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“I do not, brother,
Infer, as if I thought my sister's state
Secure, without all doubt or controversy;
Yet, where an equal poise of hope and fear
Does arbitrate the event, my nature is,
That I incline to hope rather than fear."


Eliot Lee to his Mother.

“—Town, 1778.

I have arrived thus far, my dear mother, on
my journey; and, according to my promise, am
beginning the correspondence which is to soften
our separation.

“My spirits have been heavy. My anxious
thoughts lingered with you, brooded over dear
Bessie and the little troop, and dwelt on our home

“I feared Harris would neglect the thrashing,
and the wheat might not turn out as well as we
hoped; that the major might forget his promise
about the husking bee; that the pumpkins might
freeze in the loft (pray have them brought down,
I forgot it!); that the cows might fail sooner than
you expected; that the sheep might torment you.


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In short, dear mother, the grief of parting seemed
to spread its shadows far and wide. If Master
Hale could have penetrated my mental processes,
he would have deemed his last admonition, to
deport myself in thought, word, and deed, like a
scholar, a soldier, and a gentleman, quite lost upon
me. I was an anxious wretch, and nothing else.
Poor Kisel did not serve as a tranquillizer. His
light wits were throwing off their fermentation, in
whistling, laughing, and soliloquizing: and this,
with Beauty's shambling gait, neither trot, canter,
nor pace, but something compounded of all, irritated
my nerves. Never were horse and rider
better matched. Together, they make a fair centaur;
the animal not more than half a horse, and
Kisel not more than half a man; there is a
ludicrous correspondence between them; neither
vicious, but both unbreakable, and full of all manner
of tricks.

“Our land at this moment teems with scenes
of moral and poetic interest. We made our first
stop at the little inn in R—. The landlord's
son was just setting off to join the quota to be sent
from-that county. The father, a stout old man,
was trying to suppress his emotion by bustling
about, talking loud, whistling, hemming, and coughing.
The mother, her tears dropping like rain,
was standing at the fire, feeling over and over again
the shirts she was airing for the knapsack. `He's
our youngest,' whispered the old man to me, `and


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mammy is dreadful tender of him, poor boy!'
`Not mammy alone,' thought I, as the old man
turned away to brush off his starting tears. The
sisters were each putting some love-token, socks,
mittens, and nutcakes into the knapsack, which they
looked hardy enough to have shouldered, while one
poor girl sat with her face buried in her handkerchief,
weeping most bitterly. The old man patted
her on the neck—`Come, Letty, cheer up!' said
he; `Jo may never have another chance to fight
for his country, and marrying can be done any day
in the year.' He turned to me with an explanatory
whisper; `'Tis tough for all—Jo and Letty are
published, and we were to have the wedding thanks-giving

“All this was rather too much for me to bear,
in addition to the load already pressing on my
heart; so without waiting for my horse to be fed,
I mounted him and proceeded.

“My next stop was in H—. There the company
had mustered on the green, in readiness to
begin their march. Some infirm old men, a few
young mothers, with babies in their arms, and all
the boys in the town, had gathered for the last farewell.
The soldiers were resting on their muskets,
and the clergyman imploring the benediction of
Heaven on their heads. `Can England,' thought
I, `hope to subdue a country that sends forth its
defenders in such a spirit, with arms of such a


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temper?' Oh, why does she not respect in her
children the transmitted character of their fathers!

“I arrived at Mrs. Ashley's just as the family
were sitting down to tea. She and the girls are
in fine spirits, having recently received from the
colonel accounts of some fortunate skirmishes with
the British. The changed aspect of her once
sumptuous tea-table at first shocked me; but my
keen appetite (for the first time in my life, my
dear mother, I had fasted all day) quite overcame
my sensibilities; the honest pride with which my
patriotic hostess told me she had converted all her
table-cloths into shirts for her husband's men, and
the complacency with which she commended her
sage tea, magnified the virtues of her brown bread,
and self-sweetened sweetmeats would have given
a relish to coarser fare more coarsely served.

“I have been pondering on the character of
our New-England people during my ride. The
aspect of our society is quiet, and, to a cursory
observer, it appears tame. We seem to have the
plodding, safe, self-preserving virtues; to be industrious,
frugal, provident, and cautious; but to
want the enthusiasm that gives to life all its poetry
and almost all its charms. But it is not so; there
is a strong under-current. Let the individual or
the people be roused by a motive that approves
itself to the reasoning and religious mind, a fervid
energy, an all-subduing enthusiasm bursts forth,
not like an accidental and transient conflagration,


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but operating, like the elements, to great effects, and
irresistibly. This enthusiasm, this central fire,
is now at its height. It not only inflames the
eloquence of the orator, kindles the heart of the
soldier, the beacon-lights and strong defences of
our land; but it lights the temple of God, and
burns on the family altar. The old man throws
away his crutch; the yeoman leaves the plough in
the half-turned furrow; and the loving, quiet matron
like you, my dear mother, lays aside her domestic
anxieties, dispenses with her household comforts,
and gives the God-speed to her sons to go forth
and battle it for their country. The nature of the
contest in which we are engaged illustrates my
idea. Its sublimity is sometimes obscured by the
extravagance of party zeal. We have not been
goaded to resistance by oppression, nor fretted and
chafed, with bits and collars, to madness; but our
sages, bold with the transmitted spirit of freedom,
sown at broadcast by our Pilgrim fathers, have
reflected on the past and calculated the future; and
coolly estimating the worth of independence and
the right of self-government, are willing to hazard
all in the hope of gaining all; to sacrifice themselves
for the prospective good of their children.
This is the dignified resolve of thinking beings,
not the angry impatience of overburdened animals.

“But good-night, dear mother. After this I
shall have incidents, and not reflections merely, to
send you. The pine-knot, by the light of which


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I have written this, is just flickering its last flame.
`I cannot afford you a candle,' said my good hostess
when she bade me good-night; `we sold our tallow
to purchase necessaries for the colonel's men—poor
fellows, some of them are yet barefooted!'

“I shall enclose a line to Bessie—perhaps she
will show it to you; but do not ask it of her. Tell
dear Fan I shall remember her charge, and give
the socks she knit to the first `brave barefooted soldier'
I see. Sam must feed Steady for me; and
dear little Hal must continue, as he has begun, to
couple brother Eliot with the `poor soldiers' in his
prayers. Again farewell, dear mother. Your
little Bible is before me; my eye rests on the
few lines you traced on the title-page; and as I
press my lips to them, they inspire holy resolutions.
God grant I may not mistake their freshness
for vigour. What I may be is uncertain;
but I shall ever remain, as I am now, dearest

“Your devoted son,

Eliot Lee.”

Eliot found his letter to his sister a difficult task.
He was to treat a malady, the existence of which
the patient had never acknowledged to him. He
wrote, effaced, and re-wrote, and finally sent the


“My sweet sister Bessie, nothing has afflicted
me so much in leaving home as parting from you.


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I am inclined to believe there can be no stronger
nor tenderer affection than that of brother and
sister; the sense of protection on one part, and
dependance on the other; the sweet recollections
of childhood; the unity of interest; and the communion
of memory and hope, blend their hearts
together into one existence. So it is with us—is
it not, my dear sister? With me, certainly; for
though, like most young men, I have had my
fancies, they have passed by like the summer
breeze, and left no trace of their passage. All the
love, liking (I cannot find a word to express the
essential volatility of the sentiment in my experience
of it) that I have ever felt for all my
favourites, brown and fair, does not amount to one
thousandth part of the immutable affection that I
bear you, my dear sister. I speak only of my
own experience, Bessie, and, as I well know,
against the faith of the world. I should be told
that my fraternal love would pale in the fires of
another passion, as does a lamp at the shining of
the sun; but I don't believe a word of it—do you,
Bessie? I am not, my dear sister, playing the
inquisitor with you, but fearfully and awkwardly
enough approaching a subject on which I thought
it would be easier to write than to speak; but I
find it cannot be easy to do that, in any mode,
which may pain you.

“I have neglected the duty I owed you; and
yet, perhaps, no vigilance could have prevented


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the natural consequence of your intercourse with
one of the most fascinating men in the world.
There, it is out!—and now I can write freely. I
said I had neglected my duty; but I was not conscious
of this till too late. The truth is, my mind
has been so engrossed with political subjects, so
harassed with importunate cravings and conflicting
duties, that I was for a long time unobservant of
what was passing under my eye. I awoke as from
a dream, and found (or feared) that my sister's
happiness was at stake; that she had given, and
given to one unworthy, the irrequitable boon of
her affections; irrequitable, but, thank Heaven,
not irrecoverable. No, I do not believe one word
of all the trumpery about incurable love. I will
not adopt a faith, however old and prevailing,
which calls in question our moral power to achieve
any conquest over ourselves. For my own part,
I do not think we have any power over our affections
to give or withdraw them, or even to measure
their amount. This may seem a startling
assertion, and contradictory of what I have said
above; but it is not. The sentiment I there alluded
to is generated by accidental circumstances,
is half illusion, unsustained by reason, unauthorized
by realities—not the immortal love infused
by Heaven and sustained by truth; but a disease
very mortal and very curable, dear Bessie, believe
me. Such a mind as yours, so pure, so elevated,
has a self-rectifying power. You have felt the


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influence of the delightful qualities which M—
undoubtedly possesses; and why should you not,
for who is more susceptible to grace and refinement
than yourself? Heaven has so arranged the
relations of affections and qualities, that, as I have
said above, we can neither give nor withhold our
love—the heart has no tenants at will. If M—
has assumed, or you have imputed to him qualities
which he does not possess, your affection will be
dissipated with the illusion. But if the spell still
remains unbroken, I entreat you, my dear sister,
not to waste your sensibility, the precious food
of life, the life of life, in moping melancholy.

“`Attach thee firmly (I quote from memory) to the virtuous deeds
And offices of love—to love itself,
With all its vain and transient joys, sit loose.'

“I have long had a lurking distrust of M—. He
has acted too cautious a part in politics for a sound
heart. Let a man run the risk of hanging for it
either way; but if he have a spark of generosity, he
will be either a whole-souled whig or a loyal tory
in these times.

“I know what M—has so often reiterated.
`He had a mother in England; all his friends were
on the royal side; and, on the other hand, his property
was here, and might depend on the favour of
the rebels; and indeed, there was so much to be
said on both sides, that a man might well pause!'


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There are moments in men's histories when none
but cowards or knaves, or (worse than either) cold-blooded,
selfish wretches, would pause!

“It is possible that I misjudge him; Heaven
grant it! All that I know is, that he is in New-York
no longer, pausing, but the aid of General Clinton.
It is barely possible that he has written; letters are
not transmitted with any security in these times;
but why did he not speak before he went? why, up
to the very hour of his departure (as my mother
says, you know I was absent), did he continue a
devotion which must end in suffering and disappointment
to you? There is a vicious vanity and
selfishness in this, most unmanly and detestable.
Do not think, dearest Bessie, that I am anxious to
prove him unworthy—Alas, alas! I was far too
slow to believe him so; and I now only set before
you these inevitable inferences from his conduct, in
the hope that your illusion will sooner vanish, and
you will the sooner recover your tranquillity.

“I am writing without a ray of light, except
what comes from the embers on the hearth. Perhaps
you will think I am in Egyptian mental darkness.
No, Bessie, I must be clear-sighted when I
have nothing in view but your honour and happiness.
They shall ever be my care, even more than
my own. But why do I separate that which is one
and indivisible? Good-night, dear sister. Let me
fancy you listening to me; your sweet eye fixed on
me; no dejected nor averted look; your face beaming,


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as I have often seen it, with the tenderness
so dangerous here, so safe in heaven; the hope so
often defeated here, there ever brightening; the
joy so transient here, there enduring!—Let me see
this blessed vision, and I shall sleep sweetly and
sweetly dream of home.

“Ever thine, Bessie,

“E. L.”

Bessie read her brother's letter with mixed emotions.
At first it called forth tenderness for him;
then she thought he judged Meredith precipitately,
harshly even; and after confirming herself in this
opinion, by thinking of him over and over again in
the false lights in which he had shown himself,
she said, “even Eliot allows that we can neither
give nor withhold our love; then how is Jasper to
blame for not giving it to one so humble, so inferior
as I am? and how could I withhold mine?” Poor
Bessie! it is a common trick of human nature to
snatch from an argument whatever coincides with
our own views, and leave the rest. “If,” she continued
in her reflections, “he had ever made any
declarations, or asked any confessions—but I gave
my whole heart unasked and silently.” She could
have recalled passionate declarations in his eye,
prayers in his devotion; but her love had the essential
characteristics of true passion; it was humble,
generous, and self-condemning.


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