MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE [IN ANSWER TO LETTER XV.] SAT. MARCH 4, 12 O'CLOCK.
Hannah has just now brought me from the usual place your favour of
yesterday. The contents of it have made me very thoughtful; and you
will have an answer in my gravest style.--I to have that Mr. Solmes!-- No indeed!--I will sooner--But I will write first to those passages in
your letter which are less concerning, that I may touch upon this part
with more patience.
As to what you mention of my sister's value for Mr. Lovelace, I am not
very much surprised at it. She takes such officious pains, and it is
so much her subject, to have it thought that she never did, and never
could like him, that she gives but too much room to suspect that she
does. She never tells the story of their parting, and of her refusal
of him, but her colour rises, she looks with disdain upon me, and
mingles anger with the airs she gives herself:--anger as well as airs,
demonstrating, that she refused a man whom she thought worth
accepting: Where else is the reason either for anger or boast?--Poor
Bella! She is to be pitied--she cannot either like or dislike with
temper! Would to heaven she had been mistress of all her wishes!-- Would to heaven she had!
As to what you say of my giving up to my father's controul the estate
devised me, my motives at the time, as you acknowledge, were not
blamable. Your advice to me on the subject was grounded, as I
remember, on your good opinion of me; believing that I should not make
a bad use of the power willed me. Neither you nor I, my dear,
although you now assume the air of a diviner, [pardon me] could have
believed that would have happened which has happened, as to my
father's part particularly. You were indeed jealous of my brother's
views against me; or rather of his predominant love of himself; but I
did not think so hardly of my brother and sister as you always did.
You never loved them; and ill-will has eyes ever open to the faulty
side; as good-will or love is blind even to real imperfections. I
will briefly recollect my motives.
I found jealousies and uneasiness rising in every breast, where all
before was unity and love. The honoured testator was reflected upon:
a second childhood was attributed to him; and I was censured, as
having taken advantage of it. All young creatures, thought I, more or
less, covet independency; but those who wish most for it, are seldom
the fittest to be trusted either with the government of themselves, or
with power over others. This is certainly a very high and unusual
devise to so young a creature. We should not aim at all we have power
to do. To take all that good-nature, or indulgence, or good opinion
confers, shews a want of moderation, and a graspingness that is
unworthy of that indulgence; and are bad indications of the use that
may be made of the power bequeathed. It is true, thought I, that I
have formed agreeable schemes of making others as happy as myself, by
the proper discharge of the stewardship intrusted to me. [Are not all
estates stewardships, my dear?] But let me examine myself: Is not
vanity, or secret love of praise, a principal motive with me at the
bottom?--Ought I not to suspect my own heart? If I set up for myself,
puffed up with every one's good opinion, may I not be left to myself? --Every one's eyes are upon the conduct, upon the visits, upon the
visiters, of a young creature of our sex, made independent: And are
not such subjected, more than any others, to the attempts of
enterprisers and fortune-seekers?--And then, left to myself, should I
take a wrong step, though with ever so good an intention, how many
should I have to triumph over me, how few to pity me!--The more of the
one, and the fewer of the other, for having aimed at excelling.
These were some of my reflections at the time: and I have no doubt,
but that in the same situation I should do the very same thing; and
that upon the maturest deliberation. Who can command or foresee
events? To act up to our best judgments at the time, is all we can
do. If I have erred, 'tis to worldly wisdom only that I have erred.
If we suffer by an act of duty, or even by an act of generosity, is it
not pleasurable on reflection, that the fault is in others, rather
than in ourselves?--I had much rather have reason to think others
unkind, than that they should have any to think me undutiful.
And so, my dear, I am sure had you.
And now for the most concerning part of your letter.
You think I must of necessity, as matters are circumstanced, be
Solmes's wife. I will not be very rash, my dear, in protesting to the
contrary: but I think it never can, and, what is still more, never
ought to be!--My temper, I know, is depended upon. But I have
heretofore said,* that I have something in me of my father's family,
as well as of my mother's. And have I any encouragement to follow too
implicitly the example which my mother sets of meekness, and
resignedness to the wills of others? Is she not for ever obliged (as
she was pleased to hint to me) to be of the forbearing side? In my
mother's case, your observation I must own is verified, that those who
will bear much, shall have much to bear.** What is it, as she says,
that she has not sacrificed to peace?--Yet, has she by her sacrifices
always found the peace she has deserved to find? Indeed, no!--I am
afraid the very contrary. And often and often have I had reason (on
her account) to reflect, that we poor mortals, by our over-solicitude
to preserve undisturbed the qualities we are constitutionally fond of,
frequently lose the benefits we propose to ourselves from them: since
the designing and encroaching (finding out what we most fear to
forfeit) direct their batteries against these our weaker places, and,
making an artillery (if I may so phrase it) of our hopes and fears,
play upon us at their pleasure.
* See Letter IX. ** See Letter X.
Steadiness of mind, (a quality which the ill-bred and censorious deny
to any of our sex) when we are absolutely convinced of being in the
right [otherwise it is not steadiness, but obstinacy] and when it is
exerted in material cases, is a quality, which, as my good Dr. Lewen
was wont to say, brings great credit to the possessor of it; at the
same time that it usually, when tried and known, raises such above the
attempts of the meanly machinating. He used therefore to inculcate
upon me this steadiness, upon laudable convictions. And why may I not
think that I am now put upon a proper exercise of it?
I said above, that I never can be, that I never ought to be, Mrs.
Solmes.--I repeat, that I ought not: for surely, my dear, I should not
give up to my brother's ambition the happiness of my future life.
Surely I ought not to be the instrument of depriving Mr. Solmes's
relations of their natural rights and reversionary prospects, for the
sake of further aggrandizing a family (although that I am of) which
already lives in great affluence and splendour; and which might be as
justly dissatisfied, were all that some of it aim at to be obtained,
that they were not princes, as now they are that they are not peers
[For when ever was an ambitious mind, as you observe in the case of
avarice,* satisfied by acquisition?]. The less, surely, ought I to
give into these grasping views of my brother, as I myself heartily
despise the end aimed at; as I wish not either to change my state, or
better my fortunes; and as I am fully persuaded, that happiness and
riches are two things, and very seldom meet together.
* See Letter X.
Yet I dread, I exceedingly dread, the conflicts I know I must
encounter with. It is possible, that I may be more unhappy from the
due observation of the good doctor's general precept, than were I to
yield the point; since what I call steadiness is deemed stubbornness,
obstinacy, prepossession, by those who have a right to put what
interpretation they please upon my conduct.
So, my dear, were we perfect (which no one can be) we could not be
happy in this life, unless those with whom we have to deal (those more
especially who have any controul upon us) were governed by the same
principles. But then does not the good Doctor's conclusion recur,-- That we have nothing to do, but to chuse what is right; to be steady
in the pursuit of it; and to leave the issue to Providence?
This, if you approve of my motives, (and if you don't, pray inform me)
must be my aim in the present case.
But what then can I plead for a palliation to myself of my mother's
sufferings on my account? Perhaps this consideration will carry some
force with it--That her difficulties cannot last long; only till this
great struggle shall be one way or other determined--Whereas my
unhappiness, if I comply, will (from an aversion not to be overcome)
be for life. To which let me add, That as I have reason to think that
the present measures are not entered upon with her own natural liking,
she will have the less pain, should they want the success which I
think in my heart they ought to want.
I have run a great length in a very little time. The subject touched
me to the quick. My reflections upon it will give you reason to
expect from me a perhaps too steady behaviour in a new conference,
which, I find, I must have with my mother. My father and brother, as
she was pleased to tell me, dine at my uncle Antony's; and that, as I
have reason to believe, on purpose to give an opportunity for it.
Hannah informs me, that she heard my father high and angry with my
mother, at taking leave of her: I suppose for being to favourable to
me; for Hannah heard her say, as in tears, 'Indeed, Mr. Harlowe, you
greatly distress me!--The poor girl does not deserve--' Hannah heard
no more, but that he said, he would break somebody's heart--Mine, I
suppose--Not my mother's, I hope.
As only my sister dines with my mother, I thought I should have been
commanded down: but she sent me up a plate from her table. I
continued my writing. I could not touch a morsel. I ordered Hannah
however to eat of it, that I might not be thought sullen.
Before I conclude this, I will see whether any thing offers from
either of my private correspondencies, that will make it proper to add
to it; and will take a turn in the wood-yard and garden for that
I am stopped. Hannah shall deposit this. She was ordered by my
mother (who asked where I was) to tell me, that she would come up and
talk with me in my own closet.--She is coming! Adieu, my dear.