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

Letter LVIII


Rejoice with me, my friend, that I have made my peace with the mistress of my heart. No devotee could have been more sincere in his penitence than I was in mine. Indeed, Charles, I never knew I had so much sensibility before. Why, I was as much a woman as the very weakest of the sex.

But I dealt very plainly and sincerely with her, to be sure; and this atones for all past offences, and procures absolution for many others yet to be committed.

The dear girl was not inexorable; she was as placable and condescending as I could expect, considering the nature of the crime, which was apparently slighting her person and charms by marrying another. This, you know, is one of the nicest points with the ladies. Attack their honor, that is, their chastity, and they construe it to be the effect of excessive love, which hurries you a little beyond the bounds of prudence. But touch their vanity by preferring another, and they will seldom pardon you. You will say I am very severe upon the sex; and have I not reason to be so, since I have found so many frail ones among them? This, however, is departing from my subject.

Eliza is extremely altered. Her pale, dejected countenance, with the sedateness of her manners, so different from the lively glow of health, cheerfulness, and activity which formerly animated her appearance and deportment, struck me very disagreeably.

With all my gallantry and fluency in love matters, I was unable to acquit myself tolerably, or to address her with any degree of ease and confidence. She was very calm, and spoke with great indifference about my marriage, &c., which mortified me exceedingly. Yet I cannot consent to believe that her present depression of spirits arises solely from Mr. Boyer’s infidelity. I flatter myself that I am of sufficient consequence to her to have contributed in a degree.

When I inquired after her health, she told me she had been indisposed; but was now much better. This indisposition, I am informed, was purely mental; and I am happy to observe her recovering from it. I frequently visit her, sometimes with and sometimes without my wife, of whom, through my mediation, she has become a favorite. I have married, and according to the general opinion reformed. Yet I suspect my reformation, like most others of the kind, will prove instable as “the baseless fabric of a vision,” unless I banish myself entirely from her society. But that I can never do; for she is still lovely in my eyes, and I cannot control my passions.

When absent from her I am lost to every thing but her idea. My wife begins to rally me on my fondness for Miss Wharton. She asked me the other day if she had a fortune. “No,” said I; “if she had I should have married her.” This wounded her sensibility. I repented of my sincerity, and made my peace for that time. Yet I find myself growing extremely irritable, and she must take heed how she provokes me; for I do not love her, and I think the name of wife becomes more and more distasteful to me every day.

In my mind, Eliza has no competitor. But I must keep up appearances, though I endeavor to regain her love. I imagine that the enjoyment of her society as a neighbor and friend may content me for the present, and render my condition supportable.

Farewell, Charles. I hope you will never be embarrassed with a wife, nor lack some favorite nymph to supply the place of one.