LETTER 55: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE

Friday midnight

 

I HAVE now a calmer moment. Envy, ambition, high and selfish resentment and all the violent passions are now, most probably, asleep all around me; and shall not my own angry ones give way to the silent hour, and subside likewise?—They have given way to it; and I have made use of the gentler space to re-peruse your last letters. I will touch upon some passages in them: and that I may the less endanger the but just-recovered calm, I will begin with what you write about Mr Hickman.

 

Give me leave to say, that I am sorry you cannot yet persuade yourself to think better, that is to say, more justly , of that gentleman than your whimsical picture of him shows you do; or at least than the humorousness of your natural vein would make one think you do.

 

I do not imagine that you yourself will say he sat for the picture you have drawn. And yet, upon the whole, it is not greatly to his disadvantage. Were I at ease in my mind, I would venture to draw a much more amiable and just likeness.

 

If Mr Hickman has not that assurance which some men have, he has that humanity and gentleness which many want: and which, with the infinite value he has for you, will make him one of the properest husbands in the world for a person of your vivacity and spirit.

 

Although you say I would not like him myself, I do assure you, if Mr Solmes were such a man as Mr Hickman, in person, mind and behaviour, my friends and I had never disagreed about him if they would not have permitted me to live single; Mr Lovelace (having such a character as he has) would have stood no chance with me. This I can the more boldly aver, because I plainly perceive that of the two passions, love and fear , this man will be able to inspire one with a much greater proportion of the latter than I imagine is compatible with the former , to make a happy marriage.

 

I am glad you own that you like no one better than Mr Hickman. In a little while, I make no doubt you will be able, if you challenge your heart upon it, to acknowledge that you like not any man so well: especially when you come to consider that the very faults you find in Mr Hickman admirably fit him to make you happy: that is to say, if it be necessary to your happiness that you should have your own will in everything.

 

But let me add one thing: and that is this—you have such a spritely turn that with your admirable talents you would make any man in the world, who loved you, look like a fool, except he were such a one as Lovelace.

 

Forgive me, my dear, for my frankness: and forgive me also for so soon returning to subjects so immediately relative to myself as those I now must touch upon.

 

You again insist, strengthened by Mr Lovelace’s opinion, upon my assuming my own estate: and I have given you room to expect that I will consider this subject more closely than I had done before. I must however own that the reasons that I had to offer against your advice were so obvious, that I thought you would have seen them yourself, and been determined by them against your own hastier counsel—But since this has not been so; and that both you and Mr Lovelace call upon me to assume my own estate, I will enter briefly into the subject.

 

In the first place, let me ask you, my dear, supposing I were inclined to follow your advice, whom have I to support me in my demand?—My uncle Harlowe is one of my trustees. He is against me. My cousin Morden is the other. He is in Italy, and may be set against me too. My brother has declared that they are resolved to carry their point before he arrives: so that, as they drive on, all will probably be decided before I could have an answer from him, were I to write. And, confined as I am, if the answer were to come in time and they did not like it, they would keep it from me.

 

In the next place, parents have great advantages in every eye over the child if she dispute their pleasure in the disposing of her: and so they ought: since out of twenty instances perhaps two could not be produced where they were not in the right, the child in the wrong.

 

You would not, I am sure, have me accept of Mr Lovelace’s offered assistance in such a claim. If I would embrace any other person’s, who else would care to appear for a child against parents, ever, till of late, so affectionate? But were such a protector to be found, what a length of time would it take up in a course of litigation?—The will and the deeds have flaws in them, they say: my brother sometimes talks of going to reside at The Grove : I suppose with a design to make ejectments necessary, were I to offer at assuming; or should I marry Lovelace, in order to give him all the opposition and difficulty the law would help him to give.

 

These cares I have put to myself for argument sake: but they are all out of the question, although anybody were to be found who would espouse my cause: for, I do assure you, I would sooner beg my bread than litigate for my right with my papa: since I am convinced that whether or not the parent do his duty by the child, the child cannot be exempted from doing hers to him. And to go to law with my father , what a sound has that? You will see that I have mentioned my wish (as an alternative, and as a favour) to be permitted, if I must be put out of his house, to go thither: but not one step further can I go. And you see how this is resented.

 

Upon the whole then, what have I to hope for but a change in my father’s resolution? And is there any probability of that; such an ascendency as my brother¬†and sister have obtained over everybody; and such an interest to pursue the enmity they have now openly avowed against me?

 

As to Mr Lovelace’s approbation of your assumption-scheme, I wonder not at it. He, very probably, penetrates the difficulties I should have to bring it to effect without his assistance. Were I to find myself as free as I would wish myself to be, perhaps that man would stand a worse chance with me than his vanity may permit him to imagine; notwithstanding the pleasure you take in rallying me on his account. How know you, but all that appears to be specious and reasonable in his offers—such as standing his chance for my favour after I became independent, as I may call it (by which, I mean no more than having the liberty to refuse a man in that Solmes, whom it hurts me but to think of as a husband); and such as his not visiting me but by my leave; and till Mr Morden came; and till I were satisfied of his reformation—how know you, I say, that he gives not himself these airs purely to stand better in your graces as well as mine , by offering of his own accord conditions which he must needs think would be insisted on, were the case to happen?

 

Then am I utterly displeased with him. To threaten as he threatens—yet to pretend that it is not to intimidate me; and to beg of you not to tell me, when he must know you would , and no doubt must intend that you should , is so meanly artful!—The man must think he has a frighted fool to deal with—I, to join hands with such a man of violence!—My own brother the man he threatens!—And Mr Solmes!—What has Mr Solmes done to him?—Is he to be blamed, if he thinks a person would make a wife worth having, to endeavour to obtain her?—Oh! that my friends would but leave me to my own way in this one point!—For have I given the man encouragement sufficient to ground these threats upon? Were Mr Solmes a man to whom I could be but indifferent, it might be found that to have the merit of a sufferer given him, from such a flaming spirit, would very little answer the views of that flaming spirit. It is my fortune to be treated as a fool by my brother: but Mr Lovelace shall find—Yet I will let him know my mind; and then it will come with a better grace to your knowledge.

 

Meantime, give me leave to tell you that it goes against me, in my cooler moments, wicked as my brother is to me, to have you, my dear, who are myself , as it were, write such very severe reflections upon him in relation to the advantage Lovelace had over him. He is not indeed your brother: but you write to his sister, remember!—Upon my word, [Miss Howe], you dip your pen in gall whenever you are offended: and I am almost ready to question, when I read some of your expressions against others of my relations as well as him (although in my favour), whether you are so thoroughly warranted by your own patience as you think yourself, to call other people to account for their warmth. Should we not be particularly careful to keep clear of the faults we censure?—And yet I am so angry at both my brother and sister, that I should not have taken this liberty with my dear friend, notwithstanding I know you never loved them, had you not made so light of so shocking a transaction, where a brother’s life was at stake: where his credit in the eye of the mischievous sex has received a still deeper wound than he personally sustained; and when a revival of the same wicked resentments (which may end more fatally) is threatened.

 

His credit, I say, in the eye of the mischievous sex. Who is not warranted to call it so, when it is reckoned among the men, such an extraordinary piece of selfconquest, as the two libertines his companions gloried, to resolve never to give a challenge; and among whom duelling is so fashionable a part of brutal bravery, that the man of temper, who is, mostly, I believe, the truly brave man, is often at a great loss how to behave in some cases to avoid incurring either a mortal guilt, or a general contempt.

 

To enlarge a little upon this subject, may we not infer that those who would be guilty of throwing these contempts upon a man of temper, for avoiding a greater evil, know not the measure of true magnanimity: nor how much nobler it is to forgive , and even how much more manly to despise , than to resent. Were I a man, methinks, I should have too much scorn for a person who could wilfully do me a mean injury, to put a value upon his life, equal to what I put upon my own. What an absurdity, because a man had done me a small injury, that I should put it in his power (at least to an equal risk) to do me, and those who love me, an irreparable one?—Were it not a wilful injury, nor avowed to be so, there could not be room for resentment.

 

How willingly would I run away from myself, and what most concerns myself, if I could! This digression brings me back again to the occasion of it—And that to the impatience I was in, when I ended my last letter; for my situation is not altered. I renew therefore my former earnestness, as the new day approaches and will bring with it perhaps new trials, that you will (as undivestedly as possible of favour or resentment) tell me what you would have me do—For if I am obliged to go to my uncle Antony’s, all I doubt will be over with me. Yet how to avoid it—That’s the difficulty!

 

I shall deposit this the first thing: when you have it, lose no time, I pray you, to advise (lest it be too late)

Your ever-obliged, CL. HARLOWE

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