LETTER 419: MR. BELFORD TO ROBERT LOVELACE, ESQ.

Tuesday, Aug. 22. 

I have been under such concern for the poor man, whose exit I almost hourly expect, and at the shocking scenes his illness, and his agonies exhibit; that I have been only able to make memoranda of the melancholy passages, from which to draw up a more perfect account, for the instruction of us all, when the writing-appetite shall return.

 

  

It is returned! Indignation has revived it, on receipt of thy letters of Sunday and yesterday; by which I have reason to reproach thee in very serious terms, that thou hast not kept thy honour with me: And if thy breach of it be attended with such effects as I fear it will be, I shall let thee know more of my mind on this head.

 

If thou would’st be thought in earnest in thy wishes, to move the poor lady in thy favour, thy ludicrous behaviour at Smith’s, when it comes to be represented to her, will have a very consistent appearance; will it not? —It will, indeed, confirm her in her opinion, that the grave is more to be wished-for, by one of her serious and pious turn, than a husband incapable either of reflexion or remorse; just recovered, as thou art, from a dangerous, at least a sharp illness.

 

I am extremely concerned for the poor unprotected lady; she was so excessively low and weak on Saturday, that I could not be admitted to her speech: And to be driven out of her lodgings, when it was fitter for her to be in bed, is such a piece of cruelty, as he only could be guilty of, who could act as thou hast done, by such an angel.

 

Canst thou thyself say, on reflection, that it has not the look of a wicked and hardened sportiveness, in thee, for the sake of a wanton humour only, (since it can answer no end that thou proposest to thyself, but the direct contrary) to hunt from place to place a poor lady, who, like a harmless deer, that has already a barbed shaft in her breast, seeks only a refuge from thee, in the shades of death?

 

But I will leave this matter upon thy own conscience, to paint thee such a scene from my memoranda, as thou perhaps wilt be moved by more effectually than by any other: Because it is such a one, as thou thyself must one day be a principal actor in; and, as I thought, hadst very lately in apprehension: And is the last scene of one of thy most intimate friends, who has been for the four past days labouring in the agonies of death. For, Lovelace, let this truth, this undoubted truth, be ingraven on thy memory, in all thy gaieties, That the life we are so fond of, is hardly life; a mere breathing-space only; and that at the end of its longest date,

 

Thou must die, as well as BELTON . 

Thou knowest by Tourville what we had done as to the poor man’s worldly affairs; and that we had got his unhappy sister to come and live with him; (little did we think him
so very near his end); and so I will proceed to tell thee, that when I arrived at his house on Saturday night, I found him excessively ill: But just raised, and in his elbow-chair, held up by his nurse and Mowbray, (the roughest and most untouched creature that ever enter’d a sick man’s chamber) while the maid-servants were trying to make that bed easier for him which he was to return to; his mind ten times uneasier than That could be, and the true cause that the down was no softer to him.

 

He had so much longed to see me, his sister told me, (whom I sent for down to enquire how he was) that they all rejoiced when I entered: Here, said Mowbray, Here Tommy, is honest Jack Belford!

Where, where? said the poor man.

 

I hear his voice, cry’d Mowbray, coming up stairs.

 

In a transport of joy, he would have raised himself at my entrance, but had like to have pitched out of the chair: And when recover’d, call’d me his best friend! his kindest friend! but, burst out into a flood of tears, O Jack! O Belford! said he, see the way I am in! See how weak! So much, and so soon reduced! Do you know me? Do you know your poor friend Belton?

 

You are not so much altered, my dear Belton, as you think you are. But I see you are weak; very weak—And I am sorry for it.

 

Weak! weak, indeed, my dearest Belford, said he, and weaker in my mind, if possible, than in my body; and wept bitterly—or I should not thus unman myself, I, who never feared any thing, to be forced to shew myself such a nursling ! —I am quite ashamed of myself! —But don’t despise me, dear Belford, don’t despise me, I beseech thee.

 

I ever honoured a man that could weep for the distresses of others ; and ever shall, said I; and such a one cannot be insensible to his own .

 

However, I could not help being visibly moved at the poor fellow’s emotion.

 

Now, said the brutal Mowbray, do I think thee insufferable, Jack. Our poor friend is already a peg too low; and here thou art letting him down lower and lower still. This soothing of him in his dejected moments, and joining thy womanish tears with his, is not the way; I am sure it is not. If our Lovelace were here, he’d tell thee so.

 

Thou art an impenetrable creature, reply’d I; unfit to be present at a scene thou wilt not be able to feel the terrors of, till thou feelest them in thyself; and then, if thou hast time for feeling, my life for thine, thou behavest as pitifully, as those thou thinkest most pitiful.

 

Then turning to the poor sick man, Tears, my dear Belton, are no signs of an unmanly, but, contrarily, of a humane nature; they ease the over-charged heart, which would burst but for that kindly and natural relief.

Give Sorrow words, (says Shakespeare 😉 
The grief that does not speak, 
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break. 

I know, my dear Belton, thou usedst to take pleasure in repetitions from the poets; but thou must be tasteless of their beauties now: Yet be not discountenanced by this uncouth and unreflecting Mowbray, for as Juvenal says, Tears are the prerogative of manhood .

‘Tis, at least, seasonably said, my dear Belford; it is kind to keep me in countenance for this womanish weakness, as Mowbray has been upbraidingly calling it, ever since he has been with me. And in so doing (whatever I might have thought in such high health as he enjoys) has convinced me, that bottle-friends feel nothing but what moves in that little circle.

 

Well, well proceed in your own way, Jack. I love my friend Belton as well as you can do; yet for the blood of me, I cannot but think, that soothing a man’s weakness is increasing it.

 

If it be a weakness, to be touched at great and concerning events, in which our humanity is concerned, said I, thou mayest be right.

 

I have seen many a man, said the rough creature, going up Holbourn-hill, that has behaved more like a man than either of you.

 

Ay, but Mowbray, reply’d the poor man, those wretches have not had such infirmities of body as I have long laboured under, to enervate their minds. Thou art a shocking
fellow, and ever wert. But to be able to remember nothing in these moments, but what reproaches me, and to know, that I cannot hold it long, and what may then be my lot, if—But interrupting himself and turning to me, Give me thy pity, Jack, ’tis balm to my wounded soul; and let Mowbray sit indifferent enough to the pangs of a dying friend, to laugh at us both.

 

The harden’d fellow then retired, with the air of a Lovelace; only more stupid; yawning and stretching, instead of humming a tune as thou didst at Smith’s.

 

I assisted to get the poor man into bed. He was so weak and low, that he could not bear the fatigue, and fainted away; and I verily thought was quite gone. But recovering, and his doctor coming, and advising to keep him quiet, I retired, and joined Mowbray in the garden; who took more delight to talk of the living Lovelace and his levities, than of the dying Belton and his repentance.

 

I just saw him again on Saturday night before I went to bed: which I did early; for I was surfeited with Mowbray’s frothy insensibility, and could not bear him. It is such a horrid thing to think of, that a man who had lived in such strict terms of amity with another (the proof does not come out so, as to say friendship ); who had pretended so much love for him; could not bear to be out of his company; would ride a hundred miles an end to enjoy it, and would fight for him, be the cause right or wrong: Yet now, could be so little moved to see him in such misery of body and mind as to be able to rebuke him, and rather ridicule than pity him, because he was more affected by what he felt, than he had seen a male factor (hardened perhaps by liquor, and not softened by previous sickness) on his going to execution.

 

This put me strongly in mind of what the divine Miss Harlowe once said to me, talking of friendship, and what my friendship to you required of me: ‘Depend upon it, Mr. Belford,’ said she, ‘that one day you will be convinced, that what you call friendship, is chaff and stubble; and that nothing is worthy of that sacred name,

‘THAT HAS NOT VIRTUE FOR ITS BASE’ 
Sunday morning, I was called up at six o’clock, at his earnest request, and found him in a terrible agony. O Jack! Jack! said he, looking wildly, as if he had seen a spectre—Come nearer me! reaching out both arms. — Come nearer me! —Dear, dear Belford, save me! Then clasping my arm with both his hands, and rearing up his head towards me, his eyes strangely rolling, Save me! dear Belford, save me! repeated he.

 

I put my other arm about him,—Save you from what, my dear Belton! Save you from what! —Nothing shall hurt you! —What must I save you from?

 

Recovering from his terror, he sunk down again, O save me from myself! said he; Save me from my own reflections. O dear Jack! what a thing it is to die; and not to have one comfortable reflection to revolve! —What would I give for one year of my passed life?—only one year—and to have the same sense of things that I now have?

 

I try’d to comfort him, as well as I could: But free-livers to free-livers are sorry death-bed comforters. And he broke in upon me: O my dear Belford, said he, I am told, (and I have heard you ridiculed for it) that the excellent Miss Harlowe has wrought a conversion in you. May it be so! you are a man of sense; O may it be so! Now is your time! Now, that you are in full vigour of mind and body! But your poor Belton, alas! kept his vices, till they left him. And see the miserable effects in debility of mind and despondency! Were Mowbray here, and were he to laugh at me, I would own that this is the cause of my despair: That God’s justice cannot let his mercy operate for my comfort: For Oh! I have been very, very wicked; and have despised the offers of his grace, till he has withdrawn it from me for ever.

 

I used all the arguments I could think of, to give him consolation; and what I said, had such an effect upon him, as to quiet his mind for the greatest part of the day; and in a lucid hour his memory served him to repeat those lines of Dryden, grasping my hand, and looking wistfully upon me:


O that I less could fear to lose this being, 
Which, like a snow-ball, in my coward-band, 
The more ’tis grasp’d, the faster melts away! 

In the afternoon of Sunday, he was inquisitive after you, and your present behaviour to Miss Harlowe. I told him how you had been, and how light you made of it. Mowbray was pleased with your impenetrable hardness of heart, and said, Bob Lovelace was a good edge-tool, and steel to the back: And such coarse but hearty praises he gave thee, as an abandon’d man might give, and only an abandon’d man could wish to deserve .

 

But hadst thou heard what the poor dying, wise-too-late Belton said on this occasion, perhaps it would have made thee serious an hour or two, at least.

 

When poor Lovelace is brought, said he, to a sick-bed, as I am now, and his mind forebodes, that it is impossible he should recover, which his could not do in his late illness: If it had, he could not have behaved so lightly in it—When he revolves his past mis spent life; his actions of offence to helpless innocents; in Miss Harlowe’s case particularly: What then, will he think of himself, or of his past actions? His mind debilitated; his strength turned into weakness; unable to stir or to move without help; not one ray of hope darting in upon his benighted soul; his conscience standing in the place of a thousand witnesses; his pains excruciating; weary of the poor remnant of life he drags, yet dreading that in a few short hours, his bed will be changed to worse, nay, to worst of all; and that worst of all, to last beyond time and to all eternity; O Jack! What will he then think of the poor transitory gratifications of sense, which now engage all his attention? Tell him, dear Belford, tell him, how happy he is, if he knows his own happiness; how happy, compared to his poor dying friend, that he has recovered from his illness, and has still an opportunity lent him, for which I would give a thousand worlds, had I them to give!

 

I approved exceedingly of what he said, as reflections suited to his present circumstances; and inferred consolations to him from a mind so properly touched.

 

He proceeded in the like penitent strain. I have lived a very wicked life; so have we all. We have never made a conscience of doing all the mischief, that either force or fraud put it in our power to do. We have laid snares for the innocent heart; and have not scrupled by the too-ready sword to extend, as occasions offer’d, the wrongs we did, to the persons whom we had before injur’d in their dearest relations. But yet I think in my heart, that I have less to answer for than either Lovelace or Mowbray; for I, by taking to myself that accursed deceiver from whom thou hast freed me, (and who for years, unknown to me, was retaliating upon my own head some of the evils I had brought upon others) and retiring, and living with her as a wife, was not party to half the mischiefs, that I doubt they, and Tourville, and even You, Belford, committed. As to the ungrateful Thomasin, I hope I have met with my punishment in her. But notwithstanding this, dost thou not think, that such an action —and such an action—and such an action, (and then he recapitulated several enormities, in which, led on by false bravery, and the heat of youth and wine, we have all been concerned) Dost thou not think that these villainies, (let me call them now by their proper name,) joined to the wilful and gloried-in neglect of every duty that our better sense and education gave us to know were required of us as Men and Christians, are not enough to weigh down my soul into despondency? —Indeed, indeed, they are! And now to hope for mercy ! And to depend upon the efficacy of that gracious attribute when that no less shining one of justice forbids me to hope; How can I! —I, who have despised all warnings, and taken no advantage of the benefit I might have reap’d from the lingring consumptive illness I have laboured under, but left all to the last stake; hoping for recovery, against hope, and driving off repentance, till that grace is denyed me; for oh! my dear Belford! I can now neither repent, nor pray, as I ought; my heart is harden’d, and I can do nothing but despair!—

 

More he would have said; but, overwhelm’d with grief and infirmity, he bowed his head upon his pangful bosom, endeavouring to hide from the sight of the hardened Mowbray, who just then enter’d the room, those tears which he could not restrain.

 

Prefac’d by a phlegmatic hem; Sad, very sad, truly! cry’d Mowbray; who sat himself down on one side of the bed, as I on the other: His eyes half closed, and his lips pouting out to his turn’d-up nose, his chin curdled (to use one of thy descriptions) leaving one at a loss to know, whether stupid drowsiness or intense contemplation had got most hold of him.

 

An excellent, however uneasy lesson, Mowbray, said I! by my faith it is! —It may one day, who knows how soon? be our own case!

 

I thought of thy yawning fit, as described in thy letter of Aug. 13. For up started Mowbray, writhing and shaking himself as in an ague-fit; his hands stretch’d over his head—with thy hoy! hoy! hoy! yawning. —And then recovering himself, with another stretch and a shake, What’s a clock, cried he? pulling out his watch—And stalking by long tip-toe strides thro’ the room, down stairs he went; and meeting the maid, in the passage, I heard him say—Betty, bring me a bumper of claret; thy poor master, and this damn’d Belford are enough to throw a Hercules into the vapours.

Mowbray, after this, amusing himself in our friend’s library, which is, as thou knowest, chiefly classical and dramatical, found out a passage in Lee’s Oedipus, which he could needs have to be extremely apt, and in he came full fraught with the notion of the courage it would give the dying man, and read it to him. ‘Tis poetical and pretty. This is it.

When the sun sets, shadows that shew’d at noon .
But small, appear most long and terrible:
So when we think fate hovers o’er our heads,
Our apprehensions shoot beyond all bounds:
Owls, ravens, crickets seem the watch of death:
Nature’s worst vermin scare her god-like sons.
Echoes, the very leavings of a voice,
Grow babling ghosts, and call us to our graves.

Each mole-hill thought swells to a huge Olympus;
While we, fantastic dreamers, heave and puff,
And sweat with our imagination’s weight. 

He expected praises for finding this out. But Belton turning his head from him, Ah, Dick! (said he) these are not the reflections of a dying man! What thou wilt one day feel, if it be what I now feel, will convince thee that the evils before thee, and with thee, are more than the effects of imagination.

 

I was called twice on Sunday-night to him; for the poor fellow, when his reflections on his past life annoy him most, is afraid of being left with the women; and his eyes, they tell me, hunt and roll about for me. Where’s Mr. Belford? —But I shall tire him out, cries he—yet beg of him to step to me—yet don’t—yet do; were once the doubting and changeful orders he gave: And they called me accordingly.

 

But, alas! What could Belford do for him? Belford, who had been but too often the companion of his guilty hours, who wants mercy as much as he does; and is unable to promise it to himself, tho’ ’tis all he can bid his poor friend rely upon!

 

What miscreants are we! What figures shall we make in these terrible hours!

 

If Miss Harlowe’s glorious Example, on one hand, and the terrors of This poor man’s on the other, affect me not, I must be abandoned to perdition; as I fear thou wilt be, if thou benefittest not thyself from both.

 

Among the consolatory things I urged, when I was called up the last time on Sunday-night, I told him, That he must not absolutely give himself up to despair: That many of the apprehensions he was under, were such as the best men must have, on the dreadful uncertainty of what was to succeed to this life. ‘Tis well observed, said I, by a poetical divine, who was an excellent christian, ( a ) That

 

Death could not a more sad retinue find,
Sickness and pain before, and darkness all behind. 

About eight o’clock yesterday (Monday) morning, I found him a little calmer. He asked me, who was the author of the two lines I had repeated to him; and made me speak them over again. A sad retinue, indeed, said the poor man! And then expressing his hopelessness of life, and his terrors at the thoughts of dying; and drawing from thence terrible conclusions with regard to his future state, There is, said I, such a natural aversion to death in human nature, that you are not to imagine, that you, my dear Belton, are singular in the fear of it, and in the apprehensions that fill the thoughtful mind upon its approach; but you ought, as much as possible, to separate those natural fears, which all men must have on so solemn an occasion, from those particular ones, which your justly-apprehended unfitness fills you with. Lord Roscommon, in his Prospect of Death, which I dipped into last night from a collection in your closet, and which I put into my pocket, says, (and turning to the place)

Merely to die, no man of reason fears;
For certainly we must,
As we are born, return to dust;
‘Tis the last point of many ling’ring years:
But whither then we go,
Whither we fain would know;
But human understanding cannot shew.
This makes us tremble— 

My Lord Roscommon, therefore, proceeded I, had such apprehensions of this dark state as you have: And the excellent divine I hinted at last night, who had very little else but human frailties to reproach himself with, and whose Miscellanies fell into my hands among my uncle’s books, in my attendance upon him in his last hours, says,

It must be done, my soul: But ’tis a strange,
A dismal and mysterious change,
When thou shalt leave this tenement of clay,
And to an unknown—somewhere—wing away;
When Time shall be Eternity, and thou
Shalt be—thou knowest not what—and live—thou know’st not how!
Amazing state! no wonder that we dread
To think of death, or view the dead;
Thou’re all wrapt up in clouds, as if to thee
Our very knowlege had antipathy. 

Then follows, what I repeated,

Death could not a more sad retinue find,
Sickness and pain before, and darkness all behind. 

Alas! my dear Belford, (inferr’d the unhappy deep-thinker) what poor creatures does this convince me we mortals are at best! —But what then must be the case of such a profligate as I, who, by a past wicked life, have added force to these natural terrors? If death be so repugnant a thing to human nature, that good men will be startled at it, what must it be to one who has lived a life of sense and appetite; nor ever reflected upon the end which I now am within view of?

 

What could I say to an inference so fairly drawn? Mercy! mercy! unbounded mercy ! was still my plea, tho’ his repeated opposition of justice to it, in a manner silenced it: And what would I have given to have had rise to my mind, one good, one eminently good action, to have remembered him of, in order to combat his fears with it?

 

I believe, Lovelace, I shall tire thee, and that more with the subject of my letter, than even with the length of it. But, really, I think thy spirits are so offensively up, since thy recovery, that I ought, as the melancholy subjects offer, to endeavour by them to reduce thee to the standard of humanity. And then thou canst not but be curious to know every thing that concerns the poor man, for whom thou hast always expressed a great regard. I will therefore proceed as I have begun: If thou likest not to read it now, lay it by, if thou wilt, till the like circumstances befal thee, till like reflections from those circumstances seize thee; and then take it up, and compare the two cases together.

 

  

At his earnest request, I sat up with him last night; and, poor man! it is impossible to tell thee, how easy and safe he thought himself in my company, for the first part of the night: A drowning man will catch at a straw, the Proverb well says: And a straw was I, with respect to any real help I could give him. He often awaked in terrors, and once calling out for me, Dear Belford, said he, Where are you! —Oh! There you are! —Give me your friendly hand! —Then grasping it, and putting his clammy, half-cold lips to it—How kind! I fear every thing when you are absent! But the presence of a friend, a sympathizing friend—Oh! how comfortable!—

 

But about four in the morning, he frighted me much: He waked with three terrible groans; and endeavoured to speak, but could not presently—and when he did,— Jack, Jack, Jack, five or six times repeated he as quick as thought, now, now, now, save me, save me, save me—I am going,—going indeed!

 

I threw my arms about him, and raised him upon his pillow, as he was sinking (as if to hide himself) in the bed-cloaths—And staring wildly, Where am I! said he, a little recovering. Did you not see him! turning his head this way and that; horror in his countenance; Did you not see him?

 

See who! See what, my dear Belton!

O lay me upon the bed again, cry’d he! —Let me not die upon the floor! Lay me down gently! And stand by me! Leave me not! All, all will soon be over!

 

You are already, my dear Belton, upon the bed. You have not been upon the floor. —This is a strong delirium; you are faint for want of refreshment; (for he had refused several times to take any thing) Let me persuade you to take some of this cordial julep. I will leave you, if you will not oblige me.

 

He then readily took it; but said he could have sworn that Tom Metcalfe had been in the room, and had drawn him out of bed by the throat, upbraiding him with the injuries he had first done his sister, and then him, in the duel to which he owed that fever which cost him his life.

 

Thou knowest the story, Lovelace, too well, to need my repeating it: But mercy on us, if in these terrible moments all the evils we do, rise to our affrighted imaginations! If so, what shocking scenes have I, but still more hast thou, to go through, if, as the noble poet says,

If, any sense at that sad time remains. 

The doctor ordered him an opiate, this morning early, which operated so well, that he dosed and slept several hours more quietly than he had done for the two past days and nights, tho’ he had sleeping draughts given him before. But it is more and more evident every hour, that nature is almost worn out in him.

 

  

Mowbray, quite tired with this house of mourning, intends to set out in the morning to find you. He was not a little rejoiced to hear you were in town; I believe to have a pretence to leave us.

 

He has just taken leave of his poor friend, intending to go away early: An everlasting leave, I may venture to say; for I think he will hardly live till to-morrow night.

 

I believe the poor man would not have been sorry had he left him when I arrived; for ’tis a shocking creature, and enjoys too strong health to know how to pity the sick. Then (to borrow an observation from thee) he has, by nature, strong bodily organs, which those of his soul are not likely to whet out; and he, as well as the wicked friend he is going to, may last a great while from the strength of their constitutions, tho’ so greatly different in their talents; if neither the sword nor the halter interpose.

 

I must repeat, That I cannot but be very uneasy for the poor lady, whom thou so cruelly persecutest; and that I do not think thou hast kept thy honour with me. I was apprehensive, indeed, that thou wouldst attempt to see her, as soon as thou gottest well enough to come up; and I told her as much, making use of it as an argument to prepare her for thy visit, and to induce her to stand it. But she could not, it is plain, bear the shock of it; and, indeed, she told me, that she would not see thee, tho’ but for one half hour, for the world.

Could she have prevailed upon herself, I know that the sight of her would have been as affecting to thee, as thy visit could have been to her; when thou hadst seen to what a lovely skeleton (for she is really lovely still, nor can she, with such a form and features, be otherwise) thou hast, in a few weeks, reduced one of the most charming women in the world; and that in the full bloom of her youth and beauty.

Mowbray undertakes to carry This, that he may be more welcome to you, he says. Were it to be sent unsealed, the characters we write in would be Hebrew to the dunce. I desire you to return it; and I’ll give you a copy of it upon demand; for I intend to keep it by me, as a guard against the infection of thy company which might otherwise, perhaps, some time hence, be apt to weaken the impressions I always desire to have of the awful scene before me. God convert us both!

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