LETTER 58: MISS HOWE, TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE

Sat. Mar. 25.

I follow my last of this date, by command. I mentioned in my former, my mamma’s opinion of the merit you would have, if you could oblige your friends, against your own inclination. Our conference upon this subject was introduced by the conversation we had had with Sir Harry Downeton; and my mamma thinks it of so much importance, that she injoins me to give you the particulars of it. I the rather comply, as I was unable in my last to tell what to advise you to; and as you will in this recital have my mamma’s opinion, at least; and, perhaps, in hers, what the world’s would be, were it to know only what she knows; and not so much as I know.

 

My mamma argues upon this case in a most discouraging manner, for all such of our sex as look forward for happiness in marriage with the man of their choice .

 

Only, that I know, she has a side-view to her daughter; who, at the same time that she now prefers no one to another, values not the man her mamma most regards, of one farthing; or I should lay it more to heart.

 

What is there in it, says she, that all this bustle is about? Is it such a mighty matter for a young Lady to give up her own inclinations to oblige her friends?

 

Very well, my mamma, thought I! Now, may you ask this—At Forty, you may—But what would you have said at Eighteen, is the question!

 

Either, said she, the Lady must be thought to have very violent inclinations (and what nice young creature would have That supposed?) which she could not give up; or a very stubborn will, which she would not; or, thirdly, have parents she was indifferent about obliging.

 

You know my mamma now and then argues very notably: always very warmly at least. I happen often to differ from her; and we both think so well of our own arguments, that we very seldom are so happy as to convince one another. A pretty common case, I believe, in all vehement debatings. She says, I am too witty ; Anglicè, too pert : I, That she is too wise ; that is to say, being likewise put into English, Not so young as she has been : In short, is grown so much into mother, that she has forgotten she ever was a daughter . So, generally, we call another cause by consent—Yet fall into the old one half a dozen times over, without consent: —Quitting and Resumeing, with half-angry faces, forced into a smile, that there might be some room to piece together again: But go to bed, if bed-time, a little sullen, nevertheless; or, if we speak, her silence is broke, with an Ah! Nancy! You are so lively! so quick! I wish you were less like your papa, child!—

 

I pay it off with thinking, that my mamma has no reason to disclaim her share in her Nancy: And if the matter go off with greater severity on her side than I wish for, then her favourite Hickman fares the worse for it, next day.

 

I know I am a saucy creature: I know, if I do not say so, you will think so; so no more of This, just now. What I mention it for, is to tell you, that on this serious occasion, I will omit, if I can, all that passed between us, that had an air of flippancy on my part, or quickness on my mamma’s, to let you into the cool and the cogent, of the conversation.

 

‘Look thro’ the families, said she, which we both know, where the Gentleman and Lady have been said to marry for Love; which, at the time it is so called, is perhaps no more than a passion begun in folly, or thoughtlesness, and carried on from a spirit of perversness and opposition [Here we had a parenthetical debate, which I omit;] and see, if they appear to be happier than those whose principal inducement to marry, has been convenience, or to oblige their friends; or even whether they are generally so happy: For convenience and duty, where observed, will afford a permanent and even an increasing satisfaction, as well at the time, as upon the reflection, which seldom fail to reward themselves: While Love, if Love be the motive, is an idle passion’ —[ Idle in one Sense my mamma cannot say; for Love is as busy as a monkey, and as mischievous as a school-boy —] ‘It is a fervor, that, like all other fervors, lasts but a little while; a bow over-strained, that soon returns to its natural bent.

 

‘As it is founded generally upon mere notional excellencies, which were unknown to the persons themselves, till attributed to either by the other; one, two, or three months, usually sets all right on both sides; and then with open’d eyes they think of each other—just as every-body else thought of them before.’

 

‘The lovers imaginaries [Her own word! Notable enough! i’n’t it?] are by that time gone off; Nature, and Old habits, painfully dispensed with or concealed, return: Disguises thrown aside, all the moles, freckles, and defects in the minds of each, discover themselves; and ’tis well if each do not sink in the opinion of the other, as much below the common standard, as the blinded imagination of both had set them above it. And now, said she, the fond pair, who knew no felicity out of each other’s company, are so far from finding the never-ending variety each had proposed in an unrestrained conversation with the other (when they seldom were together; and always parted with something to say ; or, on recollection, when parted, wishing they had said); that they are continually on the wing in pursuit of amusements out of themselves; and those, concluded my sage mamma [Did you think her wisdom so very moderne?], will perhaps be the livelier to each, in which the other has no share.’

 

I told my mamma, that if you were to take any rash step, it would be owing to the indiscreet violence of your friends: I was afraid, I said, that these reflections upon the conduct of people in the married state, who might set out with better hopes, were but too well-grounded: But that this must be allowed me, that if children weighed not these matters so thoroughly as they ought, neither did parents make those allowances for youth, inclination, and inexperience, which were necessary to be made for themselves at their childrens time of life.

 

I remember’d a letter, I told her hereupon, which you wrote a few months ago, personating an anonymous elderly Lady (in Mr. Wyerley’s day of plaguing you) to Miss Drayton’s mamma, who, by her severity and restraints, had like to have driven the young Lady into the very fault, against which her mother was most sollicitous to guard her. And, I dared to say, she would be pleased with it.

 

I fetched the copy of it, which you had favoured me with at the time; I would have read only that part of it, which was most to my purpose: But she would hear it all ( a ) .
My mamma was pleased with the whole letter; and said; It deserved to have the effect it had. But asked me, what excuse could be offer’d for a young Lady capable of making such reflections; and who, at her time of life, could so well assume the character of one of riper years; if she should rush into any fatal mistake herself?

 

She then touched upon the moral character of Mr. Lovelace; and how reasonable the aversion of your relations is, to a man, who gives himself the liberties he is said to take; and who, indeed, himself, denies not the accusation; having been heard to declare, that he will do all the mischief he can to the Sex, in revenge for the ill usage and broken vows of his first love, at a time when he was too young (his own expression, it seems) to be insincere.
I reply’d, That I had heard every one say, that that Lady really used him ill; that it affected him so much at the time, that he was forced to travel upon it; and, to drive her out of his heart, ran into courses, which he had ingenuity enough himself to condemn: That, however, he had denied the menaces against the Sex, which were attributed to him, when charged with them by me in your presence; and declared himself incapable of so unjust and ungenerous a resentment against all, for the perfidy of one .

 

You remember this, my dear; as I do your innocent observation upon it, That you could believe his solemn affeveration and denial: ‘For, surely, said you, the man who would resent, as the highest indignity, that could be offer’d to a gentleman, the imputation, of a wilful falshood, would not be guilty of one.’

 

I insisted upon the extraordinary circumstances in your case, particularizing them: Observing, that Mr. Lovelace’s morals were, at one time, no objection with your relations for Miss Arabella: That then much was built upon his family, and more upon his parts and learning, which made it out of doubt, that he might be reclaim’d by a woman of virtue and prudence: And [Pray forgive me for mentioning it] I ventured to add, that altho’ your family might be good sort of folks, as the world went, yet no-body imputed to any of them, but yourself, a very punctilious concern for religion or piety—Therefore were they the less intitled to object to the defects of that kind in others. Then, what an odious man, said I, have they picked out, to supplant, in a Lady’s affections, one of the finest appearances of a man in England, and one noted for his brilliant parts, and other accomplishments (whatever his morals might be); as if they were determined upon an act of power and authority, without rhyme or reason!

 

Still my mamma insisted, that there was the greater merit in your obedience on that account, and urged, that there hardly ever was a very handsome and a sprightly man who made a good husband: For that they were generally such Narcissus’s, as to imagine every woman ought to think as highly of them, as they did of themselves.

 

There was no danger from that consideration here, I said, because the Lady had still greater advantages, both of person and mind, than the Man; graceful and elegant, as he must be allowed to be, beyond any of his sex.

 

She cannot endure to hear me praise any man but her favourite Hickman: Upon whom, nevertheless, she generally brings a degree of contempt, which he would escape, did she not lessen the little merit he has, by giving him on all occasions, more than I think he can deserve, and entering him into comparisons, in which it is impossible but he must be a sufferer. And now, preposterous partiality! She thought, for her part, that Mr. Hickman, ‘bating, that his face indeed was not so smooth, nor his complexion quite so good, and saving that he was not so presuming and so bold (which ought to be no fault with a modest woman!), equalled Mr. Lovelace at any hour of the day .

 

To avoid entering further into such an incomparable comparison, I said I did not believe, had they left you to your own way, and treated you generously, that you would have had the thought of encouraging any man, whom they disliked.

 

Then, Nancy, catching me up, the excuse is less —For, if so, must there not be more of contradiction, than love, in the case?

 

Not so, neither, Madam: For I know Miss Clarissa Harlowe would prefer Mr. Lovelace to all men, if morals—

 

If, Nancy! —That If is every-thing! —Do you really think she loves Mr. Lovelace?

 

What would you have had me to say, my dear? —I won’t tell you what I did say—But had I not said what I did, who would have believed me?

 

Besides, I know you love him! —Excuse me, my dear: Yet, if you deny it, what do you but reflect upon yourself, as if you thought you ought not ?

 

Indeed, said I, the man is worthy of any woman’s love ( If, again, I could say)—But her parents, Madam—

 

Her parents, Nancy—[You know, my dear, how my mamma, who accuses her daughter of quickness, is evermore interrupting!—]—

 

May take wrong measures, said I—

 

Cannot do wrong—They have reason, I’ll warrant, said she—

 

By which they may provoke a young Lady, said I, to do rash things, which otherwise she would not do.

 

But if it be a rash thing (returned she), should she do it! A prudent daughter will not wilfully err, because her parents err, if they were to err: If she do, the world, which blames the parents, will not acquit the child. All that can be said, in extenuation of a daughter’s error, arises from a kind consideration, which Miss’s letter to Lady Drayton pleads for, to be paid to her daughter’s youth and inexperience. And will such an admirable young person as Miss Clarissa Harlowe, whose prudence, as we see, qualifies her to be an adviser of persons much older than herself, take shelter under so poor a covert?

 

Let her know, Nancy, out of hand, what I say; and I charge you to represent farther to her, That let her dislike one man, and approve another, ever so much, it will be expected of a young Lady of her unbounded generosity, and greatness of mind, that she should deny herself, when she can oblige all her family by so doing: No less than ten or a dozen, perhaps, the nearest and dearest to her of all the persons in the world, an indulgent father and mother at the head of them. It may be fancy only on her side; but parents look deeper: And will not Miss Clarissa Harlowe give up her fancy to her parents judgment ?

 

I said a great deal upon this judgment -subject: All that you could wish I should say; and all that your extraordinary case allowed me to say. And my mamma was so sensible of the force of it, that she charged me not to write to you any part of my answer to what she said; but only what she herself had advanced; lest, in so critical a case, it should induce you to take measures, that might give us both reason (I for giving it, you for following it) to repent it as long as we lived.

 

And thus, my dear, I set my mamma’s arguments before you. And the rather, as I cannot myself tell what to advise you to do! —You know best your own heart; and what That will let you do!

 

Robin undertakes to deposite This very early, that you may receive it by your first morning airing.

 

Heaven guide and direct you for the best, is the incessant prayer, of

 

Your ever-affectionate,
Anna Howe .

a. The passage most particularly recommended by Miss Howe is the following: Permit me, madam (says the personated grave writer), to observe, that if persons of your experience would have young people look forward, in order to be wiser and better by their advice, it would be kind in them to look backward, and allow for their children’s youth and natural vivacity; in other words, for their lively hopes, unabated by time, unaccompanied by reflection, and unchecked by disappointment.  Things appear to us all in a very different light at our entrance upon a favorite party, or tour; when with golden prospects and high expectations, we rise vigorous and fresh, like the sun beginning its morning course; from what they do when we sit down at the end of our views,tired, preparing for our journey homeward: for then we take our reflection, what we had left out of our scheme, the fatigues, the checks, the hazards, we had met with; and make a true estimate of pleasures, which, from our raised expectations, must necessarily have fallen miserably short of what we had promised ourselves at our setting out-Nothing but experience can give us a strong and efficacious conviction of the difference: and when we would inculcate the fruits of that upon the minds of those we love, who have not lived long enough to find those fruits, and would hope, that our advice should have as much force upon them, as experience has upon us; and which, perhaps, our parents’ advice had not upon ourselves at our daughters’ time of life; should we not proceed by patient reasoning and gentleness, that we may not harden where we would convince?  For, madam, the tenderest and most generous minds, when harshly treated, become generally the most inflexible.  If the young lady knows her heart to be right, however defective her head may be for want of years and experience, she will be apt to be very tenacious.  And if she believes her friends to be wrong, although perhaps they may be only so their methods of treating her, How much will every unkind circumstance on the parent’s part, or heedless one on the child’s, though ever so slight in itself, widen the difference?  The parent’s prejudice in disfavor will confirm the daughter’s in favor, of the same person; and the best reasonings in the world on either side will be attributed to that prejudice.  In short, neither of them will be convinced.  A perpetual opposition ensues; the parent grows impatient; the child desperate: and , as a too natural consequence, that falls out of which the mother was most afraid of, and which, possibly, had been prevented had the child’s passions been only led, not driven.

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