LETTER 187: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

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Wednesday Morning, May 17.

Mr. Lovelace would fain have engag’d me last night. But as I was not prepar’d to enter upon the subject of his proposals, intending to consider them maturely, and was not highly pleased with his conclusion (and then there is hardly any getting from him in tolerable time over-night), I desired to be excused seeing him till morning.

 

About seven o’clock we met in the dining-room. I find, he was full of expectation that I should meet him with a very favourable, who knows, but with a thankful aspect? —And I immediately found by his sullen countenance, that he was under no small disappointment that I did not.

 

My dearest love, are you well? —Why look you so solemn upon me? —Will your indifference never be over? —If I have proposed terms in any respect short of your expectation—I told him, that he had very considerately mention’d my shewing his proposals to Miss Howe, and consulting any of her friends upon them by her means; and I should have an opportunity to send them to her, by Collins, by-and-by; and so insisted to suspend any talk upon that subject till I had her opinion upon them.

 

Good God! —If there were but the least loop-hole; the least room for delay! —But he was writing a letter to his uncle, to give him an account of his situation with me, and could not finish it so satisfactorily, either to my Lord, or to himself, as if I would condescend to say, whether the terms he had proposed were acceptable, or not.

 

Thus far, I told him, I could say, That my principal point was peace and reconciliation with my family. As to other matters, the genteelness of his own spirit would put him upon doing more for me than I should ask, or expect. Wherefore, if all he had to write about was to know what Lord M. would do on my account, he might spare himself the trouble; for that my utmost wishes as to myself, were much more easily gratify’d than he perhaps imagin’d.

 

He asked me then, If I would so far permit him to touch upon the happy day, as to request his uncle’s presence on the occasion, and to be my father?Father had a sweet and venerable sound with it, I said. I should be glad to have a father who would own me!

 

Was not this plain speaking, think you, my dear? Yet it rather, I must own, appears so to me on reflection, than was designed freely at the time. For I then, with a sigh from the bottom of my heart, thought of my own father ; bitterly regretting, that I am an outcast from him and from my mother. Mr. Lovelace, I thought, seemed a little affected; at the manner of my speaking, as well as at the sad reflection, I suppose.

 

I am but a very young creature, Mr. Lovelace, said I, and wiped my averted eye, altho’ you have kindly, and in love to me, introduced so much sorrow to me already: So you must not wonder, that the word father strikes so sensibly upon the heart of a child, ever dutiful till she knew you, and whose tender years still require the paternal wing.

 

He turned towards the window: [Rejoice with me, my dear, since I seem devoted to him, that the man is not absolutely impenetrable!] —His emotion was visible; yet he endeavoured to suppress it—Approaching me again; again he was obliged to turn from me; Angelic something, he said: But then, obtaining a heart more suitable to his wish, he once more approached me. —For his own part, he said, as Lord M. was so subject to the gout, he was afraid, that the compliment he had just proposed to make him, might, if made, occasion a longer suspension, than he could bear to think of: And if it did, it would vex him to the heart, that he had made it.

 

I could not say a single word to this, you know, my dear. But you will guess at my thoughts of what he said—So much passionate love, lip-deep ! So prudent and so dutifully patient at heart to a relation he had till now, so undutifully despised! —Why, why, am I thrown upon such a man! thought I.—

 

He hesitated, as if contending with himself, and after taking a turn or two about the room,—He was at a great loss what to determine upon, he said, because he had not the honour of knowing when he was to be made the happiest of men: —Would to God it might that very instant be resolved upon!

 

He stopp’d a moment or two, staring in my down-cast face [Did I not, O my beloved friend, think you, want a father or a mother just then?] But he could not, so soon as he wished, procure my consent to a day; in that case, he thought the compliment might as well be made to Lord M. as not ;— Since the settlements might be drawn and ingrossed in the intervenient time, which would pacify his impatience, as no time would be lost.

 

You will suppose how I was affected by this speech, by repeating the substance of what he said upon it; as follows.—But by his soul, he knew not, so much was I upon the reserve, and so much latent meaning did my eye import, whether, when he most hoped to please me, he was not farthest from doing so. Would I vouchsafe to say, Whether I approved of his compliment to Lord M. or not? Miss Howe, thought I, at that moment, says, I must not run away from This man!

 

To be sure, Mr. Lovelace, if this matter is ever to be, it must be agreeable to me to have the full approbation of one side, since I cannot have that of the otherIf this matter be ever to be ! Good God! what words were those at this time of day! And full approbation of one side! Why that word approbation ? When the greatest pride of all his family was, That of having the honour of so dear a creature for their relation? Would to Heaven, my dearest life, added he, that, without complimenting Any -body, to-morrow might be the happiest day of my life! —What say you, my angel? With a trembling impatience, that seemed not affected,—What say you for to-morrow ?

 

It was likely, my dear, I could say much to it, or name another day, had I been disposed to the latter, with such an hinted delay from him. Next day, Madam, if not to-morrow ! —Or the day after that ! —And taking my two hands, stared me into a half-confusion. No, no! You cannot think all of a sudden, there should be reason for such a hurry. It will be most agreeable, to be sure, for my Lord to be present.

 

I am all obedience and resignation, returned the wretch, with a self-pluming air, as if he had acquiesced to a proposal made by me, and had complimented me with a great piece of self-denial. Modesty, I think, required it of me, that it should pass so: Did it not? —I think it did. Would to Heaven —But what signifies wishing?

 

But when he would have rewarded himself, as he had heretofore called it, for this self-supposed concession, with a kiss, I repulsed him with a just and very sincere disdain. He seemed both vex’d and surpriz’d, as one who had made proposals that he had expected every thing from. He plainly said, that he thought our situation would intitle him to such an innocent freedom: And he was both amaz’d and griev’d to be thus scornfully repulsed.

 

No reply could be made by me. I abruptly broke from him. I recollect, as I passed by one of the pier-glasses, that I saw in it his clenched hand offered in wrath to his forehead: The words, indifference, by his soul, next to hatred, I heard him speak: And something of ice he mentioned: I heard not what.

 

Whether he intends to write to my Lord, or to Miss Montague, I cannot tell. But as all delicacy ought to be over with me now, perhaps I am to blame to expect it from a man who may not know what it is . If he does not, and yet thinks himself very delicate, and intends not to be otherwise, I am rather to be pitied, than he to be censured. And after all, since I must take him as I find him, I must : That is to say, as a man so vain, and so accustom’d to be admired, that, not being conscious of internal defect, he has taken no pains to polish more than his outside: And as his proposals are higher than my expectations; and as in his own opinion, he has a great deal to bear from me . I will (no new offence preventing) sit down to answer them: —And, if possible, in terms as unobjectible to him, as his are to me.

 

But after all, see you not, my dear, more and more, the mismatch that there is in our minds? However, I am willing to compound for my fault, by giving up (if that may be all my punishment) the expectation of what is deemed happiness in this life, with such a husband as I fear he will make. In short, I will content myself to be a suffering person thro’ the state to the end of my life. A long one it cannot be!—

 

This may qualify him (as it may prove) from stings of conscience from misbehaviour to a first wife, to be a more tolerable one to a second, tho’ not perhaps better deserving: While my story, to all who shall know it, will afford these instructions: That the eye is a traitor, and ought ever to be mistrusted: That form is deceitful: In other words; That a fine person is seldom pair’d by a fine mind: And that sound principles, and a good heart, are the only bases on which the hopes of a happy future, either with respect to the here or to the hereafter, can be built.

 

And so much at present for Mr. Lovelace’s proposals: Of which I desire your opinion.

 

I am, my dearest friend,

Your ever obliged
Cl. Harlowe .

Four letters are written by Mr. Lovelace from the date of his last, giving the state of affairs between him and the lady, pretty much the same as in hers in the same period, allowing for the humour in his; and for his resentments expressed with vehemence on her resolution to leave him, if her friends could be prevailed upon. —A few extracts from them will be only given.

 

‘What, says he, might have become of me, and my projects, had not her father, and the rest of the implacables, stood my friends?’ After violent threatnings and vows of revenge, he says—”Tis plain she would have given me up for ever; nor should I have been able to prevent her abandoning of me, unless I had torn up the tree by the roots to come at the fruit; which I hope still to bring down by a gentle shake or two, if I can but have patience to stay the ripening season.’

 

Thus triumphing in his unpolite cruelty, he says,— ‘After her haughty treatment of me, I am resolved she shall speak out. There are a thousand beauties to be discovered in the face, in the accent, in the bush-beating hesitations of a woman that is earnest about a subject which she wants to introduce, yet knows not how. Silly rogues, calling themselves generous ones, would value themselves for sparing a lady’s confusion: But they are silly rogues indeed; and rob themselves of prodigious pleasure by their forwardness; and at the same time deprive her of displaying a world of charms, which only can be manifested on these occasions. Hard-heartedness, as it is called, is an essential of the libertine’s character. Familiarized to the distresses he occasions he is seldom betray’d by tenderness into a complaisant weakness unworthy of himself. How have I enjoyed a charming creature’s confusion, as I have sat over-against her; her eyes lost in admiration of my shoebuckles, or meditating some uncouth figure in the carpet!’

 

Mentioning the settlements, he says,—‘I am in earnest as to the terms. If I marry her (and I have no doubt but that I shall, after my pride, my ambition, my revenge, if thou wilt, is gratify’d), I will do her noble justice. The more I do for such a prudent, such an excellent oeconomist, the more shall I do for myself. —But, by my soul, Belford, her haughtiness shall be brought down to own both love and obligation to me. —Nor will this sketch of settlements bring us forwarder than I would have it. Modesty of sex will stand my friend at any time. At the very altar, our hands join’d, I’d engage to make this proud beauty leave the parson and me, and all my friends present, tho’ there were twenty of them, to look like fools upon one another, while she took wing, and flew out of the church-door, or window, if that were open, and the door shut; and this only by a very word.’

 

He mentions his rash expression, that she should be his, altho’ damnation were to be the purchase; and owns that, at that instant, he was upon the point of making a violent attempt; but that he was check’d in the very moment, and but just in time, by the awe he was struck with on again casting his eye upon her terrified but lovely face, and seeing, as he thought, her spotless heart in every line of it.

 

‘O virtue, virtue! says he, what is there in thee, that can thus affect the heart of such a man as me, against my will! —Whence these involuntary tremors, and fear of giving mortal offence? —What art thou, that acting in the breast of a feeble woman, canst strike so much awe into a spirit so intrepid! Which never before, no, not in my first attempt, young as I then was, and frighted at my own boldness (till I found myself forgiven ), had such an effect upon me!’

 

He paints, in lively colours, that part of the scene between him and the Lady, where she says, ‘The word father has a sweet and venerable sound with it.’ ‘I was exceedingly affected, says he, upon the occasion. But was ashamed to be surprised by her into such a fit of unmanly weakness: —So ashamed, that I was resolved to subdue it at the instant, and guard against the like for the future. Yet, at that moment, I more than half regretted, that I could not permit her to enjoy a triumph which she so well deserved to glory in: —Her youth, her beauty, her artless innocence, and her manner, equally beyond comparison or description. But her indifference, Belford! —That she could resolve to sacrifice me to the malice of my enemies; and carry on the design in so clandestine a manner—Yet love her, as I do, to frenzy! —Revere her, as I do, to adoration! — These were the recollections with which I fortify’d my recreant heart against her. —Yet, after all, if she persevere, she must conquer! —Coward, as she has made me, that never was a coward before!’

 

He concludes his fourth letter in a vehement rage upon her repulsing him, when he offer’d to salute her; having supposed, as he owns, that she would have been all condescension on his proposals to her. ‘This, says he, I will for ever remember against her, in order to steel my own heart, that I may cut thro’ a rock of ice to hers; and repay her for the disdain, the scorn, which glow’d in her countenance, and was apparent in her air, at her abrupt departure from me, after such obliging behaviour on my side, and after I had so earnestly pressed her for an early day. —The women below say, She hates me, she despises me! —And ’tis true: She does; she must. —And why cannot I take their advice? —I will not long, my fair one, be despised by thee, and laughed at by them!’

 

      ‘Let me acquaint thee, Jack, adds he, by way of postscript, That this effort of hers to leave me, if she could have been received; her sending for a coach on Sunday; no doubt, resolving not to return, if she had gone out without me (for did she not declare, that she had thought to retire to some of the villages about town where she could be safe and private?); have altogether

 

    so much alarm’d me, that I have been adding to the written instructions for my servant, and the people below, how to act, in case she should elope in my absence: Particularly letting my fellow know what he shall report to strangers, in case she shall throw herself upon any such, with a resolution to abandon me. These instructions I shall further add to, as circumstances offer:’

 

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