LETTER 110: MR. LOVELACE TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.

(In continuation)

But is it not the divine Clarissa (Harlowe let me not say; my soul spurns them all but her) whom I am thus by implication threatening? —If virtue be the true nobility, how is she ennobled, and how would an alliance with her ennoble, were there no drawbacks from the family she is sprung from, and prefers to me?

But again, let me stop. —Is there not something wrong; has there not been something wrong in this divine creature? —And will not the reflections upon that wrong [what tho’ it may be construed in my favour?] make me unhappy, when novelty has lost its charms, and she is mind and person all my own? — Libertines are nicer, if at all nice, than other men. They seldom meet with the stand of virtue in the women whom they attempt. And by those they have met with, they judge of all the rest. Importunity and Opportunity no woman is proof against, especially from a persevering lover, who knows how to suit temptations to inclinations. This, thou knowest, is a prime article of the rake’s creed.

And what! (methinks thou askest with surprise) Dost thou question this most admirable of women? — The virtue of a Clarissa dost thou question?

I do not, I dare not question it. My reverence for her will not let me, directly, question it. But let me, in my turn, ask thee—Is not, may not her virtue be founded rather in pride than principle ? — Whose daughter is she? —And is she not a daughter ? If impeccable, how came she by her impeccability? —The pride of setting an example to her sex has run away with her hitherto, and may have made her till now invincible—But is not that pride abated? — What may not both men and women be brought to do, in a mortify’d state? What mind is superior to calamity? —Pride is perhaps the principal bulwark of female virtue. Humble a woman, and may she not be effectually humbled?

Then who says, Miss Clarissa Harlowe is the paragon of virtue? Is virtue itself?

All who know her, and have heard of her, it will be answer’d.

Common bruit! —Is virtue to be established by common bruit only? —Has her virtue ever been proved ? —Who has dared to try her virtue?

I told thee, I would sit down to argue with myself; and I have drawn myself into the argumentation before I was aware.

Let me enter into a strict discussion of this subject.

I know how ungenerous an appearance what I have said, and what I have farther to say, on this topic, will have from me: But am I not bringing virtue to the touchstone, with a view to exalt it, if it come out to be virtue? —Avaunt then, for one moment, all consideration that may arise from a weakness, which some would miscall gratitude ; and is oftentimes the corrupter of a heart not ignoble!

To the test then. And I will bring this charming creature to the strictest test, that all the sex, who may be shewn any passages in my letters [And I know thou chearest the hearts of all thy acquaintance with such detached parts of mine, as tend not to dishonour characters, or reveal names. And this gives me an appetite to oblige thee by interlardment] that all the sex, I say, may see what they ought to be; what is expected from them; and if they have to deal with a person of reflection and punctilio [ pride, if thou wilt], how careful they ought to be, by a regular and uniform conduct, not to give him cause to think lightly of them, by favours granted, which may be interpreted into natural weakness . For is not a wife the keeper of a man’s honour? And do not her faults bring more disgrace upon a husband, than even upon herself?

It is not for nothing, Jack, that I have disliked the life of shackles!—

To the test, then, as I said, since now I have the question brought home to me, Whether I am to have a wife? And whether she be to be a wife at the first, or at the second hand?

I will proceed fairly; I will do the dear creature not only strict, but generous justice; for I will try her by her own judgment, as well as by our principles.

She blames herself for having corresponded with me, a man of free character; and one indeed whose first view it was, to draw her into this correspondence; and who succeeded in it, by means unknown to herself.

Now, what were her inducements to this correspondence? —If not what her niceness makes her think blame-worthy, why does she blame herself?

Has she been capable of error? —Of persisting in that error?

Whoever was the tempter, that is not the thing; nor what the temptation . The fact, the error, is now before us.

Did she persist in it against parental prohibition?

She owns she did.

Was there ever known to be a daughter who had higher notions of the filial duty, of the parental authority?

Never.

What must be those inducements, how strong, that were too strong for duty, in a daughter so dutiful ? —What must my thought have been of them, what my hopes built upon them, at the time, taken in this light?

Well, but it will be said, That her principal view was, to prevent mischief between her brother and her other friends, and the man vilely insulted by them all.

But why should she be more concerned for the safety of others, than they were for their own? —And had not the rencounter then happen’d? —Was a person of virtue to be prevailed upon to break through her apparent, her acknowledged duty, upon any consideration? —Much less was she to be so prevailed upon to prevent an apprehended evil only?

Thou, Lovelace, the tempter (thou’lt again break out and say), to be the accuser!

But I am not the accuser. I am an arguer only, and, in my heart, all the time acquit and worship the divine creature. But let me, nevertheless, examine, whether the acquittal be owing to her merit, or to my weakness, the true name for love.

But shall we suppose another motive? —And that is Love ; a motive which all the world will excuse her for. —But let me tell all the world that do,not because they ought, but because all the world is apt to be misled by it.

Let Love then be the motive: —Love of whom ?

A Lovelace is the answer.

Is there but one Lovelace in the world? —May not more Lovelaces be attracted by so fine a figure? By such exalted qualities? —It was her character that drew me to her: And it was her beauty and good sense, that rivetted my chains; and now, all together make me think her a subject worthy of my attempts; worthy of my ambition.

But has she had the candor, the openness, to acknowlege that love?

She has not.

Well then, if love it be at bottom, is there not another vice lurking beneath the shadow of that love? —Has she not affectation ? —Or is it pride of heart ?

And what results? —Is then the divine Clarissa

Harlowe capable of loving a man whom she ought not to love? —And is she capable of affectation ? And is her virtue founded in pride ? —And, if this answer be affirmative, must she not then be a woman ?

And can she keep this lover at bay? —Can she make him, who has been accustomed to triumph over other women, tremble? —Can she so conduct herself, as to make him, at times, question whether she loves him or any man; yet not have the requisite command over the passion itself in steps of the highest consequence to her honour, as she thinks [I am trying her, Jack, by her own thoughts]—but suffer herself to be provoked to promise to abandon her father’s house, and go off with him, knowing his character; and even conditioning not to marry till improbable and remote contingencies were to come to pass? —What tho’ the provocations were such as would justify any other woman; yet was a Clarissa to be susceptible to provocations, which she thinks herself highly censurable for being so much moved by?

But let us see the dear creature resolving to revoke her promise; yet meeting her lover; a bold and intrepid man, who was more than once before disappointed by her; and who comes, as she must think, prepared to expect the fruits of her appointment, and resolved to carry her off. —And let us see him actually carrying her off; and having her at his mercy—May there not be, I repeat, other Lovelaces; other like intrepid persevering enterprizers; altho’ they may not go to work in the same way?

And has then a Clarissa [herself her judge] failed? —In such great points failed? —And may she not further fail? —Fail in the greatest point, to which all the other points in which she has failed, have but a natural tendency?

Nor say thou, that virtue, in the eye of heaven, is as much a manly as a womanly grace [By virtue in this place I mean chastity, and to be superior to temptation; my Clarissa out of the question]. Nor ask thou, Shall the man be guilty, yet expect the woman to be guiltless, and even unsuspectable? —Urge thou not these arguments, I say, since the wife, by a failure, may do much more injury to the husband, than the husband can do to the wife, and not only to her husband, but to all his family, by obtruding another man’s children into his possessions, perhaps to the exclusion of (at least to a participation with) his own; he believing them all the time to be his. In the eye of heaven, therefore, the sin cannot be equal. Besides, I have read in some place, that the woman was made for the man, not the man for the woman . Virtue then is less to be dispensed with in the woman than in the man.

Thou, Lovelace (methinks some better man than thyself will say), to expect such perfection in a woman!—

Yes, I, may I answer. Was not the great Cæsar a great Rake as to women? —Was he not called, by his very soldiers, on one of his triumphant entries into Rome, The bald-pated lecher ?—and warning given of him to the wives, as well as to the daughters, of his fellow-citizens? —Yet did not Cæsar repudiate his wife for being only in company with Clodius, or rather because Clodius, tho’ by surprize upon her, was found in hers? And what was the reason he gave for it? —It was this (tho’ a rake himself, as I have said), and only this— The wife of Cæsar must not be suspected !

Cæsar was not a prouder man than Lovelace.—

Go to then, Jack; nor say, nor let any-body say, in thy hearing, that Lovelace, a man valuing himself upon his ancestry, is singular in his expectations of a wife’s purity, tho’ not pure himself.

As to my Clarissa, I own, that I hardly think, there ever was such an angel of a woman. But has she not, as above, already taken steps, which she herself condemns? Steps, which the world, and her own family, did not think her capable of taking? —And for which her own family will not forgive her?

Nor think it strange, that I refuse to hear any thing pleaded in behalf of a standard virtue, from high provocations. —Are not provocations and temptations the tests of virtue? —A standard virtue must not be allowed to be provoked to destroy or annihilate itself.

May not then the success of him, who could carry her thus far, be allowed to be an encouragement for him to try to carry her farther ? —‘Tis but to try, Jack—Who will be afraid of a trial for this divine lady? —Thou knowest, that I have more than once, twice or thrice, been tempted to make this trial upon young ladies of name and character: But never yet found one of them to hold me out for a month; nor so long as could puzzle my invention. I have concluded against the whole sex upon it. And now, if I have not found a virtue that cannot be corrupted, I will swear that there is not one such in the whole sex. Is not then the whole sex concerned that this trial should be made? —And who is it that knows her, that would not stake upon her head the honour of the whole? —Let her who would refuse it, come forth, and desire to stand in her place.

I must assure thee, that I have a prodigious high opinion of virtue; as I have of all those graces and excellencies, which I have not been able to attain myself. —Every free liver would not say this, nor think thus—Every argument he uses, condemnatory of his own actions, as some would think—But ingenuity was ever a signal part of my character.

Satan, whom thou mayest, if thou wilt, in this case, call my instigator, put the good man of old upon the severest trials. —To his behaviour under these trials, that good man owed his honour and his future rewards. An innocent person, if doubted, must wish to be brought to a fair and candid trial.

Rinaldo, indeed, in Ariosto, put the Mantuan knight’s cup of trial from him, which was to be the proof of his wife’s chastity (a) —This was his argument for forbearing the experiment: ‘Why should I seek a thing I should be loth to find? My wife is a woman: The sex is frail. I cannot believe better of her than I do. It will be to my own loss, if I find reason to think worse.” But Rinaldo would not have refused the trial of the lady, before she became his wife, and when he might have availed himself by detecting her.

For my part, I would not have put the cup from me, tho’ married, had it been but in hope of finding reason to confirm my good opinion of my wife’s honour; and that I might know whether I had a snake or a dove in my bosom.

To my point—What must that virtue be, which will not stand a trial? —What that woman, who would wish to shun it?

Well then, a trial seems necessary for the further establishment of the honour of so excellent a creature.

And who shall put her to this trial? —Who, but the man, who has, as she thinks, already induced her, in lesser points, to swerve? —And this for herown sake, in a double sense—Not only, as he has been able to make some impression, but as she regrets the impression made; and so may be presumed to be guarded against his further attempts.

The situation she is at present in, it must be confessed, is a disadvantageous one to her: But if she overcome, that will redound to her honour.

Shun not, therefore, my dear soul, further trials, nor hate me for making them. —For what woman can be said to be virtuous till she has been tried?

Nor is one effort, one trial, to be sufficient. Why? Because a woman’s heart may be at one time adamant, at another wax . —As I have often experienced. And so, no doubt, hast thou.

A fine time on’t, methinks, thou sayest, would the women have, if they were all to be tried!

But, Jack, I am not, for that, neither. Tho’ I am a rake, I am not a rake’s friend; except thine and company’s.

And be this one of the morals of my tedious discussion—‘Let the little rogues who would not be put to the question, as I may call it, choose accordingly—Let them prefer to their favour, good honest sober fellows, who have not been used to play dogs tricks: Who will be willing to take them as they offer ; and who, being tolerable themselves, are not suspicious of others.’

But what, methinks thou askest, is to become of the lady, if she fail?

What? —Why will she not, if once subdued, be always subdued ? Another of our libertine maxims— And what an immense pleasure to a marriage-hater, what rapture to thought, to be able to prevail upon such a lady as Miss Clarissa Harlowe to live with him, without real change of name!

But if she resist—If nobly she stand her trial—

Why then I will marry her, to be sure; and bless my stars for such an angel of a wife.

But will she not hate thee? —Will she not refuse—

No, no, Jack! —Circumstanced and situated as we are, I am not afraid of that. —And hate me! —Why should she hate the man who loves her upon proof?—

And then for a little hint at reprisal —Am I not justify’d in my resolutions of trying her virtue; who is resolved, as I may say, to try mine ? —Who has declared, that she will not marry me, till she has hopes of my reformation?

And now, to put an end to this sober argumentation, wilt thou not thyself [whom I have supposed an advocate for the lady, because I know that Lord M. has put thee upon using the interest he thinks thou hast in me, to persuade me to enter the pale; wilt thou not thyself ] allow me to try, if I cannot awaken the woman in her? —To try, if she, with all that glowing symmetry of parts, and that full bloom of vernal graces, by which she attracts every eye, be really inflexible, as to the grand article?

Let me begin then, as opportunity presents. I will—And watch her every step to find one sliding one; her every moment, to find the moment critical. And the rather, as she spares not me, but takes every advantage that offers, to puzzle and plague me; nor expects, nor thinks me to be a good man. If she be a woman, and love me, I shall surely catch her once tripping: For Love was ever a traitor to its harbourer: And Love within, and I without, she’ll be more than woman, as the poet says, or I less than man, if I succeed not.

Now, Belford, all is out. The lady is mine; shall be more mine. —Marriage, I see, is in my power, now she is so [Else perhaps it had not]. If I can have her without, who can blame me for trying? If not, great will be her glory, and my future confidence. —And well will she merit the sacrifice I shall make her of my liberty; and from all her sex honours next to divine, for giving a proof that there was once a woman whose virtue no trials, no stratagems, no temptations, even from the man she hated not, could overpower.

Now wilt thou see all my circulation: As in a glass wilt thou see it. — Cabala, however, is the word ( a ); nor let the secret escape thee even in thy dreams.

Nobody doubts, that she is to be my wife. Let her pass for such, when I give the word. Meantime Reformation shall be my stalking-horse; some one of the women in London, if I can get her thither, my bird. —And so much for this time.

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