The Papers of Joseph Henry


49. TO HARRIET HENRY

My Dearest

I have just got out of bed and with my wrapper on, seeing the writing materials so conveniently before me and missing your accustomed presence at this hour I cannot refrain from scribbeling a few lines to you though I have nothing to say. I am reminded however by the dating of the letter that this is the 3rd of May and that 17 years ago we were together in a little room in a tavern at New Haven just commencing the journey together of wedded ↑life↓. The beginning though perhaps as sunny as journeys of the kind usually are was yet not quite as bright as immagination could have painted it. I found you different in some respects from what I ↑had↓ immagined you to be and not knowing my peculiarities and faults of character until they were revaeld by more intimate communion you were perhaps shocked and disappointed. I have certainly great cause for thankfulness that you consented to be mine, and that our love should have increased with our years. We know not what is in store for us but of this we may be assured that we cannot escape the general lot of humanity—that difficulties and tryals await us but the anticipation of these should not prevent us from enjoying the goods which providence has bestowed on us at the present and when the evil day may come we can live over the past, in memory, and draw a lasting supply of plesant reflections from this source. The prospect of usefulness at Washington appears brighter than it did and I think there will be little difficulty in making arrangements by which I shall for some years to come be able to spend two or three months of the warmest weather in Princeton. I had much conversation with Col. Totten on Saturday and though he is a gentleman of not many words yet he entered very fully into my vews which was the more plesant since at first he was in favour of a library and voted I think for an other Person.[1] Bache told me that when we became acquainted with each other we would draw together. Now that he is on the ground every thing will go on well in reference to the building.[2] My views I find are becoming known and better appreciated and on the whole I am well pleased that I came on to. The[A] celebration was authorized by the building Committee and consequently it was my duty to be in attendance the notice given in the paper of the order of proceeding which, however I did not see until I reached Baltimore, was con[si]dered a sufficent invitation both to myself and the Vice President.
In comming to Washington I may not consult my own ease but on the most mature reflection I think it my duty to continue my connection with the Institution and when this thought is presented to my mind I feel perfectly easy as to the result. If we act conscientiously and faithfully, endeavouring before God to do our duty, the result in the long run cannot be otherwise than good. I can truly say that my appointment has not been to me a source of self congratulation for though on some occasions and at some moments I may have felt a little proud of my advancement yet you can bear me witness that the prevailing feeling has been one of deep solicitude as to the responsibility I have assumed and of distrust of my ability to carry out the view of the Donor. I say of distrust ↑but↓ I do not intend by this that I have had any misgivings as to the success of the Institution could I have it entirely under my own controll, but ↑I speak↓ of my ability to induce the Regents to adopt the best measures and to keep the establishment free from the influence of designing individuals. In this undertaking fraught with important consequences to the country, the world, and to our family I must look to you for support—for sympathy—for assistance—for councel—we must set aside our sensitiveness—cherish the true pride of character which is not ready to notice the slightest want of attention;—which, conscious of merit in itself requires but little from the acknowledgement of the world— I think a residence in Washington where every one does as he chooses will not have a bad influence on your character—your position will if you chose give you standing and the constant changes in the society ↑inhabitants↓ will enable you to choose to mingle or not in society.
I am certain our children will be better off in this Place than in Princeton unless the society of the latter place changes very much we can have a governess in the family and in the course of a year or two our daughters will be companions for you—ready on all occasions to assist and support their mother; and in Washington not subjected to the mortification which I fear they will be liable to in Princeton. We shall if our lives ↑and theirs↓ be spared, have two grown up daughters in the course of 5 years and if we can procure for them good instruction we may hope to receve as much pleasure from their society as women, as we have done from them as children. Will. bids fair to be a good and useful man and his personal appearance as well as that of the girls are is such that a mother, even as fond as you are, and as proud as fond, need not be ashamd of. The gong has proclaimed the breakfast— I have been scribling near an hour and can scarcely recollet without an effort what I have written. I can however assure you that my pen has only served to give expression to the genuine feelins of my heart though[B] as you ↑know↓ my fingers are not adequate to the task of expressing the as much as I feel.
I have just come from supper and will now finish my letter. I have been all day engaged in writing out the plan of the Smithsonian and having the article copied[3]— I wish to show it to Col. Totten but the copiest has not yet finished the task so that I am not ready to go with it to night as I expected.
This has been quite a beautiful day. The Sun bright but not very warm. You will probably see the address of the vice President in the news paper. I do not think it is quite correct in some particulars though it is very prettily done so far as the expression goes. The articles the English embassador were sold be[fore][C] I arrived they went quite high some of the articles were sold to Persons in New York there was quite a rage to get a pece of furniture which had been imported from Europe for the English embassador.[4]
I hope you have intirely recovered and since [I ha]ve received no intelligence through the telegraph [or oth]erwise I presume you are better though I should [Text omitted. -Ed.] pleased to see you and judge for myself [Text omitted. -Ed.]ing— Kiss all the children for me [Text omitted. -Ed.] you get about again be careful [Text omitted. -Ed.] would give this advise from motives [Text omitted. -Ed.] love for we cannot spare you [... c]leaning or work is to be done let others [... lit]tle rest if it be possible for you to do [Text omitted. -Ed.] your own—H.
Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives. The lower left corner of the last page is torn off, causing missing material increasing from two letters at the beginning of the last paragraph to several words at the end.
    [1] Henry had written his wife in December that Totten had voted for Francis Markoe. Henry Papers, 6:600.
    [2] Totten was one of three members of the building committee. During his absence in Mexico, Robert Dale Owen and William W. Seaton, both proponents of a large Smithsonian building, had conducted the committee's business with the help of William J. Hough, who took Totten's place. Rhees, Journals, p. 33.
    [3] This was a draft of Henry's "Programme of Organization" (Doc. 130).
    [4] Following a period of difficult relations between the United States and Great Britain, the British ambassador, Richard Pakenham (1797–1868), left Washington on a leave of absence in May 1847 and retired rather than return to Washington. The auction notice called attention to "his very superior Furniture, &c., all of which is of the best kind, and most of it made in England." DNB; National Intelligencer, April 29, 1847.
    [A] Altered from the
    [B] Altered from thout
    [C] Hole in paper.