Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rachel's Romance

(This narrative began with the post entitled "Rachel Gratz.")

In May 1806, Solomon Moses was in Philadelphia for another prolonged stay when Rebecca, visiting the Hoffman and the Moses families in New York, received a letter from Rachel reporting that M. L. Moses, Solomon's brother, meant to propose to Rebecca at the first opportunity. Knowing that her sister had no interest in marrying him, Rachel advised avoidance. She also informed Rebecca that her information had come from Solomon who knew that M. L.'s proposal would be unwelcome. Sol's thoughtfulness had an effect; in her next letter Rachel wrote, "[He] has secured my everlasting friendship. I think him much improved in every respect."

This statement seems to have caused Rebecca no alarm. She must have been staggered by Rachel's next letter which began, after a short prelude about a sleepless night, "You my beloved Sister shall decide my future...I will give up the man my heart has chosen if you wish it." The man referred to was, of course, Solomon Moses.

After her characteristically dramatic opening, Rachel recapitulated the emotional events of the previous few weeks, saying that Sol's attentions had been of "the most delicate winning kind." As a result, she "felt...greater agitation than any other gentlemen ever occasioned me...every day has increased those feelings and I cannot myself account for this change but I have learned from my heart to love him." The evening before, he had stopped her as she was walking home with a cousin and asked her to walk with him. They were "both embarrassed," she wrote, and when Sol asked if he would ever be happy again? she didn't understand at first. Then she realized that it was she who could make him happy by becoming his wife. She had told him she looked upon his proposal with favor but that she wanted to write Rebecca and receive an answer before they told her family.

Then Rachel comes to the point of the letter. (Despite all the drama at the beginning, both Rebecca and she knew nothing was going to stop her from doing what she wanted.) Rachel was really concerned about Sally's reaction to her engagement to Solomon Moses, probably fearing that her sister's response would be so vitriolic that it would be difficult ever to forgive. She asked that Rebecca break the news since Sally "loves you so much better than she loves me."

What could Rebecca say to Sally to prevent a family rift? And how did Rebecca really feel about Sol as a brother-in-law? Even the quietest and most respectable lives (and blogs) have their cliffhangers.

For more, see "Rebecca Writes to Sally."

(The letter in which Rachel says that Sol had secured her "everlasting friendship" is in the Gratz Collection at the American Jewish Historical Society; the other two letters are from the Gratz Family Collection, Manuscript Collection No. 72, the American Philosophical Society. Thanks to to the Gilbert Stuart blog for the use of the image of the painting of Solomon Moses by Gilbert Stuart. The original is on loan at the Rosenbach Museum and Library.)

(If you would like to learn more about M. L. Moses' attempts to propose to Rebecca, see the post, "Washington Irving, Rebecca Gratz and an Unwanted Suitor," from November 17, 2009.)


  1. So it seems to me, from the wording in general, that in fact Rachel really did fall in love with Sol. Maybe she was nervous about Rebecca's reaction since Rebecca had refused the hand of Sol's brother (am I getting this all correct?!!!) Maybe Rachel was nervous about Rebecca's/Sally's reaction because, ...was it a bit looked down on that the youngest would get married before an older sister? Perhaps she felt she needed permission for getting married before an older sister?
    Surely Rebecca should be content that Rachel was finding happiness in a respectable Jewish family...
    And in the end we know that Rachel fulfilled all duties expected, although her health was impaired it seems.
    What a cliff-hanger!

  2. Yes, Rachel did fall in love with Sol, but only after several years of making fun of him with Rebecca and Sally. Although she knew about Rebecca's reservations, Rachel also knew that Rebecca had always had Rachel's happiness at heart. The problem was Sally whose dislike of Sol and inability to keep her feelings to herself would make life a misery for Rachel and Sol if she could not be convinced to acquiesce to the marriage.

    Underneath this very personal aversion to Sol, Sally may have harbored some resentment against her youngest sister marrying before her. Unlike Rachel who had made many conquests and Rebecca, who had recently turned down the marriage proposals of Samuel Ewing and M. L. Moses, there is no hint in the letters that Sally ever had a beau, much less a proposal.


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