Letter XL

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE [In continuation of the subject in Letter XXXVIII.]

I will now, though midnight (for I have no sleep in my eyes) resume

the subject I was forced so abruptly to quit, and will obey yours,

Miss Lloyd's, Miss Campion's, and Miss Biddulph's call, with as much

temper as my divided thought will admit. The dead stillness of this

solemn hour will, I hope, contribute to calm my disturbed mind.

In order to acquit myself of so heavy a charge as that of having

reserves to so dear a friend, I will acknowledge (and I thought I had

over-and-over) that it is owing to my particular situation, if Mr.

Lovelace appears to me in a tolerable light: and I take upon me to

say, that had they opposed to him a man of sense, of virtue, of

generosity; one who enjoyed his fortune with credit, who had a

tenderness in his nature for the calamities of others, which would

have given a moral assurance, that he would have been still less

wanting in grateful returns to an obliging spirit:--had they opposed

such a man as this to Mr. Lovelace, and been as earnest to have me

married, as now they are, I do not know myself, if they would have had

reason to tax me with that invincible obstinacy which they lay to my

charge: and this whatever had been the figure of the man; since the

heart is what we women should judge by in the choice we make, as the

best security for the party's good behaviour in every relation of


But, situated as I am, thus persecuted and driven, I own to you, that

I have now-and-then had a little more difficulty than I wished for, in

passing by Mr. Lovelace's tolerable qualities, to keep up my dislike

to him for his others.

You say, I must have argued with myself in his favour, and in his

disfavour, on a supposition, that I might possibly be one day his. I

own that I have: and thus called upon by my dearest friend, I will set

before you both parts of the argument.

And first, what occurred to me in his favour.

At his introduction into our family, his negative virtues were

insisted upon:--He was no gamester; no horse-racer; no fox-hunter; no

drinker: my poor aunt Hervey had, in confidence, given us to apprehend

much disagreeable evil (especially to a wife of the least delicacy)

from a wine-lover: and common sense instructed us, that sobriety in a

man is no small point to be secured, when so many mischiefs happen

daily from excess. I remember, that my sister made the most of this

favourable circumstance in his character while she had any hopes of


He was never thought to be a niggard; not even ungenerous: nor when

his conduct came to be inquired into, an extravagant, a squanderer:

his pride [so far was it a laudable pride] secured him from that.

Then he was ever ready to own his errors. He was no jester upon

sacred things: poor Mr. Wyerley's fault; who seemed to think there was

wit in saying bold things, which would shock a serious mind. His

conversation with us was always unexceptionable, even chastely so;

which, be his actions what they would, shewed him capable of being

influenced by decent company; and that he might probably therefore be

a led man, rather than a leader, in other company. And one late

instance, so late as last Saturday evening, has raised him not a

little in my opinion, with regard to this point of good (and at the

same time, of manly) behaviour.

As to the advantage of birth, that is of his side, above any man who

has been found out for me. If we may judge by that expression of his,

which you were pleased with at the time; 'That upon true quality, and

hereditary distinction, if good sense were not wanting, humour sat as

easy as his glove;' that, with as familiar an air, was his familiar

expression; 'while none but the prosperous upstart, MUSHROOMED into

rank, (another of his peculiars,) was arrogantly proud of it.'--If, I

say, we may judge of him by this, we shall conclude in his favour,

that he knows what sort of behaviour is to be expected from persons of

birth, whether he act up to it or not. Conviction is half way to


His fortunes in possession are handsome; in expectation, splendid: so

nothing need be said on that subject.

But it is impossible, say some, that he should make a tender or kind

husband. Those who are for imposing upon me such a man as Mr. Solmes,

and by methods so violent, are not entitled to make this objection.

But now, on this subject, let me tell you how I have argued with

myself--for still you must remember, that I am upon the extenuating

part of his character.

A great deal of the treatment a wife may expect from him, will

possibly depend upon herself. Perhaps she must practise as well as

promise obedience, to a man so little used to controul; and must be

careful to oblige. And what husband expects not this?--The more

perhaps if he had not reason to assure himself of the preferable love

of his wife before she became such. And how much easier and

pleasanter to obey the man of her choice, if he should be even more

unreasonable sometimes, than one she would not have had, could she

have avoided it? Then, I think, as the men were the framers of the

matrimonial office, and made obedience a part of the woman's vow, she

ought not, even in policy, to shew him, that she can break through her

part of the contract, (however lightly she may think of the instance,)

lest he should take it into his head (himself is judge) to think as

lightly of other points, which she may hold more important--but,

indeed, no point so solemnly vowed can be slight.

Thus principled, and acting accordingly, what a wretch must that

husband be, who could treat such a wife brutally!--Will Lovelace's

wife be the only person to whom he will not pay the grateful debt of

civility and good manners? He is allowed to be brave: Who ever knew a

brave man, if a brave man of sense, an universally base man? And how

much the gentleness of our sex, and the manner of our training up and

education, make us need the protection of the brave, and the

countenance of the generous, let the general approbation, which we are

all so naturally inclined to give to men of that character, testify.

At worst, will he confine me prisoner to my chamber? Will he deny me

the visits of my dearest friend, and forbid me to correspond with her?

Will he take from me the mistressly management, which I had not

faultily discharged? Will he set a servant over me, with license to

insult me? Will he, as he has not a sister, permit his cousins

Montague, or would either of those ladies accept of a permission, to

insult and tyrannize over me?--It cannot be.--Why then, think I often,

do you tempt me, O my cruel friends, to try the difference?

And then has the secret pleasure intruded itself, to be able to

reclaim such a man to the paths of virtue and honour: to be a

secondary means, if I were to be his, of saving him, and preventing

the mischiefs so enterprising a creature might otherwise be guilty of,

if he be such a one.

When I have thought of him in these lights, (and that as a man of

sense he will sooner see his errors, than another,) I own to you, that

I have had some difficulty to avoid taking the path they so violently

endeavour to make me shun: and all that command of my passions which

has been attributed to me as my greatest praise, and, in so young a

creature, as my distinction, has hardly been sufficient for me.

And let me add, that the favour of his relations (all but himself

unexceptionable) has made a good deal of additional weight, thrown in

the same scale.

But now, in his disfavour. When I have reflected upon the prohibition

of my parents; the giddy appearance, disgraceful to our sex, that such

a preference would have: that there is no manner of likelihood,

enflamed by the rencounter, and upheld by art and ambition on my

brother's side, that ever the animosity will be got over: that I must

therefore be at perpetual variance with all my own family: that I must

go to him, and to his, as an obliged and half-fortuned person: that

his aversion to them all is as strong as theirs to him: that his whole

family are hated for his sake; they hating ours in return: that he has

a very immoral character as to women: that knowing this, it is a high

degree of impurity to think of joining in wedlock with such a man:

that he is young, unbroken, his passions unsubdued: that he is violent

in his temper, yet artful; I am afraid vindictive too: that such a

husband might unsettle me in all my own principles, and hazard my

future hopes: that his own relations, two excellent aunts, and an

uncle, from whom he has such large expectations, have no influence

upon him: that what tolerable qualities he has, are founded more in

pride than in virtue: that allowing, as he does, the excellency of

moral precepts, and believing the doctrine of future rewards and

punishments, he can live as if he despised the one, and defied the

other: the probability that the taint arising from such free

principles, may go down into the manners of posterity: that I knowing

these things, and the importance of them, should be more inexcusable

than one who knows them not; since an error against judgment is worse,

infinitely worse, than an error in judgment. Reflecting upon these

things, I cannot help conjuring you, my dear, to pray with me, and to

pray for me, that I may not be pushed upon such indiscreet measures,

as will render me inexcusable to myself: for that is the test, after

all. The world's opinion ought to be but a secondary consideration.

I have said in his praise, that he is extremely ready to own his

errors: but I have sometimes made a great drawback upon this article,

in his disfavour; having been ready to apprehend, that this

ingenuousness may possibly be attributable to two causes, neither of

them, by any means, creditable to him. The one, that his vices are so

much his masters, that he attempts not to conquer them; the other,

that he may think it policy, to give up one half of his character to

save the other, when the whole may be blamable: by this means,

silencing by acknowledgment the objections he cannot answer; which may

give him the praise of ingenuousness, when he can obtain no other, and

when the challenged proof might bring out, upon discussion, other

evils. These, you will allow, are severe constructions; but every

thing his enemies say of him cannot be false.

I will proceed by-and-by.


Sometimes we have both thought him one of the most undesigning merely

witty men we ever knew; at other times one of the deepest creatures we

ever conversed with. So that when in one visit we have imagined we

fathomed him, in the next he has made us ready to give him up as

impenetrable. This impenetrableness, my dear, is to be put among the

shades in his character. Yet, upon the whole, you have been so far of

his party, that you have contested that his principal fault is over- frankness, and too much regardlessness of appearances, and that he is

too giddy to be very artful: you would have it, that at the time he

says any thing good, he means what he speaks; that his variableness

and levity are constitutional, owing to sound health, and to a soul

and body [that was your observation] fitted for and pleased with each

other. And hence you concluded, that could this consentaneousness [as

you call it] of corporal and animal faculties be pointed by

discretion; that is to say, could his vivacity be confined within the

pale of but moral obligations, he would be far from being rejectable

as a companion for life.

But I used then to say, and I still am of opinion, that he wants a

heart: and if he does, he wants every thing. A wrong head may be

convinced, may have a right turn given it: but who is able to give a

heart, if a heart be wanting? Divine Grace, working a miracle, or

next to a miracle, can only change a bad heart. Should not one fly the

man who is but suspected of such a one? What, O what, do parents do,

when they endeavour to force a child's inclination, but make her think

better than otherwise she would think of a man obnoxious to

themselves, and perhaps whose character will not stand examination?

I have said, that I think Mr. Lovelace a vindictive man: upon my word,

I have sometimes doubted, whether his perseverance in his addresses to

me has not been the more obstinate, since he has found himself so

disagreeable to my friends. From that time I verily think he has been

the more fervent in them; yet courts them not, but sets them at

defiance. For this indeed he pleads disinterestedness [I am sure he

cannot politeness]; and the more plausibly, as he is apprized of the

ability they have to make it worth his while to court them. 'Tis true

he has declared, and with too much reason, (or there would be no

bearing him,) that the lowest submissions on his part would not be

accepted; and to oblige me, has offered to seek a reconciliation with

them, if I would give him hope of success.

As to his behaviour at church, the Sunday before last, I lay no stress

upon that, because I doubt there was too much outward pride in his

intentional humility, or Shorey, who is not his enemy, could not have

mistaken it.

I do not think him so deeply learned in human nature, or in ethics, as

some have thought him. Don't you remember how he stared at the

following trite observations, which every moralist could have

furnished him with? Complaining as he did, in a half-menacing strain,

of the obloquies raised against him--'That if he were innocent, he

should despise the obloquy: if not, revenge would not wipe off his

guilt.' 'That nobody ever thought of turning a sword into a sponge!'

'That it was in his own power by reformation of an error laid to his

charge by an enemy, to make that enemy one of his best friends; and

(which was the noblest revenge in the world) against his will; since

an enemy would not wish him to be without the faults he taxed him


But the intention, he said, was the wound.

How so, I asked him, when that cannot wound without the application?

'That the adversary only held the sword: he himself pointed it to his

breast:--And why should he mortally resent that malice, which he might

be the better for as long as he lived?'--What could be the reading he

has been said to be master of, to wonder, as he did, at these


But, indeed, he must take pleasure in revenge; and yet holds others to

be inexcusable for the same fault. He is not, however, the only one

who can see how truly blamable those errors are in another, which they

hardly think such in themselves.

From these considerations, from these over-balances, it was, that I

said, in a former, that I would not be in love with this man for the

world: and it was going further than prudence would warrant, when I

was for compounding with you, by the words conditional liking, which

you so humourously rally.

Well but, methinks you say, what is all this to the purpose? This is

still but reasoning: but, if you are in love, you are: and love, like

the vapours, is the deeper rooted for having no sufficient cause

assignable for its hold. And so you call upon me again to have no

reserves, and so-forth.

Why then, my dear, if you will have it, I think, that, with all his

preponderating faults, I like him better than I ever thought I should

like him; and, those faults considered, better perhaps than I ought to

like him. And I believe, it is possible for the persecution I labour

under to induce me to like him still more--especially while I can

recollect to his advantage our last interview, and as every day

produces stronger instances of tyranny, I will call it, on the other

side.--In a word, I will frankly own (since you cannot think any thing

I say too explicit) that were he now but a moral man, I would prefer

him to all the men I ever saw.

So that this is but conditional liking still, you'll say: nor, I hope,

is it more. I never was in love as it is called; and whether this be

it, or not, I must submit to you. But will venture to think it, if it

be, no such mighty monarch, no such unconquerable power, as I have

heard it represented; and it must have met with greater encouragement

than I think I have given it, to be absolutely unconquerable--since I

am persuaded, that I could yet, without a throb, most willingly give

up the one man to get rid of the other.

But now to be a little more serious with you: if, my dear, my

particularly-unhappy situation had driven (or led me, if you please)

into a liking of the man; and if that liking had, in your opinion,

inclined me to love him, should you, whose mind is susceptible of the

most friendly impressions, who have such high notions of the delicacy

which ought to be observed by our sex in these matters, and who

actually do enter so deeply into the distresses of one you love-- should you have pushed so far that unhappy friend on so very nice a

subject?--Especially, when I aimed not (as you could prove by fifty

instances, it seems) to guard against being found out. Had you

rallied me by word of mouth in the manner you do, it might have been

more in character; especially, if your friend's distresses had been

surmounted, and if she had affected prudish airs in revolving the

subject: but to sit down to write it, as methinks I see you, with a

gladdened eye, and with all the archness of exultation--indeed, my

dear, (and I take notice of it, rather for the sake of your own

generosity, than for my sake, for, as I have said, I love your

raillery,) it is not so very pretty; the delicacy of the subject, and

the delicacy of your own mind, considered.

I lay down my pen here, that you may consider of it a little, if you



I resume, to give you my opinion of the force which figure or person

ought to have upon our sex: and this I shall do both generally as to

the other sex, and particularly as to this man; whence you will be

able to collect how far my friends are in the right, or in the wrong,

when they attribute a good deal of prejudice in favour of one man, and

in disfavour of the other, on the score of figure. But, first, let me

observe, that they see abundant reason, on comparing Mr. Lovelace and

Mr. Solmes together, to believe that this may be a consideration with

me; and therefore they believe it is.

There is certainly something very plausible and attractive, as well as

creditable to a woman's choice, in figure. It gives a favourable

impression at first sight, in which we wish to be confirmed: and if,

upon further acquaintance, we find reason to be so, we are pleased

with our judgment, and like the person the better, for having given us

cause to compliment our own sagacity, in our first-sighted

impressions. But, nevertheless, it has been generally a rule with me,

to suspect a fine figure, both in man and woman; and I have had a good

deal of reason to approve my rule;--with regard to men especially, who

ought to value themselves rather upon their intellectual than personal

qualities. For, as to our sex, if a fine woman should be led by the

opinion of the world, to be vain and conceited upon her form and

features; and that to such a degree, as to have neglected the more

material and more durable recommendations, the world will be ready to

excuse her; since a pretty fool, in all she says, and in all she does,

will please, we know not why.

But who would grudge this pretty fool her short day! Since, with her

summer's sun, when her butterfly flutters are over, and the winter of

age and furrows arrives, she will feel the just effects of having

neglected to cultivate her better faculties: for then, lie another

Helen, she will be unable to bear the reflection even of her own

glass, and being sunk into the insignificance of a mere old woman, she

will be entitled to the contempts which follow that character. While

the discreet matron, who carries up [we will not, in such a one's

case, say down] into advanced life, the ever-amiable character of

virtuous prudence and useful experience, finds solid veneration take

place of airy admiration, and more than supply the want of it.

But for a man to be vain of his person, how effeminate! If such a one

happens to have genius, it seldom strikes deep into intellectual

subjects. His outside usually runs away with him. To adorn, and

perhaps, intending to adorn, to render ridiculous that person, takes

up all his attention. All he does is personal; that is to say, for

himself: all he admires, is himself: and in spite of the correction of

the stage, which so often and so justly exposes a coxcomb, he usually

dwindles down, and sinks into that character; and, of consequence,

becomes the scorn of one sex, and the jest of the other.

This is generally the case of your fine figures of men, and of those

who value themselves on dress and outward appearance: whence it is,

that I repeat, that mere person in a man is a despicable

consideration. But if a man, besides figure, has learning, and such

talents as would have distinguished him, whatever were his form, then

indeed person is an addition: and if he has not run too egregiously

into self-admiration, and if he has preserved his morals, he is truly

a valuable being.

Mr. Lovelace has certainly taste; and, as far as I am able to

determine, he has judgment in most of the politer arts. But although

he has a humourous way of carrying it off, yet one may see that he

values himself not a little, both on his person and his parts, and

even upon his dress; and yet he has so happy an ease in the latter,

that it seems to be the least part of his study. And as to the

former, I should hold myself inexcusable, if I were to add to his

vanity by shewing the least regard for what is too evidently so much


And now, my dear, let me ask you, Have I come up to your expectation?

If I have not, when my mind is more at ease, I will endeavour to

please you better. For, methinks, my sentences drag, my style creeps,

my imagination is sunk, my spirits serve me not, only to tell you,

that whether I have more or less, I am wholly devoted to the commands

of my dear Miss Howe.

P.S. The insolent Betty Barnes has just now fired me anew, by

reporting to me the following expressions of the hideous creature,

Solmes--'That he is sure of the coy girl; and that with little labour

to himself. That be I ever so averse to him beforehand, he can depend

upon my principles; and it will be a pleasure to him to see by what

pretty degrees I shall come to.' [Horrid wretch!] 'That it was Sir

Oliver's observation, who knew the world perfectly well, that fear was

a better security than love, for a woman's good behaviour to her

husband; although, for his part, to such a fine creature [truly] he

would try what love would do, for a few weeks at least; being

unwilling to believe what the old knight used to aver, that fondness

spoils more wives than it makes good.'

What think you, my dear, of such a wretch as this! tutored, too, by

that old surly misogynist, as he was deemed, Sir Oliver?--