1821. Novr 9
Fr: Mayo to Miss McCarty (fr: original)
Richmd Nov: 9. 1821
Were it in the power of my pen to infuse into an epistle a just estimate of the sentiments that govern all my actions, cd the principles of my heart be reflected from a letter, as the lineaments of the face from a mirror, I shd feel less solicited for the liberal indulgence you might possibly extend to this abrupt intrusion. But as I cannot avail myself of these advantages, I must rely upon the immemorial respetability [sic] of my family, and above all, upon your magnanimity, to shield me from the imputation of an improper motive while I feel conscious of none but the most noble & generous that can do honor to the human heart.
Though I may be a total stranger to you, your superior merits are not entirely unknown to me. Activated by their prepossessing influence, I ventured to pay a visit to Westmorld last summer in the hope of finding it practicable to cultivate a personal acquaintance with you. You can hardly be made sensible of my extreme disappointment after learning (incidentally from Mrs. Beverly) that you were absent from the County. This however only rendered me susceptible of still deeper impressions from every tongue that proclaims your praise – and such was the effect produced on my feelings by Mrs. Beverly’s unqualified commendation of your eminent worth. I was also consoled by a slight acquaintance with your Sister who is unquestionably one of the most amiable women in the world ever beheld.
Thus my disappointment had the double effect of increasing my desire to become acquainted with you, while it discovered a greater difficulty than I at first suspected might exist. But to apply a brief & decisive remedy I have at length determined to premise a second visit to Westmoreland by forwarding this frank avowal of my intentions to you under cover to Mrs. Lee. Shd it be recd under the influence of prejudice, I am perfectly aware that it will excite the indignation justly merited by a premeditated insult but perused under the benign auspices of such ingenuous sentiments as those which give it birth I shall be more sanguine of winning your forgiveness, than apprehensive of incurring your displeasure. I therefore earnestly entreat you be not startled at the strange procedure nor permit its rash departure from the established forms & customs of society to prejudice your feelings against me; for course of casual events could I calculate upon, to enable me to meet with you, in conformity with the mechanical rules of common usage? The bare idea of a casualty, in so momentous a matter, is odious to my feelings, & forbodes defeat without an effort. Therefore, prompted by kind hope, which never deserts a generous bosom, I thus brave the event, & trust my fate to Providence & to you.
Presuming, then, from the favorable impression I entertain of you, that you at least will not condemn me unheard, I will give you a brief acct of my sentiments & history, that you may be the more guarded against the possibility of confounding me with the odious character of an adventurer. From it you will perceive that I am to be ranked with that limited, but most innocent, unoffending & liberal hearted portion of the community, known as students & authors. And cd I enter more minutely into the detail, you might discover from many deeds of my life that my soul is made of sympathy & affection, the only sure guarantees of permanent domestic happiness. how indeed to insure this desideration, you might also infer that I have been too scrupulous in the choice I am now in quest of, & therefore you remain a candidate for that ineffable blessing, that delightful impulse to the movements of a sensitive heart, (the tender endearments of reciprocal love) without which it languishes in despair, & denounces life itself as a dreamy deceit.
Yes – every too zealous an advocate for the reunion of exquisite beauty, amiability, and a cultivated talent for music, I have not as yet numbered even one among my fair acquaintance with whom I cd expect fully to realize those romantic feelings which quicken with every movement of my fervid breast. Miss Mayo indeed with some grace and comeliness of person possessed other charms in a more eminent degree than beauty, but in proportion to this deficiency were the enchantments of my attachment imperfect. Thus, after reciprocally tantalizing each other for two or three years, I withdrew my pretensions, & yielded her to the fall of her coquetry &c &c. She is now Mrs. Genl. Scott & I congratulate her on her final cast of the die.
Since that period I have for the most part pursued a life of retirement & study in the libraries of Phila & N. York, not that my disappointment had so much alienated me from the charms of the fairer sex, as that the impressions made in my mind by a woman who approached nearer perfection than any other I had ever seen were not to be erased by inferior merit.
But cheering hope once more sustains my despairing heart, & whispers a fluttering promise, which may possibly convert the imaginary evil of a past disappointment into a future blessing. Yes – and I do most solemnly aver, to your distinguished credit, that nothing short of the fame of your unparalleled beauty, amiability & other accomplishments, cd have called me forth to brave the dangers of such a forlorn hope, at the hazard of the severest sensitivity & possibly the most illiberal censure of my motives & character.
You surely are better acquainted with the noble qualities of the heart, than to hope against me, that I have been a disappointed lover. Such a reverse only attunes the sensitive soul to deeper impressions, when another object is formed to possess superior endowments to those of its former imperfect choice. For I must contend that there are ten thousand degrees of love between the extremes of simple esteem & that ardent trust of universal passion, which if opposed drives the soul to madness. Several different women may be loved, to a certain degree, for several different qualities, while one permanently endowed with the reunion of every one’s best may map the senses of every beholder in feelings of the most heavenly enchantment. This truth is most happily expressed by Shakespeare when Ferdinand in “The Tempest” exclaims –
Indeed the top of admiration! worth
Whats dearest to the world! Full many a lady
I have eyed with best regard; and many a time
The harmony of their tongues hath into bondage
Brought my too diligent ear: for several virtues
Have I liked several women; never any
With so full soul, but some defect in her
Did quarrel with the noblest grace she own’d,
And put it to the foil; But you! O you!
So perfect & so peerless, are created
Of every creature’s best.”
And all who know you, proclaim you the adorable Miranda of this favored land.
Deeply impressed with the extreme delicacy of this important subject, & particularly sensible of the shock that an unguarded conduct might give to your feelings, I resolved to proceed with the utmost possible precaution upon the occasion. On this account I have not only thought it prudent to dispense with introductory letters, but also to repress any inquisitive curiosity among my friends, by assuming the plain disguise of a trip of business into Westmoreld till the momentous results, if propitious, set me at liberty to manifest my unbounded joy, or if fatal, seal my life on the subject forever. This disguise I have even intended shd conceal myself from you, in the possible event that the first impression shd maliciously convert my fond anticipations into cold indifference. But my sanguine feelings forbid such an apprehension. Indeed it wd be the height of incredulity, nay sacrilege itself to doubt the irresistible effects of those resplendent charms which far resounding fame so eminently attributes to you. I have too often seen & adored you in my mind’s eye from the impassioned descriptions of others, to entertain a moments doubt that the transports of my imagination will be more than doubly realized, and that my willing heart shall be simultaneously confirmed in those delightful emotions on which it dwells so much in anticipation.
But let me conjure you again & again not to suffer anything whatever to prejudice you against me so as to induce you to deny me the favor of a personal interview, for I dare pledge myself to convince you, without deserving the censure of egotism, that you may find your acct in every earthly enjoyment more fully acquitted by me than by any other being in the world. However I may fall short of the personal graces of an Adonis, I know my heart possesses every confirmation that is adapted to the most perfect and durable affection. United with you! the only point in dispute between them wd ever be, which shd excell the other in kind offices, at the same time I shd always yield the preference to you, while I endeavored to deserve it from you. And cd you find it in your heart to refuse to add so much to the sum total of human happiness? We shd become the envy of this Western hemisphere, nay of the entire Universe by conferring & receiving the noblest interchange of mutual affection that ever conferred their blessing on the conjugal state. Nor shd you be one to tell the loser in the reckoning, if a soul teeming with endearments, as constant & unabating as the benign influence of the unwearied sun, cd make you adequate amends for refusing such unbounded confidence in me.
But whither does my zeal impel me? I shd even fancy myself already yours before I am yet certain that you will pardon me for my presumption. Ah! but you will excuse me, will you not! when it is all on your own account if I am guilty of offence! At least, permit me, with all the humility of the most sincere devotion, to entreat you, be not insulted! I wd sooner put an ignominious end to that solitary existence which I wd sweeten with your society, than excite a single moment’s displeasure in your dear sacred bosom.
If however the excessive zeal of enthusiastic temperament, has misguided my better judgment it rests with you to correct my error. which I trust you will do with all the lenity due to so innocent, so excusable a weakness. Therefore if the visit I contemplate to Mrs. Roses on your arrival shd be offensive to you, I pledge you my honor to suppress the odious design, if you will intimate your disapprobation of it, by returning this letter to the address of
Yr. most respectful
& very obedt servant
P.S. I presume there can be no question with either Miss McCarty or her friends, respecting the high standing of my connexions as well as my own unimpeachable character. Cd there be the smallest doubt on any one’s mind upon these points – it cd be repelled almost with the rapidity of lightning by the respectful testimonials from any quarter. But I will not do the parties the injustice on either hand to suppose such testimonials necessary though I shd feel the greatest alacrity in producing them if required.
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 7, M2009.145
Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 June 21