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» Letters from Aaron Burr to Theodosia Prevost

Letters from Aaron Burr to Theodosia Prevost

Throughout December 1781, Burr indicated in almost daily short notes for Theodosia some of his activities and his frustrations, as well as aspects of his character that mixed solicitude and an inclination to be domineering:

A day completely lost, and I, of course, in ill humour with everything but thee. (December 4)

A sick headache this whole day. . . . I thought, through the whole day, that if you could sit by me, and stroke my head with your little hand, it would be well; and that, when we are formally united, far from deeming a return of this disorder un malheur, I should esteem it a fortunate apology for a day of luxurious indulgence, which I should not otherwise allow myself or you. (December 5)

These two days past I have been studying the second volume of Rousseau. . . . How could we forget Latimer? He sung Theodosia’s praise among the southern army in terms which her best friends must be pleased. . . . An old, weather-beaten lady, Miss Depeyster, has given the whole history of Burr, and much of Theo, but nothing unfavourable. In a place where Burr thought himself a stranger, there is scarce any age or sex that does not, either from information or acquaintance, know something of him. . . . I am surprised I forgot to advise you to get a Franklin fireplace. They have not the inconvenience of stoves, are warm, save wood, and never smoke. . . . I am in doubt whether it will be best to have it in the common room or one of the back rooms. The latter will have many advantages. You may then have a place sacred to love, reflection, and books. This, however, as you find best. . . . It is of the first importance that you suffer as little as possible the present winter. It may, in a great measure, determine your health ever after. I confess I have still some transient distrusts that you set too little value on your own life and comfort. Remember, it is not yours alone. . . . I am not certain I shall be regularly punctual in writing you in this manner every day when I get at business; but I shall, if possible, devote one quarter of an hour a day to you. In return, I demand one half of an hour every day from you; more I forbid, unless on special occasions. This half hour is to be mine, to be invariably at the same time, and, for that purpose, fixed at an hour least liable to interruption, and as you shall find most convenient. Mine cannot be so regular, as I only indulge myself in it when I am fatigued with business. The children will have each their sheet, and, at the given hour, write, if but a single word Burr. (December 6)

I keep always a memorandum for you, on which, when I think of any thing at any time of day that I wish to write, I make a short note in a manner which no other person would understand. When I sit down to write I have nothing to do but look at my memorandum . I would recommend the same to you, unless you rather choose to write at the moment when you think of anything. . . . The Springs are but twenty eight miles from Albany; I will meet you there. (December 7)

I have been looking over Rousseau’s 4th volume. I imagine — gathered thence his sentiments on the subject of jealousy. It so, he has grossly mistaken the ideas of Rousseau. Do you discover a symptom of it? Far otherwise. You see only confidence and love. That jealousy for which you are an advocate, he condemns as appertaining to brutes and sensualists. Discard, I beseech you, ideas so degrading to true love. (On another point Burr quotes Rousseau with approval) “ How cordially do men prize them, when a woman knows how to render them estimable.” (December 8)

When you reads my letters I wish you would make minutes at the time of such facts as require an answer; for, if you trust your memory till the time of writing, you will omit half you would otherwise say. (December 10)

Van Rensselaer . . . proves to be a phenomenon of goodness and (can you believe it) even tenderness. Tenderness, I hear you cry, in a Hoolandois! But hold your injustice; the character and fine heart of Van Rensselaer will, I think, in future, remove your prejudice, especially when you add to this his marked attention and civility. (December 11)

Van Rensselaer has succeed perfectly to my wish. I am with two maiden, aunts of his, obliging and (incredible!!) good natured. (December 13)

Since I left you, I have not taken pen in hand without intending to write you. (December 14)

I perceive this letter-writing will not answer; though I write very little, it is still half my business; for whenever I find myself either at a loss what to do, or any how discomposed or dull, I fly to these sheets, and even if I do not write, I ponder upon it, and in this way sacrifice many hours without reflecting that time passes away. (December 16)

On December 23, Burr wrote a longer letter to Theodosia in which he combined compliments and irritations, caring and seemingly unfeeling criticism. These may well be the expressions of someone who is experiencing frustration in Albany and facing a number of new beginnings:

My Dear Theodosia is now happy by the arrival of Carlos [Burr’s personal slave]. This was not wishing you a happy Christmas, but actually making it so. . . . I see mingle in the transports of the evening the frantic little Bartow. Too eager to embrace the bliss he has in prospect; frustrating his own purposes by inconsiderate haste; misplacing everything, and undoing what he meant to do. . . .

You wrote me too much by Dom. I hope it was not from a fear that I should be dissatisfied with less. It is, I confess, rather singular to find fault with the quantity, when matter and manner are so delightful. You must, however, deal less in sentiments and more in ideas. . . . I think constantly of the approaching change in our affairs, and what it demands. Do not let us, like children, be so taken with the prospect as to lose sight of the means.

Remember to write me facts and ideas, and don’t torment me with compliments, or yourself with sentiments to which I am already no stranger. . . . I do not know for what reason, Theodosia, but I cannot feel my usual anxiety about your health, though I know you to be ill, and dangerously so. One reason is, that I have more belief in your attention to yourself.

Your idea about the water was most delightful. It kept me awake a whole night, and led to a train of thoughts and sensations which cannot be described. Indeed, the whole of your letter was marked with a degree of confidence and reliance which augurs everything that is good. The French letter was truly elegant. . . .

Pardon me for not answering your last. My mind is so engrossed by new views and expectations, that I cannot disengage it. I have not, these five days past, slept more than two hours a night, and yet feel refreshed and well. Your presentiments of my illness on a certain evening were wide from truth; believe me, you have no talent that way. Leave it to others.

I think, if you keep Carlos two nights, it will serve; but keep him longer rather than fatigue yourself.

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