Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XIX


O for a curse to kill with!—Ruined! Undone! Outwitted! Tricked!—Zounds, man, the lady has gone off!—Absolutely gone off! Escaped!—

Thou knowest not, nor canst conceive, the pangs that wring my heart!— What can I do!—O Lord, O Lord, O Lord!

And thou, too, who hast endeavoured to weaken my hands, wilt but clap thy dragon’s wings at the tidings!

Yet I must write, or I shall go distracted! Little less have I been these two hours; dispatching messengers to every stage, to every inn, to every waggon or coach, whether flying or creeping, and to every house with a bill up, for five miles around.

The little hypocrite, who knows not a soul in this town, [I thought I was sure of her at any time,] such an unexperienced traitress—giving me hope too, in her first billet, that her expectation of the family- reconciliation would withhold her from taking such a step as this—curse upon her contrivances!—I thought, that it was owing to her bashfulness, to her modesty, that, after a few innocent freedoms, she could not look me in the face; when, all the while, she was impudently [yes, I say, impudently, though she be Clarissa Harlowe] contriving to rob me of the dearest property I had ever purchased—purchased by a painful servitude of many months; fighting through the wild-beasts of her family for her, and combating with a wind-mill virtue, which hath cost me millions of perjuries only to attempt; and which now, with its damn’d air-fans, has tost me a mile and a half beyond hope!—And this, just as I had arrived within view of the consummation of all my wishes!

O Devil of Love! God of Love no more—how have I deserved this of thee!—Never before the friend of frozen virtue?—Powerless demon, for powerless thou must be, if thou meanedest not to frustrate my hopes; who shall henceforth kneel at thy altars!—May every enterprising heart abhor, despise, execrate, renounce thee, as I do!—But, O Belford, Belford, what signifies cursing now!


How she could effect this her wicked escape is my astonishment; the whole sisterhood having charge of her;—for, as yet, I have not had patience enough to inquire into the particulars, nor to let a soul of them approach me.

Of this I am sure, or I had not brought her hither, there is not a creature belonging to this house, that could be corrupted either by virtue or remorse: the highest joy every infernal nymph, of this worse than infernal habitation, could have known, would have been to reduce this proud beauty to her own level.—And as to my villain, who also had charge of her, he is such a seasoned varlet, that he delights in mischief for the sake of it: no bribe could seduce him to betray his trust, were there but wickedness in it!—’Tis well, however, he was out of my way when the cursed news was imparted to me!—Gone, the villain! in quest of her: not to return, nor to see my face [so it seems he declared] till he has heard some tidings of her; and all the out-of-place varlets of his numerous acquaintance are summoned and employed in the same business.

To what purpose brought I this angel (angel I must yet call her) to this hellish house?—And was I not meditating to do her deserved honour? By my soul, Belford, I was resolved—but thou knowest what I had conditionally resolved—And now, who can tell into what hands she may have fallen!

I am mad, stark mad, by Jupiter, at the thoughts of this!—Unprovided, destitute, unacquainted—some villain, worse than myself, who adores her not as I adore her, may have seized her, and taken advantage of her distress!—Let me perish, Belford, if a whole hecatomb of innocents, as the little plagues are called, shall atone for the broken promises and wicked artifices of this cruel creature!


Going home, as I did, with resolutions favourable to her, judge thou of my distraction, when her escape was first hinted to me, although but in broken sentences. I knew not what I said, nor what I did. I wanted to kill somebody. I flew out of one room into another, who broke the matter to me. I charged bribery and corruption, in my first fury, upon all; and threatened destruction to old and young, as they should come in my way.

Dorcas continues locked up from me: Sally and Polly have not yet dared to appear: the vile Sinclair—

But here comes the odious devil. She taps at the door, thought that’s only a-jar, whining and snuffling, to try, I suppose, to coax me into temper.


What a helpless state, where a man can only execrate himself and others; the occasion of his rage remaining; the evil increasing upon reflection; time itself conspiring to deepen it!—O how I curs’d her!

I have her now, methinks, before me, blubbering—how odious does sorrow make an ugly face!—Thine, Jack, and this old beldam’s, in penitentials, instead of moving compassion, must evermore confirm hatred; while beauty in tears, is beauty heightened, and what my heart has ever delighted to see.——

’What excuse!—Confound you, and your cursed daughters, what excuse can you make?—Is she not gone—Has she not escaped?—But before I am quite distracted, before I commit half a hundred murders, let me hear how it was.’——


I have heard her story!—Art, damn’d, confounded, wicked, unpardonable art, is a woman of her character—But show me a woman, and I’ll show thee a plotter!—This plaguy sex is art itself: every individual of it is a plotter by nature.

This is the substance of the old wretch’s account.

She told me, ’That I had no sooner left the vile house, than Dorcas acquainted the syren’ [Do, Jack, let me call her names!—I beseech thee, Jack, to permit me to call her names!] ’that Dorcas acquainted her lady with it; and that I had left word, that I was gone to doctors-commons, and should be heard of for some hours at the Horn there, if inquired after by the counsellor, or anybody else: that afterwards I should be either at the Cocoa-tree, or King’s-Arms, and should not return till late. She then urged her to take some refreshment.

’She was in tears when Dorcas approached her; her saucy eyes swelled with weeping: she refused either to eat or drink; sighed as if her heart would break.’—False, devilish grief! not the humble, silent, grief, that only deserves pity!—Contriving to ruin me, to despoil me of all that I held valuable, in the very midst of it.

’Nevertheless, being resolved not to see me for a week at least, she ordered her to bring up three or four French rolls, with a little butter, and a decanter of water; telling her, she would dispense with her attendance; and that should be all she should live upon in the interim. So artful creature! pretending to lay up for a week’s siege.’—For, as to substantial food, she, no more than other angels—Angels! said I—the devil take me if she be any more an angel!—for she is odious in my eyes; and I hate her mortally!

But O Lovelace, thou liest!—She is all that is lovely. All that is excellent!

But is she, can she be gone!—Oh! how Miss Howe will triumph!—But if that little fury receive her, fate shall make me rich amends; for then will I contrive to have them both.

I was looking back for connection—but the devil take connection; I have no business with it: the contrary best befits distraction, and that will soon be my lot!

’Dorcas consulted the old wretch about obeying her: O yes, by all means; for Mr. Lovelace knew how to come at her at any time: and directed a bottle of sherry to be added.

’This cheerful compliance so obliged her, that she was prevailed upon to go up, and look at the damage done by the fire; and seemed not only shocked by it, but, as they thought, satisfied it was no trick; as she owned she had at first apprehended it to be. All this made them secure; and they laughed in their sleeves, to think what a childish way of showing her resentment she had found out; Sally throwing out her witticisms, that Mrs. Lovelace was right, however, not to quarrel with her bread and butter.’

Now this very childishness, as they imagined it, in such a genius, would have made me suspect either her head, after what had happened the night before; or her purpose, when the marriage was (so far as she knew) to be completed within the week in which she was resolved to secrete herself from me in the same house.

’She sent Will. with a letter to Wilson’s, directed to Miss Howe, ordering him to inquire if there were not one for her there.

’He only pretended to go, and brought word there was none; and put her letter in his pocket for me.

’She then ordered him to carry another (which she gave him) to the Horn Tavern to me.—All this done without any seeming hurry: yet she appeared to be very solemn; and put her handkerchief frequently to her eyes.

’Will. pretended to come to me with this letter. But thou the dog had the sagacity to mistrust something on her sending him out a second time; (and to me, whom she had refused to see;) which he thought extraordinary; and mentioned his mistrusts to Sally, Polly, and Dorcas; yet they made light of his suspicions; Dorcas assuring them all, that her lady seemed more stupid with her grief, than active; and that she really believed she was a little turned in her head, and knew not what she did. But all of them depended upon her inexperience, her open temper, and upon her not making the least motion towards going out, or to have a coach or chair called, as sometimes she had done; and still more upon the preparations she had made for a week’s siege, as I may call it.

’Will. went out, pretending to bring the letter to me; but quickly returned; his heart still misgiving him, on recollecting my frequent cautions, that he was not to judge for himself, when he had positive orders; but if any doubt occurred, from circumstances I could not foresee, literally to follow them, as the only way to avoid blame.

’But it must have been in this little interval, that she escaped; for soon after his return, they made fast the street-door and hatch, the mother and the two nymphs taking a little turn into the garden; Dorcas going up stairs, and Will. (to avoid being seen by his lady, or his voice heard) down into the kitchen.

’About half an hour after, Dorcas, who had planted herself where she could see her lady’s door open, had the curiosity to go look through the keyhole, having a misgiving, as she said, that the lady might offer some violence to herself, in the mood she had been in all day; and finding the key in the door, which was not very usual, she tapped at it three or four times, and having no answer, opened it, with Madam, Madam, did you call? —Supposing her in her closet.

’Having no answer, she stept forward, and was astonished to find she was not there. She hastily ran into the dining-room, then into my apartments; searched every closet; dreading all the time to behold some sad catastrophe.

’Not finding her any where, she ran down to the old creature, and her nymphs, with a Have you seen my lady?—Then she’s gone!—She’s no where above!

’They were sure she could not be gone out.

’The whole house was in an uproar in an instant; some running up-stairs, some down, from the upper rooms to the lower; and all screaming, How should they look me in the face!

’Will. cried out, he was a dead man: he blamed them; they him; and every one was an accuser, and an excuser, at the same time.

’When they had searched the whole house, and every closet in it, ten times over, to no purpose, they took it into their heads to send to all the porters, chairmen, and hackney-coachmen, that had been near the house for two hours past, to inquire if any of them saw such a young lady; describing her.

’This brought them some light: the only dawning for hope, that I can have, and which keeps me from absolute despair. One of the chairmen gave them this account: That he saw such a one come out of the house a little before four (in a great hurry, and as if frighted) with a little parcel tied up in a handkerchief, in her hand: that he took notice to his fellow, who plied her without her answering, that she was a fine young lady: that he’d warrant, she had either a husband, or very cross parents; for that her eyes seemed swelled with crying. Upon which, a third fellow replied, that it might be a doe escaped from mother Damnable’s park. This Mrs. Sinclair told me with a curse, and a wish that she had a better reputation; so handsomely as she lived, and so justly as she paid every body for what she bought; her house visited by the best and civilest of gentlemen; and no noise or brawls ever heard or known in it.

’From these appearances, the fellow who gave this information, had the curiosity to follow her, unperceived. She often looked back. Every body who passed her, turned to look after her; passing their verdict upon her tears, her hurry, and her charming person; till coming to a stand of coaches, a coachman plied her; was accepted; alighted; opened the coach-door in a hurry, seeing her hurry; and in it she stumbled for haste; and, as the fellow believed, hurt her shin with the stumble.’

The devil take me, Belford, if my generous heart is not moved for her, notwithstanding her wicked deceit, to think what must be her reflections and apprehensions at the time:—A mind so delicate, heeding no censures; yet, probably afraid of being laid hold of by a Lovelace in every one she saw! At the same time, not knowing to what dangers she was about to expose herself; nor of whom she could obtain shelter; a stranger to the town, and to all its ways; the afternoon far gone: but little money; and no clothes but those she had on!

It is impossible, in this little interval since last night, that Miss Howe’s Townsend could be co-operating.

But how she must abhor me to run all these risques; how heartily she must detest me for my freedoms of last night! Oh! that I had given her greater reason for a resentment so violent!—As to her virtue, I am too much enraged to give her the merit due to that. To virtue it cannot be owing that she should fly from the charming prospects that were before her; but to malice, hatred, contempt, Harlowe pride, (the worst of pride,) and to all the deadly passions that ever reigned in a female breast—and if I can but recover her—But be still, be calm, be hushed, my stormy passions; for is it not Clarissa [Harlowe must I say?] that thus far I rave against?

’The fellow heard her say, drive fast! very fast! Where, Madam? To Holborn-bars, answered she; repeating, Drive very fast!—And up she pulled both the windows: and he lost sight of the coach in a minute.

’Will., as soon as he had this intelligence, speeded away in hopes to trace her out; declaring, that he would never think of seeing me, till he had heard some tidings of his lady.’

And now, Belford, all my hope is, that this fellow (who attended us in our airing to Hampstead, to Highgate, to Muswell-hill, to Kentish-town) will hear of her at some one or other of those places. And on this I the rather build, as I remember she was once, after our return, very inquisitive about the stages, and their prices; praising the conveniency to passengers in their going off every hour; and this in Will.’s hearing, who was then in attendance. Woe be to the villain, if he recollect not this!


I have been traversing her room, meditating, or taking up every thing she but touched or used: the glass she dressed at, I was ready to break, for not giving me the personal image it was wont to reflect of her, whose idea is for ever present with me. I call for her, now in the tenderest, now in the most reproachful terms, as if within hearing: wanting her, I want my own soul, at least every thing dear to it. What a void in my heart! what a chilness in my blood, as if its circulation was arrested! From her room to my own; in the dining-room, and in and out of every place where I have seen the beloved of my heart, do I hurry; in none can I tarry; her lovely image in every one, in some lively attitude, rushing cruelly upon me, in differently remembered conversations.

But when in my first fury, at my return, I went up two pairs of stairs, resolved to find the locked-up Dorcas, and beheld the vainly-burnt window-board, and recollected my baffled contrivances, baffled by my own weak folly, I thought my distraction completed; and down I ran as one frighted at a spectre, ready to howl for vexation; my head and my temples shooting with a violence I had never felt before; and my back aching as if the vertebrae were disjointed, and falling in pieces.

But now that I have heard the mother’s story, and contemplated the dawning hopes given by the chairman’s information, I am a good deal easier, and can make cooler reflections. Most heartily pray I for Will.’s success, every four or five minutes. If I lose her, all my rage will return with redoubled fury. The disgrace to be thus outwitted by a novice, an infant in stratagem and contrivance, added to the violence of my passion for her, will either break my heart, or (what saves many a heart, in evils insupportable) turn my brain. What had I to do to go out a license-hunting, at least till I had seen her, and made up matters with her? And indeed, were it not the privilege of a principal to lay all his own faults upon his underlings, and never be to blame himself, I should be apt to reflect, that I am more in fault than any body. And, as the sting of this reflection will sharpen upon me, if I recover her not, how shall I ever be able to bear it?

If ever—

[Here Mr. Lovelace lays himself under a curse, too shocking to be repeated, if he revenge not himself upon the Lady, should he once more get her into his hands.]


I have just now dismissed the sniveling toad Dorcas, who was introduced to me for my pardon by the whining mother. I gave her a kind of negative and ungracious forgiveness. Yet I shall as violently curse the two nymphs, by-and-by, for the consequences of my own folly: and if this will be a good way too to prevent their ridicule upon me, for losing so glorious an opportunity as I had last night, or rather this morning.

I have corrected, from the result of the inquiries made of the chairman, and from Dorcas’s observations before the cruel creature escaped, a description of her dress; and am resolved, if I cannot otherwise hear of her, to advertise her in the gazette, as an eloped wife, both by her maiden and acknowledged name; for her elopement will soon be known by every enemy: why then should not my friends be made acquainted with it, from whose inquiries and informations I may expect some tidings of her?

’She had on a brown lustring night-gown, fresh, and looking like new, as every thing she wears does, whether new or not, from an elegance natural to her. A beaver hat, a black ribbon about her neck, and blue knots on her breast. A quilted petticoat of carnation-coloured satin; a rose diamond ring, supposed on her finger; and in her whole person and appearance, as I shall express it, a dignity, as well as beauty, that commands the repeated attention of every one who sees her.’

The description of her person I shall take a little more pains about. My mind must be more at ease, before I undertake that. And I shall threaten, ’that if, after a certain period given for her voluntary return, she be not heard of, I will prosecute any person who presumes to entertain, harbour, abet, or encourage her, with all the vengeance that an injured gentleman and husband may be warranted to take by law, or otherwise.’


Fresh cause of aggravation!—But for this scribbling vein, or I should still run mad.

Again going into her chamber, because it was her’s, and sighing over the bed, and every piece of furniture in it, I cast my eye towards the drawers of the dressing-glass, and saw peep out, as it were, in one of the half-drawn drawers, the corner of a letter. I snatched it out, and found it superscribed, by her, To Mr. Lovelace. The sight of it made my heart leap, and I trembled so, that I could hardly open the seal.

How does this damn’d love unman me!—but nobody ever loved as I love!—It is even increased by her unworthy flight, and my disappointment. Ungrateful creature, to fly from a passion thus ardently flaming! which, like the palm, rises the more for being depressed and slighted.

I will not give thee a copy of this letter. I owe her not so much service.

But wouldst thou think, that this haughty promise-breaker could resolve as she does, absolutely and for ever to renounce me for what passed last night? That she could resolve to forego all her opening prospects of reconciliation; the reconciliation with a worthless family, on which she has set her whole heart?—Yet she does—she acquits me of all obligation to her, and herself of all expectations from me—And for what?—O that indeed I had given her real cause! Damn’d confounded niceness, prudery, affectation, or pretty ignorance, if not affectation!—By my soul, Belford, I told thee all—I was more indebted to her struggles, than to my own forwardness. I cannot support my own reflections upon a decency so ill-requited.—She could not, she would not have been so much a Harlowe in her resentment. All she feared had then been over; and her own good sense, and even modesty, would have taught her to make the best of it.

But if ever again I get her into my hands, art, and more art, and compulsion too, if she make it necessary, [and ’tis plain that nothing else will do,] shall she experience from the man whose fear of her has been above even his passion for her; and whose gentleness and forbearance she has thus perfidiously triumphed over. Well, says the Poet,

’Tis nobler like a lion to invade

When appetite directs, and seize my prey,

Than to wait tamely, like a begging dog,

Till dull consent throws out the scraps of love.

Thou knowest what I have so lately vowed—and yet, at times [cruel creature, and ungrateful as cruel!] I can subscribe with too much truth to those lines of another Poet:

She reigns more fully in my soul than ever;

She garrisons my breast, and mans against me

Ev’n my own rebel thoughts, with thousand graces,

Ten thousand charms, and new-discovered beauties!