« AnteriorContinuar »
susceptible fancy like yours would mistake it for a bewitching moonlight evening. Here no rude noise interrupts the softest whisper. Here no harsher sound is heard than the mild cooings of the gentle dove, the gay thresher's animated warbles, and the soft murmurs of the passing brook. Really, Theo, it is charming. From this amiable bower you ascend a gentle declivity. . . . Here nature assumes a more august appearance. . . Here you behold the stately Mohawk roll his majestic wave along the lofty Appalachians. What there was tenderness, here swells to rapture. It is truly charming." The windings of the brook formed "a lovely island, variegated by the most sportive hand of nature. This shall be yours. We shall plant it with jessamines and woodbine, and call it Cyprus. It seems formed for the residence of the loves and the graces, and is therefore yours by the best of titles. It is indeed most charming."
But sometimes, again-more frequently, perhaps, than appears she got on his nerves, and he flew into impatient tempers at her; with a brutality of patronizing sarcasm, an astonishing indulgence of discourtesy-the spontaneous explosions of a nature dangerously arbitrary and abrupt, of a character fundamentally self-centered and aggressive-strikingly revealed in an unpublished letter which he sent her in June, 1791, and in which he told her that "I received your letter of the 15th of June. It is truly one of the most stupid I had ever the honor to receive from you—that of the 16th by Judge
Hobart I did not receive till Saturday, it was very acceptable as a short note written in haste... your pride is wounded by a Confession (as you term it) of the nature of that contained in this last letter, I should recommend to you to suppress not only your Confessions but your letters. If it was merely an expression without meaning it was neither kind nor seasonable.
"You have truly made hack horses of those unfortunate Greys, they have been hard driven in every letter-I did not, that I recollect, express a wish on the subject or even directly recommend it—but merely suggested it as a thing of present convenience untill something better could be done this surely does not merit so much spleen. I wished only to please yourself as to the Bays, if they answer your purpose I am satisfied. Johnson says he knows the man, who is a great Raschall, and the horses which are about fifteen years old and one of them, he suspects, spavined. . The reasons for which you say you declin'd the proposed meeting at Albany convince me indeed of your Inclinations on the Subject but not of the Impracticability of the plan-since it is not to your apprehension a party of pleasure, I have deceived myself, and the Motive fails."
Aside from that, "you appear to promise yourself great benefit from certain medecines, but do not say that you are actually in the use of them or that you experience any positive good effects from them; pray be more explicit on this head which is particularly interesting to Yr. Affec. A. B.'
She was perhaps difficult to get along with; she
was still ten years his senior; she was increasingly an invalid; she had a great many relatives who came to stay, perhaps too often, at the house "You have a really Distressing family," he remarked in the same letter, "I hope it has by this time diminished"-in spite of her intellect and grace, she seems at times to have been a little footless, a little hysterical, a little silly even; enough to have exasperated the petulant intolerances within him, to have offended the frigid judgments of his intensely critical and fault-finding mind. Indeed, it is a question whether she was not a little deranged. "My [constitution] is quite worn out," she once wrote to Tapping Reeve, "and my spirits entirely exhausted, my mind and memory much impaired; I believe I have been as near a state [of] insanity as possible, indeed there are hours in which I am confident it still threatens me; how often do I wish the conversation of my friends to relieve those horrors that can never be described. . . I pass many succeeding lingering hours... in the morning I wake with regret -at night I lie down with the hope of never waking to the disappointments of another day."
She died, of cancer, on May 18, 1794, after a prolonged illness during which he would have resigned the seat in Congress which he was then occupying, but little Theo sent him word that "Ma begs you will omit the thoughts of leaving Congress." At the end, she was not thought to be in any immediately critical condition, and it was in Philadelphia that the Colonel received the news that she had expired.
"I came here on Tuesday last," he wrote to
Timothy Edwards, "having been summoned by an express which brought me at Phila. the afflicting news that my once amiable and accomplished wife had died on the Sunday preceding. Though her situation had long been considered as helpless, yet no apprehension was entertained of any immediate danger until a few hours before her death; she then sank calmly and without pain into her last sleep. My little daughter though much afflicted and distressed, bears the stroke with more reason and firmness than could have been expected from her years.'
Whatever little irritations she may have caused him, there passed from his life, with the death of the elder Theodosia, a great influence for good, the loss of which was perhaps to be responsible for many fatal things that came to pass. There were gone from him now the wisdom of a prudent guidance, the serenity of a profound domestic happiness, the contentment of an inspiring devotion. Alone, there remained to him only his own restless spirit, his breathless industry which must find occupation, his solitary ambition which must be served; with her at his side, there would have been a steadying restraint, a consoling refuge in misfortune and disappointment-he would, it may be, have never come to Blennerhassett's Island.
THERE remained, always, the little Theodosia. A little girl, who, at the age of ten, in 1793, was reading Horace, Terence and Lucian and preparing to begin Homer and Virgil, studying Gibbon and the Greek grammar, discussing philosophy and political economy, speaking German and French, playing the harp and the pianoforte on an elegant instrument purchased at Philadelphia for thirty-three guineas and learning to ride, to skate and to dance. A little girl surrounded by tutors-Mr. Martell, Mr. Gurney, Mr. Hewlett, Mr. Leshlie, Mr. Chevalier, Mr. de St. Aivre-who, in 1791 already, had been ciphering "from five in the morning until eight, and also the same hours in the evening," although Mrs. Burr herself thought that she could never "make the progress we would wish while she has so many avocations"; and for whom her father proposed "two or three hours a day at French and arithmetic," while he found it difficult, a year later, "because she reads so much and so rapidly find proper and amusing French books for her