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of the vilest of her sex: but the Fair Penitent, as she is called, perishes by her own hand; and, having no title by her past crimes to laudable pity, forfeits all claim to true penitence, and, in all probability, to future mercy.
But here is Miss CLARISSA HARLOWE, a virtuous, noble, wise, and pious young lady; who being ill used by her friends, and unhappily ensnared by a vile libertine, whom she believes to be a man of honour, is in a manner forced to throw herself upon his protection. And he, in order to obtain her confidence, never scruples the deepest and most solemn protestations of honour.
After a series of plots and contrivances, all baffled by her virtue and vigilance, he basely has recourse to the vilest of arts, and, to rob her of her honour, is forced first to rob her of her senses.
Unable to bring her, notwithstanding, to his ungene. rous views of cohabitation, she over-awes him in the very entrance of a fresh act of premeditated guilt, in presence of the most abandoned of women assembled to assist his devilish purpose; triumphs over them all, by virtue only of her innocence; and escapes from the vile hands he had put her into.
She nobly, not franticly, resents: refuses to see or to marry the wretch; who, repenting his usage of so divine a creature, would fain move her to forgive his baseness, and make him her husband: and this, though persecuted by all her friends, and abandoned to the deepest distress, being obliged, from ample fortunes, to make away with her apparel for subsistence; surrounded also by stangers, and forced (in want of others) to make a friend of the friend of her seducer.
Though longing for death, and making all proper prepa rations for it, convinced that grief and ill usage have
broken her noble heart, she abhors the impious thought of shortening her allotted period; and, as much a stranger to revenge as despair, is able to forgive the author of her ruin; wishes his repentance, and that she may be the last victim to his barbarous perfidy: and is solicitous for nothing so much in this life, as to prevent vindictive mischief to and from the man who used her so basely.
This is penitence! This is piety! And hence a distress naturally arises, that must worthily affect every heart.
Whatever the ill usage of this excellent woman is from her relations, she breaks not out into excesses: she strives, on the contrary, to find reason to justify them at her own expense; and seems more concerned for their cruelty to her for their sakes hereafter, when she shall be no more, than for her own: for, as to herself, she is sure, she says, God will forgive her, though no one on earth will.
On every extraordinary provocation she has recourse to the Scriptures, and endeavours to regulate her vehemence by sacred precedents. Better people, she says, have 'been more afflicted than she, grievous as she sometimes 'thinks her afflictions: and shall she not bear what less
❝ faulty persons have borne?' On the very occasion I have mentioned, (some new instances of implacableness from her friends,) the enclosed meditation will show how mildly, and yet how forcibly, she complains. See if thou, in the wicked levity of thy heart, canst apply it to thy case, as thou didst the other. If thou canst not, give way to thy conscience, and that will make the properest application.
How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words!
Be it indeed that I have erred, mine error remainetk with myself.
To her that is afflicted, pity sould be shown from her friend.
But she that is ready to slip with her feet, is as a lamp despised in the thought of them that are at ease.
There is a shame which bringeth sin, and there is a shame which bringeth glory and grace.
Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye, my friends! for the hand of God hath touched me.
If your soul were in my soul's stead, I also could speak as ye do: I could heap up words against you
But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief.
Why will ye break a leaf driven and fro? Why will ye pursue thy dry stubble? Why will ye write bitter words against me, and make me possess the iniquities of my youth?
Mercy is seasonable in the time of affliction, as clouds of rain in the time of drought.
Are not my days few? Cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little-before I go whence I shall not return; even to the land of darkness, and shadow of death!
Let me add, that the excellent lady is informed, by a letter from Mrs. Norton, that Colonel Morden is just arrived in England. He is now the only person she wishes
I expressed some jealousy upon it, lest he should have place given over me in the executorship. She said, That she had no thoughts to do so now; because such a trust,
were he to accept of it, (which she doubted,) might, from the nature of some of the papers which in that case would necessarily pass through his hands, occasion mischiefs between my friend and him, that would be worse than death for her to think of.
Poor Belton, I hear, is at death's door. A messenger is just come from him, who tells me he cannot die till he sees me. I hope the poor fellow will not go off yet; since neither his affairs in this world, nor for the other, are in tolerable order. I cannot avoid going to the poor Yet am unwilling to stir, till I have an assurance from you that you will not disturb the lady: for I know he will be very loth to part with me, when he gets me to him.
Tourville tells me how fast thou mendest: let me conjure thee not to think of molesting this incomparable woman. For thy own sake I request this, as well as for her's, and for the sake of thy given promise: for, should she die within a few weeks, as I fear she will, it will be said, and perhaps too justly, that thy visit has hastened her end.
In hopes thou wilt not, I wish thy perfect recovery: else that thou mayest relapse, and be confined to thy bed.
MR. BELFORD, TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE.
Sat. Morn. Aug. 19.
I THINK myself obliged in honour to acquaint you that I am afraid Mr. Lovelace will try his fate by an interview with you.
I wish to Heaven you could prevail upon yourself to receive his visit. All that is respectful, even to veneration, and all that is penitent, will you see in his behaviour, if you can admit of it. But as I am obliged to set out directly for Epsom, (to perform, as I apprehend, the last friendly offices for poor Mr. Belton, whom once you saw,) and as I think it more likely that Mr. Lovelace will not be prevailed upon, than that he will, I thought fit to give you this intimation, lest, if he should come, you should be too much surprised.
He flatters himself that you are not so ill as I repre. sent you to be. When he sees you, he will be con. vinced that the most obliging things he can do, will be as proper to be done for the sake of his own future peace of mind, as for your health-sake; and, I dare say, in fear of hurting the latter, he will forbear the thoughts of any farther intrusion; at least while you are so much indisposed so that one half-hour's shock, if it will be a shock to see the unhappy man, (but just got up himself from a dangerous fever,) will be all you will have occa sion to stand.
I beg you will not too much hurry and discompose yourself. It is impossible he can be in town till Monday, at soonest. And if he resolve to come, I hope to be at Mr. Smith's before him.
I am, Madam, with the profoundest veneration,