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

Letter XIX


I find the ideas of sobriety and domestic solitude I have been cultivating for three days past somewhat deranged by the interruption of a visitor, with whom I know you will not be pleased. It is no other than Major Sanford. I was walking alone in the garden yesterday, when he suddenly appeared to my view. “How happy am I,” said he, seizing my hand, “in this opportunity of finding you alone—an opportunity, Miss Wharton, which I must improve in expatiating on a theme that fills my heart and solely animates my frame!”

I was startled at his impetuosity, and displeased with his freedom. Withdrawing my hand, I told him that my retirement was sacred. He bowed submissively; begged pardon for his intrusion; alleged that he found nobody but the servants in the house; that they informed him I was alone in the garden—which intelligence was too pleasing for him to consult any forms of ceremony for the regulation of his conduct. He then went on rhapsodically to declare his passion; his suspicions that I was forming a connection with Mr. Boyer, which would effectually destroy all his hopes of future happiness. He painted the restraint, the confinement, the embarrassments to which a woman connected with a man of Mr. Boyer’s profession must be subjected, however agreeable his person might be. He asked if my generous mind could submit to cares and perplexities like these; whether I could not find greater sources of enjoyment in a more elevated sphere of life, or share pleasures better suited to my genius and disposition, even in a single state. I listened to him involuntarily. My heart did not approve his sentiments; but my ear was charmed with his rhetoric, and my fancy captivated by his address.

He invited my confidence by the most ardent professions of friendship, and labored to remove my suspicions by vows of sincerity. I was induced by his importunity gradually to disclose the state of affairs between Mr. Boyer and myself. He listened eagerly; wished not, he said, to influence me unduly; but if I were not otherwise engaged, might he presume to solicit a place in my friendship and esteem, be admitted to enjoy my society, to visit me as an acquaintance, and to attend my excursions and amusements as a brother, if not more? I replied that I was a pensioner of friendship at present; that friends were extremely refined in their notions of propriety; and that I had no right to receive visitants independent of them. “I understand you, madam,” said he. “You intimate that my company is not agreeable to them; but I know not why. Surely my rank in life is as elevated, and my knowledge of and acceptance in the world are as extensive, as General Richman’s.” “I hope,” said I, “since we are engaged in the conversation, that you will excuse my frankness if I tell you that the understanding and virtue of this worthy couple induce them, without any regard to rank, to bestow their esteem wherever it is merited. I cannot say that you are not a sharer. Your own heart can best determine whether upon their principles you are or not.” He appeared mortified and chagrined; and we had walked some distance without exchanging a word or a look. At last he rejoined, “I plead guilty to the charge, madam, which they have undoubtedly brought against me, of imprudence and folly in many particulars; yet of malignancy and vice I am innocent. Brought up in affluence, inured from my infancy to the gratification of every passion, the indulgence of every wish, it is not strange that a life of dissipation and gayety should prove alluring to a youthful mind which had no care but to procure what is deemed enjoyment. In this pursuit I have, perhaps, deviated from the rigid rules of discretion and the harsher laws of morality. But let the veil of charity be drawn over my faults; let the eye of candor impartially examine my present behavior; let the kind and lenient hand of friendship assist in directing my future steps; and perhaps I may not prove unworthy of associating with the respectable inhabitants of this happy mansion; for such I am sure it must be while honored with Miss Wharton’s presence. But, circumstanced as you and I are at present, I will not sue for your attention as a lover, but rest contented, if possible, with that share of kindness and regard which your benevolence may afford me as a friend.” I bowed in approbation of his resolution. He pressed my hand with ardor to his lips; and at that instant General Richman entered the garden. He approached us cheerfully, offered Major Sanford his hand with apparent cordiality, and told us pleasantly that he hoped he should not be considered as an intruder. “By no means, sir,” said Major Sanford; “it is I who have incurred that imputation. I called this afternoon to pay you my respects, when, being informed that you and your lady were abroad, and that Miss Wharton was in the garden, I took the liberty to invade her retirement. She has graciously forgiven my crime, and I was just affixing the seal to my pardon as you entered.”

We then returned into the house. Mrs. Richman received us politely. During tea, the conversation turned on literary subjects, in which I cannot say that the major bore a very distinguished part. After he was gone, Mrs. Richman said, “I hope you have been agreeably entertained, Miss Wharton.” “I did not choose my company, madam,” said I. “Nor,” said she, “did you refuse it, I presume.” “Would you not have me respect the rights of hospitality towards your guests when you are absent, madam?” “If you had acted from that motive, I own my obligations to you, my dear; but even that consideration can hardly reconcile me to the sacrifice of time which you have made to the amusement of a seducer.” “I hope, madam, you do not think me an object of seduction.” “I do not think you seducible; nor was Richardson’s Clarissa till she made herself the victim by her own indiscretion. Pardon me, Eliza—this is a second Lovelace. I am alarmed by his artful intrusions. His insinuating attentions to you are characteristic of the man. Come, I presume you are not interested to keep his secrets if you know them; will you give me a little sketch of his conversation?” “Most willingly,” said I, and accordingly related the whole. When I had concluded, she shook her head, and replied, “Beware, my friend, of his arts. Your own heart is too sincere to suspect treachery and dissimulation in another; but suffer not your ear to be charmed by the siren voice of flattery, nor your eye to be caught by the phantom of gayety and pleasure. Remember your engagements to Mr. Boyer. Let sincerity and virtue be your guides, and they will lead you to happiness and peace.” She waited not for an answer, but, immediately rising, begged leave to retire, alleging that she was fatigued. General Richman accompanied her, and I hastened to my apartment, where I have written thus far, and shall send it on for your comments. I begin to think of returning soon to your circle. One inducement is, that I may be free from the intrusions of this man. Adieu.