Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 1, Ch. 27

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Letter XXVII


Dear Sir,

I CANNOT give a greater proof of the high opinion I have of your candour, than by the liberty I am now going to take, of presuming to offer you advice, upon a subject concerning which you have so just a claim to act for yourself; but I know you have too unaffected a love of justice, to be partially tenacious of your own judgment.

Madame Duval has been proposing a scheme which has put us all in commotion, and against which, at first, in common with the rest of my family, I exclaimed: but, upon more mature consideration, I own my objections have almost wholly vanished.

This scheme is no other than to commence a lawsuit with Sir John Belmont, to prove the validity of his marriage with Miss Evelyn; the necessary consequence of which proof will be, securing his fortune and estate to his daughter.

And why, my dear Sir, should not this be? I know that, upon first hearing, such a plan conveys ideas that must shock you; but I know, too, that your mind is superior to being governed by prejudices, or to opposing any important cause on account of a few disagreeable attendant circumstances.

Your lovely charge, now first entering into life, has merit which ought not to be buried in obscurity. She seems born for an ornament to the world. Nature has been bountiful to her of whatever she had to bestow; and the peculiar attention you have given to her education, has formed her mind to a degree of excellence, that in one so young I have scarce ever seen equalled. Fortune alone has hitherto been sparing of her gifts; and she, too, now opens the way which leads to all that is left to wish for her.

What your reasons may have been, my good Sir, for so carefully concealing the birth, name, and pretensions of this amiable girl, and forbearing to make any claim upon Sir John Belmont, I am totally a stranger to; but, without knowing, I respect them, from the high opinion that I have of your character and judgment: but I hope they are not insuperable; for I cannot but think, that it was never designed for one who seems meant to grace the world, to have her life devoted to retirement.

Surely Sir John Belmont, wretch as he has shown himself, could never see his accomplished daughter, and not be proud to own her, and eager to secure her the inheritance of his fortune. The admiration she met with in town, though merely the effect of her external attractions, was such, that Mrs. Mirvan assures me, she would have had the most splendid offers, had there not seemed to be some mystery in regard to her birth, which, she was well informed was assiduously, though vainly, endeavoured to be discovered.

Can it be right, my dear Sir, that this promising young creature should be deprived of the fortune and rank of life to which she is lawfully entitled, and which you have prepared her to support and to use so nobly? To despise riches may, indeed, be philosophic; but to dispense them worthily must, surely, be more beneficial to mankind.

Perhaps a few years, or indeed a much shorter time, may make this scheme impracticable: Sir John, tho' yet young, leads a life too dissipated for long duration; and when too late, we may regret that something was not sooner done: for it will be next to impossible, after he is gone, to settle or prove anything with his heirs and executors.

Pardon the earnestness with which I write my sense of this affair; but your charming ward has made me so warmly her friend, that I cannot be indifferent upon a subject of such importance to her future life.

Adieu, my dear Sir;-send me speedily an answer to this remonstrance, and believe me to be, -c. M. HOWARD.