LETTER 56: MISS HOWE, TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE

Sat. March 25

 

WHAT can I advise you, my noble creature? Your merit is your crime. You can no more change your nature, than your persecutors can theirs. Your distress is owing to the vast disparity between you and them. What would you have of them? Do they not act in character?—and to whom? To an alien. You are not one of them. They have two dependencies—upon their own impenetrableness , one (I’d give it a properer name, if I dared); the other, on the regard you have always had for your character (have they not heretofore owned as much?) and upon your apprehensions from that of Lovelace, which would discredit you, should you take any step by his means to extricate yourself. Then they know that resentment and unpersuadable-ness are not natural to you; and that the anger they have wrought you up to will subside, as all extraordinaries soon do; and that once married, you’ll make the best of it.

 

But surely your father ‘s eldest son and eldest daughter have a view to entail unhappiness for life upon you, were you to have the man who is already more nearly related to them, than ever he can be to you should the shocking compulsion take place; by communicating to so narrow a soul all they know of your just aversion to him.

 

As to that wretch’s perseverance, those only who know not the man will wonder at it. He has not the least delicacy. When-EVER he shall marry, his view will not be for mind. How should it? He has not a mind: and does not like seek its like ?—and if it finds something beyond itself, how shall that be valued which cannot be comprehended? Were you to be his and show a visible want of tenderness to him, it is my opinion he would not be much concerned at it; since that would leave him the more at liberty to pursue those sordid attachments which are predominant in him. I have heard you well observe, from your Mrs Norton, that a person who has any over-ruling passion will compound by giving up twenty secondary or under- satisfactions, though more laudable ones, in order to have that gratified.

 

I’ll give you the substance of a conversation (no fear you can be made to like him worse than you do already) that passed between Sir Harry Downeton and this Solmes, but three days ago, as Sir Harry told it but yesterday to my mamma and me. It will confirm to you that what your sister’s insolent Betty reported he should say, of governing by fear, was not of her own head.

 

Sir Harry told him he wondered he should hope to carry you so much against your inclination, as everybody knew it would be if he did.

 

He mattered not that, he said: coy maids made fond wives (a sorry fellow!). It would not at all grieve him to see a pretty woman make wry faces, if she gave him cause to vex her. And your estate, by the convenience of its situation, would richly pay him for all he could bear with your shyness.

 

He should be sure, after a while, of your complaisance, at least, if not of your love: and in that should be happier than nine parts in ten of his married acquaintance.

 

What a wretch is this!

 

For the rest, your known virtue would be as great a security to him as he could wish for.

 

She will look upon you, said Sir Harry (who is a reader), if she be forced to marry you, as Elizabeth of France did upon Philip II of Spain when he received her on his frontiers as her husband, who was to have been but her father-in-law: that is, with fear and terror rather than with complaisance and love: and you will, perhaps, be as surly to her, as that old monarch was to his bride.

 

Terror and fear, the wretch, the horrid wretch said, looked pretty in a bride, as well as in a wife: and laughing (yes, my dear, the hideous fellow laughed immoderately, as Sir Harry told us when he said it), it should be his care to perpetuate the occasion for that fear , if he could not think he had the love. And, for his part, he was of opinion that if LOVE and FEAR must be separated in matrimony, the man who made himself feared fared best!

 

If my eyes would carry with them the execution which the eyes of the basilisk are said to do, I would make it my first business to see this creature.

 

My mamma, however, says it would be a prodigious merit in you if you could get over your aversion to him. Where, asks she, as you have been asked before, is the praise-worthiness of obedience if it be only paid in instances where we give up nothing?

 

What a fatality, that you have no better an option!—Either a Scylla or a Charybdis !

 

Were it not You, I should know how (barbarously used as you are used) to advise you in a moment. But such a noble character to suffer from a (supposed) rashness and indiscretion of such a nature would be a wound to the sex, as I have heretofore observed.

 

While I was in hope that the asserting of your own independence would have helped you, I was pleased that you had one resource, as I thought: but now that you have so well proved that such a step would not avail you, I am entirely at a loss what to say. I will lay down my pen, and think.

 

I HAVE considered, and considered again; but, I protest, I know no more what to say, than before. Only this: that I am young, like yourself; and have a much weaker judgement and stronger passions than you have.

 

I have heretofore said that you have offered as much as you ought to offer in living single. If you were never to marry, the estate they are so loath should go out of their name, would in time I suppose revert to your brother: and he or his would have it, perhaps, much more certainly this way, than by the precarious reversions Solmes makes them hope for. Have you put this into their odd heads, my dear?—The tyrant word AUTHORITY, as they use it, can be the only objection against this offer.

 

One thing you must consider, that, if you leave your parents, your duty and love to them will not suffer you to appeal against them to justify yourself for so doing; and so you’ll have the world against you. And should Lovelace continue his wild life, and behave ungratefully to you, how will that justify their conduct to you (which nothing else can), as well as their resentments against him ?

 

May heaven direct you for the best! I can only say that, for my own part, I would do anything, go any-wither, rather than be compelled to marry the man I hate; and, were he such a man as Solmes , must always hate. Nor could I have borne what you have borne, if from father and uncles, not from brother and sister.

 

My mamma will have it that after they have tried their utmost efforts to bring you into their measures, and find them ineffectual, they will recede. But I cannot say I am of her mind. She does not own she has any other authority for this but her own conjecture. I should otherwise have hoped that your uncle Antony and she had been in one secret, and that favourable to you—Woe be to one of them at least (your uncle I mean), if they should be in any other !—

 

You must, if possible, avoid being carried to that uncle’s. The man, the parson, the chapel, your brother and sister present!—they’ll certainly there marry you to Solmes. Nor will your newly-raised spirit support you in your resistance on such an occasion. Your meekness will return; and you will have nothing for it but tears (tears despised by them all), and ineffectual appeals and lamentations—and these , when the ceremony is profaned , as I may say, you must suddenly put a stop to, and dry up: and endeavour to dispose yourself to such an humble frame of mind as may induce your new-made lord to forgive all your past declarations of aversion.

 

In short, my dear, you must then blandish him over with a confession that all your past behaviour was maidenly reserve only: and it will be your part to convince him of the truth of his impudent sarcasm, that the coyest maids make the fondest wives. Thus will you begin the state with a high sense of obligation to his forgiving goodness ! And if you will not be kept to it by that fear he proposes to govern by, I am much mistaken.

 

Yet, after all, I must leave the point undetermined, and only to be determined as you find they recede from their avowed purpose, or resolve to remove you to your uncle Antony’s. But I must repeat my wishes, that something may fall out that neither of these men may call you his ! And may you live single, my dearest friend, till some man shall offer, that may be as worthy of you as man can be.

 

But yet, methinks, I would not that you, who are so admirably qualified to adorn the matrimonial state, should be always single. You know I am incapable of flattery; and that I always speak and write the sincere dictates of my heart. Nor can you, from what you must know of your own merit (taken in a comparative light with others), doubt my sincerity. For why should a person who delights to find out and admire everything that is praise-worthy in another be supposed ignorant of like perfections in herself , when she could not so much admire them in another if she had them not herself? And why may not one give her those praises, which she would give to any other who had but half of her own excellencies?—especially when she is incapable of pride and vainglory; and neither despises others for the want of her fine qualities, nor over-values herself upon them?— Over- values, did I say!—How can that be?—

 

Forgive me, my beloved friend. My admiration of you (increased as it is by every letter you write) will not always be held down in silence; although in order to avoid offending you I generally endeavour to keep it from flowing to my pen when I write to you, or to my lips whenever I have the happiness to be in your company.

 

I will add nothing, though I could an hundred things, on occasion of your latest communications, but that I am,

Your ever-affectionate and faithful, ANNA HOWE

 

 

 

I hope I have pleased you with my dispatch. I wish I had been able to please you with my requested advice.

 

You have given new beauties to the charming ode which you have transmitted to me. What pity that the wretches you have to deal with put you out of your admirable course; in the pursuit of which, like the sun, you was wont to cheer and illuminate all you shone upon.

This entry was posted in from Anna Howe, to Clarissa Harlowe and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *