LETTER 40: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

 

I will now, tho’ midnight (for I have no sleep in my eyes), resume the subject I was forced so abruptly to quit; and will obey yours, Miss Lloyd’s, Miss Campion’s, and Miss Biddulph’s call, with as much temper as my divided thoughts will admit. The dead stillness of this solemn hour will, I hope, contribute to calm my disturbed mind.

 

In order to acquit myself of so heavy a charge as that of having reserves to so dear a friend, I will acknowlege (and I thought I had over and over), that it is owing to my particular situation, if Mr. Lovelace appears to me in a tolerable light: And I take upon me to say, that had they opposed to him a man of sense, of virtue, of generosity; one who enjoy’d his fortune with credit; who had a tenderness in his nature for the calamities of others, which would have given a moral assurance, that he would have been still less wanting in grateful returns to an obliging spirit: — Had they opposed such a man as this to Mr. Lovelace, and been as earnest to have me marry’d, as now they are, I do not know myself, if they would have had reason to tax me with that invincible obstinacy which they lay to my charge: And this, whatever had been the Figure of the man: Since the Heart is what we women should judge by in the choice we make, as the best

 

security for the party’s good behaviour in every relation of life.

 

But, situated as I am, thus persecuted, and driven; I own to you, that I have now and then had a little more difficulty than I wish’d for, in passing by Mr. Lovelace’s tolerable qualities, to keep up my dislike to him for his others.

 

You say, I must have argued with myself in his favour, and in his disfavour, on a supposition, that I might possibly be one day his. I own, that I have: And thus called upon by my dearest friend, I will set before you both parts of the argument.

 

And first, what occurred to me in his favour .

 

At his introduction into our family, his negative virtues were insisted upon: —He was no gamester; no horse-racer; no fox-hunter; no drinker: My poor aunt Hervey had, in confidence, given us to apprehend much disagreeable evil, especially to a wise of the least delicacy, from a wine-lover: And common sense instructed us, that Sobriety in a man, is no small point to be secured, when so many mischiefs happen daily from excess. I remember, that my sister made the most of this favourable circumstance in his character, while she had any hopes of him.

 

He was never thought to be a niggard: Not even ungenerous: Nor, when his conduct came to be inquired into, an extravagant, or squanderer: His pride (so far as was it a laudable pride) secured him from that. Then he was ever ready to own his errors: He was no jester upon sacred things: Poor Mr. Wyerley’s fault: who seemed to think, that there was wit in saying bold things, which would shock a serious mind. His conversation with us was always unexceptionable; even chastly so; which, be his actions what they would, shew’d him capable of being influenc’d by decent company; and that he might probably therefore be a led man, rather than a leader, in other . And one late instance, so late as last Saturday evening, has raised

 

him not a little in my opinion, with regard to this point of good (and, at the same time, of manly) behaviour.

 

As to the advantage of birth, that is of his side, above any man who has been found out for me: If we may judge by that expression of his, which you was pleased with at the time; ‘That upon true quality, and hereditary distinction, if good sense were not wanting, honour sat as easy as his glove:’ That, with as familiar an air, was his familiar expression; ‘while none but the prosperous upstart, Mushroom’d into rank (another of his peculiars) was arrogantly proud of it.’ If, I say, we may judge of him by this, we shall conclude in his favour, that he knows what sort of behaviour is to be expected from persons of Birth, whether he act up to it or not. Conviction is half way to amendment.

 

His fortunes in possession are handsome; in expectation, splendid: So nothing need be said on that subject.

 

But it is impossible, say some, that he should make a tender or kind husband. Those who are for imposing upon me such a man as Mr. Solmes, and by methods so violent, are not intitled to make this objection: But now, on this subject, let me tell you how I have argued with myself—For still you must remember, that I am upon the extenuating part of his character.

 

A great deal of the treatment a wife may expect from him, will, possibly, depend upon herself. Perhaps she must practise, as well as promise, obedience to a man so little used to controul; and must be careful to oblige. And what husband expects not this? — The more, perhaps, if he has not reason to assure himself of the preferable love of his wife, before she became such. And how much easier and pleasanter to obey the man of her choice, if he should be even unreasonable sometimes, than one she would not have had, could she have avoided it? Then, I think, as

 

the men were the framers of the matrimonial office, and made obedience a part of the woman’s vow, she ought not, even in policy, to shew him, that she can break thro’ her part of the contract, however lightly she may think of the instance; lest he should take it into his head (himself is judge) to think as lightly of other points, which she may hold more important. But indeed no point, so solemnly vow’d, can be slight.

 

Thus principled, and acting accordingly, what a wretch must that husband be, who could treat such a wife brutally! —Will Lovelace’s wife be the only person, to whom he will not pay the grateful debt of civility and good-manners? He is allow’d to be brave: Who ever knew a brave man, if a man of sense, an universally base man? And how much the gentleness of sex, and the manner of our training-up and education, make us need the protection of the brave, and the countenance of the generous, let the general approbation which we are all so naturally inclin’d to give to men of that character, testify.

 

At worst, will he confine me prisoner to my chamber? Will he deny me the visits of my dearest friend, and forbid me to correspond with her? Will he take from me the Mistresly management, which I had not faultily discharged? Will he set a servant over me, with licence to insult me? Will he, as he has not a sister, permit his cousins Montague, or would either of those Ladies accept of a permission, to insult and tyrannize over me? —It cannot be. —Why then, think I often, do you tempt me, O my cruel friends, to try the difference?

 

And then has the secret pleasure intruded itself, to be able to reclaim such a man to the paths of virtue and honour: To be a secondary means, if I were to be his, of saving him, and preventing the mischiefs so enterprising a creature might otherwise be guilty of, if he be such a one.

 

In these lights when I have thought of him (and that as a man of sense he will sooner see his errors, than another),

 

I own to you, that I have had some difficulty to avoid taking the path they so violently endeavour to make me shun: And all that command of my passions, which has been attributed to me, as my greatest praise, and, in so young a creature, as my distinction, has hardly been sufficient for me.

 

And let me add, that the favour of his relations (all but himself unexceptionable) has made a good deal of additional weight, thrown into the same scale.

 

But now, in his disfavour . When I have reflected upon the prohibition of my parents: The giddy appearance, disgraceful to sex, that such a preference would have: That there is no manner of likelihood, inflam’d by the rencounter, and upheld by art and ambition on my brother’s side, that ever the animosity will be got over: That I must therefore be at perpetual variance with all my own family: Must go to him, and to his, as an obliged, and half-fortun’d person: That his aversion to them all, is as strong, as theirs to him; That his whole family are hated for his sake; they hating ours in return: That he has a very immoral character as to our sex: That knowing this, it is a high degree of impurity, to think of joining in wedlock with such a man: That he is young, unbroken, his passions unsubdued: That he is violent in his temper; yet artful: I am afraid vindictive too: That such an husband might unsettle me in all my own principles, and hazard my future hopes: That his own relations, two excellent aunts, and an uncle, from whom he has such large expectations, have no influence upon him: That what tolerable qualities he has, are founded more in pride than in virtue: That allowing, as he does, the excellency of Moral Precepts, and believing the doctrine of future Rewards and Punishments, he can live as if he despis’d the one, and defy’d the other: The probability that the taint arising from such free principles, may go down into the manners of posterity:

 

That I knowing these things, and the importance of them, should be more inexcusable than one who knows them not; since an error against judgment, is worse, infinitely worse, than an error in judgment: —Reflecting upon these things, I cannot help conjuring you, my dear, to pray with me, and to pray for me, that I may not be push’d upon such indiscreet measures, as will render me inexcusable to myself: For that is the test, after all; the world’s opinion ought to be but a secondary consideration.

 

I have said, in his praise, that he is extremely ready to own his errors : But I have sometimes made a great drawback upon this article, in his disfavour; having been ready to apprehend, that this ingenuity may possibly be attributable to two causes, neither of them, by any means, creditable to him. The one, that his vices are so much his masters, that he attempts not to conquer them; the other, that he may think it policy, to give up one half of his character, to save the other, when the whole may be blameable: By this means, silencing by acknowlegement the objections he cannot answer; which may give him the praise of ingenuousness, when he can obtain no other; and when the challeng’d proof might bring out, upon discussion, other evils. These, you’ll allow, are severe constructions; but every-thing his enemies say of him cannot be false.

 

I will proceed by and by.

 

Sometimes we have both thought him one of the most undesigning merely witty men we ever knew; at other times one of the deepest creatures we ever convers’d with. So that, when in one visit, we have imagin’d we fathom’d him, in the next, he has made us ready to give him up as impenetrable. This, my dear, is to be put among the shades in his character. — Yet, upon the whole, you have been so far of his

 

party, that you have contested, that his principal fault is over-frankness, and too much regardlesness of appearances, and that he is too giddy to be very artful: You would have it, that at the time he says any thing good, he means what he speaks; That his variableness and levity are constitutional, owing to found health, and to a soul and body, that was your observation, fitted for, and pleased with, each other. And hence you concluded, that could this consentaneousness, as you call’d it, of corporal and animal faculties, be pointed by discretion; that is to say, could his vivacity be confined within the pale of but moral obligations; he would be far from being rejectible as a companion for life.

 

But I used then to say, and I still am of opinion, that he wants a heart : And if he does, he wants every-thing. A wrong head may be convinc’d, may have a right turn given it: But who is able to give a heart, if a heart be wanting? Divine Grace, working a miracle, or next to a miracle, can only change a bad heart. Should not one fly the man who is but suspected of such a one? —What, O what, do parents do, when they precipitate a child, and make her think better than she would otherwise think of a man of an indifferent character, in order to avoid another that is odious to her!

 

I have said, that I think him vindictive: Upon my word, I have sometimes doubted, whether his perseverance in his addresses to me, has not been the more obstinate, since he has found himself so disagreeable to my friends. From that time, I verily think he has been more fervent in them; yet courts them not; but sets them at defiance. For this, indeed, he pleads disinterestedness (I am sure he cannot politeness) and the more plausibly, as he is apprized of the ability they have to make it worth his while to court them. ‘Tis true, he has declared, and with too much reason, or there would be no enduring

him, that the lowest submissions on his part, would not be accepted; and to oblige me, has offered to seek a reconciliation with them, if I would give him hope of success. As to his behaviour at church, the Sunday before last, I lay no stress upon that, because I doubt there was too much outward pride in his intentional humility, or Shorey, who is not his enemy, could not have mistaken it.

 

I do not think him so deeply learn’d in human Nature, or in Ethics, as some have thought him. Don’t you remember how he stared, at the following trite observations, which every moralist could have furnish’d him with? Complaining, as he did, in a half-menacing strain, of the obloquies raised against him—‘That if he were innocent, he should despise the obloquy: If not, revenge would not wipe off his guilt.’ ‘That nobody ever thought of turning a sword into a sponge!’ ‘That it was in his own power, by reformation of an error laid to his charge by an enemy, to make that enemy one of his best friends; and (which was the noblest revenge in the world) against his will ; since an enemy would not wish him to be without the faults be taxed him with.’

 

But the intention, he said, was the wound.

 

How so, I ask’d him, when That cannot wound without the application ? ‘That the adversary only held the sword: He himself pointed it to his breast?— And why should he resent mortally that malice, which he might be the better for, as long as he lived?’ —What could be the reading he has been said to be master of, to wonder, as he did, at these observations?

But, indeed, he must take pleasure in revenge; and yet holds others to be inexcusable for the same fault. —He is not, however, the only one who can see how truly blameable those errors are in another, which they hardly think such in themselves.

 

From these considerations; From these over-balances ;

 

it was, that I said, in a former, that I would not be in Love with this man for the world: And it was going further than prudence would warrant, when I was for compounding with you, by the words conditional liking ; which you so humorously railly.

 

Well but, methinks you say, what is all this to the purpose? This is still but reasoning: But, if you are in Love, you are : And Love, like the vapours, is the deeper rooted for having no sufficient cause assignable for its hold. And so you call upon me again, to have no reserves, and so-forth.

 

Why then, my dear, if you will have it, I think, that, with all his preponderating faults, I like him better than I ever thought I should like him; and, those faults consider’d, better perhaps than I ought to like him. And, I believe, it is possible for the persecution I labour under, to induce me to like him still more: — Especially while I can recollect to his advantage our last interview, and as every day produces stronger instances of tyranny, I will call it, on the other side. — In a word, I will frankly own (since you cannot think any thing I say too explicite), that were he now but a moral man, I would prefer him to all the men I ever saw.

 

So that This is but conditional liking still, you’ll say. —Nor, I hope, is it more. I never was in Love ; and whether This be it, or not, I must submit to you : —But will venture to think it, if it be, no such mighty monarch, no such unconquerable power, as I have heard it represented; and it must have met with greater encouragements than I think I have given it, to be so irresistible : —Since I am persuaded, that I could yet, without a throb, most willingly give up the one man to get rid of the other .

 

But now to be a little more serious with you: If, my dear, my particularly unhappy situation had driven (or led me, if you please,) into a liking of the man; and if that liking had, in your opinion, inclined me

 

to the other L, should you, whose mind is susceptible of the most friendly impressions; who have such high notions of the delicacy of sex; and who actually do enter so deeply into the distresses of one you love; should you have pushed so far that unhappy friend on so very nice a subject? —Especially, when I aimed not (as you could prove by fifty instances, it seems), to guard against being found out. Had you raillied me by word of mouth in the manner you do, it might have been more in character; especially, if your friend’s distresses had been surmounted; and if she had affected Prudish airs in revolving the subject: But to sit down to write it, as methinks I see you, with a gladden’d eye, and with all the archness of exultation— Indeed my dear (and I take notice of it, rather for the sake of your own generosity, than for my sake; for, as I have said, I love your raillery) it is not so very pretty; the delicacy of the subject, and the delicacy of your own mind, consider’d.

 

I lay down my pen, here, that you may consider of it a little, if you please.

 

I Resume ; to give you my opinion of the force which figure or person ought to have upon our sex: And this I shall do both generally, and particularly, as to this man: Whence you will be able to collect how far my friends are in the right, or in the wrong, when they attribute a good deal of prejudice in favour of one man, and in disfavour of the other, on the score of figure. But, first, let me observe, That they see abundant reason, on comparing Mr. Lovelace and Mr. Solmes together, to believe that this may be a consideration with me; and therefore they believe it is .

 

There is certainly something very plausible and attractive, as well as creditable to a woman’s choice, in figure . It gives a favourable impression at first sight, in which one wishes to be confirm’d: And if, upon further acquaintance, we find reason so to be,

 

we are pleased with our own judgment, and like the person the better, for having given us cause to compliment our own sagacity, in our first-sighted impressions. But, nevertheless, it has been generally a rule with me, to suspect a fine figure, both in man and woman; and I have had a good deal of reason to approve my rule. With regard to men especially; who ought to value themselves rather upon their intellectual than personal qualities. For, as to our sex, if a fine woman should be led by the opinion of the world, to be vain and conceited upon her form and features; and that to such a degree, as to have neglected the more material and more durable recommendations; the world will be ready to excuse her; since a pretty fool, in all she says, and in all she does, will please, we know not why.

 

But who would grudge this pretty fool her short day! Since, with her summer’s sun, when her butterfly-flutters are over, and the winter of age and furrows arrives, she will feel the just effects of having neglected to cultivate her better faculties; for then, like another Helen, she will be unable to bear the reflection even of her own glass; and being sunk into the insignificance of a mere old woman ; she will be intitled to the contempts which follow that character. While the discreet matron, who carries up (we will not, in such a one’s case, say down ) into advanced life, the ever-amiable character of virtuous prudence, and useful experience, finds solid veneration take place of airy admiration, and more than supply the want of it.

 

But for a man to be vain of his person, how effeminate? If such a one has genius, it seldom strikes deep into intellectual subjects. His outside usually runs away with him. To adorn, and perhaps, intending to adorn, to render ridiculous, that person, takes up all his attention. All he does is personal ; that is to say, for himself: All he admires, is himself:

And in spite of the corrections of the stage, which so often, and so justly exposes a coxcomb, he generally dwindles down, and sinks into that character; and, of consequence, becomes the scorn of one sex, and the jest of the other.

 

This is generally the case of your fine figures and gay dressers of men: Whence it is, that I repeat, that mere person in a man, is a despicable consideration. But if a man, besides figure, has learning, and such talents, as would have distinguish’d him, whatever were his form; then indeed person is an addition: And if he has not run too egregiously into self-admiration; and if he has preserved his morals, he is truly a valuable being.

 

Mr. Lovelace has certainly taste; and, as far as I am able to determine, he has judgment in most of the politer arts. But altho’ he has a humorous way of carrying it off, yet one may see, that he values himself not a little, both on his person and his parts, and even upon his dress; and yet he has so happy an ease in the latter, that it seems to be the least part of his study. And as to the former, I should hold myself inexcusable, if I were to add to his vanity by shewing the least regard for what is too evidently so much his.

 

And now, my dear, let me ask you; Have I come up to your expectation? If I have not, when my mind is more at ease, I will endeavour to please you better. For, methinks, my sentences drag; my style creeps; my imagination is sunk; my spirit serves me not; only to tell you, That whether I have little or much, it is all devoted to the commands of my dear Miss Howe.

Cl. Harlowe.

 

Postcript.

The insolent Betty Barnes has just now fired me anew, by reporting to me the following expressions of the hideous creature, Solmes—‘That he is sure of the coy girl; and that with little labour to himself.’ ‘That be I ever so averse to him beforehand, he can

 

depend upon my principles; and it will be a pleasure to him to see by what pretty degrees I shall come-to.’ [—Horrid wretch!] ‘That it was Sir Oliver’s observation, who knew the world perfectly well, that Fear was a better security than Love, for a woman’s good behaviour to her husband; altho’, for his part, to such a fine creature, he would try what Love would do; for a few weeks at least: Being unwilling to believe what the old Knight  used to averr, That fondness spoils more wives than it makes good.’

What think you, my dear of such a wretch as this! tutor’d, too, by that old furly Misogynist, as he was deemed, Sir Oliver?—

 

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