LETTER 118: MR. LOVELACE TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.

( In continuation )

BUT is it not a confounded thing that I cannot fasten an obligation upon this proud beauty? I have two motives in endeavouring to prevail upon her to accept money and raiment from me: one, the real pleasure I should have in the accommodating the haughty maid; and to think there was something near her, and upon her, that I could call mine : the other, in order to abate her severity, and humble her a little.

 

Nothing sooner brings down a proud spirit, than a sense of lying under pecuniary obligations. This has always made me solicitous to avoid laying myself under any such. Yet sometimes formerly have I been put to it, and cursed the tardy revolution of the quarterly periods. And yet I ever made shift to avoid anticipations: I never would eat the calf in the cow’s belly , as Lord M.’s phrase is: for what is that but to hold our lands upon tenant-courtesy , the vilest of all tenures? To be denied a fox-chase, for fear of breaking down a fence upon my own grounds? To be clamoured at for repairs studied for, rather than really wanted ? To be prated to by a bumkin with his hat on, and his arms folded, as if he defied your expectations of that sort; his foot firmly fixed as if upon his own ground; and you forced to take his arch leers and stupid gibes; intimating by the whole of his conduct that he has had it in his power to oblige you and, if you behave civilly, may oblige you again?—I, who think I have a right to break every man’s head I pass by, if I like not his looks, to bear this!—I no more could do it than I could borrow of an insolent uncle or inquisitive aunt, who would thence think themselves entitled to have an account of all my life and actions laid before them for their review and censure.

 

My charmer, I see, has a pride like my own: but she has no distinction in her pride: nor knows the pretty fool that there is nothing nobler, nothing more delightful, than for lovers to be conferring and receiving obligations from one another. In this very farm-yard, to give thee a familiar instance, I have more than once seen this remark illustrated. A strutting rascal of a cock have I beheld chuck, chuck, chuck, chucking his mistress to him, when he has found a single barleycorn, taking it up with his bill, and letting it drop five or six times, still repeating his chucking invitation: and when two or three of his feathered ladies strive who shall be the first for’t (Oh Jack! a cock is a Grand Signor of a bird!), he directs the bill of the foremost to it; and when she has got the dirty pearl, he struts over her with an erected crest, and an exulting chuck—a chuck-aw-aw-w, circling round her, with dropped wings, sweeping the dust in humble courtship: while the obliged she, half-shy, half-willing, by her cowering tail, half-stretched wings, yet seemingly affrighted eyes, and contracted neck, lets one see that she knows the barley-corn was not all he called her for.

 

When he comes to that part of his narrative where he mentions the proposing of the lady’s maid Hannah, or one of the young gentlewomen, to attend her, thus he writes :

 

Now, Belford, canst thou imagine what I meant by proposing Hannah, or one of the girls here, for her attendant? I’ll give thee a month to guess.

 

Thou wilt not pretend to guess, thou sayest.

 

Well, then, I’ll tell thee.

 

Believing she would certainly propose to have that favourite wench about her,  as soon as she was a little settled, I had caused the girl to be inquired after, with an intent to make interest, somehow or other, that a month’s warning should be insisted on by her master or mistress, or by some other means which I had not determined upon, to prevent her coming to her. But fortune fights for me. The wench is luckily ill; a violent rheumatic disorder, which has obliged her to leave her place, confines her to her chamber: poor Hannah! How I pity the girl! These things are very hard upon industrious servants!—I intend to make the poor maid a small present on the occasion—I know it will oblige my charmer.

 

And so, Jack, pretending not to know anything of the matter, I pressed her to send for the wench. She knew I had always a regard for this servant, because of her honest love to her lady: but now I have a greater regard for her than ever. Calamity, though a poor servant’s calamity, will rather increase than diminish good will with a truly generous master or mistress.

 

As to one of the young Sorlings’s attendance, there was nothing at all in proposing that; for if either of them had been chosen by her , and permitted by the mother (two chances in that !), it would have been only till I had fixed upon another. And if afterwards they had been loath to part, I could easily have given my beloved a jealousy, which would have done the business; or to the girl, who would have quitted her country dairy, such a relish for a London one, as would have made it very convenient for her to fall in love with Will; or perhaps I could have done still better for her with Lord M.’s chaplain, who is very desirous of standing well with his lord’s presumptive heir.

 

A blessing on thy honest heart, Lovelace! thou’t say; for thou art for providing for everybody.

 

He gives an account of the serious part of their conversation, with no great variation from the lady’s account of it: and when he comes to that part of it where he bids her remember that reformation cannot be a sudden thing, he asks his friend :

 

Is not this fair play? Is it not dealing ingenuously? Then the observation, I will be bold to say, is founded in truth and nature. But there was a little touch of policy in it besides; that the lady, if I should fly out again, should not think me too gross an hypocrite: for, as I plainly told her, I was afraid that my fits of reformation were but fits and sallies; but I hoped her example would fix them into habits. But it is so discouraging a thing, to have my monitress so very good!—I protest I know not how to look up at her! Now, as I am thinking, if I could pull her down a little nearer to my own level; that is to say, could prevail upon her to do something that would argue imperfection, something to repent of; we should jog on much more equally, and be better able to comprehend one another: and so the comfort would be mutual, and the remorse not all on one side.

 

He acknowledges, that he was greatly affected and pleased with the lady’s serious arguments at the time: but even then was apprehensive that his temper would not hold. Thus he writes :

 

This lady says serious things in so agreeable a manner; and then her voice is all harmony, when she touches a subject she is pleased with; that I could have listened to her for half a day together. But yet I am afraid, if she falls , as they call it, she will lose a good deal of that pathos , of that noble self-confidence which gives a good person, as I now see, a visible superiority over one not so good.

 

But, after all, Belford, I would fain know why people call such free livers as you and me hypocrites —That’s a word I hate; and should take it very ill to be called by  it. For myself, I have as good motions, and perhaps have them as frequently as anybody: all the business is, they don’t hold; or, to speak more in character, I don’t take the care some do to conceal my lapses.

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