Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (1747-8), p. 1103 (L 349)

Mr. Belford to Robert Lovelace, describing Clarissa's response to Belford's eager demands to help her, with money or other services, after her false imprisonment has given the final blow to her health:

She was stooping, but with pain. I therefore prevented her; and besought her to forgive me for a tender [100 pounds] which I saw had been more discomposing to her than I had hoped (from the purity of my intentions) it would be. But I could not bear to think that such a mind as hers should be distressed: since the want of the conveniences she was used to abound in might affect and disturb her in the divine course she was in.

You are very kind to me, sir, said she, and very favourable in your opinion of me. But I hope that I cannot now be easily put out of my present course. My declining health will more and more confirm me in it. Those who arrested and confined me, no doubt thought they had fallen upon the ready method to distress me so as to bring me into all their measures. But I presume to hope that I have a mind that cannot be debased, in essential instances, by temporary calamities: little do those poor wretches know of the force of innate principles, forgive my own implied vanity was her word, who imagine that a prison, or penury, or want, can bring a right turned mind to be guilty of a willful baseness, in order to avoid such short-lived evils.

She then turned from me towards the window, with a dignity suitable to her words; and such as showed her to be more of soul than of body at that instant.

What magnanimity!--No wonder a virtue so solidly based could baffle all thy arts--and that it forced thee (in order to carry thy accursed point) to have recourse to those unnatural ones, which robbed her of her charming senses.

The women were extremely affected, Mrs Lovick especially--who said whisperingly to Mrs Smith, We have an angel, not a woman, with us, Mrs Smith!

As Clarissa nears death, Richardson's camera zooms closer for a final image of virtue in distress. Virtue, as exemplified by Clarissa, is both innate and impregnable (literally as well as figuratively, we find in her case). The woman of character has an other-worldly focus that allows her to ignore earthly "calamities" while her eye gazes on the celestial reward. Having been subject to the public humiliation of imprisonment after the private one of rape, she moves all the more rapidly in her "divine course," death. As in so many scenes of sensibility, however, money somehow shows up in this divine picture; why must we watch Clarissa refusing Belford's 100 pounds? Why is it crucial that Clarissa's long death include this scene? One would imagine she would be reluctant to accept funds from the friend of Lovelace, yet that is not what she says: She wants to continue in her "present course" undisturbed; she wants to die. Doing so, she implies, would prove the force of her "innate principles," her inability to be debased. She must die to win the argument over her essential goodness. It is clear that she is already winning the campaign: Belford already considers her more soul than body, and the weeping women provide the audience to witness her elevation. Sensibility requires communication; Clarissa will not die alone.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
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