LETTER 200: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

Miss Clarissa Harlowe, To Miss Howe . 

Sunday morning, 7, May 21.

 

I was at the play last night with Mr. Lovelace and Miss Horton. It is, you know, a deep and most affecting tragedy in the reading. You have my remarks upon it, in the little book you made me write upon the principal acting plays. You will not wonder, that Miss Horton, as well as I, was greatly moved at the representation, when I tell you, and have some pleasure in telling you, that Mr. Lovelace himself was very sensibly touched with some of the most affecting scenes. I mention this in praise of the author’s performance; for I take Mr. Lovelace to be one of the most hard-hearted men in the world. Upon my word, my dear, I do.

 

His behaviour, however, on this occasion, and on our return, was unexceptionable, only that he would oblige me to stay to supper with the women below when we came back, and to sit up with him and them till near one o’clock this morning. I was resolved to be even with him; and indeed I am not very sorry to have the pretence; for I love to pass the Sundays by myself.

 

To have the better excuse to avoid his teazing, I am ready dressed to go to church this morning. I will go only to St. James’s church, and in achair ; that I may be sure I can go out and come in when I please, without being obtruded upon by him, as I was twice before.

 

Near nine o’clock. 

I have your kind letter of yesterday. He knows I have. And I shall expect, that he will be inquisitive next time I see him after your opinion of his proposals. I doubted not your approbation of them, and had written an answer on that presumption; which is ready for him. He must study for occasions of procrastination, and to disoblige me, if now any thing happens to set us at variance again.

 

He is very importunate to see me; he has desired to attend me to church. He is angry, that I have declined to breakfast with him. I was sure that I should not be at my own liberty, if I had. —I bid Dorcas tell him, that I desired to have this day to myself; I would see him in the morning, as early as he pleased. She says, she knows not what ails him, but that he is out of humour with every-body.

 

He has sent again, in a peremptory manner. He warns me of Singleton. But surely, I sent him word if he was not afraid of Singleton at the play-house last night, I need not at church to day: So many churches to one play-house. —I have accepted of his servant’s proposed attendance. —But he is quite displeased, it seems. I don’t care. I will not be perpetually at his insolent beck. —Adieu, my dear, till I return. The chair waits. He won’t stop me, sure as I go down to it.

 

I did not see him as I went down. He is, it seems, excessively out of humour. Dorcas says, Not with me neither, she believes: But something has vex’d him. This is put on, perhaps, to make me dine with him. But I won’t, if I can help it. I shan’t get rid of him for the rest of the day, if I do.

 

He was very earnest to dine with me. But I was resolved to carry this one small point; and so denied to dine myself. And indeed I was endeavouring to write to my cousin Morden; and had begun three different letters, without being able to please myself; so uncertain and so unpleasing is my situation.

 

He was very busy in writing, Dorcas says, and pursued it without dining, because I denied him my company.

 

He afterwards demanded, as I may say, to be admitted to afternoon tea with me: And appealed by Dorcas to his behaviour to me last night; as if, as I sent him word by her, he thought he had a merit in being unexceptionable. However, I repeated my promise to meet him as early as he pleased in the morning, or to breakfast with him.

 

Dorcas says, he raved. I heard him loud, and I heard his servant fly from him, as I thought. You, my dearest friend, say, in one of yours ( a ) , that you must have somebody to be angry at, when your mother sets you up. —I should be very loth to draw comparisons. —But the workings of passion, when indulg’d, are but too much alike, whether in man or woman.

 

He has just sent me word, that he insists upon supping with me. As we had been in a good train for several days past, I thought it not prudent to break with him, for little matters. Yet, to be, in a manner, threaten’d into his will, I know not how to bear that.

 

While I was considering, he came up, and, tapping at my door, told me, in a very angry tone, he must see me this night. He could not rest, till he had been told what he had done to deserve this treatment.

 

I must go to him. Yet perhaps he has nothing new to say to me. —I shall be very angry with him.

 

As the Lady could not know what Mr. Lovelace’s designs were, nor the cause of his ill humour, it will not be improper to pursue the subject from his letter. 

Having described his angry manner of demanding, in person, her company at supper; he proceeds as follows.

‘Tis hard, answered the fair Perverse, that I am to be so little my own mistress. I will meet you in the dining-room half an hour hence.

 

I went down to wait that half-hour. All the women set me hard to give her cause for this tyranny. They demonstrated, as well from the nature of the sex, as of the case, that I had nothing to hope for from my tameness, and could meet with no worse treatment, were I to be guilty of the last offence. They urged me vehemently to try at least what effect some greater familiarities, than I had ever used with her, would have: And their arguments being strengthened by my just resentments on the discoveries I had made, I was resolved to take some liberties, and, as they were received, to take still greater, and lay all the fault upon her tyranny. In this humour I went up, and never had paralytic so little command of his joints, as I had, as I walked about the dining-room, attending her motions.

 

With an erect mien she enter’d, her face averted, her lovely bosom swelling, and the more charmingly protuberant for the erectness of her mien. O Jack! that sullenness and reserve should give this haughty maid new charms! But in every attitude, in every humour, in every gesture, is beauty beautiful. —By her averted face, and indignant aspect, I saw the dear insolent was
disposed to be angry—But by the fierceness of mine, as my trembling hands seized hers, I soon made fear her predominant passion. And yet the moment I beheld her, my heart was dastardiz’d, damp’d, and reverenced-over. Surely this is an angel, Jack! — And yet, had she not been known to be a female, they would not from babyhood have dressed her as such, nor would she, but upon that conviction, have continued the dress.

 

Let me ask you, Madam, I beseech you tell me, what I have done to deserve this distant treatment?

 

And let me ask you, Mr. Lovelace, why are my retirements to be thus invaded? —What can you have to say to me since last night, that I went with you so much against my will to the play? And after sitting up with you, equally against my will, till a very late hour?—

 

This I have to say, Madam, that I cannot bear to be kept at this distance from you under the same roof. I have a thousand things to say, to talk of, relating to our present and future prospects; but when I want to open my whole soul to you, you are always contriving to keep me at a distance; you make me inconsistent with myself; your heart is set upon delays; you must have views that you will not own. Tell me; Madam, I conjure you to tell me, this moment, without subterfuge or reserve, in what light am I to appear to you in future? I cannot bear this distance; the suspense you hold me in I cannot bear.

 

In what light, Mr. Lovelace? In no bad light, I hope. —Pray, Mr. Lovelace, do not grasp my hands so hard [endeavouring to withdraw her hands]. Pray let me go—

 

You hate me, Madam—

 

I hate nobody, Sir—

 

You hate me, Madam, repeated I.

 

Instigated and resolved, as I came up, I wanted some new provocation. The devil indeed, as soon as my angel made her appearance, crept out of my heart; but he had left the door open, and was no farther off than my elbow.

 

You come up in no good temper, I see, Mr. Lovelace—But pray be not violent—I have done you no hurt—Pray be not violent—

 

Sweet creature! And I clasped one arm about her, holding one hand in my other— You have done me no hurt ! —You have done me the greatest hurt! —In what have I deserved the distance you keep me at? — I knew not what to say.

 

She struggled to disengage herself—Pray, Mr. Lovelace, let me withdraw. I know not why this is—I know not what I have done to offend you. I see you are come with a design to quarrel with me. If you would not terrify me by the ill humour you are in, permit me to withdraw. I will hear all you have to say another time—To-morrow morning, as I sent you word; but indeed you frighten me. —I beseech you, if you have any value for me, permit me to withdraw.

 

Night, mid -night, is necessary, Belford. Surprize, terror, must be necessary to the ultimate trial of this charming creature, say the women below what they will—I could not hold my purposes—This was not the first time that I had intended to try if she could forgive.

 

I kissed her hand with a fervor, as if I would have left my lips upon it—Withdraw then, dearest and ever dear creature—Indeed I enter’d in a very ill humour: I cannot bear the distance you so causlessly keep me at—Withdraw, however, Madam, since it is your will to withdraw; and judge me generously judge me but as I deserve to be judged; and let me hope to meet you to-morrow morning early, in such a temper as becomes our present situation, and my future hopes. And so saying, I conducted her to the door, and left her there. But instead of going down to the women, went into my own chamber, and locked myself in; ashamed of being awed by her majestic loveliness and apprehensive virtue, into so great a change of purpose, notwithstanding I had such just provocations from the letters of her saucy friend, founded on her own representations of facts and situations between herself and me.

The Lady thus describes her terrors, and Mr. Lovelace’s behaviour, on this occasion. 

 

On my entering the dining-room, he took my hands in his, in such a humour, as I saw plainly he was resolved to quarrel with me. —And for what? — I never in my life beheld in any-body such a wild, such an angry, such an impatient spirit. I was terrified; and instead of being as angry as I intended to be, I was forced to be all mildness. I can hardly remember what were his first words, I was so frighted. But, You hate me, Madam ! You hate me, Madam ! were some of them—with such a fierceness—I wish’d myself a thousand miles distant from him. I hate nobody, said I; I thank God I hate no-body—You terrify me, Mr. Lovelace—Let me leave you. —The man, my dear, looked quite ugly—I never saw a man look so ugly, as passion made him look. —And for what? —And he so grasped my hands—fierce creature! He so grasped my hands! In short, he seemed by his looks, and by his words (once putting his arms about me), to wish me to provoke him. — So that I had nothing to do, but to beg of him, which I did repeatedly, to permit me to withdraw; and to promise to meet him at his own time in the morning.

 

It was with a very ill grace, that he complied, on that condition; and at parting he kissed my hand with such a savageness, that a redness remains upon it still.

 

Perfect for me, my dearest Miss Howe, perfect for me, I beseech you, your kind scheme with Mrs. Townsend. —And I will then leave this man. See you not how from step to step, he grows upon me? — I tremble to look back upon his incroachments. And now to give me cause to apprehend more evil from him, than indignation will permit me to express! — O my dear, perfect your scheme, and let me fly from so strange a wretch! He must certainly have views in quarrelling with me thus, which he dare not own! Yet what can they be?

 

I was so disgusted with him, as well as frighted by him, that, on my return to my chamber, in a fit of passionate despair, I tore almost in two, the answer I had written to his proposals.

 

I will see him in the morning, because I promised I would. But I will go out, and that without him, or any attendant. If he account not tolerably for his sudden change of behaviour, and a proper opportunity offer of a private lodging in some creditable house, I will not any more return to this: —At present I think so. —And there will I either attend the perfecting of your scheme; or, by your epistolary mediation, make my own terms with the wretch; since it is your opinion, that I must be his, and cannot help myself. Or, perhaps take a resolution to throw myself at once into Lady Betty’s protection; and this will hinder him from making his insolently-threatned visit to Harlowe-Place.

 

The Lady writes again on Monday evening; and gives her friend an account of all that has passed between herself and Mr. Lovelace that day; and of her being terrified out of her purpose of going abroad: But Mr. Lovelace’s next letters giving a more ample account of all, hers are omitted.

 

It is proper, however, to mention, that she reurges Miss Howe (from the dissatisfaction she has reason for from what passed between Mr. Lovelace and herself) to perfect her scheme in relation to Mrs. Townsend.

 

She concludes this letter in these words:

 

‘I should say something of your last favour (but a few hours ago received), and of your dialogue with your mother. —Are you not very whimsical, my dear? —I have but two things to wish for on this occasion. The one, that your charming pleasantry had a better subject, than that you find for it in this dialogue. The other, that my situation were not such, as must too often damp that pleasantry, and will not permit me to enjoy it, as I used to do. Be, however, happy in yourself, tho’ you cannot in

‘Your Clarissa Harlowe .’

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