Secret History; or, The Horrors of St. Domingoby Leonora Sansay
In this 1808 book she writes of her experiences and those of others in the French colony of St. Domingo during the 1802-1805 period of the Haitian revolution. It
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Leonora Mary Hassal Sansay (b. 1773), also known as Mary Hassal, was born into the American Revolution. She was a personal acquaintance of Vice President Aaron Burr, under President Thomas Jefferson.
In this 1808 book she writes of her experiences and those of others in the French colony of St. Domingo during the 1802-1805 period of the Haitian revolution. It is written as a series of letters to Burr and to a sister while in St. Domingo and also in Cuba and Jamaica. While it contains some fictionalized accounts, it is also includes many references to real life figures and events.
Sansay was one of the earliest US gothic authors, at a time when most others were men. She became noted for creating works that were “something in between romance and history.” Here she writes of trying to find a romantic life amidst a backdrop of poverty, cruelty and the horrors of war. Not all is despair, as she also tells of finding heroism and chivalry amongst the people thrown together during these turbulent times. It should be of interest to both historians and romance fans alike.
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Here is an excerpt from her second letter:
A young Frenchman was deeply in love with her daughter, but his fortune had been lost in the general wreck, and he had nothing to offer to the object of his adoration except a heart glowing with tenderness...
He addressed himself to her father, and this father was rich! He lavished on his mistress all the comforts and elegancies of life, yet refused to his family the scantiest pittance! He replied to the proposal that his daughter might marry, but that it was impossible for him to give her a shilling.
Clarissa heard the unfeeling sentence with calm despair. She had just reached the age in which the affections of the heart develope themselves. The beauty of her form was unequalled, and innocence, candour, modesty, generosity, and heroism, were expressed with ineffable grace in every attitude and every feature. Clarissa was adored. Her lover was idolatrous. The woods, the dawning day, the starry heavens, witnessed their mutual vows. The grass pressed by her feet, the air she respired, the shade in which she reposed, were consecrated by her presence.
Her mother marked, with pity, the progress of their mutual passion, which she could not forbid, for her own heart was formed for tenderness, nor could she sanction it, seeing no probability of its being crowned with success. But the happiness of her daughter was her only wish, and moved by her tears, her sighs, and the ardent prayers of her lover, she at length consented to their union. They were married and they were happy. But alas! a few days after their marriage a fever seized Clarissa. The distracted husband flew to her father who refused to send her the least assistance. She languished, and her mother and her husband hung over her in all the bitterness of anguish. The impossibility of paying a physician prevented their calling one, till it was too late, and, ten days after she had become a wife, she expired. I have held this disconsolate mother to my breast, my tears have mingled with hers: all the ties that bound her to the world are severed, and she wishes only for the moment that will put a period to her existence, when she fondly hopes she may be again united to her daughter. To the husband I have never uttered a word. His sorrow is deep and gloomy. He avoids all conversation, and an attempt to console him would be an insult on the sacredness of his grief. He has tasted celestial joys. He has lost the object of his love, and henceforth the earth is for him a desert.
For the brutal father there is no punishment. His conscience itself inflicts none, for he expressed not the least regret when informed of the fate of his daughter.
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