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

Letter LVII


By Julia’s advice we have neglected the repeated invitations of Major Sanford to visit and commence neighborhood with them till yesterday, when we received a polite billet requesting the honor of our company to dine. My mamma declined going, but said she had no objection to our compliance with the message if we thought proper. Julia and I accordingly went. We found a large company assembled in a spacious hall, splendidly furnished and decorated. They were all very polite and attentive to me, but none more so than Major Sanford and his lady, who jointly strove to dissipate the pensiveness of my mind, which I found it impossible to conceal. When we were summoned to dinner, the major, being near me, offered his hand, and, leading me into the dining room, seated me at a table furnished with all the variety which could please the eye or regale the taste of the most luxurious epicure. The conversation turned on various subjects—literary, political, and miscellaneous. In the evening we had a ball. Major Sanford gave the hand of his wife to a Mr. Grey, alleging that he was a stranger, and therefore entitled to particular attention, and then solicited mine himself. I was on the point of refusing him, but recollecting that it might have the appearance of continued resentment, contrary to my declaration of forgiving what was past, I complied. He was all kindness and assiduity; the more so, I imagined, with a view to make amends for his former ingratitude and neglect. Tenderness is now peculiarly soothing to my wounded heart. He took an opportunity of conversing with his wife and me together, hoped she would be honored with my friendship and acquaintance, and begged for her sake that I would not be a stranger at his house. His Nancy, he said, was far removed from her maternal friends, but I could supply their place if I would generously undertake the task. She joined in expressing the same sentiments and wishes. “Alas! sir,” said I, “Eliza Wharton is not now what she once was. I labor under a depression of spirits which must render my company rather painful than pleasing to my friends.” The idea of what I had been, contrasted with what I then was, touched my sensibility, and I could not restrain the too officious tear from stealing down my cheek. He took me by the hand, and said, “You distress me, Miss Wharton; indeed you distress me. Happiness must and shall attend you. Cursed be the wretch who could wound a heart like yours.”

Julia Granby now joined us. An inquisitive concern was visible in her countenance.

I related this conversation to her after we returned home; but she approved it not.

She thought Major Sanford too particularly attentive to me, considering what had previously happened. She said it would be noticed by others, and the world would make unfavorable remarks upon any appearance of intimacy between us. “I care not for that,” said I; “it is an ill-natured, misjudging world, and I am not obliged to sacrifice my friends to its opinion. Were Major Sanford a single man, I should avoid his society; but since he is married, since his wife is young, beautiful, and lovely, he can have no temptation to injure me. I therefore see no evil which can arise from the cultivation of friendship with her at least. I relish company so little, that I may surely be indulged in selecting that which is most agreeable to my taste, to prevent my becoming quite a misanthrope.”

I thank you, my dear Mrs. Sumner, for your kind letter. It was a seasonable cordial to my mind, and I will endeavor to profit by your advice. Your remarks on the public entertainments are amusing, and, as far as I am a judge, perfectly just. I think it a pity they have not female managers for the theatre. I believe it would be under much better regulations than at present.

With cordial respects to Mr. Sumner, I subscribe myself, yours in sincerity,