Letter 157: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE: TO ANNA HOWE

Thursday Morning, Eight o’Clock.

I am more and more displeased with Mr. Lovelace, on reflection, for his boldness in hoping to make me, tho’ but passively, as I may say, testify to his great untruth. And I shall like him still less for it, if his view in it does not come out to be the hope of accelerating my resolution in his favour, by the difficulty it will lay me under as to my behaviour to him. He has sent me his compliments by Dorcas, with a request that I will permit him to attend me in the dining-room; perhaps, that he may guess from thence, whether I will meet him in good-humour, or not: But I have answered, that as I shall see him at breakfast-time, I desire to be excused.

 

Ten o’Clock.

I try’d to adjust my countenance before I went, down, to an easier air than I had a heart, and was received with the highest tokens of respect by the widow, and her two nieces: Agreeable young women enough in their persons; but they seemed to put on an air of reserve; while Mr. Lovelace was easy and free to all, as if he were of long acquaintance with them: gracefully enough, I cannot but say; an advantage which travelled gentlemen have over other people.

 

The widow, in the conversation we had after breakfast, gave us an account of the military merit of the colonel her husband; and, upon this occasion, put her handkerchief to her eye twice or thrice. I hope, for the sake of her sincerity, she wetted it, because she would be thought to have done so; but I saw not that she did. She wish’d that I might never know the loss of a husband so dear to me, as her dear colonel was to her: And again she put her handkerchief to her eyes.

It must, no doubt, be a most affecting thing to be separated from a good husband, and to be left in difficult circumstances besides, and that not byhis fault, and exposed to the insults of the base and ingrateful; as she represented her case to be at his death. This moved me a good deal in her favour.

 

You know, my dear, that I have an open and free heart, and, naturally, have as open and free a countenance; at least my complimenters have told me so. At once, where I like, I mingle minds without reserve, encouraging reciprocal freedoms, and am forward to dissipate diffidences. But with these two young gentlewomen, I never can be intimate—I don’t know why.

 

Only, that circumstances, and what passed in conversation, encouraged not the notion, or I should have been apt to think, that the young gentlewomen and Mr. Lovelace were of longer acquaintance than yesterday. For he, by stealth, as it were, cast glances sometimes at them, which they returned; and, on my ocular notice, their eyes fell, as I may say, under my eye, as if they could not stand its examination.

 

The widow directed all her talk to me, as to Mrs. Lovelace; and I, with a very ill grace, bore it. And once she expressed, more forwardly than I thank’d her for, her wonder, that any vow, any consideration, however weighty, could have force enough with so charming a couple, as she called him and me, to make us keep separate beds.

 

Their eyes, upon this hint, had the advantage of mine. Yet was I not conscious of guilt. How know I then, upon recollection, that my censures upon theirs are not too rash? There are, no doubt, many truly modest persons (putting myself out of the question), who, by blushes at an injurious charge, have been suspected by those who cannot distinguish between the confusion which guilt will be attended with, and the noble consciousness that overspreads the face of a fine spirit, to be thought but capable of an imputed evil.

 

The great Roman, as we read, who took his surname from one part in three (the fourth not then discovered) of the world he had triumphed over, being charged with a mean crime to his soldiery, chose rather to suffer exile (the punishment due to it, had he been found guilty), than to have it said, that Scipio was questioned in public, on so scandalous a charge. And think you, my dear, that Scipio did not blush with indignation, when the charge was first communicated to him?

 

Mr. Lovelace, when the widow expressed her forward wonder, looked sly and leering, as if to observe how I took it; and said, they might observe that his regard for my will and pleasure, calling me his dear creature, had greater force upon him, than the oath by which he had bound himself.

 

Rebuking both him and the widow, I said, It was strange to me to hear an oath or vow so lightly treated, as to have it thought but of secondconsideration, whatever were the first.

 

The observation was just, Miss Martin said; for that nothing could excuse the breaking of a solemn vow, be the occasion of making it what it would.

 

I asked after the nearest church; for I have been too long a stranger to the sacred worship. They named St. James’s, St. Anne’s, and another in Bloomsbury; and the two nieces said, they oftenest went to St. James’s church, because of the good company, as well as for the excellent preaching.

 

Mr. Lovelace said, the Royal Chapel was the place he oftenest went to, when in town: Poor man! little did I expect to hear he went to any place of devotion. I asked, If the presence of the visible king of, comparatively, but a small territory, did not take off, too generally, the requisite attention to the service of the invisible King and Maker of a thousand worlds?

 

He believed this might be so with such as came for curiosity, when the Royal Family were present. But, otherwise, he had seen as many contrite faces at the Royal Chapel, as any-where else: And why not? Since the people about Courts have as deep scores to wipe off, as any people whatsoever.

 

He spoke this with so much levity, that I could not help saying, That nobody questioned but he knew how to choose his company.

 

Your servant, my dear, bowing, were his words; and turning to them, You will observe, upon numberless occasions, ladies, as we are further acquainted, that my beloved never spares me upon these topics. But I admire her as much in her reproofs, as I am fond of her approbation.

 

Miss Horton said, There was a time for every-thing. She could not but say, that she thought innocent mirth was mighty becoming in young people.

 

Very true, joined in Miss Martin. And Shakespeare says well, That youth is the spring of life, The bloom of gawdy years ; with a theatrical air she spoke it: And for her part, she could not but admire in my spouse, that charming vivacity which so well suited his time of life.

 

Mr. Lovelace bowed. The man is fond of praise. More fond of it, I doubt, than of deserving it. Yet this sort of praise he does deserve. He has, you know, an easy free manner, and no bad voice: And this praise so expanded his gay heart, that he sung the following lines, from Congreve, as he told us:

Youth does a thousand pleasures bring,
Which from decrepit age will fly;
Sweets that wanton in the bosom of the spring,
In winter’s cold embraces die.

And this for a compliment, as he said, to the two nieces. Nor was it thrown away upon them. They encored it; and his compliance fix’d them in my memory.

 

We had some talk about meals; and the widow very civilly offer’d to conform to any rules I would set her. I told her, how easily I was pleased, and how much I chose to dine by myself, and that from a plate sent me from any single dish. But I will not trouble you with such particulars.

 

They thought me very singular; and with reason: But as I liked them not so very well as to forego my own choice in compliment to them, I was the less concerned for what they thought. And still the less, as Mr. Lovelace had put me very much out of humour with him.

 

They, however, caution’d me against melancholy. I said, I should be a very unhappy creature, if I could not bear my own company.

 

Mr. Lovelace said, That he must let the ladies into my story; and then they would know how to allow for my ways. But, my dear, as you love me, said the confident wretch, give as little way to melancholy as possible. Nothing but the sweetness of your temper, and your high notions of a duty that can never be deserved where you place it, can make you so uneasy as you are. —Be not angry, my dear love, for saying so (seeing me frown, I suppose): And snatched my hand, and kissed it.

 

I left him with them; and retired to my closet and my pen.

 

Just as I have wrote thus far, I am interrupted by a message from him, that he is setting out on a journey, and desires to take my commands. —So here I will leave off, to give him a meeting in the dining room.

 

I was not displeased to see him in his riding dress.

 

He seemed desirous to know how I liked the gentlewomen below. I told him, that altho’ I did not think them very exceptionable, yet as I wanted not,┬áin my present situation, new acquaintance, I should not be fond of cultivating thirst; and he must second me, particularly in my desire of breakfasting and supping (when I did sup) by myself.

 

If I would have it so, to be sure it should be so. The people of the house were not of consequence enough to be apologiz’d to, in any point where my pleasure was concerned. And if I should dislike them still more on further knowlege of them, he hoped I would think of some other lodgings.

 

He expressed a good deal of regret at leaving me, declaring, that it was absolutely in obedience to my commands: But that he could not have consented to go, while my brother’s schemes were on foot, if I had not done him the credit of my countenance in the report he had made that we were marry’d; which, he said, had bound all the family to his interest, so that he could leave me with the greater security and satisfaction.

 

He hoped, he said, that on his return, I would name his happy day; and the rather as I might be convinced, by my brother’s projects, that no reconciliation was to be expected.

 

I told him, that perhaps I might write one letter to my uncle Harlowe. He once loved me. I should be easier when I had made one direct application. I might possibly propose such terms, in relation to my grandfather’s estate, as might procure me their attention; and I hoped he would be long enough absent to give me time to write to him, and receive an answer from him.

 

That, he must beg my pardon, he could not promise. He would inform himself of Singleton’s and my brother’s motions; and if on his return, he found no reason for apprehensions, he would go directly to Berks, and endeavour to bring up with him his cousin Charlotte, who, he hoped, would induce me to give him an earlier day, than at present I seemed to think of.

 

I told him, that I would take that young lady’s company for a great favour.

 

I was the more pleased with this motion, as it came from himself.

 

He earnestly pressed me to accept of a bank note: But I declined it. And then he offer’d me his servant William for my attendant in his absence; who, he said, might be dispatched to him, if any thing extra-ordinary fell out. I consented to that.

 

He took his leave of me, in the most respectful manner, only kissing my hand. He left the note unobserv’d by me upon the table. You may be sure I shall give it him back at his return.

 

I am now in a much better humour with him than I was. Where doubts of any person are removed, a mind, not ungenerous, is willing, by way of amends for having conceived those doubts, to construe everything that happens capable of a good construction, in that person’s favour. Particularly, I cannot but be pleased to observe, that altho’ he speaks of the ladies of his family with the freedom of relationship, yet it is always with tenderness. And from a man’s kindness to his relations of the sex, a woman has some reasons to expect his good behaviour to herself, when married, if she be willing to deserve it from him. And thus, my dear, am I brought to such a pass, as to fit myself down satisfy’d with this man, where I find room to infer, that he is not naturally a savage.

 

May you, my dear friend, be always happy in your reflections, prays

 

Your ever-affectionate
Cl. Harlowe .

Mr. Lovelace in his next letter triumphs on his having carried his two great points of making the lady yield to pass for his wife to the people of the house, and to his taking up his lodging in it, tho’ but for one night. He is now sure, he says, that he shall soon prevail, if not by persuasion, by surprize. Yet he pretends to have some little remorse, and censures himself as acting the part of the grand tempter. But having succeeded thus far, he cannot, he says, forbear trying, according to the resolution he had before made, whether he cannot go farther.

 

He gives the particulars of their debates on the above-mentioned subjects, to the same effect as in the lady’s last letters.

 

It will by this time be seen, that his whole merit with regard to this lady, lies in doing justice to her excellencies both of mind and person, by acknowlegement, tho’ to his own condemnation. Thus he begins his succeeding letter.

 

‘And now, Belford, will I give thee an account of our first breakfast conversation.’

 

‘All sweetly serene and easy was the lovely brow and charming aspect of my goddess, on her descending to us; commanding reverence from every eye; a courtesy from every knee; and silence, awful silence, from every quivering lip. While she, arm’d with conscious worthiness and superiority, looked and behaved, as an empress would among her vassals; yet with a freedom from pride and haughtiness, as if born to dignity, and to a behaviour habitually gracious.’

 

He takes notice of the jealousy, pride and vanity of Sally Martin and Polly Horton, on his respectful behaviour to her. Creatures who, brought up to high for their fortunes, and to a taste of pleasure, and the public diversions, had fallen an easy prey to his seducing arts; and for some time past, been associate with Mrs. Sinclair: And who, as he observes, had not yet got over that distinction in their love, which make a woman prefer one man to another.

 

‘How difficult is it, says he, to make a woman subscribe to a preference against herself, tho’ even so visible; especially where love is concerned This violent, this partial little devil, Sally, has the insolence to compare herself with an angel—yet owns her to be an angel. I charge you, Mr. Lovelace, said she, shew none of your extravagant acts of kindness before me, to this sullen, this gloomy beauty! —I cannot bear it. —Then her first sacrifices were remember’d—What a rout do these women make about nothing at all! Were it not for what the learned bishop, in his letter from Italy, calls the delicacy of intrigue, what is there, Belford, in all they can do for us?—‘

 

‘How do these creatures endeavour to stimulate me! A fallen woman, Jack, is a worse devil than even a profligate man. The former is above all remorse: That am not I—Nor ever shall they prevail upon me, tho’ aided by all the powers of darkness, to treat this admirable creature with indignity —So far, I mean, as indignity can be separated from the trials, which will prove her to be either woman or angel.’

 

‘Yet with them, I am a craven: I might have had her before now, if I would: If I would treat her as flesh and blood, I should find her such: They thought that I knew, if any man living did, that to make a goddess of a woman, she would assume the goddess; to give her power, she would act up to it to the giver, if to nobody else—And D—r’s wife is thrown into my dish, who, thou knowest, kept her over-ceremonious husband at haughty distance, and whined in private to her insulting footman. —O how I cursed the blaspheming wretches! —They will make me, as I tell them, hate their house; and never rest, till I remove her. —And by my soul, Jack, I begin to repent already, that I have brought her hither—And yet, without knowing their hearts, she resolves against having any more conversation with them then she can avoid. This I am not sorry for; since jealousy in woman is not to be concealed from woman. And Sally has no command of herself.’

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