Susanna Haswell Rowson (17621824). Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth. 1905.
A Trifling Retrospect
BLESS1 my heart! cries my young, volatile reader, I shall never have patience to get through these volumes, there are so many ahs! and ohs! so much fainting, tears and distress, I am sick to death of the subject. My dear, cheerful, innocent girl, for innocent I will suppose you to be, or you would acutely feel the woes of Charlotte, did conscience say, thus might it have been with me, had not Providence interposed to snatch me from destruction: therefore, my lively, innocent girl, I must request your patience; I am writing a tale of truth: I mean to write it to the heart: but, if perchance the heart is rendered impenetrable by unbounded prosperity, or a continuance in vice, I expect not my tale to please, nay, I even expect it will be thrown by with disgust. But softly, gentle fair one; I pray you throw it not aside till you have perused the whole; mayhap you may find something therein to repay you for the trouble. Methinks I see a sarcastic smile sit on your countenanceAnd what, cry you, does the conceited author suppose we can glean from these pages, if Charlotte is held up as an object of terror, to prevent us from falling into guilty errors? Does not La Rue triumph in her shame, and, by adding art to guilt, obtain the affection of a worthy man and rise to a station where she is beheld with respect, and cheerfully received into all companies. What, then, is the moral you would inculcate? Would you wish us to think that a deviation from virtue, if covered by art and hypocrisy, is not an object of detestation, but on the contrary, shall raise us to fame and honor? while the hapless girl who falls a victim to her too great sensibility, shall be loaded with ignominy and shame? No, my fair querist, I mean no such thing. Remember the endeavors of the wicked are often suffered to prosper, that in the end their fall may be attended with more bitterness of heart, while the cup of affliction is poured out for wise and salutary ends, and they who are compelled to drain it even to the bitter dregs, often find comfort at the bottom; the tear of penitence blots their offenses from the book of fate, and they rise from the heavy, painful trial, purified and fit for a mansion in the kingdom of eternity.
Yes, my young friends, the tear of compassion shall fall for the fate of Charlotte, while the name of La Rue shall be detested and despised. For Charlotte the soul melts with sympathy; for La Rue it feels nothing but horror and contempt. But perhaps your gay hearts would rather follow the fortunate Mrs. Crayton through the scenes of pleasure and dissipation in which she was engaged than listen to the complaints and miseries of Charlotte. I will for once oblige you; I will for once follow her to midnight revels, balls and scenes of gayety, for in such was she constantly engaged.
I have said her person was lovely; let us add that she was surrounded by splendor and affluence, and he must know but little of the world who can wonder (however faulty such a womans conduct) at her being followed by the men and her company courted by the women: in short, Mrs. Crayton was the universal favorite; she set the fashions; she was toasted by all the gentlemen, and copied by all the ladies.
Colonel Crayton was a domestic man. Could he be happy with such a woman? impossible! Remonstrance was vain: he might as well have preached to the winds as endeavor to persuade her from any action, however ridiculous, on which she had set her mind: in short, after a little ineffectual struggle, he gave up the attempt and left her to follow the bent of her own inclinations: what those were, I think the reader must have seen enough of her character to form a just idea. Among the number who paid their devotions at her shrine, she singled one, a young ensign of mean birth, indifferent education, and weak intellects. How such a man came into the army we hardly know to account for; and how he afterward rose to posts of honor is likewise strange and wonderful. But fortune is blind, and so are those, too, frequently, who have the power of dispensing her favors: else why do we see fools and knaves at the very top of the wheel, while patient merit sinks to the extreme of the opposite abyss. But we may form a thousand conjectures on this subject, and yet never hit on the right. Let us, therefore, endeavor to deserve her smiles, and whether we succeed or not, we shall feel more innate satisfaction than thousands of those who bask in the sunshine of her favor unworthily. But to return to Mrs. Crayton: this young man, whom I shall distinguish by the name of Corydon, was the reigning favorite of her heart. He escorted her to the play, danced with her at every ball, and, when indisposition prevented her going out, it was he alone who was permitted to cheer the gloomy solitude to which she was obliged to confine herself. Did she ever think of poor Charlotte?if she did, my dear miss, it was only to laugh at the poor girls want of spirit in consenting to be moped up in the country, while Montraville was enjoying all the pleasures of a gay, dissipated city. When she heard of his marriage, she smiling said: So theres an end of Madame Charlottes hopes. I wonder who will take her now, or what will become of the little affected prude?