LETTER 73: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

Saturday, April 1.

 

Hasty censurers do indeed subject themselves to the charge of variableness and inconsistency in judgment: And so they ought; for, if you, even you, were really so loth to own a mistake, as, in the instance before us, you pretend to say you were, I believe I should not have loved you so well as I really do love you. Nor could you, my dear, have so frankly thrown the reflection I hint at, upon yourself, had you not had one of the most ingenuous minds that ever woman boasted.

 

Mr. Lovelace has faults enow to deserve very severe censure, altho’ he be not guilty of this. If I were upon such terms with him, as he would wish me to be, I should give him a hint, that this treacherous Joseph Leman cannot be so much his friend, as perhaps he thinks him. If he had, he would not have been so ready to report to his disadvantage (and to Betty Barnes too) this flight affair of the pretty Rustic. Joseph has engaged Betty to secrecy; promising to let her, and her young master too, know more, when he knows the whole of the matter: And this hinders her from mentioning it, as she is nevertheless agog to do, to my sister or my brother. And then she does not choose to disoblige Joseph; for altho’ she pretends to look above him, she listens, I believe, to some love-stories he tells her. Women having it not in their power to begin a courtship, some of them very frequently, I believe, lend an ear where their hearts incline not.

 

But to say no more of these low people, neither of whom I think tolerably of; I must needs own, that as I should for ever have despised this man, had he been capable of such a vile intrigue in his way to Harlowe-place; and as I believed he was capable of it, it has indeed engaged my generosity,as you call it, in proportion (—I own it has—) in his favour: Perhaps more than I may have reason to wish it had. And, railly me, as you will, pray tell me fairly, my dear, would it not have had such an effect upon you?

 

Then the real generosity of the act. —I protest, my beloved friend, if he would be good for the rest of his life from this time, I would forgive him a great many of his past errors, were it only for the demonstration he has given in This, that he is capable of so good and bountiful a manner of thinking.

 

You may believe I made no scruple to open his letter, after the receipt of your second on this subject: Nor shall I of answering it, as I have no reason to find fault with it: An article in his favour, procured him, however, so much the easier (as I must own) by way of amends for the undue displeasure I took against him; tho’ he knows it not.

 

It is lucky enough that this matter was cleared up to me by your friendly diligence so soon: For had I wrote at all before that, it would have been to reinforce my dismission of him; and perhaps the very motive mentioned; for it had affected me more than I think it ought: And then, what an advantage would that have given him, when he could have clear’d up the matter so happily for himself?

 

When I send you This letter of his, you will see how very humble he is: What acknowlegements of natural impatience: What confession of faults, as you prognosticated. A very different appearance, I must own, all these make, now the story of the pretty Rustic is clear’d up, than they would have made, had it not. —And, methinks too, my dear, I can allow the girl to be prettier than before I could, tho’ I never saw her—For Virtue is Beauty in perfection.

 

You will see how he accounts to me, thro’ indisposition, ‘that he could not come for my letter in person; and he labours the point, as if he thought I should be uneasy that he did not.’ I am sorry he should be ill on my account; and I will allow, that the suspense he has been in, for some time past, must have been vexatious enough to so impatient a spirit. But all is owing originally to himself.

 

You will find him (in the presumption of being forgiven) ‘full of contrivances and expedients for my escaping the compulsion threatened me.’

 

I have always said, that next to being without fault, is the acknowlegement of a fault; since no amendment can be expected, where an error is defended: But you will see, in this very letter, an haughtiness even in his submissions. ‘Tis true, I know not where to find fault, as to the expression, yet cannot I be satisfy’d, that his humility is humility; or even an humility upon such conviction as one should be pleased with.

 

To be sure, he is far from being a polite man: Yet is he not directly and characteristically un -polite.

 

But his is such a sort of politeness, as has, by a carelessness founded on a very early indulgence, and perhaps on too much success in riper years, and an arrogance built upon both, grown into assuredness, and, of course, as I may say, into indelicacy.

 

The distance you recommend, at which to keep this sex, is certainly right in the main: Familiarity destroys reverence: But with whom? —Not with those, surely, who are prudent, grateful, and generous.

 

But it is very difficult for persons, who would avoid running into one extreme, to keep clear of another. Hence Mr. Lovelace, perhaps, thinks it the mark of a great spirit to humour his pride, tho’ at the expence of delicacy: But can the man be a deep man, who knows not how to make such distinctions, as a person of moderate parts cannot miss?

 

He complains heavily of my ‘readiness to take mortal offence at him, and to dismiss him for ever: It is a high conduct, he says he must be sincere enough to tell me; and what must be very far from contributing to allay his apprehensions of the possibility that I may be persecuted into my relations measures in behalf of Mr. Solmes.’

 

You will see how he puts his present and his future happiness, ‘with regard to both worlds, intirely upon me.’ The ardour with which he vows and promises, I think the heart only can dictate: How else can any one guess at a man’s heart?

 

You’ll also see, ‘that he has already heard of the interview I am to have with Mr. Solmes;’ and with what vehemence and anguish he expresses himself on the occasion. —I intend to take proper notice of the ignoble means he stoops to, to come at his early intelligence out of our family. If persons pretending to principle, bear not their testimony against unprincipled actions, who shall check them?

 

You’ll see, how passionately he presses me to oblige ‘him with a few lines, before the interview between Mr. Solmes and me take place (if it must take place) to confirm his hope, that I have no view, in my displeasure to him, to give encouragement to Solmes . An apprehension, he says, that he must be excused for repeating; especially as it is a favour granted to that man, which I have refused to him; since, as he infers, were it not with such an expectation, why should my friends press it?’

 

Saturday, April 1.

 

I have written; and to this effect: ‘That I had never intended to write another line to a man, who could take upon himself to reflect upon my sex and myself, for having thought fit to make use of my own judgment.

 

‘That I have submitted to this interview with Mr. Solmes, purely as an act of duty, to shew my friends, that I will comply with their commands as far as I can; and that I hope, when Mr. Solmes himself shall see how determin’d I am, he will no longer prosecute a suit, in which it is impossible he should succeed with my consent.

 

‘That my aversion to him is too sincere to permit me to doubt myself on this occasion. But, nevertheless, he, Mr. Lovelace, must not imagine, that my rejecting of Mr. Solmes is in favour to him. That I value my freedom and independency too much, if my friends will but leave me to my own judgment, to give them up to a man so uncontroulable, and who shews me beforehand, what I have to expect from him, were I in his power.

 

‘I express my high disapprobation of the methods he takes to come at what passes in a private family: That the pretence of corrupting other people’s servants, by way of reprisal for the spies they have set upon him, is a very poor excuse; a justification of one meanness by another.

 

‘That there is a right and a wrong in every thing, let people put what glosses they please upon their actions. To condemn a deviation, and to follow it by as great a one, what is This doing but propagating a general corruption? A Stand must be made by somebody, turn round the evil as many as may, or virtue will be lost: And shall it not be I, a worthy mind will say, that shall make this Stand?

 

‘I leave it to him to judge, whether his be a worthy one, try’d by this rule: And whether, knowing the impetuosity of his disposition; and the improbability there is, that my family will ever be reconciled to him, I ought to encourage his hopes?

 

‘That these spots and blemishes give me not earnestness enough for any sake but his own, to wish him in a juster and nobler train of thinking and acting; for that I truly despise many of the ways he allows himself in: Our minds are therefore infinitely different: And as to his professions of reformation, I must tell him, that profuse acknowlegements, without amendment, are but to me as so many stop-mouth concessions, which he may find much easier to make, than either to defend himself, or amend his errors.

 

‘That I have been lately made acquainted [And so I have by Betty, and she by my brother] ‘with the foolish liberty he gives himself of declaiming against matrimony. I severely reprehend him on this occasion: And ask him, with what view he can take so witless, so despicable a liberty, worthy only of the most abandon’d, and yet presume to address me ?

 

‘I tell him, That if I am obliged to go to my uncle Antony’s, it is not to be inferr’d, that I must therefore necessarily be Mr. Solmes’s wife: Since I may not be so sure, perhaps, that the same exceptions lie so strongly against my quitting a house to which I shall be forcibly carry’d, as if I left my father’s house: And, at the worst, I may be able to keep them in suspense till my cousin Morden comes, who will have a right to put me in possession of my grandfather’s estate, if I insist upon it.’

 

This, I doubt, is somewhat of an artifice; being principally design’d to keep him out of mischief. For I have but little hope, if carry’d thither, whether sensible or senseless, if I am left to my brother’s and sister’s mercy, but they will endeavour to force the solemn obligation upon me. Otherwise, were there but any prospect of avoiding this, by delaying (or even by taking things to make me ill, if nothing else would do) till my cousin comes, I hope I should not think of leaving even my uncle’s house. For I should not know how to square it to my own principles, to dispense with the duty I owe to my father, wherever it shall be his will to place me.

 

But while you give me the charming hope, that, in order to avoid one man, I shall not be under the necessity of throwing myself upon the friends of the other; I think my case not absolutely desperate.

 

I see not any of my family, nor hear from them in any way of kindness. This looks, as if they themselves expected no great matters from that Tuesday’s conference which makes my heart flutter every-time I think of it.

 

My uncle Antony’s intended presence I do not much like: But That is preferable to my brother’s or sister’s. My uncle is very impetuous in his anger. I can’t think Mr. Lovelace can be much more so; at least, he cannot look it, as my uncle, with his harder features, can. These sea-prosper’d gentlemen, as my uncle has often made me think, not used to any but elemental controul, and even ready to buffet That; bluster often as violently as the winds they are accustomed to be angry at.

 

I believe both Mr. Solmes and I shall look like a couple of fools, if it be true, as my uncle Harlowe writes, and Betty often tells me, that he is as much afraid of seeing me, as I am of seeing him.

 

Adieu, my happy, thrice happy, Miss Howe, who have no hard terms affixed to your duty! —Who have nothing to do, but to fall in with a choice your mamma has made for you, to which you have not, nor can have, a just objection: Except the frowardness of sex, as our free censurers would perhaps take the liberty to say, makes it one, that the choice was your mamma’s, at first hand. Perverse nature, we know, loves not to be prescribed to; altho’ youth is not so well qualify’d, either by sedateness or experience, to choose for itself.

 

To know your own happiness; and that it is now, nor to leave it to after -reflection to look back upon the preferable past with a heavy and self-accusing heart, that you did not choose it when you might have chosen it, is all that is necessary to complete your felicity! —And this power is wish’d you by

Your
CL. Harlowe .

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