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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

The Happy and Virtuous Moravians

By Lindley Murray (1745–1826)

[Born in Swetara, Penn., 1745. Died near York, England, 1826. Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Lindley Murray. 1827.]

PERCEIVING that neither the springs, nor the situation, produced any beneficial effects, and travelling being one of the means for the recovery of health, which had been recommended to me, we left the mountains, and bent our course toward Bethlehem, in Pennsylvania, a healthful and pleasant town about fifty miles from Philadelphia. This is a settlement of the Moravians. The situation of the place, its refreshing and salutary air, joined to the character of its inhabitants, made a cheering impression upon us; and we took up our quarters at the inn with pleasure, and with the hope of advantage….

There was here much to occupy the mind, and to gratify curiosity. The different houses appropriated to the single brethren, the single sisters, and the widows, with the various economy of the society, were subjects of an interesting nature. The spirit of moderation, the government of the passions, and the tranquillity and happiness, which appeared to pervade every part of this retired settlement, made on our minds a strong and pleasing impression. We several times visited the different departments; and, at our inn, received occasionally the visits of a number of their most respectable members. They were very communicative, and attended, with liberality and good-humor, to the ideas which we suggested, for the improvement of particular parts of their economy. Among other observations, we took occasion to inquire, whether the practice of the elders and elderesses in selecting a partner for a young man who wished to marry, was not sometimes attended with serious inconveniences. But they seemed to have no doubt that this regulation produced more happy marriages than would be effected by leaving the parties to choose for themselves. A lively and sensible person, with whose conversation we were particularly pleased, took occasion to give us his own experience on the subject. He expressed himself to the following effect: “When I wished to change my situation in life, I applied to one of our elders and communicated the matter to him. He asked me whether I had any particular young woman in view. I replied in the negative; and that I wished my superiors to choose for me. Pleased with my answer, and the confidence reposed in them, he assured me that the greatest care should be taken, to select for me a partner who should be, in every respect, proper for me. The elders and elderesses consulted together and, after a suitable time, fixed on a young woman, whose disposition and qualifications were correspondent to my own, and which they thought were adapted to make me happy. We were introduced to each other in the presence of our superiors. The interview was favorable; we became mutually attached; and, in a short time, we were married. The event has perfectly answered our most sanguine hopes. I probably should not have chosen so happily, if I had been left to decide for myself; but I am certain I could not have made a better choice.” He concluded his observations with a degree of animation and satisfaction, which precluded all doubt of the truth of his assertions.

The roads and scenery about Bethlehem were very delightful. I frequently enjoyed the pleasure they afforded, by riding in a small open carriage, which gave me a good opportunity of surveying the beauties of the country. In one of these excursions I observed a gate which opened into some grounds that were very picturesque. Without proper consideration, I desired the servant who accompanied me to open the gate. Almost immediately I observed a group of cheerful, neatly dressed young females approaching. They had been gathering blackberries, a rich fruit in that country; and each of them had a little basket in her hand filled with this sort of fruit. I soon perceived that I had committed a trespass, in offering to enter the grounds appropriated entirely to the walks of females. When they came near me I apologized for the intrusion by alleging that I did not know the peculiar use to which the enclosure was applied. With great good-nature and genuine politeness, some of them intimated that I was perfectly excusable. I believe the number of this cheerful group was about thirty, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. The sight of so much apparent innocence and happiness was extremely pleasing; and whilst they stood near the carriage, from which I could not conveniently alight, I thought it would be proper to express my respect and good wishes for them. I therefore took the liberty of addressing them in a short speech; which, as near as I can recollect, was to the following purport:—I observed that it gave me particular pleasure to see them all so happy: that their situation was, indeed, enviable, and singularly adapted to produce much real enjoyment and to protect them from the follies, the vices, and the miseries of the world; that if they knew the troubles and exposures which are to be met with in the general intercourse of life, they would doubly enjoy their safe and tranquil seclusion from those dangers, and be thankful for the privileges they possessed. My harangue seemed to have a good effect upon them. They smiled, and some of them said that they were indeed happy in their situation. A few of them then held up their little baskets and desired I would help myself to some fruit. I thanked them; and took more than I wanted, that I might the better gratify their benevolence. I then parted with this pleasing company and pursued another road, well satisfied with a mistake and adventure which had yielded me so much heart-felt satisfaction.

I must not omit to mention that these good young persons reported to their superiors the whole of this transaction, with what had been said on the occasion. But I found that, notwithstanding my intrusion, I had lost no credit with the elderesses. For they sent to inform the sick gentleman (this was the term by which I was designated), that he had full liberty, and was welcome, whenever he chose, to ride in the grounds appropriated to the walks of the females. I acknowledged the favor of so great a privilege; but as I could not think it entirely warrantable and proper to make use of it, I never repeated my visit to this interesting place.

Of the various institutions at this settlement, we particularly admired that for the benefit of widows. This house met our entire approbation. An asylum for those who had lost their most valuable earthly treasures, and who could neither receive from the world, nor confer upon it much, if any, important service, appeared to have a just foundation in wisdom and benevolence. But to detach from many of the advantages and duties of society young persons in the full possession of health, strength, and spirits seemed to us to be, on the whole view of the subject, a very questionable policy; though certainly some very important moral uses were derived from the institutions which respected the single brethren and the single sisters.

Having formed some acquaintance with several worthy persons in this happy town, and being much gratified with our visit, we took our leave with regret. I cannot easily forget the pleasing impressions which this settlement left upon my mind. The grandeur of the neighboring hills; the winding course of its adjacent beautiful river; and the serene, enlivening state of the atmosphere;—joined to the modest and tranquil appearance of the inhabitants; their frequent and devout performance of Divine worship; and their unaffected politeness and good humor; are sufficient to render Bethlehem a most interesting and delightful retreat. To the calm and soothing virtues of life it is, certainly, a situation peculiarly favorable. But the moral excellences connected with arduous and dignified exertion meet, perhaps, with but few occasions here to call them forth.