Skip to main content
View PDF

[Benjamin] Franklin [Butler] to Harriet Allen, 3 April 1817

My dear Harriet,

If you expect to be scolded at, you will be disappointed. I shall do no such thing. I hardly ever do it towards any person but what I am sorry for it, and ^as to^ you I am sure I should wish to recal the words before they could reach their destination. I received your letter, on Sunday, just as I had deposited the other in the Post Office. To be sure when I read the first part, I was amased at your not receiving my letter on Friday, and I thought you manifested a little too much warmth on the subject, in charging me with having broken my promise & neglected my dear Harriet before you was certain that I had done so, but as I knew that my letter of Friday when you recd. it would satisfy & convince you I felt no other emotions while I was reading the first part of yours than those of surprise at the miscarriage of my despatch, & regret for it the pain it had given you. I was glad however to find by the conclusion that you had received the unfortunate communication, and that it had dissipated the clouds of dejection & discontent which for a while had overshadowed the horison of Reason, and excluded the sunshine of "Hope" itself. I am afraid that you are compelled to put up with a great many jests and laughs on my account. Your family are all so well acquainted with the affection which has subsisted between us that they consider us as fair subjects for their wit. Well let them laugh, & be as merry as they can. Our affection will stand that & any other test. Now I dare say that if your brother had seen the letter which you commenced, and had known that all your affliction ^was^ produced by his keeping my letter in his pocket till bed time, he would have been very heartily amused. For he & all the rest of your friends probably think that we write so very often to each other, that the subject must be completely exhausted & our letters very dull dry & uninteresting. But they are not as well acquainted with the "old story" as we are, and have no idea of its exhaustless nature. We have had some of the finest weather for these two or three days that I ever knew at this season of the year. I presume the walking must be good at Hudson, and if I lived there, I should endeavour to prevail upon you to take a walk every morning at Six, which is my hour of study now, because though the mornings are delightful, I have no great inclination to walk at that hour without a companion, and since I can't get the companion I desire, I shall stay at home. The ice started yesteday at this place, I presume its all clear at Hudson. How pleasant it is after such a severe winter as we have had, to see the icy obstructions of so fine a River, removed by the general influence of spring. I never welcomed the sight with so much joy. Next week I calculate upon seeing a Steam Boat at the wharf. Shall I see you then, I can't tell, I don't know. I shall be detained every day while the Legislature sits, byt attending to Jacob Barkers business which is more troublesome than I thought it would be. And next week I expect to have a great deal of office business, which has been kept off for some time by the public officers, but which will probably be handed over then. Dear you won't despair nor repine, will you? You will trust entirely to me. You know that I will joyfully seize on the first moment that offers itself, and hasten to your arms. Let me be the sole judge of the subject, and from an arbiter so entirely devoted to your interests you will be sure of a favorable sentence. I suspect Mr. B. is well enough acquainted with the story of our love. He threw out several hints to me which satisfied me that he had heard of it. And I attribute his professed friendship & pariality to me, to his connection with the family of your mother. Oh while I think of it, let me endeavour to exculpate Mr. Vosburgh. He told me some time ago, three or four weeks since, that I entirely misconstrued the meaning of his letter which I shewed once on a time (Do you remember why & wherefore?) to you. The words are "If there is any possibility of your retracing your steps don't go any farther." I thought he wished me to retrace my steps & not to advance any farther, if I could possibly do it, without violating my engagements, to quit you altogether if I could get clear of you. Now he denies that he meant any thing of the kind. He says, & the words will bear that construction, that he only meant to say that if there was any danger of my ceasing to love you, of my forgetting you, of my "retracing my steps," then that he hoped I would go no farther, for fear I might injure you & disgrace myself by perhaps obtaining your affections & then deserting you. Now I do really believe from the rest of his letter & from what he has told me, that that was his meaning. And if it was then you ought not to harbor any dissatisfaction against him, not even so much as to induce you to wish him any trouble in his "search after happiness." I told him he would think differently of Miss H. a month or two hence, for he had no stability in affairs of that kind. He admitted that his previous conduct was rather in that <kind>, but assured me that he was now fixed unalterably. Whether he is right, time will determine. Last evening contrary to my former determination, I visited the theatre, not however with any ladies. I wanted to see the Magpie & the maid, which was to performed, & of which I had heard a great deal. I went and I have not since regretted it. There was a respectable & numerous audience, and the play was really admirably performed. I believe your Brother owns it. Have it once in your parlour closet. If you have never read it, do get it and read it. It is one of the most interesting plays I ever saw. The character of Annette is really a fine one. So much sweetness, simplicity and heroic fortitude, such generous ^self^ devotion, mark her conduct, that I can ^not^ but "weep o'er the scene & feel what I beheld." I should be delighted to hear the discussion of the question you propose. It is one which has exercised the learning and ingenuity of many distinguished <moderns>. Without being able now to go at large into the various reasons which might be urged in ^its^ support, I think if I was at present to debate, or to decide it, I should certainly take up views in favor of the affirmative, notwithstanding the opinion of Mr. S. to the contrary. Yet there may be a great many very ingenious and plausible arguments adduced upon his side and I have no doubt he will acquit himself with honor. And though I think it can not be denied that for nature have affords the evidence of the immortaliity of the soul & that from her light alone the nations of antiquity whose <day> had never been saluted by the joyful sound of the gospel dispensation, were satisfied of its truth, yet it must be admitted that their greatest knowledge upon this subject compared with ours, is nothing but obscurity & doubt. I should like much to hear Mr. S. for I have no doubt he will employ much eloquence & research. You may inform Harriet Allen, that her heart is committed to the care of a faithful; trusty & affectionate guardian, that it is perfectly safe, that she need give herself no uneasiness about, for there is no danger of its being lost or injured or betrayed. If you should not give me a letter by the mail tomorrow, you will undoubtedly let me have one by the Saturday mail. I hope you are satisfied by this time that I take a real pleasure in writing to you, as often as you desire, though I don't know how you can relish such long dull epistles as I generally send you. However I don't write my letters for any body bu you, and so long as you permit me to address, so long shall they continue to be open <illegible>.  

Dear H, your own

Franklin

Images for this document are currently unavailable.
Source: N New York State Library
Collection: Benjamin Franklin Butler Papers (N)
Series: Series 3 (17 February 1815-2 December 1821)