LETTER 311: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

Thursday, July 6.

Few young persons have been able to give more convincing proofs than myself, how little true happiness lies in the enjoyment of our own wishes.

To produce one instance only of the truth of this observation; What would I have given for weeks past, for the favour of a letter from my dear Miss Howe, in whose friendship I placed all my remaining comfort? Little did I think, that the next letter she would honour me with, should be in such a stile, as should make me look more than once at the subscription, that I might be sure (the name not being written at length) that it was not signed by another A. H. For surely, thought I, this is my sister Arabella’s style: Surely Miss Howe (blame me as she pleases in other points) could never repeat so sharply upon her friend, words written in the bitterness of spirit, and in the disorder of head; nor remind her, with asperity, and with mingled strokes of wit, of an argument held in the gaiety of an heart elated with prosperous fortunes (as mine then was), and very little apprehensive of the severe turn that argument would one day take against herself.

But what have I, sunk in my fortunes; my character forfeited; my honour lost [While I know it, I care not who knows it]; destitute of friends, and even of hope; What have I to do to shew a spirit of repining and expostulation to a dear friend, because she is not more kind than a sister?—

I find, by the rising bitterness which will mingle with the gall in my ink, that I am not yet subdued enough to my condition: And so, begging your pardon, that I should rather have formed my expectations of favour from the indulgence you used to shew me, than from what I now deserve to have shewn me, I will endeavour to give a particular answer to your letter; altho’ it will take me up too much time to think of sending it by your messenger to-morrow: He can put off his journey, he says, till Saturday. I will endeavour to have the whole narrative ready for you by Saturday.

But how to defend myself in every thing that has happened, I cannot tell: Since in some part of the time, in which my conduct appears to have been censurable, I was not myself; and to this hour know not all the methods taken to deceive and ruin me.

You tell me, that in your first letter you gave me such an account of the vile house I was in, and such cautions about that Tomlinson, as make you wonder how I could think of going back.

Alas, my dear! I was trick’d, most vilely trick’d back, as you shall hear in its place.

Without knowing the house was so very vile a house from your intended information, I disliked the people too much, ever voluntarily to have returned to it. But had you really written such cautions about Tomlinson, and the house, as you seem to have purposed to do, they must, had they come in time, have been of infinite service to me. But not one word of either, whatever was your intention, did you mention to me, in that first of the three letters you so warmly TELL ME you did send me. I will inclose it to convince you ( a ) .

But your account of your messenger’s delivering to me your second letter, and the description he gives of me, as lying upon a couch, in a strange way, bloated and flush-coloured, you don’t know how, absolutely puzzles and confounds me.

Lord have mercy upon the poor Clarissa Harlowe! What can this mean! — Who was the messenger you sent? Was he one of Lovelace’s creatures too! — Could no-body come near me but that man’s confederates, either setting out so, or made so ? —I know not what to make of any one syllable of this! —Indeed I don’t!

Let me see. You say, this was before I went from Hamstead! —My intellects had not then been touch’d! —Nor had I ever been surprised by wine (strange if I had!): How then could I be found in such a strange way, bloated, and flush-coloured; you don’t know how ! —Yet what a vile, what a hateful figure has your messenger represented me to have made!

But indeed, I know nothing of ANY messenger from you.

Believing myself secure at Hamstead, I staid longer there than I would have done, in hopes of the letter promised me in your short one of the 9th, brought me by my own messenger, in which you undertake to send for and engage Mrs. Townsend in my favour ( b ) 295 .

I wonder’d I heard not from you: And was told you were sick; and, at another time, that your mother and you had had words on my account, and that you had refused to admit Mr. Hickman’s visits upon it: So that I supposed at one time, that you was not able to write; at another, that your mother’s prohibition had its due force with you. But now I have no doubt, that the wicked man must have intercepted your letter; and I wish he found not means to corrupt your messenger to tell you so strange a story.

It was on Sunday June 11. you say, that the man gave it me. I was at church twice that day with Mrs. Moore. Mr. Lovelace was at her house the while, where he boarded, and wanted to have lodged; but I would not permit that, tho’ I could not help the other. In one of these spaces it must bethat he had time to work upon the man. You’ll easily, my dear, find that out, by inquiring the time of his arrival at Mrs. Moore’s, and other circumstances of the strange way he pretended to see me in, on a couch, and the rest.

Had any-body seen me afterwards, when I was betray’d back to the vile house, struggling under the operation of wicked potions, and robb’d indeedof my intellects (for this, as you shall hear, was my dreadful case!), I might then, perhaps, have appeared bloated, and flush-coloured, and I know not how myself . But were you to see your poor Clarissa now (or even to have seen her at Hamstead, before she suffered the vilest of all outrages), you would not think her bloated, or flush-coloured : Indeed you would not.

In a word, it could not be me your messenger saw; nor (if any-body) who it was can I divine.

I will now, as briefly as the subject will permit, enter into the darker part of my sad story: And yet it must be somewhat circumstantial, that you may not think me capable of reserve or palliation . The latter I am not conscious that I need. I should be utterly inexcuseable, were I guilty of the former to you. And yet, if you knew how my heart sinks under the thoughts of a recollection so painful, you would pity me.

As I shall not be able, perhaps, to conclude what I have to write in even two or three letters, I will begin a new one, with my story; and send the whole of it together, altho’ written at different periods, as I am able.

Allow me a little pause, my dear, at this place; and to subscribe my self

Your ever-affectionate and obliged
Clarissa Harlowe .

 

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