LETTER 89: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

 

Sunday Morning, April 9.

Do not think, my beloved friend, altho’ you have given me, in yours of yesterday, a severer instance of what, nevertheless, I must call your impartial Love, than ever yet I received from you, that I will be displeased with you for it. That would be to put myself into the inconvenient situation of Royalty: That is to say, Out of the way of ever being told of my faults; of ever mending them; and In the way of making the sincerest and warmest friendship useless to me.

 

And then how brightly, how nobly, burns this sacred flame in your bosom! that you are ready to

 

impute to the unhappy sufferer a less degree of warmth in her own cause, than you have for her, because she endeavours to divest herself of Self, so far as to leave others to the option which they have a right to make? Ought I, my dear, to blame, ought I not rather to admire, you for this ardor?

 

But, nevertheless, lest you should think, that there is any foundation for a surmize, which, altho’ it owe its rise to your friendship, would, if there were, leave me utterly inexcusable; I must, in justice to myself, declare, That I know not my own heart, if I have any of that latent or un-owned inclination, which you would impute to any other but me . Nor does the important alternative sit lightly on my mind . And yet I must excuse your mamma, were it but on this single consideration, That I could not presume to reckon upon her favour, as I could upon her daughter’s, so as to make the claim of friendship upon her, to whom, as the mother of my dearest friend, a veneration is owing, which can hardly be compatible with that sweet familiarity, which is one of the indispensibles of the sacred tie by which your heart and mine are bound in one.

 

What therefore I might expect from my Anna Howe, I ought not from her mamma ; for would it not be very strange, that a person of her experience should be reflected upon, because she gave not up her own judgment, where the consequence of her doing so would be, to embroil herself, as she apprehends, with a family she has lived well with, and in behalf of a child against her parents? —As she has, moreover, a daughter of her own: —A daughter too, give me leave to say, of whose vivacity and charming spirits she is more apprehensive than she need to be; because her truly maternal cares make her fear more from her youth, than she hopes from her prudence ; which nevertheless she, and all the world, know to be beyond her years.

 

And here let me add, That whatever you may

 

generously, and as the result of an ardent affection for your unhappy friend, urge on this head, in my behalf, or harshly against any one who may refuse me protection in such extraordinary circumstances as I find myself in; I have some pleasure, in being able to curb undue expectations upon my indulgent friends, whatever were to befal myself from those circumstances; for I should be extremely mortified, were I, by my selfish forwardness, to give occasion for such a check, as to be told, that I had encouraged an unreasonable hope; or, according to the phrase you mention, wished to take a Thorn out of my own foot, and to put it into that of my friend . Nor should I be better pleased with myself, if, having been taught by my good Mrs. Norton, that the best of schools, is That of affliction, I should rather learn impatience than the contrary, by the lessons I am obliged to get by heart in it; and if I should judge of the merits of others, as they were kind to me ; and that at the expence of their own convenience or peace of mind. For is not This to suppose myself ever in the right; and all who do not act as I would have them act, perpetually in the wrong? In short, to make my sake, God’s sake, in the sense of Mr. Solmes’s pitiful plea to me.

 

How often, my dear, have You and I endeavour’d to detect and censure this partial spirit in others?

 

But I know, you do not always content yourself with saying what you think may justly be said: But, in order to shew the extent of a penetration, which can go to the bottom of any subject, delight to say, or to write, all that can be said, or written, or even thought, on the particular occasion; and this partly, perhaps, from being desirous (pardon me, my dear!) to be thought mistress of a sagacity that is aforehand with events. But who would wish to drain off, or dry up, a refreshing current, because it now and then puts us to some little inconvenience by its over-flowings? In other words, who would not allow, for the

 

liveliness of a spirit, which, for one painful sensibility, gives an hundred pleasurable ones: And the one in consequence of the other ?

 

But now I come to the two points in your letter, that most sensibly concern me: Thus you put them:

      ‘Whether I choose not rather to go off with one of my

 

own Sex

      ; with my

Anna Howe

      —than with one of the

other

      ; with Mr.

Lovelace

    ?’
         And if

not,

 

    ‘Whether I should not marry him, as soon as possible?’

You know, my dear, my reasons for rejecting your proposal, and even for being earnest that you should not be known to be assisting to me in an enterprize, which a cruel necessity induced me to think of engaging in; and which you have not the same plea for. At this rate, well might your mamma be uneasy at our correspondence, not knowing to what inconveniencies it might subject her and you! —If I am hardly excusable to think of flying from my unkind friends, what could you have to say for yourself, were you to abandon a mother so indulgent ? Does she suspect; that your fervent friendship may lead you to a small indiscretion? and does this suspicion offend you? And would you, in revenge, shew her and the world, that you can voluntarily rush into the highest error, that any of our sex can be guilty of?

 

And is it worthy of your generosity [I ask you, my dear, is it?] to think of taking so undutiful a step, because you believe your mamma would be glad to receive you again?

 

I do assure you, that were I to take this step myself, I would run all risques rather than you should accompany me in it. Have I, do you think, a desire to double and treble my own fault, in the eye of the world? In the eye of that world, which, cruelly as I am used (not knowing all), would not acquit me ?

 

 But, my dearest, kindest friend, let me tell you, That we will neither of us take such a step. The manner of putting your questions, abundantly convinces me, that I ought not, in your opinion, to attempt it. You, no doubt, intend, that I shall so take it; and I thank you for the equally polite and forcible conviction.

 

It is some satisfaction to me, taking the matter in this light, that I had begun to waver before I received your last. And now I tell you, that it has absolutely determin’d me not to go away; at least, not to-morrow.

 

If You, my dear, think the issue of the alternative, to use your own words, sits so lightly upon my mind ; in short, that my inclination is faulty ; the world would treat me much less scrupulously. When, therefore, you represent, that all punctilio must be at an end the moment I am out of my father’s house ; and hint, that I must submit it to Lovelace to judge when he can leave me with safety; that is to say, give him the option whether he will leave me, or not; Who can bear these reflections, and resolve to incur these inconveniencies, that has the question still in her own power to decide upon?

 

While I thought only of an escape from This house, as an escape from Mr. Solmes ; that already my reputation suffer’d by my confinement; and that it would be still in my own option, either to marry Mr. Lovelace, or wholly to renounce him; Bold as the step was, I thought, treated as I am treated, something was to be said in excuse of it—If not to the world, to myself : And to be self -acquitted, is a blessing to be preferred to the opinion of all the world. But, after I have censured that indiscreet forwardness in some, who (flying from their chamber to the altar) have, without the least ceremony, rush’d upon the greatest : After I have stipulated with him for time, and for an ultimate option, whether to accept or refuse him; and for his leaving me, as soon as I am in a place of safety

 

(which, as you observe, he must be the judge of): And after he has comply’d with these terms; so that I cannot, if I would, recall them, and suddenly marry; —You see, my dear, that I have nothing left me, but to resolve, not to go away with him.

 

But, how, on this revocation, shall I be able to pacify him?

 

How! —Why assert the privilege of my Sex! — Surely, on This side of the solemnity he has no right to be displeased. Besides, did I not reserve a power of receding, if I saw fit? To what purpose, as I asked in the case between your mamma and you, has any-body an option, if the making use of it, shall give the refused a right to be disgusted?

 

Far, very far, would Those be, who, according to the Old Law, have a right of absolving or confirming a child’s promise, from ratifying mine, had it been ever so solemn a one ( a ) . But This was rather an appointment than a promise : And suppose it had been

 

the latter; and that I had not reserv’d to myself a liberty of revoking it, was it to preclude better or maturer consideration? —If so, how unfit to be given! —How ungenerous to be insisted upon! —And how unfitter still, to be kept! —Is there a man living, who ought to be angry, that a woman, whom he hopes one day to call his, shall refuse to keep a rash promise, when, on the maturest deliberation, she is convinc’d, that it was a rash one?

 

I resolve then, upon the whole, to stand This one trial of Wednesday next. —Or, perhaps, I should rather say, of Tuesday evening; if my father hold his purpose of endeavouring, in person, to make me read, or hear read, and then sign, the settlements. — That, that must be the greatest trial of all.

 

If I am compelled to sign them over-night! — Then [the Lord bless me!] must All I dread, follow, as of course, on Wednesday. —If I can prevail upon them, by my prayers—Perhaps, by sits, and delirium, (for the very first appearance of my father, after having been so long banish’d his presence, will greatly affect me) to lay aside their views; or to suspend, if but for one week; if not, but for two or three days; still Wednesday will be a lighter day of trial. —They will surely give me time to consider ; to argue with myself—This will not be promising —As I have made no effort to get away, they have no reason to suspect me; so I may have an opportunity, in the last resort, to escape. Mrs. Norton is to be with me: She, altho’ she should be check’d for it, will, in my extremity, plead for me. My aunt Hervey may, on such extremity, join her. Perhaps, my mamma may be brought over. I will kneel to each, one by one, to make a friend. They have been afraid, some of them, to see me, lest they should be moved in my favour: Does not This give me a reasonable hope, that I may move them? —My brother’s counsel, heretofore given, to turn me out of doors to my evil destiny, may again

 

be repeated, and may prevail: Then shall I be in no worse case than now, as to the displeasure of my friends; and thus far better, that it will not be my fault that I leave them, and seek another protection: Which even then, ought to be my cousin Morden’s, rather than Mr. Lovelace’s, or any other person’s.

 

My heart, in short, misgives me less, when I resolve This way, than when I think of the other : And in so strong and involuntary a byass, the heart is, as I may say, Conscience . And well cautions the wise man: ‘Let the counsel of thine own heart stand; for there is no man more faithful to thee, than It: For a man’s mind is sometimes wont to tell him more than seven watchmen, that sit above in a high tower.’ ( a ) 26

 

Forgive these indigested self-reasonings. I will close here: And instantly set about a letter of revocation to Mr. Lovelace; take it as he will. It will only be another trial of temper to him . To me of infinite importance. And has he not promised temper and acquiescence, on the supposition of a change in my mind?

 

Cl. Harlowe.

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