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Read Clarissa Harlowe; or the history of a young lady Volume VII Part 31

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‘Do you not already see me (pursuing the advice you give) with a downcast eye, appear before his friends, and before my own, (supposing the latter would at last condescend to own me,) divested of that n.o.ble confidence which arises from a mind unconscious of having deserved reproach?

‘Do you not see me creep about mine own house, preferring all my honest maidens to myself–as if afraid, too, to open my lips, either by way of reproof or admonition, lest their bolder eyes should bid me look inward, and not expect perfection from them?

‘And shall I ent.i.tle the wretch to upbraid me with his generosity, and his pity; and perhaps to reproach me for having been capable of forgiving crimes of such a nature?

‘I once indeed hoped, little thinking him so premeditatedly vile a man, that I might have the happiness to reclaim him: I vainly believed that he loved me well enough to suffer my advice for his good, and the example I humbly presumed I should be enabled to set him, to have weight with him; and the rather, as he had no mean opinion of my morals and understanding: But now what hope is there left for this my prime hope?–Were I to marry him, what a figure should I make, preaching virtue and morality to a man whom I had trusted with opportunities to seduce me from all my own duties!–And then, supposing I were to have children by such a husband, must it not, think you, cut a thoughtful person to the heart; to look round upon her little family, and think she had given them a father destined, without a miracle, to perdition; and whose immoralities, propagated among them by his vile example, might, too probably, bring down a curse upon them? And, after all, who knows but that my own sinful compliances with a man, who might think himself ent.i.tled to my obedience, might taint my own morals, and make me, instead of a reformer, an imitator of him?–For who can touch pitch, and not be defiled?

‘Let me then repeat, that I truly despise this man! If I know my own heart, indeed I do!–I pity him! beneath my very pity as he is, I nevertheless pity him!–But this I could not do, if I still loved him: for, my dear, one must be greatly sensible of the baseness and ingrat.i.tude of those we love. I love him not, therefore! my soul disdains communion with him.

‘But, although thus much is due to resentment, yet have I not been so far carried away by its angry effects as to be rendered incapable of casting about what I ought to do, and what could be done, if the Almighty, in order to lengthen the time of my penitence, were to bid me to live.

‘The single life, at such times, has offered to me, as the life, the only life, to be chosen. But in that, must I not now sit brooding over my past afflictions, and mourning my faults till the hour of my release?

And would not every one be able to a.s.sign the reason why Clarissa Harlowe chose solitude, and to sequester herself from the world? Would not the look of every creature, who beheld me, appear as a reproach to me? And would not my conscious eye confess my fault, whether the eyes of others accused me or not? One of my delights was, to enter the cots of my poor neighbours, to leave lessons to the boys, and cautions to the elder girls: and how should I be able, unconscious, and without pain, to say to the latter, fly the delusions of men, who had been supposed to have run away with one?

‘What then, my dear and only friend, can I wish for but death?–And what, after all, is death? ‘Tis but a cessation from mortal life: ’tis but the finishing of an appointed course: the refreshing inn after a fatiguing journey; the end of a life of cares and troubles; and, if happy, the beginning of a life of immortal happiness.

‘If I die not now, it may possibly happen that I may be taken when I am less prepared. Had I escaped the evils I labour under, it might have been in the midst of some gay promising hope; when my heart had beat high with the desire of life; and when the vanity of this earth had taken hold of me.

‘But now, my dear, for your satisfaction let me say that, although I wish not for life, yet would I not, like a poor coward, desert my post when I can maintain it, and when it is my duty to maintain it.

‘More than once, indeed, was I urged by thoughts so sinful: but then it was in the height of my distress: and once, particularly, I have reason to believe, I saved myself by my desperation from the most shocking personal insults; from a repet.i.tion, as far as I know, of his vileness; the base women (with so much reason dreaded by me) present, to intimidate me, if not to a.s.sist him!–O my dear, you know not what I suffered on that occasion!–Nor do I what I escaped at the time, if the wicked man had approached me to execute the horrid purposes of his vile heart.’

As I am of opinion, that it would have manifested more of revenge and despair than of principle, had I committed a violence upon myself, when the villany was perpetrated; so I should think it equally criminal, were I now wilfully to neglect myself; were I purposely to run into the arms of death, (as that man supposes I shall do,) when I might avoid it.

Nor, my dear, whatever are the suppositions of such a short-sighted, such a low-souled man, must you impute to gloom, to melancholy, to despondency, nor yet to a spirit of faulty pride, or still more faulty revenge, the resolution I have taken never to marry this: and if not this, any man. So far from deserving this imputation, I do a.s.sure you, (my dear and only love,) that I will do every thing I can to prolong my life, till G.o.d, in mercy to me, shall be pleased to call for it. I have reason to think my punishment is but the due consequence of my fault, and I will not run away from it; but beg of Heaven to sanctify it to me.

When appet.i.te serves, I will eat and drink what is sufficient to support nature. A very little, you know, will do for that. And whatever my physicians shall think fit to prescribe, I will take, though ever so disagreeable. In short, I will do every thing I can do to convince all my friends, who hereafter may think it worth their while to inquire after my last behaviour, that I possessed my soul with tolerable patience; and endeavoured to bear with a lot of my own drawing; for thus, in humble imitation of the sublimest exemplar, I often say:–Lord, it is thy will; and it shall be mine. Thou art just in all thy dealings with the children of men; and I know thou wilt not afflict me beyond what I can bear: and, if I can bear it, I ought to bear it; and (thy grace a.s.sisting me) I will bear it.

‘But here, my dear, is another reason; a reason that will convince you yourself that I ought not to think of wedlock; but of a preparation for a quite different event. I am persuaded, as much as that I am now alive, that I shall not long live. The strong sense I have ever had of my fault, the loss of my reputation, my disappointments, the determined resentment of my friends, aiding the barbarous usage I have met with where I least deserved it, have seized upon my heart: seized upon it, before it was so well fortified by religious considerations as I hope it now is. Don’t be concerned, my dear–But I am sure, if I may say it with as little presumption as grief, That G.o.d will soon dissolve my substance; and bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living.’

And now, my dearest friend, you know all my mind. And you will be pleased to write to the ladies of Mr. Lovelace’s family, that I think myself infinitely obliged to them for their good opinion of me; and that it has given me greater pleasure than I thought I had to come in this life, that, upon the little knowledge they have of me, and that not personal, I was thought worthy (after the ill usage I have received) of an alliance with their honourable family: but that I can by no means think of their kinsman for a husband: and do you, my dear, extract from the above such reasons as you think have any weight with them.

I would write myself to acknowledge their favour, had I not more employment for my head, my heart, and my fingers, than I doubt they will be able to go through.

I should be glad to know when you set out on your journey; as also your little stages; and your time of stay at your aunt Harman’s; that my prayers may locally attend you whithersoever you go, and wherever you are.

CLARISSA HARLOWE.

LETTER XLII

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE SUNDAY, JULY 23.

The letter accompanying this being upon a very particular subject, I would not embarra.s.s it, as I may say, with any other. And yet having some farther matters upon my mind, which will want your excuse for directing them to you, I hope the following lines will have that excuse.

My good Mrs. Norton, so long ago as in a letter dated the 3d of this month,* hinted to me that my relations took amiss some severe things you were pleased, in love to me, to say to them. Mrs. Norton mentioned it with that respectful love which she bears to my dearest friend: but wished, for my sake, that you would rein in a vivacity, which, on most other occasions, so charmingly becomes you. This was her sense. You know that I am warranted to speak and write freer to my Anna Howe than Mrs. Norton would do.

* See Vol. VI. Letter LXIII.

I durst not mention it to you at that time, because appearances were so strong against me, on Mr. Lovelace’s getting me again into his power, (after my escape to Hampstead,) as made you very angry with me when you answered mine on my second escape. And, soon afterwards, I was put under that barbarous arrest; so that I could not well touch upon the subject till now.

Now, therefore, my dearest Miss Howe, let me repeat my earnest request (for this is not the first time by several that I have been obliged to chide you on this occasion,) that you will spare my parents, and other relations, in all your conversations about me. Indeed, I wish they had thought fit to take other measures with me: But who shall judge for them?

–The event has justified them, and condemned me.–They expected nothing good of this vile man; he had not, therefore, deceived them: but they expected other things from me; and I have. And they have the more reason to be set against me, if (as my aunt Hervey wrote* formerly,) they intended not to force my inclinations in favour of Mr. Solmes; and if they believe that my going off was the effect of choice and premeditation.

* See Vol. III. Letter LII.

I have no desire to be received to favour by them: For why should I sit down to wish for what I have no reason to expect?–Besides, I could not look them in the face, if they would receive me. Indeed I could not.

All I have to hope for is, first, that my father will absolve me from his heavy malediction: and next, for a last blessing. The obtaining of these favours are needful to my peace of mind.

I have written to my sister; but have only mentioned the absolution.

I am afraid I shall receive a very harsh answer from her: my fault, in the eyes of my family, is of so enormous a nature, that my first application will hardly be encouraged. Then they know not (nor perhaps will believe) that I am so very ill as I am. So that, were I actually to die before they could have time to take the necessary informations, you must not blame them too severely. You must call it a fatality. I know not what you must call it: for, alas! I have made them as miserable as I am myself. And yet sometimes I think that, were they cheerfully to p.r.o.nounce me forgiven, I know not whether my concern for having offended them would not be augmented: since I imagine that nothing can be more wounding to a spirit not ungenerous than a generous forgiveness.

I hope your mother will permit our correspondence for one month more, although I do not take her advice as to having this man. When catastrophes are winding up, what changes (changes that make one’s heart shudder to think of,) may one short month produce?–But if she will not– why then, my dear, it becomes us both to acquiesce.

You can’t think what my apprehensions would have been, had I known Mr.

Hickman was to have had a meeting (on such a questioning occasion as must have been his errand from you) with that haughty and uncontroulable man.

You give me hope of a visit from Mr. Hickman: let him expect to see me greatly altered. I know he loves me: for he loves every one whom you love. A painful interview, I doubt! But I shall be glad to see a man whom you will one day, and that on an early day, I hope, make happy; whose gentle manners, and unbounded love for you, will make you so, if it be not your own fault.

I am, my dearest, kindest friend, the sweet companion of my happy hours, the friend ever dearest and nearest to my fond heart,

Your equally obliged and faithful, CLARISSA HARLOWE.

LETTER XLIII

MRS. NORTON, TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE MONDAY, JULY 24.

Excuse, my dearest young lady, my long silence. I have been extremely ill. My poor boy has also been at death’s door; and, when I hoped that he was better, he has relapsed. Alas! my dear, he is very dangerously ill. Let us both have your prayers!

Very angry letters have pa.s.sed between your sister and Miss Howe. Every one of your family is incensed against that young lady. I wish you would remonstrate against her warmth; since it can do no good; for they will not believe but that her interposition had your connivance; nor that you are so ill as Miss Howe a.s.sures them you are.

Before she wrote, they were going to send up young Mr. Brand, the clergyman, to make private inquiries of your health, and way of life.– But now they are so exasperated that they have laid aside their intention.

We have flying reports here, and at Harlowe-place, of some fresh insults which you have undergone: and that you are about to put yourself into Lady Betty Lawrance’s protection. I believe they would not be glad (as I should be) that you would do so; and this, perhaps, will make them suspend, for the present, any determination in your favour.

How unhappy am I, that the dangerous way my son is in prevents my attendance on you! Let me beg of you to write to me word how you are, both as to person and mind. A servant of Sir Robert Beachcroft, who rides post on his master’s business to town, will present you with this; and, perhaps, will bring me the favour of a few lines in return. He will be obliged to stay in town several hours for an answer to his dispatches.

This is the anniversary that used to give joy to as many as had the pleasure and honour of knowing you. May the Almighty bless you, and grant that it may be the only unhappy one that may ever be known by you, my dearest young lady, and by

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