Clarissa Harlowe LETTER VIII


I went down with revenge in my heart, the contents of Miss Howe’s letter almost engrossing me, the moment that Miss Harlowe and Mrs. Moore (accompanied by Miss Rawlins) came in: but in my countenance all the gentle, the placid, the serene, that the glass could teach; and in my behaviour all the polite, that such an unpolite creature, as she has often told me I am, could put on.

Miss Rawlins was sent for home almost as soon as she came in, to entertain an unexpected visiter; to her great regret, as well as to the disappointment of my fair-one, as I could perceive from the looks of both: for they had agreed, it seems, if I went to town, as I said I intended to do, to take a walk upon the Heath, at least in Mrs. Moore’s garden; and who knows, what might have been the issue, had the spirit of curiosity in the one met with the spirit of communication in the other?

Miss Rawlins promised to return, if possible: but sent to excuse herself: her visiter intending to stay with her all night.

I rejoiced in my heart at her message; and, after much supplication, obtained the favour of my beloved’s company for another walk in the garden, having, as I told her, abundance of things to say, to propose, and to be informed of, in order ultimately to govern myself in my future steps.

She had vouchsafed, I should have told thee, with eyes turned from me, and in a half-aside attitude, to sip two dishes of tea in my company—Dear soul!—How anger unpolishes the most polite! for I never saw Miss Harlowe behave so awkwardly. I imagined she knew not how to be awkward.

When we were in the garden, I poured my whole soul into her attentive ear; and besought her returning favour.

She told me, that she had formed her scheme for her future life: that, vile as the treatment was which she had received from me, that was not all the reason she had for rejecting my suit: but that, on the maturest deliberation, she was convinced that she could neither be happy with me, nor make me happy; and she injoined me, for both our sakes, to think no more of her.

The Captain, I told her, was rid down post, in a manner, to forward my wishes with her uncle.—Lady Betty and Miss Montague were undoubtedly arrived in town by this time. I would set out early in the morning to attend them. They adored her. They longed to see her. They would see her.—They would not be denied her company in Oxfordshire. Whither could she better go, to be free from her brother’s insults?—Whither, to be absolutely made unapprehensive of any body else?—Might I have any hopes of her returning favour, if Miss Howe could be prevailed upon to intercede for me?

Miss Howe prevailed upon to intercede for you! repeated she, with a scornful bridle, but a very pretty one.—And there she stopt.

I repeated the concern it would be to me to be under a necessity of mentioning the misunderstanding to Lady Betty and my cousin, as a misunderstanding still to be made up; and as if I were of very little consequence to a dear creature who was of so much to me; urging, that these circumstances would extremely lower me not only in my own opinion, but in that of my relations.

But still she referred to Miss Howe’s next letter; and all the concession I could bring her to in this whole conference, was, that she would wait the arrival and visit of the two ladies, if they came in a day or two, or before she received the expected letter from Miss Howe.

Thank Heaven for this! thought I. And now may I go to town with hopes at my return to find thee, dearest, where I shall leave thee.

But yet, as she may find reasons to change her mind in my absence, I shall not entirely trust to this. My fellow, therefore, who is in the house, and who, by Mrs. Bevis’s kind intelligence, will know every step she can take, shall have Andrew and a horse ready, to give me immediate notice of her motions; and moreover, go whither she will, he shall be one of her retinue, though unknown to herself, if possible.

This was all I could make of the fair inexorable. Should I be glad of it, or sorry for it?—

Glad I believe: and yet my pride is confoundedly abated, to think that I had so little hold in the affections of this daughter of the Harlowes.

Don’t tell me that virtue and principle are her guides on this occasion!—’Tis pride, a greater pride than my own, that governs her. Love, she has none, thou seest; nor ever had; at least not in a superior degree. Love, that deserves the name, never was under the dominion of prudence, or of any reasoning power. She cannot bear to be thought a woman, I warrant! And if, in the last attempt, I find her not one, what will she be the worse for the trial?—No one is to blame for suffering an evil he cannot shun or avoid.

Were a general to be overpowered, and robbed by a highwayman, would he be less fit for the command of an army on that account?—If indeed the general, pretending great valour, and having boasted that he never would be robbed, were to make but faint resistance when he was brought to the test, and to yield his purse when he was master of his own sword, then indeed will the highwayman who robs him be thought the braver man.

But from these last conferences am I furnished with one argument in defence of my favourite purpose, which I never yet pleaded.

O Jack! what a difficulty must a man be allowed to have to conquer a predominant passion, be it what it will, when the gratifying of it is in his power, however wrong he knows it to be to resolve to gratify it! Reflect upon this; and then wilt thou be able to account for, if not to excuse, a projected crime, which has habit to plead for it, in a breast as stormy as uncontroulable!

This that follows is my new argument—

Should she fail in the trial; should I succeed; and should she refuse to go on with me; and even resolve not to marry me (of which I can have no notion); and should she disdain to be obliged to me for the handsome provision I should be proud to make for her, even to the half of my estate; yet cannot she be altogether unhappy—Is she not entitled to an independent fortune? Will not Col. Morden, as her trustee, put her in possession of it? And did she not in our former conference point out the way of life, that she always preferred to the married life—to wit, ‘To take her good Norton for her directress and guide, and to live upon her own estate in the manner her grandfather desired she should live?’*

* See Letter III. of this volume.

It is moreover to be considered that she cannot, according to her own notions, recover above one half of her fame, were we not to intermarry; so much does she think she has suffered by her going off with me. And will she not be always repining and mourning for the loss of the other half?—And if she must live a life of such uneasiness and regret for half, may she not as well repine and mourn for the whole?

Nor, let me tell thee, will her own scheme or penitence, in this case, be half so perfect, if she do not fall, as if she does: for what a foolish penitent will she make, who has nothing to repent of!—She piques herself, thou knowest, and makes it matter of reproach to me, that she went not off with me by her own consent; but was tricked out of herself.

Nor upbraid thou me upon the meditated breach of vows so repeatedly made. She will not, thou seest, permit me to fulfil them. And if she would, this I have to say, that, at the time I made the most solemn of them, I was fully determined to keep them. But what prince thinks himself obliged any longer to observe the articles of treaties, the most sacredly sworn to, than suits with his interest or inclination; although the consequence of the infraction must be, as he knows, the destruction of thousands.

Is not this then the result of all, that Miss Clarissa Harlowe, if it be not her own fault, may be as virtuous after she has lost her honour, as it is called, as she was before? She may be a more eminent example to her sex; and if she yield (a little yield) in the trial, may be a completer penitent. Nor can she, but by her own wilfulness, be reduced to low fortunes.

And thus may her old nurse and she; an old coachman; and a pair of old coach-horses; and two or three old maid-servants, and perhaps a very old footman or two, (for every thing will be old and penitential about her,) live very comfortably together; reading old sermons, and old prayer-books; and relieving old men and old women; and giving old lessons, and old warnings, upon new subjects, as well as old ones, to the young ladies of her neighbourhood; and so pass on to a good old age, doing a great deal of good both by precept and example in her generation.

And is a woman who can live thus prettily without controul; who ever did prefer, and who still prefers, the single to the married life; and who will be enabled to do every thing that the plan she had formed will direct her to do; to be said to be ruined, undone, and such sort of stuff?—I have no patience with the pretty fools, who use those strong words, to describe a transitory evil; an evil which a mere church-form makes none?

At this rate of romancing, how many flourishing ruins dost thou, as well as I, know? Let us but look about us, and we shall see some of the haughtiest and most censorious spirits among our acquaintance of that sex now passing for chaste wives, of whom strange stories might be told; and others, whose husbands’ hearts have been made to ache for their gaieties, both before and after marriage; and yet know not half so much of them, as some of us honest fellows could tell them.

But, having thus satisfied myself in relation to the worst that can happen to this charming creature; and that it will be her own fault, if she be unhappy; I have not at all reflected upon what is likely to be my own lot.

This has always been my notion, though Miss Howe grudges us rakes the best of the sex, and says, that the worst is too good for us,* that the wife of a libertine ought to be pure, spotless, uncontaminated. To what purpose has such a one lived a free life, but to know the world, and to make his advantages of it!—And, to be very serious, it would be a misfortune to the public for two persons, heads of a family, to be both bad; since, between two such, a race of varlets might be propagated (Lovelaces and Belfords, if thou wilt) who might do great mischief in the world.

Thou seest at bottom that I am not an abandoned fellow; and that there is a mixture of gravity in me. This, as I grow older, may increase; and when my active capacity begins to abate, I may sit down with the preacher, and resolve all my past life into vanity and vexation of spirit.

This is certain, that I shall never find a woman so well suited to my taste as Miss Clarissa Harlowe. I only wish that I may have such a lady as her to comfort and adorn my setting sun. I have often thought it very unhappy for us both, that so excellent a creature sprang up a little too late for my setting out, and a little too early in my progress, before I can think of returning. And yet, as I have picked up the sweet traveller in my way, I cannot help wishing that she would bear me company in the rest of my journey, although she were stepping out of her own path to oblige me. And then, perhaps, we could put up in the evening at the same inn; and be very happy in each other’s conversation; recounting the difficulties and dangers we had passed in our way to it.

I imagine that thou wilt be apt to suspect that some passages in this letter were written in town. Why, Jack, I cannot but say that the Westminster air is a little grosser than that at Hampstead; and the conversation of Mrs. Sinclair and the nymphs less innocent than Mrs. Moore’s and Miss Rawlins’s. And I think in my heart I can say and write those things at one place which I cannot at the other, nor indeed any where else.

I came to town about seven this morning—all necessary directions and precautions remembered to be given.

I besought the favour of an audience before I set out. I was desirous to see which of her lovely faces she was pleased to put on, after another night had passed. But she was resolved, I found, to leave our quarrel open. She would not give me an opportunity so much as to entreat her again to close it, before the arrival of Lady Betty and my cousin.

I had notice from my proctor, by a few lines brought by a man and horse, just before I set out, that all difficulties had been for two days past surmounted; and that I might have the license for fetching.

I sent up the letter to my beloved, by Mrs. Bevis, with a repeated request for admittance to her presence upon it; but neither did this stand me in stead. I suppose she thought it would be allowing of the consequences that were naturally to be expected to follow the obtaining of this instrument, if she had consented to see me on the contents of this letter, having refused me that honour before I sent it up to her.—No surprising her.—No advantage to be taken of her inattention to the nicest circumstances.

And now, Belford, I set out upon business.