Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Death of Charlotte Temple

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

The Death of Charlotte Temple

By Susanna Rowson (1762–1824)


[From Charlotte Temple; or, A Tale of Truth. 1790.]
WHEN Mrs. Beauchamp entered the apartment of the poor sufferer, she started back with horror. On a wretched bed without hangings, and but poorly supplied with covering, lay the emaciated figure of what still retained the semblance of a lovely woman, though sickness had so altered her features that Mrs. Beauchamp had not the least recollection of her person. In one corner of the room stood a woman washing, and, shivering over a small fire, two healthy, but half-naked children; the infant was asleep beside its mother, and on a chair by the bedside stood a porringer and wooden spoon, containing a little gruel, and a teacup with about two spoonfuls of wine in it. Mrs. Beauchamp had never before beheld such a scene of poverty; she shuddered involuntarily, and exclaiming, “heaven preserve us!” leaned on the back of a chair, ready to sink to the earth. The doctor repented having so precipitately brought her into this affecting scene; but there was no time for apologies; Charlotte caught the sound of her voice, and starting almost out of bed, exclaimed—“Angel of peace and mercy, art thou come to deliver me? Oh, I know you are, for whenever you was near me I felt eased of half my sorrows; but you do not know me, nor can I, with all the recollection I am mistress of, remember your name just now, but I know that benevolent countenance and the softness of that voice which has so often comforted the wretched Charlotte.”  

Mrs. Beauchamp had, during the time Charlotte was speaking, seated herself on the bed and taken one of her hands. She looked at her attentively, and at the name of Charlotte she perfectly conceived the whole shocking affair. A faint sickness came over her. “Gracious heaven,” said she, “is this possible!” and bursting into tears, she reclined the burning head of Charlotte on her own bosom; and folding her arms about her, wept over her in silence.—“Oh!” said Charlotte, “you are very good to weep thus for me; it is a long time since I shed a tear for myself; my head and heart are both on fire, but these tears of yours seem to cool and refresh them. Oh! now I remember, you said you would send a letter to my poor father; do you think he ever received it? or perhaps you have brought me an answer. Why do you not speak, Madam? Does he say I may go home? Well, he is very good; I shall soon be ready.”

She then made an effort to get out of bed; but being prevented, her frenzy again returned, and she raved with the greatest wildness and incoherence. Mrs. Beauchamp, finding it was impossible for her to be removed, contented herself with ordering the apartment to be made comfortable, and procuring a proper nurse for both mother and child; and having learnt the particulars of Charlotte’s fruitless application to Mrs. Crayton, from honest John, she amply rewarded him for his benevolence, and returned home with a heart oppressed with many painful sensations, but yet rendered easy by the reflection that she had performed her duty towards a distressed fellow-creature.

Early the next morning she again visited Charlotte, and found her tolerably composed. She called her by name, thanked her for her goodness, and when her child was brought to her, pressed it in her arms, wept over it, and called it the offspring of disobedience. Mrs. Beauchamp was delighted to find her so much amended, and began to hope she might recover, and spite of her former errors, become a useful and respectable member of society; but the arrival of the doctor put an end to these delusive hopes; he said nature was making her last effort, and a few hours would most probably consign the unhappy girl to her kindred dust.

Being asked how she found herself, she replied—“Why, better, much better, doctor. I hope now I have but little more to suffer. I had last night a few hours’ sleep, and when I awoke recovered the full power of recollection. I am quite sensible of my weakness; I feel I have but little longer to combat with the shafts of affliction. I have an humble confidence in the mercy of Him who died to save the world, and trust that my sufferings in this state of mortality, joined to my unfeigned repentance, through his mercy, have blotted my offences from the sight of my offended Maker. I have but one care—my poor infant! Father of mercies,” continued she, raising her eyes, “of Thy infinite goodness, grant that the sins of the parent be not visited on the unoffending child. May those who taught me to despise Thy laws be forgiven; lay not my offences to their charge, I beseech Thee; and oh! shower the choicest of Thy blessings on those whose pity has soothed the afflicted heart, and made easy even the bed of pain and sickness.”

She was exhausted by this fervent address to the Throne of Mercy, and though her lips still moved, her voice became inarticulate; she lay for some time as it were in a doze, and then recovering, faintly pressed Mrs. Beauchamp’s hand, and requested a clergyman might be sent for.

On his arrival, she joined fervently in the pious office, frequently mentioning her ingratitude to her parents as what lay most heavy at her heart. When she had performed the last solemn duty, and was preparing to lie down, a little bustle at the outside door occasioned Mrs. Beauchamp to open it, and inquire the cause. A man, in appearance about forty, presented himself, and asked for Mrs. Beauchamp.

“That is my name, Sir,” said she.

“Oh then, my dear Madam,” cried he, “tell me where I may find my poor, ruined, but repentant child.”

Mrs. Beauchamp was surprised and affected; she knew not what to say; she foresaw the agony this interview would occasion Mr. Temple, who had just arrived in search of his Charlotte, and yet was sensible that the pardon and blessing of her father would soften even the agonies of death to the daughter.

She hesitated. “Tell me, Madam,” cried he, wildly, “tell me, I beseech thee, does she live? shall I see my darling once again? Perhaps she is in this house. Lead, lead me to her, that I may bless her, and then lie down and die.”

The ardent manner in which he uttered these words, occasioned him to raise his voice. It caught the ear of Charlotte; she knew the beloved sound; and uttering a loud shriek, she sprang forward as Mr. Temple entered the room. “My adored father.” “My long lost child.” Nature could support no more, and they both sunk lifeless into the arms of the attendants.

Charlotte was again put into bed, and a few moments restored Mr. Temple; but to describe the agony of his sufferings is past the power of any one, who, though they may readily conceive, cannot delineate the dreadful scene. Every eye gave testimony of what each heart felt—but all were silent.

When Charlotte recovered she found herself supported in her father’s arms. She cast on him a most expressive look, but was unable to speak. A reviving cordial was administered. She then asked, in a low voice, for her child; it was brought to her; she put it in her father’s arms. “Protect her,” said she, “and bless your dying—”

Unable to finish the sentence, she sunk back on her pillow; her countenance was serenely composed; she regarded her father as he pressed the infant to his breast, with a steadfast look; a sudden beam of joy passed across her languid features; she raised her eyes to heaven—and then closed them forever.