But now I have undervalued myself, in apologizing to thee on this occasion, let me use another argument in favour of my observation, that the ladies generally prefer a rake to a sober man; and of my presumption upon it, that Miss Howe is in love with me: it is this: common fame says, That Hickman is a very virtuous, a very innocent fellow—a male-virgin, I warrant!—An odd dog I always thought him. Now women, Jack, like not novices. Two maidenheads meeting together in wedlock, the first child must be a fool, is their common aphorism. They are pleased with a love of the sex that is founded in the knowledge of it. Reason good; novices expect more than they can possibly find in the commerce with them. The man who knows them, yet has ardours for them, to borrow a word from Miss Howe,* though those ardours are generally owing more to the devil within him, than to the witch without him, is the man who makes them the highest and most grateful compliment. He knows what to expect, and with what to be satisfied.
* See Vol. IV. Letters XXIX. and XXXIV.
Then the merit of a woman, in some cases, must be ignorance, whether real or pretended. The man, in these cases, must be an adept. Will it then be wondered at, that a woman prefers a libertine to a novice?—While she expects in the one the confidence she wants, she considers the other and herself as two parallel lines, which, though they run side by side, can never meet.
Yet in this the sex is generally mistaken too; for these sheepish fellows are sly. I myself was modest once; and this, as I have elsewhere hinted to thee,* has better enabled me to judge of both sexes.
* See Vol. III. Letter XXIII.
But to proceed with my narrative:
Having thus prepared every one against any letter should come from Miss Howe, and against my beloved’s messenger returns, I thought it proper to conclude that subject with a hint, that my spouse could not bear to have any thing said that reflected upon Miss Howe; and, with a deep sigh, added, that I had been made very unhappy more than once by the ill-will of ladies whom I had never offended.
The widow Bevis believed that might very easily be. Will. both without and within, [for I intend he shall fall in love with widow Moore’s maid, and have saved one hundred pounds in my service, at least,] will be great helps, as things may happen.
We had hardly dined, when my coachman, who kept a look-out for Captain Tomlinson, as Will. did for old Grimes, conducted hither that worthy gentleman, attended by one servant, both on horseback. He alighted. I went out to meet him at the door.
Thou knowest his solemn appearance, and unblushing freedom; and yet canst not imagine what a dignity the rascal assumed, nor how respectful to him I was.