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The Coquette by Hannah Webster Foster

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By this time we had nearly reached the inn, and were soon to part. I
seized her hand, and exclaimed, "You must not leave me, Eliza, with that
awful anathema on your lips. O, say that you will forget my past
faults." "That," said she, "I shall soon do; for in the grave there is
no remembrance." This, to my mind, was a harsher sentence than the
other, and almost threw me into despair. Never was I so wrought upon
before. I knew not what to say or do. She saw my distress, and kindly
softened her manner. "If I am severe," said she, "it is because I wish
to impress your mind with such a sense of your offences against your
Maker, your friends, and society in general, as may effect your
repentance and amendment. I wish not to be your accuser, but your
reformer. On several accounts, I view my own crime in a more aggravated
light than yours; but my conscience is awakened to a conviction of my
guilt. Yours, I fear, is not. Let me conjure you to return home, and
endeavor, by your future kindness and fidelity to your wife, to make her
all the amends in your power. By a life of virtue and religion, you may
yet become a valuable member of society, and secure happiness both here
and hereafter."

I begged leave to visit her retirement next week, not in continuation of
our amour, but as a friend solicitous to know her situation and welfare.
Unable to speak, she only bowed assent. The stage being now ready, I
whispered some tender things in her ear, and kissing her cheek, which
was all she would permit, suffered her to depart.

My body remains behind; but my soul, if I have any, went with her.

This was a horrid lecture, Charles. She brought every charge against me
which a fruitful and gloomy imagination could suggest. But I hope when
she recovers she will resume her former cheerfulness, and become as kind
and agreeable as ever. My anxiety for her safety is very great. I trust,
however, it will soon be removed, and peace and pleasure be restored to
your humble servant,





The drama is now closed! A tragical one it has proved!

How sincerely, my dear Mrs. Sumner, must the friends of our departed
Eliza sympathize with each other, and with her afflicted, bereaved

You have doubtless seen the account in the public papers which gave us
the melancholy intelligence. But I will give you a detail of

A few days after my last was written, we heard that Major Sanford's
property was attached, and he a prisoner in his own house. He was the
last man to whom we wished to apply for information respecting the
forlorn wanderer; yet we had no other resource. And after waiting a
fortnight in the most cruel suspense, we wrote a billet, entreating him,
if possible, to give some intelligence concerning her. He replied that
he was unhappily deprived of all means of knowing himself, but hoped
soon to relieve his own and our anxiety about her.

In this situation we continued till a neighbor (purposely, we since
concluded) sent us a Boston paper. Mrs. Wharton took it, and unconscious
of its contents, observed that the perusal might divert her a few
moments. She read for some time, when it suddenly dropped upon the
floor. She clasped her hands together, and raising her streaming eyes to
heaven, exclaimed, "It is the Lord; let him do what he will. Be still, O
my soul, and know that he is God."

"What, madam," said I, "can be the matter?" She answered not, but, with
inexpressible anguish depicted in her countenance, pointed to the paper.
I took it up, and soon found the fatal paragraph. I shall not attempt to
paint our heartfelt grief and lamentation upon this occasion; for we had
no doubt of Eliza's being the person described, as a stranger, who died,
at Danvers, last July. Her delivery of a child, her dejected state of
mind, the marks upon her linen, indeed every circumstance in the
advertisement, convinced us, beyond dispute, that it could be no other.
Mrs. Wharton retired immediately to her chamber, where she continued
overwhelmed with sorrow that night and the following day. Such in fact
has been her habitual frame ever since; though the endeavors of her
friends, who have sought to console her, have rendered her somewhat more
conversable. My testimony of Eliza's penitence before her departure is a
source of comfort to this disconsolate parent. She fondly cherished the
idea that, having expiated her offence by sincere repentance and
amendment, her deluded child finally made a happy exchange of worlds.
But the desperate resolution, which she formed and executed, of becoming
a fugitive, of deserting her mother's house and protection, and of
wandering and dying among strangers, is a most distressing reflection
to her friends; especially to her mother, in whose breast so many
painful ideas arise, that she finds it extremely difficult to compose
herself to that resignation which she evidently strives to exemplify.

Eliza's brother has been to visit her last retreat, and to learn the
particulars of her melancholy exit. He relates that she was well
accommodated, and had every attention and assistance which her situation
required. The people where she resided appear to have a lively sense of
her merit and misfortunes. They testify her modest deportment, her
fortitude under the sufferings to which she was called, and the serenity
and composure with which she bade a last adieu to the world. Mr. Wharton
has brought back several scraps of her writing, containing miscellaneous
reflections on her situation, the death of her babe, and the absence of
her friends. Some of these were written before, some after, her
confinement. These valuable testimonies of the affecting sense and calm
expectation she entertained of her approaching dissolution are
calculated to soothe and comfort the minds of mourning connections. They
greatly alleviate the regret occasioned by her absence at this awful
period. Her elopement can be equalled only by the infatuation which
caused her ruin.

"But let no one reproach her memory.
Her life has paid the forfeit of her folly.
Let that suffice."

I am told that Major Sanford is quite frantic. Sure I am that he has
reason to be. If the mischiefs he has brought upon others return upon
his own head, dreadful indeed must be his portion. His wife has left
him, and returned to her parents. His estate, which has been long
mortgaged, is taken from him, and poverty and disgrace await him. Heaven
seldom leaves injured innocence unavenged. Wretch that he is, he ought
forever to be banished from human society! I shall continue with Mrs.
Wharton till the lenient hand of time has assuaged her sorrows, and then
make my promised visit to you. I will bring Eliza's posthumous papers
with me when I come to Boston, as I have not time to copy them now.

I foresee, my dear Mrs. Sumner, that this disastrous affair will suspend
your enjoyments, as it has mine. But what are our feelings, compared
with the pangs which rend a parent's heart? This parent I here behold
inhumanly stripped of the best solace of her declining years by the
insnaring machinations of a profligate debauchee. Not only the life,
but, what was still dearer, the reputation and virtue? of the
unfortunate Eliza have fallen victims at the shrine of _libertinism_.
Detested be the epithet. Let it henceforth bear its true signature, and
candor itself shall call it _lust_ and _brutality_. Execrable is the
man, however arrayed in magnificence, crowned with wealth, or decorated
with the external graces and accomplishments of fashionable life, who
shall presume to display them at the expense of virtue and innocence.
Sacred name attended with real blessings--blessings too useful and
important to be trifled away. My resentment at the base arts which must
have been employed to complete the seduction of Eliza I cannot suppress.
I wish them to be exposed, and stamped with universal ignominy. Nor do I
doubt but you will join with me in execrating the measures by which _we_
have been robbed of so valuable a friend, and _society_ of so ornamental
a member. I am, &c.,





Confusion, horror, and despair are the portion of your wretched, unhappy
friend. O Deighton, I am undone. Misery irremediable is my future lot.
She is gone; yes, she is gone forever. The darling of my soul, the
centre of all my wishes and enjoyments, is no more. Cruel fate has
snatched her from me, and she is irretrievably lost. I rave, and then
reflect; I reflect, and then rave. I have no patience to bear this
calamity, nor power to remedy it. Where shall I fly from the upbraidings
of my mind, which accuse me as the murderer of my Eliza? I would fly to
death, and seek a refuge in the grave; but the forebodings of a
retribution to come I cannot away with. O that I had seen her! that I
had once more asked her forgiveness! But even that privilege, that
consolation, was denied me! The day on which I meant to visit her, most
of my property was attached, and, to secure the rest, I was obliged to
shut my doors and become a prisoner in my own house. High living, and
old debts incurred by extravagance, had reduced the fortune of my wife
to very little, and I could not satisfy the clamorous demands of my

I would have given millions, had I possessed them, to have been at
liberty to see, and to have had the power to preserve Eliza from death.
But in vain was my anxiety; it could not relieve, it could not liberate
me. When I first heard the dreadful tidings of her exit, I believe I
acted like a madman; indeed, I am little else now. I have compounded
with my creditors, and resigned the whole of my property. Thus that
splendor and equipage, to secure which I have sacrificed a virtuous
woman, is taken from me. That poverty, the dread of which prevented my
forming an honorable connection with an amiable and accomplished
girl,--the only one I ever loved,--has fallen with redoubled vengeance
upon my guilty head, and I must become a vagabond on the earth.

I shall fly my country as soon as possible. I shall go from every object
which reminds me of my departed Eliza; but never, never shall I
eradicate from my bosom the idea of her excellence, nor the painful
remembrance of the injuries I have done her. Her shade will perpetually
haunt me; the image of her--as she appeared when mounting the carriage
which conveyed her forever from my sight, waving her hand in token of a
last adieu--will always be present to my imagination; the solemn counsel
she gave me before we parted, never more to meet, will not cease to
resound in my ears.

While my being is prolonged, I must feel the disgraceful and torturing
effects of my guilt in seducing her. How madly have I deprived her of
happiness, of reputation, of life! Her friends, could they know the
pangs of contrition and the horrors of conscience which attend me,
would be amply revenged.

It is said she quitted the world with composure and peace. Well she
might. She had not that insupportable weight of iniquity which sinks me
to despair. She found consolation in that religion which I have
ridiculed as priestcraft and hypocrisy. But, whether it be true or
false, would to Heaven I could now enjoy the comforts which its votaries
evidently feel.

My wife has left me. As we lived together without love, we parted
without regret.

Now, Charles, I am to bid you a long, perhaps a last farewell. Where I
shall roam in future, I neither know nor care. I shall go where the name
of Sanford is unknown, and his person and sorrows unnoticed.

In this happy clime I have nothing to induce my stay. I have not money
to support me with my profligate companions, nor have I any relish, at
present, for their society. By the virtuous part of the community I am
shunned as the pest and bane of social enjoyment. In short, I am
debarred from every kind of happiness. If I look back, I recoil with
horror from the black catalogue of vices which have stained my past
life, and reduced me to indigence and contempt. If I look forward, I
shudder at the prospects which my foreboding mind presents to view both
in this and a coming world. This is a deplorable, yet just, picture of
myself. How totally the reverse of what I once appeared!

Let it warn you, my friend, to shun the dangerous paths which I have
trodden, that you may never be involved in the hopeless ignominy and
wretchedness of





A melancholy tale have you unfolded, my dear Julia; and tragic indeed is
the concluding scene.

Is she then gone? gone in this most distressing manner? Have I lost my
once-loved friend? lost her in a way which I could never have conceived
to be possible?

Our days of childhood were spent together in the same pursuits, in the
same amusements. Our riper years increased our mutual affection, and
maturer judgment most firmly cemented our friendship. Can I, then,
calmly resign her to so severe a fate? Can I bear the idea of her being
lost to honor, to fame, and to life? No; she shall still live in the
heart of her faithful Lucy, whose experience of her numerous virtues and
engaging qualities has imprinted her image too deeply on the memory to
be obliterated. However she may have erred, her sincere repentance is
sufficient to restore her to charity.

Your letter gave me the first information of this awful event. I had
taken a short excursion into the country, where I had not seen the
papers, or, if I had, paid little or no attention to them. By your
directions I found the distressing narrative of her exit. The poignancy
of my grief, and the unavailing lamentations which the intelligence
excited, need no delineation. To scenes of this nature you have been
habituated in the mansion of sorrow where you reside.

How sincerely I sympathize with the bereaved parent of the dear,
deceased Eliza, I can feel, but have not power to express. Let it be her
consolation that her child is at rest. The resolution which carried this
deluded wanderer thus far from her friends, and supported her through
her various trials, is astonishing. Happy would it have been had she
exerted an equal degree of fortitude in repelling the first attacks upon
her virtue. But she is no more, and Heaven forbid that I should accuse
or reproach her.

Yet in what language shall I express my abhorrence of the monster whose
detestable arts have blasted one of the fairest flowers in creation? I
leave him to God and his own conscience. Already is he exposed in his
true colors. Vengeance already begins to overtake him. His sordid mind
must now suffer the deprivation of those sensual gratifications beyond
which he is incapable of enjoyment.

Upon your reflecting and steady mind, my dear Julia, I need not
inculcate the lessons which may be drawn from this woe-fraught tale; but
for the sake of my sex in general, I wish it engraved upon every heart,
that virtue alone, independent of the trappings of wealth, the parade of
equipage, and the adulation of gallantry, can secure lasting felicity.
From the melancholy story of Eliza Wharton let the American fair learn
to reject with disdain every insinuation derogatory to their true
dignity and honor. Let them despise and forever banish the man who can
glory in the seduction of innocence and the ruin of reputation. To
associate is to approve; to approve is to be betrayed.

I am, &c.,





Dear madam: We have paid the last tribute of respect to your beloved
daughter. The day after my arrival, Mrs. Sumner proposed that we should
visit the sad spot which contains the remains of our once amiable
friend. "The grave of Eliza Wharton," said she, "shall not be unbedewed
by the tears of friendship."

Yesterday we went accordingly, and were much pleased with the apparent
sincerity of the people in their assurances that every thing in their
power had been done to render her situation comfortable. The minutest
circumstances were faithfully related; and, from the state of her mind
in her last hours, I think much comfort may be derived to her afflicted

We spent a mournful hour in the place where she is interred, and then
returned to the inn, while Mrs. Sumner gave orders for a decent stone to
be erected over her grave, with the following inscription:--


I hope, madam, that you will derive satisfaction from these exertions of
friendship, and that, united to the many other sources of consolation
with which you are furnished, they may alleviate your grief, and, while
they leave the pleasing remembrance of her virtues, add the supporting
persuasion that your Eliza is happy.

I am, &c.,


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