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

Letter LI


Dear madam: You commanded me to write you respecting Miss Wharton, and I obey. But I cannot describe to you the surprising change which she has undergone. Her vivacity has certainly forsaken her; and she has actually become, what she once dreaded above all things, a recluse. She flies from company as eagerly as she formerly sought it; her mamma is exceedingly distressed by the settled melancholy which appears in her darling child; but neither of us think it best to mention the subject to her. We endeavor to find means to amuse her; and we flatter ourselves that the prospect of success rather increases. It would add greatly to my happiness to contribute, in any degree, to restore her to herself, to her friends, and to society.

We are all invited to dine abroad to-morrow; and, to oblige me, she has consented to go.

Pray, madam, write to her often. Your letters may do much for her. She is still feelingly alive to the power of friendship; and none can exercise it upon her to greater acceptance or with more advantage than yourself.

Major Sanford’s house is undergoing a complete repair. The report is, that he is soon to be married. Miss Wharton has heard, but does not believe it. I hope for her sake it will prove true; for, at any rate, he is about returning; and from her mamma’s account of his past conduct towards Eliza, were he to return unconnected, he would probably renew his attentions; and though they might end in marriage, her happiness would not be secured. She has too nice a sense of love and honor to compound with his licentious principles. A man who has been dissolute before marriage will very seldom be faithful afterwards.

I went into Eliza’s chamber the other day, and found her with a miniature picture in her hand. “You pretend to be a physiognomist, Julia,” said she. “What can you trace in that countenance?” I guessed whose it was; and looking wistfully at it, replied, “I believe the original is an artful, designing man. He looks to me like a Chesterfieldian. Pray who is he?” “Major Sanford,” said she; “and I am afraid you have hit his character exactly. Sure I am that the appearance of those traits in it has made my heart ache.” She wept as she spoke it.

Poor girl, I wish he may never give you greater cause to weep! She is strongly blind to the vices and imperfections of this man. Though naturally penetrating, he has somehow or other cast a deceptious mist over her imagination with respect to himself. She professes neither to love nor esteem him, and owns that his ungenerous artifice misled her in her treatment of Mr. Boyer. Yet she has forgiven him, and thinks him a pleasing companion.

How prone to error is the human mind! how much lighter than the breath of zephyrs the operations of fancy! Strange, then, it should ever preponderate over the weightier powers of the understanding.

But I will not moralize. My business here is to dissipate, not to collect, ideas; and I must regulate myself accordingly.

I am endeavoring to prepare Eliza, by degrees, to accompany me to Boston the ensuing winter, but think it doubtful whether I shall succeed. I shall, however, return myself: till when, I am, &c.,