MARY HAYS-JOHN ECCLES CORRESPONDENCE

Volume 1 (letters 1-102)

The letters that passed between Mary Hays and her first lover, John Eccles (they became officially engaged shortly before his fatal illness in 1780) were preserved by Hays and given to someone, most likely her close friend Mrs Collier, who transcribed the letters into two bound volumes, using a fair hand that might suggest the volumes were designed for publication but more likely demonstrates the careful preservation and controlled dissemination of coterie manuscripts (letters, diaries, journals, poems, etc) that were a hallmark of women's literary circles at this time. Only the first of the two volumes has survived and now belongs to the Mary Hays material within the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations (MH 0028). These letters were first published (except for the Introduction by Hays and the initial letter by Eccles to Mrs. Hays) in A. F. Wedd's The Love-Letters of Mary Hays (1925), though with considerable excisions by Wedd and numerous word changes and mistaken transcriptions (all excised passages which were noted by Wedd with ellipses are included in this text and highlighted for the reader; the numbering of the letters is off by one from Wedd's since she did not included Eccles's initial letter to Mrs. Hays). Wedd omitted Hays's brief Introduction to the letters, and also omitted some notes by Hays, which now appear to be lost. Wedd provided titles to the letters resembling chapter titles in a novel. Those titles have not been retained in this edition. Though Wedd was a pioneer in presenting a collection of manuscript material on a woman writer in the 1920s, her editorial practices have nevertheless done considerable damage to Hays and her many friends and family members whose presence (and, to a degree, their very existence) was essentially erased by Wedd, much like a modern writer might "white out" a passage in a document. Wedd's omissions, alterations, and inaccuracies have left a skewed historical, biographical, and textual record on Hays that recent scholarship, beginning with the work of Marilyn Brooks and her Correspondence of Mary Hays (2004) and Gina Luria Walker's selection of these letters in The Idea of Being Free (2006) (36-86), as well as this edition of Hays's letters, has finally corrected. Wedd's deletions, though damaging to Hays, nevertheless provide a fascinating glimpse into how gender, whether on the part of the writer (Hays the 1790s Dissenter turned radical Jacobin writer) or the editor (Wedd, Hays's great-great niece raised a proper child of Victorian British culture), determined what aspect of women's history was worth keeping and what was not. 

        The letters that passed between Hays and Eccles are highly sentimental, which we would expect from two young lovers (Hays was born in 1759, Eccles in 1755) steeped in the sentimental literature of late eighteenth-century England, despite their allegiance to the Dissenting culture of the Particular Baptists and Independents among which they were raised and their participation each week at the "meeting" in a building at the end of Gainsford Street called the Blackfields Particular Baptist church. The letters also provide important details about Hays's circle of Dissenting friends, family members, and the nature of her reading and ideas about education, religion, courtship and marriage, all foundational motifs and concerns that will mark her public career as a writer beginning in the mid-1790s and continuing into the 1820s.

To view the letters, click on the appropriate section in the menu to the left (the letters are provided in the same order as the bound MS volume). 


Image above from fol. 63 of Volume 1 of the Hays-Eccles Correspondence, Mary Hays Material, Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.