O Lovelace ! I have a scene to paint in relation to the wretched Sinclair, that, if I do it justice, will make thee seriously ponder and reflect, or nothing can. I will lead to it in order; and that in my usual hand, that thy compeers may be able to read it as well as thyself.
When I had written the preceding letter; not knowing what to do with myself; recollecting, and in vain wishing for that delightful and improving conversation, which I had now for ever lost; I thought I had as good begin the task, which I had for some time past resolved to begin; that is to say, To go to church; and see if I could not reap some benefit from what I should hear there. Accordingly I determined to go to hear the celebrated preacher at St. James’s church. But as if the devil (for so I was then ready to conclude) thought himself concerned to prevent my intention, a visit was made me just as I was dressed, which took me off from my purpose.
Whom should this be from, but Sally Martin, accompanied by Mrs. Carter, the sister of the infamous Sinclair; the same, I suppose I need not tell you, who keeps the Bagnio near Bloomsbury.
These told me that the surgeon, apothecary, and physician, had all given the wretched woman over; but that she said, She could not die nor be at rest till she saw me: And they besought me to accompany them in the coach they came in, if I had one spark of charity, of Christian charity, as they called it, left.
I was very loth to be diverted from my purpose by a request so unwelcome, and from people so hated; but at last went, and we got thither by ten: Where a scene so shocking presented itself to me, that the death of poor desponding Belton is not, I think, to be compared with it.
The old wretch had once put her leg out by her rage and violence, and had been crying, scolding, cursing, ever since the preceding evening, that the surgeon had told her it was impossible to save her; and that a mortification had begun to shew itself; insomuch that purely in compassion to their own ears, they had been forced to send for another surgeon, purposely to tell her, tho’ against his judgment, and (being a friend of the other) to seem to convince him, that he mistook her case; and that, if she would be patient, she might recover. But, nevertheless her apprehensions of death and her antipathy to the thoughts of dying were so strong, that their imposture had not the intended effect, and she was raving, crying, cursing, and even howling, more like a wolf than a human creature, when I came; so that as I went up stairs, I said, Surely this noise, this howling, cannot be from the unhappy woman! Sally said it was, and assured me, that it was nothing to the noise she had made all night; and stepping into her room before me, Dear Madam Sinclair, said she, forbear this noise! It is more like that of a bull than a woman! —Here comes Mr. Belford; and you’ll fright him away, if you bellow at this rate.
There were no less than eight of her cursed daughters surrounding her bed when I entered; one of her partners, Polly Horton, at their head; and now Sally, her other partner, and Madam Carter, as they called her (for they are all Madams with one another) made the number Ten: All in shocking dishabille, and without stays, except Sally, Carter, and Polly; who, not daring to leave her, had not been in bed all night.
The other seven seemed to have been but just up, risen perhaps from their customers in the fore-house, and their nocturnal Orgies, with faces, three or four of them, that had run, the paint lying in streaky seams not half blowz’d off, discovering coarse wrinkled skins: The hair of some of them of divers colours, obliged to the black-lead comb where black was affected; the artificial jet, however, yielding apace to the natural brindle: That of others plaistered with oil and powder; the oil predominating: But every one’s hanging about her ears and neck in broken curls, or ragged ends; and each at my entrance taken with one motion, stroaking their matted locks with both hands under their coifs, mobs, or pinners, every one of which was awry. They were all slip-shoed; stockenless some; only under-petticoated all; their gowns, made to cover straddling hoops, hanging trolloppy, and tangling about their heels; but hastily wrapt round them, as soon as I came up stairs. And half of them (unpadded, shoulderbent, pallid-lipp’d, feeble-jointed wretches) appearing from a blooming Nineteen or Twenty perhaps over-night, haggard well-worn strumpets of Thirty-eight or Forty.
I am the more particular in describing to thee the appearance these creatures made in my eyes when I came into the room, because I believe thou never sawest any of them, much less a group of them, thus unprepared for being seen ( a ) . I, for my part, never did before; nor had I now, but upon this occasion, been thus favoured . If thou hadst, I believe thou wouldst hate a profligate woman, as one of Swift’s Yahoos, or Virgil’s obscene Harpyes, squirting their ordure upon the Trojan trenchers; since the persons of such in their retirements are as filthy as their minds— Hate them as much as I do; and as much as I admire, and next to adore a truly virtuous and elegant woman: For to me it is evident, that as a neat and clean woman must be an angel of a creature, so a sluttish one is the impurest animal in nature.
But these were the veterans, the chosen band; for now-and-then flitted in, to the number of half a dozen or more, by turns, subordinate sinners, under-graduates, younger than some of the chosen phalanx, but not less obscene in their appearance, tho’ indeed not so much beholden to the plaistering fucus; yet unpropt by stays, squalid, loose in attire, sluggish-haired, under-petticoated only as the former, eyes half opened, winking and pinking, mispatched, yawning, stretching, as if from the unworn-off effects of the midnight revel; all armed in succession with supplies of cordials, of which every one present was either taster or partaker, under the direction of the Prætorian Dorcas, who now-and-then popp’d in to see her slops duly given and taken.
But when I approached the old wretch, what a spectacle presented itself to my eyes!
Her misfortune has not at all sunk, but rather, as I thought, increased her flesh; rage and violence perhaps swelling her muscly features. Behold her then, spreading the whole tumbled bed with her huge quaggy carcase: Her mill-post arms held up; her broad hands clenched with violence; her big eyes, goggling and flaming-red as we may suppose those of a salamander; her matted griesly hair, made irreverend by her wickedness (her clouted headress being half off) spread about her fat ears and brawny neck; her livid lips parched, and working violently; her broad chin in convulsive motion; her wide mouth, by reason of the contraction of her forehead (which seemed to be half-lost in its own frightful furrows) splitting her face, as it were, into two parts; and her huge tongue hideously rolling in it; heaving, puffing, as if for breath, her bellows-shaped and various-coloured breasts ascending by turns to her chin, and descending out of sight, with the violence of her gaspings.
This was the spectacle, as recollection has enabled me to describe it, that this wretch made to my eye, when I approached her bed-side, surrounded, as I said, by her suffragans and daughters, who surveyed her with scouling frighted attention, which one might easily see had more in it of horror, and self-concern (and self-condemnation too) than of love or pity; as who should say, See! what we ourselves must one day be!
As soon as she saw me, her naturally big voice, more hoarsened by her ravings, broke upon me: O Mr. Belford! O Sir! see what I am come to! —See what I am brought to! —To have such a cursed crew about me, and not one of them to take care of me! —But to let me tumble down stairs so distant from the room I went from! so distant from the room I meant to go to! O cursed be every careless devil! —May this or worse be their fate every one of them!
And then she cursed and swore more vehemently, and the more, as two or three of them were excusing themselves on the score of their being at that time as unable to help themselves as she.
As soon as she had cleared the passage of her throat by the oaths and curses which her wild impatience made her utter, she began in a more hollow and whining strain to bemoan herself. And here, said she—Heaven grant me patience! (clenching and unclenching her hands) am I to die thus miserably!—of a broken leg in my old age!— snatch’d away by means of my own intemperance! Self-do! Self-undone! —No time for my affairs! No time to repent! —And in a few hours (Oh!—Oh!—with another long howling O—h!—U—gh—o! a kind of screaming key terminating it) who knows, who can tell where I shall be! —Oh! that indeed I never, never, had had a being!
What could one say to such a wretch as this! whose whole life has been spent in the most diffusive wickedness, and who has more souls to answer for, of both sexes, than the best Divine in England ever saved? —Yet I told her, She must be patient: That her violence made her worse: And that, if she would compose herself, she might get into a frame more proper for her present circumstances.
Who I! interrupted she: I get into a better frame! I, who can neither cry, nor pray! Yet already feel the torments of the damn’d! What mercy can I expect! What hope is left for me! —Then, that sweet creature! That incomparable Miss Harlowe! —She, it seems, is dead and gone! —O that cursed Man! Had it not been for him ! I had never had This, the most crying of all my sins, to answer for! And then she set up another howl.
And is she dead? —Indeed dead? proceeded she, when her howl was over—O what an angel have I been the means of destroying! —For tho’ it was that wicked man’s fault that ever she was in my house, yet it was Mine, and Yours, and Yours, and Yours, Devils as we all were (turning to Sally, to Polly, and to one or two more) that he did not do her justice! And That, That is my curse, and will one day be yours! And then again she howled.
I still advised patience. I said, that if her time was so short as she apprehended it to be, the more ought she to endeavour to compose herself: And then she would at least die with more ease to herself—and satisfaction to her friends, I was going to say—But the word die put her into a violent raving, and thus she broke in upon me.
Die, did you say, Sir? —Die! —I will not, I cannot die! —I know not how to die!— Die, Sir! —And must I then die! —Leave this world! —I cannot bear it!—And who brought You hither, Sir, (her eyes striking fire at me) Who brought you hither to tell me I must die, Sir? —I cannot, I will not leave this world. Let others die, who wish for another! who expect a better! —I have had my plagues in This; but would compound for all future hopes, so as I may be nothing after This! And then she howled and bellowed by turns.
By my faith, Lovelace, I trembled in every joint; and looking upon her who spoke This, and roared Thus, and upon the company round me, I more than once thought myself to be in one of the infernal mansions!
Yet will I proceed and try for thy good if I can shock thee but half as much with my descriptions, as I was shocked by what I saw and heard.
Sally—Polly—Sister Carter! said she, did you not tell me I might recover ? Did not the surgeon tell me I might?
And so you may, cry’d Sally; Mr. Garon says you may, if you’ll be patient. But, as I have often told you this blessed morning, you are readier to take despair from your own fears, than comfort from all the hope we can give you.
Yet, cry’d the wretch, interrupting, does not Mr. Belford (and to him you have told the truth, tho’ you won’t to me ; Does not he) tell me I shall die ? —I cannot bear it! I cannot bear the thoughts of dying!—
And then, but that half a dozen at once endeavoured to keep down her violent hands, would she have beaten herself; as it seems she had often attempted to do from the time the surgeon popt out the word mortification to her.
Well, but to what purpose, said I (turning aside to her Sister, and to Sally and Polly) are these hopes given her, if the gentlemen of the faculty give her over? You should let her know the worst, and then she must submit; for there is no running away from death. If she has any matters to settle, put her upon settling them; and do not, by telling her she will live when there is no room to expect it, take from her the opportunity of doing needful things. Do the surgeons actually give her over?
They do, whispered they. Her gross habit, they say, gives no hopes. We have sent for both surgeons, whom we expect every minute.
Both the surgeons (who are French, for Mrs. Sinclair has heard Tourville launch out in the praise of French Surgeons) came in while we were thus talking. I retired to the further end of the room, and threw up a window for a little air, being half poisoned by the effluvia arising from so many contaminated carcasses; which gave me no imperfect idea of the stench of gaols, which corrupting the ambient air, give what is called the prison-distemper.
I came back to the bed-side, when the surgeons had inspected the fracture; and asked them, If there were any expectation of her life?
One of them whispered me, There was none: That she had a strong fever upon her, which alone, in such a habit, would probably do the business; and that the mortification had visibly gained upon her, since they were there six hours ago.
Will amputation save her? Her affairs and her mind want settling. A few days added to her life may be of service to her in both respects.
They told me the fracture was high in her leg; that the knee was greatly bruised; that the mortification, in all probability, had spread half-way of theFemur : And then, getting me between them (three or four of the women joining us, and listening with their mouths open, and all the signs of ignorant wonder in their faces, as there appeared of self-sufficiency in those of the artists) did they by turns fill my ears with an anatomical description of the leg and thigh, running over with terms of art; of the Tarsus, the Metatarsus, the Tibia, the Fibula, the Patella, the Os Tali, the Os Tibæ, the Tibialis Posticus and Tibialis Anticus, up to the Os Femoris, to the Acetabulum of the Os Ischion, the Great Trochanter, Glutes, Triceps, Levidus, and Little Rotators ; in short, of all the muscles, cartilages, and bones, that constitute the leg and thigh from the great toe to the hip; as if they would shew me, that all their science had penetrated their heads no farther than their mouths; while Sally lifted up her hands with a Laud bless me! Are all Surgeons so learned! —But at last both the gentlemen declared, That if she and her friends would consent to amputation, they would whip off her leg in a moment.
Mrs. Carter asked, To what purpose, if the operation would not save her?
Very true, they said; but it might be a satisfaction to the patient’s friends, that all was done that could be done.
And so the poor wretch was to be lanced and quartered, as I may say, for an experiment only! And, without any hope of benefit from the operation, was to pay the surgeons for tormenting her!
I cannot but say I have a mean opinion of both these gentlemen, who, tho’ they make a figure it seems in their way of living, and boast not only a French extraction, but a Paris education, never will make any in their practice.
How unlike my honest English friend Tomkins, a plain, serious, intelligent man, whose art lies deeper than in words; who always avoids parade and jargon: and endeavours to make every one as much a judge of what he is about as himself.
All the time the surgeons run on with their anatomical process, the wretched woman most frightfully roared and bellowed; which the gentlemen (who shewed themselves to be of the class of those who are not affected with the evils they do not feel ) took no other notice of, than by raisingtheir voices to be heard, as she raised hers —Being evidently more sollicitous to increase their acquaintance, and to propagate the notion of their skill, than to attend to the clamours of the poor wretch whom they were called in to relieve; tho’ by this very means, like the dog and the shadow in the fable, they lost both aims with me; for I never was deceived in one rule, which I made early; to wit, That the stillest water is the deepest, while the bubbling stream only betrays shallowness; and that stones and pebbles lie there so near the surface, to point out the best place to ford a river dry shod.
As no body cared to tell the unhappy wretch what every one apprehended must follow, and what the surgeons convinced me soon would, I undertook to be the denouncer of her doom. Accordingly, the operators being withdrawn, I sat down by the bed-side, and said, Come, Mrs. Sinclair, let me advise you to forbear these ravings at the carelessness of those, who, I find, at the time, could take no care of themselves; and since the accident has happened, and cannot be remedied, to resolve to make the best of the matter: For all this violence but enrages the malady, and you will probably fall into a delirium, if you give way to it, which will deprive you of that reason which you ought to make the best of, for the time it may be lent you.
She turned her head towards me, and hearing me speak with a determined voice, and seeing me assume as determined an air, became more calm and attentive.
I went on, telling her, that I was glad, from the hints she had given, to find her concerned for her past mis-spent life, and particularly for the part she had had in the ruin of the most excellent woman on earth; That if she would compose herself, and patiently submit to the consequence of an evil she had brought upon herself, it might possibly be happy for her yet. Mean time, continued I, tell me, with temper and calmness, Why you was so desirous to see me?
She seemed to be in great confusion of thought, and turned her head this way and that; and at last, after much hesitation, said, Alas for me! I hardly know what I wanted with you. When I awoke from my intemperate trance, and found what a cursed way I was in, my conscience smote me, and I was for catching, like a drowning wretch, at every straw. I wanted to see every-body and any-body but those I did see; every-body whom I thought could give me comfort. Yet could I expect none from You neither; for you had declared yourself my enemy, altho’ I had never done you harm: For what, Jackey, in her old tone, whining thro’ her nose, was Miss Harlowe to you? —But she is happy! —But oh! what will become of me ? —Yet tell me (for the surgeons have told you the truth, no doubt) tell me, Shall I do well again? May I recover? If I may, I will begin a new course of life: As I hope to be saved I will. I’ll renounce you all—every one of you (looking round her) and scrape all I can together, and live a life of penitence; and when I die, leave it all to charitable uses—I will, by my soul—Every doit of it to charity—But this once, lifting up her rolling eyes, and folded hands (with a wry-mouthed earnestness, in which every muscle and feature of her face bore its part) this one time—Good God of heaven and earth, but this once! this once! repeating those words five or six times, spare thy poor creature, and every hour of my life shall be penitence and atonement: Upon my soul it shall!
Less vehement! a little less vehement! said I—It is not for me, who have led so free a life, as you but too well know, to talk to you in a reproaching strain, and to set before you the iniquity you have lived in, and the many souls you have helped to destroy. But as you are in so penitent a way, if I might advise, it should be to send for a good Clergyman, the purity of whose life and manners may make all these things come from him with a better grace than they can from me.
How, Sir! What, Sir! interrupting me; Send for a Parson! —Then you indeed think I shall die! Then you think there is no room for hope! —A Parson, Sir! —Who sends for a Parson, while there is any hope left? The sight of a Parson would be death immediate to me! —I cannot, cannot die! —Never tell me of it! —What! die! —What! cut off in the midst of my sins!
And then she began to rave again.
I cannot bear, said I, rising from my seat with a stern air, to see a reasonable creature behave so outrageously! — Will this vehemence, think you, mend the matter? Will it avail you any thing? Will it not rather shorten the life you are so desirous to have lengthened, and deprive you of the only opportunity you can ever have to settle your affairs for both worlds? —This is but the common lot: And if it will be yours soon, looking at her, it will be also yours, and yours, and yours, speaking with a raised voice, and turning to every trembling devil round her (for they all shook at my forcible application); and mine also. And you have reason to be thankful, that you did not perish in that act of intemperance, which brought you to this: For it might have been your neck, as well as your leg; and then you had not had the opportunity you now have for repentance—And the Lord have mercy upon you! into what a State might you have awaked?
Then did the poor wretch set up an inarticulate frightful howl, such a one as I never before heard uttered, as if already pangs infernal had taken hold of her; and seeing every one half-frighted, and me motioning to withdraw, O pity me, pity me, Mr. Belford, cried she, her words interrupted by groans. I find you think I shall die! And what I may be, and where, in a very few hours—Who can tell?
I told her it was in vain to flatter her: It was my opinion she would not recover.
I was going to re-advise her to calm her spirits, and endeavour to resign herself, and to make the best of the opportunity yet left her; but this declaration set her into a most outrageous raving. She would have torn her hair, and beaten her breast, had not some of the wretches held her hands by force, while others kept her as steady as they could, lest she should again put out her new-set leg: So that, seeing her thus incapable of advice, and in a perfect phrensy, I told Sally Martin, that there was no bearing the room; and that their best way was to send for a Minister to pray by her, and to reason with her, as soon as she should be capable of it.
And so I left them; and never was so sensible of the benefit of fresh air, as I was the moment I entered the street.
Nor is it to be wondered at, when it is considered, that to the various ill smells, that will be always found in a close sick-bed room (since generally when the Physician comes, the Air is shut out) This of Mrs. Sinclair was the more particularly offensive, as, to the scent of plaisters, embrocations, and ointments, were added the stenches of spirituous liquors, burnt and unburnt, of all denominations: For one or other of the creatures, under pretence of colics, gripes, qualms, or insurrections, were continually calling for supplies of these, all the time I was there. And yet this is thought to be a genteel house of the sort: And all the prostitutes in it, are prostitutes of price, and their visiters people of note.
O Lovelace! what lives do most of us Rakes and Libertines lead! What company do we keep! And, for such company, what society renounce, or endeavour to make like these!
What woman, nice in her person, and of purity in her mind and manners, did she know what miry wallowers the generality of men of our class are in themselves, and constantly trough and sty with, but would detest the thoughts of associating with such filthy sensualists, whose favourite taste carries them to mingle with the dregs of stews, brothels, and common-sewers.
Yet, to such a choice are many worthy women betrayed, by that false and inconsiderate notion, raised and propagated, no doubt, by the author of all delusion, That a reformed Rake makes the best husband . We Rakes, indeed, are bold enough to suppose, that women in general are as much Rakes in their hearts, as the Libertines some of them suffer themselves to be taken with, are in their practice . A supposition therefore, which, it behoves persons of true honour of that Sex, to discountenance, by rejecting the address of every man, whose character will not stand the test of that virtue, which is the glory of a woman: And indeed, I may say, of a man too: Why should it not?
How, indeed, can it be, if this point be duly weighed, that a man who thinks alike of all the Sex, and knows it to be in the power of a wife to do him the greatest dishonour man can receive, and doubts not her will to do it, if opportunity offer, and importunity be not wanting: That such a one, from principle, should be a good husband to any woman? And, indeed, little do innocents think, what a total revolution of manners, what a change of fixed habits, nay, what a conquest of a bad nature, is required, to make a man a good husband, a worthy father, and true friend, from principle ; especially when it is considered, that it is not in a man’s own power to reform when he will. This (to say nothing of my own experience) thou hast found in the progress of thy attempts upon the divine Miss Harlowe. For whose remorses could be either deeper, or more frequent? and whose more transient?
Don’t be disgusted, that I mingle such grave reflections as these with my narratives. It becomes me, in my present way of thinking, to do so, when I see in Miss Harlowe, how all human excellence, and in poor Belton, how all inhuman libertinism, and am near seeing in this abandon’d woman, how all diabolical profligateness, end. And glad should I be, for your own sake, for your splendid family’s sake, and for the sake of all your intimates and acquaintance, that you were labouring under the same impressions, that so we,who have been companions in (and promoters of one another’s) wickedness, might join in a general atonement to the utmost of our power.
I came home reflecting upon all these things, more edifying to me than any Sermon I could have heard preached: And I shall conclude this long letter with observing, that altho’ I left the wretched howler in a high phrensy-fit, which was excessively shocking to the by-standers; yet her phrensy is the happiest part of her dreadful condition: For when she is herself, as it is called, what must be her reflections upon her past profligate life, throughout which it has been her constant delight and business, devil-like, to make others as wicked as herself! What must her terrors be (a Hell already begun in her mind!) on looking forward to the dreadful State she is now upon the verge of! —But I drop my trembling pen.
To have done with so shocking a subject at once, we shall take notice, That Mr. Belford, in a future letter, writes, that the miserable woman, to the surprize of the operators themselves (thro’ hourly increasing tortures of body and mind) held out so long as till Thursday Sept. 21. And then died in such agonies, as terrified into a transitory penitence all the wretches about her.