Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XVII


My mother, on her return, which was as soon as she had dined, was pleased to inform me, that she told my father, on his questioning her about my cheerul compliance (for, it seems, the cheerful was all that was doubted) that she was willing, on so material a point, to give a child whom she had so much reason to love (as she condescended to acknowledge were her words) liberty to say all that was in her heart to say, that her compliance might be the freer: letting him know, that when he came up, she was attending to my pleas; for that she found I had rather not marry at all.

She told me, that to this my father angrily said, let her take care—let her take care—that she give me not ground to suspect her of a preference somewhere else. But, if it be to ease her heart, and not to dispute my will, you may hear her out.

So, Clary, said my mother, I am returned in a temper accordingly: and I hope you will not again, by your peremptoriness, shew me how I ought to treat you.

Indeed, Madam, you did me justice to say, I have no inclination to marry at all. I have not, I hope, made myself so very unuseful in my papa’s family, as—

No more of your merits, Clary! You have been a good child. You have eased me of all the family cares: but do not now give more than ever you relieved me from. You have been amply repaid in the reputation your skill and management have given you: but now there is soon to be a period to all those assistances from you. If you marry, there will be a natural, and, if to please us, a desirable period; because your own family will employ all your talents in that way: if you do not, there will be a period likewise, but not a natural one—you understand me, child.

I wept.

I have made inquiry already after a housekeeper. I would have had your good Norton; but I suppose you will yourself wish to have the worthy woman with you. If you desire it, that shall be agreed upon for you.

But, why, dearest Madam, why am I, the youngest, to be precipitated into a state, that I am very far from wishing to enter into with any body?

You are going to question me, I suppose, why your sister is not thought of for Mr. Solmes?

I hope, Madam, it will not displease you if I were.

I might refer you for an answer to your father.—Mr. Solmes has reasons for preferring you—

And I have reasons, Madam, for disliking him. And why I am—

This quickness upon me, interrupted my mother, is not to be borne! I am gone, and your father comes, if I can do no good with you.

O Madam, I would rather die, than—

She put her hand to my mouth—No peremptoriness, Clary Harlowe: once you declare yourself inflexible, I have done.

I wept for vexation. This is all, all, my brother’s doings—his grasping views—

No reflections upon your brother: he has entirely the honour of the family at heart.

I would no more dishonour my family, Madam, than my brother would.

I believe it: but I hope you will allow your father, and me, and your uncles, to judge what will do it honour, what dishonour.

I then offered to live single; never to marry at all; or never but with their full approbation.

If you mean to shew your duty, and your obedience, Clary, you must shew it in our way, not in your own.

I hope, Madam, that I have not so behaved hitherto, as to render such a trial of my obedience necessary.

Yes, Clary, I cannot but say that you have hitherto behaved extremely well: but you have had no trials till now: and I hope, that now you are called to one, you will not fail in it. Parents, proceeded she, when children are young, are pleased with every thing they do. You have been a good child upon the whole: but we have hitherto rather complied with you, than you with us. Now that you are grown up to marriageable years, is the test; especially as your grandfather has made you independent, as we may say, in preference to those who had prior expectations upon that estate.

Madam, my grandfather knew, and expressly mentioned in his will his desire, that my father will more than make it up to my sister. I did nothing but what I thought my duty to procure his favour. It was rather a mark of his affection, than any advantage to me: For, do I either seek or wish to be independent? Were I to be queen of the universe, that dignity should not absolve me from my duty to you and to my father. I would kneel for your blessings, were it in the presence of millions—so that—

I am loth to interrupt you, Clary; though you could more than once break in upon me. You are young and unbroken: but, with all this ostentation of your duty, I desire you to shew a little more deference to me when I am speaking.

I beg your pardon, dear Madam, and your patience with me on such an occasion as this. If I did not speak with earnestness upon it, I should be supposed to have only maidenly objections against a man I never can endure.

Clary Harlowe—!

Dearest, dearest Madam, permit me to speak what I have to say, this once—It is hard, it is very hard, to be forbidden to enter into the cause of all these misunderstandings, because I must not speak disrespectfully of one who supposes me in the way of his ambition, and treats me like a slave—

Whither, whither, Clary—

My dearest Mamma!—My duty will not permit me so far to suppose my father arbitrary, as to make a plea of that arbitrariness to you—

How now, Clary!—O girl!

Your patience, my dearest Mamma:—you were pleased to say, you would hear me with patience.—PERSON in a man is nothing, because I am supposed to be prudent: so my eye is to be disgusted, and my reason not convinced—

Girl, girl!

Thus are my imputed good qualities to be made my punishment; and I am to wedded to a monster—

[Astonishing!—Can this, Clarissa, be from you?

The man, Madam, person and mind, is a monster in my eye.]—And that I may be induced to bear this treatment, I am to be complimented with being indifferent to all men: yet, at other times, and to serve other purposes, be thought prepossessed in favour of a man against whose moral character lie just objections.—Confined, as if, like the giddiest of creatures, I would run away with this man, and disgrace my whole family! O my dearest Mamma! who can be patient under such treatment?

Now, Clary, I suppose you will allow me to speak. I think I have had patience indeed with you.—Could I have thought—but I will put all upon a short issue. Your mother, Clarissa, shall shew you an example of that patience you so boldly claim from her, without having any yourself.

O my dear, how my mother’s condescension distressed me at the time!—Infinitely more distressed me, than rigour could have done. But she knew, she was to be sure aware, that she was put upon a harsh, upon an unreasonable service, let me say, or she would not, she could not, have had so much patience with me.

Let me tell you then, proceeded she, that all lies in a small compass, as your father said.—You have been hitherto, as you are pretty ready to plead, a dutiful child. You have indeed had no cause to be otherwise. No child was ever more favoured. Whether you will discredit all your past behaviour; whether, at a time and upon an occasion, that the highest instance of duty is expected from you (an instance that is to crown all); and when you declare that your heart is free—you will give that instance; or whether, having a view to the independence you may claim, (for so, Clary, whatever be your motive, it will be judged,) and which any man you favour, can assert for you against us all; or rather for himself in spite of us—whether, I say, you will break with us all; and stand in defiance of a jealous father, needlessly jealous, I will venture to say, of the prerogatives of his sex, as to me, and still ten times more jealous of the authority of a father;—this is now the point with us. You know your father has made it a point; and did he ever give up one he thought he had a right to carry?

Too true, thought I to myself! And now my brother has engaged my father, his fine scheme will walk alone, without needing his leading-strings; and it is become my father’s will that I oppose; not my brother’s grasping views.

I was silent. To say the truth, I was just then sullenly silent. My heart was too big. I thought it was hard to be thus given up by my mother; and that she should make a will so uncontroulable as my brother’s, her will.—My mother, my dear, though I must not say so, was not obliged to marry against her liking. My mother loved my father.

My silence availed me still less.

I see, my dear, said she, that you are convinced. Now, my good child—now, my Clary, do I love you! It shall not be known, that you have argued with me at all. All shall be imputed to that modesty which has ever so much distinguished you. You shall have the full merit of your resignation.

I wept.

She tenderly wiped the tears from my eyes, and kissed my cheek—Your father expects you down with a cheerful countenance—but I will excuse your going. All your scruples, you see, have met with an indulgence truly maternal from me. I rejoice in the hope that you are convinced. This indeed seems to be a proof of the truth of your agreeable declaration, that your heart is free.

Did not this seem to border upon cruelty, my dear, in so indulgent a mother?—It would be wicked [would it not] to suppose my mother capable of art?—But she is put upon it, and obliged to take methods to which her heart is naturally above stooping; and all intended for my good, because she sees that no arguing will be admitted any where else!

I will go down, proceeded she, and excuse your attendance at afternoon tea, as I did to dinner: for I know you will have some little reluctances to subdue. I will allow you those; and also some little natural shynesses—and so you shall not come down, if you chuse not to come down. Only, my dear, do not disgrace my report when you come to supper. And be sure behave as you used to do to your brother and sister; for your behaviour to them will be one test of your cheerful obedience to us. I advise as a friend, you see, rather than command as a mother—So adieu, my love. And again she kissed me; and was going.

O my dear Mamma, said I, forgive me!—But surely you cannot believe, I can ever think of having that man!

She was very angry, and seemed to be greatly disappointed. She threatened to turn me over to my father and uncles:—she however bid me (generously bid me) consider, what a handle I gave to my brother and sister, if I thought they had views to serve by making my uncles dissatisfied with me.

I, said she, in a milder accent, have early said all that I thought could be said against the present proposal, on a supposition, that you, who have refused several other (whom I own to be preferable as to person) would not approve of it; and could I have succeeded, you, Clary, had never heard of it. But if I could not, how can you expect to prevail? My great ends in the task I have undertaken, are the preservation of the family peace so likely to be overturned; to reinstate you in the affections of your father and uncles: and to preserve you from a man of violence.—Your father, you must needs think will flame out upon your refusal to comply: your uncles are so

thoroughly convinced of the consistency of the measure with their favourite views of aggrandizing the family, that they are as much determined as your father: your aunt Hervey and your uncle Hervey are of the same party. And it is hard, if a father and mother, and uncles, and aunt, all conjoined, cannot be allowed to direct your choice—surely, my dear girl, proceeded she [for I was silent all this time], it cannot be that you are the more averse, because the family views will be promoted by the match—this, I assure you, is what every body must think, if you comply not. Nor, while the man, so obnoxious to us all, remains unmarried, and buzzes about you, will the strongest wishes to live single, be in the least regarded. And well you know, that were Mr. Lovelace an angel, and your father had made it a point that you should not have him, it would be in vain to dispute his will. As to the prohibition laid upon you (much as I will own against my liking), that is owing to the belief that you corresponded by Miss Howe’s means with that man; nor do I doubt that you did so.

I answered to every article, in such a manner, as I am sure would have satisfied her, could she have been permitted to judge for herself; and I then inveighed with bitterness against the disgraceful prohibitions laid upon me.

They would serve to shew me, she was pleased to say, how much in earnest my father was. They might be taken off, whenever I thought fit, and no harm done, nor disgrace received. But if I were to be contumacious, I might thank myself for all that would follow.

I sighed. I wept. I was silent.

Shall I, Clary, said she, shall I tell your father that these prohibitions are as unnecessary as I hoped they would be? That you know your duty, and will not offer to controvert his will? What say you, my love?

O Madam, what can I say to questions so indulgently put? I do indeed know my duty: no creature in the world is more willing to practise it: but, pardon me, dearest Madam, if I say, that I must bear these prohibitions, if I am to pay so dear to have them taken off.

Determined and perverse, my dear mamma called me: and after walking twice or thrice in anger about the room, she turned to me: Your heart free, Clarissa! How can you tell me your heart is free? Such extraordinary prepossessions to a particular person must be owing to extraordinary prepossessions in another’s favour! Tell me, Clary, and tell me truly—Do you not continue to correspond with Mr. Lovelace?

Dearest Madam, replied I, you know my motives: to prevent mischief, I answered his letters. The reasons for our apprehensions of this sort are not over.

I own to you, Clary, (although now I would not have it known,) that I once thought a little qualifying among such violent spirits was not amiss. I did not know but all things would come round again by the mediation of Lord M. and his two sisters: but as they all three think proper to resent for their nephew; and as their nephew thinks fit to defy us all; and as terms are offered, on the other hand, that could not be asked, which will very probably prevent your grandfather’s estate going out of the family, and may be a means to bring still greater into it; I see not, that the continuance of your correspondence with him either can or ought to be permitted. I therefore now forbid it to you, as you value my favour.

Be pleased, Madam, only to advise me how to break it off with safety to my brother and uncles; and it is all I wish for. Would to heaven, the man so hated had not the pretence to make of having been too violently treated, when he meant peace and reconciliation! It would always have been in my own power to have broke with him. His reputed immoralities would have given me a just pretence at any time to do so. But, Madam, as my uncles and my brother will keep no measures; as he has heard what the view is; and his regard for me from resenting their violent treatment of him and his family; what can I do? Would you have me, Madam, make him desperate?

The law will protect us, child! offended magistracy will assert itself—

But, Madam, may not some dreadful mischief first happen?—The law asserts not itself, till it is offended.

You have made offers, Clary, if you might be obliged in the point in question—Are you really in earnest, were you to be complied with, to break off all correspondence with Mr. Lovelace?—Let me know this.

Indeed I am; and I will. You, Madam, shall see all the letters that have passed between us. You shall see I have given him no encouragement independent of my duty. And when you have seen them, you will be better able to direct me how, on the condition I have offered, to break entirely with him.

I take you at your word, Clarissa—Give me his letters; and the copies of yours.

I am sure, Madam, you will keep the knowledge that I write, and what I write—

No conditions with your mother—surely my prudence may be trusted to.

I begged her pardon; and besought her to take the key of the private drawer in my escritoire, where they lay, that she herself might see that I had no reserves to my mother.

She did; and took all his letters, and the copies of mine.—Unconditioned with, she was pleased to say, they shall be yours again, unseen by any body else.

I thanked her; and she withdrew to read them; saying, she would return them, when she had.


You, my dear, have seen all the letters that passed between Mr. Lovelace and me, till my last return from you. You have acknowledged, that he has nothing to boast of from them. Three others I have received since, by the private conveyance I told you of: the last I have not yet answered.

In these three, as in those you have seen, after having besought my favour, and, in the most earnest manner, professed the ardour of his passion for me; and set forth the indignities done him; the defiances my brother throws out against him in all companies; the menaces, and hostile appearance of my uncles wherever they go; and the methods they take to defame him; he declares, ’That neither his own honour, nor the honour of his family, (involved as that is in the undistinguishing reflection cast upon him for an unhappy affair which he would have shunned, but could not) permit him to bear these confirmed indignities: that as my inclinations, if not favourable to him, cannot be, nor are, to such a man as the newly-introduced Solmes, he is interested the more to resent my brother’s behaviour; who to every body avows his rancour and malice; and glories in the probability he has, through the address of this Solmes, of mortifying me, and avenging himself on him: that it is impossible he should not think himself concerned to frustrate a measure so directly levelled at him, had he not a still higher motive for hoping to frustrate it: that I must forgive him, if he enter into conference with Solmes upon it. He earnestly insists (upon what he has so often proposed) that I will give him leave, in company with Lord M. to wait upon my uncles, and even upon my father—and he promises patience, if new provocations, absolutely beneath a man to bear, be not given:’ which by the way I am far from being able to engage for.

In my answer, I absolutely declare, as I tell him I have often done, ’That he is to expect no favour from me against the approbation of my friends: that I am sure their consents for his visiting any of them will never be obtained: that I will not be either so undutiful, or so indiscreet, as to suffer my interests to be separated from the interests of my family, for any man upon earth: that I do not think myself obliged to him for the forbearance I desire one flaming spirit to have with others: that in this desire I require nothing of him, but what prudence, justice, and the laws of his country require: that if he has any expectations of favour from me, on that account, he deceives himself: that I have no inclination, as I have often told him, to change my condition: that I cannot allow myself to correspond with him any longer in this clandestine manner: it is mean, low, undutiful, I tell him; and has a giddy appearance, which cannot be excused: that therefore he is not to expect that I will continue it.

To this in his last, among other things, he replies, ’That if I am actually determined to break off all correspondence with him, he must conclude, that it is with a view to become the wife of a man, whom no woman of honour and fortune can think tolerable. And in that case, I must excuse him for saying, that he shall neither be able to bear the thoughts of losing for ever a person in whom all his present and all his future hopes are centred; nor support himself with patience under the insolent triumphs of my brother upon it. But that nevertheless he will not threaten either his own life, or that of any other man. He must take his resolutions as such a dreaded event shall impel him at the time. If he shall know that it will have my consent, he must endeavour to resign to his destiny: but if it be brought about by compulsion, he shall not be able to answer for the consequence.’

I will send you these letters for your perusal in a few days. I would enclose them; but that it is possible something may happen, which may make my mother require to re-peruse them. When you see them, you will observe how he endeavours to hold me to this correspondence.


In about an hour my mother returned. Take your letters, Clary: I have nothing, she was pleased to say, to tax your discretion with, as to the wording of yours to him: you have even kept up a proper dignity, as well as observed all the rules of decorum; and you have resented, as you ought to resent, his menacing invectives. In a word, I see not, that he can form the least expectations, from what you have written, that you will encourage the passion he avows for you. But does he not avow his passion? Have you the least doubt about what must be the issue of this correspondence, if continued? And do you yourself think, when you know the avowed hatred of one side, and he declared defiances of the other, that this can be, that it ought to be a match?

By no means it can, Madam; you will be pleased to observed, that I have said as much to him. But now, Madam, that the whole correspondence is before you, I beg your commands what to do in a situation so very disagreeable.

One thing I will tell you, Clary—but I charge you, as you would not have me question the generosity of your spirit, to take no advantage of it, either mentally or verbally; that I am so much pleased with the offer of your keys to me, made in so cheerful and unreserved a manner, and in the prudence you have shewn in your letters, that were it practicable to bring every one, or your father only, into my opinion, I should readily leave all the rest to your discretion, reserving only to myself the direction or approbation of your future letters; and to see, that you broke off the correspondence as soon as possible. But as it is not, and as I know your father would have no patience with you, should it be acknowledged that you correspond with Mr. Lovelace, or that you have corresponded with him since the time he prohibited you to do so; I forbid you to continue such a liberty—Yet, as the case is difficult, let me ask you, What you yourself can propose? Your heart, you say, is free. Your own, that you cannot think, as matters circumstanced, that a match with a man so obnoxious as he now is to us all, is proper to be thought of: What do you propose to do?—What, Clary, are your own thoughts of the matter?

Without hesitation thus I answered—What I humbly propose is this:—’That I will write to Mr. Lovelace (for I have not answered his last) that he has nothing to do between my father and me: that I neither ask his advice nor need it: but that since he thinks he has some pretence for interfering, because of my brother’s avowal of the interest of Mr. Solmes in displeasure to him, I will assure him (without giving him any reason to impute the assurance to be in the least favourable to himself) that I will never be that man’s.’ And if, proceeded I, I may never be permitted to give him this assurance; and Mr. Solmes, in consequence of it, be discouraged from prosecuting his address; let Mr. Lovelace be satisfied or dissatisfied, I will go no farther; nor write another line to him; nor ever see him more, if I can avoid it: and I shall have a good excuse for it, without bringing in any of my family.

Ah! my love!—But what shall we do about the terms Mr. Solmes offers? Those are the inducements with every body. He has even given hopes to your brother that he will make exchanges of estates; or, at least, that he will purchase the northern one; for you know it must be entirely consistent with the family-views, that we increase our interest in this country. Your brother, in short, has given a plan that captivates us all. And a family so rich in all its branches, and that has its views to honour, must be pleased to see a very great probability of taking rank one day among the principal in the kingdom.

And for the sake of these views, for the sake of this plan of my brother’s, am I, Madam, to be given in marriage to a man I can never endure!—O my dear Mamma, save me, save me, if you can, from this heavy evil.—I had rather be buried alive, indeed I had, than have that man!

She chid me for my vehemence; but was so good as to tell me, That she would sound my uncle Harlowe, who was then below; and if he encouraged her (or would engage to second her) she would venture to talk to my father herself; and I should hear further in the morning.

She went down to tea, and kindly undertook to excuse my attendance at supper.

But is it not a sad thing, I repeat, to be obliged to stand in opposition to the will of such a mother? Why, as I often say to myself, was such a man as this Solmes fixed upon? The only man in the world, surely, that could offer so much, and deserve so little!

Little indeed does he deserve!—Why, my dear, the man has the most indifferent of characters. Every mouth is opened against him for his sordid ways—A foolish man, to be so base-minded!—When the difference between the obtaining of a fame for generosity, and incurring the censure of being a miser, will not, prudently managed, cost fifty pounds a year.

What a name have you got, at a less expense? And what an opportunity had he of obtaining credit at a very small one, succeeding such a wretched creature as Sir Oliver, in fortunes so vast?—Yet has he so behaved, that the common phrase is applied to him, That Sir Oliver will never be dead while Mr. Solmes lives.

The world, as I have often thought, ill-natured as it is said to be, is generally more just in characters (speaking by what it feels) than is usually apprehended: and those who complain most of its censoriousness, perhaps should look inwardly for the occasion oftener than they do.

My heart is a little at ease, on the hopes that my mother will be able to procure favour for me, and a deliverance from this man; and so I have leisure to moralize. But if I had not, I should not forbear to intermingle occasionally these sorts of remarks, because you command me never to omit them when they occur to my mind: and not to be able to make them, even in a more affecting situation, when one sits down to write, would shew one’s self more engaged to self, and to one’s own concerns, than attentive to the wishes of a friend. If it be said, that it is natural so to be, what makes that nature, on occasions where a friend may be obliged, or reminded of a piece of instruction, which (writing down) one’s self may be the better for, but a fault; which it would set a person above nature to subdue?