Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XIII


I now take up my pen to lay before you the inducements and motive which my friends have to espouse so earnestly the address of this Mr. Solmes.

In order to set this matter in a clear light, it is necessary to go a little back, and even perhaps to mention some things which you already know: and so you may look upon what I am going to relate, as a kind of supplement to my letters of the 15th and 20th of January last.*

* Letters IV. and V.

In those letters, of which I have kept memorandums, I gave you an account of my brother’s and sister’s antipathy to Mr. Lovelace; and the methods they took (so far as they had then come to my knowledge) to ruin him in the opinion of my other friends. And I told you, that after a very cold, yet not a directly affrontive behaviour to him, they all of a sudden* became more violent, and proceeded to personal insults; which brought on at last the unhappy rencounter between my brother and him.

* See Letter IV.

Now you must know, that from the last conversation that passed between my aunt and me, it comes out, that this sudden vehemence on my brother’s and sister’s parts, was owing to stronger reasons than to the college-begun antipathy on his side, or to slighted love on hers; to wit, to an apprehension that my uncles intended to follow my grandfather’s example in my favour; at least in a higher degree than they wish they should. An apprehension founded it seems on a conversation between my two uncles and my brother and sister: which my aunt communicated to me in confidence, as an argument to prevail upon me to accept of Mr. Solmes’s noble settlements: urging, that such a seasonable compliance, would frustrate my brother’s and sister’s views, and establish me for ever in the love of my father and uncles.

I will give you the substance of this communicated conversation, after I have made a brief introductory observation or two, which however I hardly need to make to you who are so well acquainted with us all, did not the series or thread of the story require it.

I have more than once mentioned to you the darling view some of us have long had of raising a family, as it is called. A reflection, as I have often thought, upon our own, which is no considerable or upstart one, on either side, on my mother’s especially.—A view too frequently it seems entertained by families which, having great substance, cannot be satisfied without rank and title.

My uncles had once extended this view to each of us three children; urging, that as they themselves intended not to marry, we each of us might be so portioned, and so advantageously matched, as that our posterity, if not ourselves, might make a first figure in our country.—While my brother, as the only son, thought the two girls might be very well provided for by ten or fifteen thousand pounds a-piece: and that all the real estates in the family, to wit, my grandfather’s, father’s, and two uncles’, and the remainder of their respective personal estates, together with what he had an expectation of from his godmother, would make such a noble fortune, and give him such an interest, as might entitle him to hope for a peerage. Nothing less would satisfy his ambition.

With this view he gave himself airs very early; ’That his grandfather and uncles were his stewards: that no man ever had better: that daughters were but incumbrances and drawbacks upon a family:’ and this low and familiar expression was often in his mouth, and uttered always with the self-complaisance which an imagined happy thought can be supposed to give the speaker; to wit, ’That a man who has sons brings up chickens for his own table,’ [though once I made his comparison stagger with him, by asking him, If the sons, to make it hold, were to have their necks wrung off?] ’whereas daughters are chickens brought up for tables of other men.’ This, accompanied with the equally polite reflection, ’That, to induce people to take them off their hands, the family-stock must be impaired into the bargain,’ used to put my sister out of all patience: and, although she now seems to think a younger sister only can be an incumbrance, she was then often proposing to me to make a party in our own favour against my brother’s rapacious views, as she used to call them: while I was for considering the liberties he took of this sort, as the effect of a temporary pleasantry, which, in a young man, not naturally good-humoured, I was glad to see; or as a foible that deserved raillery, but no other notice.

But when my grandfather’s will (of the purport of which in my particular favour, until it was opened, I was as ignorant as they) had lopped off one branch of my brother’s expectation, he was extremely dissatisfied with me. Nobody indeed was pleased: for although every one loved me, yet being the youngest child, father, uncles, brother, sister, all thought themselves postponed, as to matter of right and power [Who loves not power?]: And my father himself could not bear that I should be made sole, as I may call it, and independent; for such the will, as to that estate and the powers it gave, (unaccountably, as they all said,) made me.

To obviate, therefore, every one’s jealousy, I gave up to my father’s management, as you know, not only the estate, but the money bequeathed me (which was a moiety of what my grandfather had by him at his death; the other moiety being bequeathed to my sister); contenting myself to take as from his bounty what he was pleased to allow me, without desiring the least addition to my annual stipend. And then I hoped I had laid all envy asleep: but still my brother and sister (jealous, as now is evident, of my two uncles’ favour of me, and of the pleasure I had given my father and them by this act of duty) were every now-and-then occasionally doing me covert ill offices: of which, however, I took the less notice, when I was told of them, as I thought I had removed the cause of their envy; and I imputed every thing of that sort to the petulance they are both pretty much noted for.

My brother’s acquisition then took place. This made us all very happy; and he went down to take possession of it: and his absence (on so good an account too) made us still happier. Then followed Lord M.’s proposal for my sister: and this was an additional felicity for the time. I have told you how exceedingly good-humoured it made my sister.

You know how that went off: you know what came on in its place.

My brother then returned; and we were all wrong again: and Bella, as I observed in my letters abovementioned, had an opportunity to give herself the credit of having refused Mr. Lovelace, on the score of his reputed faulty morals. This united my brother and sister in one cause. They set themselves on all occasions to depreciate Mr. Lovelace, and his family too (a family which deserves nothing but respect): and this gave rise to the conversation I am leading to, between my uncles and them: of which I now come to give the particulars; after I have observed, that it happened before the rencounter, and soon after the inquiry made into Mr. Lovelace’s affairs had come out better than my brother and sister hoped it would.*

* See Letter IV.

They were bitterly inveighing against him, in their usual way, strengthening their invectives with some new stories in his disfavour, when my uncle Antony, having given them a patient hearing, declared, ’That he thought the gentleman behaved like a gentleman; his niece Clary with prudence; and that a more honourable alliance for the family, as he had often told them, could not be wished for: since Mr. Lovelace had a very good paternal estate; and that, by the evidence of an enemy, all clear. Nor did it appear, that he was so bad a man as he had been represented to be: wild indeed; but it was a gay time of life: he was a man of sense: and he was sure that his niece would not have him, if she had not good reason to think him reformed, or that there was a likelihood that she could reform him by her example.’

My uncle then gave one instance, my aunt told me, as a proof of a generosity in Mr. Lovelace’s spirit, which convinced him that he was not a bad man in nature; and that he was of a temper, he was pleased to say, like my own; which was, That when he (my uncle) had represented to him, that he might, if he pleased, make three or four hundred pounds a year of his paternal estate, more than he did; he answered, ’That his tenants paid their rents well: that it was a maxim with his family, from which he would by no means depart, Never to rack-rent old tenants, or their descendants; and that it was a pleasure to him, to see all his tenants look fat, sleek, and contented.’

I indeed had once occasionally heard him say something like this; and thought he never looked so well as at that time;—except once; and that was in an instance given by him on the following incident.

An unhappy tenant of my uncle Antony came petitioning to my uncle for forbearance, in Mr. Lovelace’s presence. When he had fruitlessly withdrawn, Mr. Lovelace pleaded his cause so well, that the man was called in again, and had his suit granted. And Mr. Lovelace privately followed him out, and gave him two guineas, for present relief; the man having declared, that, at the time, he had not five shilling in the world.

On this occasion, he told my uncle (but without any airs of ostentation), that he had once observed an old tenant and his wife in a very mean habit at church; and questioning them about it the next day, as he knew they had no hard bargain in their farm, the man said, he had done some very foolish things with a good intention, which had put him behind-hand, and he could not have paid his rent, and appear better. He asked him how long it would take him to retrieve the foolish step he acknowledged he had made. He said, Perhaps two or three years. Well then, said he, I will abate you five pounds a year for seven years, provided you will lay it upon your wife and self, that you may make a Sunday-appearance like MY tenants. Mean time, take this (putting his hand in his pocket, and giving him five guineas), to put yourselves in present plight; and let me see you next Sunday at church, hand in hand, like an honest and loving couple; and I bespeak you to dine with me afterwards.

Although this pleased me when I heard it, as giving an instance of generosity and prudence at the same time, not lessening (as my uncle took notice) the yearly value of the farm, yet, my dear, I had no throbs, no glows upon it!—Upon my word, I had not. Nevertheless I own to you, that I could not help saying to myself on the occasion, ’Were it ever to be my lot to have this man, he would not hinder me from pursuing the methods I so much delight to take’—With ’A pity, that such a man were not uniformly good!’

Forgive me this digression.

My uncle went on (as my aunt told me), ’That, besides his paternal estate, he was the immediate heir to very splendid fortunes: that, when he was in treaty for his niece Arabella, Lord M. told him (my uncle) what great things he and his two half-sisters intended to do for him, in order to qualify him for the title, which would be extinct at his Lordship’s death, and which they hoped to procure for him, or a still higher, that of those ladies’ father, which had been for some time extinct on failure of heirs male: that it was with this view that his relations were all so earnest for his marrying: that as he saw not where Mr. Lovelace could better himself; so, truly, he thought there was wealth enough in their own family to build up three considerable ones: that, therefore, he must needs say, he was the more desirous of this alliance, as there was a great probability, not only from Mr. Lovelace’s descent, but from his fortunes, that his niece Clarissa might one day be a peeress of Great Britain:—and, upon that prospect [here was the mortifying stroke], he should, for his own part, think it not wrong to make such dispositions as should contribute to the better support of the dignity.’

My uncle Harlowe, it seems, far from disapproving of what his brother had said, declared, ’That there was but one objection to an alliance with Mr. Lovelace; to wit, his faulty morals: especially as so much could be done for Miss Bella, and for my brother too, by my father; and as my brother was actually possessed of a considerable estate by virtue of the deed of gift and will of his godmother Lovell.’

Had I known this before, I should the less have wondered at many things I have been unable to account for in my brother’s and sister’s behaviour to me; and been more on my guard than I imagined there was a necessity to be.

You may easily guess how much this conversation affected my brother at the time. He could not, you know, but be very uneasy to hear two of his stewards talk at this rate to his face.

He had from early days, by his violent temper, made himself both feared and courted by the whole family. My father himself, as I have lately mentioned, very often (long before my brother’s acquisition had made him still more assuming) gave way to him, as to an only son who was to build up the name, and augment the honour of it. Little inducement, therefore, had my brother to correct a temper which gave him so much consideration with every body.

’See, Sister Bella,’ said he, in an indecent passion before my uncles, on this occasion I have mentioned—’See how it is!—You and I ought to look about us!—This little syren is in a fair way to out-uncle, as she has already out-grandfather’d, us both!’

From this time (as I now find it plain upon recollection) did my brother and sister behave to me, as to one who stood in their way; and to each other as having but one interest: and were resolved, therefore, to bend all their force to hinder an alliance from taking effect, which they believed was likely to oblige them to contract their views.

And how was this to be done, after such a declaration from both my uncles?

My brother found out the way. My sister (as I have said) went hand in hand with him. Between them, the family union was broke, and every one was made uneasy. Mr. Lovelace was received more and more coldly by all: but not being to be put out of his course by slights only, personal affronts succeeded; defiances next; then the rencounter: that, as you have heard, did the business. And now, if I do not oblige them, my grandfather’s estate is to be litigated with me; and I, who never designed to take advantage of the independency bequeathed me, am to be as dependent upon my father’s will, as a daughter ought to be who knows not what is good for herself. This is the language of the family now.

But if I will suffer myself to be prevailed upon, how happy (as they lay it out) shall we all be!—Such presents am I to have, such jewels, and I cannot tell what, from every one in the family! Then Mr. Solmes’s fortunes are so great, and his proposals so very advantageous, (no relation whom he values,) that there will be abundant room to raise mine upon them, were the high-intended favours of my own relations to be quite out of the question. Moreover, it is now, with this view, found out, that I have qualifications which of themselves will be a full equivalent to Mr. Solmes for the settlements he is to make; and still leave him under an obligation to me for my compliance. He himself thinks so, I am told—so very poor a creature is he, even in his own eyes, as well as in theirs.

These desirable views answered, how rich, how splendid shall we all three be! And I—what obligations shall I lay upon them all!—And that only by doing an act of duty so suitable to my character, and manner of thinking; if, indeed, I am the generous as well as dutiful creature I have hitherto made them believe I am.

This is the bright side that is turned to my father and uncles, to captivate them: but I am afraid that my brother’s and sister’s design is to ruin me with them at any rate. Were it otherwise, would they not on my return from you have rather sought to court than frighten me into measures which their hearts are so much bent to carry? A method they have followed ever since.

Mean time, orders are given to all the servants to shew the highest respect to Mr. Solmes; the generous Mr. Solmes is now his character with some of our family! But are not these orders a tacit confession, that they think his own merit will not procure him respect? He is accordingly, in every visit he makes, not only highly caressed by the principals of our family, but obsequiously attended and cringed to by the menials.—And the noble settlements are echoed from every mouth.

Noble is the word used to enforce the offers of a man who is mean enough avowedly to hate, and wicked enough to propose to rob of their just expectations, his own family, (every one of which at the same time stands in too much need of his favour,) in order to settle all he is worth upon me; and if I die without children, and he has none by any other marriage, upon a family which already abounds. Such are his proposals.

But were there no other motive to induce me to despise the upstart man, is not this unjust one to his family enough?—The upstart man, I repeat; for he was not born to the immense riches he is possessed of: riches left by one niggard to another, in injury to the next heir, because that other is a niggard. And should I not be as culpable, do you think, in my acceptance of such unjust settlements, as he is in the offer of them, if I could persuade myself to be a sharer in them, or suffer a reversionary expectation of possessing them to influence my choice?

Indeed, it concerns me not a little, that my friends could be brought to encourage such offers on such motives as I think a person of conscience should not presume to begin the world with.

But this it seems is the only method that can be taken to disappoint Mr. Lovelace; and at the same time to answer all my relations have wish for each of us. And surely I will not stand against such an accession to the family as may happen from marrying Mr. Solmes: since now a possibility is discovered, (which such a grasping mind as my brother’s can easily turn into a probability,) that my grandfather’s estate will revert to it, with a much more considerable one of the man’s own. Instances of estates falling in, in cases far more unlikely than this, are insisted upon; and my sister says, in the words of an old saw, It is good to be related to an estate.

While Solmes, smiling no doubt to himself at a hope so remote, by offers only, obtains all their interests; and doubts not to join to his own the estate I am envied for; which, for the conveniency of its situation between two of his, will it seems be of twice the value to him that it would be of to any other person; and is therefore, I doubt not, a stronger motive with him than the wife.

These, my dear, seem to me the principal inducements of my relations to espouse so vehemently as they do this man’s suit. And here, once more, must I deplore the family fault, which gives those inducements such a force as it will be difficult to resist.

And thus far, let matters with regard to Mr. Solmes and me come out as they will, my brother has succeeded in his views; that is to say, he has, in the first place, got my FATHER to make the cause his own, and to insist upon my compliance as an act of duty.

My MOTHER has never thought fit to oppose my father’s will, when once he has declared himself determined.

My UNCLES, stiff, unbroken, highly-prosperous bachelors, give me leave to say, (though very worthy persons in the main,) have as high notions of a child’s duty, as of a wife’s obedience; in the last of which, my mother’s meekness has confirmed them, and given them greater reason to expect the first.

My aunt HERVEY (not extremely happy in her own nuptials, and perhaps under some little obligation) is got over, and chuses [sic] not to open her lips in my favour against the wills of a father and uncles so determined.

This passiveness in my mother and in my aunt, in a point so contrary to their own first judgments, is too strong a proof that my father is absolutely resolved.

Their treatment of my worthy MRS. NORTON is a sad confirmation of it: a woman deserving of all consideration for her wisdom, and every body thinking so; but who, not being wealthy enough to have due weight in a point against which she has given her opinion, and which they seem bent upon carrying, is restrained from visiting here, and even from corresponding with me, as I am this very day informed.

Hatred to Lovelace, family aggrandizement, and this great motive paternal authority!—What a force united must they be supposed to have, when singly each consideration is sufficient to carry all before it!

This is the formidable appearance which the address of this disagreeable man wears at present.

My BROTHER and my SISTER triumph.—They have got me down, as Hannah overheard them exult. And so they have (yet I never knew that I was insolently up); for now my brother will either lay me under an obligation to comply to my own unhappiness, and so make me an instrument of his revenge upon Lovelace; or, if I refuse, will throw me into disgrace with my whole family.

Who will wonder at the intrigues and plots carried on by undermining courtiers against one another, when a private family, but three of which can possibly have clashing interests, and one of them (as she presumes to think) above such low motives, cannot be free from them?

What at present most concerns me, is, the peace of my mother’s mind! How can the husband of such a wife (a good man too!—But oh! this prerogative of manhood!) be so positive, so unpersuadable, to one who has brought into the family means, which they know so well the value of, that methinks they should value her the more for their sake?

They do indeed value her: but, I am sorry to say, she has purchased that value by her compliances; yet has merit for which she ought to be venerated; prudence which ought of itself to be conformed to in every thing.

But whither roves my pen? How dare a perverse girl take these liberties with relations so very respectable, and whom she highly respects? What an unhappy situation is that which obliges her, in her own defence as it were, to expose their failings?

But you, who know how much I love and reverence my mother, will judge what a difficulty I am under, to be obliged to oppose a scheme which she has engaged in. Yet I must oppose it (to comply is impossible); and must without delay declare my opposition, or my difficulties will increase; since, as I am just now informed, a lawyer has been this very day consulted [Would you have believed it?] in relation to settlements.

Were ours a Roman Catholic family, how much happier for me, that they thought a nunnery would answer all their views!—How happy, had not a certain person slighted somebody! All then would have been probably concluded between them before my brother had arrived to thwart the match: then had I a sister; which now I have not; and two brothers;—both aspiring; possibly both titled: while I should only have valued that in either which is above title, that which is truly noble in both!

But by what a long-reaching selfishness is my brother governed! By what remote, exceedingly remote views! Views, which it is in the power of the slightest accident, of a fever, for instance, (the seeds of which are always vegetating, as I may say, and ready to burst forth, in his own impetuous temper,) or of the provoked weapon of an adversary, to blow up and destroy!

I will break off here. Let me write ever so freely of my friends, I am sure of your kind construction: and I confide in your discretion, that you will avoid reading to or transcribing for others such passages as may have the appearance of treating too freely the parental, or even the fraternal character, or induce others to censure for a supposed failure in duty to the one, or decency to the other,

Your truly affectionate, CL. HARLOWE.