Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"I Am A Very Bad Casuist"

From Letter 135, Clarissa to Miss Howe:

"...But when I set down what I will do or what I have done, on this or that occasion; the resolution or action is before me, either to be adhered to, withdrawn or amended; and I have entered into compact with myself, as I may say; having given it under my own hand, to improve rather that go backward, as I live longer."

The word "compact" leapt out at me from Clarissa's discussion of writing (as a letter, or as a journal) and its importance to her.  There is a sense of the solidity of the tangible page, the subjective action or decision, that is in someway a undeniable foundation for her own moral 'improvement'.  As in a contract, the letter cannot be destroyed and is a weapon against moral complacency, or voluntary ignorance. 
According to the OED, it is suggested that the word "compact" in the seventeenth century abided by the older notion of 'contract' or 'mutual agreement', but also participated in the more sociological understanding of the "general" or "family" compact.  In this case the compact implies a tacit understanding among a social group that is conveyed by convention.  In Clarissa's letters, there is a complex understanding of her "compact" as both an agreement with the addressed, but also a more general agreement with the moral and social codes of her time.  This will perhaps be interesting in a discussion of seals for next week, in the material culture of the letter, and in its connection and relation to contracts (being documents containing declarations and even a date and signature).  I am curious as to the problematic divergence of contracts and letters at this time.

No comments: