LETTER 171: MR LOVELACE TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.

( In continuation )

 

WELL sayest thou, that mine is the most plotting heart in the world . Thou dost me honour; and I thank thee heartily. Thou art no bad judge. How like Boileau’s parson I strut behind my double chin!¬†Am I not obliged to deserve thy compliment?—And wouldst thou have me repent of a murder before I have committed it?

 

The virtues and graces are this lady’s handmaids. ‘She was certainly born to adorn the age she was given to.’—Well said, Jack—‘And would be an ornament to the first dignity.’—But what praise is that unless the first dignity were adorned with the first merit?—Dignity! gewgaw!—First dignity! thou idiot!—Art thou, who knowest me , so taken with ermine and tinsel?—I, who have won the gold, am only fit to wear it. For the future therefore correct thy style, and proclaim her the ornament of the happiest man, and (respecting herself and sex) the greatest conqueror in the world.

 

Then, that she loves me, as thou imaginest, by no means appears clear to me—Her conditional offers to renounce me; the little confidence she places in me; entitle me to ask, What merit can she have with a man who won her in spite of herself; and who fairly, in set and obstinate battle, took her prisoner?

 

As to what thou inferrest from her eye when with us, thou knowest nothing of her heart from that, if thou imaginest there was one glance of love shot from it. Well did I note her eye, and plainly did I see that it was all but just civil disgust to me and to the company I had brought her into. Her early retiring that night against all entreaty might have convinced thee that there was very little of the gentle in her heart for me. And her eye never knew what it was to contradict her heart.

 

She is thou sayest, all mind . So say I. But why shouldst thou imagine that such a mind as hers, meeting with such a one as mine; and, to dwell upon the word, meeting with an inclination in hers to meet , should not propagate minds like her own?

 

No doubt of it, as thou sayest, the devils would rejoice in the fall of such a lady. But this is my confidence, that I shall have it in my power to marry when I will. And if I do her this justice, shall I not have a claim to her gratitude? And will she not think herself the obliged, rather than the obliger? Then let me tell thee, Belford, it is impossible so far to hurt the morals of this lady, as thou and thy brother-varlets have hurt others of the sex, who now are casting about the town, firebrands and double death—Take ye that thistle to mumble upon.

 

You will, perhaps, tell me that among all the objects of your respective attempts there was not one of the rank and merit of my charming Miss Harlowe.

 

But let me ask, Has it not been a constant maxim with us that the greater the merit on the woman’s side, the nobler the victory on the man’s?—And as to rank , sense of honour, sense of shame, pride of family, may make rifled rank get up, and shake itself to rights: and if anything come of it, such a one may suffer only in her pride, by being obliged to take up with a second-rate match instead of a first; and, as it may fall out, be the happier, as well as the more useful, for the misadventure; since (taken off of her public gaddings, and domesticated by her disgrace) she will have reason to think herself obliged to the man who has saved her from further reproach; while her fortune and alliance will lay an obligation upon him ; and her past fall, if she have prudence and consciousness, will be his present and future security.

 

But a poor girl; such a one as my Rosebud for instance; having no recalls from education—being driven out of every family that pretends to reputation; persecuted most perhaps by such as have only kept their secret better; and having no refuge to fly to—the common, the stews, the street, is the fate of such a poor wretch; penury, want, and disease, her sure attendants; and an untimely end perhaps closes the miserable scene.

 

And will ye not now all join to say that it is more manly to attack a lion than a sheep?—Thou knowest that I always illustrated my eagleship by aiming at the noblest quarries; and by disdaining to make a stoop at wrens, phil tits, and wagtails.

 

The worst respecting myself in the case before me, is that my triumph, when completed, will be so glorious a one, that I shall never be able to keep up to it. All my future attempts must be poor to this. I shall be as unhappy after a while, from my reflections upon this conquest, as Don John of Austria was, in his, on the renowned victory of Lepanto, when he found that none of his future achievements could keep pace with his early glory.

 

I am sensible that my pleas and my reasonings may be easily answered, and perhaps justly censured; but by whom censured? Not by any of the confraternity, whose constant course of life, even long before I became your general, to this hour, has justified what ye now, in a fit of squeamishness, and through envy, condemn. Having therefore vindicated myself and my intentions to You, that is all I am at present concerned for.

 

Be convinced then, that I (according to our principles) am right, thou wrong; or, at least, be silent. But I command thee to be convinced. And in thy next, be sure to tell me that thou art.

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