LETTER 116: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE

 

Friday, April 14. 

 

I will now give you the particulars of a conversation that has just passed between Mr. Lovelace and me; which I must call agreeable.

 

It began with his telling me, that he had just riceived intelligence, that my friends were of a sudden come to a resolution, to lay aside all thoughts of pursuing me, or of getting me back: And that therefore, he attended me, to know my pleasure; and what I would do, or have him do?

 

I told him, that I would have him leave me directly; and that, when it was known to every-body, that I was absolutely independent of him, it would pass, that I had left my father’s house, because of my brother’s ill-usage of me: Which was a plea that I might make with justice, and to the excuse of my father, as well as of myself.

 

He mildly reply’d, that if he could be certain, that my relations would adhere to this their new resolution, he could have no objection, since such was my pleasure: But that, as he was well assured, that they had taken it only from apprehensions, that a more active one might involve my brother (who had breath’d nothing but revenge) in some fatal misfortune, there was too much reason to believe, that they would resume their former purpose, the moment they should think they safely might.

 

This, Madam, said he, is a risque I cannot run. You would think it strange, if I could. And yet, as soon as I knew they had so given out, I thought it proper to apprize you of it, and to take your commands upon it.

 

Let me hear, said I, willing to try if he had any particular view, what you think most adviseable?

 

‘Tis very easy to say That, if I durst—If I might not offend you—If it were not to break conditions that shall be inviolable with me.

 

Say then, Sir, what you would say. I can approve or disapprove, as I think fit.

 

To wave, Madam, what I would say till I have more courage to speak out. [More courage—Mr. Lovelace more courage, my dear!]—I will only propose what I think will be most agreeable to you . — Suppose, if you choose not to go to Lady Betty’s, that you take a turn cross the country to Windsor?

 

Why to Windsor?

 

Because it is a pleasant place: Because it lies in the way either to Berkshire, to Oxford, or to London— Berkshire, where Lord M. is at present:Oxford, in the neighbourhood of which lives Lady Betty. London, whither you may retire at your pleasure: Or, if you will have it so, whither I may go, you staying at Windsor; and yet be within an easy distance of you, if any thing should happen, or if your friends should change their pacific resolution.

 

This displeased me not. But I said, My only objection was, the distance from Miss Howe, of whom I should be glad to be always within two or three hours reach by a messenger, if possible.

 

If I had thoughts of any other place than Windsor, or nearer to Miss Howe, he wanted but my commands, and would seek for proper accommodations: But, fix as I pleased, farther or nearer, he had servants, and they had nothing else to do, but to obey me.

 

A grateful thing then he named to me—To send for my Hannah, as soon as I should be fixed; unless I would choose one of the young gentlewomenhere to attend me, both of whom, as I had acknowleged, were very obliging; and he knew I had generosity enough to make it worth either of their whiles.

 

This of Hannah, he might see, I took very well. I said, I had thoughts of sending for her, as soon as I got to more convenient lodgings. As to these young gentlewomen, it were pity to break in upon that usefulness which the whole family were of to each other: Each having her proper part, and performing it with an agreeable alacrity: Insomuch that I liked them all so well, that I could even pass my days among them, were he to leave me; by which means the lodgings would be more convenient to me than now they were.

 

He need not repeat his objections to this place, he said: But as to going to Windsor, or where-ever else I thought fit, or as to his personal attendance, or leaving me, he would assure me (he very agreeably said), that I could propose nothing in which I thought my reputation, and even my punctilio, concerned, that he would not chearfully come into. And since I was so much taken up with my pen, he would instantly order his horse to be got ready, and would set out.

 

Not to be off of my caution, Have you any acquaintance at Windsor? said I. —Know you of any convenient lodgings there?

 

Except with the forest, reply’d he, where I have often hunted, I know the least of Windsor, of any place so noted, and so pleasant. Indeed, I have not a single acquaintance there.

 

Upon the whole, I told him, that I thought his proposal of Windsor not amiss; and that I would remove thither, if I could get a lodging only for myself, and an upper-chamber for Hannah; for that my stock of money was but small, as was easy to be conceived; and I should be very loth to be obliged to any-body. I added, that the sooner I removed the better; for that then he could have no objection to go to London, or Berkshire, as he pleased: And I should let every-body know my independence.

 

He again proposed himself, in very polite terms, for my banker. But I, as civilly, declined his offers.

 

This conversation was to be, all of it, in the main, agreeable. He asked, whether I would choose to lodge in the town of Windsor, or out of it?

 

As near the castle, I said, as possible, for the convenience of going constantly to the public worship: An opportunity I had been too long deprived of.

 

He should be very glad, he told me, if he could procure me accommodations in any one of the canons houses; which he imagined would be more agreeable to me than any other, on many accounts. And as he could depend upon my promise, Never to have any other man but himself, on the condition he had so chearfully subscribed to, he should be easy; since it was now his part, in earnest, to set about recommending himself to my favour, by the only way he knew it could be done. Adding, with a very serious air—I am but a young man, Madam; but I have run a long course: Let not your purity of mind incline you to despise me for the acknowlegement: It is high time to be weary of it, and to reform; since, like Solomon, I can say, There is nothing New under the sun. But that it is my belief, that a life of virtue can afford such pleasures, on reflection, as will be for ever-blooming, for ever New!

 

I was agreeably surprised. I looked at him, I believe, as if I doubted my ears and my eyes! —His features and aspect, however, became his words.

 

I express’d my satisfaction in terms so agreeable to him, that he said, He found a delight in this early dawning of a better day to him, and in myapprobation, which he had never received from the success of the most favour’d of his pursuits.

 

Surely, my dear, the man must be in earnest. He could not have said this; he could not have thought it, had he not. What followed made me still readier to believe him.

 

In the midst of my wild vagaries, said he, I have ever preserv’d a reverence for religion, and for religious men. I always called another cause, when any of my libertine companions, in pursuance of Lord Shaftesbury’s test (which is a part of the rake’s creed, and what I may call The whetstone of infidelity ), endeavour’d to turn the sacred subject into ridicule. On this very account I have been called, by good men of the clergy, who nevertheless would have it, that I was a practical rake, The decent rake : And indeed I had too much pride in my shame, to disown the name.

 

This, Madam, I am the readier to confess, as it may give you hope, that the generous task of my reformation, which I flatter myself you will have the goodness to undertake, will not be so difficult a one as you may have imagin’d; for it has afforded me some pleasure in my retired hours, when a temporary remorse has struck me for any thing I have done amiss, that I should one day take delight in another course of life: For, without one can,I dare say, no durable good is to be expected from the endeavour. —Your example, Madam, must do all, must confirm all ( a ) .

 

The divine grace, or favour, Mr. Lovelace, must do All, and confirm All. You know not how much you please me, that I can talk to you in this dialect.

 

And I then thought of his generosity to his pretty rustic; and of his kindness to his tenants.

 

Yet, Madam, be pleased to remember one thing: Reformation cannot be a sudden work. I have infinite vivacity: It is that which runs away with me. Judge, dearest Madam, by what I am going to confess, that I have a prodigious way to journey on, before a good person will think me tolerable; since, tho’ I have read in some of our Perfectionists enough to make a better man than myself, either run into madness or despair, about the grace you mention; yet I cannot enter into the meaning of the word, nor into the modus of its operation. Let me not then be checked, when I mention your example for my visible reliance; and instead of using such words, till I can better understand them, suppose all the rest included in the profession of that reliance.

 

I told him, that, altho’ I was somewhat concern’d at his expression, and surpris’d at so much darkness, as, for want of another word, I would call it, in a man of his talents and learning; yet I was pleas’d with his ingenuity. I wish’d him to encourage this way of thinking: I told him, that his observation, that no durable good was to be expected from any new course, where there was not a delight taken in it, was just: But that the delight would follow by use.

 

And twenty things of this sort I even preach’d to him; taking care, however, not to be tedious, nor to let my expanded heart give him a contracted or impatient brow. And, indeed, he took visible pleasure in what I said, and even hung upon the subject, when I, to try him, seem’d to be ready to drop it, once or twice: And proceeded to give me a most agreeable instance, that he could, at times, think both deeply and seriously. —Thus it was.

 

He was wounded dangerously, once, in a duel, he said, in the left arm, baring it, to shew me the scar: That this (notwithstanding a great effusion of blood, it being upon an artery) was follow’d by a violent fever, which at last fixed upon his spirits; and that so obstinately, that neither did he desire life, nor his friends expect it: That, for a month together, his heart, as he thought, was so totally changed, that he despised his former courses, and particularly that rashness, which had brought him to the state he was in, and his antagonist (who, however, was the aggressor) into a much worse: That, in this space, he had thoughts, which, at times, gives him pleasure to reflect upon: And altho’ these promising prospects changed, as he recovered health and spirits; yet he parted with them, with so much reluctance, that he could not help shewing it, in a copy of verses, truly blank ones, he said; some of which he repeated, and (advantaged by the grace which he gives to every thing he repeats) I thought them very tolerable ones; the sentiments, however, much graver than I expected from him.

 

He has promised me a copy of the lines; and then I shall judge better of their merit; and so shall you. The tendency of them was, “That, since sickness only gave him a proper train of thinking, and that his restored health brought with it a return of his evil habits, he was ready to renounce the gifts of nature for those of contemplation.”

 

He farther declared, that altho’ all these good motions went off (as he had own’d) on his recovery, yet he had better hopes now, from the influence of my example, and from the reward before him, if he persevered: And that he was the more hopeful that he should, as his present resolution was made in a full tide of health and spirits; and when he had nothing to wish for, but perseverance, to intitle himself to my favour.

 

I will not throw cold water, Mr. Lovelace, said I, on a rising flame: But look to it! For I shall endeavour to keep you up to this spirit: I shall measure your value of me by this test: And I would have you bear those charming lines of Mr. Rowe for ever in your mind; you, who have, by your own confession, so much to repent of; and as the scar, indeed, you shew’d me, will, in one instance, remind you to your dying day.

 

The lines, my dear, are from that poet’s Ulysses. You have heard me often admire them; and I repeated them to him:

Habitual evils change not on a sudden ;
But many days must pass, and many sorrows;
Conscious remorse and anguish must be felt,
To curb desire, to break the stubborn will,
And work a second nature in the soul,
Ere virtue can resume the place she lost:
‘Tis else Dissimulation — 

 

He had often read these lines, he said; but never tasted them before. —By his soul (the unmortified creature swore) and as he hoped to be saved,he was now in earnest, in his good resolutions. He had said, before I repeated these lines from Rowe, that habitual evils could not be changed on asudden : But he hoped, he should not be thought a dissembler, if he were not enabled to hold his good purposes; since ingratitude and dissimulation were vices that of all others he abhorred.

 

May you ever abhor them! said I. They are the most odious of all vices.

 

I hope, my dear Miss Howe, I shall not have occasion, in my future letters, to contradict these promising appearances. Should I have nothing on his side to combat with, I shall be very far from being happy, from the sense of my fault, and the indignation of all my relations. So shall not fail of condign punishment for it, from my inward remorse, on account of my forfeited character. But the least ray of hope could not dart in upon me, without my being willing to lay hold of the very first opportunity to communicate it to you, who take so generous a share in all my concerns.

 

Nevertheless, you may depend upon it, my dear, that these agreeable assurances, and hopes of his begun reformation, shall not make me forget my caution. Not that I think, at worst, any more than you, that he dare to harbour a thought injurious to my honour: But he is very various, and there is an apparent, and even an acknowleg ‘d unfixedness in his temper, which, at times, gives me some uneasiness. I am resolved therefore to keep him at distance from my person and my thoughts, as much as I can: For whether all men are, or are not, incroachers, I am sure Mr. Lovelace is one.

 

Hence it is, that I have always cast about, and will continue to cast about, what ends he may have in view from this proposal, or from that report: In a word, tho’ hopeful of the best, I will always be fearful of the worst, in every thing that admits of doubt. For it is better, in such a situation as mine, to apprehend without cause, than to subject myself to surprize for want of forethought.

 

Mr. Lovelace is gone to Windsor, having left two servants to attend me. He purposes to be back tomorrow.

 

I have written to my aunt Hervey, to supplicate her interest in my behalf, for my cloaths, books, and money; signifying to her, “That, could I be restored to the favour of my family, and be allowed a negative only, as to any man who might be proposed to me, and be used like a daughter, a niece, and a sister, I would still stand by my offer to live single, and submit, as I ought, to a negative, from my father.” Intimating nevertheless, “That it were perhaps better, after the usage I have received from my brother and sister, that I might be allowed to be distant from them, as well for their sakes as my own,” [meaning, as I suppose it will be taken, at my Dairy-house]—offering “to take my father’s directions, as to the manner I should live in, the servants I should have, and in every thing that should shew the dutiful subordination that I was willing to conform to.”

 

My aunt will know by my letter to my sister how to direct to me, if she be permitted to favour me with a line.

 

I am equally earnest with her in this letter, as I was with my sister in That I wrote to her, to obtain for me a speedy reconciliation, that I may not be further precipitated; intimating, “That, by a timely lenity, all may pass for a misunderstanding only, which, otherwise, will be thought equally disgraceful to them, and to me; appealing to her for the necessity I was under to do what I did.”

Here I close for the present, with the assurance that I am

Your ever-obliged and affectionate
Clarissa Harlowe .

 

NOTES

  1. 1[a] (a) That he proposes one day to reform, and that he has sometimes good motions, see Vol. I. p. 232.
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