Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (1747-8), pp. 1360-1362 (L 481)

Belford describes Clarissa's death to Lovelace:

I may as well try to write; since, were I to go to bed, I shall not sleep. I never had such a weight of grief upon my mind in my life, as upon the demise of this admirable woman; whose soul is now rejoicing in the regions of light.

You may be glad to know the particulars of her happy exit. I will try to proceed; for all is hush and still; the family retired; but not one of them, and least of all her poor cousin, I dare say, to rest.

At four o'clock, as I mentioned in my last, I was sent for down; and as thou usedst to like my descriptions, I will give thee the woeful scene that presented itself to me, as I approached the bed.

The colonel was the first that took my attention, kneeling on the side of the bed, the lady's right hand in both his, which his face covered, bathing it with his tears; although she had been comforting him, as the women since told him, in elevated strains but broken accents.

On the other side of the bed sat the good widow; her face overwhelmed with tears, leaning her head against the bed's head in a most disconsolate manner; and turning her face to me, as soon as she saw me; Oh Mr Belford, cried she, with folded hands--the dear lady--a heavy sob not permitting her to say more.

Mrs Smith, with clasped fingers and uplifted eyes, as if imploring help from the only Power which could give it, was kneeling down at the bed's feet, tears in large drops trickling down her cheeks.

Her nurse was kneeling between the widow and Mrs Smith, her arms extended. In one hand she held an ineffectual cordial, which she had just been offering to her dying mistress; her face was swollen with weeping (though used to such scenes as this) and she turned her eyes towards me, as if she called upon me by them to join in the helpless sorrow; a fresh stream bursting from them as I approached the bed.

The maid of the house, with her face upon her folded arms as she stood leaning against the wainscot, more audibly expressed her grief than any of the others.

The lady had been silent a few minutes, and speechless as they thought, moving her lips without uttering a word; one hand, as I said, in her cousin's. But when Ms Lovick on my approach pronounced my name, Oh! Mr Belford, said she in broken periods; and with a faint inward voice, but very distinct nevertheless--Now!--Now!--(I bless God for His mercies to his poor creature) will all soon be over--A few--a very few moments--will end this strife--and I shall be happy!

Comfort here, sir--turning her head to the colonel--Comfort my cousin--see!--the blamable kindness--He would not wish me to be happy--so soon!

Here, she stopped, for two or three minutes, earnestly looking upon him: then resuming, My dearest cousin, said she, be comforted--What is dying but the common lot?--The mortal frame may seem to labour--but that is all!--It is not so hard to die, as I believed it to be!--The preparation is the difficulty--I bless God, I have had time for that--the rest is worse to beholders than to me!--I am all blessed hope--hope itself.

She looked what she said, a sweet smile beaming over her countenance.

After a short silence, Once more, my dear cousin, said she, but still in broken accents, commend me most dutifully to my father and mother--there she stopped. And then proceeding--to my sister, to my brother, to my uncles--and tell them I bless them with my parting breath--Most happy has been to me my punishment here!--happy indeed!

She was silent for a few moments, lifting up her eyes and the hand her cousin held not between his. Then, Oh death! said she, where is thy sting! (The words I remember to have heard in the Burial Service read over my uncle and poor Belton.) And after a pause--It is good for me that I was afflicted!--Words of Scripture, I suppose.

Then turning towards us who were lost in speechless sorrow--Oh dear, dear gentlemen, said she, you know not what foretastes--what assurances--And there she again stopped, and looked up, as if in a thankful rapture, sweetly smiling.

Then turning her heads towards me--Do you, sir, tell your friend that I forgive him! And I pray to God to forgive him!--Again pausing, and lifting up her eyes as if praying that He would--Let him know how happily I die--And that such as my own, I wish to be his last hour.

She was again silent for a few moments: and then resuming--My sight fails me!--Your voices only--(for we both applauded her Christian, her divine frame, though in accents as broken as her own); and the voice of grief is alike in all. Is not this Mr Morden's hand? pressing one of his with that he had just let go. Which is Mr Belford's? holding out the other. I gave her mine. God Almighty bless you both, said she, and make you both--in your last hour--for you must come to this--happy as I am.

She paused again, her breath growing shorter; and, after a few minutes: And now, my dearest cousin, give me your hand--nearer--still nearer--drawing it towards her; and she pressed it with her dying lips--God protect you, dear, dear sir--and once more, receive my best and most grateful thanks--and tell my dear Miss Howe--and vouchsafe to see, and to tell my worthy Mrs Norton--she will be one day, I fear not, though now lowly in her fortunes, a saint in heaven--Tell them both, that I remember them with thankful blessings in my last moments!--And pray God to give them happiness here for many, many years, for the sake of their friends and lovers; and an heavenly crown hereafter; and such assurances of it as I have, through the all-satisfying merits of my blessed Redeemer.

Her sweet voice and broken periods methinks still fill my ears, and never will be out of my memory.

After a short silence, in a more broken and faint accent--And you, Mr Belford, pressing my hand, may God preserve you and make you sensible of all your errors--You see, in me, how all ends--may you be--And down sunk her head upon her pillow, she fainting away, and drawing from us her hands.

We thought she was then gone; and each gave way to a violent burst of grief.

But soon showing signs of returning life, our attention was again engaged; and I besought her, when a little recovered, to complete in my favour her half-pronounced blessing. She waved her hand to us both, and bowed her head six several times, as we have since recollected, as if distinguishing every person present; not forgetting the nurse and the maid-servant; the latter having approached the bed, weeping, as if crowding in for the divine lady's last blessing; and she spoke faltering and inwardly: Bless--bless--bless--you all--and now--and now (holding up her almost lifeless hands for the last time)--come--Oh come--blessed Lord--JESUS!

And with these words, the last but half-pronounced, expired: such a smile, such a charming serenity over-spreading her sweet face at the last instant as seemed to manifest her eternal happiness already begun.

Oh Lovelace!--but I can write no more!

I resume my pen to add a few lines.

While warm, though pulseless, we pressed each her hand with our lips; and then retired into the next room.

We looked at each other with intent to speak: but, as if one motion governed as one cause affected both, we turned away silent.

The colonel sighed as if his heart would burst: at last, his face and hands uplifted, his back towards me, Good Heaven! said he to himself, support me!--And is it thus, Oh flower of nature!--then pausing--And must we no more--never more!--my blessed, blessed cousin! uttering some other words which his sighs made inarticulate--and then, as if recollecting himself--Forgive me, sir!--Excuse me, Mr Belford! and sliding by me: anon I hope to see you, sir--And downstairs he went, and out of the house, leaving me a statue.

When I recovered myself, it was almost to repine at what I then called an unequal dispensation; forgetting her happy preparation, and still happier departure; and that she had but drawn a common lot, triumphing in it; and leaving behind her every one less assured of happiness, though equally certain that it would one day be their own lot.

She departed exactly at 40 minutes after 6 o'clock, as by her watch on the table.

And thus died Miss ClARISSA HARLOWE, in the blossom of her youth and beauty: and who, her tender years considered, has not left behind her her superior in extensive knowledge, and watchful prudence; nor hardly her equal for unblemished virtue, exemplary piety, sweetness of manners, discreet generosity, and true Christian charity: and these all set off by the most graceful modesty and humility; yet on all proper occasions manifesting a noble presence of mind and true magnanimity: so that she may be said to have been not only an ornament to her sex, but to human nature.

A better pen than mine may do her fuller justice--Thine, I mean, oh Lovelace! For well dost thou know how much she excelled in the graces both of mind and person, natural and acquired, all that is woman. And thou also canst best account for the causes of her immature death, through those calamities which in so short a space of time from the highest pitch of felicity (every one in a manner adoring her) brought her to an exit so happy for herself, but that it was so early, so much to be deplored by all who had the honour of her acquaintance.

This task, then, I leave to thee: but now I can write no more, only that I am a sympathiser in every part of thy distress, except (and yet it is cruel to say it) in that which arises from thy guilt.

One o'clock, Friday morning

Clarissa Harlowe's prolonged death exists to inspire pity and compassion in the reader; the characters by her deathbed act out the reaction the sensibilious reader is expected to display at this example of saintly virtue. The references to letter-writing (Belford's and Lovelace's potential "task") encode the idea that such compassion-provoking scenes are meant to be communicated, cherished like precious coins that purchase the social cement that binds community. How is Clarissa's untimely death to have meaning if it is not translated into a "story" to be circulated, a lesson in how virtue is to respond to distress and a tool for exciting bonds of sympathy? Clarissa is too good for this world, and in dying she serves both to demonstrate how best to go to one's heavenly reward (offering forgiveness) and to indict the corrupt society in which she cannot survive.

Clarissa does not die once--she dies repeatedly in this scene, it seems, her faints and fadings prematurely signaling her end. Dying, she takes on a Christ-like role, dispensing blessings that the bystanders greedily urge her to bestow. (When she awakes from her faint, Belford insists she finish her blessing to him; the maid servant crowds in). Her nods are counted to ensure that she blessed all in the room. Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography