LETTER 399: MR BELFORD TO ROBERT LOVELACE, ESQ

Thursday night, Aug. 10.

 

You have been informed by Tourville, how much Belton’s illness and affairs have engaged me, as well as Mowbray and him, since my former. I called at Smith’s on Monday, in my way to Epsom.

 

The lady was gone to chapel: But I had the satisfaction to hear she was not worse; and left my compliments, and an intimation that I should be out of town for three or four days.

 

I refer myself to Tourville, who will let you know the difficulty we had to drive out this meek mistress, and frugal manager, with her cubs, and to give the poor fellow’s sister possession for him of his own house; he skulking mean while at an inn at Croydon, too dispirited to appear in his own cause.

 

But I must observe, that we were probably but just in time to save the shatter’d remains of his fortune from this rapacious woman, and her accomplices: For, as he cannot live long, and she thinks so, we found she had certainly taken measures to set up a marriage, and keep possession of all for herself and her sons.

 

Tourville will tell you how I was forced to chastise the quondam hostler in her sight, before I could drive him out of the house. He had the insolence to lay hands on me: And I made him take but one step from the top to the bottom of a pair of stairs. I thought his neck and all his bones had been broken. And then, he being carried out neck-and-heels, Thomasine thought fit to walk out after him.

 

Charming consequences of keeping ; the state we have been so fond of extolling! —Whatever it may be in strong health, sickness and declining spirits in the keeper, will let him see the difference.

 

She should soon have him, she told a confident, in the space of six foot by five; meaning his bed: And then she would let no-body come near him but whom she pleased. The hostler-fellow, I suppose, would then have been his physician his will ready made for him;—and widows-weeds, probably, ready provided; who knows, but to appear in them in his own-sight; as once I knew an instance in a wicked wife, insulting a husband she hated, when she thought him past recovery: Tho’ it gave the man such spirits, and such a turn, that he got over it, and lived to see her in her coffin, dress’d out in the very weeds she had insulted him in.

 

So much, for the present, for Belton, and his Thomasine.

 

 

I begin to pity thee heartily, now I see thee in earnest, in the fruitless love thou expressest to this angel of a lady; and the rather, as, say what thou wilt, it is impossible she should get over her illness, and her friends implacableness, of which she has had fresh instances.

 

I hope thou art not indeed displeased with the extracts I have made from thy letters for her. The letting her know the justice thou hast done to her virtue in them, is so much in favour of thy ingenuity, that I think in my heart I was right; tho’ to any other woman, and to one who had not known the worst of thee that she could know, it might have been wrong.

 

If the end will justify the means, it is plain, that I have done well with regard to you both; since I have made her easier, and you appear in a better light to her, than otherwise you would have done.

 

But if, nevertheless, you are dissatisfied with my having obliged her in a point, which I acknowlege to be delicate, let us canvas this matter at our first meeting: And then I will shew you what the extracts were, and what connexions I gave them in your favour.

 

But surely thou dost not pretend to say what I shall, or shall not do, as to the executorship.

 

I am my own man, I hope. I think thou shouldst be glad to have the justification of her memory left to one, who, at the same time, thou mayst be assured, will treat thee, and thy actions, with all the lenity the case will admit.

 

I cannot help expressing my surprize at one instance of thy self-partiality; and that is, where thou sayst, She had need, indeed, to cry out for mercy herself from her friends, who knows not how to shew any!

 

Surely thou canst not think the cases alike! —For she, as I understand, desires but a last blessing, and a last forgiveness, for a fault in a manner involuntary, if a fault at all; and hopes not to be received : Thou, to be forgiven premeditated wrongs (which, nevertheless, she forgives, on condition to be no more molested by thee); and hopest to be received into favour, and to make the finest jewel in the world thy absolute property, in consequence of that forgiveness.

 

I will now briefly proceed to relate what has passed since my last, as to the poor lady; by which thou wilt see, she has troubles enough upon her, all springing originally from thee, without thy needing to add more to them by new vexations. And as long as thou canst exert thyself so very cavalierly at M. Hall, where every-one is thy prisoner, I see not but the bravery of thy spirit may be as well gratified in domineering there over half a dozen persons of rank and distinction, as it could be over a helpless orphan, as I may call this lady, since she has not a single friend to stand by her, if I do not; and who will think herself happy, if she can refuge herself from thee, and from all the world, in the arms of death.

 

My last was dated on Saturday.

 

On Sunday, in compliance with her doctor’s advice, she took a little airing. Mrs. Lovick, and Mr. Smith and his wife, were with her. After being at Highgate chapel at divine service, she treated them with a little repast; and in the afternoon was at Islington church, in her way home; returning tolerably chearful.

 

She had received several letters in my absence, as Mrs. Lovick acquainted me, besides yours. Yours, it seems, much distressed her; but she ordered the messenger, who pressed for an answer, to be told, that it did not require an immediate one.

 

On Wednesday she received a letter from her uncle Harlowe ( a ) , in answer to one she had written to her mother on Saturday on her knees. It must be a very cruel one, Mrs. Lovick says, by the effects it had upon her: For, when she received it, she was intending to take an afternoon airing in a coach; but was thrown into so violent a fit of hysterics upon it, that she was forced to lie down; and (being not recovered thereby) to go to bed about eight o’clock.

 

On Thursday morning she was up very early; and had recourse to the Scriptures to calm her mind, as she told Mrs. Lovick: And, weak as she was, would go in a chair to Lincoln’s-inn chapel, about eleven. She was brought home a little better; and then sat down to write to her uncle. But was obliged to leave off several times—To struggle, as she told Mrs. Lovick, for an humble temper. ‘My heart, said she to the good woman, is a proud heart, and not yet, I find, enough mortified to my condition; but, do what I can, will be for prescribing resenting things to my pen.’

 

I arrived in town from Belton’s this Thursday evening; and went directly to Smith’s. She was too ill to receive my visit. But on sending up my compliments, she sent me down word, that she should be glad to see me in the morning.

 

Mrs. Lovick obliged me with the copy of a meditation collected by the lady from the Scriptures. She has intitled it, Poor mortals the cause of their own misery ; so intitled, I presume, with intention to take off the edge of her repinings at hardships so disproportioned to her fault, were her fault even as great as she is inclined to think it. We may see by this, the method she takes to fortify her mind, and to which she owes, in a great measure, the magnanimity with which she bears her undeserved persecutions.\

 

MEDITATION.

 

Poor mortals the cause of their own misery.

 

Say not thou, It is thro’ the Lord that I fell away; for thou oughtest not to do the thing that he hateth.

 

Say not thou, He hath caused me to err; for he hath no need of the sinful man.

 

He himself made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel;

 

If thou wilt, to keep the commandments, and to perform acceptable faithfulness.

 

He hath set fire and water before thee: Stretch forth thine hand to whether thou wilt.

 

He hath commanded no man to do wickedly; neither hath he given any man licence to sin.

 

And now, Lord, what is my hope? Truly my hope is only in thee.

 

Deliver me from all my offences; and make me not a rebuke unto the foolish.

 

When thou with rebuke dost chasten man for sin, thou makest his beauty to consume away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment: Every man therefore is vanity.

 

Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted.

 

The troubles of my heart are inlarged. O bring thou me out of my distresses!

 

 

Mrs. Smith gave me the following particulars of a conversation that passed between herself and a young clergyman, on Tuesday afternoon, who, as it appears, was employed to make inquiries about the lady by her friends.

 

He came into the shop in a riding-habit, and asked for some Spanish snuff; and finding only herself there, he desired to have a little talk with her in the back-shop.

 

He beat about the bush in several distant questions, and at last began to talk more directly about Miss Harlowe.

 

He said, He knew her before her fall (That was his impudent word); and gave the substance of the following account of her, as I collected it from Mrs. Smith.

 

‘She was then, he said, the admiration and delight of every-body: He lamented, with great solemnity, her backsliding ; another of his phrases. Mrs. Smith said, He was a fine scholar; for he spoke several things she understood not; and either in Latin or Greek, she could not tell which; but was so good as to give her the English of them without asking. A fine thing, she said, for a scholar to be so condescending!’

 

He said, ‘Her going off with so vile a rake had given great scandal and offence to all the neighbouring ladies, as well as to her friends.’

 

He told Mrs. Smith ‘how much she used to be followed by every-one’s eye, whenever she went abroad, or to church, and praised and blessed by every tongue, as she passed; especially by the poor: That she gave the fashion to the fashionable, without seeming herself to intend it, or to know she did: That, however, it was pleasant to see ladies imitate her in dress and behaviour, who, being unable to come up to her in grace and ease, exposed but their own affectation and aukwardness, at the time that they thought themselves secure of a general approbation, because they wore the same things, and put them on in the same manner, that she did, who had every-body’s admiration; little considering, that were her person like theirs, or if she had had their defects, she would have brought up a very different fashion; for that nature was her guide in every-thing, and ease her study; which, joined with a mingled dignity and condescension in her air and manner, whether she received or paid a compliment, distinguished her above all her Sex.

 

‘He spoke not, he said, his own sentiments only on this occasion, but those of every-body: For that the praises of Miss Clarissa Harlowe were such a favourite topic, that a person who could not speak well upon any other subject, was sure to speak well upon That; because he could say nothing but what he had heard repeated and applauded twenty times over.’

 

Hence it was, perhaps, that this gentleman accounted for the best things that he said himself; tho’ I must own that the personal knowlege of the lady which I am favoured with, made it easy to me to lick into shape what the good woman reported to me, as the character given her by the young Levite: For who, even now, in her decline of health, sees not that all these attributes belong to her?

 

I suppose he has not been long come from college, and now thinks he has nothing to do, but to blaze away for a scholar among the ignorant ; as such young fellows are apt to think those who cannot cap verses with them, and tell us how an antient author expressed himself in Latin on a point which, however, they may know how, as well as that author, to express in English.

 

Mrs. Smith was so taken with him, that she would fain have introduced him to the lady, not questioning but it would be very acceptable to her, to see one who knew her and her friends so well. But this he declined for several reasons, which he gave. One was, that persons of his cloth should be very cautious of the company they were in, especially where Sex was concerned, and where a lady had slurred her reputation —[I wish I had been there, when he gave himself these airs] Another, that he was desired to inform himself of her present way of life, and who her visiters were; for, as to the praises Mrs. Smith gave the lady, he hinted, that she seemed to be a good-natured woman, and might (tho’ for the lady’s sake he hoped not) be too partial and short-sighted to be trusted to, absolutely, in a concern of so high a nature as he intimated the task was which he had undertaken; nodding out words of doubtful import, and assuming airs of great significance, (as I could gather) throughout the whole conversation. And when Mrs. Smith told him, that the lady was in a very bad state of health, he gave a careless shrug—She may be very ill, says he: Her disappointments must have touch’d her to the quick: But she is not bad enough, I dare say, yet, to atone for her very great lapse, and to expect to be forgiven by those whom she has so much disgraced.

 

A starch’d conceited novice! What would I give he had fallen in my way?

 

He went away highly satisfied with himself, no doubt, and assured of Mrs. Smith’s great opinion of his sagacity and learning: But bid her not say any-thing to the lady about him, or his inquiries. And I, for very different reasons, injoined the same thing.

 

I am glad, however, for her peace of mind’s sake, that they begin to think it behoves them to inquire about her.

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