LETTER 57: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE

Sunday morning, Mar. 26

 

How soothing a thing is praise from those we love!—Whether conscious or not of deserving it, it cannot but give us great delight to see one’s self stand high in the opinion of those whose favour we are ambitious to cultivate. An ingenuous mind will make this farther use of it, that if it be sensible, that it does not already deserve the charming attributes, it will hasten, before its friend finds herself mistaken, to obtain the graces it is complimented for: and this it will do, as well in honour to itself, as to preserve its friend’s opinion, and justify her judgement!—May this be always my aim!—and then you will not only give the praise , but the merit ; and I shall be more worthy of that friendship which is the only pleasure I have to boast of.

 

Most heartily I thank you for the kind dispatch of your last favour. How much am I indebted to you! and even to your honest servant!—Under what obligations does my unhappy situation lay me!

 

But let me answer the kind contents of it as well as I may.

 

As to getting over my disgusts to Mr Solmes, it is impossible to be done, while he wants generosity, frankness of heart, benevolence, manners and every qualification that distinguishes a worthy man. Oh my dear! what a degree of patience, what a greatness of soul, is required in the wife, not to despise a husband who is more ignorant, more illiterate, more low-minded, than herself?—The wretch, vested with prerogatives, who will claim rule in virtue of them (and not to permit whose claim will be as disgraceful to the prescribing wife, as to the governed husband); how shall such a husband as this be borne, were he for reasons of convenience and interest even to be one’s CHOICE? But, to be compelled to have such a one, and that compulsion to arise from motives as unworthy of the prescribers as of the prescribed , who can think of getting over an aversion so justly founded? How much easier to bear the temporary persecutions I labour under, because temporary, than to resolve to be such a man’s for life ? Were I to comply, must I not leave my relations and go to him? One month will decide the one perhaps: but what a duration of woe will the other be!—every day, it is likely, rising to witness to some new breach of an altar-vowed duty!

 

Then, my dear, the man seems already to be meditating vengeance upon me for an aversion I cannot help: for yesterday, my saucy gaoleress assured me that all my oppositions would not signify that pinch of snuff , holding out her genteel finger and thumb: that I must have Mr Solmes: that therefore, I had not best carry my jest too far; for that Mr Solmes was a man of spirit, and had told HER, that as I should surely be his, I acted very unpoliticly; since, if he had not more mercy (that was her word; I know not if it were his ) than I had, I might have cause to repent the usage I gave him to the last day of my life.

 

But enough of this man; who, by what you repeat from Sir Harry Downeton, has all the insolence of his sex, without any one quality to make that insolence tolerable.

 

I have received two letters from Mr Lovelace, since his visit to you; which made three that I had not answered. I doubted not his being very uneasy; but in his last he complains in high terms of my silence; not in the still small voice, or rather style, of an humble lover, but in a style like that which would probably be used by a slighted protector. And his pride is again touched, that like a thief or eavesdropper , he is forced to dodge about in hopes of a letter, and return five miles, and then to an inconvenient lodging, without any.

 

His letters, and the copy of mine to him, shall soon attend you: till when, I will give you the substance of what I wrote to him yesterday.

 

I take him severely to task for his freedom in threatening me, through you, with a visit to Mr Solmes, or to my brother. I say, ‘That, surely, I must be thought to be a creature fit to bear anything : that violence and menaces from some of my own family are not enough for me to bear, in order to make me avoid him ; but that I must have them from him too, upon a supposition that I will oblige those whom it is both my inclination and duty to oblige in everything that is reasonable, and in my power.

 

‘Very extraordinary, I tell him, that a violent spirit shall threaten to do a rash and unjustifiable thing, which concerns me but little and himself a great deal, if I do not something as rash, my character and sex considered, to divert him from it.

 

‘I even hint that, however it may affect me, if any mischief shall be done on my account, yet there are persons, as far as I know, who in my case would not think there would be reason for much regret were such a committed rashness as he threatens Mr Solmes with, to rid her of two persons, whom had she never known, she had never been unhappy.’

 

This is plain dealing, my dear! And I suppose he will put it into still plainer English for me.

 

I take his pride to task, on his disdaining to watch for my letters; and for his eavesdropping language: and say, ‘That, surely, he has the less reason to think so hardly of his situation, since his faulty morals are the original cause of all; and since faulty morals deservedly level all distinction and bring down rank and birth to the canaille ; and to the necessity, of which he complains, of appearing, if I must descend to his language, as an eavesdropper and a thief. And then I forbid him ever to expect another letter from me, that is to subject him to such disgraceful hardships.

 

‘That as to the solemn vows and protestations he is so ready upon all occasions to make, they have the less weight with me, as they give a kind of demonstration that he himself thinks, from his own character, there is reason to make them. Deeds are to be the only evidences of intentions. And I am more and more convinced of the necessity of breaking off a correspondence with a person whose addresses I see it is impossible either to expect my friends to encourage, or him to deserve that they should.

 

‘What therefore I repeatedly desire is, that since his birth, alliances and expectations are such as will at any time, if his immoral character be not an objection, procure him at least equal advantages, in a woman whose taste and inclinations moreover might be better adapted to his own, I insist upon it as well as advise it, that he give up all thoughts of me: and the rather as he has all along, by his threatening and unpolite behaviour to my friends, and whenever he speaks of them, given me reason to conclude that there is more malice to them than regard to me in his perseverance.’

 

This is the substance of the letter I have written to him.

 

The man, to be sure, must have the penetration to observe that my correspondence with him hitherto is owing more to the severity I meet with than to a very high value for him. And so I would have him think. What a worse than Moloch-deity is that which expects an offering of reason, duty and discretion to be made to its shrine!

 

Your mamma is of opinion that at last my friends will relent. Heaven grant that they may!—But my brother and sister have such an influence over everybody, and are so determined; so pique themselves upon subduing me and carrying their point; that I despair that they will—And yet, if they do not, I frankly own I would not scruple to throw myself upon any not disreputable protection by which I might avoid my present persecutions on one hand, and not give Lovelace advantage over me on the other. That is to say, were there manifestly no other way left me: for, if there were , I should think the leaving my father’s house, without his consent, one of the most inexcusable actions I could be guilty of, were the protection to be ever so unexceptionable; and this notwithstanding the independent fortune willed me by my grandfather. And indeed I have often reflected with a degree of indignation and disdain upon the thought of what a low, selfish creature that child must be, who is to be reined in only by what a parent can or will do for her.

 

But notwithstanding all this, I owe it to the sincerity of friendship to confess, that I know not what I should have done had your advice been conclusive any way. Had you, my dear, been witness to my different emotions as I read your letter, when in one place you advise me of my danger, if I am carried to my uncle’s; in another, when you own you could not bear what I bear and would do anything rather than marry the man you hate: yet, in another, represent to me my reputation suffering in the world’s eye; and the necessity I should be under to justify my conduct at the expense of my friends, were I to take a rash step: in another, insinuate the dishonest figure I should be forced to make in so compelled a matrimony; endeavouring to cajole, fawn upon and play the hypocrite with a man I have an aversion to; who would have reason to believe me an hypocrite, as well from my former avowals as from the sense he must have (if common sense he has) of his own demerits—The necessity you think there would be for me, the more averse I really was, to seem the fonder of him: a fondness, were I capable of so much dissimulation, that would be imputable to the most disgraceful motives; as it would be too visible that love, either of person or mind, could be neither of them—Then his undoubted, his even constitutional narrowness: his too probable jealousy and unforgivingness, bearing in mind my declared aversion, and the unfeigned despites I took all opportunities to do him in order to discourage his address: a preference avowed against him from the same motive: with the pride he professes to take in curbing and sinking the spirits of a woman he had acquired a right to tyrannize over. Had you, I say, been witness of my different emotions as I read, now leaning this way, now that; now perplexed; now apprehensive; now angry at one, then at another; now resolving; now doubting—you would have seen the power you have over me; and would have had reason to believe that, had you given your advice in any determined or positive manner, I had been ready to have been concluded by it. So, my dear, you will find from these acknowledgements, that you must justify me to those laws of friendship which require undisguised frankness of heart; although your justification of me in that particular will perhaps be at the expense of my prudence.

 

But, upon the whole, this I do repeat—that nothing but the last extremity shall make me abandon my father’s house, if they will permit me to stay; and if I can by any means, by any honest pretences, but keep off my evil destiny in it, till my cousin Morden arrives. As one of my trustees, his is a protection that I may, without discredit, throw myself into, if my other friends should remain determined. And this (although they seem too well aware of it) is all my hope: for as to Lovelace, were one to be sure of his tenderness to one’s self, and even of his reformation, must not the thoughts of embracing the offered protection of his family be the same in the world’s eye, as accepting of his own?—Could I avoid receiving his visits at his own relations? Must I not be his, whatever on seeing him in a nearer light I should find him out to be. For you know, it has always been my observation that both sexes too generally cheat each other by the more distant. Oh! my dear! how wise have I endeavoured to be! how anxious to choose and to avoid everything, precautiously as I may say, that might make me happy or unhappy; yet all my wisdom now, by a strange fatality, likely to become foolishness.

 

Then you tell me, in your usual kindly-partial manner, what is expected of me , more than would be of some others. This should be a lesson to me. Whatever my motives, the world would not know them: to complain of a brother’s unkindness, that one might do. It is too common a case where interests clash. But where the unkind father cannot be separated from the faulty brother, who could bear to lighten herself by loading a father?—Then, in this particular case, must not the hatred Mr Lovelace expresses to everyone of my family, although in return for their hatred of him, shock one extremely? Must it not show that there is something implacable, as well as highly unpolite, in his temper?—And what creature can think of marrying so as to live at continual enmity with all her own relations?

 

But here, having tired myself and I dare say you, I will lay down my pen.

 

 

Mr Solmes is almost continually here: so is my aunt Hervey: so are my two uncles. Something is working against me, I doubt. What an uneasy state of suspense!—when a naked sword, too, seems hanging over one’s head!

 

I hear nothing but what this confident creature Betty throws out in the wantonness of office. Now it is, Why, miss, don’t you look up your things? You’ll be called upon, depend upon it, before you are aware!—Another time she intimates darkly and in broken sentences, as if on purpose to tease me, what one says, what another ; with their inquiries how I dispose of my time? And my brother’s insolent question comes frequently in, whether I am not writing a history of my sufferings?

 

But I am now used to her pertness: and as it is only through that, that I can hear of anything intended against me before it is to be put in execution; and as she pleads a commission, when she is most impertinent; I bear with her: yet now and then not without a little of the heart-burn.

 

I will deposit thus far.

Adieu, my dear. CL. HARLOWE

 

 

Written on the cover, after she went down, with a pencil :

 

On coming down, I found your second letter of yesterday’s date ( a ). I have read it, and am in hopes that the within will in a great measure answer your mamma’s expectations of me.

 

My most respectful acknowledgements to her for it, and for her very kind admonitions.

 

You’ll read to her what you please of the enclosed.

 

( a ) See L 58.

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