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.
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 XXXVI. 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 assiduity, 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 passion; 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 sex,) the volatile mischievous one of a Lovelace: in short, that they should choose, if they wished for durable happiness, for rectitude 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 sex.
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 principally 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 principal 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 passion 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 circumstance 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 pass, 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 circumstance 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 passages 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 principal female characters came to take so great a delight in writing. Their subjects are not merely subjects of amusement; 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 principal 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 principal 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 principally looked upon as the vehicle to the instruction.
To all which we may add, that there was frequently a necessity to be very circumstantial 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 principal 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 XXXIX. *** 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 principal 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.'