American Presidents





James Monroe
Letters

James Monroe


In the following letter, a twenty-year-old James Monroe writes to Mrs. Prevost regarding a young woman and a possible visit to France.

November 8, 1778, Philadelphia

Mrs. Prevost,

But why should I desire you to do what I know your own heart will dictate? for a heart so capable of friendship feels its own pain alleviated by alleviating that of others.

A young lady who either is, or pretends to be, in love, is, you know, my dear Mrs. Prevost, the most unreasonable creature in existence. If she looks a smile, or a frown, which does not immediately give or deprive you of happiness (at least to appearance), your company soon becomes very insipid. Each feature has its beauty, and each attitude the graces, or you have no judgment. But if you are so stupidly insensible of her charms as to deprive your tongue and eyes of every-expression of admiration, and not only to be silent respecting her, but devote them to an absent object, she cannot receive a higher insult; nor would she, if not restrained by politeness, refrain from open resentment.

Upon this principle I think I stand excused for not writing [to you] from B. Ridge [Baskenridge, Lord Stirling's estate]. I proposed it, however; and, after meeting with opposition in--, to obtain her point, she promised to visit the little 'Hermitage' [Mrs. Prevost's home at Paramus], and make my excuses herself. I took occasion to turn the conversation to a different object, and plead for permission to go to France. I gave up in one instance, and she certainly ought to in, the other. But writing a letter and going to France are very different, you will perhaps say. She objected to it, and all the arguments which a fond, delicate, unmarried lady could use, she did not fail to produce against it. I plead the advantage I should derive from it. The personal improvement, the connexions I should make. I told her she was not the only one on whom fortune did not smile in every instance. I produced examples from her own acquaintance, and represented their situation in terms which sensibly affected both herself and Lady C. [probably Catharine, Lord Stirling's daughter]. I painted a lady [Mrs. Prevost] full of affection, of tenderness, and sensibility, separated from her husband, for a series of time, by the cruelty of war--her uncertainty respecting his health; the pain and anxiety which must naturally arise from it. I represented, in the most pathetic terms, the disquietude which, from the nature of her connexion, might possibly intrude on her domestic retreat. I then raised to her view fortitude under distress, cheerfulness, life, and gayety, in the midst of affliction.

I hope you will forgive me, my dear little friend, if I produced you to give life to the image. The instance, she owned, was applicable. She felt for you from her heart, and she has a heart capable of feeling. She wished not a misfortune similar to yours; but, if I was resolved to make it so, she would strive to imitate your example. I have now permission to go where I please, but you must not forget her. She and Lady C-- promise to come to the Hermitage to spend a week or two. Encourage her, and represent the advantage I shall gain from travel. But why should I desire you to do what I know your own heart will dictate? for a heart so capable of friendship feels its own pain alleviated by alleviating that of others.

But do not suppose that my attention is only taken up with my own affairs. I am too much attached ever to forget the Hermitage. Mrs. Duvall, I hope, is recovering; and Kitty's indisposition is that of my nearest relation. Mrs. de Visme [Mrs. Prevost's sister-in-law] has delicate nerves. Tell me her children are well, and I know she has a flow of spirits, for her health depends entirely on theirs.

I was unfortunate in not being able to meet with the governor [Governor Livingston]. He was neither at Elizabethtown, B. Ridge, Princeton, nor Trenton. I have consulted with several members of Congress on the occasion. They own the injustice, but cannot interfere. The laws of each state must govern itself. They cannot conceive the possibility of its taking place. General Lee [probably General Charles Lee, then in Philadelphia] says it must not take place; and if he was an absolute monarch, he would issue an order to prevent it.

I am introduced to the gentleman I wished by General Lee in a very particular manner. I cannot determine with certainty what I shall do till my arrival in Virginia.

Make my compliments to Mrs. and Miss De Visme, and believe me, with the sincerest friendship,

Yours,


James Monroe

[The above letter is reproduced exactly as written and was obtained through the archives at the Library of Congress]

Created by America's Cable Companies.