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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Proposal of the Last Century

By Hannah Webster Foster (1759–1840)

[Born about 1759. Daughter of Grant Webster, of Boston, Mass. Died in Montreal, Canada, 1840. From The Coquette, or The History of Eliza Wharton. 1797.]

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 summing 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.