Persuading Papa – Regency Love in Letters from 1809

Dear Gentle Readers,

Good grief! Background checks, letters of recommendation, applications. Even Regency love matches felt like business.  I have excerpted the saga of Polly and her Mr. Smith in letters from The London Universal Letter-Writer, Or Whole Art of Polite Correspondence published in 1809. Don’t worry, after much paperwork, there is a happily-ever-after. Your affectionate blogger.

p.s. The black and white images are from Le Conteur Des Dames.


A young Lady to her Father.

Honored Father, —MY duty teaches me to acquaint you, that a gentleman of this town, whose name is Smith, and by business a linen-draper, has made some overtures to my cousin Arnold, in the way of courtship to me. My cousin has brought him once or twice into my company, as he has a high opinion of him and his circumstances. He has been set up three years, possesses a very good business, and lives in credit and fashion. He is about twenty-seven years old, and is likely in his person. He seems not to want sense nor manners, and is come of a good family. He has broken his mind to me, and boasts how well he can maintain me; but I assure you, Sir, I have given him no encouragement, yet he resolves to persevere, and pretends extraordinary affection and esteem. I would not, Sir, by any means, omit to acquaint you with the beginning of an affair, that would shew a disobedience unworthy of your kind indulgence and affection. Pray give my humble duty to my honored mother, love to my brother and sister, and respects to all friends. I remain, your ever dutiful daughter.


Dear Polly,—YOUR letter of the first instant has come safe to hand, wherein you acquaint me of the same proposals made to you, through your cousin’s recommendation, by one Mr. Smith. I hope, as you assure me, that you have given no encouragement to him; for I by no means approve of him for your husband. I have inquired of one of his townsmen, who knows him and his circumstances very well, and I am neither pleased with him nor his character. I wonder my cousin should so inconsiderately recommend him to you, though I doubt not his good intentions. I insist upon it, that you think nothing more of this matter, and your mother joins with me in the same advice. Adieu, my dear girl, and believe me—Your affectionate father.

Another on the same Occasion.

Dear Polly,—I HAVE received your letter of the first instant, relative to the addresses of Mr. Smith. I would advise you neither to encourage nor discourage his suit; for if on inquiry’ into his character and circumstances, I shall find they are answerable to your cousin’s good opinion of them, and his own assurances, I know not but his suit may be worthy of attention. However, my dear girl, consider that men are deceitful, and always put the best side outwards. It may, possibly, on the strict inquiry which the nature and importance of the case demands, come out far otherwise than it at present appears. Let me, therefore, advise you to act in this matter with great prudence, and that you make not yourself too cheap, for men are apt to slight what is too easily obtained. In the mean time he may be told, that you are entirely resolved to abide by my determination in an affair of this great importance. This will put him on applying to me, who, you need not doubt, will, in this case, as in all others, study your good.— Your mother gives her blessing to you, and joins in .the advice you receive from—Your affectionate father.

Mr. Smith to the young Lady’s Father.

Sir,—THOUGH personally unknown to you, take the liberty to declare the great value and affection I have for your amiable daughter, whom I have had the honor to see at my friend’s house. I should think myself entirely unworthy other favour, and of your approbation, it I should have thought of influencing her resolution, but in obedience to your pleasure; as I should, on such a supposition, other an injury likewise to that prudence in herself, which I flatter myself is not the least of her amiable perfections. If I might have the honor of your countenance, Sir, on this occasion I would open myself and circumstances to you in that frank and honest manner, which should convince you of the sincerity of my affection for your daughter, and at the same time of the honorableness of my intentions. In the mean time, I will in general say, that I have been set up in my business, in the line-drapery way, upwards of three years; that I have a very good trade for the time; and that I had a thousand pounds to begin with, which I have improved to fifteen hundred, as I am ready to make appear to your satisfaction; that I am descended of a creditable family, have done nothing to stain my character, and that my trade is still further improvable, as I shall, l hope, enlarge my capital. This, Sir, I thought but honest and fair to acquaint you with, that you might know something of a person who sues you for your countenance, and that of your good lady, in an affair that I hope may one day prove the greatest happiness of my life, as it must be, it I can be blessed with that and your daughter‘s approbation. In hopes of which, and the favour of a line, I take the liberty to subscribe myself, good Sir—Your most obedient humble servant.


From the cousin to the Parents of the young Lady.

Dear Cousin, —THE pleasure of having cousin Polly so long with us, demands my thanks to you both. She has entirely captivated a friend of mine, Mr. Smith, a linen-draper of this town. I would have acquainted you with it myself, but I advised cousin Polly to write to you about it; for I would not, for the world, any thing of this sort should be carried on unknown to you, at my house especially. Mr. Smith has shown me his letter to you, and I believe every tittle of it to be true; and really, if you and my cousin approve of it, and also cousin Polly, I do not know where she can do better. I am sure I should think so had I a daughter he could love. Thus much I thought myself obliged to say and shall conclude with my kind love to you all, and remain—Your affectionate cousin.

The Father, in Answer to Mr. Smith.

Sir,—I AM much obliged to you for the favour of your letter, as also for the good opinion you express in behalf of my daughter; but I think she is yet full young enough to alter her condition, and embark in the cares of a family. I cannot but say, that the account you give of yourself, and your application to me, rather than first to try to engage the affections of my daughter, carry a. very honorable appearance, and such us must be to the advantage of your character. As to your beginning, Sir, that is not to be so much looked upon as the improvement, and I doubt not but you can make proof of what you assert on this Occasion.— Still I must needs say, that I think, and so does her mother, that it is too early to incumber her with the cares of the world. As I am sure she will do nothing in so important an affair without our advice, so I would not for the world in a case so nearly concerning her and her future welfare, constrain her in the least. I intend shortly to send for her home, for she has been longer absent from us than we intended, and then I shall consult her inclinations. You will excuse me when I say, (for she is my daughter and a very good child) that I shall then determine myself by that, and by what shall appear to offer most for her good. I am, Sir, your friend and humble servant.

Mr. Smith to the young Lady, after her return home.

Dear Lady,—IT is with great pleasure I hear of your safe arrival at your father‘s house, of which I take the liberty to congratulate your good parents, as well as your dear self. I will not, Ma’am fill this letter with the regret I had to part with you, because I have no reason to merit, at present, to expect that you should be concerned for me on that account. However, I am not without hope, from the sincerity of my affection for you, and the honesty of my intentions, to deserve, in time, those regards which I cannot at present flatter myself with. As your good father, in his kind letter to me, assured me that he should consult your inclinations, and determine by them, I should humbly hope to pay you and him a visit. I think, far different from many in the world, that a deception in an affair of this weighty nature, should be less forgiven than in any other. Since then, dearest lady, I build my hopes more on the truth of my affection for you, and the honor of my intentions, than on any other merit or pretensions, I hope you will condescend, if not to become an advocate for rue, which would be too great a presumption to expect, yet to let your good parents know, that you have no aversion to the person and addresses of, dearest Ma’am—Your most affectionate humble servant.

Answer to Mr. Smith.

Sir,—THE letter you favoured me with I am happy to find my parents no less satisfied with than myself. Reserve, which is always disagreeable to generous minds, seems now unnecessary between us. My father is perfectly satisfied with the truth of every thing you have advanced, and I shall be obedient to his will. As soon as your business will permit of your absence from home, you will be welcomely received by my parents, as well as by—Your friend for life.




4 Replies to “Persuading Papa – Regency Love in Letters from 1809”

  1. It’s that last line…. ‘Your friend for life’ which suggests to me a far deeper understanding than might be reached by a young woman of prudence holding a suitor at arm’s length… why do I actually wonder whether Polly thoroughly manipulated her cousin too….

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