LETTER 103: MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.

Mr. Lovelace, in continuation of his last letter [99] gives an account to his Friend, pretty much to the same effect with the Lady’s, of what passed between them at the inns, in the journey, and till their fixing at Mrs. Sorlings’s. To avoid repetition, those passages in his account are only extracted, which will serve to embellish hers; to open his views; or to display the humourous talent he was noted for.

 

At their alighting at the inn at St. Alban’s on Monday night, thus he writes:

 

The people who came about us, as we alighted, seemed, by their jaw-fallen faces, and goggling eyes, to wonder at beholding a charming young lady, majesty in her air and aspect, so composedly dressed, yet with features so discomposed, come off a journey, which had made the cattle smoke, and the servants sweat. I read their curiosity, and my beloved’s uneasiness. She cast a conscious glance as she alighted, upon her habit, which was no habit, and repulsively, as I may say, quitting my assisting hand, hurried into the house as fast as she could…

 

Ovid was not a greater master of metamorphoses than thy friend. To the mistress of the house I instantly changed her into a sister, brought off by surprize from a near relation’s (where she had winter’d), to prevent her marrying a confounded Rake [I love always to go as near the truth as I can], whom her father and mother, her elder sister, and all her loving uncles, aunts, and cousins, abhorred. This accounted for my charmer’s expected sullens; for her displeasure when she was to join me again, were it to hold; for her unsuitable dress upon a road; and, at the same time, gave her a proper and seasonable assurance of my honourable views.


Upon the debate between the lady and him, and particularly upon that part where she upbraids him with putting a young creature upon making a sacrifice of her duty and conscience, he writes:


All these, and still more mortifying things, she said.

 

I heard her in silence. But when it came to my turn, I pleaded, I argued, I answered her, as well as I could. —And when humility would not do, I raised my voice, and suffer’d my eye to sparkle with anger; hoping to take advantage of that sweet cowardice which is so amiable in the Sex (which many of them, indeed, fantastically affect), and to which my victory over this proud beauty is principally owing.

 

She was not intimidated, however; and was going to rise upon me in her temper; and would have broke in upon my defence. But when a man talks to a lady upon such subjects, let her be ever so much in alt, ’tis strange, if he cannot throw out a tub to the whale—if he cannot divert her from resenting one bold thing, by uttering two or three full as bold; but for which more favourable interpretations will lie.


To that part, where she tells him of the difficulty she made to correspond with him at first, thus he writes:

 

Very true, my precious! —And innumerable have been the difficulties thou hast made me struggle with. But one day thou mayest wish, that thou hadst spared this boast; as well as those other pretty haughtinesses, —That thou didst not reject Solmes for my sake: That my glory, if I valued myself upon carrying thee off, was thy shame: —That I have more merit with myself, than with thee, or any-body else: [What a coxcomb she makes me, Jack!] That thou wishest thyself in thy father’s house again, whatever were to be the consequence . —If I forgive thee, charmer, for these hints, for these reflections, for these wishes, for these contempts, I am not the Lovelace I have been reputed to be; and that thy treatment of me shews that thou thinkest I am—

 

In short, her whole air throughout this debate, expressed a majestic kind of indignation, which implied a believed superiority of talents over the man she spoke to.

 

Thou hast heard me often expatiate upon the pitiful figure a man must make, whose wife has, or believes she has, more sense than himself. A thousand reasons could I give, why I ought not to think of marrying Miss Clarissa Harlowe: At least till I can be sure, that she loves me with the preference I must expect from a wife.

 

I begin to stagger in my resolutions. Ever averse as I was to the Hymeneal shackles, how easily will old prejudices recur! —Heaven give me the heart to be honest to her! —There’s a prayer, Jack! —If I should not be heard, what a sad thing would that be, for the most admirable of women! —Yet, as I do not often trouble Heaven with my prayers, who knows but this may be granted?

 

But there lie before me such charming difficulties, such scenery for intrigue, for stratagem, for enterprize —What a horrible thing that my talents point all that way! —When I know what is honourable and just; and would almost wish to be honest? — Almost, I say; for such a varlet am I, that I cannot altogether wish it, for the soul of me! —Such a triumph over the whole Sex, if I can subdue this lady! —My maiden vow, as I may call it! —For did not the Sex begin with me? —And does this lady spare me? —Think’st thou, Jack, that I should have spared my Rosebud, had I been set at defiance thus? —Her grandmother besought me, at first, to spare her Rosebud; and when a girl is put, or puts herself, into a man’s power, what can he wish for further? while I always consider’d opposition and resistance as a challenge to do my worst ( a ) .

 

Why, why, will the dear creature take such pains to appear all ice to me? —Why will she, by her pride, awaken mine ? —Hast thou not seen, in the above, how contemptibly she treats me? —What have I not suffer’d for her, and even from her? —Is it tolerable to be told, that she will despise me, if I value myself above that odious Solmes!—
Then she cuts me short in all my ardors. To vow fidelity, is, by a cursed turn upon me, to shew, that there is reason, in my own opinion, for doubt of it. — The very same reflection upon me, once before ( b ) . In my power, or out of my power, all one to her. — So, Belford, my poor vows are cramm’d down my throat, before they can well rise to my lips. And what can a lover say to his mistress, if she will neither let him lye nor swear?

 

One little piece of artifice I had recourse to: When she push’d so hard for me to leave her, I made a request to her, upon a condition she could not refuse; and pretended as much gratitude upon her granting it, as if it were a favour of the last consequence.

 

And what was This? but to promise what she had before promised, Never to marry any other man, while I am living, and single, unless I should give her cause for high disgust against me. This, you know, was promising nothing, because she could be offended at any time; and was to be the sole judge of the offence. But it shew’d her, how reasonable and just my expectations were; and that I was no encroacher.

 

She consented; and ask’d, What security I expected?

 

Her word only.

 

She gave me her word: But I besought her excuse for sealing it: And, in the same moment [since to have waited for consent, would have been asking for a denial], saluted her. And, believe me, or not, but, as I hope to live, it was the first time I had the courage to touch her charming lips with mine. And This I tell thee, Belford, that That single pressure (as modestly put too, as if I were as much a virgin as herself, that she might not be afraid of me another time) delighted me more than ever I was delighted by the ultimatum with any other woman. —So precious does awe, reverence, and apprehended prohibition, make a favour!

 

I am only afraid, that I shall be too cunning; for she does not at present talk enough for me. I hardly know what to make of the dear creature yet.

 

I topt the brother’s part on Monday night before the landlady at St. Albans; asking my sister’s pardon for carrying her off so unprepar’d for a journey; prated of the joy my father and mother, and all our friends, would have on receiving her; and This with so many circumstances, that I perceived, by a look she gave me, that went thro’ my very reins, that I had gone too far. I apologiz’d for it, indeed, when alone; but I could not penetrate for the soul of me, whether I made the matter better or worse by it. —But I am of too frank a nature: My success, and the joy I have, because of the jewel I am half in possession of, has not only unlock’d my bosom, but left the door quite open.

 

This is a confounded sly Sex. Would she but speak out, as I do—But I must learn reserves of her.

 

She must needs be unprovided of money: But has too much pride to accept of any from me. I would have her go to town [to town, if possible, must I get her to consent to go], in order to provide herself with the richest of silks which That can afford. But neither is this to be assented to. And yet, as my intelligencer acquaints me, her implacable relations are resolved to distress her all they can.

 

These wretches have been most gloriously raving, it seems, ever since her flight; and still, thank Heaven, continue to rave; and will, I hope, for a twelve-month to come. —Now, at last, it is my day!—

 

Bitterly do they regret, that they permitted her poultry-visits, and garden-walks, which gave her the opportunity they know she had (tho’ they could not find out how) to concert, as they suppose, her pre-concerted escape. For, as to her dining in the ivy-bower, they had a cunning design to answer upon her in that permission, as Betty told Joseph her love ( c ) .

 

They lost, they say, an excellent pretence for more closely confining her, on my threatening to rescue her, if they offer’d to carry her against her will to old Antony’s moated house ( d ) . For this, as I told thee at the Hart, and as I once hinted to the dear creature herself ( e ), they had it in deliberation to do; apprehending, that I might attempt to carry her off, either with or without her consent, on some one of those connived-at excursions.

 

But here my honest Joseph, who gave me the information, was of admirable service to me. I had taught him to make the Harlowes believe, that I was as communicative to my servants, as their stupid James was to Joseph ( f ): Joseph, as they supposed, by tampering with Will ( g ), got at all my secrets, and was acquainted with all my motions: And having undertaken to watch all his young Lady’s too ( h ); the wise family were secure; and so was my beloved, and so was I.

 

I once had it in my head [and I hinted it to thee in a former ( i ),] in case such a step should be necessary, to attempt to carry her off by surprize from the wood-house; as it is remote from the dwelling-house. This, had I attempted, I should certainly have effected, by the help of the Confraternity: And it would have been an action worthy of us All. —But Joseph’s conscience, as he called it, stood in my way; for he thought, it must have been known to be done by his connivance. I could, I dare say, have overcome this scruple, as easily as I did many of his others, had I not depended, at one time, upon her meeting me at a midnight or late hour; when, if she had, it would have cost me a fall, had she gone back; at other times, upon the cunning family’s doing my work for me, by driving her into my arms.

 

And then I knew, that James and Arabella were determin’d never to leave off their foolish trials and provocations, till, by tiring her out, they had either made her Solmes’s wife; or guilty of such a rashness as should throw her for ever out of the favour of both her uncles.

 

( a ) See L 34.

( b )  See L 47.

( c )  See L 90.

( d ) See L 80 and L 83.

( e )  See L 80 and L 90.

( f )  See L 91.

( g )  This will be further explained in L 123.

( h )  See L 31 and L 35.

( i )  See L 35.

 

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