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.