LETTER 182: MRS CHARLOTTE HARLOWE TO MRS JUDITH NORTON

[Not communicated till the history came to be compiled.]

Saturday, May 13.

I return an answer in writing, as I promised, to your communication. But take no notice, that I do write, either to my Bella’s Betty, who I understand, sometimes visits you, or to the poor wretch herself; nor to any-body. I charge you don’t. My heart is full. Writing may give some vent to my griefs, and perhaps I may write what lies most upon my heart, without confining myself strictly to the present subject.

 

 

You know how dear this ingrateful creature ever was to us all. You know how sincerely we joined with every one of those who ever had seen her, or conversed with her, to praise and admire her; and exceeded in our praise even the bounds of that modesty, which, because she was our own, should have restrained us; being of opinion, that to have been silent in the praise of so apparent a merit, must rather have argued blindness or affectation in us, than that we should incur the censure of vain partiality to our own.

 

 

When therefore any-body congratulated us on such a daughter, we received their congratulations without any diminution. If it was said, You are happy in this child, we owned, that no parents ever were happier in a child. If more particularly, they praised her dutiful behaviour to us, we said, She knew not how to offend. If it was said, Miss Clarissa Harlowe has  a wit and penetration beyond her years; we, instead of disallowing it, would add,—And a judgment no less extraordinary than her wit. If her prudence was praised, and a forethought, which every one saw supply’d what only years and experience gave to others; Nobody need to scruple taking lessons from Miss Clarissa Harlowe, was our proud answer.

 

 

Forgive me, O forgive me, my dear Norton—But I know you will—For yours, when good, was this child, and your glory as well as mine!

 

 

But have you not heard strangers, as she passed to and from church, stop to praise the angel of a creature, as they called her; when it was enough for those who knew who she was, to cry, Why, it is Miss Clarissa Harlowe ! —As if every-body were obliged to know, or to have heard of Miss Clarissa Harlowe, and of her excellencies. While, accustom’d to praise, it was too familiar to her, to cause her to alter either her look or her pace.

 

 

For my own part, I could not stifle a pleasure, that had perhaps a faulty vanity for its foundation, whenever I was spoken of, or addressed to, as the mother of so sweet a child: Mr. Harlowe and I, all the time, loving each other the better for the share each had in such a daughter.

 

 

Still, still, indulge the fond, the overflowing heart of a mother! I could dwell for ever upon the remembrance of what she was, would but that remembrance banish from my mind what she is !

 

 

In her bosom, young as she was, could I repose all my griefs—Sure of receiving from her prudence, advice as well as comfort: And both insinuated in so humble, in so dutiful a manner, that it was impossible to take those exceptions which the distance of years and character between a mother and a daughter, would, from any other daughter, have made one apprehensive of. She was our glory when abroad, our delight when at home.Every-body was even covetous  of her company; and we grudg’d her to our brothers Harlowe, and to our sister and brother Hervey. —No other contention among us, then, but who should be favoured by her next. —No chiding ever knew she from us, but the chiding of lovers, when she was for shutting herself up too long together from us, in pursuit of those charming amusements, and useful employments, which, however, the whole family was the better for.

 

 

Our other children had reason, good children as they always were, to think themselves neglected. But they likewise were so sensible of their sister’s superiority, and of the honour she reflected upon the whole family, that they confessed themselves eclipsed, without envying the eclipser. Indeed there was not any-body so equal with her, in their own opinions, as to envy what all aspired but to emulate. —The dear creature, you know, my Norton, gave an eminence to us all: And now, that she has left us, so disgracefully left us! we are stript of our ornament, and are but a common family!

 

 

Then her acquirements. Her skill in music, her fine needleworks, her elegance in dress; for which she was so much admired, that the neighbouring ladies used to say, that they need not fetch fashions from London; since whatever Miss Clarissa Harlowe wore, was the best fashion, because her choice of natural beauties set those of art far behind them. Her genteel case, and fine turn of person; her deep reading; and these, joined to her open manners, and her chearful modesty—O my good Norton, what a sweet child was once my Clary Harlowe!

 

 

This, and more, you knew her to be: For many of her excellencies were owing to yourself; and with the milk you gave her, you gave her what no other nurse in the world could give her.

 

 

And do you think, my worthy woman, do you think, that the wilful lapse of such a child is to be  forgiven? Can she herself think, that she deserves not the severest punishment for the abuse of such talents as were intrusted to her?

 

 

Her fault was a fault of premeditation, of cunning, of contrivance. She has deceived every-body’s expectations. Her whole sex, as well as the family she sprung from, is disgraced by it.

 

 

Would any-body ever have believed, that such a young creature as this, who had by her advice saved even her over-lively friend from marrying a fop, and a libertine, would herself have gone off with one of the vilest and most notorious of libertines? A man whose character she knew; and knew to be worse than his she saved her friend from; whose vices she was warned of: One who had had her brother’s life in his hands; and who constantly set our whole family at defiance.

 

 

Think for me, my good Norton; think what my unhappiness must be, both as a wife and a mother. What restless days, what sleepless nights; yet my own rankling anguish endeavoured to be smoothed over, to soften the anguish of fiercer spirits, and to keep them from blazing out to further mischief. O this naughty, naughty girl! who knew so well what she did; and who could look so far into consequences, that we thought she would have dy’d, rather than have done as she has done!

 

 

Her known character for prudence leaves no plea for excuse. How then can I offer to plead for her, if, thro’ motherly indulgence, I would forgive her myself? —And have we not, moreover, suffer’d all the disgrace that can befal us? Has not she?

 

 

If now, she has so little liking to his morals, had she not reason before to have as little? Or has she suffered by them in her own person? —O my good woman, I doubt—I doubt—Will not the character of the man make one doubt an angel, if once in his power? The world will think the worst. I am told  it does . So likewise her father fears; her brother hears; and what can I do?

 

 

Our antipathy to him she knew before, as well as his character. These therefore cannot be new motives without a new reason. —O my dear Mrs. Norton, how shall I, how can you, support ourselves under the apprehensions that these thoughts lead to, of my Clary Harlowe, and your Clary Harlowe!

 

 

He continually pressing her, you say, to marry him . His friends likewise. She has reason, no doubt she has reason, for this application to us: And her crime is gloss’d over, to bring her to us with new disgrace! —Whither, whither, does one guilty step lead the misguided heart! —And now truly, to save a stubborn spirit, we are only to be sounded, that the application may be retracted or deny’d!

 

 

Upon the whole: Were I inclined to plead for her, it is now the most improper of all times. Now that my brother Harlowe has discouraged (as he last night came hither on purpose to tell us) Mr. Hickman’s insinuated application; and been applauded for it. Now, that my brother Antony is intending to carry his great fortune, thro’ her fault, into another family: —She expecting, no doubt, herself, to be put into her grandfather’s estate, in consequence of a reconciliation, and as a reward for her fault: And insisting still upon terms, that she offer’d before, and were rejected. —Not thro’ my fault, I am sure, rejected.

 

 

From all these things, you will return such an answer as the case requires. —It might cost me the peace of my whole life, at this time, to move for her. God forgive her! —If I do, nobody else will. And let it be for your own sake, as well as mine, a secret that you and I have enter’d upon this subject. And I desire you not to touch upon it again but by particular permission: For, O my dear good woman, it sets my heart a-bleeding in as many streams as there are veins in it!

 

 

Yet think me not impenetrable by a proper contrition and remorse! But what a torment is it to have a will without a power!

 

 

Adieu! adieu! God give us both comfort; and to the once dear—the ever-dear creature (for can a mother forget her child?), repentance, deep repentance! And as little suffering as may befit his blessed will, and her grievous fault, prays

Your real friend,
Charlotte Harlowe .

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