LETTER 185: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

 

 

Tuesday, May 16.

I think once more, we seem to be in a kind of train; but through a storm. I will give you the particulars.I heard him in the dining-room at five in the morning. I had rested very ill, and was up too: But opened not my door till six: When Dorcas brought me his request for my company.

 

He approached me, and taking my hand, as I enter’d the dining-room, I went not to bed, Madam, till two, yet slept not a wink. For God’s sake, torment me not, as you have done for a week past.He paus’d. I was silent.At first, proceeded he, I thought your resentment of a mere unavailing curiosity could not be deep;

and that it would go off of itself: But when I found, it was to be kept up till you knew the success of some new overtures which you had made, and which comply’d with, might have deprived me of you for ever; how, Madam, could I support myself under the thoughts of having, with such an union of interests, made so little impression upon your mind in my favour?He paus’d again. I was still silent. He went on.

 

I acknowlege that I have a proud heart, Madam. I cannot but hope for some instance Cross Reference of previous and preferable favour from the lady I am ambitious to call mine; and that her choice of me should not appear, not fragrantly appear, directed by the perverseness of her selfish persecutors, and my irreconcileable enemies

 

More to the same purpose he said: You know, my dear, the room he had given me to recriminate upon him, in twenty instances: I did not spare him: But I need not repeat those instances to you. Every one of these instances, I told him, convinced me of his pride, indeed, but not of his merit . I confessed, that I had as much pride as himself; altho’ I hoped it was of another kind, than that he so readily avowed. But that if he had the least mixture in his of the true  pride (a pride worthy of his birth, of his family, and of his fortune), he should rather wish, I would presume to say, to promote mine, than either to suppress, or to regret that I had it: That hence it was, that I thought it beneath me to disown what had been my motives for declining, for some days past, any conversation with him, or visit from Mr. Mennell, that might lead to points out of my power to determine upon, until I heard from my uncle Harlowe; whom, I confessed, I had caused to be sounded, whether I might be favoured with his interest, to obtain for me a reconciliation with my friends, upon terms which I had caused to be proposed to him.

He knew not, he said, and supposed must not presume to ask, what these terms were. But he could but too well guess at them; and that he was to have been the preliminary sacrifice. But I must allow him to say, That as much as he admired the nobleness of my sentiments in general, and in particular that true pride in me, which I had spoken of; he wish’d, that he could compliment me with such an uniformity in it, as should have set me as much above all submission to minds implacable and unreasonable (he hoped he might, without offence, say that my brother’s and sister’s were such), as it had above all favour and condescension to him.

 

Duty and nature, Sir, call upon me to make the submissions you speak of: There is a father, there is a mother, there are uncles, in the one case, to justify and demand those submissions—What, pray, Sir, can be pleaded for the condescension, as you call it? — Will you say, your merits, either with regard to them, or to myself, may?

 

This to be said, after the persecution  of those relations! After what you have suffer’d! After what you have made me hope! Let me ask you, Madam (we talk’d of pride just now), What sort of pride must his be, which could dispense with inclination and preference in his lady’s part of it? —What must be that love—

 

Love, Sir! who talks of love ? —Was not merit the thing we were talking of? —Have I ever professed; have I ever required of you professions of a passion of that nature? But there is no end of these debatings; each so faultless, each so full of self—I do not think myself faultless, Madam: —But—

 

But what, Sir! —Would you evermore argue with me, as if you were a child? —Seeking palliations, and making promises? —Promises of what, Sir? Of being in future the man it is a shame a gentleman is not? —Of being the man—Good God! interrupted he, with eyes lifted up, if thou wert to be thus severe—

 

Well, well, Sir, impatiently—I need only to observe, that all this vast difference in sentiments shews how unpair’d our minds are—So let us—Let us what, Madam! —My soul is rising into tumults! And he look’d so wildly, that it startled me a good deal—Let us what, Madam—

 

Why, Sir, let us resolve to quit every regard for each other—[Nay, flame not out—I am a poor weak-minded creature in some things: But where what I should be, or not deserve to live, if I am not, is in the question, I have great and invincible spirit, or my own conceit betrays me]. —Let us resolve to quit every regard for each other that is more than civil. This you may depend upon; you may, if it will fewel your pride, gratify it with this assurance; That I will never marry any other man. I have seen enough of your sex; at least of you . —A single life shall ever be my choice—While I will leave you at liberty to pursue your own .

 

Indifference, worse than indifference! said he, in a passion—Interrupting him—Indifference let it be—You have not, in my opinion, at least, deserved it should be other: If you have in your own, you have cause, at least your pride has, to hate me for misjudging you.—

 

Dearest, dearest creature! snatching my hand with wildness, let me beseech you to be uniformly noble! Civil regards, Madam! — Civil regards ! —Can you so expect to narrow and confine such a passion as mine!—

 

Such a passion as yours, Mr. Lovelace, deserves to be narrow’d and confin’d. —It is either the passion you do not think it; or I do not. —I question whether your mind is capable of being so narrow’d and so widen’d, as is necessary to make it be what I wish it to be. Lift up your hands and your eyes, Sir, in that emphatical silent wonder, as you please: But what does it express, what does it convince me of; but that we are not born for one another?

 

By his soul, he said, and grasp’d my hand with an eagerness that hurt it, we were born for one another: I must be his—I should be his (and put his other arm round me), altho’ his damnation were to be the purchase!—I was terrify’d! —Let me leave you—or begone from me, Sir—Is the passion you boast, to be thus shockingly declared!

 

You must not go, Madam! —You must not leave me in anger—I will return—I will return—When you can be less violent—less shocking.

And he let me go.

 

The man quite frighted me; insomuch that when I got into my chamber, I found a sudden flow of tears a great relief to me.In half an hour, he sent a little billet, expressing his concern for the vehemence of his behaviour, and praying to see me.I went—Because I could not help myself, I went.He was full of his excuses. —O my dear, what would you, even you, do with such a man as this; and in my situation?

 

It was very possible for him now, he said, to account for the workings of a frenzical disorder. For his part, he was near distraction. All last week to suffer as he had suffer’d; and now to talk of civil regards only, when he had hoped from the nobleness of my mind—Hope what you will, interrupted I; I must insist upon it, that our minds are by no means suited to each other. You have brought me into difficulties. I am deserted of every friend but Miss Howe. My true sentiments I will not conceal: It is against my will, that I must submit to owe protection from a brother’s projects, which Miss Howe thinks are not given over, to you, who have brought me into these streights; not with my own concurrence brought me into them; remember that—I do remember that, Madam! So often reminded, how can I forget it?

 

Yet I will owe to you this protection, if it be necessary, in the earnest hope, that you will shun rather than seek mischief, if any further inquiry after me be made. But what hinders you from leaving me? — Cannot I send to you? The Widow Fretchville, it is plain, knows not her own mind: The people here indeed are civiller every day than other: But I had rather have lodgings more agreeable to my circumstances. I best know what will suit them; and am resolved not to be obliged to any body. If you leave me, I will take a civil leave of these people, and retire to some one of the neighbouring villages, and there, secreting myself, wait my cousin Morden’s arrival with patience.

 

He presumed, he told me, from what I said, that my application to my relations was unsuccessful: That therefore he hoped I would give him leave now to mention the terms in the nature of settlements, which he had long intended to propose to me; and which having till now delay’d to do, thro’ accidents not proceeding from himself, he had thoughts of urging to me the moment I enter’d upon my new house; and upon finding myself as independent in appearance as I was in fact . Permit me, Madam, to propose these matters to you: —Not with an expectation of your immediate answer; but for your consideration.Were not hesitation, a self-felt glow, a downcast eye, more than enough? Your advice was too much in my head: I hesitated.

 

He urg’d on upon my silence: He would call God to witness to the justice, nay to the generosity of his intentions to me, if I would be so good as to hear what he had to propose to me, as to settlements.

Could not the man have fallen into the subject without this parade ? Many a point, you know, is refused, and ought to be refused, if leave be asked to introduce it; and when once refused, the refusal must in honour be adhered to: —Whereas, had it been slid in upon one, as I may say, it might have merited further consideration. If such a man as he knows not this, who should?

 

I thought myself obliged, tho’ not to depart from this subject intirely, yet, to give it a more diffuse turn; in order, on the one hand, to save myself the mortification of appearing too ready in my compliance, after such a distance as had been between us; and on the other, to avoid (in pursuance of your advice) the necessity of giving him such a repulse, as might again throw us out of the course. A cruel alternative to be reduced to!

 

You talk of generosity, Mr. Lovelace, said I; and you talk of justice ; perhaps without having consider’d the force of the words, in the sense you use them on this occasion. —Let me tell you what generosity is, in my sense of the word— True Generosity is not confined to pecuniary instances: It ismore than politeness: It is more than good faith: It is more than honour: It is more than justice : Since all these are but duties, and what a worthy mind cannot dispense with. But True Generosity is greatness of soul: It incites us to do more by a fellow-creature, than can be strictly required of us: It obliges us to hasten to the relief of an object that wants relief; anticipating even hope or expectation: Generosity, Sir, will not surely permit a worthy mind to doubt of its honourable and beneficent intentions: Much less will it allow itself to shock, to offend any one; and, least of all, a person
thrown by adversity, mishap, or accident, into its protection.

 

What an opportunity had he to clear his intentions, had he been so disposed, from the latter part of this home observation! —But he run away with the first, and kept to that.

 

Admirably defin’d! he said. —But who at this rate, Madam, can be said to be generous to you? —Your generosity I implore; while, justice, as it must be my sole merit, shall be my aim. Never was there a woman of such nice and delicate sentiments!

 

It is a reflection upon yourself, Sir, and upon the company you have kept, if you think these notions either nice or delicate. Thousands of my sex are more nice than I; for they would have avoided the devious path I have been surprized into: The consequences of which surprize have laid me under the sad necessity of telling a man, who has not delicacy enough to enter into those parts of the female character, which are its glory and distinction, what True Generosity is.

 

His divine monitress, he called me! —He would endeavour to form his manners, as he had often promised, by my example. But he hoped I would now permit him to mention briefly the justice he proposed to do me, in the terms of the settlement; a subject so proper, before now, to have been enter’d upon; and which would have been enter’d upon long ago, had not my frequent displeasure taken from him the opportunity he had often wish’d for: But now having ventur’d to lay hold of this, nothing should divert him from improving it.

 

I have no spirits just now, Sir, to attend to such weighty points. What you have a mind to propose, write to me: And I shall know what answer to return. Only one thing let me remind you of, that if you touch upon any subject, in which my papa has a concern, I shall judge by your treatment of the father, what value you have for the daughter.

 

He looked, as if he would choose rather to speak than write: But had he said so, I had a severe return to have made upon him; as possibly he might see by my looks.

 

In this way are we now: A sort of calm, as I said, succeeding a storm: —What may happen next, whether a storm or a calm, with such a spirit as I have to deal with, who can tell?

 

But be that as it will, I think, my dear, I am not meanly off: And that is a great point with me; and which I know you’ll be glad to hear: If it were only, that I can see this man without losing any of that dignity (what other word can I use, speaking of myself, that betokens decency, and not arrogance?) which is so necessary to enable me to look up, or rather, with the mind’s eye, I may say, to look down upon a man of this man’s cast.

 

Altho’ circumstances have so offer’d, that I could not take your advice as to the manner of dealing with him; yet you gave me so much courage by it, as has enabled me to conduct things to this issue; as well as determin’d me against leaving him: Which before, I was thinking to do, at all adventures. Whether, when it came to the point, I should have done so, or not, I cannot say, because it would have depended upon his behaviour at the time.

 

But let his behaviour be what it will, I am afraid, with you, that, should any thing offer, at last, to oblige me to leave him, I shall not mend my situation in the world’s eye; but the contrary. And yet I will not be treated by him with indignity, while I have any power to help myself.

 

You, my dear, have accused me of having modesty’d-away, as you phrase it, several opportunities of being, —Being what, my dear? —Why, the wife of a libertine: And what a libertine and his wife are, my cousin Morden’s letter tells us. —Let me here, once for all, endeavour to account for the motives of my behaviour to this man, and for the principles I have proceeded upon, as they appear to me upon a close self-examination.

 

Be pleased then to allow me to think, that my motives on this occasion, arise not altogether from maidenly niceness; nor yet from the apprehension of what my present tormentor, and future husband, may think of a precipitate compliance, on such a disagreeable behaviour as his: But they arise principally from what offers to my own heart, respecting, as I may say, its own rectitude, its own judgment of the fit and the unfit ; as I would, without study, answer for myself to myself, in the first place; to him, and to the world, in the second only. Principles, that are in my mind; that I found there; implanted, no doubt, by the first gracious Planter: Which therefore impell me, as I may say, to act up to them, that thereby I may, to the best of my judgment, be enabled to comport myself worthily in both states (the single and the married), let others act as they will by me .

 

I hope, my dear, I do not deceive myself, and, instead of setting about rectifying what is amiss in my heart, endeavour to find excuses for habits and peculiarities, which I am unwilling to cast off or overcome. The heart is very deceitful: Do you, my dear friend, lay mine open (but, surely, it is always open before you!) and spare me not, if you find or think it culpable.

 

This observation, once for all, as I said, I thought proper to make, to convince you, that, to the best of my judgment, my errors, in matters as well of the lesser moment, as the greater, shall rather be the fault of my understanding than of my will.

 

I am, my dearest friend,

Your ever-obliged
Clarissa Harlowe .

 

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