1821. Decr. 22.
From Mayo to Miss McCarty (from Origl.)
I am at once the most happy & the most wretched of beings. My feelings vibrate with the velocity of lightning, instantaneously & unceasingly between the extremes of hope & despair. At one moment I persuade myself that it is impossible you should not discern something of magnanimity in my extraordinary conduct, & requite it with a portion of your sympathy – at another I suffer the severest compunction for the infatuation I have been guilty of thereby exciting probably your incurable indignation & disgust. Yet I know, I feel the invincible assurance that cd you be made sensible of the truth, the whole truth & nothing but the truth in regard to the purity of my motives, the respectability of my family, and my individual pretensions, those circumstances wd mitigate the offense I have given, & possibly gain me at least the favour of an audience.
And do you not know the nature of the human heart better than to suppose for a single moment that your signature to Mrs. Rose’s letter cd operate to produce the repelling effect that she designed? Do you not know that it is the peculiar priviledge of a certain passion to convert every thing, every action, that emanates from the object of its adoration into additional enchantment, however opposite may have been the effect she desired till time & reiterated repulse shall weary the ardour of the soul it animates into a conviction of its fruitlessness, by an undeniable demonstration of that universal antidote – contemptuous indifference? Yes, those graceful, those enchanting traces of your name, have entirely defeated the purpose of Mrs. Rose’s interdiction, and now afford a real object, a fair & beautiful representation of the original on which to fix the transports of my imagination. Could you have cared to have written your name so well? Wd you not rather have blotted it with indignation & have spurned the very pen & paper that affirmed your resentment, if you really felt no interest, no curiosity for a final development of the strange procedure?
But you may yet consider all this as the mere romance of feeling. You may even doubt whether the romantic sentiments which my letters profess will be realised or confirmed by a personal acquaintance & I confess that such a doubt is justified by the caprice which generally characterises a false heart, but I entreat you to consider mine not only exempt from such a vice, but an exception to every trait that’s merely human. I have too carefully analysed & studied its principles to be mistaken as to the cause or tendency of the slightest emotion that disturbs its repose. While I have ever been astonished at the small contracted motives which generally agitate the world my soul has been totally engrossed by lofty schemes of noble, generous, & disinterested achievements, apparently beyond the powers of human intellect or magnanimity to conceive or compass. On the subject of school literature much have I already accomplished, & still more is in the perspective.
But the tender affections of the heart all concentrate in & constitute with me, the ruling passion of Love, which disdaining to attach itself by motives of mere family connexion or fortune, has ever craved in the companion of my heart a combination of that far higher of inestimable qualities amiability & beauty, personal charms & feminine modesty, with the artificial embellishments of native intelligence. By how much more than must he who is peculiarly gifted with sympathising benevolence be interested in this constellation of female perfections when their bright radiance is softened into ineffable mellowness by that shade of gloom with which misfortune overcasts the scene. Nay, were all the more fleeting portion of those charms dilapidated by the inimical causes to which they sooner or later must become an inevitable prey, leaving only the imperishable endowments of the mind to dignify the endurance of calamity, the irresistible influence with which their united powers interest every feeling of my heart wd be the most irrefragable guarantee of my warmest affections through all the phases of prosperity or adversity with which the casualties of human life may be checkered.
I presumed to request Mrs. Lee’s acceptance of my confidence because she is your sister, & sustains for you a sister’s regard; which I have no doubt is reciprocated.
I inclose the letter returned by Mrs. Rose as its contents may form a link in the history of my feelings & professions – With every Platonic sentiment of regard I subscribe myself
Your devoted &
Richmd. Decr. 22. 1821.
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 7, M2009.157
Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 June 27