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

Letter XXXIX


Dear sir: I believe that I owe you an apology for my long silence. But my time has been much engrossed of late, and my mind much more so. When it will be otherwise I cannot foresee. I fear, my friend, that there is some foundation for your suspicions respecting my beloved Eliza. What pity it is that so fair a form, so accomplished a mind, should be tarnished in the smallest degree by the follies of coquetry! If this be the fact, which I am loath to believe, all my regard for her shall never make me the dupe of it.

When I arrived at her residence at New Haven, where I told you in my last I was soon to go, she gave me a most cordial reception. Her whole behavior to me was correspondent with those sentiments of esteem and affection which she modestly avowed. She permitted me to accompany her to Hartford, to restore her to her mother, and to declare my wish to receive her again from her hand. Thus far all was harmony and happiness. As all my wishes were consistent with virtue and honor, she readily indulged them. She took apparent pleasure in my company, encouraged my hopes of a future union, and listened to the tender accents of love.

But the scenes of gayety which invited her attention reversed her conduct. The delightful hours of mutual confidence, of sentimental converse, and of the interchange of refined affection were no more. Instead of these, parties were formed unpleasing to my taste, and every opportunity was embraced to join in diversions in which she knew I could not consistently take a share. I, however, acquiesced in her pleasure, though I sometimes thought myself neglected, and even hinted it to her mother. The old lady apologized for her daughter, by alleging that she had been absent for a long time; that her acquaintances were rejoiced at her return, and welcomed her by striving to promote her amusement.

One of her most intimate friends was married during my stay, and she appeared deeply interested in the event. She spent several days in assisting her previous to the celebration. I resided, in the mean time, at her mamma’s, visiting her at her friend’s, where Major Sanford, among others, was received as a guest. Mrs. Sumner acquainted me that she had prevailed on Miss Wharton to go and spend a few weeks with her at Boston, whither she was removing, and urged my accompanying them. I endeavored to excuse myself, as I had been absent from my people a considerable time, and my return was now expected. But their importunity was so great, and Eliza’s declaration that it would be very agreeable to her so tempting, that I consented. Here I took lodgings, and spent about a week, taking every opportunity to converse with Eliza, striving to discover her real disposition towards me. I mentioned the inconvenience of visiting her so often as I wished, and suggested my desire to enter, as soon as might be, into a family relation. I painted, in the most alluring colors, the pleasures resulting from domestic tranquillity, mutual confidence, and conjugal affection, and insisted on her declaring frankly whether she designed to share this happiness with me, and when it should commence. She owned that she intended to give me her hand, but when she should be ready she could not yet determine. She pretended a promise from me to wait her time, to consent that she should share the pleasures of the fashionable world as long as she chose, &c.

I then attempted to convince her of her mistaken ideas of pleasure; that the scenes of dissipation, of which she was so passionately fond, afforded no true enjoyment; that the adulation of the coxcomb could not give durability to her charms, or secure the approbation of the wise and good; nor could the fashionable amusements of brilliant assemblies and crowded theatres furnish the mind with

  • “That which nothing earthly gives or can destroy—
  • The soul’s calm sunshine and the heartfelt joy.”
  • These friendly suggestions, I found, were considered as the theme of a priest, and my desire to detach her from such empty pursuits as the selfishness of a lover. She was even offended at my freedom, and warmly affirmed that no one had a right to arraign her conduct. I mentioned Major Sanford, who was then in town, and who (though she went to places of public resort with Mr. and Mrs. Sumner) always met and gallanted her home. She rallied me upon my jealousy, as she termed it, wished that I would attend her myself, and then she should need no other gallant. I answered that I had rather resign that honor to another, but wished, for her sake, that he might be a gentleman whose character would not disgrace the company with which he associated. She appeared mortified and chagrined in the extreme. However, she studiously suppressed her emotions, and even soothed me with the blandishments of female softness. We parted amicably. She promised to return soon and prepare for a compliance with my wishes. I cannot refuse to believe her. I cannot cease to love her. My heart is in her possession. She has a perfect command of my passions. Persuasion dwells on her tongue. With all the boasted fortitude and resolution of our sex, we are but mere machines. Let love once pervade our breasts, and its object may mould us into any form that pleases her fancy, or even caprice.

    I have just received a letter from Eliza, informing me of her return to Hartford. To-morrow I shall set out on a visit to the dear girl; for, my friend, notwithstanding all her foibles, she is very dear to me. Before you hear from me again I expect that the happy day will be fixed—the day which shall unite in the most sacred bands this lovely maid and your faithful friend,

    J. BOYER.