LETTER 120: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

 

Saturday afternoon

I DETAIN your messenger while I write in answer to yours; my poor old man not being very well.

 

You dishearten me a good deal about this man. I may be too willing from my sad circumstances to think the best of him—If his pretences to reformation are but pretences, what must be his intent? But can the heart of man be so very vile? Can he, dare he, mock the Almighty?—But may I not, from one very sad reflection, think better of him; that I am thrown too much in his power to make it necessary for him (except he were to intend the very utmost villainy by me) to be such a shocking hypocrite?—He must, at least, be in earnest, at the time he gives the better hopes. Surely he must. You yourself must join with me in this hope, or you could not wish me to be so dreadfully yoked.

 

But after all, I had rather be independent of him, and of his family, although I have an high opinion of them; much rather: at least till I see what my own may be brought to—Otherwise I think it were best for me, at once, to cast myself into Lady Betty’s protection. All would then be conducted with decency, and perhaps many mortifications would be spared me. But then I must be his , at all adventures, and be thought to defy my own family. And shall I not see the issue of one application first?—And yet I cannot make this till I am settled somewhere, and at a distance from him.

 

Mrs Sorlings showed me a letter this morning, which she had received from her sister Greme last night; in which (hoping I will forgive her forward zeal, if her sister thinks fit to show her letter to me) she ‘wishes for all the noble family’s sake, and she hopes she may say for my own, that I will be pleased to yield to make his honour, as she calls him, happy.’ She grounds her officiousness , as she calls it, upon what he was so condescending (her word also) to say to her yesterday, in his way to Windsor, on her presuming to ask if she might soon give him joy. ‘That no man ever loved a woman as he loved me: that no woman ever so well deserved to be beloved: that in every conversation, he admired me still more: that he loved me with such a purity as he had never believed himself capable of, or that a mortal creature could have inspired him with; looking upon me as all soul ; as an angel sent down to save his’ ; and a great deal more of this sort: ‘but that he apprehended my consent to make him happy was at a greater distance than he wished. And complained of my too severe restrictions upon him, before I honoured him with my confidence : which restrictions must be as sacred to him, as if they were parts of the marriage contract’ etc.

 

What, my dear, shall I say to this?—How shall I take it? Mrs Greme is a good woman. Mrs Sorlings is a good woman. And this letter agrees with the conversation I thought, and still think, so agreeable—Yet what means the man by forgoing the opportunities he has had to declare himself?—What mean his complaints of my restrictions to Mrs Greme? He is not a bashful man!—But you say, I inspire people with an awe of me!—An awe, my dear!—As how?—

 

I am quite petulant at times, to find that I am bound to see the workings of this subtle , or this giddy spirit; which shall I call it?

 

How am I punished, as I frequently think, for my vanity in hoping to be an example to young persons of my sex! Let me be but a warning, and I will now be contented. For, be my destiny what it may, I shall never be able to hold up my head again among my best friends and worthiest companions.

 

It is one of the cruellest circumstances that attends the faults of the inconsiderate, that she makes all who love her unhappy, and gives joy only to her own enemies, and to the enemies of her family.

 

What an useful lesson would this afford, were it properly inculcated at the time that the tempted mind was balancing upon a doubtful adventure?

 

You know not, my dear, the worth of a virtuous man; and noble-minded as you are in most particulars, you partake of the common weakness of human nature, in being apt to slight what is in your own power.

 

You would not think of using Mr Lovelace, were he your suitor, as you do the much worthier Mr Hickman—would you? You know who says, in my mamma’s case, ‘Much will bear, much shall bear, all the world through. Mr Hickman, I fancy, would be glad to know the lady’s name, who made such an observation. He would think it hardly possible but such a one should benefit by her own remark; and would be apt to wish his Miss Howe acquainted with her.

 

Gentleness of heart, surely, is not despicable in a man. Why, if it be, is the highest distinction a man can arrive at, that of a gentleman ?—a distinction which a prince may not deserve. For manners, more than birth, fortune or title, are requisite in this character. Manners are indeed the essence of it. And shall it be generally said, and Miss Howe not be an exception to it (as once you wrote), that our sex are best dealt with by boisterous and unruly spirits?

 

Forgive me, my dear; and love me as you used to do. For although my fortunes are changed, my heart is not: nor ever will, while it bids my pen tell you that it must cease to beat when it is not as much yours, as

Your CLARISSA HARLOWE

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