Letter 28: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE
Friday, Mar. 10
YOU will permit me, my dear, to touch upon a few passages in your last favour, that affect me sensibly.
In the first place, you must allow me to say, low as I am in spirits, that I am very angry with you for your reflections on my relations, particularly on my father, and on the memory of my grandfather. Nor, my dear, does your own mamma always escape the keen edge of vivacity. One cannot one’sself forbear to write or speak freely of those we love and honour; that is to say, when grief wrings the heart. But it goes against one to hear anybody else take the same liberties. Then you have so very strong a manner of expression where you take a distaste, that when passion has subsided and I come by reflection to see by your severity what I have given occasion for I cannot help condemning myself. Let me then, as matters arise, make my complaints to you; but be it your part to soothe and soften my angry passions by such advice as nobody better knows how to give: and this the rather, as you know what an influence your advice has upon me.
I cannot help owning, that I am pleased to have you join with me in opinion of the contempt which Mr Solmes deserves from me. But yet, permit me to say, that he is not quite so horrible a creature as you make him; as to his person , I mean: for with regard to his mind , by all I have heard, you have done him but justice. But you have such a talent at an ugly likeness, and such a vivacity, that they sometimes carry you out of verisimilitude. In short, my dear, I have known you in more instances than one sit down resolved to write all that wit, rather than strict justice, could suggest upon the given occasion. Perhaps it may be thought that I should say the less on this particular subject, because your dislike to him arises from love to me: but should it not be our aim to judge of ourselves, and of everything that affects us, as we may reasonably imagine other people would judge of us and of our actions?
As to the advice you give, to resume my estate, I am determined not to litigate with my papa, let what will be the consequence to myself. I may give you, at another time, a more particular answer to your reasonings on this subject: but at present will only observe, that it is my opinion that Lovelace himself would hardly think me worth addressing, were he to know this to be my resolution. These men , my dear, with all their flatteries, look forward to the PERMANENT. Indeed, it is fit they should. For love must be a very foolish thing to look back upon, when it has brought persons born to affluence into indigence; and laid a generous mind under the hard necessity of obligation and dependence.
[Page 135 ]
You very ingeniously account for the love we bear to one another, from the difference in our tempers. I own, I should not have thought of that. There may possibly be something in it: but whether there be, or not, whenever I am cool, and give myself time to reflect, I will love you the better for the correction you give me, be as severe as you will upon me. Spare me not therefore, my dear friend, whenever you think me in the least faulty. I love your agreeable raillery: you know I always did: nor, however over -serious you think me, did I ever think you flippant , as you harshly call it. One of the first conditions of our mutual friendship was that each should say or write to the other whatever was upon her mind, without any offence to be taken; a condition that is indeed an indispensable in all friendship.
I knew your mamma would be for implicit obedience in a child. I am sorry my case is so circumstanced that I cannot comply: as my Mrs Norton says, it would be my duty to do so, if I could. You are indeed very happy that you have nothing but your own agreeable, yet whimsical, humours to contend with in the choice she invites you to make of Mr Hickman!—How happy should I be, to be treated with so much lenity! I should blush to have my mamma say that she begged and prayed me, and all in vain, to encourage a man so unexceptionable as Mr Hickman.
Indeed, my beloved Miss Howe, I am ashamed to have your mamma say with ME in her view, ‘What strange effects have prepossession and love upon young creatures of our sex!’ This touches me the more sensibly, because you yourself, my dear, are so ready to persuade me into it. I should be very blameable to endeavour to hide any the least bias upon my mind from you: and I cannot but say—that this man—this Lovelace—is a person that might be liked well enough if he bore such a character as Mr Hickman bears; and even if there were hopes of reclaiming him: but LOVE, methinks, as short a word as it is, has a broad sound with it. Yet do I find that one may be driven by violent measures step by step, as it were, into something that may be called—I don’t know what to call it—a conditional kind of liking , or so. But as to the word Love—justifiable and charming as it is in some cases (that is to say, in all the relative , in all the social and, what is still beyond both, in all our superior duties, in which it may be properly called divine ), it has, methinks, in this narrow, circumscribed, selfish, peculiar sense, no very pretty sound with it. Treat me as freely as you will in all other respects, I will love you, as I have said, the better for your friendly freedom: but, methinks, I could be glad, for SEX’s sake, that you would not let this imputation pass so glibly from your pen, or your lips, as attributable to one of your own sex, whether I be the person or not: since the other must have a double triumph, when a person of your delicacy (armed with such contempts of them all, as you would have one think) can give up a friend, with an exultation over her weakness, as a silly, love-sick creature!
I could make some other observations upon the contents of your last two letters, but my mind is not free enough at present. The occasions for the above stuck with me, and I could not help taking the earliest notice of them.
I will not acquaint you with all proceedings here; but these shall be the subject of another letter.