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

Letter LIV


Dear Deighton: Who do you think is writing to you? Why, it is your old friend, metamorphosed into a married man! You stare, and can hardly credit the assertion. I cannot realize it myself; yet I assure you, Charles, it is absolutely true. Necessity, dire necessity, forced me into this dernier resort. I told you some time ago it would come to this.

I stood aloof as long as possible; but in vain did I attempt to shun the noose. I must either fly to this resource or give up all my show, equipage, and pleasure, and degenerate into a downright, plodding money catcher for a subsistence. I chose the first; and who would not? Yet I feel some remorse at taking the girl to wife from no better motives. She is really too good for such an imposition. But she must blame herself if she suffer hereafter; for she was visibly captivated by my external appearance, and wanted but very little solicitation to confer herself and fortune on so charming a fellow. Her parents opposed her inclination for a while, because I was a stranger, and rather too gay for their taste. But she had not been used to contradiction, and could not bear it, and therefore they ventured not to cross her. So I bore off the prize; and a prize she really is—five thousand pounds in possession, and more in reversion, if I do not forfeit it. This will compensate for some of my past mistakes, and set matters right for the present. I think it doing much better than to have taken the little Lawrence girl I told you of with half the sum. Besides, my Nancy is a handsomer and more agreeable person; but that is of little consequence to me, you know. “Beauty soon grows familiar to the lover.” Were I a lover, it would be of no great avail. A lover I am, yet not of my wife. The dart which I received from Miss Wharton sticks fast in my heart; and, I assure you, I could hardly persuade myself even to appear unfaithful to her. O Eliza! accuse me not of infidelity; for your image is my constant companion. A thousand times have I cursed the unpropitious stars which withheld from her a fortune. That would have enabled me to marry her; and with her even wedlock would have been supportable.

I am told that she is still single. Her sober lover never returned. Had he loved as I did, and do, he could not have been so precipitate. But these stoic souls are good for nothing, that I know of, but,

  • “Fixed, like a plant, to one peculiar spot,
  • To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot.”
  • I want to see Eliza, and I must see her; yet I dread an interview. I shall frankly confess my motives for marrying, and the reasons of my conduct before I went away. I shall own that my circumstances would not allow me to possess her, and yet that I could not resign her to another.

    When I make up the matter with her, I shall solicit her friendship for my wife. By this means I may enjoy her society, at least, which will alleviate the confinement of a married state. To my spouse I must be as civil as possible. I really wish she had less merit, that I might have a plausible excuse for neglecting her.

    To-morrow I shall go to Mrs. Wharton’s. I am very much taken up with complimental visits at present. What deference is always paid to equipage! They may talk of their virtue, their learning, and what not; but, without either of them, I shall bear off the palm of respect from those who have them, unadorned with gold and its shining appendages.

    Every thing hereabouts recalls Eliza to my mind. I impatiently anticipate the hour which will convey me to her presence.