowe!
But perhaps he may not be quite so miserable as he is represented. Characters extremely good, or extremely bad, are seldom justly given. Favour for a person will exalt the one, as disfavour will sink the other. But your uncle Antony has told my mamma, who objected to his covetousness, that it was intended to tie him up, as he called it, to your own terms ; which would be with a hempen, rather than a matrimonial cord, I dare say! But is not this a plain indication that even his own recommenders think him a mean creature, and that he must be articled with—perhaps for necessaries? But enough, and too much, of such a mortal as this!—You must not have him, my dear—that I am clear in—though not so clear how you will be able to avoid it, except you assert the independence which your estate gives you.
HERE my mamma broke in upon me. She wanted to see what I had written. I was silly enough to read Solmes’s character to her.
She owned that the man was not the most desirable of men; had not the happiest appearance: but what was person in a man? And I was chidden for setting you against complying with your father’s will. Then followed a lecture upon the preference to be given in favour of a man who took care to discharge all his obligations to the world and to keep all together, in opposition to a spendthrift or profligate: a fruitful subject, you know, whether any particular person be meant by it, or not. Why will these wise parents, by saying too much against the persons they dislike, put one upon defending them? Lovelace is not a spendthrift; owes not obligations to the world; though, I doubt not, profligate enough. Then, putting one upon doing such but common justice, we must needs be prepossessed, truly!—
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And so we are put, perhaps, upon curiosities first, how such a one or his friends may think of one—And then, but too probably, a distinguishing preference, or something that looks like it, comes in.
My mamma charged me, at last, to write that side over again. But excuse me, my good mamma! I would not have the character lost upon any consideration, since my vein ran freely into it; and I never wrote to please myself but I pleased you. A very good reason why—we have but one mind between us—only, that sometimes you are a little too grave, methinks; I, no doubt, a little too flippant in your opinion.
This difference in our tempers, however, is probably the reason that we love one another so well, that in the words of Norris no third love can come in between: since each in the other’s eye having something amiss, and each loving the other well enough to bear being told of it; and the rather, perhaps, as neither wishes to mend it; this takes off a good deal from that rivalry which might encourage a little, if not a great deal, of that latent spleen which in time might rise into envy, and that into ill-will. So, my dear, if this be the case, let each keep her fault, and much good may do her with it, say I: for there is constitution in both to plead for it: and what a hero or heroine must he or she be, who can conquer a constitutional fault? Let it be avarice , as in some I dare not name: let it be gravity , as in my best friend : or let it be flippancy , as in—I need not say whom.
It is proper to acquaint you that I was obliged to comply with my mamma’s curiosity —my mamma has her share, her full share, of curiosity , my dear—and to let her see here and there some passages of your letters—
I am broke in upon—but I will tell you by and by what passed between my mamma and me on this occasion—And the rather, as she had her GIRL, her favourite HICKMAN, and your LOVELACE, all at once in her eye—
Thus it was:
‘I cannot but think, Nancy, said she, after all, that there is a little hardship in Miss Harlowe’s case: and yet, as her mamma says, it is a grating thing to have a child who was always noted for her duty in smaller points to stand in opposition to her parents will in the greater ; yea, in the greatest of all. And now, to middle the matter between both, it is pity that the man they insist upon her accepting has not that sort of merit, which so delicate a mind as Miss Harlowe’s might reasonably expect in a husband—But then, this man is surely preferable to a libertine: to a libertine too, who has had a duel with her own brother. Fathers and mothers must think so, were it not for that circumstance—And it is strange if they do not know best.’
And so they must, thought I, from their experience, if no little, dirty views give them also that prepossession in one man’s favour, which they are so apt to censure their daughters for having in another’s—And if, as I may add in your case, they have no creeping, old, musty, uncle Antonys to strengthen their prepossessions, as he does my mamma’s—poor, creeping, positive soul, what has such an old bachelor as he to do to prate about the duties of children to parents, unless he had a notion that parents owe some to their children? But your mamma, by her indolent meekness, let me call it, has spoiled all the three brothers.
‘But you see, child, proceeded by mamma, what a different behaviour MINE is to You. I recommend to you one of the soberest, yet politest, men in England—‘
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I think little of my mamma’s politest , my dear. She judges of honest Hickman for her daughter , as she would have done, I suppose, twenty years ago for herself : for Hickman appears to me to be a man of that antiquated cut, as to his mind I mean: a great deal too much upon the formal, you must needs think him to be, yourself.
‘Of a good family, continued my mamma; a fine, clear, and improving estate (a prime consideration with my mamma, as well as with some other folks whom you know): and I beg and I pray you to encourage him: at least, not to use him the worse for his being so obsequious to you.’
Yes, indeed! To use him kindly, that he may treat me familiarly—but distance to the men-wretches is best—I say.
‘Yet all will hardly prevail upon you to do as I would have you. What would you say were I to treat you as Miss Harlowe’s father and mother treat her?’
‘What would I say , madam!—That’s easily answered. I would SAY nothing. Can you think such usage, and to such a young lady, is to be borne?’
‘Come, come, Nancy, be not so hasty. You have heard but one side; and that there is more to be said is plain, by your reading to me but parts of her letters. They are her parents. They must know best. Miss Harlowe, as fine a child as she is, must have done something, must have said something (you know how they loved her) to make them use her thus.’
‘But if she should be blameless, madam, how does your own supposition condemn them ?
Then came up Solmes’s great estate; his good management of it—‘A little too NEAR indeed,’ was the word! ( Oh how money-lovers , thought I, will palliate ! Yet my mamma is a princess in spirit to this Solmes!) ‘What strange effects have prepossession and love upon young ladies!’
I don’t know how it is, my dear; but people take strange delight in finding out folks in love. Curiosities beget curiosities; I believe that’s the thing!
She proceeded to praise Mr Lovelace’s person, and his qualifications natural and acquired: but then she would judge as mothers will judge, and asdaughters are very loath to judge—but could say nothing in answer to your offer of living single; and breaking with him—if—if—(three or four If’sshe made of one good one, If) that could be depended on, she said.
But still obedience without reserve , reason what I will, is the burden of my mamma’s song; and this, for my sake, as well as yours.
I must needs say, that I think duty to parents is a very meritorious excellence: but I bless God I have not your trials. We can all be good when we have no temptation nor provocation to the contrary—but few young persons (who can help themselves too) would bear what you bear.
I will not mention all that is upon my mind in relation to the behaviour of your father and uncles, and the rest of them, because I would not offend you: but I have now a higher opinion of my own sagacity than ever I had, in that I could never cordially love anyone of your family but yourself. I am not born to like them. But it is my duty to be sincere to my friend : and this will excuse her Anna Howe to Miss Clarissa Harlowe. I ought indeed to have excepted your mamma, a lady to be reverenced, and now to be pitied. What must have been her treatment, to be thus subjugated, as I may call it? Little did the good old Viscount think, when he married his darling, his only, daughter to so well-appearing a gentleman, and to her own liking too, that she would have been so much kept down. Another would
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call your father a tyrant, if you will not: all the world indeed would; and if you love your mother, you should not be very angry at the world for taking that liberty. Yet, after all, I cannot help thinking that she is the less to be pitied, as she may be said (be the gout, or what will, the occasion of his moroseness) to have long behaved unworthy of her birth and fine qualities, in yielding to encroaching spirits (you may confine the reflection to your brother, if it will pain you to extend it), and this for the sake of preserving a temporary peace to herself; which is the less worth attempting to preserve, as it always produced a strength in the will of others, and a weakness in her own, that has subjected her to an arbitrariness which grew and became established upon her patience—And now to give up the most deserving of her children, against her judgement, a sacrifice to the ambition and selfishness of the least deserving—but I fly from this subject—having, I fear, said too much to be forgiven for—and yet much less than is in my heart to say upon the over-meek subject.
Mr Hickman is expected from London this evening. I have desired him to enquire after Lovelace’s life and conversation in town. If he has not, I shall be very angry with him. Don’t expect a very good account of either. He is certainly an intriguing wretch, and full of inventions.
Upon my word, I most heartily despise that sex! I wish they would let our fathers and mothers alone; teasing them to tease us with their golden promises, and protestations, and settlements, and the rest of their ostentatious nonsense. How charmingly might you and I live together and despite them all!—But to be cajoled, wire-drawn, and ensnared, like silly birds, into a state of bondage or vile subordination: to be courted as princesses for a few weeks, in order to be treated as slaves for the rest of our lives—Indeed, my dear, as you say of Solmes, I cannot endure them!—But for your relations ( friends no more will I call them, unworthy as they are even of the other name!) to take such a wretch’s price as that; and to the cutting off all reversions from his own family!—How must a mind but commonly just resist such a measure!
Mr Hickman shall sound Lord M. upon the subject you recommend. But beforehand, I can tell you what he and what his sisters will say when theyare sounded. Who would not be proud of such a relation as Miss Clarissa Harlowe?—Mrs Fortescue told me that they are all your very great admirers.
If I have not been clear enough in my advice about what you shall do, let me say that I can give it in one word: it is only by re-urging you to RESUME. If you do, all the rest will follow.
We are told here that Mrs Norton, as well as your aunt Hervey, has given her opinion on the implicit side of the question. If she can think that the part she has had in your education, and your own admirable talents and acquirements, are to be thrown away upon such a worthless creature as Solmes, I could heartily quarrel with her. You may think I say this to lessen your regard for the good woman. And perhaps not wholly without cause, if you do. For, to own the truth, methinks, I don’t love her so well as I should do, did you love her so apparently less, that I could be out of doubt, that you love me better.
Your mamma tells you, ‘That you will have great trials: that you are under your papa’s discipline’ —The word’s enough for me to despise them who give occasion for its use!—‘That it is out of her power to help you!’ And again: ‘That if you have any favour to hope for, it must be by the mediation of your uncles!’ I suppose you
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will write to the oddities, since you are forbid to see them!—But can it be, that such a lady, such a sister, such a wife, such a mother, has no influence in her own family? Who indeed, as you say, would marry, that can live single? My choler is again beginning to rise. RESUME, my dear—And that’s all I will give myself time to say further, lest I offend you when I cannot serve you—Only this, that I am
Your truly affectionate friend and servant ANNA HOWE