Skip to main content
View PDF

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

My dear Harriet, 

I arrived at Albany yesterday morning at 8 oClock having rode from Schenectady before breakfast. Your letter of the 29th reached me. I plead guilty to the charge of short letters & dull ones. But what can I do? For the last 5 weeks I have been entirely on the wing. When I return I find every thing topsy turvey, a thousand things to do, and all requiring haste. I have no time "to sport with Amaryllis in the shade, or with the tangles of Naera's hair," or in other words Business though an ugly looking fellow is entitled to attention in preference to the urchin love. The blind boy must sometimes be placed in the background. One can not always bend before his throne though his majesty may never be forgotten. You are a girl of too much sense to be dissatisfied. "Thou knowest that I love thee." Would to Heaven that the adorable being to whom those warm expressions were addressed possessed as much of my affection. You will most assuredly make some allowances for the pressure of numerous & indispensable engagements. I love to write to you, especially when I feel in good spirits, but I can't be always writing, nor would one desire it. Next spring at all hazards we shall be married, and then this letter writing which now occasions us so much anxiety & uneasiness will be done with. Till that time we must do as well as we can. I will write you as often as you desire, and as lengthy as practicable. And I'll do it with pleasure too. Not as a duty but as a delightful employment. I'll not promise to be very interesting but I will engage to be punctual as long as I am in town. If I should be called away as much as I have been for the two months past, I shall not be able to be so particular. But of that theres no danger. About going to Hudson, Mr. Olcott goes down tomorrow. But I can't go. Do you ask why A man is to come twenty miles to do some business with me which will occupy the whole day. On Tuesday our Court commences. I must be there! There is no Boat till Wednesday, except one on Sunday and that you would not wish me to take even if both of us were as we once have been insensible to the sin of violating the Sabbath. You may however observe, "you arrived at Albany on Monday the 22d. You remained there till Monday the 29th. Then you started off with Jacob Barker to Sandy Hill, a distance of more than 50 miles. If you could find time to leave Albany to go to that place you certainly might have come down to Hudson. Why didn't you do that in preference to going on so long a jaunt with Mr. B. You can have but little affection for the girl of your heart if you can devote more time to a common acquaintance than you are willing to bestow on her." If you should make this accusation, I would reply that it is true that I might have gone to Hudson in the same time that I occupied in going to Sandy Hill & without any more injury to my business, but the truth is that I was not desirous of going, nor was it convenient for me to do so, I had declined positively, but the Saturday morning Boat brought me a letter informing me that I was wanted, that I must not decline, that he should calculate on my going & make his arrangements accordingly. And on Sunday he came. I found that I might go without any very serious injury, was anxious to oblige Mr. B, for I owed him gratitude & friendship, and determined to start. We went on Monday, arrived in the evening, remained there till Wednesday morning & returned that day as far as Schenectady. Mr. B. had 4 gentlemen with him besides myself, very agreeable gentlemanly men, & we had a delightful jaunt. I have this moment received your letter of today, for which I give you a thousand thanks. If we were near each other would give you as many kisses. It was left here by John E. I suppose while I was up at Mr. Cuittendens. After I commenced this scrawl I was obliged by a prior engagement to call on a young friend from Virginia who stays at Cruttendens. I was with him a short time & when I returned found your letter. It is surely written in a different style from the last. I can tell you exactly how you felt when your last was written. Don't you remember that I went to see you one evening when you lived opposite Mr. Williams, & ^<and> we^ spent it alone in the front room, the day before training at Claverack at which I was to take my exam about being drafted? You was remarkably indifferent. I though you had forgotten to love me. You had the same sort of feeling then that you had on Monday. I was afflicted with the same disorder when I wrote you by Capt Coffin. I was never so dull in my life. I was as stupid as I well could be. We can not always enjoy a lively flow of spirits. Nor should we expect it. Dear Harriet I must defer answering your letters till tomorrow. The hour is rather late & I must bid you adieu praying the almighty father who rules alike in the darkness of midnight & the glare of day to preserve & protect you, to fill your heart with his love & give you all joy & peace in believing. Goodnight.

Saturday. I have unfortunately overslept myself so that the very long letter which I intended to write will turn out a pretty short one. The truth is that I have been so completely jaded out by the last of my Sandy Hill excursions that I have not been able to get up early since I arrived ^at^ home. It will take me a day or two to get slept out. With regard to my health it certainly is good, good enough. And notwithstanding Capt. Coffins alarm I believe I can make out to preserve it. Your quotation is most assuredly true. Our stay in this world is so short, its wealth & honors are so fleeting & so dangerous to our souls, that we want but little & from necessity can use that little only for a moment. If I had been disengaged at Albany I might have obtained a very <long> situation at Sandy Hill. Mr. Barker is the chief stockholder in the new Bank about to be established there. We went up on that business. He offered to make me Cashier with a salary of $1,500 & an elegant house (Mr. Skinners) which has been purchased for a Bank. Sandy Hill is a charming place & fifteen hundred dollars would have enabled me to take H. A. immediately, the duties would have been trifling, I might have had leisure for reading & for my H's company & attended to a little law business in the bargain. I of course declined the offer. I can not leave Albany. I am chained down. My fortune is rivetted. I shall not make fifteen hundred dolls a year in five years at this place, but still I must stay. With all my industry & application I have hardly made enough since my admission to pay my board if I had lodged at a Boarding House. I am now in a state of Bankruptcy, for I owe more for clothing &c than I could raise form my labours for the last six months. What am I to do? The AttyGenl. is confident that within two or three years our business will be lucrative. I think so too. But in the mean time I am in danger not exactly of starvation but of embarrassment. Mr. Van B. was rather displeased when I told him of Barkers offer, he desires to keep me because he can't do without me at present, & he is so much afraid of my getting a notion of departing that he becomes alarmed the moment I speak of any offer of the kind. Married I am determined to be (if I live, & you dear H. are left to bliss me) in the Spring. Its all nonsense to wait any longer. We have waited long enough already. We are both of us apt to be irritated & perplexed by absence. You particularly are deprived of half the pleasure you would otherwise enjoy both from temporal & religious sources. With me absence is not so troublesome. Not that I love you less, but because I am so overwhelmed in business that my thoughts are occupied. Jacob B. has made me a Director of the Bank of Washington & Warren. Don't tell of it, though its not a secret. Some of my friends here think I ought not to be concerned with Mr. B. in any of his Bank operations. But from him I have always received the most friendly treatment. I am under obligations to him. I like him, positively like him. He is entirely engrossed in the cares of this world, & blinded by mammon. But he has as many good qualities as other unregenerate men. I have done nothing dishonorable for him, nor has he asked any thing improper of me, except on Sunday, when he ran post haste to Mr. Van Buren's knocked at the door, took me by the hand & asked me if I had arranged my business so as to be able to go. I told him I had. "Well then get your things & come down with me immediately, the carriage is waiting & our friends are all ready." "Not for your Bank. I can't travel to day." "You can't when will you go then?" "Tomorrow as early as you please." "All right we'll start at 4." This was the purport of our dialogue. When we last saw each other he knew that I had no objection to travelling on Sunday. He thought it so still. Was accordingly disappointed when I refused but his good sense taught him in an instant, the reason & the propriety of that reason. He went back, sent off his friends in a farm horse carriage, remained at Alby, went to meeting, & on Monday took me in a carriage to Waterford where we arrived just as our friends were getting out of bed & after that went on together. Once I was blind but now I see. Once it was so with you. Oh amazing grace, wondrous redeeming love. How ought we adore that almighty saviour through whom & by whom we have been redeemed from the bondage of sin. Bless the Lord oh our souls & all that are within us bless his holy name. I must be brief. I will write some other time more at large, & see you as soon as possible. Can't you find room any where for secret devotion. I feel for you. Prayer is the Christians meat, or as my friend Burchard says "his bread & cheese." Poor Mrs. Gibson is yet alive, her disease assumes a favorable aspect but there is no hope of her recovery. I am sorry to hear of your low spirits, & your crying spells. Dear H. look to Jesus, to Jesus "the spring of all your joys The life of your delights, The glory of your brightest days and comforts of your nights." Go to him continually trust in him always & may his peace which passeth all understanding possess your heart & scatter blessings in your path. 

Your affectionate 


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)