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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Letter to a Lady

By John Jay (1745–1829)

[To the Marchioness de la Fayette. From The Life of John Jay, by his Son. 1833.]

MADAM: I have received the letter which you did me the honor to write on the 15th April last. Few circumstances could have given me more pleasure than such evidence of my having a place in the remembrance and good opinion of a lady, whose esteem derives no less value from her discernment, than from the delicacy of her sentiments.

Accept therefore, madam, of my sincere and cordial acknowledgments for honoring me with a place among your correspondents; which was the more obliging, as you was to afford more pleasure by, than you could expect to receive from it. You know it is an old observation, that ladies write better letters than gentlemen, and therefore, independent of other considerations, a correspondence between them is always so far on unequal terms.

I can easily conceive that you, whose predilection for your husband was always conspicuous, should experience so much satisfaction on seeing him return from this, his field of glory, with additional honors; and I can, with equal ease, form an idea of his emotions, when on that, as on former occasions, those honors promoted him to higher rank in your estimation.

Your remarks on the marquis’s affection for his children, and the value you set on domestic enjoyments, must be pleasing to those who are capable of feeling their force.

I assure you I rejoice in the prospect you have of extending, through your branch, the reputation of both your families; and you have my best wishes that the latest historian may say of your descendants, that all the men were as valiant and worthy as their ancestor, who will probably be distinguished by the appellation of “Americanus,” and all the women as virtuous and amiable as his lady.

If you was not what you are, I would not encourage the desire you express of accompanying the marquis on his next visit to this country, for I am sure you would be disappointed.

We have few amusements to relieve travellers of that weight of time and leisure which oppresses many of them. Our men, for the most part, mind their business, and our women their families; and if our wives succeed (as most of them do) in “making home man’s best delight,” gallantry seldom draws their husbands from them.

Our customs, in many respects, differ from yours, and you know that, whether with or without reason, we usually prefer those which education and habit recommend. The pleasures of Paris and the pomp of Versailles are unknown in this country, and their votaries must unavoidably experience a certain vacuity or blank here, which nothing but good sense, moderate desires, and a relish for less splendid, less various, but not less innocent or satisfactory enjoyments can supply. Though not a Frenchman, I should, nevertheless, be too polite to tell these things to those whom they might restrain from visiting us. On you they will have a contrary effect. It would gratify the friends of the marquis, viz., the citizens of the United States, to have the honor of a visit from you. I flatter myself that consideration will afford a strong additional inducement.

My little family is well. Mrs. Jay desires me to assure you of her remembrance and regard; and permit me to add, that I am, with sincere esteem and respectful attachment,

Madam, your most obedient, and very humble servant,
NEW YORK, 13 August, 1785.