Philadelphia, 21st Mar. 1796
My dear Nelly,
In one respect, I have complied fully with my promise to you,
in another I have deviated from it in a small degree. I have given
you letter for letter, but not with the promptitude I intended;
your last of the 29th ult. having lain by me several days unacknowledged.
This, however might reasonably have been expected from the multiplicity
of my business.
Your letter, the receipt of which I am now acknowledging, is
written correctly, and in fair characters; which is an evidence
that you command, when you please, a fair hand. Possessed of these
advantages, it will be your own fault if you do not avail yourself
of them: and attention being paid to the choice of your subjects,
you can have nothing to fear from the malignancy of criticism,
as your ideas are lively, and your descriptions agreeable. Your
sentences are pretty well pointed; but you do not as is proper
begin a new paragraph when you change your subject. Attend to
these hints and you will deserve more credit from a few lines
well adjusted and written in a fair hand, then for a whole sheet
scribbled over as if to fill or <missing text> the
bottom of the paper, was the principal <missing text>
or design of the letter.
I make these remarks not from your letter to me, but
because many of those to your Grandmama appear to have been written
in too much haste; and because this is the time to form your character,
improve your diction.
This much by way of advice and admonition. Let me touch
a little now, on your George Town Ball; and happy, thrice happy,
for the fair who were assembled on the occasion, that there was
a man to spare; for had there been seventy nine Ladies & only
seventy eight Gentlemen, there might, in the course of the evening,
have been some disorder among the caps; notwithstanding the apathy
which one of the company entertains for the "youth of the
present day, and her determination never to give herself
a moments uneasiness on account of any of them." A hint here;
men & women feel the same inclinations towards each other now
that they always have done, and which they will continue to do
until there is a new order of things. And you, as others
have done, may find perhaps, that the passions of your sex are
easier roused than allayed. Do not therefore boast too soon, nor
too strongly, of your insensibility to, or resistance of its powers.
In the composition of the human frame there is a good deal of
inflaminable matter; however dormant it may be for a while, and,
like an intimate acquaintance of yours, when the torch is put
to it, that which is within you may burst into a blaze; for which
reason, and especially too, as I have entered on the chapter of
advices I will read you a lecture drawn from this text.
Love is said to be an involuntary passion and it is therefore
contended that it cannot be resisted. This is true, in part only;
for like all things else when nourished and supplied plentifully
with [aliment,] it is rapid in its progress; but let these be
withdrawn and it may be stifled in its birth or much stunted in
For example--a woman (the same with the other sex) all beautiful
& accomplished will, while her hand & heart are undispared of
[turn] the heads, and set the Circle in which [s]he moves on him.
Let her marry, and what is the consequence? The madness ceases
and all is quiet again: Why? not because there is any diminuation
in the charm[s] of the lady but because there is an end of hope.
Hence it follows that love may and therefore that it ought to
be under the guidance of reason. For although we cannot avoid
first impressions, we may assuredly place them under guard;
and my motives in treating on this subject are to show you, "whilst
you remain Eleanor [Parke] Custis Spinster, and retain the resolution
to love with moderation" the propriety of adhering to the latter;
at least until you have secured your game, and the way by which
it is to be accomplished.
When the fire is beginning to kindle, and your heart growing
warm, propound these questions to it. Who is the invader? Have
I competent knowledge of him? Is he a man of good character? A
man of sense? For be assured a sensible woman can never be happy
with a fool. What has been his walk in life? Is he a gambler?
a spendthrift, a drunkard? Is his fortune sufficient to maintain
me in the manner I have been accustomed to live, and my sisters
do live? and is he one to whom my friends can have no reasonable
objection? If these interrogations can be satisfactorily answered
there will remain but one more to be asked; that however is an
important one. Have I sufficient ground to conclude that his affections
are enjoyed by me? Without this, the heart of sensibility will
struggle against a passion that is not reciprocated; delicacy,
custom, or call it by what epithet you will having precluded all
advances on your part, the declaration without the most indirect
invitation on yours must proceed from the man to
render it permanent & valuable. And nothing short of good sense,
and an easy unaffected conduct can draw the line between prudery
& coquetry; both of which are equally despised by men of understanding;
and soon or late, will recoil upon the actor.
Flirting is hardly a degree removed from the latter and both
are punished by the counter game of men, who see this the case
& act accordingly. In a word it would be no great departure
from truth to say that it rarely happens otherwise, than that
a thorough[-paced] coquette dies in celibacy, as a punishment
for her attempts [to] mislead others; by encouraging looks, words,
or actions, given for no other purpose than to draw men on to
make overtures that they may be rejected.
This day according to our information gives a husband to your
dear sister; and <missing text>, it is presumed
her fondest desires.
The dawn (with us) is bright, and propitious I hope, of her
future happiness; for a full measure of which she and Mr. Law
have my earnest wishes. Compliments & congratulations on this
occasion, and best regards are presented to your Mama, Dr.
Stuart & family, and every blessing, among which a good husband
when you want & deserve one, is bestowed on you by Your affectionate