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A MILITARY DINNER-PARTY.
[Letter to Dr. John Cochran.— West Point, 16 August, 1779.] DE
EAR DOCTOR: I have asked Mrs. Cochran and Mrs. Livingston to
dine with me to-morrow; but am I not in honor bound to apprise them of their fare? As I hate deception, even where the imagination only is concerned, I will. It is needless to premise, that my table is large enough to hold the ladies. Of this they had ocular proof yesterday. To say how it is usually covered, is rather more essential; and this shall be the purport of my letter.
Since our arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, sometimes a shoulder of bacon, to grace the head of the table; a piece of roast beef adorns the foot; and a dish of beans, or greens, almost imperceptible, decorates the centre. When the cook has a mind to cut a figure, which I presume will be the case to-morrow, we have two beef-steak pies, or dishes of crabs, in addition, one on each side of the centre dish, dividing the space and reducing the distance between dish and dish to about six feet, which without them would be near twelve feet apart. Of late he has had the surprising sagacity to discover, that apples will make pies; and it is a question, if, in the violence of his efforts, we do not get one of apples, instead of having both of beef-steaks. If the ladies can put up with such entertainment, and will submit to partake of it on plates, once tin but now iron (not become so by the labor of scouring), I shall be happy to see them; and am, dear Doctor, yours, etc.
A REPUBLICAN NO.
(Letter to Colonel Lewis Nicola.—Newburgh, 22 May, 1782. In answer to a suggestion
of an American Monarchy of which he should be the head.] IR: With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment, I have read
with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured, Sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations, than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army, as you have expressed, and I must view with abhorrence and reprehend with severity. For the present the communication of them will rest in my own bosom, unless some further agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary.
I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address, which to me seems big with the
greatest mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to my own feelings, I must add that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see ample justice done to the army than I do; and, as far as my powers and influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion. Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself or any one else, a sentiment of the like nature. I am, Sir, your most obedient servant.
ADVICE TO A FAVORITE NEPREW.
[From a Letter to Bushrod Washington.—
Newburgh, 15 January, 1783.) REMEMBER, that it is not the mere study of the law, but to become
eminent in the profession of it, that is to yield honor and profit. The first was your choice; let the second be your ambition. Dissipation is incompatible with both; the company, in which you will improve most, will be least expensive to you ; and yet I am not such a stoic as to suppose that you will, or to think it right that you should, always be in company with senators and philosophers; but of the juvenile kind let me advise you to be choice. It is easy to make acquaintances, but very difficult to shake them off, however irksome and unprofitable they are found, after we have once committed ourselves to them. The indiscretions, which very often they involuntarily lead one into, prove equally distressing and disgraceful.
Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.
Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distresses of every one, and let
your hand give in proportion to your purse; remembering always the estimation of the widow's mite, but, that it is not every one who asketh, that deserveth charity; all, however, are worthy of the inquiry, or the deserving may suffer.
Do not conceive that fine clothes make fine men, any more than fine feathers make fine birds. A plain, genteel dress is more admired, and obtains more credit, than lace and embroidery, in the eyes of the judicious and sensible.
The last thing, which I shall mention, is first in importance; and that
is, to avoid gaming. This is a vice, which is productive of every possible evil; equally injurious to the morals and health of its votaries. It is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief. It has been the ruin of many worthy families, the loss of many a man's honor, and the cause of suicide. To all those who enter the lists, it is equally fascinating. The successful gamester pushes his good fortune, till it is overtaken by a reverse. The losing gamester, in hopes of retrieving past misfortunes, goes on from bad to worse, till grown desperate he pushes at everything and loses his all In a word, few gain by this abominable practice, while thousands are injured.
Perhaps you will say, “My conduct has anticipated the advice," and “Not one of the cases applies to me.” I shall be heartily glad of it. It will add not a little to my happiness, to find those to whom I am so nearly connected pursuing the right walk of life. It will be the sure road to my favor, and to those honors and places of profit, which their country can bestow; as merit rarely goes unrewarded. I am, dear Bushrod, your affectionate uncle.
ON WOMEN AND MATRIMONY.
[Letter to Lund Washington.—Rocky Hill, 20 September, 1783.) EAR LUND: Mrs. Custis has never suggested in any of her letters
to Mrs. Washington (unless ardent wishes for her return, that she might then disclose it to her, can be so construed) the most distant attachment to D. S. ; but, if this should be the case, and she wants advice upon it, a father and mother, who are at hand and competent to give it, are at the same time the most proper to be consulted on so interesting an event. For my own part, I never did, nor do I believe I ever shall, give advice to a woman, who is setting out on a matrimonial voyage; first, because I never could advise one to marry without her own consent; and, secondly, because I know it is to no purpose to advise her to refrain, when she has obtained it. A woman very rarely asks an opinion or requires advice on such an occasion, till her resolution is formed; and then it is with the hope and expectation of obtaining a sanction, not that she means to be governed by your disapprobation, that she applies. In a word, the plain English of the application may be summed up in these words; "I wish you to think as I do; but, if unhappily you differ from me in opinion, my heart, I must confess, is fixed, and I have gone too far now to retract."
If Mrs. Custis should ever suggest anything of this kind to me, I will
give her my opinion of the measure, not of the man, with candor, and to the following effect. “I never expected you would spend the residue of your days in widowhood; but in a matter so important, and so interesting to yourself, children, and connections, I wish you would make a prudent choice. To do which, many considerations are necessary; such as the family and connections of the man, his fortune (which is not the most essential in my eye), the line of conduct he has observed, and the disposition and frame of his mind. You should consider what prospect there is of his proving kind and affectionate to you; just, generous, and attentive to your children; and how far his connections will be agreeable to you; for when they are once formed, agreeable or not, the die being cast, your fate is fixed.” Thus far, and no farther, I shall go in my opinions. I am, dear Lund, etc.
TO THE WIFE OF HIS FRIEND.
[Letter to the Marquise de Lafayette.—Mount Vernon, 4 April, 1784.] ADAM: It is now more than ever I want words to express the
sensibility and gratitude, with which the honor of your felicitations of the 26th of December has inspired me. If my expression was equal to the feelings of my heart, the homage I am about to render you would appear in a more favorable point of view, than my most sanguine expectations will encourage me to hope for. I am more inclined, therefore, to rely upon the continuance of your indulgent sentiments towards me, and that innate goodness for which you are remarkable, than upon any merit I possess, or any assurances I could give of my sense of the obligation I am under for the honor you have conferred upon me by your correspondence.
Great as your claim is, as a French or American woman, or as the wife of my amiable friend, to my affectionate regards, you have others to which the palm must be yielded. The charms of your person, and the beauties of your mind, have a more powerful operation. These, Madam, have endeared you to me, and everything, which partakes of your nature, will have a claim to my affections. George and Virginia, the offspring of your love, whose names do honor to my country and to myself, have a double claim, and will be the objects of my vows.
Freed from the clangor of arms and the bustle of a camp, from the cares of public employment and the responsibility of office, I am now enjoying domestic ease under the shadow of my own vine and my own fig-tree; and in a small villa, with the implements of husbandry and
lambkins around me, I expect to glide gently down the stream of life, till I am entombed in the mansion of my fathers.
Mrs. Washington is highly honored by your participations, and feels very sensibly the force of your polite invitation to Paris; but she is too far advanced in life, and is too much immersed in the care of her little progeny, to cross the Atlantic. This, my dear Marchioness (indulge the freedom), is not the case with you. You have youth (and, if you should not incline to bring your children, can leave them with all the advantages of education), and must have a curiosity to see the country, young, rude, and uncultivated as it is, for the liberties of which
your husband has fought, bled, and acquired much glory, where everybody ,,admires, everybody loves him. Come, then, let me entreat you, and call my cottage your home; for your own doors do not open to you with more readiness than mine would. You will see the plain manner in which we live, and meet with rustic civility; and you shall taste the simplicity of rural life. It will diversify the scene, and may give you a higher relish for the gayeties of the court, when you return to Versailles. In these wishes, and in most respectful compliments
, Mrs. Washington joins me. With sentiments of strong attachment, and very great regard, I have the honor to be, Madam, etc.
TO A HAPPY BRIDEGROOM.
(Letter to the Marquis de Chastellux.- Mount Vernon, 25 April, 1788. ] MY
Y DEAR MARQUIS: In reading your very friendly and accept
able letter, which came to hand by the last mail, I was, as you may well suppose, not less delighted than surprised to meet the plain American words, "my wife." A wife! Well, my dear Marquis, I can hardly refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last. I saw, by the eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that you had swallowed the bait, and that you would as surely be taken, one day or another, as that you were a philosopher and a soldier. So your day has at length come. I am glad of it, with all my heart and soul. It is quite good enough for you. Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor of the American rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching that terrible contagion, domestic felicity, which, like the small-pox or the plague, a man can have only once in his life, because it commonly lasts him (at least with us in America; I know not how you manage these matters in France), for his whole lifetime. And yet, after all, the worst wish which I can find in