Indeed, Harriot, I open your letters with as much gravity as I would a
sermon; you have such a knack of moralizing upon every event! What
mortal else would feel serious and sentimental at a wedding? Positively,
you shall not come to mine. Your presence, I fear, would put such a
restraint upon me, as to render me quite foolish and awkward in my
However, I must acknowledge it a weighty affair; and what you say has,
perhaps, too much truth in it to be jested with. I believe, therefore,
we had better resolve not to risk the consequences of a wrong choice, or
imprudent conduct; but wisely devote ourselves to celibacy. I am sure we
should make a couple of very clever old maids. If you agree to this
proposition, we will begin in season to accustom ourselves to the
virtues and habits of a single life. By observing what is amiss in the
conduct of others in the same state, and avoiding their errors, I doubt
not but we may bring even the title into repute. In this way we shall be
useful to many of our own sex, though I am aware it would be a most
grievous dispensation to a couple of the other; but no matter for that.
The world needs some such examples as we might become; and if we can be
instrumental of retrieving _old-maidism_ from the imputation of
ill-nature, oddity, and many other mortifying charges, which are now
brought against it, I believe we shall save many a good girl from an
unequal and unhappy marriage. It might have a salutary effect on the
other sex too. Finding the ladies independent in sentiment, they would
be impelled to greater circumspection of conduct to merit their favor.
You see that my benevolence is extensive. I wish to become a general
reformer. What say you to my plan, Harriot? If you approve it, dismiss
your long train of admirers immediately, and act not the part of a
coquette, by retaining them out of pride or vanity. We must rise above
such narrow views, and let the world know that we act from principle, if
we mean to do good by our example. I shall continue to receive the
addresses of this same Junius, till I hear that you have acceded to my
proposal; and then, display my fortitude by renouncing a connexion which
must be doubtful as to the issue, and will certainly expose me to the
mortification of being looked at, when I am married. Farewell.
I have just returned from a rural excursion, where, in the thicket of a
grove, I enjoyed all the luxury of solitude. The sun had nearly finished
his diurnal course, and was leaving our hemisphere to illuminate the
other with his cheering rays.
The sprightly songsters had retired to their bowers, and were distending
their little throats with a tribute of instinctive gratitude and praise.
The vocal strains re-echoed from tree to tree and invited me to join the
responsive notes. My heart expanded with devotion and benevolence. I
wished the whole human kind to share the feelings of happiness which I
enjoyed; while the inanimate creation around seemed to partake of my
satisfaction! Methought the fields assumed a livelier verdure; and the
zephyrs were unusually officious in wafting the fragrance of aromatic
gales. I surveyed the surrounding scenery with rapturous admiration; and
my heart glowed with inexpressible delight at the lovely appearance of
nature, and the diffusive bounties of its almighty author.
Let others, said I, exult in stately domes, and the superfluities of
pomp; immerse themselves in the splendid novelties of fashion, and a
promiscuous crowd of giddy amusements! I envy them not.
Give me a mind to range the sylvan scene,
And taste the blessings of the vernal day;
While social joys, and friendly, intervene
To chase the gloomy cares of life away.
I wish not to abandon society, nor to resign the pleasures which it
affords; but it is a select number of friends, not a promiscuous crowd,
which I prefer.
When the mind is much engrossed by dissipating pleasures, it is apt to
forget itself, and neglect its own dignity and improvement. It is
necessary often to retreat from the noise and bustle of the world, and
commune with our own hearts. By this mean we shall be the better
qualified both to discharge the duties and participate in the enjoyments
Solitude affords a nearer and more distinct view of the works of
creation; elevates the mind, and purifies its passions and affections.
O solitude! in thee the boundless mind
Expands itself, and revels unconfin’d;
From thee, each vain, each grov’lling passion flies,
And all the virtues of the soul arise.
Rambling in the garden, I have picked a nosegay, which I transmit to you
as a token of my remembrance. Though the poetical bagatelle which
accompanies it, is not equal to the elegance of the subject; yet I
confide in your candor to excuse its futility, and give a favorable
interpretation to its design.
Laura, this little gift approve,
Pluck’d by the hand of cordial love!
With nicest care the wreath I’ve dress’d,
Fit to adorn your friendly breast.
The rose and lily are combin’d,
As emblems of your virtuous mind!
Pure as the first is seen in thee
Sweet blushing sensibility.
Carnations here their charms display,
And nature shines in rich array,
Od’rous, as virtue’s accents sweet,
From Laura’s lips with wit replete.
The myrtle with the laurel bound,
And purple amaranthus crown’d,
Within this little knot unite,
Like Laura’s charms, to give delight!
Fair, fragrant, soft, like beauty dress’d;
So she unrivalled stands confess’d;
While blending still each finish’d grace,
Her virtues in her mien we trace!
Virtues, which far all tints outshine,
And, verdant brave the frost of time.
I am, &c.
I am not so far engaged by the new scenes of fashionable gaiety which
surround me, as to forget you and the other dear friends, whom I left at
Harmony-Grove. Yet so great is the novelty which I find in this crowded
metropolis, that you cannot wonder if my attention is very much
engrossed. Mr. and Mrs. Henly, with their amiable daughters, are
extremely polite and attentive to me; and having taken every method to
contribute to my amusement, I went yesterday, in their company, to
Commencement, at Cambridge; and was very much entertained with the
exhibition. I pretend not to be a judge of the talents displayed by the
young gentlemen who took an active part, or of the proficiency they had
made in science. I have an opinion of my own, notwithstanding; and can
tell how far my eye and ear were gratified.
I never knew before, that dress was a classical study; which I now
conclude it must be, or it would not have exercised the genius of some
of the principal speakers on this public occasion.
The female garb too, seemed to claim particular attention. The _bon
ton_, taste and fashions of our sex, afforded a subject of declamation
to the orator; and of entertainment to the audience, composed, in part,
of our legislators, politicians, and divines! I could not but think that
those scholars who employ their time in studying, investigating and
criticising the ladies’ dresses, might as well be occupied in the
business of a friseur or the man-milliner; either of which would afford
them more frequent opportunities for the display of their abilities, and
render their labors more extensively useful to the sex. Others might
then improve the time, which they thus frivolously engrossed on this
anniversary, in contributing to the entertainment of the _literati_, who
doubtless expect to be gratified by the exertions of genius and an
apparent progress in those studies, which are designed to qualify the
rising youth of America for important stations both in church and state.
The assembly was extremely brilliant; the ladies seemed to vie with each
other in magnificent decorations. So much loveliness was visible in
their native charms, that without any hint from the speakers of the day,
I should have thought it a pity to add those foreign ornaments, which
rather obscure than aid them.
I was a little displeased by the unbecoming levity of some of my sex;
and am apprehensive lest it might induce misjudging and censorious
people to imagine that they were led thither more by the vanity of
attracting notice, than to receive any mental entertainment.
Without our consent, we ran a race back to town, which endangered our
necks. The avaricious hackman, desirous of returning for another
freight, had no mercy on his passengers or horses. However, we arrived
safely, though much fatigued by the pleasure of the day.
Pleasure carried to excess degenerates into pain. This I actually
experienced; and sighed for the tranquil enjoyments of Harmony grove, to
which I propose soon to return, and convince you how affectionately I am
Your enlivening letter restored us, in some measure, to your society; or
at least, alleviated the pain of your absence.
I am glad you attended commencement. It was a new scene, and
consequently extended your ideas. I think you rather severe on the
classical gentlemen. We simple country folks must not presume to arraign
their taste, whose learning and abilities render them conspicuous on the
literary stage. They, doubtless, write on subjects better adapted to
their capacities. As for the follies of fashion, I think the gentlemen
are under obligations to the ladies for adopting them; since it gives
exercise to their genius and pens.
You were tired, you say, with pleasure. I believe those dissipating
scenes, which greatly exhilarate the spirits, call for the whole
attention, and oblige us to exert every power, are always fatiguing.
Pleasures of a calmer kind, which are moderately enjoyed, which enliven
rather then exhaust, and which yield a serenity of mind on reflection,
are the most durable, rational and satisfying. Pleasure is the most
alluring object which is presented to the view of the young and
inexperienced. Under various forms it courts our attention; but while we
are still eager in the pursuit, it eludes our grasp. Its fascinating
charms deceive the imagination, and create a bower of bliss in every
But let us be careful not to fix our affections on any thing, which
bears this name, unless it be founded on virtue, and will endure the
severest scrutiny of examination.
Our honored mamma, and all your friends here, are impatient for your
return. They unitedly long to embrace, and bid you welcome to these
seats of simplicity and ease: but none more ardently than your
Anxious to make the best possible use of the education I have received;
and fully impressed with the idea, that the human mind is capable of
continual improvements, it is my constant endeavor to extract honey from
every flower which falls in my way, or, to speak without a figure, to
derive advantage from every incident. Pursuant to the advice of our
excellent Preceptress, I keep this perpetually in view; and am therefore
disappointed when defeated in the attempt.
This afternoon I have been in company with three ladies, celebrated for
their beauty and wit. One of them I think may justly claim the
reputation of beauty. To a finished form, and florid complexion, an
engaging, animating countenance is added. Yet a consciousness of
superior charms was apparent in her deportment; and a supercilious air
counteracted the effects of her personal accomplishments. The two others
were evidently more indebted to art than to nature for their appearance.
It might easily be discovered that paint constituted all the delicacy of
What a pity that so many are deceived in their ideas of beauty! Certain
it is, that artificial additions serve rather to impair than increase
its power. “Who can paint like nature?” What hand is skilful enough to
supply her defects? Do not those who attempt it always fail, and render
themselves disgusting? Do they not really injure what they strive to
mend; and make it more indifferent than usual, when divested of its
temporary embellishments? Beauty cannot possibly maintain its sway over
its most obsequious votaries, unless the manners and the mind unitedly
contribute to secure it. How vain then is this subterfuge! It may
deceive the eye and gain the flattery of the prattling coxcomb; but
accumulated neglect and mortification inevitably await those who trust
in the wretched alternative.
From their good sense, I had been led to expect the greatest
entertainment. I therefore waited impatiently till the first compliments
were over, and conversation commenced.
But to my extreme regret, I found it to consist of ludicrous
insinuations, hackneyed jests and satirical remarks upon others of their
acquaintance who were absent. The pretty fellows of the town were
criticised; and their own adventures in shopping, were related with so
much minuteness, hilarity, and glee, that I blushed for the frivolous
levity of those of my sex, who could substitute buffoonery for wit, and
the effusions of a perverted imagination, for that refined and improving
conversation, which a well cultivated mind and a correct taste are
calculated to afford.
If, said I, to myself, this be the beauty and the wit of polished
society, restore me again to the native simplicity and sincerity of
I took my leave as soon as politeness would allow; and left them to
animadvert upon me. Independent for happiness on the praise or censure
of superficial minds, let me ever be conscious of meriting approbation,
and I shall rest contented in the certain prospect of receiving it.
I sympathize with you, my dear Sophia, in the disappointment you
received in your expectations from beauty and wit.
You may nevertheless derive advantage from it. Your refined and delicate
ideas raise you too far above the scenes of common life. They paint the
defects of your inferiors in such lively colours, that the greater part
of the community must be displeasing to you. Few, you should remember,
have had the advantages which you have enjoyed; and still fewer have
your penetrating eye, correct taste, and quick sensibility. Let charity
then draw a veil over the foibles of others, and candor induce you to
look on the best and brightest side.
It is both our duty and interest to enjoy life as far as integrity and
innocence allow; and in order to this, we must not soar above, but
accommodate ourselves to its ordinary state. We cannot stem the torrent
of folly and vanity; but we can step aside and see it roll on, without
suffering ourselves to be borne down by the stream.
Empty conversation must be disgusting to every rational and thinking
mind; yet, when it partakes not of malignity, it is harmless in its
effects, as the vapour which floats over the mead in a summer’s eve. But
when malice and envy join to give scope to detraction, we ought to avoid
their contagion, and decidedly condemn the effusions of the ill-natured
merriment which they inspire.
Our sex have been taxed as defamers. I am convinced, however, they are
not exclusively guilty; yet, for want of more substantial matter of
conversation, I fear they too often give occasion for the accusation! A
mind properly cultivated and stored with useful knowledge, will despise
a pastime which must be supported at the expense of others. Hence only
the superficial and the giddy are reduced to the necessity of filling
the time in which they associate together, with the degrading and
injurious subjects of slander. But I trust that our improved
country-women are rising far superior to this necessity, and are able to
convince the world, that the American fair are enlightened, generous,
and liberal. The false notions of sexual disparity, in point of
understanding and capacity, are justly exploded; and each branch of
society is uniting to raise the virtues and polish the manners of the
From your recommendation of Mrs. Chapone’s letters; and, what is still
more, from the character given them by Mrs. Williams, I was anxious to
possess the book; but, not being able to procure it here, my clerical
brother, who was fortunately going to Boston, bought and presented it to
I am much gratified by the perusal, and flatter myself that I shall
derive lasting benefit from it.
So intricate is the path of youth, and so many temptations lurk around
to beguile our feet astray, that we really need some skilful pilot to
guide us through the delusive maze. To an attentive and docile mind,
publications of this sort may afford much instruction and aid. They
ought, therefore, to be carefully collected, and diligently perused.
Anxious to make my brother some acknowledgment for his present, I
wrought and sent him a purse, accompanied with a dedication which I
thought might amuse some of his solitary moments; and which, for that
purpose, I here transcribe and convey to you.
The enclosed, with zeal and with reverence due,
Implor’d my permission to wait upon you;
And begg’d that the muse would her favor extend,
To briefly her worth and her service commend.
The muse, who by dear bought experience had known
How little her use to the clergy had grown,
With officious advice thus attacked the poor purse:
Why, you novice! ’tis plain that you cannot do worse!
If the end of your being you would ever attain,
And honor, preferment and influence gain,
Go quick to the pocket of some noble knave,
Whose merit is wealth, and his person is slave:
Or enter the mansion where splendor appears,
And pomp and eclat are the habit she wears:
Or hie to the court, where so well you are known,
So highly esteem’d and so confident grown,
That without your assistance and recommendation,
None claims any merit, or fills any station!
Seek either of these; and with joy you’ll behold
Yourself crown’d with honor, and filled with gold.
But to wait on a priest! How absurd is the scheme;
His reward’s in reversion; the future’s his theme.
Will these, for the present, your craving’s supply,
Or soften the din of necessity’s cry?
Of hunger and want, the loud clamours repel;
Or crush the poor moth that would on you revel!
For poets and prophets the world has decreed,
On fame and on faith may luxuriously feed!
Here the puss interpos’d with a strut and a stare,
Pray good madam muse, your suggestions forbear!
On virtue and worth I’m resolved to attend,
A _firm_, if I am not a _plentiful_ friend.
Tho’ not swell’d with gold, and with metal extended,
What little I have shall be rightly expended:
And a trifle, by justice and wisdom obtained,
Is better than millions dishonestly gain’d!
Yet I hope and presume that I never shall be
excluded his pocket for the lack of a fee!
Thus the muse and the purse—till I took the direction,
And destin’d the latter to your kind protection.
My wishes attend her, with fervor express’d,
That in yellow or white she may always be dress’d;
And e’er have the power each dull care to beguile;
Make the summer more gay, and the bleak winter smile!
But if Fortune be blind; or should she not favor
These wishes of mine, you must scorn the deceiver:
And, rising superior to all she can do,
Find a bliss more substantial than she can bestow!
I have spent a very agreeable summer in the country; but am now
preparing to return to town. I anticipate, with pleasure, a restoration
to your society, and that of my other friends there. I should, however,
quit these rural scenes with reluctance, were it not that they are
giving place to the chilling harbingers of approaching winter. They have
afforded charms to me, which the giddy round of fashionable amusements
can never equal. Many, however, think life insupportable, except in the
bustle and dissipation of a city. Of this number is the volatile Amelia
Parr, whom you know as well as I. So extreme is her gaiety, that the
good qualities of her mind are suffered to lie dormant; while the most
restless passions are indulged without restraint. I have just received a
letter from her, which you will see to be characteristic of her
disposition. I enclose that, and my answer to it, for your perusal. Read
both with candour; and believe me ever yours,
Where are you, Harriot; and what are you doing? Six long months absent
from the town! What can you find to beguile the tedious hours? Life must
be a burden to you! How can you employ yourself? Employ, did I say? Pho!
I will not use so vulgar a term! I meant amuse! Amusement surely is the
prime end of our existence! You have no plays, no card-parties, nor
assemblies, that are worth mentioning! Intolerably heavy must the
lagging wheels of time roll on! How shall I accelerate them for you? A
new novel may do something towards it! I accordingly send you one,
imported in the last ships. Foreign, to be sure; else it would not be
worth attention. They have attained to a far greater degree of
refinement in the old world, than we have in the new; and are so
perfectly acquainted with the passions, that there is something
extremely amusing and interesting in their plots and counterplots,
operating in various ways, till the dear creatures are jumbled into
matrimony in the prettiest manner that can be conceived!
_We_, in this country, are too much in a state of nature to write good
novels yet. An American novel is such a moral, sentimental thing, that
it is enough to give any body the vapours to read one. Pray come to town
as soon as possible, and not dream away your best days in obscurity and
But this boarding school, this Harmony-Grove, where you formerly
resided, has given you strange ideas of the world. With what raptures I
have heard you relate the dull scenes in which you were concerned there!
I am afraid that your diseased taste has now come to a crisis, and you
have commenced prude in earnest! But return to your city friends; and we
will lend our charitable assistance, in restoring you to gaiety and