14 February 1806

Mary Hays, 3 Park Street, Islington,1 to Henry Crabb Robinson, c/o of Messrs Rutt and Andrews, Thames Street, 14 February 1806.2

           

Febry 14th 1806  No. 3 Park Street Islington

 

     I felt mortified & disappointed at your flight from town, at a season to me particularly gloomy & solitary, & when I never more stood in need of the society of a cheerful friend. The unexpected death of my eldest sister Mrs Dunkin,3 the week before Christmas, threw a cloud of sadness over my family, & prevented our usual meetings at that season of general festivity. Circumstances also, at the same time, separated me, for many weeks, from the few chosen & beloved friends that remained to me out of my family connexion. I was therefore left literally alone, an insulated being cut off from society & its comforts, to brood over real & fancied sources of sorrow & of anxious apprehension; to which my temper, I confess, is but too prone. The melancholy of my situation was aggravated by the tempestuous state of the atmosphere, that be robbed me of rest by night, & even gave me real terrors for the security of my slightly built habitation; &, by day, prevented me from taking the exercise to which I had been accustomed, & which the state of my spirits & health more than ever seemed to require.

      To escape myself & my own thoughts, I made two visits of a few days to London, whence encreased languor & indisposition drove me back. The air of a great city, from which I always suffered in a degree, is now poison to me, & deprives both my mind & body of their powers.

      Within the last ten days, as the date of my letter will inform you, the bustle of removing has roused me, & I am now nearly settled in my new habitation. I did not leave Camberwell without some regrets; I have passed there, among more painful ones, many happy days. And this is more than I can say of any place in which I have resided from the earliest periods of my youth. To Islington I come not without hopes, though mingled, I own, with many anxieties ^& cares.^ But this, perhaps, generally speaking, is as much as can be expected from human life, especially to a nature & temperament of extreme susceptibility. With Petrarch, I sometimes feel inclined to say – “My short pleasures have been like the light breezes of summer, that refresh the air but for a moment.” Yet my satisfactions, like my pains, are of a vivid nature, & exquisitely felt. Few persons, perhaps, possess a perfectly sane mind; a disordered imagination has, from my youth upward, been the bane of my tranquillity, & the destroyer of my prospects in life. I imbibed, almost from my childhood, the poison of romance & chivalry, so seductive to tender & elevated minds; &, viewing objects & things through a distempered medium, I sought & made to myself an extraordinary destiny.

      Your character, happily, my friend, has taken a different turn; you have wisely cultivated your reason rather than your imagination; hence your affections are under the guidance of your judgement, & have added to the worth of your character rather than made inroads on your peace. From this arises the difference, you have sometimes remarked to me, between yourself & others, on certain subjects & occasions – a difference altogether in your favor, by securing to you a manly independence of acting, & a self-possession beyond all price. On the one side, you have escaped the enslavements of profligacy & sense, the poisoned beverage of Circé,4 so fatal to the youth of your days – On the other, the enchantments of a false sentiment, those refinements, so much the more dangerous from their purity & flattering semblance; till, in the garb of virtue, & with the voice of a Siren, they allure their hapless victims from utility & peace, even if a catastrophe more fatal should not ensue. The mild & rational affections encrease the activity of the mind, those of a more absorbing nature give to it a dangerous direction, their force is the delirium of a fever, equally exhausting, & producing consequences not less to be dreaded. It is in vain that, after a certain period, the judgement may become enlightened, it is still hurried away the slave of feeling & habit. These reflections were partly suggested to me by some remarks of yours when we last met, & partly by other circumstances & events.

      You requested to be informed of my remov[al &] for this purpose I therefore took up my pen. My over-niceness, in these changes of habitation subjects me both to expence & fatigue; the former is a sin against my prudence, the latter perhaps does me no harm; though it has been much encreased, & a violent cold added to it, by the illness of my servant, to whom both duty & inclination compelled me to become a nurse. You will find me, as at Camberwell, surrounded not by affluence & elegance, but by cleanliness, external comforts & exact order; & these, I believe, in a degree, I should still retain, though in a garret or in a clay-built cot. I hope to see you soon, &, as the season advances, to take with you some pleasant walks round this really pretty country; being too cowardly to extend my rambles alone.

      The change in public affairs has afforded a relief to my mind, on which, before, they pressed, at times, with a very painful weight. The scenes on the Continent have been terrible & grand, God preserve Little England form the horrors of a heat of war!

      I was present at the funeral procession of the brave & justly regretted Nelson,5 & was much struck & gratified by the splendour of the spectacle.

      I shall be glad to hear from you, my friend & still more to see you.

                        M. Hays

 

No. 3 Park Street


If you have not read Miss Porter’s “Thaddeus of Warsaw,” pray get it. One vol. of my “Historical Dialogues” is published.6

 

Address:  Mr H. C. Robinson | Messrs Rutt & Andrews7 | Addle Hill |Thames Street.

Postmark: 15 February 1806. 

 

1 Though Hays gives her new address as 3 Park Street, it was actually 3 Park Place, though in the 1805-06 Poor Rate Book for her section of Islington, it was listed as “Park Lane.” Park Street ran between Upper Street and what was then known as Back Street (now Liverpool Street). At the conjunction of Park Street and Back Street, on the opposite side of the street, to the left was a block of terrace houses called “Park Terrace,” and to the right was a block called “Park Place.” Hays was living in the latter block, directly across the corner of Park Street, having moved there at the beginning of February 1806. Not long thereafter she would begin boarding her three nieces and instruct them into 1808, leaving in 1809 to live with her brother Thomas in Wandsworth Common. Given Hays’s disparaging remarks on the size of her place as a small cottage at best, it seems likely the current block of buildings date from the 1820s, for they are large four-story townhouses. However, given the palatial homes John Dunkin and his family (and at times Hays herself) lived in after 1792, a townhome may well have been seen as a cottage in comparison.

2 Crabb Robinson Archive, DWL/HCR/5/4/37, Dr. Williams's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 569-72.

3 Joanna Hays Dunkin (1754-1805), Hays’s eldest sister and the mother of the nieces who will soon live with Hays.

4 A sorceress in Greek mythology who was known for turning humans into pigs.

5 Lord Nelson (1758-1805), who had been killed at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, was given a magnificent funeral procession in London on 9 January 1806. 

6 Thaddeus of Warsaw, by Jane Porter (1776-1850), appeared in London in 1803, published by Longman and Rees. The remaining two volumes of Hays’s Historical Dialogues would appear in the next year.

7 Mordecai Andrews II (b. 1780) and his sister Eliza Julia (1792-1861) were were the children of Mordecai Andrews II (1750-1799), Independent minister at Coggeshall, Essex, from 1775 to 1797.  His father, Mordecai Andrews, Sr. (1715-50), pastored Independent congregations at White Row, Spitalfields, London, and at Market Harborough. was J. T. Rutt's nephew and a close companion of Crabb Robinson for many years. Mordecai Andrews II married Elizabeth Rutt 1765-1841), sister of J. T. Rutt. Mordecai III and his sister Eliza, as relations of J. T. Rutt, became close friends of Crabb Robinson and, through the marriage of their cousins, Peter and George Wedd, to two of Mary Hays's nieces, Mary and Sarah Dunkin, friends of Mary Hays as well. For more on Eliza Julia Andrews, see her entry in the Biographical Index.