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

Letter XXVI


I am perplexed and embarrassed, my friend, by the assiduous attentions of this Major Sanford. I shall write circumstantially and frankly to you, that I may have the benefit of your advice. He came here last Monday in company with Mr. Lawrence, his wife, and daughter, to make us a visit. While they were present, a Mr. Selby, a particular friend of Mr. Boyer, came in, and delivered me a letter from him. I was really happy in the reception of this proof of his affection. His friend gave a very flattering account of his situation and prospects.

The watchful eye of Major Sanford traced every word and action respecting Mr. Boyer with an attention which seemed to border on anxiety. That, however, did not restrain, but rather accelerated, my vivacity and inquisitiveness on the subject; for I wished to know whether it would produce any real effect upon him or not.

After Mr. Selby’s departure, he appeared pensive and thoughtful the remainder of the evening, and evidently sought an opportunity of speaking to me aside, which I studiously avoided. Miss Lawrence and I formed an engagement to take an airing in the morning on horseback, attended by a relation of hers who is now with them. They called for me about ten, when we immediately set out upon our preconcerted excursion. We had not proceeded far before we were met by Major Sanford. He was extremely polite, and finding our destination was not particular, begged leave to join our party. This was granted; and we had an agreeable tour for several miles, the time being passed in easy and unstudied remarks upon obvious occurrences. Major Sanford could not, however, conceal his particular attention to me, which rather nettled Miss Lawrence. She grew somewhat serious, and declined riding so far as we had intended, alleging that she expected company to dine.

Major Sanford, understanding that she was going to the assembly in the evening with Mr. Gordon, solicited me to accept a ticket, and form a party with them. The entertainment was alluring, and I consented. When we had parted with Miss Lawrence, Major Sanford insisted on my riding a little farther, saying he must converse with me on a particular subject, and if I refused him this opportunity, that he must visit me at my residence, let it offend whom it would. I yielded to his importunity, and we rode on. He then told me that his mind was in a state of suspense and agitation which was very painful to bear, and which I only could relieve; that my cheerful reception of Mr. Boyer’s letter yesterday, and deportment respecting him, had awakened in his breast all the pangs of jealousy which the most ardent love could feel; that my treatment of Mr. Boyer’s friend convinced him that I was more interested in his affairs than I was willing to own; that he foresaw himself to be condemned to an eternal separation, and the total loss of my favor and society, as soon as time and circumstances would allow.

His zeal, his pathos, alarmed me. I begged him to be calm. “To you,” said I, “as a friend, I have intrusted my situation in relation to Mr. Boyer. You know that I am under no special obligation to him, and I do not intend to form any immediate connection.” “Mr. Boyer must have different ideas, madam; and he has reason for them, if I may judge by appearances. When do you expect another visit from him?” “In about a fortnight.” “And is my fate to be then decided? and so decided, as I fear it will be, through the influence of your friends, if not by your own inclination?” “My friends, sir, will not control, they will only advise to what they think most for my interest, and I hope that my conduct will not be unworthy of their approbation.” “Pardon me, my dear Eliza,” said he, “if I am impertinent; it is my regard for you which impels me to the presumption. Do you intend to give your hand to Mr. Boyer?” “I do not intend to give my hand to any man at present. I have but lately entered society, and wish, for a while, to enjoy my freedom in the participation of pleasures suited to my age and sex.” “These,” said he, “you are aware, I suppose, when you form a connection with that man, you must renounce, and content yourself with a confinement to the tedious round of domestic duties, the pedantic conversation of scholars, and the invidious criticisms of a whole town.” “I have been accustomed,” said I, “and am therefore attached, to men of letters; and as to the praise or censure of the populace, I hope always to enjoy that approbation of conscience which will render me superior to both. But you forget your promise not to talk in this style, and have deviated far from the character of a friend and brother, with, which you consented to rest satisfied.” “Yes; but I find myself unequal to the task. I am not stoic enough tamely to make so great a sacrifice. I must plead for an interest in your favor till you banish me from your presence, and tell me plainly that you hate me.” We had by this time reached the gate, and as we dismounted, were unexpectedly accosted by Mr. Selby, who had come, agreeably to promise, to dine with us, and receive my letter to Mr. Boyer.

Major Sanford took his leave as General Richman appeared at the door. The general and his lady rallied me on my change of company, but very prudently concealed their sentiments of Major Sanford while Mr. Selby was present. Nothing material occurred before and during dinner, soon after which Mr. Selby went away. I retired to dress for the assembly, and had nearly completed the labor of the toilet when Mrs. Richman entered. “My friendship for you, my dear Eliza,” said she, “interests me so much in your affairs that I cannot repress my curiosity to know who has the honor of your hand this evening.” “If it be any honor,” said I, “it will be conferred on Major Sanford.” “I think it far too great to be thus bestowed,” returned she. “It is perfectly astonishing to me that the virtuous part of my sex will countenance, caress, and encourage those men whose profession it is to blast their reputation, destroy their peace, and triumph in their infamy.” “Is this, madam, the avowed design of Major Sanford?” “I know not what he avows, but his practice too plainly bespeaks his principles and views.” “Does he now practise the arts you mention? or do you refer to past follies?” “I cannot answer for his present conduct; his past has established his character.” “You, madam, are an advocate for charity; that, perhaps, if exercised in this instance, might lead you to think it possible for him to reform, to become a valuable member of society, and, when connected with a lady of virtue and refinement, to be capable of making a good husband.” “I cannot conceive that such a lady would be willing to risk her all upon the slender prospect of his reformation. I hope the one with whom I am conversing has no inclination to so hazardous an experiment.” “Why, not much.” “Not much! If you have any, why do you continue to encourage Mr. Boyer’s addresses?” “I am not sufficiently acquainted with either, yet, to determine which to take. At present, I shall not confine myself in any way. In regard to these men, my fancy and my judgment are in scales; sometimes one preponderates, sometimes the other; which will finally prevail, time alone can reveal.” “O my cousin, beware of the delusions of fancy! Reason must be our guide if we would expect durable happiness.” At this instant a servant opened the door, and told me that Major Sanford waited in the parlor. Being ready, I wished Mrs. Richman a good evening, and went down. Neither General Richman nor his lady appeared. He therefore handed me immediately into his phaeton, and we were soon in the assembly room.

I was surprised, on my entrance, to find Mr. Selby there, as he did not mention, at dinner, his intention of going. He attached himself to our party, and, in the intervals of dancing, took every opportunity of conversing with me. These, however, were not many; for Major Sanford assiduously precluded the possibility of my being much engaged by any one else. We passed the evening very agreeably; but the major’s importunity was rather troublesome as we returned home. He insisted upon my declaring whether Mr. Boyer really possessed my affections, and whether I intended to confer myself on him or not. “If,” said he, “you answer me in the affirmative, I must despair; but if you have not absolutely decided against me, I will still hope that my persevering assiduity, my faithful love, may at last be rewarded.” I told him that I was under no obligation to give him any account of my disposition towards another, and that he must remember the terms of our present association to which he had subscribed. I therefore begged him to waive the subject now, if not forever. He asked my pardon, if he had been impertinent, but desired leave to renew his request that I would receive his visits, his friendly visits. I replied that I could not grant this, and that he must blame himself, not me, if he was an unwelcome guest at General Richman’s. He lamented the prejudices which my friends had imbibed against him, but flattered himself that I was more liberal than to be influenced by them without any positive proof of demerit, as it was impossible that his conduct towards me should ever deviate from the strictest rules of honor and love.

What shall I say now, my friend? This man to an agreeable person has superadded graceful manners, an amiable temper, and a fortune sufficient to insure the enjoyments of all the pleasing varieties of social life. Perhaps a gay disposition and a lax education may have betrayed him into some scenes of dissipation. But is it not an adage generally received, that “a reformed rake makes the best husband”? My fancy leads me for happiness to the festive haunts of fashionable life. I am at present, and know not but I ever shall be, too volatile for a confinement to domestic avocations and sedentary pleasures. I dare not, therefore, place myself in a situation where these must be indispensable. Mr. Boyer’s person and character are agreeable. I really esteem the man. My reason and judgment, as I have observed before, declare for a connection with him, as a state of tranquillity and rational happiness. But the idea of relinquishing those delightful amusements and flattering attentions which wealth and equipage bestow is painful. Why were not the virtues of the one and the graces and affluence of the other combined? I should then have been happy indeed. But, as the case now stands, I am loath to give up either; being doubtful which will conduce most to my felicity.

Pray write me impartially; let me know your real sentiments, for I rely greatly upon your opinion. I am, &c.,