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“Hear me profess sincerely—had I a dozen sons, each in my
love alike, I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country,
than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.”


The following extracts are from a letter from
Bessie Lee to her friend Isabella Linwood.


Dearest Isabella,

“You must love me, or you could not endure my
stupid letters—you that can write so delightfully
about nothing, and have so much to write about,
while I can tell nothing but what I see, and I see
so little! The outward world does not much interest
me. It is what I feel that I think of and
ponder over; but I know how you detest what you
call sentimental letters, so I try to avoid all such
subjects. Compared with you I am a child—two
years at our age makes a great difference—I am
really very childish for a girl almost fourteen, and
yet, and yet, Isabella, I sometimes seem to myself
to have gone so far beyond childhood, that I have
almost forgotten that careless, light-hearted feeling
I used to have. I do not think I ever was so light-hearted
as some children, and yet I was not
serious—at least, not in the right way. Many a


Page 50
time, before I was ten years old, I have sat up in
my own little room till twelve o'clock Saturday
night, reading, and then slept for an hour and a
half through the whole sermon the next morning.
I do believe it is the natural depravity of my
heart. I never read over twice a piece of heathen
poetry that moves me but I can repeat it—and
yet, I never could get past `what is effectual calling?'
in the Westminster Catechism; and I always
was in disgrace on Saturday, when parson Wilson
came to the school to hear us recite it:—oh dear,
the sight of his wig and three-cornered hat petrified

“Jasper Meredith is here, passing the vacation
with Eliot. I was frightened to death when Eliot
wrote us he was coming—we live in such a
homely way—only one servant, and I remember
well how he used to laugh at every thing he called
à la bourgeoise. I felt this to be a foolish, vulgar
pride, and did my best to suppress it; and since I
have found there was no occasion for it, for Jasper
seemed (I do not mean seemed, I think he is much
more sincere than he used to be) to miss nothing,
and to be delighted with being here. I do not
think he realizes that I am now three years older
than I was in New-York, for he treats me with
that sort of partiality—devotion you might almost
call it—that he used to there, especially when you


Page 51
and he had had a falling out. He has been giving
me some lessons in Italian. He says I have a
wonderful talent for learning languages, but it is
not so: you know what hobbling work I made
with the French when you and I went to poor old
Mademoiselle Amand—Jasper is quite a different
teacher, and I never fancied French. He has been
teaching me to ride, too—we have a nice little
pony, and he has a beautiful horse—so that we
have the most delightful gallops over the country
every day. It is very odd, though I am such a
desperate coward, I never feel the least timid when
I am riding with Jasper—indeed, I do not think of
it. Eliot rarely finds time to go with us—when
he is at home from college he has so much to do
for mother—dear Eliot, he is husband, father,
brother, every thing to us.”

“I had not time, while Jasper and Eliot stayed,
to finish my letter, and since they went away I
have been so dull!—The house seems like a tomb.
I go from room to room, but the spirit is not here.
Master Hale, the schoolmaster, boards with us,
and gives me lessons in some branches that Eliot
thinks me deficient in; but ah me! where are the
talents for acquisition that Jasper commended?
Did you ever know, dear Isabella, what it was to
have every thing affected by the departure of
friends, as nature is by the absence of light—all


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fade into one dull uniform hue. When Eliot and
Jasper were here, all was bright and interesting
from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof—now!—ah

“I am shocked to find how much I have written
about myself. My best respects to your father
and mother, and love to Herbert. Burn this worthless
scrawl without fail, dear Isabella, and believe
me ever most affectionately


Bessie Lee.”

Jasper Meredith to Herbert Linwood.

Dear Linwood,

“I have been enjoying a very pretty little episode
in my college life, passing the vacation at
Westbrook, with your old friends the Lees. A
month in a dull little country town would once
have seemed to me penance enough for my worst
sin, but now it is heaven to get anywhere beyond
the sound of college bells—beyond the reach of
automaton tutors—periodical recitations—chapel
prayers, and college rules.

“I went to the Lees with the pious intention of
quizzing your rustics to the top o' my bent; but
Herbert, my dear fellow, I'll tell you a secret; when
people respect themselves, and value things according
to their real intrinsic worth, it gives a shock to
our artificial and worldly estimates, and makes us
feel as if we stood upon a wonderful uncertain


Page 53
foundation. These Lees are so strong in their simplicity—they
would so disdain aping and imitating
those that we (not they, be sure!) think above them
—they are so sincere in all their ways—no awkward
consciousness—no shame-facedness whatever
about the homely details of their family
affairs. By heavens, Herbert, I could not find a
folly—a meanness—or even a ludicrous rusticity
at which to aim my ridicule.

“I begin to think—no, no, no, I do not—but, if
there were many such families as these Lees in
the world, an equality, independent of all extraneous
circumstances (such as the politicians of this
country are now ranting about), might subsist on
the foundation of intellect and virtue.

“After all, I see it is a mere illusion. Mrs. Lee's
rank, though in Westbrook she appears equal to
any Roman matron, is purely local. Hallowed as
she is in your boyish memory, Herbert, you must
confess she would cut a sorry figure in a New-York

“Eliot might pass current anywhere; but then
he has had the advantage of Boston society, and
an intimacy with—pardon my coxcombry—your
humble servant. Bessie—sweet Bessie Lee, is a
gem fit to be set in a coronet. Don't be alarmed,
Herbert, you are welcome to have the setting of
her. There is metal, as you know, more attractive
to me. Bessie is not much grown since she was
in New-York—she is still low in stature, and so


Page 54
childish in her person, that I was sometimes in
danger of treating her like a child—of forgetting
that she had come within the charmed circle of
proprieties. But, if she has still the freshness and
immaturity of the unfolding rose-bud—the mystical
charm of woman—the divinity stirring within
her beams through her exquisite features. Such
features! Phidias would have copied them in his
immortal marble. How in the world should such
a creature, all sentiment, refinement, imagination,
spring up in practical, prosaic New-England!
She is a wanderer from some other star. I am
writing like a lover, and not as I should to a lover.
But, on my honour, Herbert, I am no lover—of
little Bessie I mean. I should as soon think of being
enamoured of a rose, a lily, or a violet, an exquisite
sonnet, or an abstraction.

“It is an eternity since Isabella has written me
a postscript—why is this? Farewell, Linwood.

“Yours, &c.
“P.S.—One word on politics—a subject I detest,
and meddle with as little as possible. There
must be an outbreak—there is no avoiding it. But
there can be no doubt which party will finally prevail.
The mother country has soldiers, money,
every thing; `'tis odds beyond arithmetic.' As one
of my friends said at a dinner in Boston the other
day, `the growling curs may bark for a while, but
they will be whipped into submission, and wear
their collars patiently for ever after.' I trust, Herbert,


Page 55
you are already cured of what my uncle used
to call the `boy-fever'—but if not, take my advice—be
quiet, prudent, neutral. As long as we
are called boys, we are not expected to be patriots,
apostles, or martyrs. At this crisis your filial and
fraternal duties require that you should suppress, if
not renounce, the opinions you used to be so fond
of blurting out on all occasions. I am no preacher
—I have done—a word to the wise.

We resume the extracts from Bessie's letters.


Dear Isabella,

—Never say another word to
me of what you hinted in your last letter: indeed,
I am too young; and besides, I never should feel
easy or happy again with Jasper, if I admitted
such a thought. I have had but one opinion since
our visit to Effie; not that I believed in her—at
least, not much; but I have always known who
was first in his thoughts—heart—opinion; and besides,
it would be folly in me, knowing his opinions
about rank, &c. Mother thinks him very proud,
and somewhat vain; and she begins not to be
pleased with his frequent visits to Westbrook. She
thinks—no, fears, or rather she imagines, that Jasper
and I—no, that Jasper or I—no, that I—
it is quite too foolish to write, Isabella—mother
does not realize what a wide world there is between
us. I might possibly, sometimes, think he loved


Page 56
(this last word was carefully effaced, and cared
substituted) cared for me, if he did not know you.

“How could Jasper tell you of Eliot's prejudice
against you? Jasper himself infused it, unwittingly,
I am sure, by telling him that when
with you, I lived but to do `your best pleasure,—
were it to fly, to swim, or dive into the fire.'
Eliot fancies that you are proud and overbearing
—I insist, dear Isabella, that such as you are born
to rule such weak spirits as mine; but Eliot says
he does not like absolutism in any form, and especially
in woman's. Ah, how differently he would
feel if he were to see you—I am sure you would
like him—I am not sure, even, that you would not
have preferred him to Jasper, had he been born
and bred in Jasper's circumstances. He has more
of some qualities that you particularly like, frankness
and independence—and mother says (but
then mother is not at all partial to Jasper) he has
a thousand times more real sensibility—he does,
perhaps, feel more for others. I should like to
know which you would think the handsomest.
Eliot is at least three inches the tallest; and, as
Jasper once said, `cast in the heroic mould, with
just enough, and not an ounce too much of mortality'—but
then Jasper has such grace and symmetry—just
what I fancy to be the beau-ideal of
the arts. Jasper's eyes are almost too black—too
piercing; and yet they are softened by his long
lashes, and his olive complexion, so expressive—


Page 57
like that fine old portrait in your drawing-room.
His mouth, too, is beautiful—it has such a defined,
chiselled look—but then do you not think that his
teeth being so delicately formed, and so very, very
white, is rather a defect? I don't know how to describe
it, but there is rather an uncertain expression
about his mouth. Eliot's, particularly when he
smiles, is truth and kindness itself—and his deep,
deep blue eye, expresses every thing by turns—I
mean every thing that should come from a pure and
lofty spirit—now tender and pitiful enough for me,
and now superb and fiery enough for you—but what
a silly, girlish letter I am writing—`Out of the
abundance of the heart,' you know! I see nobody
but Jasper and Eliot, and I think only of them.”

We continue the extracts from Bessie's letters.
They were strictly feminine, even to their being
dateless—we cannot, therefore, ascertain the precise
period at which they were written, except by their
occasional allusions to contemporaneous events.

“Thanks, dear Isabella, for your delightful letter
by Jasper—no longer Jasper, I assure you to his
face, but Mr. Meredith—oh, I often wish the time
back when I was a child, and might call him Jasper,
and feel the freedom of a child. I wonder if
I should dare to call you Belle now, or even Isabella?
Jasper, since his last visit at home, tells me
so much of your being `the mirror of fashion—
the observed of all observers' (these are his own


Page 58
words—drawing-room terms that were never heard
in Westbrook but from his lips), that I feel a sort of
fearful shrinking. It is not envy—I am too happy
now to envy anybody in the wide world. Eliot is
at home, and Jasper is passing a week here. Is it
not strange they should be so intimate, when they
differ so widely on political topics? I suppose it
is because Jasper does not care much about the
matter; but this indifference sometimes provokes
Eliot. Jasper is very intimate with Pitcairn and
Lord Percy; and Eliot thinks they have more influence
with him than the honour and interest of
his country. Oh, they talk it over for hours and
hours, and end, as men always do with their arguments,
just where they began. Jasper insists that
as long as the quarrel can be made up it is much
wisest to stand aloof, and not, `like mad boys, to
rush foremost into the first fray;' besides, he says
he is tied by a promise to his uncle that he will
have nothing to do with these agitating disputes
till his education is finished. Mother says (she
does not always judge Jasper kindly) that it is very
easy and prudent to bind your hands with a promise
when you do not choose to lift them.

“Ah, there is a terrible storm gathering! Those
who have grown up together, lovingly interlacing
their tender branches, must be torn asunder—some
swept away by the current, others dispersed by the


Page 59


Dear Isabella,

—The world seems turned
upside down since I began this letter—war (war,
what an appalling sound) has begun—blood has
been spilt, and our dear, dear Eliot—but I must
tell you first how it all was. Eliot and Jasper were
out shooting some miles from Cambridge, when, on
coming to the road, they perceived an unusual commotion—old
men and young, and even boys, all
armed, in wagons, on horseback, and on foot, were
coming from all points, and all hurrying onward in
one direction. On inquiring into the hurly-burly,
they were told that Colonel Smith had marched to
Concord to destroy the military stores there; and
that our people were gathering from all quarters to
oppose his return. Eliot immediately joined them,
Jasper did not; but, dear Isabella, I that know
you so well, know, whatever others may think, that
tories may be true and noble. There was a fight
at Lexington. Our brave men had the best of it.
Eliot was the first to bring us the news. With
a severe wound in his arm, he came ten miles that
we need not be alarmed by any reports, knowing,
as he told mother, that she was no Spartan mother,
to be indifferent whether her son came home with
his shield or on his shield.

“Jasper has not been to Westbrook since the
battle. My mind has been in such a state of alarm
since, I cannot return to my ordinary pursuits. I
was reading history with the children, and the English
poets with mother, but I am quite broken up.


Page 60

“I do not think this horrid war should separate
those who have been friends; thank God, my
dear Isabella, we of womankind are exempts—not
called upon to take sides—our mission is to heal
wounds, not to make them; to keep alive and tend
with vestal fidelity the fires of charity and love.
My kindest remembrance to Herbert. I hope he
has renounced his whiggism; for if it must come
to that, he had better fight on the wrong side (ignorantly)
than break the third commandment.
Write soon, dear Isabella, and let me know if this
hurly-burly extends to New-York—dear, quiet
New-York! In war and in peace, in all the
chances and changes of this mortal life, your own

Bessie Lee.”

Miss Linwood to Bessie Lee.

“Exempts! my little spirit of peace—your vocation
it may be, my pretty dove, to sit on your
perch with an olive-branch in your bill, but not
mine. Oh for the glorious days of the Clorindas,
when a woman might put down her womanish
thoughts, and with helmet and lance in rest do
battle with the bravest! Why was the loyal spirit
of my race my exclusive patrimony? Can his
blood, who at his own cost raised a troop of horse
for our martyr king, flow in Herbert's veins? or
his who followed the fortunes of the unhappy
James? Is my father's son a renegado—a rebel?
Yes, Bessie—my blood burns in my cheeks while


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I write it. Herbert, the only male scion of the
Linwoods—my brother—our pride—our hope has
declared himself of the rebel party—`Ichabod,
Ichabod, the glory is departed, is written on our

“But to come down from my heroics; we are
in a desperate condition—such a scene as I have
just passed through! Judge Ellis was dining with
us, Jasper Meredith was spoken of. `In the
name of Heaven, Ellis,' said my father, `why do
you suffer your nephew to remain among the rebel
crew in that infected region?'

“`I do not find,' replied the judge, glancing at
Herbert, `that any region is free from infection.'

“`True, true,' said my father; `but the air of
the Yankee states is saturated with it. I would
not let an infant breathe it, lest rebellion should
break out when he came to man's estate.' I am
sorry to say it, dear Bessie; but my father traces
Herbert's delinquency to his sojourn at Westbrook.
I saw a tempest was brewing, and thinking to make
for a quiet harbour, I put in my oar, and repeated
the story you told me in your last letter of our noncombatant,
Mr. Jasper. The judge was charmed.
`Ah, he's a prudent fellow!' he said; `he'll not
commit himself!'

“`Not commit himself!' exclaimed my father;
`by Jupiter, if he belonged to me, he should commit
himself. I would rather he should jump the
wrong way than sit squat like a toad under a hedge,


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till he was sure which side it was most prudent to
jump.' You see, Bessie, my father's words implied
something like a commendation of Herbert.
I ventured to look up—their eyes met—I saw
a beam of pleasure flashing from them, and passing
like an electric spark from one heart to another.
Oh, why should this unholy quarrel tear asunder
such true hearts!

“The judge's pride was touched—he is a mean
wretch. `Ah, my dear sir,' he said, `it is very
well for you, who can do it with impunity, to disregard
prudential considerations; for instance, you
remain true to the king, the royal power is maintained,
and your property is protected. Your son
—I suppose a case—your son joins the rebels,
the country is revolutionized, and your property is
secured as the reward of Mr. Herbert's patriotism.'

“My father hardly heard him out. `Now, by
the Lord that made me!' he exclaimed, setting
down the decanter with a force that broke it in a
thousand pieces, `I would die of starvation before
I would taste a crumb of bread that was the reward
of rebellion.'

“It was a frightful moment; but my father's
passion, you know, is like a whirlwind; one gust,
and it is over; and mamma is like those short-stemmed
flowers that lie on the earth; no wind moves
her. So, though the judge was almost as much
disconcerted as the decanter, it seemed all to have
blown over, while mamma, as in case of any ordinary


Page 63
accident, was directing Jupe to remove the
fragments, change the cloth, etc. But alas! the
evil genius of our house triumphed; for even a
bottle of our oldest Madeira, which is usually to
my father like oil to the waves, failed to preserve
tranquillity. The glasses were filled, and my
father, according to his usual custom, gave `the
king—God bless him.'

“Now you must know, though he would not
confess he made any sacrifice to prudence, he has
for some weeks omitted to drink wine at all,
on some pretext or other, such as he had a headache,
or he had dined out the day before, or expected
to the day after; and thus Herbert has
escaped the test. But now the toast was given,
and Herbert's glass remained untouched, while
he sat, not biting, but literally devouring his
nails. I saw the judge cast a sinister look at him,
and then a glance at my father. The storm was
gathering on my father's brow. `Herbert, my
son,' said mamma, `you will be too late for you
appointment.' Herbert moved his chair to rise,
when my father called out, `Stop, sir—no slinking
away under your mother's shield—hear me—
no man who refuses to drink that toast at my table
shall eat of my bread or drink of my wine.'

“`Then God forgive me—for I never will drink
it—so help me Heaven!'

“Herbert left the room by one door—my father
by another—mamma stayed calmly talking to


Page 64
that fixture of a judge, and I ran to my room, where,
as soon as I had got through with a comfortable fit
of crying, I sat down to write you (who are on the
enemy's side) an account of the matter. What
will come of it, Heaven only knows!

“But, my dear little gentle Bessie, I never think of
you as having any thing to do with these turbulent
matters; you are in the midst of fiery rebel spirits,
but you are too pure, too good to enter into their
counsels, and far too just for any self-originating
prejudices, such as this horrible one that pervades
the country, and fires New-England against the
legitimate rights of the mother country over her
wayward, ungrateful child. Don't trouble your
head about these squabbles, but cling to Master
Hale, your poetry, and history: by-the-way, I
laughed heartily that you, who have done duty
reading so virtuously all your life, should now
come to the conclusion `that history is dry.' I
met with a note in Herodotus, the most picturesque
of historians, the other day that charmed me. The
writer of the note says there is no mention whatever
of Cyrus in the Persian history. If history
then is mere fiction, why may we not read romances
of our own choosing? My instincts have not misguided
me, after all.

“So, Miss Bessie, Jasper Meredith is in high
favour with you, and the friend of your nonpareil
brother. Jasper could always be irresistible when
he chose, and he seems to have been `i' the vein'


Page 65
at Westbrook. With all our impressions (are they
prejudices, Bessie?) against your Yankee land, we
thought him excessively improved by his residence
among you. Indeed, I think if he were never to
get another letter from his worldly icicle mother,
to live away from his time-serving uncle, and never
receive another importation of London coxcombries,
he would be what nature intended him—a

“I love your sisterly enthusiasm. As to my
estimation of your brother being affected by the
accidents of birth and fortune, indeed, you were
not true to your friend when you intimated that.
Certainly, the views you tell me he takes of my
character are not particularly flattering, or even
conciliating. However, I have my revenge—you
paint him en beau—the portrait is too beautiful
to be very like any man born and reared within
the disenchanted limits of New-England. I am
writing boldly, but no offence, dear Bessie; I do
not know your brother, and I have—yes, out with
it, with the exception of your precious little self
—I have an antipathy to the New-Englanders—a
disloyal race, and conceited, fancying themselves
more knowing in all matters, high and low, especially
government and religion, than the rest of the
world—`all-sufficient, self-sufficient, and insufficient

“Pardon me, gentle Bessie—I am just now at
fever heat, and I could not like Gabriel if he were


Page 66
whig and rebel. Ah, Herbert!—but I loved him
before I ever heard these detestable words; and
once truly loving, especially if our hearts be knit
together by nature, I think the faults of the subject
do not diminish our affection, though they turn it
from its natural sweet uses to suffering.”


Dear Bessie,

—A week—a stormy, miserable
week has passed since I wrote the above, and it
has ended in Herbert's leaving us, and dishonouring
his father's name by taking a commission in the
rebel service. Papa has of course had a horrible
fit of the gout. He says he has for ever cast
Herbert out of his affections. Ah! I am not skilled
in metaphysics, but I know that we have no power
whatever over our affections. Mamma takes it all
patiently, and chiefly sorroweth for that Herbert
has lost caste by joining the insurgents, whom she
thinks little better than so many Jack Cades.

“For myself, I would have poured out my blood
—every drop of it, to have kept him true to his
king and country; but in my secret heart I glory
in him that he has honestly and boldly clung to his
opinions, to his own certain and infinite loss. I
have no heart to write more.

“Yours truly,

Isabella Linwood.
“P.S.—You may show the last paragraph (confidentially)
to Jasper; but don't let him know that
I wished him to see it.
I. L.”


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