c. 1811

Eliza Fenwick, [London], to Mary Hays, at Thomas Hays, Esqr, Wandsworth Common, c. 1811.1


    Do not feel the least degree of uneasiness on account of some part of your sanguine hopes for me having fallen to the ground. You really have done so much for me, so very very much that I really do not <–> suffer from this explanation. I certainly did not expect all that I have already, through your means, obtained for this darling boy; I did not dare to hope that he would be any thing beyond an exiled school boy, far ^removed^ from the solace of his mothers smile, and when I find him taken to your heart, Mary; improved by your affection and elevated through your patronage how can I grieve for a contingency whose results are very distant; and may perhaps be provided for, by this timely knowledge? I think the singular good fortune Lanno now enjoys will not forsake him. He has, of all the children I ever beheld, the most complete power of prepossessing persons in his behalf; and that so perfectly without art or design that it must arise from inherent worth aided by a sort of Gentlemanly temper that from an infant was visible in him, except at those intervals when the gloom of disgust & resentment obscured his good qualities. I remember a Gentleman in Cornwall when Lanno was but four years old, often saying he was born to be a plenipotentiary he so well understood the art of conciliating. I did hope that the soil to which you transplanted ^him^ so congenial to his nature would restore him to himself and my hopes have been gratified to the very utmost. Your little girls must be fond of him for their play-fellow for he was always delicate considerate & attentive towards females. Yes, I do & will trust that the work so happily begun will go on, and may his virtues & prosperity reward your solicitude and exertions in his behalf Do you remember the lines tha on Lanno that Mrs Robinson published in the Morning Post? Or did you ever see them? if not I will send them to you for they are very beautiful – Through your means I trust her prophecy will be averted, for though a feeling heart is certain to find a portion of misery in this way-ward planet of ours, yet I rely on you to form & fortify him to that undeviating integrity which will shield him at least from the reproaches & stings of conscience. Do not say you regret that he is not your Son for he is yours. You are performing all the most useful the highest, the moral duties of the mother: a privilege ^from^ which, toward him, I have through my misfortunes been generally debar’d. forever Mine were physical cares in his early nurture & his form & health seem to announce that I was a good nurse. Your station is higher is more elevated, more dignified.  He will owe more to you than he does ^to me^ though perhaps the sweet instinct of nature may secure to me the priority in his affections. If I were dying I should bequeath you all my title to his love & respect, & quit this mortal coil in full confidence that he had still a Mother.

    It is your blame if I prattle too much of this boy. Your encomiums set me at liberty. Rarely, except with Eliza, have I dared to express my thoughts of him lest I should incur the reproach of a selfish vanity, or wound the feelings of other mothers whose boys were less manly & engaging than mine. You now love him so well, & have such opportunities of understanding his character that when we next meet I will tell you two or three incidents that befell him in his wretched abode with his father at Nottingham which I hope the dear boy has quite forgotten, but which I shall never forget. I generally avoid any sort of allusion thereof thereto because I wish to <–> root out, by entire forgetting, the seeds of those violent emotions to which such injuries gave birth. It has happened that when alone with you the circumstances I allude to never entered my recollection, else having no reserves ^with you,^ I should have told the whole story, but never to any one else, lest the fathers errors, should create a prejudice or bring an unmerited reproach upon the son.

    I must now tell you a little pleasing incident that happened to Eliza the other night. She was playing her little part of Ursula in Much ado about nothing when a gentleman from one of the private boxes came behind the scenes to the Prompter & said “who is that girl that plays one of the attendants to night![”] The Prompter replied Mrs Humphries – No no said  [he] I mean the young girl dres’d in blue who has so fine a voice & delivery. It is a Miss Fenwick Sir – After asking where she came from & how long she had been on the stage he said – “She ought to be brought forward. She would do your Theatre good. She speaks admirably. ^She is very easy & graceful^ She ought to play better characters” – This was repeated to Eliza by a by-stander, who added that the Prompter addressed him with a great appearance of respect. I was angry that Eliza did not enquire who he was, but as Glassington (the Prompter) did not name it [sic] to her she felt reluctant to seem to snatch at the little triumph. As this or something of the same kind has repeatedly occur’d, I do hope that if she cannot be advanced she will at least be retained and her humble station is to us an enviable one, compared with the alternative of a removal into the country.  She practises her drawing & singing as closely as possible that she may have the resource of teaching should her other means of livelihood be suspended; & I do hope that when begun with Miss Frances2 she may find other pupils.

[Wedd breaks this letter into two letters at this point, but without explanation. There is no break in the MS letter.]

    I cannot boast of good spirits, but I am endeavouring to look at the worst of my prospects without despondency, and to estimate with courage my power, of providing against casualties. Secure, now I think, of remaining separate from Mr Fenwick who invariably (even when most steady) palsied every exertion I was disposed to make, I think I shall be able to provide for my own limited3 wants & expences of my boy, at any rate. I maintained myself & Eliza while at Chiswick & till she went to on the stage, because Mr F— was at a distance & embarrassed, and I hope I could do as much even where I deprived of my present situation, particularly with the stimulus I have in Lanno’s fair prospects. I am far from pleased at the exorbitant claims Mr & Mrs M.4 make on my exertions. Mrs M. cannot endure to see the Children have any relaxation. I have received many hints about appearing at 6 oClock in the morning in the school room. I cannot do it. I will not do it. I always rise at seven & am down at 8. The Civility & attention I receive I have discovered to have their source in Pride. They like to make a sort of show of me, and boast of hiring a first rate governess only for one little girl, whereas in fact I am governess to five. The eldest boy is Dullness & frivolity personified; he wearies & harrasses me in the extreme; the second boy is quick but idle; has a kind heart & not an ungenerous temper, but requires unceasing vigilance to keep him in his proper place & prevent his extending the mastery he aims [at]. On the whole I like him very much. He is capable of receiving <–> benefit. The little girl is a dull drudge who learns from want of vivacity and forgets again from want of intellect to comprehend. Tractable, yet totally void of energy and fancy, she sticks as close to me as a burr, without engaging my affection or stimulating in any way my temper, unless indeed when I grow petulant at the nine hundred & ninety ninety ninth repetition of the history history of her last years fit of sickness, or the dance her Mama gave last winter. The third boy is a complete dunce & the fourth a lively promising spoiled but good-humoured little pickle with an inordinate propensity to mischief & telling lies. These are my cases! each of whom requires a different treatment. The spirit & enterprise I would encourage in the second & fourth boys are opposite to the timid system of the father. Then the morality I enforce ^to all^ is in contradiction with the daily practice of the Mothers granting indulgencies of appetite &c which are to be hidden from the Fathers knowledge. It seems easy ^& a thing of course^ to both parents that I should transfuse my mind & intellect into every one of these clods, and what they do not know ^of my knowledge,^ is considered I have no doubt, as owing to a scantiness of instruction ent on my part, rather than their want of comprehension. The Table groans under the weight of Themes exercises & translations & I am at times so bewildered by the nonsense & blunders I have to wade through explain & correct, that I hardly know what I am doing, or what I expect from them. One thing, beyond these, has displeased me. Mrs M— appears to expect as a right that which I offered (in my the ignorance & humility of my inexperience) as a gratuity, that I might more frequently enjoy her company, namely the tuition of Eliza in drawing & singing. She ^Mrs M.^ ensinuated the other day in a tone of complaint the lessons her children had lost by Miss Fenwick’s not coming, on the Sunday she was at Wandsworth with me, & one Wednesday when she was kept at rehearsal. I have more than once mentioned that Eliza paid seven shillings for every half hours lesson she took in singing of Mr Bellamy,5 but as they have the art of getting instructors on incredibly low terms they either disbelieve me or are insensible to the injustice of profiting in this way by her talent; or of putting her to an inconvenience for which she <–> is to expect no remuneration. It is clear that their selfishness has blinded them in this instance & has rendered my motive quite misunderstood, for even yesterday Mrs M. after dinner told Eliza that the young folks could not take a lesson on Sunday, as company was expected ^– a notice that she was not to come on that day^. She cannot always (either when indisposed or in bad weather) walk it both ways, and when to save her shilling, she has gone home alone & on foot in dark drizzling dirty evenings it has made me pass a restless uneasy night, for fear of her meeting with insult or injury. Her dinner is no recompense for these hazards & the loss of her day, but so satisfactory is it to us to see each other that we would submit to the inconveniences if it were not considered that her instructions were a necessary appendage to my duties. I feel a conviction that they have trick’d me into the sole instruction of the whole family, while ostentatiously displaying me as the devoted only to Esther. As I have in the fullness of my heart expressed my delight at Lanno being so near me & my anxieties to provide for him; and as they lay even more stress, than I do, on the disadvantages of having a husband who might legally lay claim to me any moment he chose, they conclude perhaps I am without resource, and in their power. Remember that with all this, I have neither determined on change nor complain of personal inattention; but I have gradually developed [their] characters & find that ^the effects of^ a selfish <–> ^ambition^ for their children, has by me been at first mistaken for kindness of heart towards me & generosity of feeling for a person circumstanced as I am. Another constraint that I disapprove is that Mr M— will not suffer Esther to go out without I attend her. Since, he says, he keeps ^such^ a Governess for her, it is not right Esther should ever be out of her sight. When they have company they expect me always to be there. And you have no conception how I dread those hours. I have been represented as something extraordinarily clever, I am shunned and stared at, while no doubt the ladies expect ^me^ to either utter something they dont comprehend. But unknown to them, unacquainted with their connections & their sources of small talk I cannot utter a single word & feel myself wretchedly isolated & humbled in their circle. Heigh ho! Have I not wearied you with this volume of murmurs.6 My heart is full and it is a relief to unburthen it to you. I did so in part to Eliza yesterday who gave me advice that even a Mother should be gratified to receive from a daughter. It did me good. I will follow it. I will pursue the course my judgment points out as the line of my duty without suffering myself to seem to see the unreasonableness of their expectations. Eliza reminded me that I ought to <–> ^treat^ these things with patient disregard while I was subjected thereto, as at the worst I could quit at my choice & had the shelter of her pretty little garret to fly to & her pittance to share, while I tried other experiments. Her counsel & consolations fortified me and without any question I shall remain where I am as yet; perhaps when the boys go to business (the when I know not) my situation may improve. I will try that experiment undoubtedly.

    Would you believe that Mrs M. is jealous of our boy? She is indeed. He at 13 is much taller & more manly than her darling Abraham of 15.  An old rich Bachelor whom she courts for legacies dined here on Saturday & was struck with Lanno. He paid me a handsome Compt about him & Mrs M. was wounded. How weak & silly this is. She bows to my superiority over herself & is continually wishing herself like me yet cannot endure a competition between my child & hers unless the eminence was on the latter side. She has given him no invitation to come here during the hollidays, though Elias the second boy is half crazy to get him to teach him to climb to leap &c! Don’t mention to Lanno that I have any dissatisfaction here. He always questions me about my being happy with an anxious air, & what I formerly said of Abraham he caught quickly hold of & on Sunday week & asked me if Abraham used me ill, with an air that seemed to threaten what he did not express. He must write of the day when Eliza is to expect him.

    I neglected in my last to mention how much I was pleased with Mr & Mrs T. Hays. You & Eliza had both told me how very pretty Mrs Hays7 was, yet that preparation which often destroys the effect of beauty did not in the least prevent my admiration. The lower part of the her neck or throat & the line from that to her shoulder is uncommonly handsome and the cleanness of her complexion enhances the effect. They both look so young, so well assorted, so content, and so easy amidst their possessions & advantages that they formed to my view a pleasing & exhilarating picture. I don’t know when I have spent a day of such entire & tranquil satisfaction.

    Pray thank your brother John in both our names for his kind & ready attention to my solicitation. I have written this in my room at night. The bustle & noise of the fire works <–> exactly opposite my window, prevents my settling till after twelve on Vauxhall nights – It will tire you to read methinks. You perceive I grow old by my propensity to chatter.

    This complaint in my stomach returns at Intervals & is very distressing.  Adieu

                        Yrs truly

                                       E F.


Address: Miss Hays | T. Hays Esqr | Wandsworth 

Postmark: none



1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks  27-33 (this letter is broken into two separate letters by Wedd); not in Brooks, Correspondence

2 The former Elizabeth Dunkin (niece of Mary Hays), who married Henry Francis in 1803. At this time she was operating a school and employed young Eliza Fenwick for a time as a singing and drawing teacher.

3 limitted] MS

4 Mr. and Mrs. Moses Mocatta, in whose London home Fenwick would serve as governess between 1810 and 1812. At the time of the above letter, the Mocattas were living near Vauxhall. They will soon move to a new residence in Tavistock Square. 

5 A prominent London singing master at that time, located near Bedford Square. 

6 murmers] MS

7 Thomas Hays's wife was the former Elizabeth Dunkin (c. 1775-1832), John Dunkin's half-sister.