Your letter——your rattle, rather, came to hand yesterday. I could not
avoid smiling at your erroneous opinions; and, in my turn, beg leave to
express my wonder at your entertainments in town. True, we have no
plays. We are not obliged by fashion, to sit, half suffocated in a
crowd, for the greater part of the night, to hear the rantings, and see
the extravagant actions of the buskin heroes, (and those not always
consistent with female modesty to witness!) We have no card-parties,
avowedly formed for the purpose of _killing time_! But we have an
agreeable neighborhood, among which we can easily collect a social
circle; and persons of taste, politeness and information, compose it.
Here we enjoy a rational and enlivening conversation, which is at once
refined and improving. We have no assemblies, composed of a promiscuous
crowd of gaudy belles and beaux; many of whom we should despise in a
private company, and deem unworthy of our notice. But we have genteel
balls, the company of which is select, none being admitted but such as
do honor to themselves and each other. The amusement is not protracted
till the yawning listlessness of the company proclaims their incapacity
for enjoyment; but we retire at a seasonable hour, and add to the
pleasure of the evening, that of undisturbed rest through the night. Of
course, we can rise with the sun, and sip the nectarious dews, wafted in
the aromatic gale. We breakfast before the heat of the day has brought
on a languor and deprived us of appetite; after which, we amuse
ourselves with our needles, books, or music; recline on the sofa, or
ramble in the grove, as fancy or convenience directs. In the shady bower
we enjoy either the luxury of solitude, or the pleasures of society;
while you are, the whole time, in the midst of hurry and bustle. Eager
in the chase, _you_ fly from one scene of dissipation to another; but
the fatigue of this ceaseless round, and the exertion of spirits
necessary to support it, render the objects of pursuit tasteless and
Which mode of life, yours or mine, do you now think the most rational,
and productive of the greatest happiness? The boarding school, which you
affect to despise, has, it is true, formed my taste; and I flatter
myself that I shall never wish it altered.
I shall soon return to town; but not for pleasure. It is not in crowds
that I seek it. Adieu.
Having been with my aunt Burchel for a fortnight past, I have indulged
myself in reading novels; with which her library is well supplied.
Richardson’s works have occupied a large portion of the time. What a
surprising command has this great master of the passions over our
feelings! It is happy for his own and succeeding ages, that he embarked
in the cause of virtue. For his influence on the affections of his
readers is so great, that it must have proved very pernicious, had he
enlisted on the side of vice. Though I am not much of a novel-reader,
yet his pen has operated like magic on my fancy; and so extremely was I
interested, that I could have dispensed with sleep or food for the
pleasure I found in reading him.
By this circumstance I am more than ever convinced of the great caution
which ought to be used in perusing writings of the kind. How secretly
and how insidiously may they undermine the fabric of virtue, by painting
vice and folly in the alluring colours, and with the lively style of
this ingenious author. The mind should be well informed, and the
judgment properly matured, before young people indulge themselves in the
unrestrained perusal of them.
The examples of virtue and noble qualities, exhibited by the author I
have mentioned, are truly useful; but every writer of novels is not a
Richardson: and what dreadful effects might the specious manners of a
Lovelace have on the inexperienced mind, were they not detected by a
just exhibition of his vices!
The noble conduct of Clementina and Miss Byron, are worthy of imitation;
while the indiscretion of Clarissa, in putting herself under the
protection of a libertine, is a warning to every fair. But both examples
are often overlooked. While the ear is charmed with the style, and the
fancy riots on the luxuriance of description, which so intimately blend
the charms of virtue and the fascinations of vice, they are not readily
distinguished by all.
I am not equally pleased with all Richardson’s writings; yet so
multifarious are his excellencies, that his faults appear but specks,
which serve as foils to display his beauties to better advantage.
Before I went from home I was engaged in reading a course of history;
but I fear I shall not return from this flowery field to the dry and
less pleasing path of more laborious studies. This is one disadvantage
of novel reading. It dissipates the ideas, relaxes the mind, and renders
it inattentive to the more solid and useful branches of literature.
Neither change of place nor situation can alienate my affections from
you, or obliterate my grateful remembrance of your kindness.
Your admonitions and counsels have been the guide of my youth. The many
advantages which I have already received from them, and the
condescending readiness with which they were always administered,
embolden me to solicit your direction and advice in a still more
important sphere. The recommendation of my parents and friends, seconded
by my own inclination, have induced me to yield my heart and engage my
hand to Mr. Sylvanus Farmington, with whose character you are not
unacquainted. Next Thursday is the era fixed for our union. O madam, how
greatly shall I need a monitor like you! Sensible of my own
imperfections, I look forward with diffidence and apprehension, blended
with pleasing hopes, to this new and untried state!
Your experienced pen can teach me how to discharge the duties, divide
the cares, and enjoy the pleasures, peculiar to the station on which I
am entering. Pray extend your benevolence, and communicate your
sentiments on female deportment in the connubial relation. Practising
upon such a model, I may still be worthy the appellation, which it will
ever be my ambition to deserve, of your affectionate friend and pupil,
Indeed, my dear Harriot, you are making an important change of
situation; a change interesting to you and your friends; a change which
involves not only your own happiness, but the happiness of the worthy
man whom you have chosen; of the family, over which you are to preside;
and perhaps, too, of that with which you are to be connected.
I rejoice to hear that this connexion, on which so much depends, is not
hastily formed; but that it is the result of long acquaintance, is
founded on merit, and consolidated by esteem. From characters like
yours, mutually deserving and excellent, brilliant examples of conjugal
virtue and felicity may be expected. Yet as human nature is imperfect,
liable to errors, and apt to deviate from the line of rectitude and
propriety, a monitorial guide may be expedient and useful. Your
partiality has led you to request this _boon_ of me; but diffidence of
my own abilities compels me to decline the arduous task. Nevertheless, I
have it happily in my power to recommend an abler instructor, who has
written professedly upon the subject. THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR, or
MATRIMONIAL PRECEPTOR, lately published by Mr. David West, of Boston,
contains all you can wish. The judicious compiler has collected and
arranged his materials with admirable skill and address. Peruse this
book, and you will be at no loss for counsels to direct, and cautions to
guard you through the intricate cares and duties of the connubial life.
The essays are, chiefly, extracted from the most approved English
writers. The productions of so many able pens, properly disposed, and
exhibited in a new and agreeable light, must not only be entertaining,
but useful to every reader of taste and judgment. I wish this
publication to be considered as a necessary piece of furniture by every
housekeeper. The editor has certainly deserved well of his country; and
Hymen should crown him with unfading garlands.
I shall visit you, my dear Harriot, after the happy knot (for such I
flatter myself it will prove) is tied. In the mean time, I subscribe
myself, with the most ardent wishes for your prosperity and happiness,
your sincere friend,
What think you of wit, Cleora? If you estimate it by the worth of your
own, you think it an invaluable jewel. But this jewel is variously set.
Yours is in the pure sterling gold of good sense: yet, as displayed by
some, it glistens on the mere tinsel of gaiety, which will not bear the
scrutinizing eye of judgment.
Yesterday I received a visit from a young lady, lately moved into this
neighbourhood, who is reputed a wit. Her conversation reminded me of
Pope’s satirical remark:
“There are, whom Heaven has bless’d with store of wit;
But want as much again to manage it.”
I found her’s to consist in smart sayings, lively repartees, and
So strong was her propensity to display this talent, that she could not
resist any temptation which offered, though it led her to offend against
the rules of politeness and generosity. As some persons of real genius
were present, topics of literature and morality were discussed. Upon
these she was mute as a statue; but whenever the playfulness of her
fancy could find a subject, she was extremely loquacious. This induced
me to suspect that the brilliance of her imagination had dazzled her
understanding, and rendered her negligent of the more solid and useful
acquisitions of the mind.
Is it not often the case, that those who are distinguished by any
superior endowment, whether personal or mental, are too much elated by
the consciousness of their pre-eminence, and think it sufficient to
counterbalance every deficiency?
This, Mrs. Williams used to say, is owing to the want of self-knowledge;
which, if once possessed, will enable us properly to estimate our own
characters, and to ascertain with precision wherein we are defective, as
well as wherein we excel. But it is the misfortune of us, young people,
that we seldom attain this valuable science, till we have experienced
many of the ills which result from the want of it. Ambition, vanity,
flattery, or some such dazzling meteor, engrosses our attention, and
renders us blind to more important qualifications.
But to return to this same wit, of which I was speaking. It is certainly
a very dangerous talent, when imprudently managed. None that we can
possess tends so directly to excite enmity, or destroy friendship.
An ill-natured wit is of all characters the most universally dreaded.
People of this description are always feared, but rarely loved. Humanity
and benevolence are essentially necessary to render wit agreeable.
Accompanied by these, it cannot fail to please and entertain.
“Wit, how delicious to man’s dainty taste!
’Tis precious as the vehicle of sense;
But as its substitute, a dire disease!
Pernicious talent! flatter’d by mankind,
Yet hated too.————————
Sense is the diamond, weighty, solid, sound;
When cut by wit, it casts a brighter beam;
Yet, wit apart, it is a diamond still.
Wit, widow’d of good sense, is worse than naught;
It hoists more sail to run against a rock.”
But I believe I cannot give a better proof of my own wit, than to
conclude this scribble before your patience is quite exhausted by the
The first moment which I have been able to snatch from the affectionate
embraces of my honored mamma, and my dear sister Maria, is devoted to
you. Judging by the anxious solicitude of my own heart, I know you are
impatient to hear of my safe arrival. It is needless to tell you how
cordially I was received. You have witnessed the mutual tenderness which
actuates our domestic circle. Where this is the governing principle, it
is peculiarly interesting to sensibility. It is extremely exhilarating
to the mind to revisit, after the shortest absence, the place of our
nativity and juvenile happiness. “There is something so seducing in that
spot, in which we first had our existence, that nothing but it can
please. Whatever vicissitudes we experience in life, however we toil, or
wheresoever we wander, our fatigued wishes still recur to home for
tranquillity. We long to die in that spot which gave us birth, and in
that pleasing expectation opiate every calamity.”