Hannah Webster Foster (1759–1840). The Coquette, or The History of Eliza Wharton. 1855.

Letter IX


I am not so happy to-day in the recollection of last evening’s entertainment as I was in the enjoyment.

The explanation which I promised you from Mrs. Richman yesterday I could not obtain. When I went down to dinner some friends of General Richman’s had accidentally dropped in, which precluded all particular conversation. I retired soon to dress, and saw Mrs. Richman no more till I was informed that Major Sanford waited for me. But I was surprised, on going into the parlor, to find Mr. Boyer there. I blushed and stammered; but I know not why; for certain I am that I neither love nor fear the good man yet, whatever I may do some future day. I would not be understood that I do not respect and esteem him; for I do both. But these are calm passions, which soothe rather than agitate the mind. It was not the consciousness of any impropriety of conduct; for I was far from feeling any. The entertainment for which I was prepared was such as virtue would not disapprove, and my gallant was a man of fortune, fashion, and, for aught I knew, of unblemished character.

But Mr. Boyer was much more disconcerted than myself. Indeed, he did not recover his philosophy while I staid. I believe, by some hints I have received since, that he had some particular views in which he was disappointed.

Our ball had every charm which could render a ball delightful. My partner was all ease, politeness, and attention; and your friend was as much flattered and caressed as vanity itself could wish. We returned to General Richman’s about two. Major Sanford asked leave to call and inquire after my health this morning; and I am now expecting him. I rose to breakfast. The late hour of retiring to rest had not depressed, but rather exhilarated, my spirits. My friends were waiting for me in their parlor. They received me sociably, inquired after my health, my last evening’s entertainment, the company, &c.; when, after a little pause, Mrs. Richman said, “And how do you like Major Sanford, Eliza?” “Very well indeed, madam; I think him a finished gentleman. Will you, who are a connoisseur, allow him that title?” “No, my dear; in my opinion he falls far below it, since he is deficient in one of the great essentials of the character; and that is virtue.” “I am surprised,” said I; “but how has he incurred so severe a censure?” “By being a professed libertine; by having but too successfully, practised the arts of seduction; by triumphing in the destruction of innocence and the peace of families.” “O, why was I not informed of this before? But perhaps these are old affairs—the effects of juvenile folly—crimes of which he may have repented, and which charity ought to obliterate.” “No, my dear, they are recent facts—facts which he dares not deny—facts for which he ought to be banished from all virtuous society. I should have intimated this to you before; but your precipitate acceptance of his invitation deprived me of an opportunity until it was too late to prevent your going with him; and we thought it best to protract your enjoyment as long as possible, not doubting but your virtue and delicacy would, in future, guard you against the like deception.”

“Must I, then, become an avowed prude at once, and refuse him admission if he call in compliance with the customary forms?” “By no means. I am sensible that even the false maxims of the world must be complied with in a degree. But a man of Major Sanford’s art can easily distinguish between a forbidding and an encouraging reception. The former may, in this case, be given without any breach of the rules of politeness.” Astonished and mortified, I knew not what further to say. I had been so pleased with the man that I wished to plead in his favor; but virtue and prudence forbade. I therefore rose and retired. He is this moment, I am told, below stairs; so that I must bid you adieu until the next post.