LETTER 82: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

Thursday, April 6.

I thank you, my dearest friend, for the pains you have taken in accounting so affectionately for my papers not being taken away yesterday; and for the kind protection you would have procured for me, if you could.

 

This kind protection was what I wished for: But my wishes, raised at first by your Love, were rather governed by my despair of other refuge [having before cast about, and not being able to determine, what I ought to do, and what I could do, in a situation so unhappy] than by a reasonable hope: For why indeed should any-body embroil themselves for others, when they can avoid it?

 

All my consolation is, as I have frequently said, that I have not, by my own inadvertence or folly, brought myself into this sad situation. If I had, I should not have dared to look up to any-body with the expectation of protection or assistance, nor to you for excuse of the trouble I give you. But nevertheless we should not be angry at a person’s not doing  that for ourselves, or for our friend, which she thinks she ought not to do; and which she has it in her option either to do, or to let it alone . Much less have you a right to be displeased with so prudent a Mother, for not engaging herself so warmly in my favour, as you wished she would. If my own Aunt can give me up, and that against her judgment, as I may presume to say; and if my Father and Mother, and Uncles, who once loved me so well, can join so strenuously against me; can I expect, or ought you, the protection of your Mother, in opposition to them?

 

Indeed, my dearest Love [Permit me to be very serious] I am afraid I am singled out (either for my own faults, or for the faults of my family, or perhaps for the faults of both) to be a very unhappy creature! — signally unhappy! For see you not how irresistibly the waves of affliction come tumbling down upon me?

 

We have been till within these few weeks, every one of us, too happy. No crosses, no vexations, but what we gave ourselves from thepamper’dness, as I may call it, of our own wills. Surrounded by our heaps and stores, hoarded up as fast as acquired, we have seemed to think ourselves out of the reach of the bolts of adverse fate. I was the pride of all my friends, proud myself of their pride, and glorying in my standing. Who knows what the justice of Heaven may inflict, in order to convince us, that we are not out of the reach of misfortune; and to reduce us to a better reliance, than that we have hitherto presumptuously made?

 

I should have been very little the better for the Conversation-visits which the good Dr. Lewen used to honour me with, and for the principleswrought (as I may say) into my earliest mind by my pious Mrs. Norton, founded on her reverend Father’s experience, as well as on her own, if I could not thus retrospect and argue, in such a strange situation as we are in. Strange, I may well call it; for don’t you see, my dear, that we seem all to be impelled,as it were, by a perverse fate, which none of us are able to resist? —And yet all arising (with a strong appearance of self-punishment) from ourselves? Do not my Parents see the hopeful children, from whom they expected a perpetuity of worldly happiness to their branching family, now grown up to answer the till now distant hope, setting their angry faces against each other, pulling up by the roots, as I may say, that hope which was ready to be carried into a probable certainty?

 

Your partial Love will be ready to acquit me of capital and intentional faults: —But oh, my dear! my calamities have humbled me enough to make me turn my gaudy eye inward; to make me look into myself. —And what have I discovered there? —Why, my dear friend, more secret pride and vanity than I could have thought had lain in my unexamined heart.

 

If I am to be singled out to be the punisher of myself and family, who so lately was the pride of it, pray for me, my dear, that I may not be left wholly to myself; and that I may be enabled to support my character, so as to be justly acquitted of wilful and premeditated faults. The will of Providence be resigned to in the rest: As that leads, let me patiently, and unrepiningly, follow! —I shall not live always! — May but my closing scene be happy!

 

But I will not oppress you, my dearest friend, with further reflections of this sort. I will take them all into myself. Surely I have a mind that has room for them. My afflictions are too sharp to last long. The crisis is at hand. Happier times you bid me hope for. I will hope.

 

But yet, I cannot but be impatient at times, to find myself thus driven, and my character so depreciated and sunk, that were all the future to be happy, I should be ashamed to shew my face in public, or to look up. And all by the instigation of a selfish Brother, and envious Sister.—

 

 

But let me stop: Let me reflect! —Are not these suggestions the suggestions of the secret pride I have been censuring? Then, already so impatient! But this moment so resigned, so much better disposed for reflection! Yet ’tis hard, ’tis very hard, to subdue an embittered spirit! —In the instant of its trial too! —O my cruel Brother! —But now it rises again. —I will lay down a pen I am so little able to govern. —And I will try to subdue an impatience, which (if my afflictions are sent me for corrective ends) may otherwise lead me into still more punishable errors.—

 

I will return to a subject, which I cannot fly from for ten minutes together—called upon especially as I am, by your three alternatives stated in the conclusion of your last.

 

As to the first; to wit, Your advice for me to escape to London —Let me tell you, that that other hint or proposal which accompanies it, perfectly frightens me—Surely, my dear (happy as you are, and indulgently treated as your Mother treats you) you cannot mean what you propose! What a wretch must I be, if, for one moment only, I could lend an ear to such a proposal as This! — I, to be the occasion of making such a Mother’s (perhaps shortened ) life unhappy to the last hour of it! — Ennoble you, my dear creature! How must such an enterprize (the rashness public, the motives, were they excuseable, private ) debase you! —But I will not dwell upon the subject—For your own sake I will not.

 

As to your second alternative, To put myself into the protection of Lord M. and of the Ladies of that family, I own to you (as I believe I have owned before) that altho’ to do This would be the same thing in the eye of the world as putting myself into Mr. Lovelace’s protection, yet I think I would do it rather than be Mr. Solmes’s Wife, if there were evidently no other way to avoid being so.

 

Mr. Lovelace, you have seen, proposes to contrive a way to put me into possession of my own house; and he tells me, that he will soon fill it with the Ladies of his Family, as my visitors;—upon my invitation, however, to them. —A very inconsiderate proposal I think it to be, and upon which I cannot explain myself to him. What an exertion of independency does it chalk out for me! How, were I to attend to him (and not to the natural consequences to which the following of his advice would lead me) might I be drawn by gentle words into the perpetration of the most violent acts! —For how could I gain possession, but either by legal litigation, which, were I inclined to have recourse to it (as I never can be) must take up time; or by forcibly turning out the persons whom my Father has placed there, to look after the gardens, the house, and the furniture—persons entirely attached to himself, and who, as I know, have been lately instructed by my Brother?

 

Your third alternative, To meet and marry Mr. Lovelace directly ; a man with whose morals I am far from being satisfied—A step, that could not be taken with the least hope of ever obtaining pardon from or reconciliation with any of my friends; and against which a thousand objections rise in my mind— That is not to be thought of.

 

What appears to me upon the fullest deliberation, the most eligible, if I must be thus driven, is the escaping to London. But I would forfeit all my hopes of happiness in this life, rather than you should go away with me, as you rashly, tho’ with the kindest intention, propose. If I could get safely thither, and  be private, methinks I might remain absolutely independent of Mr. Lovelace, and at liberty either to make proposals to my friends, or, should they renounce me (and I had no other or better way) to make terms with him; supposing my Cousin Morden, on his arrival, were to join with my other Relations. But they would then perhaps indulge me in my choice of a single life, on giving him up: The renewing to them this offer, when at my own liberty, will at least convince them, that I was in earnest when I made it first: And, upon my word, I would stand to it, dear as you seem to think, when you are disposed to railly me, it would cost me, to stand to it.

 

If, my dear, you can procure a vehicle for us both, you can perhaps procure one for me singly : But can it be done without embroiling yourself with your Mother, or her with our family? —Be it coach, chariot, chaise, waggon, or horse, I matter not, provided You appear not to have a hand in my withdrawing. Only, in case it be one of the two latter, I believe I must desire you to get me an ordinary gown and coat, or habit, of some servant; having no concert with any of our own: The more ordinary the better. They may be thrust into the wood-house; where I can put them on; and then slide down from the bank, that separates the Wood-yard from the Green Lane.

 

But, alas! my dear, this, even this alternative, is not without difficulties, which, to a spirit so little enterprizing as mine, seem in a manner insuperable, These are my reflections upon it.

 

I am afraid, in the first place, that I shall not have time for the requisite preparations for an escape.

 

Should I be either detected in those preparations, or pursued and overtaken in my flight, and so brought back, then would they think themselves doubly warranted to compel me to have their Solmes: And, conscious  of an intended fault, perhaps I should be the less able to contend with them.

 

But were I even to get safely to London, I know nobody there but by name; and those the tradesmen to our family; who no doubt would be the first written to and engaged to find me out. And should Mr. Lovelace discover where I was, and he and my Brother meet, what mischiefs might ensue between them, whether I were willing or not to return to Harlowe-Place!

 

But supposing I could remain there concealed, to what might not my Youth, my Sex, and unacquaintedness with the ways of that great, wicked town, expose me! —I should hardly dare to go to church for fear of being discovered. People would wonder how I lived. Who knows but I might pass for a kept mistress; and that, altho’ nobody came to me, yet, that every time I went out, it might be imagined to be in pursuance of some assignation?

 

You, my dear, who alone would know where to direct to me, would be watched in all your steps, and in all your messages; and your Mother, at present not highly pleased with our correspondence, would then have reason to be more displeased; and might not differences follow between her and you, that would make me very unhappy, were I to know them? And this the more likely, as you take it so unaccountably (and, give me leave to say, so ungenerously) into your head, to revenge yourself upon the innocent Mr. Hickman, for all the displeasure your Mother gives you?

 

Were Lovelace to find out my place of abode, that would be the same thing in the eye of the world as if I had actually gone off with him: For would he, do you think, be prevailed upon to forbear visiting me? And then his unhappy character (a foolish man!) would be no credit to any young creature desirous of concealment. Indeed the world, let me escape whither,  and to whomsoever I could, would conclude him to be the contriver of it.

 

These are the difficulties which arise to me on revolving this scheme; which, nevertheless, might appear surmountable to a more enterprizing spirit in my circumstances. If you, my dear, think them surmountable in any one of the cases put [and to be sure I can take no course, but what must have some difficulty in it] be pleased to let me know your free and full thoughts upon it.

 

Had you, my dear friend, been married, then should I have had no doubt but that you and Mr. Hickman would have afforded an asylum to a poor creature more than half lost in her own apprehension for want of one kind protecting friend!

 

You say, I should have written to my Cousin Morden the moment I was treated disgracefully: But could I have believed that my friends would not have softened by degrees when they saw my antipathy to their Solmes?

 

I had thoughts indeed several times of writing to my Cousin: But by the time an Answer could have come, I imagined all would have been over, as if it had never been: So from day to day, from week to week, I hoped on: And, after all, I might as reasonably fear (as I have heretofore said) that my Cousin would be brought to side against me, as that some of those I have named would.

 

 

And then to appeal to a Cousin [I must have written with warmth, to engage him] against a Father ; This was not a desirable thing to set about. Then I had not, you know, one soul on my side; my Mother herself against me. To be sure my Cousin would have suspended his judgment till he could have arrived. He might not have been in haste to come, hoping the malady would cure itself: But had he written, his Letters probably would have run in the qualifying style; to persuade me to submit, or them only to relax.

 

Had his Letters been more on my side than on theirs, they would not have regarded them: Nor perhaps himself, had he come and been an advocate for me: For you see how strangely determined they are; how they have over-awed or got in every-body; so that no one dare open their lips in my behalf. And you have heard that my Brother pushes his measures with the more violence, that all may be over with me before my Cousin’s expected arrival.

 

 

But you tell me, That, in order to gain time, I must palliate ; that I must seem to compromise with my friends: But how palliate ? how seem to compromise? You would not have me endeavour to make them believe, that I will consent to what I never intend to consent to! You would not have me to gain time, with a view to deceive !

 

 

To do evil, that good may come of it, is forbidden: And shall I do evil, yet know not whether good may come of it or not?

 

 

Forbid it, Heaven! that Clarissa Harlowe should have it in her thought to serve, or even to save herself at the expence of her sincerity, and by astudied deceit!

 

 

And is there, after all, no way, to escape one great evil, but by plunging myself into another? —What an ill-fated creature am I? —Pray for me, my dearest Nancy! —My mind is at present so much disturbed, that I hardly can pray for myself.

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