Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LI


Thou, Lovelace, hast been long the entertainer; I the entertained. Nor have I been solicitous to animadvert, as thou wentest along, upon thy inventions, and their tendency. For I believed, that with all thy airs, the unequalled perfections and fine qualities of this lady would always be her protection and security. But now that I find thou hast so far succeeded, as to induce her to come to town, and to choose her lodgings in a house, the people of which will too probably damp and suppress any honourable motions which may arise in thy mind in her favour, I cannot help writing, and that professedly in her behalf.

My inducements to this are not owing to virtue: But if they were, what hope could I have of affecting thee by pleas arising from it?

Nor would such a man as thou art be deterred, were I to remind thee of the vengeance which thou mayest one day expect, if thou insultest a woman of her character, family, and fortune.

Neither are gratitude and honour motives to be mentioned in a woman’s favour, to men such as we are, who consider all those of the sex as fair prize, over honour, in the general acceptation of the word, are two things.

What then is my motive?—What, but the true friendship that I bear thee, Lovelace; which makes me plead thy own sake, and thy family’s sake, in the justice thou owest to this incomparable creature; who, however, so well deserves to have her sake to be mentioned as the principal consideration.

Last time I was at M. Hall, thy noble uncle so earnestly pressed me to use my interest to persuade thee to enter the pale, and gave me so many family reasons for it, that I could not help engaging myself heartily on his side of the question; and the rather, as I knew that thy own intentions with regard to this fine woman were then worthy of her. And of this I assured his Lordship; who was half afraid of thee, because of the ill usage thou receivedst from her family. But now, that the case is altered, let me press the matter home to thee from other considerations.

By what I have heard of this lady’s perfections from every mouth, as well as from thine, and from every letter thou hast written, where wilt thou find such another woman? And why shouldst thou tempt her virtue?—Why shouldst thou wish to try where there is no reason to doubt?

Were I in thy case, and designed to marry, and if I preferred a woman as I know thou dost this to all the women in the world, I should read to make further trial, knowing what we know of the sex, for fear of succeeding; and especially if I doubted not, that if there were a woman in the world virtuous at heart, it is she.

And let me tell thee, Lovelace, that in this lady’s situation, the trial is not a fair trial. Considering the depth of thy plots and contrivances: considering the opportunities which I see thou must have with her, in spite of her own heart; all her relations’ follies acting in concert, though unknown to themselves, with thy wicked, scheming head: considering how destitute of protection she is: considering the house she is to be in, where she will be surrounded with thy implements; specious, well-bred and genteel creatures, not easily to be detected when they are disposed to preserve appearances, especially by the young inexperienced lady wholly unacquainted with the town: considering all these things, I say, what glory, what cause of triumph wilt thou have, if she should be overcome?—Thou, too, a man born for intrigue, full of invention, intrepid, remorseless, able patiently to watch for thy opportunity, not hurried, as most men, by gusts of violent passion, which often nip a project in the bud, and make the snail, that was just putting out his horns to meet the inviter, withdraw into its shell—a man who has no regard to his word or oath to the sex; the lady scrupulously strict to her word, incapable of art or design; apt therefore to believe well of others—it would be a miracle if she stood such an attempter, such attempts, and such snares, as I see will be laid for her. And, after all, I see not when men are so frail without importunity, that so much should be expected from women, daughters of the same fathers and mothers, and made up of the same brittle compounds, (education all the difference,) nor where the triumph is in subduing them.

May there not be other Lovelaces, thou askest, who, attracted by her beauty, may endeavour to prevail with her?*

* See Letter XVIII. of this volume.

No; there cannot, I answer, be such another man, person, mind, fortune, and thy character, as above given, taken in. If thou imaginest there could, such is thy pride, that thou wouldst think the worse of thyself.

But let me touch upon thy predominant passion, revenge; for love is but second to that, as I have often told thee, though it has set thee into raving at me: what poor pretences for revenge are the difficulties thou hadst in getting her off; allowing that she had run a risque of being Solmes’s wife, had she staid? If these are other than pretences, why thankest thou not those who, by their persecutions of her, answered thy hopes, and threw her into thy power?—Besides, are not the pretences thou makest for further trial, most ungratefully, as well as contradictorily founded upon the supposition of error in her, occasioned by her favour to thee?

And let me, for the utter confusion of thy poor pleas of this nature, ask thee—Would she, in thy opinion, had she willingly gone off with thee, have been entitled to better quarter?—For a mistress indeed she might: but how wouldst thou for a wife have had cause to like her half so well as now?

Has she not demonstrated, that even the highest provocations were not sufficient to warp her from her duty to her parents, though a native, and, as I may say, an originally involuntary duty, because native? And is not this a charming earnest that she will sacredly observe a still higher duty into which she proposes to enter, when she does enter, by plighted vows, and entirely as a volunteer?

That she loves thee, wicked as thou art, and cruel as a panther, there is no reason to doubt. Yet, what a command has she over herself, that such a penetrating self-flatterer as thyself is sometimes ready to doubt it! Though persecuted on the one hand, as she was, by her own family, and attracted, on the other, by the splendour of thine; every one of whom courts her to rank herself among them!

Thou wilt perhaps think that I have departed from my proposition, and pleaded the lady’s sake more than thine, in the above—but no such thing. All that I have written is more in thy behalf than in her’s; since she may make thee happy; but it is next to impossible, I should think, if she preserve her delicacy, that thou canst make her so. What is the love of a rakish heart? There cannot be peculiarity in it. But I need not give my further reasons. Thou wilt have ingenuousness enough, I dare say, were there occasion for it, to subscribe to my opinion.

I plead not for the state from any great liking to it myself. Nor have I, at present, thoughts of entering into it. But, as thou art the last of thy name; as thy family is of note and figure in thy country; and as thou thyself thinkest that thou shalt one day marry: Is it possible, let me ask thee, that thou canst have such another opportunity as thou now hast, if thou lettest this slip? A woman in her family and fortune not unworthy of thine own (though thou art so apt, from pride of ancestry, and pride of heart, to speak slightly of the families thou dislikest); so celebrated for beauty; and so noted at the same time for prudence, for soul, (I will say, instead of sense,) and for virtue?

If thou art not so narrow-minded an elf, as to prefer thine own single satisfaction to posterity, thou, who shouldst wish to beget children for duration, wilt not postpone till the rake’s usual time; that is to say, till diseases or years, or both, lay hold of thee; since in that case thou wouldst entitle thyself to the curses of thy legitimate progeny for giving them a being altogether miserable: a being which they will be obliged to hold upon a worse tenure than that tenant-courtesy, which thou callest the worst;* to wit, upon the Doctor’s courtesy; thy descendants also propagating (if they shall live, and be able to propagate) a wretched race, that shall entail the curse, or the reason for it, upon remote generations.

Wicked as the sober world accounts you and me, we have not yet, it is to be hoped, got over all compunction. Although we find religion against us, we have not yet presumed those who do. And we know better than to be even doubters. In short, we believe a future state of rewards and punishments. But as we have so much youth and health in hand, we hope to have time for repentance. That is to say, in plain English, [nor think thou me too grave, Lovelace: thou art grave sometimes, though not often,] we hope to live to sense, as long as sense can relish, and purpose to reform when we can sin no longer.

And shall this admirable woman suffer for her generous endeavours to set on foot thy reformation; and for insisting upon proofs of the sincerity of thy professions before she will be thine?

Upon the whole matter, let me wish thee to consider well what thou art about, before thou goest a step farther in the path which thou hast chalked out for thyself to tread, and art just going to enter upon. Hitherto all is so far right, that if the lady mistrusts thy honour, she has no proofs. Be honest to her, then, in her sense of the word. None of thy companions, thou knowest, will offer to laugh at what thou dost. And if they should (of thy entering into a state which has been so much ridiculed by thee, and by all of us) thou hast one advantage—it is this, that thou canst not be ashamed.

Deferring to the post-day to close my letter, I find one left at my cousin Osgood’s, with directions to be forwarded to the lady. It was brought within these two hours by a particular hand, and has a Harlowe-seal upon it. As it may therefore be of importance, I dispatch it with my own, by my servant, post-haste.*

* This letter was from Miss Arabella Harlowe. See Let. LV.

I suppose you will soon be in town. Without the lady, I hope. Farewell.

Be honest, and be happy, J. BELFORD.