Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rebecca Writes to Sally

(See the post entitled "Rachel Gratz" for the beginning of this narrative thread.)

Benjamin Gratz wrote of Rebecca many decades later that she had "devoted [her] life to the service of our beloved family," and there is evidence that the unity and well-being of her family came first for her, even before her devotion to religion, good works and education. Her older sister Sally's dislike of the man whom her younger sister Rachel wanted to marry would certainly have caused a family rift if Rebecca could not have convinced Sally to hold her tongue.

Rachel's letter announcing her love for Sol Moses and asking Rebecca to intercede with Sally probably arrived on a Friday, giving Rebecca the Sabbath to contemplate her words before she could pick up her pen on Saturday night.

Rebecca begins her letter by commiserating with Sally and revealing her own distress at the marriage: "What [you have] experienced...I have conjectured from what is passing in my own [heart]." But Rebecca knows, as Sally does too, that there is no way to stop Rachel: "She loves Sol Moses -- her own hand has written it -- her own enthusiastic style most passionately declared it." The sisters will have to accept Sol graciously. Rebecca understands how hard this will be for Sally but she takes it as a given that Sally's better nature will win out: "You dislike Sol, and have so long found it difficult to disguise your opinion that I fear it will not be an easy task; however the goodness of your heart will teach you to sacrifice prejudice where the happiness of our beloved sister is concerned..."

Here Rebecca differentiates her feelings from Sally's: Sally disliked Sol before there seemed any possibility of his entering their family; Rebecca seems to have had less difficulty with him as someone in their circle but the thought of him married to her sister has disturbed her. Yet she makes a plea for him; she is sure, she says, that he loves Rachel and will try to make her happy. She adds that Sol is respected in New York and "tenderly beloved" in his family. She even echoes one of Sally's sarcastic remarks to bring her sister around, "You have often said that you believe he would make any woman happy who could love him [her emphasis] and if contrary to your expectation our sister is that woman should we not strengthen -- confirm that belief rather than cloud it with doubt and apprehension...?"

Rebecca's struggle to bolster Sol's qualities as a good brother-in-law amounts to faint praise, but she has one comfort to offer her sister.

In a postscript she says, "Revolving all that I have said I fear my letter will make you melancholy. Do not let it have that effect. I am a little given to imaginary whims, and have a curious notion that the little fairy imp Puck has been making free with his juices."

(Both sisters knew their Shakespeare. Rebecca was referring to A Midsummer Night's Dream in which Puck puts the juices of a magical flower into the eyes of the sleeping Titania, the queen of the fairies, so that she will fall in love with the first thing she sees. He then puts an ass's head on the shoulders of the buffoonish weaver Bottom and wakes Titania up. Rebecca was comparing that mismatched couple, Titania and Bottom, with her beautiful sister Rachel and Sol Moses. It is quite the most devastating criticism she would ever write about anyone and something of a revelation: who knew Rebecca had such humor and malice as well as her many, many virtues?)

Rebecca and Sally would offer only their best wishes and congratulations to the happy couple, but they would have the solace of skewering Sol to each other in private.

(The letters quoted here are in the Gratz Family Collection, Manuscript Collection No. 72, the American Philosophical Society.)


  1. I just have to wonder, what was the kernel of their objections to Sol? Good family, suitable religion, one would imagine correct values, from the portrait not Brad Pitt good looks but at least a refined handsomeness... Why were they not happy? Was it something in his personality?

  2. Right now I am writing the last entry in this narrative thread, in which I will give some examples of Sol's behavior which may help to explain Sarah and Rebecca's attitude towards him.
    It should be ready for next Tuesday.


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