1814: Peter Hoffman Cruse to Philip R. Fendall

This letter was written by Peter Hoffman Cruse (1795-1832), a young lawyer friend of Fendall’s. Cruse is probably best known for teaming up with another young lawyer named John P. Kennedy who shared Cruse’s ambition to be a writer. Together, in 1820, they published the “Red Book” under the pseudonym “Dilworth” to protect their identities as satirists. Cruse died a few years later of the Asiatic cholera without achieving any permanent reputation as a writer, but his partner went on to become recognized as one of the best novelists in the ante-bellum South.

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[Addressed to Mr. Philip R. Fendall, Princeton, New Jersey]

Alexandria, [Virginia]
22nd March [1814]

My Dear Friend;

Assure yourself once [and] for all that your letters can never be dull. You write a very agreeable letter, much in the conversation style, without any prosing. A part of your last was deeply interesting to me, being as I am a member of a scandalous club which has regaled itself for a long time past on the faults and foibles of others. The topic to which I allude shall, however (if you will trust me with the affair in detail) be rigale of my individual self, without any fellow gormandizer’s being admitted to participate. So ignorant am I of all that is bawdy or scandalous, that of the Spa Spring excursion I have never heard a syllable, and hesitate much whether to fill the blank you have so discreetly left with the name of Miss P. or Miss R.  “A contrariety of equal attractions” says Dr. Johnson, “is equivalent to a state of rest.” I used to tell Edmund Fitzhugh who, by the way, is returned home, that he was the greatest blackguard in Alexandria except his friend Miss R.  You remember, however, that I am acquainted with Miss P. If you have ever known the pangs of curiosity, you will not let me “burst in ignorance.” Repeat gives Miss P. to a Mr. Jennifer, and Miss R. to a Mr. De Courcy, both of Maryland – the latter of the Eastern Shore. I know not with what views most people enter into marriage: for my own part, I would rather be damned downright than marry either of the ladies in question. John Hopkins, whose love of a theory is generally proportion to its heterodoxy, says that lust is the principal ingredient in love. If this is true, you and I must unlearn all that we have gleaned from Roman Poetry and other repositories of sentiment, and I can then understand why a man should take our two Lady Herons for yokefellows.

In this cave of spleen and ennui, where the absence of one companion makes always a hideous charm, I must necessarily miss you very much. I do miss you confoundedly, and what will gratify you still more, your old favorite Miss Nary Ann Lee, who has contrived to persuade me that she is beautiful, says the same thing. She has been here nearly a month with her Mother who, I fancy is waiting for the next importation of Jews from England in order to marry her daughter. I readily pardon this material partiality when I look at Mary Ann’s beautiful eyes, and honey lips, and sylph-like figure. Ramsay’s flame came down from Mrs. Love’s a day or two ago: but the “Bean” fights shy. I am unwilling to believe that your quizzes or my ballads have had any share in precipitating this poor fellow’s downfall. I persuade myself that he has fallen by his own inherent gravitation: be this as it may. “His sun is set, ah! rise no other such.”

Richard H____ will be here in a few days. I hope that Austin’s heedless and unblushing impudence will not introduce his brother man of the Law at Mr. Alexander’s while Richard is here. I should not like to quarrel with one of my best friends, and Miss Cecelia certainly has reason to be offended with us. But she bears all, I believe, very meekly. Jane Alexander has been sporting her oddities amongst us again. She is certainly the most invincible and egregious female fools I have ever seen. She has made me curse the day I ever dipped my pen in rhyme, for she has as great a rage for patronizing poets as Lady ________ had for patronizing Cecil Devereax in [Edgeworth’s] “Ennui.”  I really believe she imagines herself, with all her foolish love of admiration to be the prototype of the tender, domestic character I sketched in my epistle to her.

Had you not mentioned books to me, I believe I should have forgotten there were such things. I leave you to imagine what I am and have been doing. My situation of mind is not very enviable. I feel —

That weariness which springs
From all I meet, or hear, or see.

I would willingly do nothing the livelong day but bore my more industrious companions. George is in the country, so that I have no fellow in iniquity, for even Ed Fitzhugh has learned to study – a little. Yet I have read the Giaour [by Lord Byron] and admire it very much. There are passages which thrilled me with painful pleasure. The stanza beginning with “He who hath bent him o’er the dead” contains a noble thought, and is deeply pathetic & finely descriptive: yet I think the diction in one or two places confused and unintelligible. The stanzas commencing with, “As rising on its purple wing”…”The sun’s last rays are on the hill.” – “The foremost Tartar’s in the gap,” – “If solitude succeed to grief,” [are all examples.]…[I found the following stanza to best] describe Mary Lee’s eyes –

Her eye’s dark charm ‘twere vain to tell,
But gaze on that of the Gazelle,
It will assist thy fancy well.

I have not seen the Edinburgh Review of the Poem. If you were a gleaner, I was one who gleaned after a gleaner, for you were the purveyor of most of the literary delicacies, which I used to taste.

Tho magnificence of the Spenser stanza disguises, I think, much that is bold and prosaic in Childe Harold: but I am greatly pleased with the poem. It breathes of a restless, dissatisfied spirit which I have often felt, but seldom had wit enough to describe, and which was never well portrayed till the days of Victor Algiers, Miss Edgeworth, and Lord Byron who well understood what ennui is. John Hopkins has mentioned to me a circumstance respecting a passage in Lord Byron’s satire, which I will tell you another time.

Boyan has not yet returned from Williamsburg. Dundas is a far greater liar than ever, for he has passed into a proverb. We call him the “Incomprehensible;” – with great reason, in my opinion, since (long as I have known him) I know not whether he is a warm or cold-hearted, sensible or silly, my friend or my foe, and I certainly believe not one word he says. He is at present in much alarm & vexation on account of a quiz we had played off him who quizzes all others.

Your friend, — P. H. Cruse


For more on Cruse, click here and here.

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