THE COQUETTE; OR, THE HISTORY OF ELIZA WHARTON.
A NOVEL: FOUNDED ON FACT.
BY A LADY OF MASSACHUSETTS.
HISTORICAL PREFACE, INCLUDING A MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR.
He who waits beside the folded gates of mystery, over which forever float the impurpled vapors of the PAST, should stand with girded loins, and white, unshodden feet. So he who attempts to lift the veil that separates the REAL from the IDEAL, or to remove the heavy curtain that for a century may have concealed from view the actual personages of a well-drawn popular fiction, or what may have been received as such, should bring to his task a tender heart and a delicate and gentle hand.
Thus, in preparing an introductory chapter for these pages which are to follow, many and various thoughts suggest themselves, and it is necessary to recognize and pursue them with gentleness and caution.
The romance of "Eliza Wharton" appeared in print not many years subsequent to the assumed transactions it so faithfully attempts to record. Written as it was by one highly educated for the times,—the popular wife of a popular clergyman, connected in no distant degree, by marriage, with the family of the heroine, and one who by the very profession and position of her husband was, as by necessity, brought into the sphere of actual intercourse with the principal characters of the novel, and as the book also took precedence in time of all American romances, when, too, the literature of the day was any thing but "light"—it is not surprising that it thus took precedence in interest as well of all American novels, at least throughout New England, and was found, in every cottage within its borders, beside the family Bible, and though pitifully, yet almost as carefully treasured.
Since that time it has run through a score of editions, at long intervals out of print, and again revived at the public call with an eagerness of distribution which few modern romances have enjoyed. Its author, Hannah Foster, was the daughter of Grant Webster, a well-known merchant of Boston, and wife of Rev. John Foster, of Brighton, Massachusetts, whose pedigree, but few removes backward in the line of her husband,[A] interlinked, as has been already hinted, with that of the "Coquette." Thus did they hold towards each other that very significant relationship—especially in the past century—of "cousins" a relationship better heeded and more earnestly recognized and cherished than that of nearer kin at the present day. Therefore, not only by family ties, but by similarity of positions and community of interests, was she brought into immediate acquaintance with the circumstances herein combined, and especially qualified to write the history with power and effect. Nor is this the only work which bears the impress of her gifted pen. There is still another extant, of which I need not at this time and place make mention, besides many valuable literary contributions to the scattered periodicals of that day. It is to be regretted here that a short time previous to her death she destroyed the whole of her manuscripts, which might, in many respects, have been particularly valuable.
She has, however, transmitted her genius and her powers, which find expression and appreciation in two daughters still living in Montreal, Canada East, one of whom is the gifted author of "Peep at the Pilgrims," "Sketches from the Life of Christ," and "Confessions of an early Martyr," all of which have been very popular; the first having been republished here within a short period, and also in England with still greater success. The other daughter, the widow of the late Dr. Cushing who, while firm at his post as physician at the Emigrant Hospital, fell a victim to that terrible malady, ship fever, in 1846, is also author of many minor works, and co-editor of the "Snowdrop," a monthly publication of much merit in Montreal. Mrs. Foster died in that place, at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Cushing, April 17, 1840, at the advanced age of eighty-one years.
It may seem, however, at a period so long subsequent to the actual transpiration of events herein recorded, that little could be said to throw light or interest upon the history, and even less upon the character, or in extenuation of the follies or the frailties of the unfortunate subject of the following pages, and upon which public opinion had long ago rendered its verdict and sealed it for a higher tribunal. Yet I am happy in assuring any who may pause over these prefatory leaves that this is not the fact; and it harms us not to believe that over every life, however full of error it may be, there is an unwritten chapter which the angels take into account as they bear upward the tearful record, and which He, the great Scribe, "who ever sitteth at the right hand of the Father," and from whose solemn utterance on earth dropped the forever cherished words which have so often given life and hope to the penitent fallen,—"neither do I condemn thee,"—interpolates on the mighty leger of eternity for the great reckoning day.
"Eliza Wharton," generally known, perhaps, as Elizabeth Whitman, was the eldest of four children—Elizabeth, Mary, Abigail, and William; the latter of whom was a physician, twice married, and who also left a son of his own name, (William Elnathan,) who died in Philadelphia in 1846, unmarried. Her father, the Rev. Elnathan Whitman, was the son of Rev. Samuel Whitman, who was the third son of Rev. Zechariah Whitman, the youngest child of John, the original ancestor of the Whitman family. He (Rev. Samuel W.) graduated at Harvard University in 1696, and was for several years a tutor there. Thus having passed through the usual, though then somewhat limited, course of theology, he was ordained as minister of the gospel in Farmington, Connecticut, in 1706, at that time one of the largest towns in the state. He inherited by bequest one half of his father's lands in Stow, Massachusetts, and was thereby also made executor of his will. He married, March 19, 1707, Mary Stoddard, daughter of Rev. Solomon Stoddard, second minister of Northampton, Massachusetts. Mr. Stoddard was born in Boston in 1643, and died in Northampton in 1729. This Solomon Stoddard was the great-grandfather of Hon. Solomon Stoddard, now residing in Northampton.
It is worthy of remark here that the early ancestors of "Eliza Wharton" intermarried also with the Edwards family; so that Hon. Pierpont Edwards, who figures in this volume as "Major Sanford," could be no less than second cousin to his unfortunate victim.
Rev. Elnathan Whitman, the father of Elizabeth, was born January 12, 1708-9, and graduated from Yale College, New Haven, where he was for several subsequent years a tutor. He at length settled as minister over the Second Church in Hartford, Connecticut, and there married Abigail Stanley, daughter of Colonel Nathaniel Stanley, treasurer of the colony of Connecticut, a woman of uncommon energy of character and of superior mental acquirements, (a correct portrait of whom accompanies these pages, taken from an original painting.) He died in Hartford also, March 2, 1776, aged sixty-eight years, after having served in the ministry in that place forty-three of the same. His tombstone bears the following inscription:—
IN MEMORY OF
THE REV. ELNATHAN WHITMAN,
Pastor of the Second Church of Christ in Hartford, and one of the fellows of the corporation of Yale College, who departed this life the 2d day of March, A.D. 1776, in the 69th year of his age and 44th of his ministry.
Endowed with superior natural abilities and good literary acquirements, he was still more distinguished for his unaffected piety, primitive simplicity of manners, and true Christian benevolence. He closed a life spent in the service of his Creator, in humble confidence of eternal happiness through the merits of the Savior.
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord."
His wife survived him nineteen-years, and died November 19, 1795, aged seventy-six. It was during the dark, early period of her widowhood that the sad events occurred which have furnished the historian and the novelist with themes of the deepest pathos, and to which prominence is given in the following pages. But,
"Woes cluster. Rare are solitary woes; They love a train—they tread each other's heels."
So said the sublimest of poets, and so has all experience proved. Thus, in her case, this affliction did not come alone; but at a period nearly connected with this, in the dreary, solitary hours of the night,—her night of sorrow too,—her house was discovered on fire, which, for lack of modern appliances, was totally destroyed, with all its contents, consisting not only of many curious and valuable articles of furniture both for use and ornament, but embracing, also, an uncommon library, overflowing with rare books, pamphlets, &c., which her late husband had collected with great effort and research.
Elizabeth, the eldest of her family, was born in 1752. She was a child of early promise, and remarkable in maturer years for her genius (I use the term in no merely conventional sense, as will hereafter appear) and accomplishments, as well as for her genial spirit and tender and endearing qualities. Her maternal ancestor, Thomas Stanley, was an original owner and settler in Hartford, Connecticut, and removed to, and died in, Hadley, Massachusetts, January 30, 1662-3.
Thus nobly descended and connected, so singularly unfortunate, and her fate so afflicting and disastrous, it is no wonder that the novelist pointed her pen to record, with historical accuracy, a destiny so fearful, a career so terrible. By her exceeding personal beauty and accomplishments, added to the wealth of her mind, she attracted to her sphere the grave and the gay, the learned and the witty, the worshippers of the beautiful, with those who reverently bend before all inner graces.
Prominent among these was the Rev. Joseph Howe, then pastor at the New South Church, on Church Green, in this city, a young man of rare talents and eminent piety. Unfortunately, the fear and excitement consequent on the hostile relation of the colonies at that time towards the mother country forced him from his position here; and he left, with the family whose house had been his home, for a more quiet, temporary retreat in Norwich, Connecticut. Soon after this he repaired to the residence of Rev. Mr. Whitman, in Hartford, for a short visit, high in the anticipation of soon becoming the happy husband of the gifted daughter Elizabeth. But Providence, in wisdom, had ordered it otherwise; and, while on this visit, he suddenly sickened and died.
However much or little of soul or of sorrow she had in this event we are not to know; but another stood ready to-worship in his place, what we will endeavor to believe was in some degree worthy of homage. This was "J. Boyer," known as the Rev. Joseph Buckminster, a graduate of Yale College, and at that time tutor in the same institution, who afterwards settled as minister over the religions society in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and whose Biography was but a few years ago published.
We have no reason to believe, however, that either of these persons was her earliest choice, especially the latter, or that, in this case most certainly, there could have been at all that sacred congeniality of spirit so deeply necessary to woman's nature, bearing out from her bosom that deathless affection which nor pride, nor affluence, nor folly, nor love of conquest, with the victory every where certain, could in any wise overcome.
The feeling that existed on her part was of circumstances only, influenced by strong parental predilection, and the desire which so often obtains in the heart of a true woman—that of soothing the love she cannot return, resolving itself at length into pity.
We might here also dwell upon the idiosyncrasies of genius as applicable to her case, which are generally banned, of whatever character they may be, and evermore shut out all sympathy, till, in despair or despite, folly is made crime. But since sin must ever be arraigned for itself, and error is prone to plead for mercy, I leave no word here that can be misconstrued or misapplied. Certain it is that Elizabeth Whitman was marked as one of strangely fluctuating moods, as the truly gifted ever are, and of a wild, incomprehensible nature, little understood by those who should have known her best, and with whom she was most intimate. Over this, in tracing her history, it were well to pause, were it not that thus we might give countenance to this prominent fact of modern days, that the eccentricities of genius are often substituted for genius itself, or are made its prime characteristics, as the gold of the jeweller is recommended for its beauty and strength in proportion to its alloy.
However much we may regret the waywardness of such a heart in the present instance, in that it rejected one so nobly qualified as was Mr. Buckminster to appreciate its genius and its love, while sympathizing with his own mortifying disappointment, (for this we must admit,) that she had in the secrets of her nature a preference for another, we cannot altogether know its results. So cautiously and discreetly did he, through a long and beautiful life, qualify both his lips and his pen, that little or nothing remains beyond these letters of the novelist—which we may not doubt are authentic, as they were long in the possession of Mrs. Henry Hill, of Boston, the "Mrs. Sumner" of the novel—to tell how the heart was instructed, and how blighted hope and blasted affection were made the lobes through which the spirit caught its sublimest and holiest respiration. We know
"Through lacerations takes the spirit wing, And in the heart's long death throe grasps true life."
One little remark which has been suffered to creep into his Memoirs is, however, of peculiar significance. I quote it here.
In speaking of Connecticut to a friend, he says, "My place was there; I always wished that state to be my home; but Providence has directed my line of duty far away from the place of my first affections."
He also—as one who had every means of knowing the fact has informed me—was deeply affected on reading the "romance" here following, and at the time remarked that, had the author been personally acquainted (not knowing that she was) with the circumstances of his engagement with Elizabeth Whitman, she could not have described them with more graphic truth.
The Hon. Pierrepont Edwards, to whom was given the preference and precedence above referred to, and who is made to assume in the chapters of the novel the name of "Sanford," was the son of Rev. Jonathan Edwards, president of Princeton College, New Jersey. His maternal grandmother was Esther, the second daughter of the Rev. Solomon Stoddard, and sister to the paternal grandmother of Elizabeth Whitman, the wife of Rev. Samuel Whitman before mentioned. A Mr. Burt has by some been identified with this "Sanford," the rival of "Boyer," yet without the least pretension in history to authenticity. Nor can we place much reliance upon the letters here introduced as his in point of originality, as there is sufficient reason for believing that these are, for the most part, of the author's invention, founded upon the current reputation of his after years. And we may be happy in so considering them, since they would betray a character, even in earliest manhood, too depraved and debased for honorable mention, although his errors were no doubt altogether beyond the palliation of a woman's pen. Yet we would fain look at him, in youth at least, as undebauched and uncorrupt, however stained may be the record of his manhood.
Between him and Elizabeth Whitman there was, notwithstanding, over all and under all, a close affinity of spirit; and there is no question, aside from the frailties and objections which the writer of the romance has introduced, that there was a marriage of the soul, superseding all after ties which worldliness and depravity might have consummated, that overshadows sin, and may not pass into our reckoning. Not only such a marriage, but one, though secret, actually sanctioned by the laws of the land, she is known to have declared a fact previous to her death.
Question this who may, that deep down under the impulses of surging passion there existed a purer and holier affection for her, is in history sufficiently clear. They had been set in family connection, intimate by kin, intimate in earliest life by every outward tie, and especially intimate by the subtile affinities of their spiritual natures. Yet he who can, under any circumstances, entreat the love of woman, and then take advantage of her weakness or her confidence, is an anomaly in nature, and should have a special, judiciary here and in heaven.
Since so much of the romance here following is truth, veritable truth, it is to be regretted that any error of historical character was suffered to assume importance in the narrative. Yet this is so often the case in works of this kind, that it is not remarkable here. More surprising is it that truth was so carefully and conscientiously guarded and preserved.
In conflicting statements, it is difficult to determine the precise year of the marriage of Mr. Edwards, whether before or after the death of "Eliza Wharton," although it may have been long before, even as one of his biographers has it, and that recklessness and extravagance may have lifted him to a too fearful height from the calm Eden of love and honor, till he at length compromised the influence of both to baser avarice.
That he married Frances Ogden, of Elizabeth-town, New Jersey, for his first wife, is the fact, and the date given is 1769. Yet the ciphers may be questioned, I think, as it would make him but nineteen years of age at the time of the event, besides other considerations which make it appear more doubtful still.
He was, however, as has been already stated, the eleventh and youngest child of Rev. Jonathan Edwards, and was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, Sabbath. His biographer has been particularly faithful in thus recording it, as if the hallowed influences of the Sabbath upon birth have a bearing on subsequent life, and were in his case either strikingly marked or missed. He was born, then, Sabbath, April 8, 1750, and was cousin, in good or evil, to the notorious Aaron Burr. He was also brother to Rev. Jonathan Edwards, president of Union College.
His mother, Sarah Pierrepont, was of aristocratic origin, and the daughter of Rev. James Pierrepont, and granddaughter of John Pierrepont, of Roxbury, from whom descended Rev. John Pierpont, the celebrated poet and divine of our own time. The Pierrepont family was a branch of the family of the Duke of Kingston, (Pierrepont being the family name;) and the mother of Mr. Edwards was thus cousin-german to Mary Pierrepont, (Lady Mary Wortley Montague.)
Through his whole ancestral line we trace the "laying on of hands" in the most conspicuous as in the divinest order; and thus might he be truly called a child of prayer and consecration. What pity that his biographer should have been compelled to record, "The most remarkable feature of his character was his unbridled licentiousness"! But we cannot drop the curtain here. We would relieve the picture by this somewhat lighter shade. "His intellectual energies were gigantic. As a pleader and a determined and artful advocate, he had few equals. Hence, as a lawyer, he scarcely ever lost a case in his whole practice." An amusing anecdote is related of him in his professional career.
"In an insurance case, the evidence of which was strongly against him, he went in disguise to New London, where the witnesses, mostly sailors, resided. In a loafer-like swagger he proposed and secured bets from every material evidence in the case, and thus disqualified them from bearing testimony, on the ground that they were interested witnesses." In his old age he married his housekeeper, and closed an eventful and unblessed life at Bridgeport, April 14, 1826. 'Tis well to memorize him here, and thus register birth and death on the very page that records the most mysterious chapter of his history.
Let us return to unite and conclude our story. In June, 1788, a female of uncommon beauty of person, yet with an oppressed and melancholy bearing, suddenly appeared at the old Bell Tavern in Danvers, Massachusetts, (a drawing of which is here introduced.) She was habited in black, and was seldom seen abroad, never except alone, and at twilight, when she was observed to wander as far as the old burying ground hard by, and there to pause at its entrance, gazing long and earnestly upon its silent, scattered mounds, at length retracing her steps with the same melancholy gait and air.
Here she remained nearly a month, discovering to none her real name or situation. She passed her time in writing, and occasionally playing upon a guitar, which was the only companion of her solitude. After remaining there about two weeks a chaise was seen to pause before the door, upon the lintel of which had secretly been traced in chalk, as it afterwards appeared, the letters "E.W." A gentleman hastily alighted, and was also observed through the darkness of the evening to examine the casing of the door, and then return to the chaise and drive rapidly away.
The opinion was, by those who were cognizant of the fact, that this was a secret, preconcerted sign by which the lover should recognize the place of her retreat; and being too faintly drawn, through the darkness of the night he failed to discover the characters.
From this time, however, the spirits of the stranger evidently sunk; and in two weeks more birth and death had followed each other, and the grave had closed over all.
This stranger had, in her peculiar situation, tenderly won upon the sympathies of a few kind-hearted individuals who had made their way to her, one of whom, a Mrs. Southwick, lived directly opposite the Bell Tavern. These were with her in her last great agony, in which all sense of guilt was lost in pity. Mrs. S. has related that no word of complaint or accusation was heard to fall from her lips, while the spirit seemed brightening with an unearthly hope, till what was charming in life was indescribably lovely in death. Thus they laid the beautiful stranger in the saintly robes of the sepulchre without censure and without accusation, not knowing how painfully she was mourned and missed, as a star shut out of vision by clouds and storm, in the home of her childhood and in the heart of a widowed mother.
She had passed under the assumed name of Walker while at the Bell Tavern of Danvers, and her wardrobe was found marked with the corresponding initials, "E.W.," although applying to her real name as well. These facts, in connection with her death, were immediately published in the Boston and Salem journals, and her friends advertised to appear; and thus were her real name and place of residence elicited.
A short time afterwards, and a stranger came and caused to be erected in the old burying ground in Danvers, on the spot where she was interred, two "gray stones," after the manner of Ossian, with the touching inscription which this volume records; and the feet of strangers, moved by pity and humanity, have worn a path to her grave which he who covets most in the world's memory might even envy.
The tombstones (which the fathers of that ancient town should shame to have recorded) have been battered and broken for relics, till much of the inscription is gone already, and the footstone entirely removed.
But I have noted that Elizabeth Whitman was of superior merit, and had been recognized as a child of genius in its most earnest sense. From her earliest childhood she had been remarkable for a deeply poetic temperament, and it appears she was recognized as a poet of no common order by the most distinguished writers of the day—Barlow, Trumbull, and others. Why her name and writings have not been handed down to us by those who have essayed to make careful compilations of the literature of the past century, I am unable to divine. She was a relative as well of the last-named poet, Trumbull, on the side of his mother, who was Sarah Whitman, a sister of Rev. Elnathan Whitman, the father of Elizabeth.
I find in the journals of that time the following poem, which, though not the best of her productions, certainly gives evidence of much poetic power:—
TO MR. BARLOW.
By his Friend ELIZABETH WHITMAN, on New Year's Day, 1783.
Should every wish the heart of friendship knows Be to your ear conveyed in rustic prose, Lost in the wonders of your Eastern clime, Or rapt in vision to some unborn time, Th' unartful tale might no attention gain; For Friendship knows not, like the Muse, to feign. Forgive her, then, if in this weak essay She tries to emulate thy daring lay, And give to truth and warm affection's glow The charms that from the tuneful sisters flow.
On this blest morning's most auspicious rise, Which finds thee circled with domestic joys, May thy glad heart its grateful tribute pay To Him who shaped thy course and smoothed thy way— That guardian Power, who, to thy merit kind, Bestowed the bliss most suited to thy mind— Retirement, friendship, leisure, learned ease, All that the philosophic mind can please; All that the Muses love, th' harmonious nine, Inspire thy lays, and aid the great design. But more than all the world could else bestow, All pleasures that from fame or fortune flow, To fix secure in bliss thy future life, Heaven crowned thy blessings with a lovely wife— Wise, gentle, good, with every grace combined That charms the sense or captivates the mind; Skilled every soft emotion to improve, The joy of friendship, and the wish of love; To soothe the heart which pale Misfortune's train Invades with grief or agonizing pain; To point through devious paths the narrow road That leads the soul to virtue or to God.
O friend! O sister! to my bosom dear By every tie that binds the soul sincere; O, while I fondly dwell upon thy name, Why sinks my soul, unequal to the theme? But though unskilled thy various worth to praise, Accept my wishes, and excuse my lays. May all thy future days, like this, be gay, And love and fortune blend their kindest ray; Long in their various gifts mayst thou be blessed, And late ascend the realms of endless rest.
Among her papers, also, after her decease, was found a pastoral on "Disappointment," which here follows, evidently written during her seclusion in Danvers, with this brief and pathetic letter in stenographic characters:—
"Must I die alone? Shall I never see you more? I know that you will come; but you will come too late. This is, I fear, my last ability. Tears fall so fast I know not how to write. Why did you leave me in such distress? But I will not reproach you. All that was dear I forsook for you, but do not regret it. May God forgive in both what was amiss. When I go from here, I will leave you some way to find me. If I die, will you come and drop a tear over my grave?"
The poem, which continues in the same moving strain, is touching and tender, and betrays a heart full of refinement and sensibility.
With fond impatience, all the tedious day I sighed, and wished the lingering hours away; For when bright Hesper led the starry train, My shepherd swore to meet me on the plain. With eager haste to that dear spot I flew, And lingered long, and then in tears withdrew. Alone, abandoned to love's tenderest woes, Down my pale cheeks the tide of sorrow flows; Dead to all joy that Fortune can bestow, In vain for me her useless bounties flow. Take back each envied gift, ye powers divine, And only let me call Fidelio mine. Ah, wretch! what anguish yet thy soul must prove! For thou canst hope to lose thy care in love; And when Fidelio meets thy tearful eye, Pale fear and cold despair his presence fly. With pensive steps I sought thy walks again, And kissed thy token on the verdant plain; With fondest hope, through many a blissful hour, We gave our souls to Fancy's pleasing power. Lost in the magic of that sweet employ, To build gay scenes and fashion future joy, We saw mild Peace over fair Canaan rise, And shower her pleasures from benignant skies. On airy hills our happy mansion rose, Built but for joy—no room for future woes. Round the calm solitude with ceaseless song,
* * * * *
Sweet as the sleep of innocence the day, By transports measured, lightly danced away; To love, to bliss, the unioned soul was given, And—ah, too happy!—asked no brighter heaven. And must the hours in ceaseless anguish roll? Will no soft sunshine cheer my clouded soul? Can this dear earth no transient joy supply? Is it my doom to hope, despair, and die? O, come once more, with soft endearments come; Burst the cold prison of the sullen tomb; Through favored walks thy chosen maid attend Where well-known shades their pleasing branches bend; Shed the soft poison of thy speaking eye, And look those raptures lifeless words deny. Still he, though late, reheard what ne'er could tire, But, told each eve, fresh pleasures would inspire; Still hope those scenes which love and fancy drew, But, drawn a thousand times, were ever new.
Can fancy paint, can words express, Can aught on earth my woes redress? E'en thy soft smiles can ceaseless prove Thy truth, thy tenderness, and love. Once thou couldst every bliss inspire, Transporting joy and gay desire; Now cold Despair her banner rears, And Pleasure flies when she appears; Fond Hope within my bosom dies, And Agony her place supplies. O thou, for whose dear sake I bear A doom so dreadful, so severe, May happy fates thy footsteps guide, And o'er thy peaceful home preside; Nor let E——a's early tomb Infect thee with its baleful gloom.
Still another poem, of more genuine beauty and strength than either of these, has been preserved in her own handwriting, which I doubt not the reader will thank me for introducing here, although it bears more of recrimination than the others.
Thy presents to some happier lover send; Content thyself to be Lucinda's friend. The soft expression of thy gay design Ill suits the sadness of a heart like mine— A heart like mine, forever doomed to prove Each tender woe, but not one joy of love.
First from my arms a dying lover torn, In early life it was my fate to mourn. A father next, by fate's relentless doom, With heartfelt woe I followed to the tomb. Now all was lost; no friends remained to guide My erring step, or calm life's boisterous tide.
Again th' admiring youths around me bowed; And one I singled from the sighing crowd. Well skilled he was in every winning art— To warm the fancy, or to touch the heart. Why must my pen the noble praise deny, Which virtue, worth, and honor should supply?
O youth beloved! what pangs my breast has borne To find thee false, ungrateful, and forsworn! A shade and darkness o'er my prospect spreads, The damps of night and death's eternal shades. The scorpion's sting, by disappointment brought, And all the horrors of despairing thought, Sad as they are, I might, perhaps, endure, And bear with patience what admits no cure. But here my bosom is to madness moved; I suffer by the wrongs of him I loved.
O, had I died by pitying Heaven's decree, Nor proved so black, so base, a mind in thee! But vain the wish; my heart was doomed to prove Each torturing pang, but not one joy of love. Wouldst thou again fallacious prospects spread, And woo me from the confines of the dead? The pleasing scenes that charmed me once retrace— Gay scenes of rapture and ecstatic bliss? How did my heart embrace the dear deceit, And fondly cherish the deluding cheat! Delusive hope, and wishes sadly vain, Unless to sharpen disappointment's pain.
These are but the fragmentary proofs of her poetic ability; still they are the most that have been preserved bearing full authenticity; yet these betray a skilful and accustomed pen, though stamped with the bitterness of woe.
Here, then, we will take up the idea which we left several pages back, in order to introduce a quotation from a volume of singular power in behalf of those thus gifted, who are every where looked upon with some degree of suspicion at least, as I find our heroine was even long before she wandered from the path of virtue. I quote it only to soften the harsher judgment of the world, ever eager to condemn what it cannot comprehend; yet must it by no means be made to apologize for any sin.
While I am willing to be known as believing that genius can be governed by no conventional laws, but is ever a law unto itself, I am also in the full belief of the independent moral power of every individual to regulate his own acts according to the purest code of morality. But to the quotation, which, with the above remarks, the reader would find pertinent to time and place had he turned over the historical pages having a bearing on this romance which I have.
"The strong seductions and fierce trials of the heart of genius who shall estimate? * * * What does an ordinary mind know of the inner storm and whirlwind, as it were, of restlessness; the craving after excitement and high action; the inability to calm the breast and repose in fixity; the wild beatings and widowed longings after sympathy? * * * It is the severe lot of genius that its blessedness should be its bane; that that wherein its heavenly franchise gives it to excel mankind is the point wherein it should be cursed above its brethren!"
More I might quote; but these few extracts are sufficient for my purpose; and I hasten to conclude this chapter with what may to the general reader appear more relevant.
* * * * *
Not many years ago the Bell Tavern, as it was ever named, was razed to its foundation, and a new building erected on the spot where it stood. At this time a pleasant jeu d'esprit from the humorous and ready pen—which has failed not to make its mark in the world—of Fitch Poole, Esq., of Danvers, was published, which gained a wide credence in its authenticity. This curious witticism affected to have discovered in the wall of the room which "Eliza Wharton" occupied an original letter from her to Mr. Edwards, dated May, 1778, besides various articles of her wearing apparel, such as slippers, &c., and also her guitar, all of which had been concealed in the ceiling since the sad close of her history. Numbers flocked to see them; but, as it was a mere pleasantry, the hoax was well received, and ended in the neighborhood of Danvers with the privileged "April fool's day" of its date, although it may even yet have believers in distant places.
Thus, kind reader, have I accomplished the task assigned me with fidelity to truth and to humanity, and here lay the offering on the altar of universal love without excuse.
JANE E. LOCKE.
NOTE.—For important facts which have greatly aided me in preparing this prefatory chapter I am much indebted, as I would here gratefully acknowledge, to Ezekiel White, Esq., of Easthampton, and Mrs. H.V. Cheney, of Montreal.
[Footnote A: John Whitman, whose father was brother to the grandfather of "Eliza Wharton," married a daughter of Rev. Mr. Foster, of Stafford, Connecticut, who afterwards settled in Stow, Massachusetts, and who was father of Rev. John Foster, of Brighton, Massachusetts, the husband of the author of this book.]
THE COQUETTE; OR, THE HISTORY OF ELIZA WHARTON.
TO MISS LUCY FREEMAN.
An unusual sensation possesses my breast—a sensation which I once thought could never pervade it on any occasion whatever. It is pleasure, pleasure, my dear Lucy, on leaving my paternal roof. Could you have believed that the darling child of an indulgent and dearly-beloved mother would feel a gleam of joy at leaving her? But so it is. The melancholy, the gloom, the condolence which surrounded me for a month after the death of Mr. Haly had depressed my spirits, and palled every enjoyment of life. Mr. Haly was a man of worth—a man of real and substantial merit. He is, therefore, deeply and justly regretted by his friends. He was chosen to be a future guardian and companion for me, and was, therefore, beloved by mine. As their choice, as a good man, and a faithful friend, I esteemed him; but no one acquainted with the disparity of our tempers and dispositions, our views and designs, can suppose my heart much engaged in the alliance. Both nature and education had instilled into my mind an implicit obedience to the will and desires of my parents. To them, of course, I sacrificed my fancy in this affair, determined that my reason should concur with theirs, and on that to risk my future happiness. I was the more encouraged, as I saw, from our first acquaintance, his declining health, and expected that the event would prove as it has. Think not, however, that I rejoice in his death. No; far be it from me; for though I believe that I never felt the passion of love for Mr. Haly, yet a habit of conversing with him, of hearing daily the most virtuous, tender, and affectionate sentiments from his lips, inspired emotions of the sincerest friendship and esteem.
He is gone. His fate is unalterably, and I trust happily, fixed. He lived the life, and died the death, of the righteous. O that my last end may be like his! This event will, I hope, make a suitable and abiding impression upon my mind, teach me the fading nature of all sublunary enjoyments, and the little dependence which is to be placed on earthly felicity. Whose situation was more agreeable, whose prospects more flattering, than Mr. Haly's? Social, domestic, and connubial joys were fondly anticipated, and friends and fortune seemed ready to crown every wish; yet, animated by still brighter hopes, he cheerfully bade them all adieu. In conversation with me but a few days before his exit, "There is," said he, "but one link in the chain of life undissevered; that, my dear Eliza, is my attachment to you. But God is wise and good in all his ways; and in this, as in all other respects, I would cheerfully say, His will be done."
You, my friend, were witness to the concluding scene; and, therefore, I need not describe it.
I shall only add on the subject, that if I have wisdom and prudence to follow his advice and example, if his prayers for my temporal and eternal welfare be heard and answered, I shall be happy indeed.
The disposition of mind which I now feel I wish to cultivate. Calm, placid, and serene, thoughtful of my duty, and benevolent to all around me, I wish for no other connection than that of friendship.
This letter is all an egotism. I have even neglected to mention the respectable and happy friends with whom I reside, but will do it in my next. Write soon and often; and believe me sincerely yours,
TO THE SAME.
Time, which effaces every occasional impression, I find gradually dispelling the pleasing pensiveness which the melancholy event, the subject of my last, had diffused over my mind. Naturally cheerful, volatile, and unreflecting, the opposite disposition I have found to contain sources of enjoyment which I was before unconscious of possessing.
My friends here are the picture of conjugal felicity. The situation is delightful—the visiting parties perfectly agreeable. Every thing tends to facilitate the return of my accustomed vivacity. I have written to my mother, and received an answer. She praises my fortitude, and admires the philosophy which I have exerted under what she calls my heavy bereavement. Poor woman! she little thinks that my heart was untouched; and when that is unaffected, other sentiments and passions make but a transient impression. I have been, for a month or two, excluded from the gay world, and, indeed, fancied myself soaring above it. It is now that I begin to descend, and find my natural propensity for mixing in the busy scenes and active pleasures of life returning. I have received your letter—your moral lecture rather; and be assured, my dear, your monitorial lessons and advice shall be attended to. I believe I shall never again resume those airs which you term coquettish, but which I think deserve a softer appellation, as they proceed from an innocent heart, and are the effusions of a youthful and cheerful mind. We are all invited to spend the day to-morrow at Colonel Farington's, who has an elegant seat in this neighborhood. Both he and his lady are strangers to me; but the friends by whom I am introduced will procure me a welcome reception. Adieu.
TO THE SAME.
Is it time for me to talk again of conquests? or must I only enjoy them in silence? I must write to you the impulses of my mind, or I must not write at all. You are not so morose as to wish me to become a nun, would our country and religion allow it. I ventured, yesterday, to throw aside the habiliments of mourning, and to array myself in those more adapted to my taste. We arrived at Colonel Farington's about one o'clock. The colonel handed me out of the carriage, and introduced me to a large company assembled in the hall.
My name was pronounced with an emphasis, and I was received with the most flattering tokens of respect. When we were summoned to dinner, a young gentleman in a clerical dress offered me his hand, and led me to a table furnished with an elegant and sumptuous repast, with more gallantry and address than commonly fall to the share of students. He sat opposite me at table; and whenever I raised my eye, it caught his. The ease and politeness of his manners, with his particular attention to me, raised my curiosity, and induced me to ask Mrs. Laiton who he was. She told me that his name was Boyer; that he was descended from a worthy family; had passed with honor and applause through the university where he was educated; had since studied divinity with success; and now had a call to settle as a minister in one of the first parishes in a neighboring state.
The gates of a spacious garden were thrown open at this instant, and I accepted with avidity an invitation to walk in it. Mirth and hilarity prevailed, and the moments fled on downy wings, while we traced the beauties of Art and Nature, so liberally displayed and so happily blended in this delightful retreat. An enthusiastic admirer of scenes like these, I had rambled some way from the company, when I was followed by Mrs. Laiton to offer her condolence on the supposed loss which I had sustained in the death of Mr. Haly. My heart rose against the woman, so ignorant of human nature as to think such conversation acceptable at such a time. I made her little reply, and waved the subject, though I could not immediately dispel the gloom which it excited.
The absurdity of a custom authorizing people at a first interview to revive the idea of griefs which time has lulled, perhaps obliterated, is intolerable. To have our enjoyments arrested by the empty compliments of unthinking persons for no other reason than a compliance with fashion, is to be treated in a manner which the laws of humanity forbid.
We were soon joined by the gentlemen, who each selected his partner, and the walk was prolonged.
Mr. Boyer offered me his arm, which I gladly accepted, happy to be relieved from the impertinence of my female companion. We returned to tea; after which the ladies sung, and played by turns on the piano forte; while some of the gentlemen accompanied with the flute, the clarinet, and the violin, forming in the whole a very decent concert. An elegant supper, and half an hour's conversation after it, closed the evening; when we returned home, delighted with our entertainment, and pleased with ourselves and each other. My imagination is so impressed with the festive scenes of the day that Morpheus waves his ebon wand in vain. The evening is fine beyond the power of description; all Nature is serene and harmonious, in perfect unison with my present disposition of mind. I have been taking a retrospect of my past life, and, a few juvenile follies excepted, which I trust the recording angel has blotted out with a tear of charity, find an approving conscience and a heart at ease. Fortune, indeed, has not been very liberal of her gifts to me; but I presume on a large stock in the bank of friendship, which, united with health and innocence, give me some pleasing anticipations of future felicity.
Whatever my fate may be, I shall always continue your
TO MR. SELBY.
You ask me, my friend, whether I am in pursuit of truth, or a lady. I answer, Both. I hope and trust they are united, and really expect to find Truth, and the Virtues and Graces besides, in a fair form. If you mean by the first part of your question whether I am searching into the sublimer doctrines of religion,—to these I would by no means be inattentive; but, to be honest, my studies of that kind have been very much interrupted of late. The respectable circle of acquaintances with which I am honored here has rendered my visits very frequent and numerous. In one of these I was introduced to Miss Eliza Wharton—a young lady whose elegant person, accomplished mind, and polished manners have been much celebrated. Her fame has often reached me; but, as the Queen of Sheba said to Solomon, the half was not told me. You will think that I talk in the style of a lover.
I confess it; nor am I ashamed to rank myself among the professed admirers of this lovely fair one. I am in no danger, however, of becoming an enthusiastic devotee. No; I mean I act upon just and rational principles. Expecting soon to settle in an eligible situation, if such a companion as I am persuaded she will make me may fall to my lot, I shall deem myself as happy as this state of imperfection will admit. She is now resident at General Richman's. The general and his lady are her particular friends; they are warm in her praises. They tell me, however, that she is naturally of a gay disposition. No matter for that; it is an agreeable quality, where there is discretion sufficient for its regulation. A cheerful friend, much more a cheerful wife, is peculiarly necessary to a person of a studious and sedentary life. They dispel the gloom of retirement, and exhilarate the spirits depressed by intense application. She was formerly addressed by the late Mr. Haly, of Boston. He was not, it seems, the man of her choice; but her parents were extremely partial to him, and wished the connection to take place. She, like a dutiful child, sacrificed her own inclination to their pleasure so far as to acquiesce in his visits. This she more easily accomplished, as his health, which declined from their first acquaintance, led her to suppose, as the event has proved, that he would not live to enter into any lasting engagements. Her father, who died some months before him, invited him to reside at his house for the benefit of a change of air, agreeably to the advice of his physicians. She attended him during his last illness with all the care and assiduity of a nurse and with all the sympathizing tenderness of a sister.
I have had several opportunities of conversing with her. She discovers an elevated mind, a ready apprehension, and an accurate knowledge of the various subjects which have been brought into view. I have not yet introduced the favorite subject of my heart. Indeed, she seems studiously to avoid noticing any expression which leads towards it; but she must hear it soon. I am sure of the favor and interest of the friends with whom she resides. They have promised to speak previously in my behalf. I am to call, as if accidentally, this afternoon just as they are to ride abroad. They are to refer me to Miss Wharton for entertainment till their return. What a delightful opportunity for my purpose! I am counting the hours—nay, the very moments. Adieu. You shall soon again hear from your most obedient,
TO MISS LUCY FREEMAN.
These bewitching charms of mine have a tendency to keep my mind in a state of perturbation. I am so pestered with these admirers! Not that I am so very handsome neither; but, I don't know how it is, I am certainly very much the taste of the other sex. Followed, flattered, and caressed, I have cards and compliments in profusion. But I must try to be serious; for I have, alas! one serious lover. As I promised you to be particular in my writing, I suppose I must proceed methodically. Yesterday we had a party to dine. Mr. Boyer was of the number. His attention was immediately engrossed; and I soon perceived that every word, every action, and every look was studied to gain my approbation. As he sat next me at dinner, his assiduity and politeness were pleasing; and as we walked together afterwards, his conversation was improving. Mine was sentimental and sedate—perfectly adapted to the taste of my gallant. Nothing, however, was said particularly expressive of his apparent wishes. I studiously avoided every kind of discourse which might lead to this topic. I wish not for a declaration from any one, especially from one whom I could not repulse and do not intend to encourage at present. His conversation, so similar to what I had often heard from a similar character, brought a deceased friend to mind, and rendered me somewhat pensive. I retired directly after supper. Mr. Boyer had just taken leave.
Mrs. Richman came into my chamber as she was passing to her own. "Excuse my intrusion, Eliza," said she. "I thought I would just step in and ask you if you have passed a pleasant day."
"Perfectly so, madam; and I have now retired to protract the enjoyment by recollection." "What, my dear, is your opinion of our favorite, Mr. Boyer?" "Declaring him your favorite, madam, is sufficient to render me partial to him; but to be frank, independent of that, I think him an agreeable man." "Your heart, I presume, is now free." "Yes, and I hope it will long remain so." "Your friends, my dear, solicitous for your welfare, wish to see you suitably and agreeably connected." "I hope my friends will never again interpose in my concerns of that nature. You, madam, who have ever known my heart, are sensible that, had the Almighty spared life in a certain instance, I must have sacrificed my own happiness or incurred their censure. I am young, gay, volatile. A melancholy event has lately extricated me from those shackles which parental authority had imposed on my mind. Let me, then, enjoy that freedom which I so highly prize. Let me have opportunity, unbiased by opinion, to gratify my natural disposition in a participation of those pleasures which youth and innocence afford." "Of such pleasures, no one, my dear, would wish to deprive you; but beware, Eliza! Though strewed with flowers, when contemplated by your lively imagination, it is, after all, a slippery, thorny path. The round of fashionable dissipation is dangerous. A phantom is often pursued, which leaves its deluded votary the real form of wretchedness." She spoke with an emphasis, and, taking up her candle, wished me a good night. I had not power to return the compliment. Something seemingly prophetic in her looks and expressions cast a momentary gloom upon my mind; but I despise those contracted ideas which confine virtue to a cell. I have no notion of becoming a recluse. Mrs. Richman has ever been a beloved friend of mine; yet I always thought her rather prudish. Adieu.
TO THE SAME.
I had scarcely seated myself at the breakfast table this morning when a servant entered with a card of invitation from Major Sanford, requesting the happiness of my hand this evening at a ball given by Mr. Atkins, about three miles from this. I showed the billet to Mrs. Richman, saying, "I have not much acquaintance with this gentleman, madam; but I suppose his character sufficiently respectable to warrant an affirmative answer." "He is a gay man, my dear, to say no more; and such are the companions we wish when we join a party avowedly formed for pleasure." I then stepped into my apartment, wrote an answer, and despatched the servant. When I returned to the parlor, something disapprobating appeared in the countenances of both my friends. I endeavored, without seeming to observe, to dissipate it by chitchat; but they were better pleased with each other than with me, and, soon rising, walked into the garden, and left me to amuse myself alone. My eyes followed them through the window. "Happy pair!" said I. "Should it ever be my fate to wear the hymeneal chain, may I be thus united! The purest and most ardent affection, the greatest consonance of taste and disposition, and the most congenial virtue and wishes distinguish this lovely couple. Health and wealth, with every attendant blessing, preside over their favored dwelling, and shed their benign influence without alloy." The consciousness of exciting their displeasure gave me pain; but I consoled myself with the idea that it was ill founded.
"They should consider," said I, "that they have no satisfaction to look for beyond each other; there every enjoyment is centred; but I am a poor solitary being, who need some amusement beyond what I can supply myself. The mind, after being confined at home for a while, sends the imagination abroad in quest of new treasures; and the body may as well accompany it, for aught I can see."
General Richman and lady have ever appeared solicitous to promote my happiness since I have resided with them. They have urged my acceptance of invitations to join parties; though they have not been much themselves of late, as Mrs. Richman's present circumstances render her fond of retirement. What reason can be assigned for their apparent reluctance to this evening's entertainment is to me incomprehensible; but I shall apply the chemical powers of friendship, and extract the secret from Mrs. Richman to-morrow, if not before. Adieu. I am now summoned to dinner, and after that shall be engaged in preparation till the wished-for hour of hilarity and mirth engrosses every faculty of your
TO MR. SELBY.
Divines need not declaim, nor philosophers expatiate, on the disappointments of human life. Are they not legibly written on every page of our existence? Are they not predominantly prevalent over every period of our lives?
When I closed my last letter to you, my heart exulted in the pleasing anticipation of promised bliss; my wishes danced on the light breezes of hope; and my imagination dared to arrest the attention of, and even claim a return of affection from, the lovely Eliza Wharton. But imagination only it has proved, and that dashed with the bitter ranklings of jealousy and suspicion.
But to resume my narrative. I reached the mansion of my friend about four. I was disagreeably struck with the appearance of a carriage at the door, as it raised an idea of company which might frustrate my plan; but still more disagreeable were my sensations when, on entering the parlor, I found Major Sanford evidently in a waiting posture. I was very politely received; and when Eliza entered the room with a brilliance of appearance and gayety of manner which I had never before connected with her character, I rose, as did Major Sanford, who offered his hand and led her to a chair. I forgot to sit down again, but stood transfixed by the pangs of disappointment. Miss Wharton appeared somewhat confused, but, soon resuming her vivacity, desired me to be seated, inquired after my health, and made some commonplace remarks on the weather; then, apologizing for leaving me, gave her hand again to Major Sanford, who had previously risen, and reminded her that the time and their engagements made it necessary to leave the good company; which, indeed, they both appeared very willing to do. General Richman and lady took every method in their power to remove my chagrin and atone for the absence of my fair one; but ill did they succeed. They told me that Miss Wharton had not the most distant idea of my visiting there this afternoon, much less of the design of my visit; that for some months together she had been lately confined by the sickness of Mr. Haly, whom she attended during the whole of his last illness; which confinement had eventually increased her desire of indulging her natural disposition for gayety. She had, however, they said, an excellent heart and reflecting mind, a great share of sensibility, and a temper peculiarly formed for the enjoyments of social life. "But this gentleman, madam, who is her gallant this evening,—is his character unexceptionable? Will a lady of delicacy associate with an immoral, not to say profligate, man?" "The rank and fortune of Major Sanford," said Mrs. Richman, "procure him respect; his specious manners render him acceptable in public company; but I must own that he is not the person with whom I wish my cousin to be connected even for a moment. She never consulted me so little on any subject as that of his card this morning. Before I had time to object, she dismissed the servant; and I forbore to destroy her expected happiness by acquainting her with my disapprobation of her partner. Her omission was not design; it was juvenile indiscretion. We must, my dear sir," continued she, "look with a candid eye on such eccentricities. Faults, not foibles, require the severity of censure." "Far, madam, be it from me to censure any conduct which as yet I have observed in Miss Wharton; she has too great an interest in my heart to admit of that."
We now went into more general conversation. Tea was served; and I soon after took leave. General Richman, however, insisted on my dining with him on Thursday; which I promised. And here I am again over head and ears in the hypo—a disease, you will say, peculiar to students. I believe it peculiar to lovers; and with that class I must now rank myself, though I did not know, until this evening, that I was so much engaged as I find I really am. I knew, indeed, that I was extremely pleased with this amiable girl; that I was interested in her favor; that I was happier in her company than any where else; with innumerable other circumstances, which would have told me the truth had I examined them. But be that as it may, I hope and trust that I am, and ever shall be, a reasonable creature, and not suffer my judgment to be misled by the operations of a blind passion.
I shall now lay aside this subject; endeavor to divest even my imagination of the charmer; and return, until Thursday, to the contemplation of those truths and duties which have a happy tendency to calm the jarring elements which compose our mortal frame. Adieu.
TO MR. CHARLES DEIGHTON.
We had an elegant ball, last night, Charles; and what is still more to the taste of your old friend, I had an elegant partner; one exactly calculated to please my fancy—gay, volatile, apparently thoughtless of every thing but present enjoyment. It was Miss Eliza Wharton—a young lady whose agreeable person, polished manners, and refined talents have rendered her the toast of the country around for these two years; though for half that time she has had a clerical lover imposed on her by her friends; for I am told it was not agreeable to her inclination. By this same clerical lover of hers she was for several months confined as a nurse. But his death has happily relieved her; and she now returns to the world with redoubled lustre. At present she is a visitor to Mrs. Richman, who is a relation. I first saw her on a party of pleasure at Mr. Frazier's, where we walked, talked, sang, and danced together. I thought her cousin watched her with a jealous eye; for she is, you must know, a prude; and immaculate—more so than you or I—must be the man who claims admission to her society. But I fancy this young lady is a coquette; and if so, I shall avenge my sex by retaliating the mischiefs she meditates against us. Not that I have any ill designs, but only to play off her own artillery by using a little unmeaning gallantry. And let her beware of the consequences. A young clergyman came in at General Richman's yesterday, while I was waiting for Eliza, who was much more cordially received by the general and his lady than was your humble servant; but I lay that up.
When she entered the room, an air of mutual embarrassment was evident. The lady recovered her assurance much more easily than the gentleman. I am just going to ride, and shall make it in my way to call and inquire after the health of my dulcinea. Therefore, adieu for the present.
TO MISS LUCY FREEMAN.
I am not so happy to-day in the recollection of last evening's entertainment as I was in the enjoyment.
The explanation which I promised you from Mrs. Richman yesterday I could not obtain. When I went down to dinner some friends of General Richman's had accidentally dropped in, which precluded all particular conversation. I retired soon to dress, and saw Mrs. Richman no more till I was informed that Major Sanford waited for me. But I was surprised, on going into the parlor, to find Mr. Boyer there. I blushed and stammered; but I know not why; for certain I am that I neither love nor fear the good man yet, whatever I may do some future day. I would not be understood that I do not respect and esteem him; for I do both. But these are calm passions, which soothe rather than agitate the mind. It was not the consciousness of any impropriety of conduct; for I was far from feeling any. The entertainment for which I was prepared was such as virtue would not disapprove, and my gallant was a man of fortune, fashion, and, for aught I knew, of unblemished character.
But Mr. Boyer was much more disconcerted than myself. Indeed, he did not recover his philosophy while I staid. I believe, by some hints I have received since, that he had some particular views in which he was disappointed.
Our ball had every charm which could render a ball delightful. My partner was all ease, politeness, and attention; and your friend was as much flattered and caressed as vanity itself could wish. We returned to General Richman's about two. Major Sanford asked leave to call and inquire after my health this morning; and I am now expecting him. I rose to breakfast. The late hour of retiring to rest had not depressed, but rather exhilarated, my spirits. My friends were waiting for me in their parlor. They received me sociably, inquired after my health, my last evening's entertainment, the company, &c.; when, after a little pause, Mrs. Richman said, "And how do you like Major Sanford, Eliza?" "Very well indeed, madam; I think him a finished gentleman. Will you, who are a connoisseur, allow him that title?" "No, my dear; in my opinion he falls far below it, since he is deficient in one of the great essentials of the character; and that is virtue." "I am surprised," said I; "but how has he incurred so severe a censure?" "By being a professed libertine; by having but too successfully, practised the arts of seduction; by triumphing in the destruction of innocence and the peace of families." "O, why was I not informed of this before? But perhaps these are old affairs—the effects of juvenile folly—crimes of which he may have repented, and which charity ought to obliterate." "No, my dear, they are recent facts—-facts which he dares not deny—facts for which he ought to be banished from all virtuous society. I should have intimated this to you before; but your precipitate acceptance of his invitation deprived me of an opportunity until it was too late to prevent your going with him; and we thought it best to protract your enjoyment as long as possible, not doubting but your virtue and delicacy would, in future, guard you against the like deception."
"Must I, then, become an avowed prude at once, and refuse him admission if he call in compliance with the customary forms?" "By no means. I am sensible that even the false maxims of the world must be complied with in a degree. But a man of Major Sanford's art can easily distinguish between a forbidding and an encouraging reception. The former may, in this case, be given without any breach of the rules of politeness." Astonished and mortified, I knew not what further to say. I had been so pleased with the man that I wished to plead in his favor; but virtue and prudence forbade. I therefore rose and retired. He is this moment, I am told, below stairs; so that I must bid you adieu until the next post.
TO THE SAME.
Upon closing my last, I walked down, and found Major Sanford alone. He met me at the door of the parlor, and, taking my hand with an air of affectionate tenderness, led me to a seat, and took one beside me. I believe the gloom of suspicion had not entirely forsaken my brow. He appeared, however, not to notice it, but, after the compliments of the day had passed, entered into an easy and agreeable conversation on the pleasures of society—a conversation perfectly adapted to my taste, and calculated to dissipate my chagrin and pass the time imperceptibly. He inquired the place of my native abode; and, having informed him, he said he had thoughts of purchasing the seat of Captain Pribble, in that neighborhood, for his residence; and could he be assured of my society and friendship, his resolution would be fixed. I answered his compliment only by a slight bow. He took leave, and I retired to dress for the day, being engaged to accompany my cousin to dine at Mr. Lawrence's—a gentleman of fortune and fashion in this vicinity. Mr. Lawrence has but one daughter, heiress to a large estate, with an agreeable form, but a countenance which, to me, indicates not much soul. I was surprised in the afternoon to see Major Sanford alight at the gate. He entered with the familiarity of an old acquaintance, and, after accosting each of the company, told me, with a low bow, that he did not expect the happiness of seeing me again so soon. I received his compliment with a conscious awkwardness. Mrs. Richman's morning lecture still rang in my head; and her watchful eye now traced every turn of mine and every action of the major's. Indeed, his assiduity was painful to me; yet I found it impossible to disengage myself a moment from him, till the close of the day brought our carriage to the door; when he handed me in, and, pressing my hand to his lips, retired.
What shall I say about this extraordinary man? Shall I own to you, my friend, that he is pleasing to me? His person, his manners, his situation, all combine to charm my fancy, and, to my lively imagination, strew the path of life with flowers. What a pity, my dear Lucy, that the graces and virtues are not oftener united! They must, however, meet in the man of my choice; and till I find such a one, I shall continue to subscribe my name
TO MR. CHARLES DEIGHTON.
Well, Charles, I have been manoeuvring to-day a little revengefully. That, you will say, is out of character. So baleful a passion does not easily find admission among those softer ones which you well know I cherish. However, I am a mere Proteus, and can assume any shape that will best answer my purpose.
I called this afternoon, as I told you I intended, at General Richman's. I waited some time in the parlor alone before Eliza appeared; and when she did appear, the distant reserve of her manners and the pensiveness of her countenance convinced me that she had been vexed, and I doubted not but Peter Sanford was the occasion. Her wise cousin, I could have sworn, had been giving her a detail of the vices of her gallant, and warning her against the dangers of associating with him in future. Notwithstanding, I took no notice of any alteration in her behavior, but entered with the utmost facetiousness into a conversation which I thought most to her taste. By degrees she assumed her usual vivacity; cheerfulness and good humor again animated her countenance. I tarried as long as decency would admit. She having intimated that they were to dine at my friend Lawrence's, I caught at this information, and determined to follow them, and tease the jealous Mrs. Richman by playing off all the gallantry I was master of in her presence.
I went, and succeeded to the utmost of my wishes, as I read in the vexation visible in the one, and the ease and attention displayed by the other. I believe, too, that I have charmed the eye, at least, of the amiable Eliza. Indeed, Charles, she is a fine girl. I think it would hurt my conscience to wound her mind or reputation. Were I disposed to marry, I am persuaded she would make an excellent wife; but that, you know, is no part of my plan, so long as I can keep out of the noose. Whenever I do submit to be shackled, it must be from a necessity of mending my fortune. This girl would be far from doing that. However, I am pleased with her acquaintance, and mean not to abuse her credulity and good nature, if I can help it.
TO MISS LUCY FREEMAN.
The heart of your friend is again besieged. Whether it will surrender to the assailants or not I am unable at present to determine. Sometimes I think of becoming a predestinarian, and submitting implicitly to fate, without any exercise of free will; but, as mine seems to be a wayward one, I would counteract the operations of it, if possible.
Mrs. Richman told me this morning that she hoped I should be as agreeably entertained this afternoon as I had been the preceding; that she expected Mr. Boyer to dine and take tea, and doubted not but he would be as attentive and sincere to me, if not as gay and polite, as the gentleman who obtruded his civilities yesterday. I replied that I had no reason to doubt the sincerity of the one or the other, having never put them to the test, nor did I imagine I ever should. "Your friends, Eliza," said she, "would be very happy to see you united to a man of Mr. Boyer's worth, and so agreeably settled as he has a prospect of being." "I hope," said I, "that my friends are not so weary of my company as to wish to dispose of me. I am too happy in my present connections to quit them for new ones. Marriage is the tomb of friendship. It appears to me a very selfish state. Why do people in general, as soon as they are married, centre all their cares, their concerns, and pleasures in their own families? Former acquaintances are neglected or forgotten; the tenderest ties between friends are weakened or dissolved; and benevolence itself moves in a very limited sphere." "It is the glory of the marriage state," she rejoined, "to refine by circumscribing our enjoyments. Here we can repose in safety.
'The friendships of the world are oft Confed'racies in vice, or leagues in pleasure: Ours has the purest virtue for its basis; And such a friendship ends not but with life.'
True, we cannot always pay that attention to former associates which we may wish; but the little community which we superintend is quite as important an object, and certainly renders us more beneficial to the public. True benevolence, though it may change its objects, is not limited by time or place. Its effects are the same, and, aided by a second self, are rendered more diffusive and salutary."
Some pleasantry passed, and we retired to dress. When summoned to dinner, I found Mr. Boyer below. If what is sometimes said be true, that love is diffident, reserved, and unassuming, this man must be tinctured with it. These symptoms were visible in his deportment when I entered the room. However, he soon recovered himself, and the conversation took a general turn. The festive board was crowned with sociability, and we found in reality "the feast of reason and the flow of soul." After we rose from table, a walk in the garden was proposed—an amusement we are all peculiarly fond of. Mr. Boyer offered me his arm. When at a sufficient distance from our company, he begged leave to congratulate himself on having an opportunity, which he had ardently desired for some time, of declaring to me his attachment, and of soliciting an interest in my favor; or, if he might be allowed the term, affection. I replied, "That, sir, is indeed laying claim to an important interest. I believe you must substitute some more indifferent epithet for the present." "Well, then," said he, "if it must be so, let it be esteem or friendship." "Indeed, sir," said I, "you are entitled to them both. Merit has always a share in that bank; and I know of none who has a larger claim on that score than Mr. Boyer." I suppose my manner was hardly serious enough for what he considered a weighty cause. He was a little disconcerted, but, soon regaining his presence of mind, entreated me, with an air of earnestness, to encourage his suit, to admit his addresses, and, if possible, to reward his love. I told him that this was rather a sudden affair to me, and that I could not answer him without consideration. "Well, then," said he, "take what time you think proper; only relieve my suspense as soon as may be. Shall I visit you again to-morrow?" "O, not so soon," said I; "next Monday, I believe, will be early enough. I will endeavor to be at home." He thanked me even for that favor, recommended himself once more to my kindness, and we walked towards the company, returned with them to the house, and he soon took leave. I immediately retired to write this letter, which I shall close without a single observation on the subject until I know your opinion.
TO MISS ELIZA WHARTON.
And so you wish to have my opinion before you know the result of your own.
This is playing a little too much with my patience; but, however, I will gratify you this once, in hopes that my epistle may have a good effect. You will ask, perhaps, whether I would influence your judgment. I answer, No, provided you will exercise it yourself; but I am a little apprehensive that your fancy will mislead you. Methinks I can gather from your letters a predilection for this Major Sanford. But he is a rake, my dear friend; and can a lady of your delicacy and refinement think of forming a connection with a man of that character? I hope not; nay, I am confident you do not. You mean only to exhibit a few more girlish airs before you turn matron; but I am persuaded, if you wish to lead down the dance of life with regularity, you will not find a more excellent partner than Mr. Boyer. Whatever you can reasonably expect in a lover, husband, or friend, you may perceive to be united in this worthy man. His taste is undebauched, his manners not vitiated, his morals uncorrupted. His situation in life is, perhaps, as elevated as you have a right to claim. Forgive my plainness, Eliza. It is the task of friendship, sometimes, to tell disagreeable truths. I know your ambition is to make a distinguished figure in the first class of polished society, to shine in the gay circle of fashionable amusements, and to bear off the palm amidst the votaries of pleasure. But these are fading honors, unsatisfactory enjoyments, incapable of gratifying those immortal principles of reason and religion which have been implanted in your mind by Nature, assiduously cultivated by the best of parents, and exerted, I trust, by yourself. Let me advise you, then, in conducting this affair,—an affair big, perhaps, with your future fate,—to lay aside those coquettish airs which you sometimes put on; and remember that you are not dealing with a fop, who will take advantage of every concession, but with a man of sense and honor, who will properly estimate your condescension and frankness. Act, then, with that modest freedom, that dignified unreserve, which bespeak conscious rectitude and sincerity of heart.
I shall be extremely anxious to hear the process and progress of this business. Relieve my impatience as soon as possible; and believe me yours with undissembled affection.
TO MISS LUCY FREEMAN.
I have received, and read again and again, your friendly epistle. My reason and judgment entirely coincide with your opinion; but my fancy claims some share in the decision; and I cannot yet tell which will preponderate. This was the day fixed for deciding Mr. Boyer's cause. My friends here gave me a long dissertation on his merits. Your letter, likewise, had its weight; and I was candidly summoning up the pros and cons in the garden, whither I had walked, (General Richman and lady having rode out,) when I was informed that he was waiting in the parlor. I went immediately in, (a good symptom, you will say,) and received him very graciously. After the first compliments were over, he seemed eager to improve the opportunity to enter directly on the subject of his present visit. It is needless for me to recite to you, who have long been acquainted with the whole process of courtship, the declarations, propositions, protestations, entreaties, looks, words, and actions of a lover. They are, I believe, much the same in the whole sex, allowing for their different dispositions, educations, and characters; but you are impatient, I know, for the conclusion.
You have hastily perused the preceding lines, and are straining your eye forward to my part of the farce; for such it may prove, after all. Well, then, not to play too long with the curiosity which I know to be excited and actuated by real friendship, I will relieve it. I think you would have been pleased to have seen my gravity on this important occasion. With all the candor and frankness which I was capable of assuming, I thus answered his long harangue, to which I had listened without interrupting him: "Self-knowledge, sir, that most important of all sciences, I have yet to learn. Such have been my situations in life, and the natural volatility of my temper, that I have looked but little into my own heart in regard to its future wishes and views. From a scene of constraint and confinement, ill suited to my years and inclination, I have just launched into society. My heart beats high in expectation of its fancied joys. My sanguine imagination paints, in alluring colors, the charms of youth and freedom, regulated by virtue and innocence. Of these I wish to partake. While I own myself under obligations for the esteem which you are pleased to profess for me, and, in return, acknowledge that neither your person nor manners are disagreeable to me, I recoil at the thought of immediately forming a connection which must confine me to the duties of domestic life, and make me dependent for happiness, perhaps, too, for subsistence, upon a class of people who will claim the right of scrutinizing every part of my conduct, and, by censuring those foibles which I am conscious of not having prudence to avoid, may render me completely miserable. While, therefore, I receive your visits, and cultivate towards you sentiments of friendship and esteem, I would not have you consider me as confined to your society, or obligated to a future connection. Our short acquaintance renders it impossible for me to decide what the operations of my mind may hereafter be. You must either quit the subject, or leave me to the exercise of my free will, which, perhaps, may coincide with your present wishes." "Madam," said he, "far is the wish from me to restrain your person or mind. In your breast I will repose my cause. It shall be my study to merit a return of affection; and I doubt not but generosity and honor will influence your conduct towards me. I expect soon to settle among a generous and enlightened people, where I flatter myself I shall be exempt from those difficulties and embarrassments to which too many of my brethren are subject. The local situation is agreeable, the society refined and polished; and if, in addition, I may obtain that felicity which you are formed to bestow in a family connection, I shall be happy indeed."
He spoke with emphasis. The tear of sensibility sparkled in his eye. I involuntarily gave him my hand, which he pressed with ardor to his lips; then, rising, he walked to the window to conceal his emotion. I rang the bell and ordered tea, during and after which we shared that social converse which is the true zest of life, and in which I am persuaded none but virtuous minds can participate. General Richman and lady returned with the shades of the evening. The penetrating eye of my cousin traced in our countenances the progress of the cause, and the smile of approbation animated hers. Mr. Boyer asked the favor of my company to ride to-morrow morning; which was granted. He tarried to supper, and took his leave. I retired immediately to my chamber, to which I was followed by Mrs. Richman. I related to her the conversation and the encouragement which I had given to Mr. Boyer. She was pleased, but insisted that I should own myself somewhat engaged to him. This, I told her, I should never do to any man before the indissoluble knot was tied. "That," said I, "will be time enough to resign my freedom." She replied, that I had wrong ideas of freedom and matrimony; but she hoped that Mr. Boyer would happily rectify them.
I have now, my dear friend, given you an account of my present situation, and leave you to judge for yourself concerning it. Write me your opinion, and believe me ever yours,
TO MISS ELIZA WHARTON.
I congratulate you, my dear Eliza, on the stability of your conduct towards Mr. Boyer. Pursue the system which you have adopted, and I dare say that happiness will crown your future days. You are indeed very tenacious of your freedom, as you call it; but that is a play about words. A man of Mr. Boyer's honor and good sense will never abridge any privileges which virtue can claim.
When do you return to embellish our society here? I am impatient to see you, and likewise this amiable man. I am much interested in his favor. By the way, I am told that Major Sanford has been to look at the seat of Captain Pribble, which is upon sale. It is reported that he will probably purchase it. Many of our gentry are pleased with the prospect of such a neighbor. "As an accomplished gentleman," say they, "he will be an agreeable addition to our social parties; and as a man of property and public spirit, he will be an advantage to the town." But from what I have heard of him, I am far from supposing him a desirable acquisition in either of these respects. A man of a vicious character cannot be a good member of society. In order to that, his principles and practice must be uncorrupted; in his morals, at least, he must be a man of probity and honor. Of these qualifications, if I mistake not, this gallant of yours cannot boast. But I shall not set up for a censor. I hope neither you nor I shall have much connection with him. My swain interests himself very much in your affairs. You will possibly think him impertinent; but I give his curiosity a softer name. Should I own to you that I place great confidence in his integrity and honor, you would, perhaps, laugh at my weakness; but, my dear, I have pride enough to keep me above coquetry or prudery, and discretion enough, I hope, to secure me from the errors of both. With him I am determined to walk the future round of life. What folly, then, would it be to affect reserve and distance relative to an affair in which I have so much interest! Not that I am going to betray your secrets; these I have no right to divulge; but I must be the judge what may, and what may not, be communicated. I am very much pressed for an early day of consummation; but I shall not listen to a request of that kind till your return. Such is my regard for you, that a union of love would be imperfect if friendship attended not the rites. Adieu.
TO MISS LUCY FREEMAN.
We go on charmingly here, almost as soft and smooth as your ladyship. It seems to me that love must stagnate if it have not a light breeze of discord once in a while to keep it in motion. We have not tried any yet, however. We had a lovely tour this forenoon, were out three long hours, and returned to dinner in perfect harmony.
Mr. Boyer informed me that he should set out to-morrow morning for his future residence, and soon put on the sacred bands. He solicited an epistolary correspondence, at the same time, as an alleviation of the care which that weighty charge would bring on his mind. I consented, telling him that he must not expect any thing more than general subjects from me.
We were somewhat interrupted in our confidential intercourse, in the afternoon, by the arrival of Major Sanford. I cannot say that I was not agreeably relieved. So sweet a repast, for several hours together, was rather sickening to my taste. My inamorato looked a little mortified at the cheerful reception which I gave the intruder, and joined not so placidly in the social conversation as I could have wished.
When Mr. Boyer, after the major took leave, pressed me to give him some assurance of my constancy, I only reminded him of the terms of our engagement. Seeing me decided, he was silent on the subject, and soon bade me an affectionate adieu, not expecting, as he told me, the pleasure of a personal interview again for two or three months.
Thus far we have proceeded in this sober business. A good beginning, you will say. Perhaps it is. I do not, however, feel myself greatly interested in the progress of the negotiation. Time consolidate my affections, and enable me to fix them on some particular object. At present the most lively emotions of my heart are those of friendship, that friendship which I hope you will soon participate with your faithful
TO MR. SELBY.
I have succeeded in my addresses to the lovely Eliza Wharton—as far, at least, as I had any reason to expect from our short acquaintance. I find the graces of her person and mind rise in my esteem, and have already enjoyed in her society some of the happiest hours of my life. She is kind, affable, and condescending; yet I must own that I have not been able to infuse into her bosom the ardor which I feel in my own. I know that the native modesty of the sex would restrain the discovery; but there is an animation of countenance, which betrays the sensations of the heart, that I find wanting in hers on this occasion.
I have just taken leave of my fair, and propose returning to-morrow morning to take upon me the solemn charge which lies with such weight upon my mind that I need every support, both human and divine. Eliza has promised to correspond with me. From this I anticipate a source of pleasure which alone can atone for her absence.
I am, &c.,
TO MR. CHARLES DEIGHTON.
Do you know, Charles, that I have commenced lover? I was always a general one, but now I am somewhat particular. I shall be the more interested, as I am likely to meet with difficulties; and it is the glory of a rake, as well as of a Christian, to combat obstacles. This same Eliza, of whom I have told you, has really made more impression on my heart than I was aware of, or than the sex, take them as they rise, are wont to do. But she is besieged by a priest—a likely lad though. I know not how it is, but they are commonly successful with the girls, even the gayest of them. This one, too, has the interest of all her friends, as I am told. I called yesterday at General Richman's, and found this pair together, apparently too happy in each other's society for my wishes. I must own that I felt a glow of jealousy, which I never experienced before, and vowed revenge for the pain it gave me, though but momentary. Yet Eliza's reception of me was visibly cordial; nay, I fancied my company as pleasing to her as that which she had before. I tarried not long, but left him to the enjoyment of that pleasure which I flatter myself will be but shortlived. O, I have another plan in my head—a plan of necessity, which, you know, is the mother of invention. It is this: I am very much courted and caressed by the family of Mr. Lawrence, a man of large property in this neighborhood. He has only one child—a daughter, with whom I imagine the old folks intend to shackle me in the bonds of matrimony. The girl looks very well; she has no soul, though, that I can discover; she is heiress, nevertheless, to a great fortune, and that is all the soul I wish for in a wife. In truth, Charles, I know of no other way to mend my circumstances. But lisp not a word of my embarrassments for your life. Show and equipage are my hobby horse; and if any female wishes to share them with me, and will furnish me with the means of supporting them, I have no objection. Could I conform to the sober rules of wedded life, and renounce those dear enjoyments of dissipation in which I have so long indulged, I know not the lady in the world with whom I would sooner form a connection of this sort than with Eliza Wharton. But it will never do. If my fortune or hers were better, I would risk a union; but as they are, no idea of the kind can be admitted. I shall endeavor, notwithstanding, to enjoy her company as long as possible. Though I cannot possess her wholly myself, I will not tamely see her the property of another.
I am now going to call at General Richman's, in hopes of an opportunity to profess my devotion to her. I know I am not a welcome visitor to the family; but I am independent of their censure or esteem, and mean to act accordingly.
TO MISS LUCY FREEMAN.
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."