James Nelson Barker to Elizabeth Trist
|Philadelphia 24th Feby 1811|
Many thanks dear Madam—But justice loses nothing by mercy and were I guilty my compunctions would only be increased by your kindness. My excuses may have been awkwardly made but that must not rob my assertions of their sincerity; and as I am desirous of more than partial belief I would fain defend myself with the young lady, your fair friend. Our dispute like most differences will be found to consist merely in a contrary conception of the meaning of terms—But if I run into a metaphysical style, let the nicety of the point to be adjusted plead for my pardon—Ambition, I conceive should be felt if there were a noble object in view–some eminent distinction or some permanent good, such for example, if logic will allow it to be a fair one, as a wife; the which blessing I have not up to this anno domino, thought of seeking: but that by the way this passion must be excited by some thing great, and what greater to a vain young man than the good opinion of a lady of a superior and highly cultivated mind? whose acuteness would detect fictitious claims, and whose approbation would give the seal of merit? In that same little incidental agreement of life, called love, if the word ambition is used, it is to elevate or hyperbolise, but scarcely to illustrate the subject. Love has its own peculiar prettinesses, as hopes & fears, sighs & tears, wishes & desires, perturbations & palpitations, and the like. Put all these counts into an indictment, and I will plead guilty on my honor, to each; because mere every day beauty can make the sturdiest of us sin that way. But I must reserve passionate ambition until I meet with the ‘beauty truly blent’ of mind & body, who knows but that your fair friend, already so much my foe, is designed by destiny to teach me the hard lesson of foiled [. . .] I feel a shivering presentiment, as if a happier rival that is to be, were treading on my grave. Anticipate pity, dear Madam, for the Aaron Burr of love in petto.
We are all rejoiced to hear of the safe arrival of Mrs House among those whom Nature has made dear to her. Hetty tho’ assured of her affection absolutely pines at her silence.
You might, I fancy, ride all around your neighbourhood had you so fine a fall of Snow as we have, and if you see no objection I wish, with all my heart it were in Virginia for tho’ the bells ring merrily along the streets and all is life & gaiety there, the poor are freezing at home over their embers. Fuel is not to be had. The little that is brought to maket is greedily bought up at 18. 20 dollars.
But there is some warming news stirring, and your fears are now dispelled concerning the great monied institution. The venerable Clinton has given the coup de grace to this father of foreign influence & domestic Aristocracy Its influence here was prodigious, terrible. and the danger was the greater as it acted covertly. reason, common sense fell before it–& principle was ground to powder. However tis past. The conflagration is arrested before all our fair forests are laid low. They will no longer
“Make us slaves & tell us tis our charter.”
It was a coincidence of happy augury I think, that the death of one of the greatest foes of our country was announced while we were celebrating the birth day of one of its greatest friends
It wou’d give me real pleasure to pay my duties where I am so strongly inclined to respect: to a relative, too, so late found & so soon lost. But should I come over the mountains to you, wou’d I be sure to meet with the reception you promise. With the young ladies it appears my reputation is ruined. One enemy at least I shou’d encounter, and the misfortune wou’d be that in proportion as I strove to gain her good graces, I shou’d forfeit my character for consistency and thus be obnoxious to trial not only are the Court of Cupid but by a jury of matrons—which dreadful doom Heaven avert.
Your commands have been sent to Mr Gilmer who will be faithful in obliging them. Capt Toby was not yet arrived and with regard to mr C Brown therefore we have heard nothing. I can only add my hope that he is still living, & I the more readily enter into the feelings of his friends from the similarity of the fate of a very dear companion of mine who, it is feared has been lost on a passage from Norfolk to Charleston Uncertainty in some cases is the most dreadful, but when the only choice is between doubt & despair, we ought not to hesitate [. . .] where to fix. You are so good to say, you will remember my request & yet I fear it was too intrusive
My father & our family beg to be presented in affection. You are aware of the gratification we derive from the assurance that our images are not faded from the recollection of those we love; And there is in no bosom a more lively anxiety for renewed proofs of remembrance, than in his who is proud to call himself, dear Madam,