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The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our curator, Colin Woodward, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



1821 Novr. 20

From Mayo to Miss McCarty (fr: original)

Richmd Nov: 20. 1821

Miss McCarty,

            Ere this meets your view you will have recd. my first, and perhaps have condemned me as unworthy even of your disdain or contempt. But I wd fain flatter myself otherwise, so I confidently trust that an amiable heart cannot take offense even at an awkward avowal of such unbounded esteem & goodwill as I entertain & have endeavored to express for you. Or are you too skeptical to admit that the warmest sentiments of regard may be cherished towards another founded solely upon the winning prepossessions of fame, without the auxiliary advantages of a personal acquaintance? I, on the contrary have known many instances in which the first impressions of personal presence wd have prejudiced my feelings against a further acquaintance had not a previous knowledge of their character operated in their favor & disposed me to do them justice by my own observation. Indeed I have had correspondents both among my own connexions & strangers who were personally unknown to me, but whose sentiments & turn of thought were so congenial with my own that I anticipated the pleasure of a first interview with as much enthusiasm as that of an anxiously expected meeting with an old friend, and in reality it was the meeting of old friends in the instances I allude to, for though we cd not recognize each others features this was no impediment to the warmest recognition of those sentiments with which we had often greeted each other by letter and which delighted us to recount & compare over again, in person – though our eyes wd seem to give an occasional regard of dubious surprise at their ignorance of those features whose hearts were so entwined in reciprocal esteem. One of the worthiest men of my acquaintance at this moment, if I may judge by that exterior, is only known to me by correspondence. And a young lady tho’ a niece, had long convinced me of her amiability & cultivation of mind through the medium of her letters before I had the pleasure of personal acquaintance with her. Thus however strange & romantic the sentiments I profess, may seem to you. I hope you cannot withhold your faith in their sincerity, when they are substantiated by these instances of a similar nature in my past experience. But as I cannot expect the favor of a correspondence with you, you may never have it in your power to perceive with what pliancy my mind adapts itself to the sentiments & inclinations of those who stand high in its affections, much less how perfectly my entire moral character wd modify & assimilate itself to that of the endearing object of its choice. Yes, a single token of approbation from you wd inspire all the powers of my soul with emotions of unspeakable delight, & afford my pen a new and ample theme of the most lively gratitude. Must I then despair of exciting even the slightest interest in your bosom? which possibly by proper culture might be nurtured progressively into esteem, friendship & sympathy. nay all the reciprocity of tender regard that the warmest heart cd desire?

            Though it be presumptuous in me, I will rely upon your discernment of the propriety of the admonition, and caution you to be on your guard against any mistaken zeal of your friends to promote your welfare, by an inconsiderate effect they may make to prejudice you against me. You have attained that age which not only qualifies you in fact but authorizes you, to deliberate maturely for yourself, and weigh every point, before you form your final resolve in this important occasion. Reflect then, I entreat you, upon the extent & respectability of my connexions, together with my individual reputation established in early life, & ask what gentleman of my age can boast of more? Aye & when will you find another who will do you the justice that I am disposed to render you? If then any character has stood fair under all circumstances hitherto, what is to be alleged against me now? Surely not that I offer my hand to you! Shall this be considered my disgrace in their estimation? Indeed I shd be proud of such a disgrace cd you consent to participate it with me, such a participation wd  make it honorable, nay praiseworthy & eventually elicit the commendation even of those who might at first be most inimical. But if the disinterestedness of my motives, my individual character, & family connexions, the sterling principles of benevolence, sympathy & affection of which my heart is composed, besides innumerable other circumstances that might be thrown into the scale in my own behalf, be not sufficient to win your favor, permit me to entreat you to reflect on the other hand upon the lonely condition you may find yourself in at a future day when your grandmother & other dear relatives are no more! Who will then console you of these inevitable privations by dividing your cares, reciprocating your pleasures & economizing your happiness in the most minute circumstances & particularly of your life? Will you risk the hazard of another offer which might accomplish these desirable ends? Such a reliance indeed wd hardly merit so plausible a title as that of a risk, for I dare assure that you wd be disappointed, even were the choice at your exclusive option such men are only to be met with once in a century – proud consciousness of our mutual fire – if these endearments of the heart assure to us that we shd reciprocally rejoice at every past circumstance of our lives which cd in any manner have had the least concern in effecting a participation of our future destinies. May I have the levity to add, that your superior talent for music, & my extravagant partiality for the same fascinating art, augur well of harmony.

            But I fear my letters grow tedious. O! I wd give the world to know whether you consider them so!! Again I trust my fate to my good fortune & your fond sense – Adieu.

Very respectfully yours &c &c

R. Mayo


Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 7, M2009.150


Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 June 24

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