LETTER 173: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE

I thank you and Mr. Hickman for his letter sent me with such kind expedition; and proceed to obey my dear menacing tyranness.

 

She then gives the particulars of what passed between herself and Mr. Lovelace, on Tuesday morning, in relation to his four friends, and to Miss Partington, pretty much to the same effect as in Mr. Lovelace’s letter Numb. lxxii. And then proceeds. 

 

He is constantly accusing me of over-scrupulousness. He says, I am always out of humour with him. That I could not have behaved more reservedly to Mr. Solmes: And that it is contrary to all his hopes and notions, that he should not, in so long a time, find himself able to inspire the person whom he hoped so soon to have the honour to call his, with the least distinguishing tenderness for him beforehand.

 

Silly and partial incroacher! not to know to what to attribute the reserve I am forced to treat him with. But his pride has eaten up his prudence. It is indeed a dirty low pride, that has swallowed up the true pride, which should have set him above the vanity that has over-run him. Have you not beheld the man, when I was your happy guest, as he walked to his chariot, looking about him, as if to observe what eyes his specious person and air had attracted? But indeed we have seen homely coxcombs as proud as if they had persons to be proud of; at the same time, that it was apparent, that the pains they took about themselves but the more exposed their defects. —The man who is fond of being thought more or better than he is, as I have often thought, but provokes a scrutiny into his pretensions; and that generally produces contempt. For pride, as I believe I have heretofore observed, is an infallible sign of weakness; of something wrong in the head or heart. He that exalts himself, insults his neighbour; who is provoked to question in him even that merit, which, were he modest, would perhaps be allowed to be his due.

 

You will say, that I am very grave: And so I am. Mr. lovelace is extremely sunk in my opinion since Monday night: Nor see I before me any thing that can afford me a pleasing hope. For what, with a mind so unequal as his, can be my best hope?

 

I think I mentioned to you, in my former, that my cloaths were brought me. You flutter’d me so, that I am not sure I did. But I know I design’d it. They were brought me on Thursday; but neither my few guineas with them, nor any of my books, except a Drexelius on Eternity, the good old Practice of Piety, and a Francis Spira . My brother’s wit, I suppose. He thinks he does well to point out death and despair to me. I wish for the one, and every now-and-then, am on the brink of the other.

 

You will the less wonder at my being so very solemn, when, added to the above, and to my uncertain situation, I tell you, that they have sent me with these books a letter from my cousin Morden. It has set my heart against Mr. Lovelace. Against myself too. I send it inclosed. If you please, my dear, you may read it here.

 

Florence, April 13. 

I am extremely concerned to hear of a difference betwixt the rest of a family, so near and dear to me, and You still dearer to me than any of the rest.

 

My cousin James has acquainted me with the offers you have had, and your refusals. I wonder not at either. Such charming promises at so early an age, as when I left England; and those promises, as I have often heard, so greatly exceeded, as well in your person as mind, how much must you be admir’d! How few must there be worthy of you!

 

Your parents, the most indulgent in the world, to achild the most deserving, have given way, it seems, to your refusals of several gentlemen: —They have contented themselves at last to name One with earnestness to you, because of the address of Another they cannot approve of.

They had not reason, it seems, from your behaviour, to think you greatly averse; so they proceeded: —Perhaps too hastily for a delicacy like yours. But when all was fixed on their parts, and most extraordinary terms concluded in your favour; terms, which abundantly shew the gentleman’s just value for you; you fly off with a warmth and vehemence little suited to that sweetness which gave grace to all your actions.

 

I know very little of either of the gentlemen: But of Mr. Lovelace I know more than of Mr. Solmes. I wish I could say, more to his advantage than I can. As to every qualification but one, your brother owns there is no comparison: —But That one outweighs all the rest together—It cannot be thought, that Miss Clarissa Harlowe will dispense with Morals in a husband.

 

What, my dearest cousin, shall I first plead to you on this occasion? Your duty, your interest, your temporal, and your eternal welfare, do, and may all depend upon this single point, The morality of a husband . A wife cannot always have it in her power to be good, or to dogood, if she has a wicked husband, as a good husband may, if he has a bad wife. —You preserve all your religious regards, I understand;—I wonder not that you do: I should have wonder’d, had you not: But what can you promise yourself, as to perseverance in them, with an immoral husband?

 

If your parents and you differ in sentiment on this important occasion, let me ask you, my dear cousin, who ought to give way? —I own to you, that I should have thought there could not any-where have been a more suitable match for you, than with Mr. Lovelace, had he been a moral man. I should have very little to say against a man, of whose actions I am not to set up myself as a judge, did he not address my cousin. But, on this occasion, let me tell you, my dear Clarissa, that Mr. Lovelace cannot possibly deserve you. He may reform, you’ll say; but he may not . Habit is not soon shook off. Libertines, who are libertines in defiance of talents, of superior lights, of conviction, hardly ever reform but by miracle, or by incapacity. Well do I know my own sex. Well am I able to judge of the probability of the reformation of a licentious young man, who has not been fasten’d upon by sickness, by affliction, by calamity: Who has a prosperous run of fortune before him: His spirits high: His will uncontroulable: The company he keeps, perhaps such as himself, confirming him in all his courses, assisting him in all his enterprizes.

 

As to the other gentleman, suppose, my dear cousin, you don’t like him at present, it is far from being unlikely, that you will hereafter : Perhaps the more, for not liking him now . He can hardly sink lower in your opinion: He may rise . Very seldom is it, that high expectations are so much as tolerably answered. How indeed can they, when a fine and extensive imagination carries its expectation infinitely beyond reality, in the highest of our sublunary enjoyments? A lady adorn’d with such an imagination sees no defect in a favour’d object, because she is not conscious of any in herself, till it is too late to rectify the mistakes occasioned by her generous credulity.

 

But suppose a person of your talents were to marry a man of inferior talents; who, in this case, can be so happy in herself, as Miss Clarissa Harlowe? What delight do you take in doing good? How happily do you devote the several portions of the natural day to your own improvement, and to the advantage of all that move within your sphere? —And then such is your taste, such are your acquirements in the politer studies, and in the politer amusements; such your excellence in all the different parts of oeconomy, fit for a young lady’s inspection and practice, that your friends would wish you to be taken off, as little as possible, by regards that might be called merely personal ?

 

But as to what may be the consequence respecting yourself, respecting a young lady of your exalted talents, from the preference you are suspected to give to a libertine, I would have you, my dear cousin, consider what That may be. —A mind so pure, to mingle with a mind more impure than most of his species! Such a man as This will ingross all your solicitudes. He will perpetually fill you with anxieties for him and for yourself. The divine and civil powers defied, and their sanctions broke thro’ by him, on every not merely accidental, but meditatedoccasion. To be agreeable to him, and to hope to preserve an interest in his affections, you must probably be obliged to abandon all your own laudable pursuits. You must enter into his pleasures and distastes: You must give up your own virtuous companions for his profligate ones: Perhaps be forsaken by yours, because of the scandal he daily gives. Can you hope, cousin, with such a man as This, to be long so good as you now are? —If not, consider, which of your present laudable delights you would choose to give up? —Which of his culpable ones to follow him in? How could you brook to go backward, instead of forward, in those duties which you now so exemplarily perform? And how do you know, if you once give way, where you shall be suffer’d, where you shall be able, to stop?

 

Your brother acknowleges, that Mr. Solmes is not near so agreeable in person, as Mr. Lovelace. But what is person, with such a lady as I have the honour to be now writing to? —He owns likewise, that he has not the address of Mr. Lovelace: But what a mere personal advantage is address, without morals ? —A lady had better take a husband whose manners she were to fashion, than to find them ready-fashion’d to her hand, at the price of his morality; a price that is often paid for travelling accomplishments. O my dear cousin, were you but with us here at Florence, or at Rome, or at Paris (where also I resided for many months), to see the gentlemen, whose supposed rough English manners at setting out are to be polish’d, and what their improvements are in their return thro’ the same places, you would infinitely prefer the man in his first stage, to the same man in his last . You find the difference on their return: Foreign fashions, foreign vices, and foreign diseases too, often complete the man, and to despise his own country and countrymen, himself still more despicable, than themost despicable of those he despises: These too generally make up, with a mixture of an unblushing effrontery, the travelled gentleman!

 

Mr. Lovelace, I know, deserves to have an exception made in his favour; for he is really a man of parts and learning: He was esteemed so both here and at Rome; and a fine person, and a generous turn of mind, gave him great advantages. But you need not be told, that a libertine man of sense does infinitely more mischief, than a libertine of weak parts is able to do. And this I will tell you farther, that it was Mr. Lovelace’s own fault that he was not still more respected than he was, among the Literati here. There were, in short, some liberties, in which he indulged himself, that endangered his person and his liberty; and made the best and most worthy of those who honour’d him with their notice, give him up; and his stay both at Florence and at Rome shorter than he designed.

 

This is all I choose to say of Mr. Lovelace. I had much rather have had reason to give him a quite contrary character. But as to rakes or libertines in general, I, who know them well, must be allowed, because of the mischiefs they have always in their hearts, and too often in their power, to do your Sex, to add still a few more words upon this topic.

 

A Libertine, my dear cousin, a plotting, an intriguing Libertine, must be generally remorseless;— Unjust he must always be. The noble rule, of doing to others what he would have done to himself, is the first rule he breaks; and every day he breaks it; the oftener, the greater his triumph. He has great contempt for your sex: He believes no woman chaste, because he is a profligate: Every woman who favours him, confirms him in his wicked incredulity. He is always plotting to extend the mischiefs he delights in. If a woman loves such a man, how can she bear the thought of dividing her interest in his affections, with half the town, and that, perhaps, the dregs of it? —Then so sensual! —How will a young lady of your delicacy bear with so sensual a man? a man who makes a jest of his vows; and who, perhaps, will break your spirit by the most unmanly insults. To be a libertine, at setting out, all compunction, all humanity, must be overcome. To continue to be a libertine, is to continue to be every thing vile and inhuman. Prayers, tears, and the most abject submission, are but fuel to his pride: Wagering perhaps with lewd companions, and, not improbably, with lewder women, upon instances which he boasts of to them of your patient sufferings and broken spirit, and bringing them home to witness to both. I write what I know has been.

 

I mention not fortunes squander’d, estates mortgaged or sold, and posterity robb’d: Nor yet a multitude of other evils, too gross, too shocking, to be mentioned to a delicacy like yours.

 

All these, my dear cousin, to be shunn’d, all the evils I have named to be avoided; the power of doing all the good you have been accustomed to do, preserved, nay, increased, by the separate provision that will be made for you: Your charming diversions, and
exemplary employments all maintained; and every good habit perpetuated: And all by one sacrifice, the fading pleasure of the eye: Who would not (since every thing is not to be met with in one man; who would not) to preserve so many essentials, give up so light, so unpermanent a pleasure?

 

Weigh all these things, which I might insist upon to more advantage, did I think it needful to one of your prudence: Weigh them well, my beloved cousin; and if it be not the will of your parents that you should continue single, resolve to oblige them; and let it not be said, that the powers of fancy shall (as in many others of your sex) be too hard for your duty and your prudence. The less agreeable the man, the more obliging the compliance. Remember, that he is a sober man: A man who has reputation to lose, and whose reputation therefore is a security for his good behaviour to you.

 

You have an opportunity offer’d you, to give the highest instance that can be given, of filial duty: — Embrace it; it is worthy of you; it is expected from you; however, for your inclination sake, one may be sorry that you are called upon to give it. Let it be said, that you have been able to lay an obligation upon your parents (A proud word, my cousin!) which you could not do, were it not laid against your inclination! —Upon parents, who have laid a thousand upon you: Who are set upon this point: Who will not give it up: Who have given up many points to you, even of this very nature: And in their turn, for the sake of their own authority, as well as judgment, expect to be obliged.

 

I hope I shall soon, in person, congratulate you upon This your meritorious compliance. To settle and give up my trusteeship, is one of the principal motives of my leaving these parts. I shall be glad to settle it, to every one’s satisfaction; to Yours particularly. If on my arrival I find a happy union, as formerly, reign in a family so dear to me, it will be an unspeakable pleasure to me; and I shall perhaps so dispose my affairs, as to be near you for ever.

 

I have written a very long letter, and will add no more, than that I am, with the greatest respect, my dearest cousin,

 

Your most affectionate and faithful servant,
Wm. Morden .

I will suppose, my dear Miss Howe, that you have read my cousin’s letter. It is now in vain to wish it had come sooner. But if it had, I might perhaps have been so rash as to give Mr. Lovelace the fatal meeting, as I little thought of going off with him.

 

But I should hardly have given him the expectation of so doing, previous to the meeting, which made him come prepared; and the revocation of which he so artfully made ineffectual.

 

Persecuted as I was, and little expecting so much condescension, as my aunt, to my great mortification, has told me (and you confirm) that I should have met with, it is, however, hard to say, what I should or should not have done, as to meeting him, had it come in time: But this effect I verily believe it would have had,—To have made me insist with all my might, on going over, out of all their ways, to the kind writer of the instructive letter, and made a father, a protector, as well as a friend, of a cousin, who is one of my trustees. This, circumstanced as I was, would have been a natural, at least an unexceptionable protection. —But I was to be unhappy! And how it cuts me to the heart to think, that I can already subscribe to my cousin’s character of a libertine, so well drawn in the letter which I suppose you now to have read!

 

That such a vile character, which ever was my abhorrence, should fall to my lot! —But depending on my own strength; having no reason to apprehend danger from headstrong and disgraceful impulses, I too little, perhaps, cast up my eyes to the Supreme Director: In whom, mistrusting myself, I ought to have placed my whole confidence! —And the more, when I saw myself so persistingly addressed by a man of this character.

 

Inexperience and presumption, with the help of a brother and sister, who have low ends to answer in my disgrace, have been my ruin ! —A hard word, my dear! But I repeat it upon deliberation: Since, let the best happen, which now can happen, my reputation is destroyed; a Rake is my portion: And what That portion is, my cousin Morden’s letter has acquainted you.

 

Pray keep it by you, till called for. I saw it not myself (having not the heart to inspect my trunks) till this morning. I would not for the world This man should see it; because it might occasion mischief between the most violent spirit, and the most settled brave one, in the world, as my cousin’s is said to be.

 

This letter was inclosed (opened) in a blank cover. Scorn and detest me as they will, I wonder that one line was not sent with it—were it but to have more particularly pointed the design of it, in the same generous spirit, that sent me the Spira. The sealing of the cover was with black wax. I hope there is no new occasion in the family to give reason for black wax. But if there were, it would, to be sure, have been mention’d, and laid at my door—perhaps too justly!

 

I had begun a letter to my cousin; but laid it by, because of the uncertainty of my situation, and expecting every-day, for several days’ past, to be at a greater certainty. You bid me write to him, some time ago, you know. Then it was I began it: For I have great pleasure in obeying you in all I may. So I ought to have; for you are the only friend left me: And moreover, you generally honour me with your own observance of the advice I take the liberty to offer you: For I pretend to say, I give better advice than I have taken. And so I had need. For, I know not how it comes about, but I am, in my own opinion, a poor lost creature: And yet cannot charge myself with one criminal or faulty inclination. Do you know, my dear, how This can be?

 

Yet I can tell you how, I believe: —One devious step at setting out! —That must be It: —Which pursued, has led me so far out of my path, that I am in a wilderness of doubt and error; and never, never, shall find my way out of it: For, altho’ but one pace awry at first, it has led me hundreds and hundreds of miles out of my path: And the poor estray has not one kind friend, nor has met with one directing passenger, to help her to recover it.

 

But I, presumptuous creature! I must rely so much upon my own knowlege of the right path!—little apprehending that an ignis fatuus with its false fires (and yet I had heard enough of such) would arise to mislead me! —And now, in the midst of fens and quagmires, it plays around me, and around me, throwing me back again, whenever I think myself in the right track. —But there is one common point, in which all shall meet, err widely as they may. In That I shall be laid quietly down at last: And then will all my calamities be at an end.

 

But how I stray again; stray from my intention! I would only have said, that I had begun a letter to my cousin Morden some time ago: But that, now, I can never end it. You will believe I cannot: For how shall I tell him, that all his compliments are misbestowed: That all his advice is thrown away: All his warnings vain: And that even my highest expectation is to be the wife of that free liver, whom he so pathetically warns me to shun?

 

Let me, however, have your prayers joined with my own, (my fate depending, as it seems, upon the lips of such a man), ‘That, whatever shall be my destiny, That dreadful part of my father’s malediction, That I may be punished by the man in whom he supposes I put my confidence, may not take place! That This for Mr. Lovelace’s own sake, and for the sake of human nature,may not be! —Or, if it be necessary, in support of the parental authority, that I should be punished by him, that it may not be by hispremeditated or wilful baseness; but that I may be able to acquit his intention, if not his action !’ Otherwise, my fault will appear to be doubled in the eye of the event judging world. And yet, methinks, I would be glad, that the unkindness of my father and uncles, whose hearts have already been too much wounded by my error, may be justify’d in every article, excepting in this heavy curse: And that my father will be pleased to withdraw That, before it be generally known, at least that most dreadful part of it, which regards futurity!

 

I must lay down my pen: I must brood over these reflections: Once more, before I inclose my cousin’s letter, I will peruse it: And then I shall have it by heart.

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