Letter 191: MR LOVELACE TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.
Friday night, May 19
WHEN I have opened my views to thee so amply as I have done in my former letters, and have told thee that my principal design is but to bring virtue to a trial, that, if virtue, it need not be afraid of; and that the reward of it will be marriage (that is to say, if, after I have carried my point, I cannot prevail upon her to live with me the Life of Honour 152 ; for that thou knowest is the wish of my heart); I am amazed at the repetition of thy wambling nonsense.
I am of opinion with thee that some time hence, when I am grown wiser , I shall conclude that there is nothing but vanity, conceit, and nonsense, in my present wild schemes. But what is this saying but that I must be first wiser?
I do not intend to let this matchless creature slide through my fingers.
Art thou able to say half the things in her praise that I have said, and am continually saying or writing?
Her gloomy father cursed the sweet creature, because she put it out of his wicked power to compel her to have the man she hated. Thou knowest how little merit she has with me on this score—and shall I not try the virtue I intend, upon full proof, to reward, because her father is a tyrant?—Why art thou thus eternally reflecting upon so excellent a woman, as if thou wert assured she would fail in the trial?—Nay, thou declares, every time thou writest on the subject, that she will ,
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that she must yield, entangled as she is : and yet makest her virtue the pretence of thy solicitude for her.
An instrument of the vile James Harlowe , dost thou call me?—Oh Jack! how I could curse thee!—I an instrument of that brother! of that sister!—But mark the end—and thou shalt see what will become of that brother, and of that sister!
Play not against me my own acknowledged sensibilities, I desire thee. Sensibilities which, at the same time that they contradict thy charge of anadamantine heart in thy friend, thou hadst known nothing of, had I not communicated them to thee.
If I ruin such a virtue, sayest thou?—Eternal monotonist!—Again; the most immaculate virtue may be ruined by men who have no regard to their honour, and who make a jest of the most solemn oaths ,&c. What must be the virtue that will be ruined without oaths? Is not the world full of these deceptions? And are not lovers’ oaths a jest of hundreds of years’ standing? And are not cautions against the perfidy of our sex a necessary part of the female education?
I do intend to endeavour to overcome myself ; but I must first try if I cannot overcome this lady. Have I not said that the honour of her sex is concerned that I should try ?
Whenever thou meetest with a woman of but half her perfections, thou wilt marry —Do, Jack.
Can a girl be degraded by trials , who is not overcome !
I am glad that thou takest crime to thyself for not endeavouring to convert the poor wretches whom others have ruined. I will not recriminate upon thee, Belford, as I might, when thou flatterest thyself that thou never ruinedst the morals of any young creature who otherwise would not have been corrupted—the palliating consolation of an Hottentot heart, determined rather to gluttonize on the garbage of other foul feeders, than to reform. But tell me, Jack, wouldst thou have spared such a girl as my Rosebud, had I not by my example engaged thy generosity? Nor was my Rosebud the only girl I spared—When my power was acknowledged, who more merciful than thy friend?
It is resistance that inflames desire,
Sharpens the darts of love, and blows its fire.
Love is disarm’d that meets with too much ease;
He languishes, and does not care to please.
The women know this as well as the men. They love to be addressed with spirit:
And therefore ’tis their golden fruit they guard
With so much care, to make possession hard. 153
Whence, for a by-reflection, the ardent, the complaisant gallant is so often preferred to the cold husband. And yet the sex do not consider that variety or novelty gives the ardour and the obsequiousness, and that were the rake as much used to them as the husband is, he would be (and is to his own wife, if married) as indifferent to their favours; and the husband, in his turn, would to another woman be the rake. Let the women, upon the whole, take this lesson from a Lovelace—Always to endeavour to make themselves as new to a husband, and to appear as elegant and as obliging to him, as they are desirous to appear to a lover, and
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actually were to him as such ; and then the rake, which all women love, will last longer in the husband than it generally does.
But to return—If I have not sufficiently cleared my conduct to thee in the above, I refer thee once more to mine of the 13th of last month. 154 And prithee, Jack, lay me not under a necessity to repeat the same things so often. I hope thou readest what I write more than once.
I am not displeased that thou art so apprehensive of my resentment, that I cannot miss a day without making thee uneasy. Thy conscience, ’tis plain, tells thee that thou hast deserved my displeasure: and if it has convinced thee of that , it will make thee afraid of repeating thy fault. See that this be the consequence. Else, now that thou hast told me how I can punish thee, it is very likely that I do punish thee by my silence, although I have as much pleasure in writing on this charming subject, as thou canst have in reading what I write.
When a boy, if a dog ran away from me through fear, I generally looked about for a stone, a stick, or a brickbat; and if neither offered to my hand, I skimmed my hat after him to make him afraid for something. What signifies power, if we do not exert it?
Let my lord know thou hast scribbled to me. But give him not the contents of thy epistle. Though a parcel of crude stuff, he would think there was something in it. Poor arguments will do in favour of what we like. But the stupid peer little thinks that this lady is a rebel to love. On the contrary, not only he, but all the world believe her to be a volunteer in his service—So I shall incur blame, and she will be pitied, if anything happen amiss.
Since my lord’s heart is so set upon this match, I have written already to let him know, ‘That my unhappy character has given my beloved an ungenerous diffidence of me. That she is so mother-sick and father-fond, that she had rather return to Harlowe Place than marry. That she is even apprehensive that the step she has taken of going off with me will make the ladies of a family of such name and rank as ours think slightly of her. That therefore I desire his lordship (though this hint, I tell him, must be very delicately touched) to write, me such a letter as I can show her. Let him treat me in it ever so freely, I shall not take it amiss, because I know his lordship takes pleasure in writing to me in a corrective style. That he may make what offers he pleases on the marriage. That I desire his presence at the ceremony; that I may take from his hand the greatest blessing that mortal man can give me.’
I have not absolutely told the lady that I would write to his lordship to this effect; yet have given her reason to think I will. So that without the last necessity I shall not produce the answer I expect from him: for I am very loath, I own, to make use of any of my family’s names for the furthering of my designs. And yet I must make all secure before I pull off the mask. This was my motive for bringing her hither.
Thus thou seest that the old peer’s letter came very seasonably. I thank thee for it. But as to his sentences, they cannot possibly do me good. I was early suffocated with his wisdom of nations. When a boy, I never asked anything of him, but out flew a proverb ; and if the tendency of that was to deny me, I never could obtain the least favour. This gave me so great an aversion to the very word, that when a child,
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I made it a condition with my tutor, who was an honest parson, that I would not read my Bible at all, if he would not excuse me one of the wisest books in it: to which, however, I had no other objection than that it was called The Proverbs. And as for Solomon, he was then a hated character with me, not because of his polygamy, but because I had conceived him to be such another musty old fellow as my uncle.
Well, but let us leave old saws to old men—What signifies thy tedious whining over thy departing relation? Is it not generally agreed that he cannot recover? Will it not be kind in thee to put him out of his misery? I hear that he is pestered still with visits from doctors, and apothecaries, and surgeons; that they cannot cut so deep as the mortification has gone; and that in every visit, in every scarification, inevitable death is pronounced upon him. Why then do they keep tormenting him? Is it not to take away more of his living fleece than of his dead flesh?—When a man is given over, the fee should surely be refused. Are they not now robbing his heirs?—What hast thou to do, if the will be as thou’dst have it?—He sent for thee (did he not?) to close his eyes. He is but an uncle , is he?
Let me see, if I mistake not it is in the Bible, or some other good book: can it be in Herodotus?—Oh, I believe it is in Josephus; a half-sacred and half-profane author. He tells us of a king of Syria, put out of his pain by his prime minister, or one who deserved to be so for his contrivance. The story says, if I am right, that he spread a wet cloth over his face, which killing him, he reigned in his place. 155 A notable fellow! Perhaps this wet cloth in the original is what we now call laudanum ; a potion that overspreads the faculties, as the wet cloth did the face of the royal patient, and the translator knew not how to render it.
But how like a forlorn varlet thou subscribes!, Thy melancholy friend , J.BELFORD!—Melancholy for what? To stand by and see fair play between an old man and death? I thought thou hadst been more of a man; thou that are not afraid of an acute death, a sword’s point, to be so plaguily hypped at the consequences of a chronical one!—What though the scarificators work upon him day by day? it is only upon a caput mortuum : and pritheeGo to , to use the stylum veterum , and learn of the royal butchers ; who, for sport (a hundred times worse men than thy Lovelace) widow ten thousand at a brush, and make twice as many fatherless; and are dubbed Magnus or Le Grand for it. Learn of them , I say, how to support a singledeath.
I wish my uncle had given me the opportunity of setting thee a better example: thou shouldst have seen what a brave fellow I had been. And had I had occasion to write, my conclusion would have been this: ‘I hope the old Trojan’s happy. In that hope, I am so; and
Thy rejoicing friend, R. Lovelace’
Dwell not always, Jack, upon one subject. Let me have poor Belton’s story; the sooner the better. If I can be of service to him, tell him he may command me, either in purse or person. Yet the former with a freer will than the latter; for how can I leave my goddess? But I’ll issue my commands to my other vassals to attend thy summons. If ye want head , let me know. If not, my quota on this occasion is money.