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

Letter XXIX


You desire me to write to you, my friend; but if you had not, I should by no means have refrained. I tremble at the precipice on which you stand, and must echo and reëcho the seasonable admonition of the excellent Mrs. Richman, “Beware of the delusions of fancy.” You are strangely infatuated by them! Let not the magic arts of that worthless Sanford lead you, like an ignis fatuus, from the path of rectitude and virtue.

I do not find, in all your conversations with him, that one word about marriage drops from his lips. This is mysterious. No, it is characteristic of the man. Suppose, however, that his views are honorable; yet what can you expect, what can you promise yourself, from such a connection? “A reformed rake,” you say, “makes the best husband”—a trite, but a very erroneous maxim, as the fatal experience of thousands of our sex can testify. In the first place, I believe that rakes very seldom do reform while their fortunes and constitutions enable them to pursue their licentious pleasures. But even allowing this to happen; can a woman of refinement and delicacy enjoy the society of a man whose mind has been corrupted, whose taste has been vitiated, and who has contracted a depravity, both of sentiment and manners, which no degree of repentance can wholly efface? Besides, of true love they are absolutely incapable. Their passions have been much too hackneyed to admit so pure a flame. You cannot anticipate sincere and lasting respect from them. They have been so long accustomed to the company of those of our sex who deserve no esteem, that the greatest dignity and purity of character can never excite it in their breasts. They are naturally prone to jealousy. Habituated to an intercourse with the baser part of the sex, they level the whole, and seldom believe any to be incorruptible. They are always hardhearted and cruel. How else could they triumph in the miseries which they frequently occasion? Their specious manners may render them agreeable companions abroad, but at home the evil propensities of their minds will invariably predominate. They are steeled against the tender affections which render domestic life delightful; strangers to the kind, the endearing sympathies of husband, father, and friend. The thousand nameless attentions which soften the rugged path of life are neglected, and deemed unworthy of notice, by persons who have been inured to scenes of dissipation and debauchery. And is a man of this description to be the partner, the companion, the bosom friend of my Eliza? Forbid it, Heaven! Let not the noble qualities so lavishly bestowed upon her be thus unworthily sacrificed!

You seem to be particularly charmed with the fortune of Major Sanford, with the gayety of his appearance, with the splendor of his equipage, with the politeness of his manners, with what you call the graces of his person. These, alas! are superficial, insnaring endowments. As to fortune, prudence, economy, and regularity are necessary to preserve it when possessed. Of these Major Sanford is certainly destitute—unless common fame (which more frequently tells the truth than some are willing to allow) does him great injustice. As to external parade, it will not satisfy the rational mind when it aspires to those substantial pleasures for which yours is formed. And as to the graces of person and manners, they are but a wretched substitute for those virtues which adorn and dignify human life. Can you, who have always been used to serenity and order in a family, to rational, refined, and improving conversation, relinquish them, and launch into the whirlpool of frivolity, where the correct taste and the delicate sensibility which you possess must constantly be wounded by the frothy and illiberal sallies of licentious wit?

This, my dear, is but a faint picture of the situation to which you seem inclined. Reverse the scene, and you will perceive the alternative which is submitted to your option in a virtuous connection with Mr. Boyer. Remember that you are acting for life, and that your happiness in this world, perhaps in the next, depends on your present choice.

I called last evening to see your mamma. She is fondly anticipating your return, and rejoicing in the prospect of your agreeable and speedy settlement. I could not find it in my heart to distress her by intimating that you had other views. I wish her benevolent bosom nevermore to feel the pangs of disappointed hope.

I am busily engaged in preparing for my nuptials. The solemn words, “As long as ye both shall live,” render me thoughtful and serious. I hope for your enlivening presence soon, which will prove a seasonable cordial to the spirits of your