“My Dear Friend,” Eliza begins her letter to Julia. Eliza goes on to tell Julia that she has “reason to think [herself] in a confirmed consumption, which commonly proves fatal to persons in [Eliza’s] situation.” She claims she will soon be leaving, and since she doesn’t have the “resolution to encounter the tears of her friends,” she has decided instead to “seek shelter among strangers.”
Here, Eliza implies that she is leaving because she can’t face the disappointment and judgement of her friends, but she also implies that she has tuberculosis when she claims to be “in a confirmed consumption.” Tuberculosis, or TB, is a bacterial infection that usually settles in the lungs, but it can also infect the brain and spine. Pregnancy usually pushes latent TB into active TB, and it greatly increases disease progression. Eliza doesn’t have any respiratory symptoms, but she could easily have TB of the brain that is further exacerbated by her pregnancy.
Eliza claims that she will come back if her health allows and repent for her indiscretions, but if she dies “and leaves behind [her] a helpless babe,” she begs Julia to “intercede with [her] mother to take it under her protection.” She also asks Julia to apologize to Mrs. Richman and Mrs. Sumner on her behalf and “obtain, if possible, their forgiveness.” Eliza asks her friend to “bury [her] crimes in the grave with [her]” and “preserve the remembrance of her former virtues.”
Eliza obviously doesn’t want to be remembered as a coquette who died without virtue or honor, and she certainly doesn’t want her baby to be painted with the same brush. Illegitimate children were often punished for their mothers’ discretions in the eighteenth century, and Eliza’s plea to Julia to help her mother care for the child is her attempt to ensure this doesn’t happen.