LETTER 435 AND 436: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE

Friday, Aug. 25.

You are very obliging, my dear Miss Howe, to account to me for your silence. I was easy in it, as I doubted not, that among such near and dear friends as you are with, you was diverted from writing by some such agreeable excursion, as that you mention.

 

I was in hopes that you had given over, at this time of day, those very sprightly airs, which I have taken the liberty to blame you for, as often as you have given me occasion for it; and that has been very often.

 

I was always very grave with you upon this subject: And while your own and a worthy man’s future happiness are in the question, I must enter into it, whenever you forget yourself, altho’ I had not a day to live: And indeed I am very ill.

 

I am sure, it was not your intention to take your future husband with you to the little island, to make him look weak and silly among those of your relations who never before had seen him. Yet do you think it possible for them (however prepared and resolved they may be to like him) to forbear smiling at him when they see him suffering under your whimsical penances? A model man should no more be made little in his own eyes, than in the eyes of others . If he be, he will have a diffidence, which will give an aukwardness to every thing he says or does: And this will be no more to the credit of your choice, than to that of the approbation he meets with from your friends, or to his own credit.

 

I love an obliging, and even an humble deportment in a man to the woman he addresses. It is mark of his politeness, and tends to give her that opinion of herself, which it may be supposed bashful merit wants to be inspired with. But if the lady exacts it with a high hand, she shews not either her own politeness or gratitude; altho’ I must confess she does her courage. I gave you expectation that I would be very serious with you.

 

O my dear, that had it been my lot (as I was not permitted to live single) to have met with a man by whom I could have acted generously and unreservedly!

 

Mr. Lovelace, it is now plain, in order to have a pretence against me, taxed my behaviour to him, with stiffness and distance. You, at one time, thought me guilty of some degree of prudery. Difficult situations should be allowed for; which often make occasions for censure unavoidable. I deserved not blame from him who made mine difficult. And you, my dear, if I had had any other man to deal with, or had he had but half the merit which Mr. Hickman has, should have found that my doctrine on this subject, should have governed my practice!

 

But to put myself out of the question—I’ll tell you what I should think, were I an indifferent by-stander, of these high airs of yours, in return for Mr. Hickman’s humble demeanour. “The lady thinks of having the gentleman, I see plainly, would I say. But I see, as plainly, that she has a very great indifference to him. And to what may this indifference be owing? To one or all of these considerations, no doubt: That she receives his addresses rather from motives of convenience than choice: That she thinks meanly of his endowments and intellects; at least more highly of her own : Or, she has not the generosity to use that power with moderation, which his great affection for her puts into her hands.”

 

How would you like, my dear, to have any of these things said?

 

Then to give but the shadow of a reason for free-livers and free-speakers to say, or to imagine, that Miss Howe gives her hand to a man, who has no reason to expect any share in her heart, I am sure you would not wish that such a thing should be so much as supposed. Then, all the regard from you to come afterwards ; none to be shewn before ; must, I should think, be capable of being construed, as a compliment to the husband, made at the expence of the wife’s delicacy .

 

There is no fear that attempts could be formed by the most audacious, [two Lovelaces there cannot be!] upon a character so revered for virtue, and so charmingly spirited as Miss Howe’s: Yet, to have any man encouraged to despise a husband by the example of one who is most concerned to do him honour; what, my dear, think you of that? —It is but too natural for envious men (and who that knows Miss Howe, will not envy Mr. Hickman?) to scoff at, and to jest upon those who are treated with, or will bear indignity from a woman. If a man so treated, have a true and ardent love for the woman he addresses, he will be easily over-awed by her displeasure: And this will put him upon acts of submission, which will be called meanness . And what woman of true spirit would like to have it said, that she would impose any thing upon the man, from whom she one day expected protection and defence, that should be capable of being construed as a meanness, or unmanly abjectness in his behaviour, even to herself? —Nay, I am not sure, and I ask it of you; my dear, to resolve me, whether in your own opinion, it is not likely, that a woman of spirit will despise rather than value more, the man who will take patiently an insult at her hands; especially before company ?

 

I have always observed, that prejudices in disfavour of a person, at his first appearance, fix deeper, and are much more difficult to be removed when fixed, than prejudice in favour : Whether owing to envy, or to that malignant principle so eminently visible in little minds, which makes them wish to bring down the more worthy characters to their own low level, I pretend not to determine. When once, therefore, a woman of your good sense give room to the world, to think she has not an high opinion of the lover, whom, nevertheless, she entertains, it will be very difficult for her afterwards, to make that world think so well as she would have it, of the husband she has chosen.

 

Give me leave to observe, that to condescend with dignity, and to command with such kindness, and sweetness of manners, as should let the condescension, while single, be seen and acknowleged, are points, which a wise woman, knowing her man, should aim at: And a wise woman, I should think, would choose to live single all her life, rather than give herself to a man, whom she thinks unworthy of a treatment so noble.

 

But when a woman lets her lover see, that she has the generosity to approve of and reward a well-meant service; that she has a mind that lifts her above the little captious follies, which some (too licentiously, I hope) attribute to the sex in general: That she resents not (if ever she thinks she has reason to be displeased) with petulance, or through pride: Nor thinks it necessary to insist upon little points, to come at or secure great ones, perhaps not proper to be aimed at: Nor leaves room to suppose she has so much cause to doubt her own merit, as to put the love of the man she intends to favour, upon disagreeable or arrogant tryals: But lets reason be the principal guide of her actions: —She will then never fail of that true respect, of that sincere veneration, which she wishes to meet with; and which will make her judgment, after marriage, consulted, sometimes with a preference to a man’s own, at other times, as a delightful confirmation of it.

 

And so much, my beloved Miss Howe, for this subject now, and I dare say, for ever !

 

I will begin another letter by-and-by, and send both together. —Mean time, I am, &c.

 

    In the promised next letter the lady acquaints Miss Howe with Mr. Brand’s Report; with her sister’s proposals either that she will go abroad, or prosecute Mr. Lovelace; she complaints of the severe letter of her uncle Antony and her sister; but in milder terms than they deserved.

She sends her Dr. Lewen’s letter, and the copy of her answer to it.

 

    She tells her of the difficulties she had been under to avoid seeing Mr. Lovelaee. Gives her the contents of the letter she wrote to him: Is afraid, she says, that it is a step that is not strictly right, is allegory and metaphor be not allowable to one in her circumstances.
    She informs her of her cousin Morden’s arrival and readiness to take her part with her relations; of his designed interview with Mr. Lovelace; and tells her what her apprehensions are upon it.
    She gives her the purport of the conversation between her aunt Hervey and Mrs. Norton. And then adds:

But were they ever so favourably inclined to me now, what can they do for me? I wish, and that for their sakes more than for my own, that they would yet relent—But I am very ill—I must drop my Pen—A sudden Faintness overspreads my heart—Excuse my crooked writing! —Adieu, my dear!—Adieu!

Three o’clock, Friday.

Once more, I resume my pen. I thought I had taken my last farewell of you. I never was so very oddly affected: Something that seemed totally to overwhelm my faculties —I don’t know how to describe it! —I believe I do amiss in writing so much, and taking too much upon me: But an active mind, tho’ clouded by bodily illness, cannot be idle.

 

I’ll see if the air, and a discontinued attention will help me. —But if it will not, don’t be concerned for me, my dear! —I shall be happy. Nay, I am more so already, than of late I thought I could ever be in this life. — Yet how this body clings! —How it incumbers!

 

Seven o’clock.

I could not send this letter away with so melancholy an ending, as you would have thought it. So I deferred closing it, till I saw how I should be on my return from my airing: And now I must say, I am quite another thing: So alert!—that I could proceed with as much spirit as I as begun, and add more preachment to your lively subject, if I had not written more than enough upon it already.

 

I wish you would let me give you and Mr. Hickman joy. Do, my dear! —I should take some to myself, if you would.

 

My respectful compliments to all your friends, as well to those I have the honour to know, as to those I do not know.

 

 

I have just now been surprized with a letter from one whom I long ago gave up all thoughts of hearing from. From Mr. Wyerley. I will inclose it. You’ll be surprized at it, as much as I was. This seems to be a man whom I might have reclaimed. But I could not love him. Yet I hope I never treated him with arrogance. Indeed, my dear, if I am not too partial to myself, I think I refused him with more gentleness, than you retain somebody else. And this recollection gives me less pain than I should have had in the other case, on receiving this instance of a generosity that affects me. I will also inclose the rough draught of my answer, as soon as I have transcribed it.

 

If I begin another sheet, I shall write to the end of it: Wherefore I will only add, my prayers for your honour and prosperity, and for a long, long, happy life; and that, when it comes to be wound up, you may be as calm and as easy at quitting it, as I hope in God I shall be. Who am, and will be, to the latest moment,

 

Your truly affectionate and obliged Servant,


Cl. Harlowe.

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