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Clarissa Harlowe; or the history of a young lady Volume IX Part 42

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Mr. Addison, as we have seen above, tells us, that Aristotle, in considering the tragedies that were written in either of the kinds, observes, that those which ended unhappily had always pleased the people, and carried away the prize, in the public disputes of the stage, from those that ended happily. And we shall take leave to add, that this preference was given at a time when the entertainments of the stage were committed to the care of the magistrates; when the prizes contended for were given by the state; when, of consequence, the emulation among writers was ardent; and when learning was at the highest pitch of glory in that renowned commonwealth.

It cannot be supposed, that the Athenians, in this their highest age of taste and politeness, were less humane, less tender-hearted, than we of the present. But they were not afraid of being moved, nor ashamed of showing themselves to be so, at the distresses they saw well painted and represented. In short, they were of the opinion, with the wisest of men, that it was better to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of mirth; and had fortitude enough to trust themselves with their own generous grief, because they found their hearts mended by it.

Thus also Horace, and the politest Romans in the Augustan age, wished to be affected:

Ac ne forte putes me, quae facere ipse recusem, Cum recte tractant alii, laudere maligne; Ille per extentum funem mihi posse videtur Ire poeta, meum qui pectus inaniter angit, Irritat, mulcet; falsis terroribus implet, Ut magus; & modo me Thebis, modo point Athenis.

Thus Englished by Mr. Pope:

Yet, lest thou think I rally more than teach, Or praise malignly arts I cannot reach; Let me, for once, presume t'instruct the times To know the poet from the man of rhymes.

'Tis he who gives my breast a thousand pains: Can make me feel each passion that he feigns; Enrage--compose--with more than magic art, With pity and with terror tear my heart; And snatch me o'er the earth, or through the air, To Thebes, to Athens, when he will, and where.

Our fair readers are also desired to attend to what a celebrated critic*

of a neighbouring nation says on the nature and design of tragedy, from the rules laid down by the same great antient.

* Rapin, on Aristotle's Poetics.

'Tragedy,' says he, makes man modest, by representing the great masters of the earth humbled; and it makes him tender and merciful, by showing him the strange accidents of life, and the unforeseen disgraces, to which the most important persons are subject.

'But because man is naturally timorous and compassionate, he may fall into other extremes. Too much fear may shake his constancy of mind, and too much of tragedy to regulate these two weaknesses. It prepares and arms him against disgraces, by showing them so frequent in the most considerable persons; and he will cease to fear extraordinary accidents, when he sees them happen to the highest part of mankind. And still more efficacious, we may add, the example will be, when he sees them happen to the best.

'But as the end of tragedy is to teach men not to fear too weakly common misfortunes, it proposes also to teach them to spare their compassion for objects that deserve it. For there is an injustice in being moved at the afflictions of those who deserve to be miserable. We may see, without pity, Clytemnestra slain by her son Orestes in aeschylus, because she had murdered Agamemnon her husband; yet we cannot see Hippolytus die by the plot of his step-mother Phaedra, in Euripides, without compassion, because he died not, but for being chaste and virtuous.

These are the great authorities so favourable to the stories that end unhappily. And we beg leave to reinforce this inference from them, that if the temporary sufferings of the virtuous and the good can be accounted for and justified on Pagan principles, many more and infinitely stronger reasons will occur to a Christian reader in behalf of what are called unhappy catastrophes, from the consideration of the doctrine of future rewards; which is every where strongly enforced in the History of Clarissa.

Of this, (to give but one instance,) an ingenious modern, distinguished by his rank, but much more for his excellent defence of some of the most important doctrines of Christianity, appears convinced in the conclusion of a pathetic Monody, lately published; in which, after he had deplored, as a man without hope, (expressing ourselves in the Scripture phrase,) the loss of an excellent wife; he thus consoles himself:

Yet, O my soul! thy rising murmurs stay, Nor dare th' All-wise Disposer to arraign, Or against his supreme decree With impious grief complain.

That all thy full-blown joys at once should fade, Was his most righteous will: and be that will obey'd.

Would thy fond love his grace to her controul, And in these low abodes of sin and pain Her pure, exalted soul, Unjustly, for thy partial good detain?

No--rather strive thy grov'ling mind to raise Up to that unclouded blaze, That heav'nly radiance of eternal light, In which enthron'd she now with pity sees, How frail, how insecure, how slight, Is every mortal bliss.

But of infinitely greater weight than all that has been above produced on this subject, are the words of the Psalmist:

'As for me, says he,* my feet were almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipt: for I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For their strength is firm: they are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men--their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than their heart could wish--verily I have cleansed mine heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence; for all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me. Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end--thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.'

* Psalm lxxiii.

This is the Psalmist's comfort and dependence. And shall man, presuming to alter the common course of nature, and, so far as he is able, to elude the tenure by which frail mortality indispensably holds, imagine that he can make a better dispensation; and by calling it poetical justice, indirectly reflect on the Divine?

The more pains have been taken to obviate the objections arising from the notion of poetical justice, as the doctrine built upon it had obtained general credit among us; and as it must be confessed to have the appearance of humanity and good nature for its supports. And yet the writer of the History of Clarissa is humbly of opinion, that he might have been excused referring to them for the vindication of his catastrophe, even by those who are advocates for the contrary opinion; since the notion of poetical justice, founded on the modern rules, has hardly ever been more strictly observed in works of this nature than in the present performance.

For, is not Mr. Lovelace, who could persevere in his villanous views, against the strongest and most frequent convictions and remorses that ever were sent to awaken and reclaim a wicked man--is not this great, this wilful transgressor condignly punished; and his punishment brought on through the intelligence of the very Joseph Leman whom he had corrupted;* and by means of the very woman whom he had debauched**--is not Mr. Belton, who had an uncle's hastened death to answer for***--are not the infamous Sinclair and her wretched partners--and even the wicked servants, who, with their eyes open, contributed their parts to the carrying on of the vile schemes of their respective principals--are they not all likewise exemplarily punished?

* See Letter LVIII. of this volume.

** Ibid. Letter LXI.

*** See Vol. VIII. Letter XVI.

On the other hand, is not Miss HOWE, for her noble friendship to the exalted lady in her calamities--is not Mr. HICKMAN, for his unexceptionable morals, and integrity of life--is not the repentant and not ungenerous BELFORD--is not the worthy NORTON--made signally happy?

And who that are in earnest in their professions of Christianity, but will rather envy than regret the triumphant death of CLARISSA; whose piety, from her early childhood; whose diffusive charity; whose steady virtue; whose Christian humility, whose forgiving spirit; whose meekness, and resignation, HEAVEN only could reward?*

* And here it may not be amiss to remind the reader, that so early in the work as Vol. II. Letter XXXVIII. the dispensations of Providence are justified by herself. And thus she ends her reflections--'I shall not live always--may my closing scene be happy!'--She had her wish. It was happy.

We shall now, according to the expectation given in the Preface to this edition, proceed to take brief notice of such other objections as have come to our knowledge: for, as is there said, 'This work being addressed to the public as a history of life and manners, those parts of it which are proposed to carry with them the force of example, ought to be as unobjectionable as is consistent with the design of the whole, and with human nature.'

Several persons have censured the heroine as too cold in her love, too haughty, and even sometimes provoking. But we may presume to say, that this objection has arisen from want of attention to the story, to the character of Clarissa, and to her particular situation.

It was not intended that she should be in love, but in liking only, if that expression may be admitted. It is meant to be every where inculcated in the story for example sake, that she never would have married Mr. Lovelace, because of his immoralities, had she been left to herself; and that of her ruin was principally owing to the persecutions of her friends.

What is too generally called love, ought (perhaps as generally) to be called by another name. Cupidity, or a Paphian stimulus, as some women, even of condition, have acted, are not words too harsh to be substituted on the occasion, however grating they may be to delicate ears. But take the word love in the gentlest and most honourable sense, it would have been thought by some highly improbable, that Clarissa should have been able to show such a command of her passions, as makes so distinguishing a part of her character, had she been as violently in love, as certain warm and fierce spirits would have had her to be. A few observations are thrown in by way of note in the present edition, at proper places to obviate this objection, or rather to bespeak the attention of hasty readers to what lies obviously before them. For thus the heroine anticipates this very objection, expostulating with Miss Howe on her contemptuous treatment of Mr. Hickman; which (far from being guilty of the same fault herself) she did, on all occasions, and declares she would do so, whenever Miss Howe forgot herself, although she had not a day to live:

'O my dear,' says she, 'that it had been my lot (as I was not permitted to live single) to have met with a man, by whom I could have acted generously and unreservedly!

'Mr. Lovelace, it is now plain, in order to have a pretence against me, taxed my behaviour to him with stiffness and distance. You, at one time, thought me guilty of some degree of prudery. Difficult situations should be allowed for: which often make seeming occasions for censure unavoidable. I deserved not blame from him, who made mine difficult.

And you, my dear, had I any other man to deal with than Mr. Lovelace, or had he but half the merit which Mr. Hickman has, would have found, that my doctrine on this subject, should have governed my whole practice.'

See this whole Letter, No. XXXII. Vol. VIII. See also Mr. Lovelace's Letter, Vol. VIII. No. LIX. and Vol. IX. No. XLII. where, just before his death, he entirely acquits her conduct on this head.

It has been thought, by some worthy and ingenious persons, that if Lovelace had been drawn an infidel or scoffer, his character, according to the taste of the present worse than sceptical age, would have been more natural. It is, however, too well known, that there are very many persons, of his cast, whose actions discredit their belief. And are not the very devils, in Scripture, said to believe and tremble?

But the reader must have observed, that, great, and, it is hoped, good use, has been made throughout the work, by drawing Lovelace an infidel, only in practice; and this as well in the arguments of his friend Belford, as in his own frequent remorses, when touched with temporary compunction, and in his last scenes; which could not have been made, had either of them been painted as sentimental unbelievers. Not to say that Clarissa, whose great objection to Mr. Wyerley was, that he was a scoffer, must have been inexcusable had she known Lovelace to be so, and had given the least attention to his addresses. On the contrary, thus she comforts herself, when she thinks she must be his--'This one consolation, however, remains; he is not an infidel, an unbeliever. Had he been an infidel, there would have been no room at all for hope of him; but (priding himself as he does in his fertile invention) he would have been utterly abandoned, irreclaimable, and a savage.'* And it must be observed, that scoffers are too witty, in their own opinion, (in other words, value themselves too much upon their profligacy,) to aim at concealing it.

* See Vol. IV. Letter XXXIX. and Vol. V. Letter VIII.

Besides, had Lovelace added ribbald jests upon religion, to his other liberties, the freedoms which would then have passed between him and his friend, must have been of a nature truly infernal.

And this father hint was meant to be given, by way of inference, that the man who allowed himself in those liberties either of speech or action, which Lovelace thought shameful, was so far a worse man than Lovelace.

For this reason he is every where made to treat jests on sacred things and subjects, even down to the mythology of the Pagans, among Pagans, as undoubted marks of the ill-breeding of the jester; obscene images and talk, as liberties too shameful for even rakes to allow themselves in; and injustice to creditors, and in matters of Meum and Tuum, as what it was beneath him to be guilty of.

Some have objected to the meekness, to the tameness, as they will have it to be, of Mr. Hickman's character. And yet Lovelace owns, that he rose upon him with great spirit in the interview between them; once, when he thought a reflection was but implied on Miss Howe;* and another time, when he imagined himself treated contemptuously.** Miss Howe, it must be owned, (though not to the credit of her own character,) treats him ludicrously on several occasions. But so she does her mother. And perhaps a lady of her lively turn would have treated as whimsically any man but a Lovelace. Mr. Belford speaks of him with honour and respect.*** So does Colonel Morden.**** And so does Clarissa on every occasion. And all that Miss Howe herself says of him, tends more to his reputation than discredit,***** as Clarissa indeed tells her.******

* See Vol. VII. Letter XXVIII.

** Ibid.

*** Ibid. Letter XLVIII.

**** See Letter XLVI. of this volume.

***** See Vol. II. Letter II. and Vol. III. Letter XL.

****** See Vol. II. Letter XI.

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