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Benjamin Franklin Butler to H[arriet] Allen, 26 November 1816

Dear Harriet 

Both your letters have been received, and though each of them deserves an answer, yet I must make out to attend to them both in a single sheet. For this purpose I will desert the French for tonight, and begin with the determination of spending as much time with my dear girl, and saying as many things to her, as circumstances will permit. Before I received your last, I was half sick with the headache, but since I met with that cordial I have suffered but little from it. Now, I am quite comfortably situated before as pleasant a fire as Hickory ever made, in tolerable spirits, at least as good as they can be while not with you, and in want of no one thing to render me completely satisfied with my present situation, except your presence. And as I am remedying that by the only means by which it can be done, I think upon the whole that I have no great reason to complain. Your letter by Lydia Edmonds was yesterday delivered by Mr. Webb to my friend Mr. Norton, who immediately dispatched a special messenger to me with the very acceptable present. Being much occupied at the Office, I did not go down to see Mrs. W. & Lydia, and whether they have since left town or are yet here, I am uninformed. Very probably they have. I am pretty certain that Mary Ann has made an unfortunate choice. But I hope that she may be spared the misery of knowing that she has done so. The consciousness of that fact to a woman of sensibility must be agonizing in the extreme. From the bottom of my heart I lamented her marriage, because she had always ranked high in my estimation and possessed my best wishes for her happiness. How important it is, that persons who think of entering for life into a connection the most sacred and indissoluble, upon which must depend their felicity in this world & perhaps in the world to come, should not only deliberately reflect on the consequences of the engagement, but should more especially be acquainted with the disposition, the principles, & the heart of those with whom they are about to be united. There's no severing these ties at pleasure. When you become satisfied too late that the claims which bind you are those of law & not of affection, when they oppress you by their weight, or gall by their severity, you may repent of your rashness, and sigh for liberty, but you will sigh in vain—for from the bondage of such captivity "no composition sets the prisoner free." Stay—there is relief. The law which binds you to each other will permit you to seperate. In mercy 'twill permit you to live unheeded and die forgotten by the person, who you once hoped should share your joys and alleviate your calamities. What a happy lot must that be? From such an one may you ever be preserved. May I never be the cause of such poignant misery as such a state would teem with, to one so dear to me. If in its awful dispensations I am destined to become the source of such suffering to my dear, my beloved Harriet, I should beseech of Heaven, & earnestly & fervently & sincerely beseech too, that in mercy to her, the cup of that affliction might be withdrawn by the removal of the cause. But I hope for better things. I fondly trust that in uniting her fate with mine, my Harriet will ensure the happiness of both—that neither will ever have occasion to lament the hour when we mutually pledge to each other "our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred honour." But if I don't look at your letters I shall fill my paper before I am aware of it, and that without noticing a word of their contents.

I am glad that my trifling present was so well received. And since it spoke so sensible a language as that you fancied it to say, I hope you will continue to preserve it. If I had been there myself I could not have expressed my wishes more correctly. I hope that it may frequently tell you "that I would like to have a letter," and that you may always be as willing to obey the admonition. I read that part of your letter about Abm. to Mrs. V. She was delighted to hear that you was pleased with her favorite. So was the old grandmother. She says that Abm. is the best boy of all. As for me though I admire his goodness of disposition, I am yet inclined to believe, setting aside my partialities, that in every quality of the heart & certainly in every faculty of the soul, that can adorn the human character, he is far behind his brother. John has great quickness & vivacity of intellect—great brilliancy of imagination—a towering genius and an impetuous soul. You may laugh at my discovering these germs of greatness in a child so young, but take my word for it. John V. B. will one day attain the eminence his father has ascended, and tread with honor the path which he has marked. By the bye, I am glad that you are better pleased with the A.G. than you used to be. Isn't he one of the most agreeable men in conversation you ever met with? So much ease, politeness, vivacity and good nature, at the social board, is rarely to be met with. I have every reason to be grateful to that gentleman for the unnumbered instances of confidence and friendship he has bestowed upon me, and perhaps in the warmth of my regard, I may think too highly of his talents as a statesman—his powers as an advocate & his merits as a man. But knowing him as I do—and acquainted as I am with the character of his genius—I am sure that I can not be mistaken in the estimate I have formed of his eminent abilities. I know I am not for the public, unbiassed & unbought, are proud to proclaim, and his enemies are willing to confess them. Envy must acknowledge while she hates, and faction admit in the midst of her abuse, that his talents are an honour to the state of his nativity, and his integrity above reproach & without suspicion. I have heard seen him in the Senate, directing its counsels & wielding it energies at his will. I have witnessed his clear & comprehensive illustrations of the dry, barren, & thorny points of legal discussion, where he never fails to elucidate what is dark & to embellish what is dull—but above all I have listened to his matchless eloquence, with every feeling of amasement, of interest & of delight, which the resistless powers of that "principle divine" must ever excite in the bosom of the hearer who then will dare to charge me with partiality, or accuse me of adulation, when I say, that of none of her sons ought New York to be more proud, because among them, he towers preeminent!

Mrs. Stanton is quite a wit. Her common sense is quite an ingenious one, & afforded me much amusement. I hope that like Pharoah's Butler I may be favored by the smiles of fortune, and that my remembrance & gratitude towards my friends may be stronger & more durable than his. At any rate I hope my memory may be such that I may never forget you. I can't conceive what reason Mrs Van Buren had for thinking you hard hearted. I never found you so. Then you think you was happier at the fireside writing to me, than you would have been at the party. You know my feelings on that subject. I wish to have you think so, if it is without constraint, yet I certainly have no right to ask, neither do I desire that you should seclude yourself from Society.

I like your explanation about cold, fatigue, & ill health, very much I assure you. Notwithstanding my declarations I do believe it would have been something more of an effort than I pretended, for me to have abandoned the hope of receiving a letter every week, even if you had been compelled to write it in the cold. But I would willingly have done so. As it is however, I am happy that you can write to me as much without inconvenience.

You really had quite a tragical scene with Muldon. I am not much obliged to Mr & Mrs. V. Buren for endeavouring to bring me into disgrace with Muldon, for I am sure that if he believed I had deserted you, he would not fail to say as every body else would, that my conduct was base and dishonorable. I hope that Mrs. V. B. will assure him before he leaves Hudson, that Franklin is prone to say that Harriet Allen is yet the idol of his affections, and that by his conduct towards he hopes to convince all his friends that some "dependance may be placed on the fellow." My dear girl I should be ashamed to show my face, if the public could say of me with truth what was said in sport by your frolicsome compansions. I'll never give them an opportunity for charging me with any crimes of that kind. I have no doubt, indeed I know, that many persons at Hudson supposed that when I left Hudson, I would of course leave you. They have been so far mistaken. And I pledge myself that their predictions never shall be verified. I must now from absolute necessity give up the idea of seeing you for four or five weeks. Mr. V. B. won't return till Saturday, & if other engagements did not prevent, I could not leave while he was absent. On the 4th of Decr. our sales commence, which continue till the 18th during which time it would be utterly impossible for me to leave the office for a day. Dear Harriet I hope you are satisfied that I desire to see you as ardently as you could wish. I most assuredly do. You speak of my letter's (the unlucky one I mean) giving you so much uneasiness, when so as to render you unwell. I am totally forgetful of what it contained, or else I must have been crazy when I wrote it. For I most assuredly loved you when I sat down at the table & commenced the task., & I know I did when I finished it. So that I am unable to conceive what spirit could have actuated me. My dear girl—do read the letter, if you have preserved it, over again, and see whether you have not judged it a little too severely. Is there nothing in it which can redeem it from indiscriminate condemnation? I had understood from Mrs. Van Buren who has recd. a letter from the A.G. that Mr. & Mrs. S, our worhty & excellent friends, would make us a visit this week. Mr. Stanton brought me two sheets well filled when he came before, and he of course, supposed with propriety, that he ought to bring as many when he visits us again. What a set of carpers, you have at Hudson. For your sake I most earnestly hope that Mr. S. will not be compelled to leave you in disgust, for you will never find such an other. I am truly sorry that Mary is so unwell, & from your silence I had hoped that she had entirely recovered. Remember me to her & to your mother. I hope your Brother may remain with you during the winter, for his presence must add much to your happiness. I wish you would give my compliments to Mrs. Coffin as often as you choose to. I always esteem her as one of my very best friends. This I think is long enough to be good. So, comply with the wishes of Mr. Stanton, & let him give me the pleasure of receiving as long a one in return

Dear girl, Adieu

Benjamin Franklin Butler 

I am afraid Mr. & Mrs. S. will not come up unless they take a land conveyance. It is now 12. O.Clock & the wind, & snow & rain & hail commingled, make rather a unpleasant night of it. I have spent the evening happily & will retire to rest grateful to that good providence which has furnished me with all the comforts of life, when thousands of the children of want, are suffering in the inclemency of to night from all the miseries of poverty. It will be a hard winter for them.

Your own—


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Source: N New York State Library
Collection: Benjamin Franklin Butler Papers (N)
Series: Series 3 (17 February 1815-2 December 1821)