LETTER 451: MR BELFORD, TO ROBERT LOVELACE, ESQ

Friday Morn. Sept. 1.

 

It is surprising, that I, a man, should be so much affected as I was, at such an object as is the subject of my former letter; who also, in my late uncle’s case, and poor Belton’s, had the like before me, and the directing of it: When she, a woman, of so weak and tender a frame, who was to fill it (so soon, perhaps, to fill it!) could give orders about it, and draw out the devices upon it, and explain them with so little concern as the women tell me she did to them last night, after I was gone.

 

I really was ill, and restless all night. Thou wert the subject of my execration, as she of my admiration, all the time I was quite awake: And, when I dozed, I dreamt of nothing but of flying hour-glasses, deaths heads, spades, mattocks, and Eternity; the hint of her devices (as given me by Mrs. Smith) running in my head.

 

However, not being able to keep away from Smith’s, I went thither about seven. The lady was just gone out: She had slept better, I found, than I, tho’ her solemn repository was under her window not far from her bed-side.

 

I was prevailed upon by Mrs. Smith and her nurse Shelburne (Mrs. Lovick being abroad with her) to go up and look at the devices. Mrs. Lovick has since shewn me a copy of the draught by which all was ordered. And I will give thee a sketch of the symbols.

 

The principal device, neatly etched on a plate of white metal, is a crowned serpent, with its tail in its mouth, forming a ring, the emblem of Eternity, and in the circle made by it is this inscription:

 

 

CLARISSA HARLOWE .
APRIL X.
[Then the year]
Ætat. xix .

 

For ornaments: At top, an hour-glass winged. At bottom, an urn.

 

Under the hour-glass, on another plate this inscription:

 

Here the wicked cease from troublingAnd HERE the weary be at rest. Job iii. 17.

 

Over the urn, near the bottom:

 

Turn again unto thy rest, O my soul! For the Lord hath rewarded thee: And why? Thou hast delivered my soul from death; mine eyes from tears; and my feet from falling. Ps. cxvi . 7, 8.

 

Over this text is the head of a white lily snapt short off, and just falling from the stalk; and this inscription over that, between the principal plate and the lily:

 

The days of man are but as grass. For he flourisheth as a flower of the field: For, as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. Ps. ciii . 15, 16.

 

She excused herself to the women, on the score of her youth, and being used to draw for her needleworks, for having shewn more fancy than would perhaps be thought suitable on so solemn an occasion.

 

The date, April 10. she accounted for, as not being able to tell what her closing-day would be; and as That was the fatal day of her leaving her father’s house.

 

She discharged the undertaker’s bill, after I was gone, with as much chearfulness as she could ever have paid for the cloaths she sold to purchase this her palace : For such she called it; reflecting upon herself for the expensiveness of it, saying, That they might observe in her,that pride left not poor mortals to the last: But indeed she did not know but her father would permit it, when furnished, to be carried down to be deposited with her ancestors; and, in that case, she ought not to discredit them in her last appearance .

 

It is covered with fine black cloth, and lined with white satten; soon, she said, to be tarnished by viler earth than any it could be covered by.

 

The burial-dress was brought home with it. The women had curiosity enough, I suppose, to see her open That, if she did open it. —And, perhaps, thou wouldst have been glad to have been present, to have admired it too!

 

Mrs. Lovick said, she took the liberty to blame her; and wished the removal of such an object—from her bedchamber, at least: And was so affected with the noble answer she made upon it, that she entered it down, the moment she left her.

 

To persons in health, said she, this sight may be shocking; and the preparation, and my unconcernedness in it, may appear affected: But to me, who have had so gradual a weaning-time from the world, and so much reason not to love it, I must say, I dwell on, I indulge (and, strictly speaking, I enjoy) the thoughts of death. For, believe me (looking stedfastly at the awful receptacle): Believe what at this instant I feel to be most true, That there is such a vast superiority of weight and importance in the thought of death, and its hoped for happy consequences, that it in a manner annihilates all other considerations and concerns. Believe me, my good friends, it does what nothing else can do; It teaches me, by strenthening in me the force of the divinest example, to forgive the injuries I have received; and shuts out the remembrance of past evils from my soul.

 

And now let me ask thee, Lovelace, Dost thou think, that, when the time shall come that thou shalt be obliged to launch into the boundless ocean of Eternity, thou wilt be able (any more than poor Belton was) to act thy part with such true heroism, as this sweet and tender blossom of a woman has manifested, and continues to manifest!

 

O no! it cannot be! —And why cannot it be? —The reason is evident: She has no wilful errors to look back upon with self-reproach—and her mind is strengthened by the consolations which flow from that religious rectitude which has been the guide of all her actions; and which has taught her rather to choose to be a sufferer, than an aggressor!

 

This was the support of the divine Socrates, as thou hast read. When led to execution, his wife lamenting that he should suffer being innocent, Thou fool, said he, wouldst thou wish me to be guilty?

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