From A Collection of Love Letters from “Delia” to John Paul Jones
Typescripts by James C. Bradford from The Papers of John Paul (microfilm edition), 1986. With comments by Mr. Peter Reaveley and Dr. Bradford.
John Paul Jones met the Count and Countess Murray-Nicolson in May of 1780 in Paris. Jones was staying with Benjamin Franklin when he received the invitation to visit them. The Count wrote to Jones soon afterward expressing his sorrow at not seeing him before he left Paris. During this time a romance developed between Jones and the Countess, which resulted in a series of passionate love letters. Jones called her “Delia” from a song written by Major Andre during his imprisonment in Philadelphia. He had promised the Countess’s brother, William, an officer’s commission under his command and when William went to Lorient to assume his position, the Countess accompanied him. It was here that she and Jones were able to spend five days together in the village of Hennebont. The earliest letters from “Delia” were written after this liaison.
July-August 1780 from Delia
“I am suffering the cruelest about your health, my only love! Dear Jones, I am useless to you when you are far from me. What will become of me! My God, how unhappy I am! My angel, my adorable Jones, when will we be reunited never to be separated again? Oh, my friend, I feel that I will not be able to go on living until your return! My intense love, my poor health, and above all my mortal fears about the fate of my beloved make me die a thousand times a day, and will put an end to all my pains! They are inexpressible! Ah! I realize from the torments of my soul that I have never loved anyone but you! And if I must be deprived of you, I feel that I would not go on living, Jones! my dear lover!
Pardon your unfortunate Delia, forgive her weakness, remember that she adores you, and that she would die if she lost you. How can you talk to me about rivals when I am dying of love for you? If it is possible I will love you beyond death, and everything that does not concern you is repulsive to me. Oh, my Angel, think of the agonizing pains I will have to endure at not knowing if you have arrived in America, and imagine what my love can be if I wish you were far away from me so that I can be assured that you are no longer in danger. What am I reduced to! How horrible is my state! No, no mortal has ever endured so cruel a destiny.
I have received your letter of the 18th and 19th and I must confess I am a little embarrassed about what I should advise you to do. I wish I could bestow a crown upon you, no mortal has ever been more worthy to bear one, but my adorable friend, I have given little thought to my fortune, and I realize with despair that I could not make you happy over there or live with you a wealthy life. As for me my lover, I would only be too happy to share with you a shack, but I would never ask sacrifices of you. You were not made to live in retirement, and I would never even suggest it to you. At the same time, you can decide by yourself what you wish me to do, and be assured of my eagerness to do anything you would want. I love you with idolatry, and you alone, and my sole desire is to spend my days with you, but wish that you be happy. You have never talked to me about anything having to do with your affairs. It is quite simple, you only know my tenderness for you and the marks thereof which I have given you, but you do not know the feelings of my soul, and all that it is capable of doing for you.
If you ever are utterly without fortune, and if you would be compelled to finally leave the service out of discontent, you must immediately return to France and count on my heart which adores you and will try to make you forget the injustice of men. As soon as I can see Mr. R., he will renew his offers to give me a share of the businesses he has in Holland, but if you wish that I should leave Paris, I can do so. I shall be less rich, but I will have done what you wanted me to. I should only be too happy if I could allay any possible distress of yours, and my love would spare you the slightest reproach over the trip to Lorient.
My health has suffered a little from my anxiety, but that is of no consequence. Never has a request given me more pleasure — what am I saying — I think that in all my life I never really existed except for these five days that, alas, have passed like a dream and of which there only remains the painful image of a good thing that is no more. My only regret is to have taken my brother along, who not only has wasted his time but has also spent a lot of money, squandering it as he always does, and without thinking of the circumstances, he had obliged me to borrow some money for myself for three months, since some people who owed me money have not honored their commitments, and have asked me for more time. But he does not care about this, as long as he can satisfy [ ] I think that having a house and a lot to do, one can always find money, I would only like to ask that you find an opportunity to teach him a lesson about money, he will surely listen to you and [last line is illegible.]
July-August 1780 from Delia
“My god, my servant has just returned from the post office and there is no letter! Good heavens! By what cruelty am I now deprived of the only consolation that remains to my despair and to my regrets! Alas, could you be so cruel as to depart without telling me good-bye, without showing the slightest pain at leaving me, or any regrets for all the pains that I have felt ever since the cruel moment when destiny offered you to me? Alas, if I was not very happy then, my heart was free of fears and my indifference took the place of happiness, whereas now I am dying of torments, and see no end to it all, nor the hope of ever being happy again! Perhaps all I have done for your sake, and the unveiling of my feelings embarrass you! You feel yourself bound, perhaps to render me a degree of gratitude. If this is my misfortune, I have enough pride and I feel also enough courage left in me to give up all that can make me love life.
My entire existence would have been yours forever, but I must know that the feeling is mutual, and I believe that it is if the most tender and purest sentiments are to prevail. If by Tuesday I have not received a letter from you I will no longer bother you with mine, and you will not hear from me neither a complaint or a reproach, for they have never served except to humiliate those who are weak enough to express them. I will learn to accept that I made a mistake, but I will never lower myself to complain.
So believe, however, that if I had not the greatest of esteem for you, I would have never confided in you, or opened myself up as I have. In spite of all, I trust in your honor that no one will ever see the proofs that I have given you, of my feelings, alas feelings stronger than I or stronger than reason. The torments they have caused me make me the mortal in the entire universe most deserving of mercy. I will send [ ] to your house to learn whether you have left, and he will return your letters, and the belt that I have had redone a hundred times because it was not right, I would have liked you to try it on before you left, but do not believe that it was not my fault.
Farewell! May the ills that you cause me not trouble your sleep. If I have been unable to make you settle down, or to please you as much as my heart would have liked, I will only complain of my unworthiness. I would have sacrificed everything for the happiness of pleasing you, and I would have given my life to be loved by you. I will never be happy any more, may you be happy forever, even it is at the expense of the peace of my heart [stained, illegible] May the whole world render you justice and adore you. Alas, that my own heart should have given you the example. Goodby, on Tuesday I shall know my fate. I cannot go on. I cannot continue with a cloud hovering over my days. All is troubled and confused in my heart, nothing seems to be clear, fear of having lost you has reduced me.”
July – August 1780 from Delia
“…but you are truly loved. Forgive me oh my beloved, if I am indiscreet, but I am oppressed with fears – fears which I felt at Lorient — and seeing your reluctance at discussing the matter, I have never dared speak to you of it. I have been told that neither you nor your crew have been paid. In the name of all the love which consumes me, tell if I can help you. I have diamonds and all sorts of jewelry; I will easily find money. To give an order to your mistress is to make her happy and her heart will fly to your support. Twenty times when I was in your arms, I wanted to talk to you about this, but I was afraid to displease you.
At the moment of leaving you at Hennebont, that cruel evening when I thought I would leave you, and which turned out to be so happy afterwards! At the time when you pressed me to receive that object that you thought I needed, and which I could have done without. How many times have I cursed the Chevalier, who prevented me from seeing you for at least two hours, oh God! I was counting every moment! Only the hope of being loved gave me the strength to tear myself from you, but at the moment that I lost sight of you I thought I would die of despair. You will never know the horrible condition to which the sweetest of love has reduced me: At the time of bidding you farewell, if you only knew what I wanted to do, you would have been horrified.
Alas! I fear I will never see you again, and I wished to put an end to all my suffering; death would have felt sweet when I left your arms without hope of seeing you again. My dear and much too adorable Jones, what wouldn’t I give for you to stay a little longer in France! Oh God, I am dying with the desire of rejoining you, never to be separated. I feel this in the wrenching of my soul, which seems to tell me that I will never again be blessed with seeing you. Good heavens, Jones will forget me, he will cease loving me, he will have the cruelty to forget my passionate devotion. No, his great heart is not capable of such cruelty, and I rely on it as much as I trust the heavens.
Forgive, dear lover, this incoherent scrawl, but the disarray of my heart pervades my thoughts. You are asking me to have mercy on your adorable verses, Jones! your humility is so dear to my heart. Never has a mortal less cause for it. Everything about you is enchanting. Those charming verses that describe so well your soul and your noble mind, Dear Jones you make me cry a river of tears. You are unequalled in your perfections and never has a man been so adored as much as my heart loves you!”
July- August 1780 from Delia
“I am afraid that in my last letter I have let you see too much of the trouble and torments of my heart, forgive me, oh my dear Jones! I did not have all my senses, my mind had been confused and it was tearing my soul. Dear and sympathetic friend, you can not know of my pain and of my horrible suffering. Ah! Is it possible to love the adorable Jones and not die at the fear of losing him, or that another and more fortunate woman had made him forget that there dwells far away from him, a being, sensitive, and tender, who is perhaps worthy of his memory and his regard? Your fortunate country is going to claim you. Ah! No doubt that she considers you her guardian god, but she cannot know you are the god of my heart and of all its devotions. You were made to have friends who love you, and who await you with impatience. Dear and loveable Jones, amidst all the testimonies of their friendship you should remember me, and you should tell yourself: there exists one person who depends on you for all her happiness, or the for most cruel torments.
Farewell, farewell, you who are the much too dear and too fatal to my peace. May fate be always as favorable to you as my heart is. Nothing will equal your glory and your happiness. Please receive my dearest thanks for your kindness to my brother, may he always be worthy of it: I really do not understand why he does not send me any news, for I believe that I deserve this mark of friendship. Good-bye, good-bye. Receive with kindness all the good wishes of your tender and faithful friend.”
July-August 1780 from Delia
“Six posts and no news. I try to have courage, but what am I to think of such cruel forgetfulness? Are you ill, can you have ceased to love me? God! the thought chills my heart. No! I cannot think you so barbarous, you cannot desire my death. Alas! If absence has lost me your heart, it has not had that effect upon me, for you are a thousand times dearer to me now than on that dreadful day when you bade me farewell. Your letters, your assurance of your attachment, the inclination of my heart, all have served to intensify my affection.
Now perhaps I must renounce forever all those fond hopes that have made me cherish life; but I may be wrong to despair. I am too fearful and sensitive; the amiable and tender Jones is as faithful a lover as he is a valiant warrior and a zealous patriot. Such rare qualities are united in the object of all my thoughts and affections. To doubt the constancy would be an injustice, even a crime. Pardon my fears, dear friend. I will force my foolish heart to be more calm. Judge the excess of my love by my agonizing dread of losing your esteem, your heart.”
July-August 1780 from Delia
The two letters I have just received make me live again, and bring back some hope to my soul, so torn and alas! so ready to fly away forever from this bosom that will love you until it breathes its last. Oh, my angel! Oh, you whom I cannot love too much, for nothing could compare to you in my eyes, nor even come close to the rare qualities of your soul. It is in that soul that I now look for release from my fears and my horrendous torments! No, never has anyone suffered more acutely or cruelly. If I had the supreme happiness of having known you for a longer period of time, I might dare to hope you would not so easily forget me, I implore you to forgive me for these groundless fears, and to trace my mortal fears to their true cause.
Alas! if I did not adore you, would I fear losing you so much? You will no longer receive any letters which will let you see the trouble of this heart, over which you reign so despotically, but I have faith in your kindness. You have too much valor not to have any enemies, but while she does you justice, your mistress is frantically jealous of you. To love without jealousy is not to love. From the horrible turmoil of my heart, I would think that I am in love for the first time, for never has a mortal caused me such disquietude. I am flattered beyond words by your confidence, it is dear to me! It is a proof of esteem, and I would give my life to deserve it. Despite my awful jealousy, be forever convinced of my confidence in you. In its rational moments this grieving heart knows, believe me, more than anyone else perhaps, how to appreciate your great soul; and all it wishes to say at the present time, is that you condescend to love me enough to give me your preference by confiding in me; and if you would ever think that I would think less of you, believe your mistress when she tells you that she would sacrifice the world for you, it if were at her disposal.
When I learned of the loss you had suffered this summer I would have offered you, had I dared, the sum of eighty thousand pounds, which was supposed to be placed in a life annuity. As a matter of fact the person who manages my affairs, without knowing the reasons that I may have had, had recorded the deed, and when I was with my attorney, upon my return from L’Orient, I saw with the greatest sorrow that it had been signed over to another person’s name; they had to do this since I could potentially marry. I must also tell you that this person does everything he can imagine to force me to remain in France. But, my angel, for the first time in my life I had quick enough of a mind (which I owe to you) to have had the contract in my hands for the past few days, and cancelled it. This way I will be able to have this annuity paid anywhere.
Dear and sweet lover, when I left you in L’Orient I had planned to gather this money, and all my other portable belongings and to return to join you and share your destiny, whatever it might turn out to be. It would still be too sweet for me, since I would be with you! But being unable to carry out my plans, or to aid you in anything, I remain here with despair in my heart, until heaven takes pity on your unfortunate mistress and brings you back to restore her to life, to enjoy your rapture and all the feelings that you inspire so well in this heart that belongs to you for all your life. Therefore, do not worry, my angel, about my constancy. My heart, my soul, my body, such as it is, will forever belong to you alone!
It is true that Mr. R. to whom my husband had been recommended, and under whose guard, almost, I have been left, still continues to see me. The quiet, and I dare say, very honest life that I have led, joined to few good qualities he believes he found in my way of thinking, has brought him to my circle. The people of that generation are fond of habits, and I think he would despair if he were to lose me. But I always look at him as a father, and I am certain that he himself has never thought otherwise. My angel, I would tell that if I had thought of my own interest, I would be rich perhaps, but since I do not care much about that, a little amount of pride in my character has always made me neglect the things that could be related to interest; but for the first time in my life, I have wished I were rich. It is true that I have enough so as not to be a burden to anyone, but I feel that it is not enough for all that my heart is feeling. Farewell, dear and adorable Jones, may all the heavenly powers protect him that I love, and lead him to happiness! Dear and lovable Jones, I feel sometimes that if I were to lose you, I would be done for. I almost died upon seeing the tracks of your tears! I have pressed the tracks of your tears to my lips and heart. Oh God, how miserable I am!
July or August 1780 from Delia
“I have just received your letter of the 18th, my dearest friend, what a tender one it is! My heart can feel so well the value of the touching and most delicate thoughts it expresses, each line paints a sentiment. Oh, my dearest Jones, what joy and happiness I will have to see the author of all these charming letters; they all give me joy. To receive, to reread them a hundred, a thousand times, to think of you, to look at your portrait! Even though it does not look like you, my fond imagination supplies its deficiency and my heart on which you are engraved with features of fire makes you present; and I sit for hours gazing through eyes drowned in tears, remain for entire hours fixed on this cold image of the most cherished of men, whose absence is driving me to despair.
It was impossible for me to write to you, my friend, for several days I have been very ill and I am still extremely weak. The various sorrows I have endured and, the most cruel of all, your absence, the most cruel of them all, have contributed much to my recent illness, but I feel better thanks to your delicious letters and your assurances that I will see you again and your assurances of unchanged love for me.
You do not tell me the reason of your long stay in L’Orient; I am afraid that the delay will prevent your return, at least for some time. If this letter, whose destination I envy, arrives before your departure, tell me something about this matter; the deep and sincere interest that I take in everything which concerns you is the only motive of my request, but if it is indiscreet, you need not satisfy it. Farewell my too cherished and too dear Jones. Receive the vows of that ardent love, which will continue until I breathe my last, and the most fervent prayers that happiness and success may accompany your steps forever. Farewell, farewell!”
22 August 1780 from Delia
“Your letter of Tuesday that I have received on Sunday the 20th breaks my heart, and increases my despair! With the grief of a desolate child, I have kissed the marks of your tears. I have cried the most bitter tears I have ever shed. My soul is oppressed and drowning in a pool of sufferings. No, never, I feel that I have never truly loved until the moment, alas so dear and at the same time so fatal to my peacefulness, that fate first placed you before my eyes. That moment has determined the rest of my life.
Yes, my dear and adorable friend, on you alone depends my destiny; only through you will I be happy or unhappy. Pardon me for my honesty, oh my dear Jones, and be absolutely convinced that I adore, esteem and even worship you, and that I believe that you are incapable of an ignoble action, otherwise I would never have confessed to you so freely the power that you have over every faculty of my being. I adore you; I avow it and swear again that no mortal has ever had, nor will ever have, the power to make me speak this way. Here, my dear and only friend, is my profession of faith: I am yours for the rest of my life. Do not worry for now, console yourself and let us hope that the benevolent heavens will reunite and look after beings who truly love one another, and whose faithful hearts deserve to be happy.
Take care of your precious life and remember that mine is tied to yours. I will endlessly send prayers to the heavens for your safe arrival in America. If you are satisfied with that country, you will continue your services; otherwise, you must leave it and rejoin your faithful mistress. The entire world could be against you, her heart would remain yours forever. I promise you that, and I will swear to it by that sacred flame which will never be extinguished.
You ask me how you can make me happy. Take care of yourself, love me and look for means that will let us spend days together, and never forget, never lose sight of the fact that my life is bound up in yours, and that all my torments will be over the instant that I lose you. Your health is dear to me; thousand times dearer than my own; if you love me, do take care of it. I have received your letter of the 16th; your health alarms me. In the name of all that is sacred, take of all that I love.
… my heart belongs to you, and nothing alive will ever be able to change that. I adore you for yourself, and that is the way you ought to be loved; if I was capable of thinking otherwise, I would prevent you from leaving and risking such a precious life. The very thought of your danger brings back all the weakness of my sex, and makes me confess that my terrible anxiety for the object if all my desires could, no doubt, kill me. Nothing can equal my terrors and my fears for the one I love. Farewell dear Jones, I must leave you now, I cannot go on. The Chevalier sends you his regards and his best wishes. He will leave tomorrow evening. Alas, he is happier than his unfortunate sister, he is going to see you. God! how willingly she would be the lowliest of your crew!”
25 December, 1781 from Paul Jones to Delia:
“I wrote my most lovely Delia various letters from Philadelphia, the last of which was dated the 20th of June…. Since I came here I have not found a single good opportunity to write to Europe. I have not since heard from your Relation left behind; but suppose he is with the Army. This situation is doubly irksome to me my lovely Friend, as it stops pursuit of Honor, as well as Love! It is now more than twelve months since I left France; yet I have not received a single letter from thee in all that time, except the one written in answer to my letter taking leave. That one is a tender letter indeed, and does honour to thy matchless heart! I read often and always with transport the many charming things that are so well expressed in thy letters; but especially the last. Thy Adieu! has in it all the finer feelings blended with the noblest sentiments of the heart! Providence all good and just has given thee a soul worthy in all response to animate nature’s fairest work. I rest therefore sure that absence will not diminish but refine the pure and spotless friendship that binds our souls together; and will ever impress each to merit the affection of the other. Remember and believe my letter at parting. It was but a faint picture of my heart. I will find opportunities to write and be everything thou canst wish. My address is under cover to the Honble. Robert Morris Esqr. Minister of Finance, Philadelphia.”
[When Jones was in Paris negotiating for prize money, he received the following note from Delia, implying that he had not been to see her, perhaps because she was now widowed and might be serious!]
December 1783 from Delia
“Is it possible that you are then so near me, and that I am deprived of the sight of a mortal who has constituted the misery of my life for four years? O! most amiable and most ungrateful of men, come to your best friend, who burns with the desire of seeing you. You ought to know that it is but eight days since your Delia was at the brink of the grave. Come, in the name of Heaven!”
[Jones traveled widely all over Europe in a very adventurous lifetime, yet during all his travels he kept most of Delia’s love letters with him right up to his death in Paris in summer 1792. For a man to keep all these letters during a very difficult twelve-year period in his life shows that Paul Jones was clearly touched by Delia’s love and devotion, at a time that was the highlight of his personal and professional life. I am sure that in his own way Paul Jones loved Delia, but in 1783, once she was free to marry her true love, Jones would have regarded marriage as tying him down in his future career, and he would have been right. Delia eventually went back to Holland.]