1821. Nov. 10.
Fr: Mayo to Mrs. Rose (fr: original)
Richmd Novr 10th, 1821
The profound respect due to you as the parent of Miss McCarty, not only dictates the propriety of making the enclosed communication to her through you, but imperiously demands that I shd confide to you a frank disclosure of its object & solicit your approbation as an indispensible preliminary to my further proceeding. For I assure you upon the honor & veracity of a gentleman, that it wd give me unspeakable pain to revolt the feelings of the parties when I wd wish to conciliate, by any precipitate or inconsiderate step, in an affair of such momentous & unparalleled delicacy.
But before I proceed to develop the motives that have impelled me to undertake what you may at first consider a most strange, mysterious, & perhaps even criminal adventure, I will promise that if it wd offend any satisfaction to you, & be the means of gaining your consent to the visit I contemplate [to] Westmoreld on Miss McCarty’s acct. I wd procure the certificate of Bishop Moore, Parson Buckannon & Parson Blair that my connexions are among the most extensive & respectable in the state, and that my individual character stands high for its benevolent & honorable principles as well as unimpeachable moral rectitude. Indeed I presume that my reputation is in some respects known among Miss McCarty’s friends & that I may therefore be in some measure exempt from the violent indignation which the novelty of this proceeding might excite against an ordinary character. I therefore hope that my contemplated visit will be recd with a portion of that frankness & liberality with which it has been projected.
The more clearly to convince you however that I am activated by no sinister motive whatever, you will permit me to speak a little more plainly with you as the grandmother of Miss McCarty, than the delicacy of the subject wd admit of it to herself or any other person.
Miss McCarty’s fame for every accomplishment whether personal or mental, natural or acquired, has long since excited my deepest interest, with a particular design to become acquainted with her. Long before that most distressing of human calamities, which has befallen her, I had learned from all who know her, as one of the most estimable women in this countrys boast, & had constantly regretted that her remoteness from the circle of my particular acquaintance, seemed to preclude the possibility of my ever meeting with her. But at the very instant that misfortune overwhelmed her bright fame, as the thunder of heaven bursts upon the head of its devoted victim for some nice though inscrutable end, I resolved to step forth with all the delicacy I cd command, and make the most honorable profess to relieve her from that distressing attainder to which the prejudices of society might otherwise condemn her for the sequel of her life. Indeed I may say that I felt a melancholy satisfaction in contemplating the romantic prospect of that glowing triumph which my success might entitle me to, by restoring her to herself, to her family & to the world; & thereby gain a conspicuous place in that page of chivalrous deeds by which the knights of old discovered & proclaimed to the world that most noble trait of the human heart, which revenges the wrongs incidental to feminine weakness. For I am fairly persuaded that the most worthy of the fair sex may be visited by such a calamity without any premeditated guilt of her own, and that her only remedy is to be found in the magnanimity & disinterestedness of some one of the other sex whose honorable proposals being accepted, might confer all former reproach to eternal oblivion.
I must confess I have felt great difficulty and almost insurmountable doubts as to [the] course I might pursue to achieve so delicate a purpose without exciting the severest suspicions of my motives, and the consequent indignation of insulted pride. Yet I have persuaded myself that with the advantages of the best family connectons &c &c as I can set forth in the most authentic certificates, cd I convince Miss McC. & her friends of the ingenuous sincerity of my professions, I might possibly win their concurrent approbation, and finally be rewarded by the inestimable treasure of her love & gratitude for life.
And were it admissible to speak now in my own behalf I might allege it the proudest boast in my character, that I have ever felt it an irresistible impulse to take sides with misfortune, even when it is single and unconnected with any other claim on my sympathies. How much more then must such a heart be animated with enthusiastic emotions in behalf of the fairest model of her sex, who suffers under the greatest of human ways without any aggravating faults of her own.
I hope you will pardon me for these allusions as they seemed necessary to give you a fair estimate of my motives, and are only intended for your own conviction, without being exposed to the perusal of another. But whether that object be accomplished or not, I shall ever after hold the subject sacred to the most profound reserve & respectful silence.
I may further add before I close my letter, in order to give you the most decisive evidence of my having no sinister motive in view, that shd the result of an interview with Miss McC. be agreeable to us both, I shd insist upon a conveyance of her property to her benefit & out of my controul. This profession may be premature, but it proceeds from a wish to be clearly understood. Indeed that measure wd be necessary in order to vindicate my disinterestedness before the great tribunal of a censorious world. But if an interview cannot be granted on any terms that I can devise I must submit with practicable resignation to your rigid scruples though I shall regret that the best intentions shd be so illy appreciated. Cd you condescend to let me hear from you the favor will be duly estimated by
yr. obdt servant,
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 7, M2009.146
Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 June 22