Anna’s letter as eulogy & beyond (L529)

I am incapable of doing justice to the character of my beloved friend; and that not only from want of talents, but from grief; which, I think, rather increases than diminishes by time; and which will not let me sit down to a task that requires so much thought, and a greater degree of accuracy than I ever believed myself mistress of. And yet I so well approve of your motion, that I will throw into your hands a few materials, that may serve by way of supplement, as I may say, to those you will be able to collect from the papers themselves… She was a wonderful creature from her infancy: but I suppose you intend to give a character of her at those years when she was qualified to be an example to other young ladies, rather than a history of her life.
You may, if you touch upon this subject, throw in these sentences of her, spoken at different times, and on different occasions:
‘Who can be better, or more worthy, than they should be? And, who shall be proud of talents they give not to themselves?’
‘The darkest and most contemptible ignorance is that of not knowing one’s self; and that all we have, and all we excel in, is the gift of God.’
‘There is but one pride pardonable; that of being above doing a base or dishonourable action.’
She was an admirable mistress of all the graces of elocution. The hand she wrote, for the neat and free cut of her letters, (like her mind, solid, and above all flourish,) for its fairness, evenness, and swiftness, distinguished her as much as the correctness of her orthography, and even punctuation, from the generality of her own sex; and left her none, among the most accurate of the other, who excelled her.
And here you may, if you please, take occasion to throw in one hint for the benefit of such of our sex as are too careless in their orthography, [a consciousness of a defect which generally keeps them from writing.]— She was used to say, ‘It was a proof that a woman understood the derivation as well as sense of the words she used, and that she stopt not at sound, when she spelt accurately.’
Let the modern ladies, who have not any one of her excellent qualities; whose whole time, in the short days they generally make, and in the inverted night and day, where they make them longer, is wholly spent in dress, visits, cards, plays, operas, and musical entertainments, wonder at what I have written, and shall further write; and let them look upon it as an incredible thing, that when, at a mature age, they cannot boast one of her perfections, there should have been a lady so young, who had so many.
She was extremely moderate in her diet. ‘Quantity in food,’ she used to say, ‘was more to be regarded than quality; that a full meal was the great enemy both to study and industry: that a well-built house required but little repairs.’
But this moderation in her diet, she enjoyed, with a delicate frame of body, a fine state of health; was always serene, lively; cheerful, of course. And I never knew but of one illness she had; and that was by a violent cold caught in an open chaise, by a sudden storm of hail and rain, in a place where was no shelter; and which threw her into a fever, attended with dangerous symptoms, that no doubt were lightened by her temperance; but which gave her friends, who then knew her value, infinite apprehensions for her.
O Sir! you did not—you could not know her, as I knew her! Never was such an excellence!—So warm, yet so cool a friend!—So much what I wish to be, but never shall be!—For, alas! my stay, my adviser, my monitress, my directress, is gone!—for ever gone!—She honoured me with the title of The Sister of her Heart; but I was only so in the love I bore her, (a love beyond a sister’s—infinitely beyond her sister’s!) in the hatred I have to every mean and sordid action; and in my love of virtue; for, otherwise, I am of a high and haughty temper, as I have acknowledged heretofore, and very violent in my passions.
In short, she was the nearest perfection of any creature I ever knew. She never preached to me lessons which she practised not herself. She lived the life she taught. All humility, meekness, self-accusing, others acquitting, though the shadow of the fault was hardly hers, the substance their’s, whose only honour was their relation to her.
To lose such a friend—such a guide.—If ever my violence was justifiable, it is upon this recollection! For she lived only to make me sensible of my failings, but not long enough to enable me to conquer them; as I was resolved to endeavour to do.
Once more then let me execrate—but now violence and passion again predominate!—And how can it be otherwise?
But I force myself from the subject, having lost the purpose for which I resumed my pen.

3 thoughts on “Anna’s letter as eulogy & beyond (L529)

  1. Rachel Gramer

    This is definitely one of the longest letters in the book (if not the longest). At Belford's request, Anna writes a letter that, in effect, encompasses “all of Clarissa's story,” detailing her merits and activities right down to the minute. Does this letter function as a kind of eulogy for Clarissa?

    And if so, why does Richardson interrupt it with so much of what I've included here–where he's clearly writing about contemporary writing and writers?

  2. Keri Mathis

    As we discussed in class, this letter posed a bit of a problem because it seems to be a place that causes us to stop. In other words, it's a little bump in the narrative that seems to be moving so smoothly towards its end. While it does show Anna's extreme devotion to Clarissa and her knowledge of the most minute details of her life, she goes a bit far, I think, in her explanation of Clarissa's perfection.

    A short list of all of Clarissa's talents and perfections: she can draw, paint, sing, write, read, and speak multiple languages (French, Italian, and Latin, just to name a few). She eats the perfect amount of food and has an almost impeccable immune system. She also has assigned very specific, productive tasks to each hour of the day she is awake.

    There was more, but I think you get the picture.

  3. Megan

    Yeah, I agree with Keri. This was a place that caused me some frustration as I was gearing up to finish reading the book. There was definitely a sense of “Okay Anna, we get it…Clarissa is the best” as we were talking about it last night.

    But isn't this what we do when people die? We play up the best aspects of people's personalities in honor of their passing. We forget any bad they have done and focus only on the good. Granted, Clarissa has been discussed in this way for most of the text, but Anna is still going overboard in her discussion of Clarissa's goodness following her death.

    It makes me wonder if anyone would have felt this way after Lovelace after his death. Belford, perhaps? We tend to remember the best (or sometimes the worst, I guess) of people after they pass. Would anyone try to remember the best of Lovelace?

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