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[Benjamin] Franklin [Butler] to Harriet Allen, 10 November 1817

My dearest Harriet, 

For more than three weeks our correspondence has been suspended, a circumstance which until now I believe has never happened since it was first commenced. And yet those weeks have been among the happiest of my life. They were happy for they were spent with you. Since we have again been seperated, I recur with avidity & pleasure, to the old method of transmitting thoughts & sighs & wishes & receiving a similar return from you. I stopped at my uncles on Friday but was detained there so long that I thought it best to leave your <mas> letter for Lydia with my aunt who promised to send it down. Cousin Eliza wanted to ride with me to her Brothers & that was another reason why I omitted to go by the way of Capt. Macys. Do make an apology for me to your sister, and tell her that I felt ashamed of myself for not driving down to her uncles & handing her the note. Had a pretty cold ride in the evening, amused myself & frightened all who heard me by practicing my faw.sol. law lessons, for which the loneliness of the road & the darkness of the way afforded me an excellent opportunity. Spent a pleasant evening at home & started on Saturday about 10 for the metropolis. Had a delightful ride on the banks of the river & with the exception of two or three miles found the road excellent. On Saturday evening went down street to a Prayer meeting, exercises had just commenced when all was broken off by the cry of fire! It originated in a Tavern opposite to Mr. Watsons, and notwithstanding all the exertions of the citizens, before it could be quelled a long block of wooden buildings 21 in number were burnt down to the ground. By this signal calamity a great number of poor families were thrown houseless upon the world. The buildings were not valuable, but much furniture & other property were destroyed. It was the most destructive fire I ever witnessed, as also the most rapid & extensive. Yesterday I heard Mr. Chester through the day & Dr. Griffen in the eveing. The latter is a learned & laborious man, writes like a scholar & a christian & possesses much merit as an orator. In the afternoon poor Miss Walsh was followed to the grave. You will recollect of hearing of her illness. She was a fine pious girl, & died trusting in her Redeemer. Her father was snatched away suddenly about a year & a half ago. His widow died of grief. And now the eldest daughter, a lovely girl in the bloom of youth, is called to meet them. She was engaged to be married! The gentleman to whom she was betrothed followed her to the grave decked with the badges of mourning. What a trial must that have been. What an admonition to us too, to prepare for death & seperation. When the hour comes, may it find us with lamps trimmed & burning, replenished with the oil of grace, even though we slumber & sleep through the dulness of our hearts & the deceitfulness of sin. Mrs. Gibson I saw & conversed with on Wednesday. On Thursday she became deranged. Reason left her & she raved with wildness on the torments of hell & the pains of the damned. The next day she became more confused & apparently regained her reason, but has ever since remained in a state of listless apathy & fixed despair. The first thing I heard after my return was that she had lost her hope. Mrs. V. Buren, had been to see her, and from her I learnt that some good people had sagely doubted of her piety & I was vexed & angry. What shall mere babes in christ, fair weather christians, presume to doubt the sincerity of a saint who for years has exhibited a living proof of the power of our religion & a bright example of the triumphs of faith, because in an hour of deep affliction her reason has been borne away & her soul tormented by the grand enemy of man? Yesterday I went to see her. How was she was altered. That mild look of patient resignation, that eye beaming with hope & joy & consolation, that tongue dwelling with delight on the loveliness of Christ & the riches of reedeaming love, all, all, were gone. She was wretched & refused to receive comfort and I was obliged to leave her so. It was a distressing scene. But it's all right. She's in the hands of God, her God, her strength, & her salvation. His ways are not as our ways. They are inscrutable, but they are wise. I doubt not that Mrs. G. will yet be enabled to bear testimony to the goodness & love of God, but even if she should not "fixed will his word, his saving truth remain." "His realm forever last, his own messiah reign." It is strange that one so ill & weak as Mrs. G should experience the doubts & fears, & temptations too, which every christian meets with? It would be more wonderful were she free from them. Yesterday also, I commenced my apprenticeship to the Sunday School, and so far am much delighted with the task. I believe that I have now given you all the news of the day & told you of every important thing in which you could be interested, that I have learnt since my return.

Yesterday a letter from your brother was received at our P.O. I shall forward it to Hudson, without taking the liberty of opening it, which perhaps in the character of an expected husband, I would be warranted in doing. Tomorrow you will write me, if you have not already done it, and I hope you will be able to inform me that on Saturday after my departure you submitted to our seperation with a composed though afflicted heart, & behaved like a good dear girl with great fortitude & resignation. Dear Harriet every time we are seperated I feel its difficulty & its pains increased. I am almost afraid to meet you now, for when I think of what you suffer in "that wild word farewell" I sometimes regret that you love so ardently. If we live & providence permits, the season of partings will be deferred a little by the month of May. How pleasant is the anticipation of those hours of happiness which we may sometimes hope to spend in each others presence. Yet we must be careful very careful how we count too highly on them. Perhaps they may never come. Death may tear us from each other even when the breast expands with hope, when faith is flighted, when the nuptial feast is spread & all is gaiety & joy. Shall we then place our hopes on such uncertainties? Shall we ^<illegible>^ lose sight of the frailty of our natures, the shortness of life, the certainty of approaching death, and the vanity of all things here below, in fond "illusions of fallacious hope," in dreams of bliss & promises of pleasure? Oh, no, we will act more wisely, we will look forward with hope & pleasure to the hour which we so long have wished for but at the same time we will remember that life is uncertainty & we are mortal, that every prospect of enjoyment may soon be destroyed, & that it is our bounden duty as well as our highest wisdom to "set our affections on things above," to place our treasures & our hearts beyond the reach of calamity or misfortune. But alas (as your fine young friend Miss Toby says) what are we. We can talk of these things as if they were easily performed. But can we do them? "Aye, theres the rub." Tis not so light a matter to seperate our hearts & wishes & expectations from the world in which we dwell & the things by which we are surrounded. He who can do it thoroughly must have the special aid of the Holy Spirit, perhaps in an eminent degree than any more mere mortal ever yet employed. 

But I believe my letter is long enough, and I will therefore bid you an affectionate adieu. 

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)