“Am I in pursuit of truth, or lady?” Reverend Boyer writes to his friend, Mr. Selby. “I answer both.” His “respectable circle of acquaintances,” with whom he has spent much time in New Haven, have introduced him to Miss Eliza Wharton, “a young lady whose elegant person, accomplished mind, and polished manners have been much celebrated.”
Boyer’s question of “truth” or “lady” suggests that he is looking for a woman who is both attractive and virtuous, and if Eliza can be judged by the company she keeps, he believes he has found her. His description of Eliza as intelligent and refined is in keeping with popular notions of a proper lady.
Boyer is not “ashamed to rank [himself] among the professed admirers of this lovely fair one.” Boyer’s intentions are pure, and he expects to soon “settle in an eligible situation.” She is staying at General Richman’s, and he and his wife, Mrs. Richman, are “warm in her praises” but claim “she is naturally of a gay disposition.” This makes little difference to Boyer, as long as “there is discretion sufficient for its regulation.” After all, a “cheerful wife” offers a nice balance to the “studious and sedentary life” of a preacher.
The “eligible situation” Boyer speaks of is marriage, and he is looking at Eliza as a potential wife. Boyer must “rank” himself among her “admirers,” which is to say she has many, and this is in keeping with her flirtatious behavior. The fact that Boyer initially views Eliza’s “gay disposition” (her social exuberance) as a positive point is an important distinction to make, as he later cites this behavior as a reason not to marry her.
Boyer has had many occasions to speak to Eliza, and he has found her to have an “elevated mind, a ready apprehension, and an accurate knowledge of the various subjects which have been brought into view.” He has not yet spoken of love, a subject “she seems studiously to avoid,” but he plans to speak of it soon. The General and Mrs. Richman have invited him to visit today, “as if by accident,” and when he arrives, they will be on their way out and will “refer [him] to Miss Wharton for entertainment, till their return.” Boyer is quite looking forward to it and “counting the hours, nay, the very moments” until he is in Eliza’s company.
Eliza has been brought up specifically to be attractive to men like Boyer, and he finds her particularly enticing. The ideal woman is educated and well-read, yet still dependent on men, and this is reflected in Eliza’s “ready apprehension.” Eliza avoids the subject of love because she is not interested in marriage, but her friends, who are aware of this, don’t respect her wishes. Here, Eliza’s friends go behind her back and encourage Boyer’s infatuation.