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TO MADAME DE LAFAYETTE.
What a date, my dearest love, and from what a region I am now writing, in the month of January! It is in a camp, in the centre of woods, fifteen hundred leagues from you, that I find myself enclosed in the midst of winter. It is not very long since we were only separated from the enemy by a small river; we are at present stationed seven leagues from them, and it is on this spot that the American army will pass the whole winter, in small barracks, which are scarcely more cheerful than dungeons. I know not whether it will be agreeable to General Howe to visit our new city, in which case we would endeavour to receive him with all due honour. The bearer of this letter will describe to you the pleasant residence which I choose in preference to the happiness of being with you, with all my friends, in the midst of all possible enjoyments; in truth, my love, do you not believe that powerful reasons are requisite to induce a person to make such a sacrifice? Everything combined to urge me to depart,--honour alone told me to remain; and when you learn in detail the circumstances in which I am placed, those in which the army, my friend, its commander, and the whole American cause were placed, you will not only forgive me, but you will excuse, and I may almost venture to say, applaud me. What a pleasure I shall feel in explaining to you myself all the reasons of my conduct, and, in asking, whilst embracing you, a pardon, which I am very certain I shall then obtain! But do not condemn me before hearing my defence. In addition to the reasons I have given you, there is one other reason which I would not relate to every one, because it might appear like affecting airs of ridiculous importance. My presence is more necessary at this moment to the American cause, than you can possibly conceive; many foreigners, who have been refused employment, or whose ambitious views have been frustrated, have raised up some powerful cabals; they have endeavoured, by every sort of artifice, to make me discontented with this revolution, and with him who is its chief; they have spread as widely as they could, the report that I was quitting the continent. The English have proclaimed also, loudly, the same intention on my side. I cannot in conscience appear to justify the malice of these people. If I were to depart, many Frenchmen who are useful here would follow my example. General Washington would feel very unhappy if I were to speak of quitting him; his confidence in me is greater than I dare acknowledge, on account of my youth. In the place he occupies, he is liable to be surrounded by flatterers or secret enemies; he finds in me a secure friend, in whose bosom he may always confide his most secret thoughts, and who will always speak the truth. Not one day passes without his holding long conversations with me, writing me long letters, and he has the kindness to consult me on the most important matters. A peculiar circumstance is occurring at this moment which renders my presence of some use to him: this is not the time to speak of my departure. I am also at present engaged in an interesting correspondence with the president of congress. The desire to debase England, to promote the advantage of my own country, and the happiness of humanity, which is strongly interested in the existence of one perfectly free nation, all induces me not to depart at the moment when my absence might prove injurious to the cause I have embraced. The General, also, after a slight success in Jersey, requested me, with the unanimous consent of congress, to accept a division in the army, and to form it according to my own judgment, as well as my feeble resources might permit; I ought not to have replied to such a mark of confidence, by asking what were his commissions for Europe. These are some of the reasons, which I confide to you, with an injunction of secrecy. I will repeat to you many more in person, which I dare not hazard in a letter. This letter will be given you by a good Frenchman, who has come a hundred miles to ask me for my commissions. I wrote to you a few days ago by the celebrated Mr. Adams; he will facilitate your sending me letters. You must have received those I sent you as soon as I heard of your confinement. How very happy that event has rendered me, my dearest love! I delight in speaking of it in all my letters, because I delight in occupying myself with it at every moment of my life! What a pleasure it will give me to embrace my two poor little girls, and make them request their mother to forgive me! You do not believe me so hard hearted, and at the same time so ridiculous, as to suppose that the sex of our new infant can have diminished in any degree my joy at its birth. Our age is not so far advanced, that we may not expect to have another child, without a miracle from Heaven. The next one must absolutely be a boy. However, if it be on account of the name that we are to regret not having a son, I declare that I have formed the project of living long enough to bear it many years myself, before I yield it to any other person. I am indebted to the Marshal de Noailles for the joyful news. I am anxiously expecting a letter from you. I received the other day one from Desplaces, who mentioned having sent a preceding one; but the caprice of the winds, without speaking of English ships, often deranges the order of my correspondence. I was for some days very uneasy about the Viscount de Coigny, who, some of my letters announced, was in a precarious state of health. But that letter from Desplaces, who told me all were well, without mentioning the viscount's name, has quite reassured me. I have also received some other letters which do not speak of his health. When you write, I entreat you to send me many details of all the people whom I love, and even of all my acquaintance. It is very extraordinary that I have not heard of Madame de Fronsac's confinement. Say a thousand tender and respectful things from me to her, as well as to the Countess Auguste. If those ladies do not enter into the reasons which force me to remain here, they must indeed think me a most absurd being, more especially as they have opportunities of seeing clearly what a charming wife I am separated from; but even that may prove to them what powerful motives must guide my conduct. Several general officers have brought their wives to the camp; I envy them--not their wives--but the happiness they enjoy in being able to see them. General Washington has also resolved to send for his wife. As to the English, they have received a reinforcement of three hundred young ladies from New York; and we have captured a vessel filled with chaste officers' wives, who had come to rejoin their husbands: they were in great fear of being kept for the American army.
You will learn by the bearer of this letter that my health is very good, that my wound is healed, and that the change of country has produced no effect upon me. Do you not think that, at my return, we shall be old enough to establish ourselves in our own house, live there happily together, receive our friends, institute a delightful state of freedom, and read foreign newspapers, without feeling any curiosity to judge by ourselves of what may pass in foreign countries? I enjoy thus building, in France, castles of felicity and pleasure: you always share them with me, my dearest love, and when we are once united, nothing shall again separate us, or prevent our experiencing together, and through each other, the joy of mutual affection, and the sweetest and most tranquil happiness. Adieu, my love; I only wish this project could be executed on this present day. Would it not be agreeable to you also? Present my tender respects to Madame d'Ayen: embrace a thousand times the viscountess and my sisters. Adieu, adieu; continue to love me, and forget not for a moment the unhappy exile who thinks incessantly of thee with renewed ardour and tenderness.
- General Lafayette