c. October 1793

John Evans,1 Providence Row, Finsbury Square, to Mary Hays, [Gainsford Street], [c. October 1793].2

 

    Mr Evans compliments to Miss Hays, and informs her, that he and Mr Worthington will do themselves the pleasure of drinking tea with her on Friday Evening. 

    ME has seen the English Review,3 and assures Miss H. that the malignity of the criticisms are ^is^ beneath her notice. It seems to be the production of some narrow-hearted bigot, who is a sworn enemy to Mrs Woolstonecraft and her disciples, and who wishes by one rude undistinguished blow, to level with the dust, the fabric they have been industriously raising.

    For your satisfaction I have transcribed part of it, and I pity the malevolence, that could incite to such baseness of misrepresentation and to such illiberality of judgment. Throughout the whole there are the most unfair quotations from the volume on the education of Women and on political subjects. In the vile critique are the following sentences;

“These are sketches & outlines but the question is whether the Public in indebted to this Lady for them – perhaps a mere whisper from Mary Hays may be gratifying to the public ear – the baldest disciple of Mrs Woolstonecraft – These performances have unquestionably all the marks of youth ungifted by genius and unformed by taste –Some published in the universal Magazine4 – they were doubtless well adapted to the soil where they sprung up and thus cruelly transplanted they must quickly fade away and die – We shall give our readers a specimen of this pretty miscellany – In the 1st number Miss Mary Hays conceives but her conceptions are an indigested heap and the whole of this paper is an abortion. We cannot pursue this Lady in all her wanderings – In the work before us we see nothing to commend – for it everywhere excites our contempt. We despise dogmas that originate in affected Wisdom & we are disgusted by flippancy & frivolousness that betray all the conceit of an half educated female – Such are the crude effusions of Mary Hays – Female philosophers while pretending to superior powers carry with them (such is the goodness of providence) a mental imbecility which damns them to fame. And soon it will appear that to be a skilful housewife just as well accords wh the female character as to be a quibbling necessarian – that to be clever as an economist is not less creditable than to be wise as a republican – that to instruct her family in those good old maxims by wch her “whiskered sires and mothers mild[”] had regulated their conduct may be as amiable in a woman as to be give lessons to the World at large on princely domination & popular resistance, and that even to manage the needle with dexterity (tho’ there shd be no sewing in the other World) may be as rational a mode of preparing herself for an hereafter as to weave the web of sophistry in attempting to disprove the existence of an immaterial soul” –5

Such is the kindhearted effusion of this generous Critic who most probably condemns what he understood not – and reprobated what he was unable to refute. Had you not expressd a desire of my giving you some account of it – I should not have defiled my pen with the transcription of it. Let it meet with the contempt it merits. 

wednesday Eveng

Providence row Finsbury square



NB Complimts to yr family –


 

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1 John Evans (1767-1827), Baptist minister and schoolmaster in Islington, has largely remained unknown to scholars of the Romantic period, despite his important publications and stature as a London Unitarian, reformer, and friend of Mary and Elizabeth Hays from the early 1790s into the 1820s. He was a descendant the Evans family of Radnorshire, Wales. He was the grandson of Caleb Evans (d. 1790), a Baptist preacher and schoolmaster in Wales, who was the half-brother of Hugh Evans (1712-81), President of Bristol Baptist Academy and pastor of the two congregations at Broadmead in Bristol, 1758-81.  John Evans was educated for the ministry at Bristol Academy in the mid-1780s, just after the return of Robert Hall to the Academy to serve as classical tutor. Evans completed his work at Bristol and then became a Ward scholar at the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, graduating from the latter with an M.A. in 1790. While in Scotland, he became a Unitarian, though he probably acquired leanings in that direction during his time at Bristol.  He was ordained in 1792 by the General Baptist congregation at Worship Street, London, remaining there as pastor until shortly before his death in 1827.  That same year he was introduced to Mary Hays and corresponded with her. He opened his school at Islington in 1796 and earned much renown for his work with young preachers, continuing in that capacity until 1821.  He was a friend and correspondent of Russell Scott, son-in-law of Dr. William Hawes, founder of the Humane Society.  He published some forty works in his lifetime, including his influential A Sketch of the Denominations of the Christian World (1795). Evans subscribed to Lanfear’s Fatal Errors along with his wife and four of his children.

2 Misc. Ms. 2202, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence  277-78; Wedd, Love Letters 222-23.
3 A review of Hays's Letters and Essays appeared in the English Review 22 (October 1793), 253-57, thus providing a basis for the dating of the letter. 

4 Hays's early publications c. 1784-86 include “Observations on The Sorrows of Werter, To the Editor of the Universal Magazine,” signed “M. Hays,” in The Universal Magazine 76 (December 1784), 317-18; “A Sonnet: by Miss Hays,” The Universal Magazine 77 (1785), 329; “Ode to her Bullfinch: By the Same,” The Universal Magazine 77 (1785), 329; and “The Hermit; an Oriental Tale,” signed “M. Hays” in The Universal Magazine  78 (April 1786), 204-09 (part 1); May (1786), 234-38 (part 2).

5 Evans has pieced together lines from every page of the review.