LETTER 36 CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

Sat. night, Mar. 18.

I have been frighted out of my wits—Still am in a manner out of breath. —Thus occasion’d—I went down, under the usual pretence, in hopes to find something from you. Concern’d at my disappointment, I was returning from the woodhouse, when I heard a rustling, as of somebody behind a stack of wood. I was extremely surpris’d: But still more, to behold a man coming from behind the furthermost stack. O thought I, at that moment, the sin of a prohibited correspondence!

 

 

In the same point of time that I saw him, he besought  me, not to be frighted: And, still nearer approaching me, threw open a horseman’s coat: And who should it be but Mr. Lovelace! I could not scream out (yet attempted to scream, the moment I saw a man; and again, when I saw who it was) For I had no voice: And had I not caught hold of a prop, which supported the old roof, I should have sunk.

 

 

I had hitherto, as you know, kept him at distance: And now, as I recover’d myself, judge of my first emotions, when I recollected his character from every mouth of my family; his enterprising temper; and found myself alone with him, in a place so near a bye-lane, and so remote from the house.

 

 

But his respectful behaviour soon dissipated these fears, and gave me others, lest we should be seen together, and information of it given to my brother: The consequences of which, I could readily think, would be, if not further mischief, an imputed assignation, a stricter confinement, a forfeited correspondence with you, my beloved friend, and a pretence for the most violent compulsion: And neither the one set of reflections, nor the other, acquitted him to me for his bold intrusion.

 

 

As soon therefore as I could speak, I express’d with the greatest warmth my displeasure; and told him, that he cared not how much he exposed me to the resentments of all my friends, provided he could gratify his own impetuous humour; and I commanded him to leave the place that moment: And was hurrying from him; when he threw himself in the way at my feet, beseeching my stay for one moment; declaring, that he suffer’d himself to be guilty of this rashness, as I thought it, to avoid one much greater: —For, in short, he could not bear the hourly insults he received from my family, with the thoughts of having so little interest in my favour, that he could not promise himself, that his patience and forbearance  would be attended with any other issue, than to lose me for ever, and be triumphed over and insulted upon it.

 

 

This man, you know, has very ready knees. You have said, that he ought, in small points, frequently to offend, on purpose to shew what an address he is master of.

 

 

He run on, expressing his apprehensions, that a temper so gentle and obliging, as he said mine was, to every-body but him (and a dutifulness so exemplary inclining me to do my part to others, whether they did theirs or not by me), would be wrought upon in favour of a man set up in part to be reveng’d upon myself, for my grandfather’s envied distinction of me; and in part to be reveng’d upon him, for having given life to one, who would have taken his; and now sought to deprive him of hopes dearer to him than life.

 

 

I told him, he might be assur’d, that the severity and ill-usage I met with would be far from effecting the intended end: That altho’ I could, with great sincerity, declare for a Single Life, which had always been my choice; and particularly, that if ever I marry’d, if they would not insist upon the man I had an aversion to, it should not be with the man they disliked—

 

 

He interrupted me here: He hoped, I would forgive him for it; but he could not help expressing his great concern, that, after so many instances of his passionate and obsequious devotion—

 

 

And pray Sir, said I, let me interrupt you in my turn: —Why don’t you assert, in still plainer words, the obligation you have laid me under by this your boasted devotion? Why don’t you let me know, in terms as high as your implication, that a perseverance I have not wish’d for, which has set all my relations at variance with me, is a merit, that throws upon me the guilt of ingratitude, for not answering it as you seem to expect?

 

I must forgive him, he said, if he, who pretended only to a comparative merit (and otherwise thought no man living could deserve me), had presumed to hope for a greater share in my favour, than he had hitherto met with, when such men as Mr. Symmes, Mr. Wyerley, and now, lastly, so vile a reptile as this Solmes, however discouraged by myself, were made his competitors. As to the perseverance I mentioned, it was impossible for him not to persevere: But I must needs know, that were he not in being, the terms Solmes had proposed were such, as would have involved me in the same difficulties with my relations that I now laboured under. He therefore took the liberty to say, that my favour to him, far from increasing those difficulties, would be the readiest way to extricate me from them. They had made it impossible (he told me, with too much truth) to oblige them any way, but by sacrificing myself to Solmes. They were well apprised besides of the difference between the two; one, whom they hoped to manage as they pleased; the other, who could and would protect me from every insult; and who had natural prospects much superior to my brother’s foolish views, of a title.

 

 

How comes this man to know so well all our foibles? But I more wonder, how he came to have a notion of meeting me in this place!

 

 

I was very uneasy to be gone; and the more as the night came on apace. But there was no getting from him, till I had heard a great deal more of what he had to say.

 

 

As he hoped, that I would one day make him the happiest man in the world, he assured me, that he had so much regard for my fame, that he would be as far from advising any step that were likely to cast a shade upon my reputation, (altho’ That step were to be ever so much in his own favour) as I would be to follow such advice. But since I was not to be permitted  to live single, he would submit it to my consideration, whether I had any way but one to avoid the intended violence to my inclinations: My father so jealous of his authority: Both my uncles in my father’s way of thinking: My cousin Morden at a distance: My uncle and aunt Hervey aw’d intoinsignificance, was his word: My brother and sister inflaming every one; Solmes’s offers captivating: Miss Howe’s mother rather of party with them, for motives respecting example to her own daughter.

 

 

And then he ask’d me, if I would receive a letter from his aunt Lawrance, on this occasion: For his aunt Sadleir, he said, having lately lost her only child, hardly looked into the world, or thought of it farther, than to wish him marry’d, and, preferably to all the women in the world, with me.

 

 

To be sure, my dear, there is a great deal in what the man said: —I may be allow’d to say This, without an imputed glow or throb . —But I told him, nevertheless, that altho’ I had great honour for the Ladies he was related to (for his two aunts in particular), yet I should not choose to receive a letter on a subject, that had a tendency to promote an end I was far from intending to promote: That it became me, ill as I was treated at present, to hope everything, to bear every-thing, and to try every-thing: When my father saw my steadfastness, and that I would die rather than have Mr. Solmes, he would perhaps recede.—

 

 

Interrupting me, he represented the unlikelihood there was of that, from the courses they had enter’d upon; which he thus enumerated: —Their engaging Mrs. Howe against me, in the first place, as a person I might have thought to fly to, if push’d to desperation: — My brother continually buzzing in my father’s ears, that my cousin Morden would soon arrive, and then would insist upon giving me possession of my grandfather’s estate, in pursuance of the will; which would render  me independent of my father! —Their disgraceful confinement of me: —Their dismissing so suddenly my servant, and setting my sister’s over me: —Their engaging my mamma, contrary to her own judgment, against me: These, he said, were all so many flagrant proofs, that they would stick at nothing to carry their point; and were what made him inexpressibly uneasy.

 

 

He appealed to me, whether ever I knew my papa recede from any resolution he had once fix’d; especially, if he thought either his prerogative, or his authority, concern’d in the question. His acquaintance with our family, he said, enabled him to give several instances (but they would be too grating to me) of an arbitrariness that had few examples even in the families of princes: An arbitrariness, which the most excellent of women, my mamma, too severely experienced.

 

 

He was proceeding, as I thought, with reflections of this sort; and I angrily told him, I would not permit my father to be reflected upon; adding, That his severity to me, however unmerited, was not a warrant for me to dispense with my duty to him.

 

 

He had no pleasure, he said, in urging any thing that could be so construed; for, however well warranted he was to make such reflections, from the provocations they were continually giving him, he knew how offensive to me any liberties of this sort would be. — And yet he must own, that it was painful to him, who had youth and passions to be allow’d for, as well as others; and who had always valued himself upon speaking his mind; to curb himself, under such treatment. Nevertheless, his consideration for me would make him confine himself in his observations, to facts, that were too flagrant, and too openly avowed, to be disputed. It could not therefore justly displease, he would venture to say, if he made this natural inference from the premises, That if such were my father’s behaviour to a wife, who disputed not the imaginary  prerogative he was so unprecedently fond of asserting, what room had a daughter to hope, he would depart from an authority he was so earnest, and so much more concern’d, to maintain? family-interests at the same time engaging; an aversion, however causelessly conceived, stimulating; my brother’s and sister’s resentments and selfish views co-operating; and my banishment from their presence depriving me of all personal plea or intreaty in my own favour.

 

 

How unhappy, my dear, that there is but too much reason for these observations, and for this inference; made, likewise, with more coolness and respect to my family than one would have apprehended from a man so much provok’d, and of passions so high, and generally thought uncontroulable!—

 

 

Will you not question me about throbs and glows, if, from such instances of a command over his fiery temper, for my sake, I am ready to infer, that were my friends capable of a reconciliation with him, he might be affected by arguments apparently calculated for his present and future good?

 

 

He represented to me, that my present disgraceful confinement was known to all the world: That neither my sister nor brother scrupled to represent me as an obliged and favoured child, in a state of actual rebellion: —That, nevertheless, every-body who knew me was ready to justify me for an aversion to a man, whom every-body thought utterly unworthy of me, and more fit for my sister : That unhappy as he was, in not having been able to make any greater impression upon me in his favour, all the world gave me to him: — Nor was there but one objection made to him, by his very enemies (his birth, his fortunes, his prospects all unexceptionable, and the latter splendid); and that, he thank’d God, and my example, was in a fair way of being removed for ever: Since he had seen his error, and was heartily sick of the courses he had follow’d; which, however, were far less enormous than  malice and envy had represented them to be. But of This he should say the less, as it were much better to justify himself by his actions, than by the most solemn asseverations, and promises: And then complimenting my person, he assured me (for that he always loved virtue, altho’ he had not follow’d its rules, as he ought), that he was still more captivated with the graces of my mind : And would frankly own, that till he had the honour to know me, he had never met with an inducement sufficient to enable him to overcome an unhappy kind of prejudice to matrimony; which had made him before impenetrable to the wishes and recommendations of all his relations.

 

 

You see, my dear, he scruples not to speak of himself, as his enemies speak of him. I can’t say, but his openness in these particulars gives a credit to his other professions. I should easily, I think, detect an hypocrite: And this man particularly, who is said to have allowed himself in great liberties, were he to pretend to instantaneous lights and convictions—at his time of life too: Habits, I am sensible, are not so easily changed. You have always join’d with me in remarking, that he will speak his mind with freedom, even to a degree of unpoliteness sometimes; and that his very treatment of my family is a proof that he cannot make a mean court to any body for interest sake. —What pity, where there are such laudable traces, that they should have been so mired, and choaked up, as I may say! —We have heard, that the man’s head is better than his heart: But do you really think Mr. Lovelace can have a very bad heart? Why should not there be something in blood in the human creature, as well as in the ignobler animals? None of his family are exceptionable—but himself, indeed. The Ladies characters are admirable. But I shall incur the imputation I wish to avoid. Yet what a look of censoriousness does it carry, to take one to task for doing that justice, and making those charitable inferences in favour of one particular person, which one ought without scruple to do, and to make, in the behalf of any other man living?

 

 

He then again press’d, that I would receive a letter from his aunt Lawrance of offer’d protection. He said, that people of birth stood a little too much upon punctilio; as people of virtue also did: (—But indeed Birth, worthily liv’d up to, was Virtue; Virtue, Birth; the inducements to a decent punctilio the same; the origin of both, one [How came this notion from him!])—: Else, his aunt would write to me : But she would be willing to be first appris’d, that her offer would be well receiv’d—as it would have the appearance of being made against the liking of one part of my family; and which nothing would induce her to make, but the degree of unworthy persecution which I actually labour’d under, and had further reason to apprehend.

 

 

I told him, that, however greatly I thought myself obliged to Lady Betty Lawrance, if This offer came from herself; yet it was easy to see to what it led. It might look like vanity in me, perhaps, to say, That this urgency in him, on this occasion, wore the face of art, in order to engage me into measures I might not easily extricate myself from. I said, that I should not be affected by the splendor of even a Royal title. Goodness, I thought, was Greatness : That the excellent characters of the Ladies of his family weigh’d more with me, than the consideration that they were half-sisters to Lord M. and daughters of an Earl: That he would not have found encouragement from me, had my friends been consenting to his address, if he had only a mere relative merit to those Ladies: Since, in that case, the very reasons that made me admire them, would have been so many objections to their kinsman .

 

 

I then assur’d him, that it was with infinite concern, that I had found myself drawn into an epistolary correspondence with him; especially since that correspondence had been prohibited: —And the only agreeable use I could think of making of this unexpected and undesired interview, was, to let him know, that I should from henceforth think myself obliged to discontinue it. And I hoped, that he would not have the thought of engaging me to carry it on, by menacing my relations.

 

 

There was light enough to distinguish, that he looked very grave upon this. He so much valued my free choice, he said, and my unbias’d favour (scorning to set himself upon a foot with Solmes, in the compulsory methods used in that man’s behalf), that he should hate himself, were he capable of a view of intimidating me by so very poor a method. But, nevertheless, there were two things to be consider’d: First, That the continual outrages he was treated with; the spies set over him, one of which he had detected; the indignities all his family were likewise treated with; as also, myself, avowedly in malice to him, or he should not presume to take upon himself to resent for me, without my leave [The artful wretch saw he would have lain open here, had he not thus guarded]: All these considerations called upon him to shew a proper resentment: And he would leave it to me to judge, whether it would be reasonable for him, as a man of spirit, to bear such insults, if it were not for my sake. I would be pleased to consider, in the next place, whether the situation I was in (a prisoner in my father’s house, and my whole family determined to compel me to marry a man unworthy of me; and that speedily, and whether I consented or not) admitted of delay in the preventive measures he was desirous to put me upon, in the last resort only . Nor was there a necessity, he said, if I were actually in Lady Betty’s protection, that I should be his, if I should see any thing objectible in his conduct, afterwards.

 

But what would the world conclude would be the end, I asked him, were I to throw myself into the protection of his friends, but that it was with such a view?

 

 

And what less did the world think now, he asked, than that I was confined that I might not ? You are to consider, Madam, you have not now an option; and to whom it is owing that you have not; and that you are in the power of those (Parents why should I call them?) who are determin’d, that you shall not have an option. All I propose is, that you will embrace such a protection;—but not till you have try’d every way, to avoid the necessity for it.

 

 

And give me leave to say, that if a correspondence, on which I have founded all my hopes, is, at this critical conjuncture, to be broken off; and if you are resolved not to be provided against the worst; it must be plain to me, that you will at last yield to That worst—Worst to me only—It cannot be toyou —And then ! (and he put his hand clenched to his forehead) how shall I bear the supposition? — Then will you be That Solmes’s! —But, byall that’s Sacred, neither he, nor your brother, nor your uncles, shall enjoy their triumph: —Perdition seize my soul, if they shall!

 

 

The man’s vehemence frighten’d me: Yet, in resentment, I would have left him; but, throwing himself at my feet again, Leave me not thus, I beseech you, dearest Madam, leave me not thus, in despair. I kneel not, repenting of what I have vow’d in such a case as That I have supposed. I re-vow it, at your feet! —And so he did. But think not it is by way of menace, or to intimidate you to favour me. If your heart inclines you [and then he arose] to obey your father (your brother, rather), and to have Solmes, altho’ I shall avenge myself on those who have insulted me, for their insults to myself and family; yet will I tear out my heart from This bosom (if possible, with  my own hands), were it to scruple to give up its ardors to a woman capable of such a preference.

 

 

I told him, that he talked to me in very high language; but he might assure himself, that I never would have Mr. Solmes (Yet that this I said not in favour to him): And I had declared as much to my relations, were there not such a man as himself in the world.

 

 

Would I declare, that I would still honour him with my correspondence? —He could not bear, that, hoping to obtain greater instances of my favour, he should forfeit the only one he had to boast of.

 

 

I bid him forbear rashness or resentment to any of my family, and I would, for some time at least, till I saw what issue my present trials were likely to have, proceed with a correspondence, which, nevertheless, my heart condemned.—

 

 

And his spirit him, the impatient creature said, interrupting me, for bearing what he did; when he considered, that the necessity of it was imposed upon him; not by my will; for then he would bear it chearfully, and a thousand times more; but by creatures— And there he stopp’d.

 

 

I told him plainly, that he might thank himself (whose indifferent character, as to morals, had given such a handle against him) for all. It was but just, that a man should be spoken evil of, who set no value upon his own reputation.

 

 

He offer’d to vindicate himself: But I told him, I would judge him by his own rule—by his actions, not by his professions .

 

 

Were not his enemies, he said, so powerful, and so determined; and had they not already shewn their intentions in such high acts of even cruelcompulsion; but would leave me to my choice, or to my desire of living single; he would have been content to undergo a twelvemonth’s probation, or more: But he was confident, that one month would either complete all their purposes, or render them abortive: And I best  knew what hopes I had of my father’s receding: He did not know him, if I had any .

 

 

I said, I would try every method, that either my duty or my influence upon any of them should suggest, before I would put myself into any other protection. And, if nothing else would do, would resign the envied estate; and that I dared to say would.

 

 

He was contented, he said, to abide that issue. He should be far from wishing me to embrace any other protection, but, as he had frequently said, in the last necessity. But, dearest creature, said he, catching my hand with ardor, and pressing it to his lips, if the yielding up that estate will do—Resign it;—and be mine—And I will corroborate, with all my soul, your resignation! —This was not ungenerously said, my dear! But what will not these men say to obtain belief, and a power over one?

 

 

I made many efforts to go; and now it was so dark, that I began to have great apprehensions—I cannot say from his behaviour: Indeed, he has a good deal raised himself in my opinion, by the personal respect, even to reverence, which he paid me during the whole conference: For altho’ he flam’d out once, upon a supposition that Solmes might succeed, it was upon a supposition that would excuse passion, if any thing could, you know, in a man pretending to love with fervor; altho’ it was so levell’d, that I could not avoid resenting it.

 

 

He recommended himself to my favour at parting, with great earnestness, yet with as great submission; not offering to condition any thing with me; altho’ he hinted his wishes for another meeting: Which I forbid him ever attempting again in the same place. — And I’ll own to you, from whom I should be really blameable to conceal any thing, that his arguments (drawn from the disgraceful treatment I meet with) of what I am to expect, make me begin to apprehend, that I shall be under an obligation to be either the one man’s or the other’s—And if so, I fancy I shall not incur your blame, were I say, which of the two it must be. You have said, which it must not be. But, O my dear, the Single Life is by far the most eligible to me: Indeed it is. And I yet hope to obtain the blessing of making that option.

 

 

I got back without observation: But the apprehension that I should not, gave me great uneasiness; and made me begin my letter in a greater flutter than he gave me cause to be in, except at the first seeing him; for then, indeed, my spirits failed me; and it was a particular felicity, that, in such a place, in such a fright, and alone with him, I fainted not away.

 

 

I should add, That having reproached him with his behaviour the last Sunday at church, he solemnly assured me, That it was not what had been represented to me: That he did not expect to see me there: But hoped to have an opportunity to address himself to my father, and to be permitted to attend him home. But that the good Dr. Lewin had persuaded him not to attempt speaking to any of the family, at that time; observing to him the emotions his presence had put every-body in. He intended no pride, or haughtiness of behaviour, he assured me; and that the attributing such to him was the effect of that ill will which he had the mortification to find insuperable: Adding, That when he bowed to my mamma, it was a compliment he intended generally to every one in the pew, as well as to her, whom he sincerely venerated.

 

 

If he may be believed (and I should think he would not have come purposely to defy my family, yet expect favour from me), one may see, my dear, the force of hatred, which misrepresents all things: —Yet why should Shorey (except officiously to please her principals) make a report in his disfavour? He told me, That he would appeal to Dr. Lewin for his justification on this head; adding, that the whole conversation between them turned upon his desire to attempt to reconcile concile himself to us all, in the face of the Church ; and, upon the Doctor’s endeavouring to dissuade him from making such a public overture, till he knew how it would be accepted. But, alas! I am debarred from seeing that good man, or any one who would advise me what to do in my present difficult situation!—

 

 

I fancy, my dear, however, that there would hardly be a guilty person in the world, were each suspected or accused person to tell his or her own story, and be allowed any degree of credit.

 

 

I have written a very long letter. To be so particular as you require, in subjects of conversation, it is impossible to be short. I will add to it only the assurance, That I am, and ever will be,

Your affectionate and faithful
friend and servant,
Cl. Harlowe .

    You’ll be so good, my dear, as to remember, that the date of your last letter to me, was the 9th of this instant March.

 

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