Clarissa Harlowe; or the history of a young lady - novelonlinefull.com
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And as to Lovelace's treatment of him, the reader must have observed, that it was his way to treat every man with contempt, partly by way of self-exaltation, and partly to gratify the natural gaiety of his disposition. He says himself to Belford,* 'Thou knowest I love him not, Jack; and whom we love not, we cannot allow a merit to; perhaps not the merit they should be granted.' 'Modest and diffident men,' writes Belford, to Lovelace, in praise of Mr. Hickman, 'wear not soon off those little precisenesses, which the confident, if ever they had them, presently get over.'**
* See Vol. VII. Letter XXVIII.
** Ibid. Letter XLVIII.
But, as Miss Howe treats her mother as freely as she does her lover; so does Mr. Lovelace take still greater liberties with Mr. Belford than he does with Mr. Hickman, with respect to his person, air, and address, as Mr. Belford himself hints to Mr. Hickman.* And yet is he not so readily believed to the discredit of Mr. Belford, by the ladies in general, as he is when he disparages Mr. Hickman. Whence can this particularity arise?
* See Letter x.x.xVI. of this volume.
Mr. Belford had been a rake: but was in a way of reformation.
Mr. Hickman had always been a good man.
And Lovelace confidently says, That the women love a man whose regard for them is founded in the knowledge of them.*
* See Vol. V. Letter XVIII.
Nevertheless, it must be owned, that it was not purposed to draw Mr.
Hickman, as the man of whom the ladies in general were likely to be very fond. Had it been so, goodness of heart, and gentleness of manners, great a.s.siduity, and inviolable and modest love, would not of themselves have been supposed sufficient recommendations. He would not have been allowed the least share of preciseness or formality, although those defects might have been imputed to his reverence for the object of his pa.s.sion; but in his character it was designed to show, that the same man could not be every thing; and to intimate to ladies, that in choosing companions for life, they should rather prefer the honest heart of a Hickman, which would be all their own, than to risk the chance of sharing, perhaps with scores, (and some of those probably the most profligate of the s.e.x,) the volatile mischievous one of a Lovelace: in short, that they should choose, if they wished for durable happiness, for rect.i.tude of mind, and not for speciousness of person or address; nor make a jest of a good man in favour of a bad one, who would make a jest of them and of their whole s.e.x.
Two letters, however, by way of accommodation, are inserted in this edition, which perhaps will give Mr. Hickman's character some heightening with such ladies as love spirit in a man; and had rather suffer by it, than not meet with it.--
Women, born to be controul'd, Stoop to the forward and the bold,
Says Waller--and Lovelace too!
Some have wished that the story had been told in the usual narrative way of telling stories designed to amuse and divert, and not in letters written by the respective persons whose history is given in them. The author thinks he ought not to prescribe to the taste of others; but imagined himself at liberty to follow his own. He perhaps mistrusted his talents for the narrative kind of writing. He had the good fortune to succeed in the epistolary way once before. A story in which so many persons were concerned either princ.i.p.ally or collaterally, and of characters and dispositions so various, carried on with tolerable connection and perspicuity, in a series of letters from different persons, without the aid of digressions and episodes foreign to the princ.i.p.al end and design, he thought had novelty to be pleaded for it; and that, in the present age, he supposed would not be a slight recommendation.
Besides what has been said above, and in the Preface, on this head, the following opinion of an ingenious and candid foreigner, on this manner of writing, may not be improperly inserted here.
'The method which the author had pursued in the History of Clarissa, is the same as in the Life of Pamela: both are related in familiar letters by the parties themselves, at the very time in which the events happened: and this method has given the author great advantages, which he could not have drawn from any other species of narration. The minute particulars of events, the sentiments and conversation of the parties, are, upon this plan, exhibited with all the warmth and spirit that the pa.s.sion supposed to be predominant at the very time could produce, and with all the distinguishing characteristics which memory can supply in a history of recent transactions.
'Romances in general, and Marivaux's amongst others, are wholly improbable; because they suppose the History to be written after the series of events is closed by the catastrophe: a circ.u.mstance which implies a strength of memory beyond all example and probability in the persons concerned, enabling them, at the distance of several years, to relate all the particulars of a transient conversation: or rather, it implies a yet more improbable confidence and familiarity between all these persons and the author.
'There is, however, one difficulty attending the epistolary method; for it is necessary that all the characters should have an uncommon taste for this kind of conversation, and that they should suffer no event, not even a remarkable conversation to pa.s.s, without immediately committing it to writing. But for the preservation of the letters once written, the author has provided with great judgment, so as to render this circ.u.mstance highly probable.'*
* This quotation is translated from a CRITIQUE on the HISTORY OF CLARISSA, written in French, and published at Amsterdam. The whole Critique, rendered into English, was inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine of June and August, 1749. The author has done great honour in it to the History of Clarissa; and as there are Remarks published with it, which answer several objections made to different pa.s.sages in the story by that candid foreigner, the reader is referred to the aforesaid Magazine for both.
It is presumed that what this gentleman says of the difficulties attending a story thus given in the epistolary manner of writing, will not be found to reach the History before us. It is very well accounted for in it, how the two princ.i.p.al female characters came to take so great a delight in writing. Their subjects are not merely subjects of amus.e.m.e.nt; but greatly interesting to both: yet many ladies there are who now laudably correspond, when at distance from each other, on occasions that far less affect their mutual welfare and friendships, than those treated of by these ladies. The two princ.i.p.al gentlemen had motives of gaiety and vain-glory for their inducements. It will generally be found, that persons who have talents for familiar writing, as these correspondents are presumed to have, will not forbear amusing themselves with their pens on less arduous occasions than what offer to these.
These FOUR, (whose stories have a connection with each other,) out of the great number of characters who are introduced in this History, are only eminent in the epistolary way: the rest appear but as occasional writers, and as drawn in rather by necessity than choice, from the different relations in which they stand with the four princ.i.p.al persons.
The length of the piece has been objected to by some, who perhaps looked upon it as a mere novel or romance; and yet of these there are not wanting works of equal length.
They were of opinion, that the story moved too slowly, particularly in the first and second volumes, which are chiefly taken up with the altercations between Clarissa and the several persons of her family.
But is it not true, that those altercations are the foundation of the whole, and therefore a necessary part of the work? The letters and conversations, where the story makes the slowest progress, are presumed to be characteristic. They give occasion, likewise, to suggest many interesting personalities, in which a good deal of the instruction essential to a work of this nature is conveyed. And it will, moreover, be remembered, that the author, at his first setting out, apprized the reader, that the story (interesting as it is generally allowed to be) was to be princ.i.p.ally looked upon as the vehicle to the instruction.
To all which we may add, that there was frequently a necessity to be very circ.u.mstantial and minute, in order to preserve and maintain that air of probability, which is necessary to be maintained in a story designed to represent real life; and which is rendered extremely busy and active by the plots and contrivances formed and carried on by one of the princ.i.p.al characters.
Some there are, and ladies too! who have supposed that the excellencies of the heroine are carried to an improbable, and even to an impracticable, height in this history. But the education of Clarissa, from early childhood, ought to be considered as one of her very great advantages; as, indeed, the foundation of all her excellencies: and, it is to be hoped, for the sake of the doctrine designed to be inculcated by it, that it will.
She had a pious, a well-read, a not meanly-descended woman for her nurse, who with her milk, as Mrs. Harlowe says,* gave her that nurture which no other nurse could give her. She was very early happy in the conversation-visits of her learned and worthy Dr. Lewen, and in her correspondencies, not with him only, but with other divines mentioned in her last will. Her mother was, upon the whole, a good woman, who did credit to her birth and fortune; and both delighted in her for those improvements and attainments which gave her, and them in her, a distinction that caused it to be said, that when she was out of the family it was considered but as a common family.** She was, moreover, a country lady; and, as we have seen in Miss Howe's character of her,***
took great delight in rural and household employments; though qualified to adorn the brightest circle.
* See Vol. IV. Letter XXVIII.
** See her mother's praises of her to Mrs. Norton, Vol. I. Letter x.x.xIX.
*** See Letter LV. of this volume.
It must be confessed that we are not to look for Clarissa's name among the constant frequenters of Ranelagh and Vauxhall, nor among those who may be called Daughters of the card-table. If we do, the character of our heroine may then, indeed, only be justly thought not improbable, but unattainable. But we have neither room in this place, nor inclination, to pursue a subject so invidious. We quit it, therefore, after we have repeated that we know there are some, and we hope there are many, in the British dominions, (or they are hardly any where in the European world,) who, as far as occasion has called upon them to exert the like humble and modest, yet steady and useful, virtues, have reached the perfections of a Clarissa.
Having thus briefly taken notice of the most material objections that have been made to different parts of this history, it is hoped we may be allowed to add, that had we thought ourselves at liberty to give copies of some of the many letters that have been written on the other side of the question, that is to say, in approbation of the catastrophe, and of the general conduct and execution of the work, by some of the most eminent judges of composition in every branch of literature; most of what has been written in this Postscript might have been spared.
But as the princ.i.p.al objection with many has lain against the length of the piece, we shall add to what we have said above on that subject, in the words of one of those eminent writers: 'That if, in the history before us, it shall be found that the spirit is duly diffused throughout; that the characters are various and natural; well distinguished and uniformly supported and maintained; if there be a variety of incidents sufficient to excite attention, and those so conducted as to keep the reader always awake! the length then must add proportionably to the pleasure that every person of taste receives from a well-drawn picture of nature. But where the contrary of all these qualities shock the understanding, the extravagant performance will be judged tedious, though no longer than a fairy-tale.'