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

Letter XXIII


I have executed your commission, and been amply rewarded for my trouble by the pleasures I enjoyed in the society of the agreeable family to which I was introduced; especially of the amiable and accomplished lady who is the object of your particular regard. I think she fully justifies your partiality to her. She appears to possess both the virtues and the graces. Her form is fine, and her countenance interests us at once in her favor. There is a mixture of dignity and ease which commands respect and conciliates affection. After these encomiums, will you permit me to say there is an air of gayety in her appearance and deportment which savors a little of coquetry? I am persuaded, however, that she has too much good sense to practise its arts. She received your letter very graciously, asked leave to retire a few moments, and returned with a smile of complacency on her brow, which I construe favorably to you.

There was a Mr. Lawrence, with his lady and daughter, and a certain Major Sanford, at the house. The latter, I believe, in the modern sense of the phrase, is much of a gentleman; that is, a man of show and fashion.

Miss Wharton asked me when I should leave town, and when I should return, or have an opportunity of conveyance to Hampshire. I told her I should write by the next post, and, if she had any commands, would be happy to execute them. She would send a line to her friend, she said, if I would take the trouble to enclose it in my letter. I readily consented, and told her that I would call and receive her favor to-morrow morning. This chitchat was a little aside; but I could not but observe that the aforesaid Major Sanford had dropped his part in the conversation of the rest of the company, and was attending to us, though he endeavored to conceal his attention by looking carelessly over a play which lay on the window by him. Yet he evidently watched every word and action of Miss Wharton, as if he were really interested in her movements.

It is said she has many admirers, and I conceive it very possible that this may be one of them; though, truly, I do not think that she would esteem such a conquest any great honor. I now joined in the general topic of conversation, which was politics; Mrs. Richman and Miss Wharton judiciously, yet modestly, bore a part; while the other ladies amused themselves with Major Sanford, who was making his sage remarks on the play, which he still kept in his hand. General Richman at length observed that we had formed into parties. Major Sanford, upon, this, laid aside his book. Miss Lawrence simpered, and looked as if she was well pleased with being in a party with so fine a man; while her mother replied that she never meddled with politics. “Miss Wharton and I,” said Mrs. Richman, “must beg leave to differ from you, madam. We think ourselves interested in the welfare and prosperity of our country; and, consequently, claim the right of inquiring into those affairs which may conduce to or interfere with the common weal. We shall not be called to the senate or the field to assert its privileges and defend its rights, but we shall feel, for the honor and safety of our friends and connections who are thus employed. If the community flourish and enjoy health and freedom, shall we not share in the happy effects? If it be oppressed and disturbed, shall we not endure our proportion of the evil? Why, then, should the love of our country be a masculine passion only? Why should government, which involves the peace and order of the society of which we are a part, be wholly excluded from our observation?” Mrs. Lawrence made some slight reply, and waived the subject. The gentlemen applauded Mrs. Richman’s sentiments as truly Roman, and, what was more, they said, truly republican.

I rose to take leave, observing to Miss Wharton that I should call to-morrow, as agreed. Upon this, General Richman politely requested the favor of my company at dinner. I accepted his invitation, and bade them good night. I shall do the same to you for the present, as I intend, to-morrow, to scribble the cover, which is to enclose your Eliza’s letter.