Lovelace Continues to Ask for Forgiveness (L370)

I have three letters of thine to take notice of: but am divided in my mind, whether to quarrel with thee on thy unmerciful reflections, or to thank thee for thy acceptable particularity and diligence. But several of my sweet dears have I, indeed, in my time, made to cry and laugh before the cry could go off the other: Why may I not, therefore, curse and applaud thee in the same moment? So take both in one: and what follows, as it shall rise from my pen.
How often have I ingenuously confessed my sins against this excellent creature?—Yet thou never sparest me, although as bad a man as myself. Since then I get so little by my confessions, I had a good mind to try to defend myself; and that not only from antient and modern story, but from common practice; and yet avoid repeating any thing I have suggested before in my own behalf.
I am in a humour to play the fool with my pen: briefly then, from antient story first:—Dost thou not think that I am as much entitled to forgiveness on Miss Harlowe’s account, as Virgil’s hero was on Queen Dido’s? For what an ungrateful varlet was that vagabond to the hospitable princess, who had willingly conferred upon him the last favour?—Stealing away, (whence, I suppose, the ironical phrase of trusty Trojan to this day,) like a thief—pretendedly indeed at the command of the gods; but could that be, when the errand he went upon was to rob other princes, not only of their dominions, but of their lives?—Yet this fellow is, at every word, the pious Æneas, with the immortal bard who celebrates him.
Should Miss Harlowe even break her heart, (which Heaven forbid!) for the usage she has received, (to say nothing of her disappointed pride, to which her death would be attributable, more than to reason,) what comparison will her fate hold to Queen Dido’s? And have I half the obligation to her, that Æneas had to the Queen of Carthage? The latter placing a confidence, the former none, in her man?—Then, whom else have I robbed? Whom else have I injured? Her brother’s worthless life I gave him, instead of taking any man’s; while the Trojan vagabond destroyed his thousands. Why then should it not be the pious Lovelace, as well as the pious Æneas? For, dost thou think, had a conflagration happened, and had it been in my power, that I would not have saved my old Anchises, (as he did his from the Ilion bonfire,) even at the expense of my Creüsa, had I a wife of that name?
But for a more modern instance in my favour—Have I used Miss Harlowe, as our famous Maiden Queen, as she was called, used one of her own blood, a sister-queen, who threw herself into her protection from her rebel-subjects, and whom she detained prisoner eighteen years, and at last cut off her head? Yet do not honest protestants pronounce her pious too?—And call her particularly their Queen?
As to common practice—Who, let me ask, that has it in his power to gratify a predominant passion, be it what it will, denies himself the gratification?—Leaving it to cooler deliberation, (and, if he be a great man, to his flatterers,) to find a reason for it afterwards?
Then, as to the worst part of my treatment of this lady, How many men are there, who, as well as I, have sought, by intoxicating liquors, first to inebriate, then to subdue? What signifies what the potations were, when the same end was in view?
Let me tell thee, upon the whole, that neither the Queen of Carthage, nor the Queen of Scots, would have thought they had any reason to complain of cruelty, had they been used no worse than I have used the queen of my heart: And then do I not aspire with my whole soul to repair by marriage? Would the pious Æneas, thinkest thou, have done such a piece of justice by Dido, had she lived?
Come, come, Belford, let people run away with notions as they will, I am comparatively a very innocent man. And if by these, and other like reasonings, I have quieted my own conscience, a great end is answered. What have I to do with the world?
And now I sit me peaceably down to consider thy letters.

5 thoughts on “Lovelace Continues to Ask for Forgiveness (L370)

  1. Megan

    Lovelace seems to realize that he has done wrong and in some ways regrets this wrong doing, or he, at least, understands that he needs to ask for forgiveness in this situation.

    But how do you guys feel about his constantly asking for forgiveness? And not only asking for it, but demanding it in some cases?

  2. Kendra

    I couldn't get over the references to the Aeneid and the fact that Lovelace compared himself to Aeneas — especially the Pious Aeneas and Pious Lovelace reference. Aeneas was pious because he had to leave Dido for Italy. Dido wanted to be married and be pregnant so she would have some link with Aeneas. I think that Lovelace is more like Dido than Aeneas, he wants the child to have some link to Clarissa and he is upset that Clarissa does not relent and marry him. Per usual, Lovelace sees himself as some hero, who through no fault of his own, has abducted Clarissa for some greater good and he merely seeks her forgiveness for things outside of his control. His desire for forgiveness also seems to be some sort of validation of his power, especially when he demands it. I think there is definitely a commentary by Richardson on bourgeois/aristocratic politeness and the use of the classics to provide morality.

  3. Debra

    It is amazing: he compares himself not only to Aeneas but also Elizabeth I.

    “Let me tell thee, upon the whole, that neither the Queen of Carthage, nor the Queen of Scots, would have thought they had any reason to complain of cruelty, had they been used no worse than I have used the queen of my heart.” It takes brass. . . .

  4. anthony o'keeffe

    For me, it's not so much that Lovelace is asking for “forgiveness” but for some kind of post abduction/imprisonment/rape “erasure.” He needs to hear the word “forgiveness” from Clarissa as a kind of token which grants him access to her again, and grants validation to his own picture of his behavior–that his “sins” are not sins at all, the mere natural behavior of any man with the means and the power to take what he wants. (Indeed, the letter's first paragraph mentions previous conquests–“several of MY sweet dears.”) And he ridiculously attributes Clarissa's behavior to “disappointed pride” (an idea also flacked by the loathsome Arabella).

  5. Megan

    Tony, I think you've hit the nail on the head here. He wants to wipe his slate clean. He really thinks that if he can hear of Clarissa's forgiveness then he will no longer have any problems with it. He clearly does not understand the further implications of his actions. He doesn't understand that drugging and raping someone tends to account for a lack of trust and a lack of empathy. However, even Mary Queen of Scots who was imprisoned for much of her life simply for posing a threat to the queen, had her son taken from her to be raised by Elizabeth in order to become an appropriate king for England, and was eventually beheaded did not face such trials as Lovelace does.

    I really think the constant demand for forgiveness makes Lovelace even more unlikable and frustrating. It is this action that makes me really think he has zero comprehension of the harm he has done to Clarissa, and until he understands that, he has no reason to expect the forgiveness he so desperately seeks.

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