“. . . a dangerous amusement for young ladies!”

I have become enchanted by a young woman named Charlotte Chambers. She was the second daughter of General James Chambers and Catherine Hamilton. A supporter of the Patriot cause, James Chambers served with the Pennsylvania infantry during the Revolution and wrote informative letters to his wife from his various postings. He returned to his home in Pennsylvania in 1781, volunteered again during the Whiskey Rebellion, served as a judge in Franklin County, and was made a brigadier-general in the militia raised in readiness for a possible war with the French that never happened. All the while his wife, as did many women, kept the home fires burning.

Their daughter Charlotte by all accounts was attractive, intelligent, and witty as her frequent letters to her mother during visits to friends and relatives attest. I especially like this one written from Woodbine while on a visit to her aunt and uncle, the Ewings, near Columbia on the Susquehanna River. In it she defends the reading of novels, an increasingly popular pastime among young women.

May 4, 1792.MY DEAR MOTHER:—
The first of March I arrived at Woodbine. How dreary was the scene! cold stormy winds, naked hills, muddy roads and pensive hours. Now rosy-footed May, ushered by gentle zephyrs, has clothed the fields in fragrant verdure. The birds warble melodiously through the blooming grove, and the time glides imperceptibly by in cheerful friendship.
At dinner to-day the reading of novels was denounced without mercy, as an unprofitable waste of time and a dangerous amusement for young ladies! I became for the occasion a champion in the defence as a means of rational entertainment, and inquired if they had ever known an instance of very great injury resulting from the perusal of fiction? They were obliged to confess they had not. I am sure history affords many instances of heroic exploits, tender attachments, inviolable friendships, as suddenly commenced, and perhaps as imprudently, as can be found in the field of fiction. If such examples are dangerous, young ladies should not read history, for truth must make a greater impression than fable! I would as soon be compelled to subsist on meat, without fruit or vegetables, as to be confined exclusively to sober matter of fact study. In ancient history we read of obscure barbarians rising to fame and glory by force of arms, with the horrid accompaniments of carnage, cruel oppression, massacre, envy, despair, revenge, and death! until we almost contemplate the human species with abhorrence; and can scarcely forbear pronouncing it a race of monsters only tamed by art. Even in books of travel, we read of arid deserts, burning sands, frozen seas, ferocious animals, poisonous serpents, stinging scorpions; and every variety of human misery. How delightful after those repulsive scenes are the pages of a well written novel or poem; where in the luxuriant images of peaceful valleys, virtuous peasantry, shady groves, roses, myrtle, love and friendship, we become reconciled to life.
I fear, dear mother, you will pronounce my opinions heterodox.
Your devoted daughter

Charlotte’s letter can be found in her Memoir by her grandson Lewis H. Garrard (Philadelphia: Printed for the Author, 1856) on page 12-13.

posted July 14th, 2014 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Amusements


one comment so far
  1. I am incredulous! I am a descendent of Benjamin Chambers who founded Chambersburg, Pa which is in Franklin Co. I knew some stories about the four brothers who came to Pa in the 1730s and one of the brithers was Benj and one was James. As i read your intro, i thought huumm “James” and “a judge in Franklin Co, there must be a connection.” I clicked on the “Memoirs” link and lo and behold!!! The preface of the book tells me that Charlotte is the granddgt of the “brother” James AND there are all those wonderful letters from her father James about his days in the Rev’t War…….btw, i have been a history teacher throughout most of my life………and more incredulous, Amazon has copies of the Memoir book available!!! I ordered 2, one for my maternal family and one for my children. I am not a person who believes i am important or special bcs i have ancestors who were in the colonies or in the Rev’y War, but it is amazing to be able to read what they were doing 250 yrs ago!!! Thank you, thank you for posting these “words of womem.”

    Comment by Jean — July 16, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

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