c. August 1811

Eliza Fenwick, [Vauxhall], to Mary Hays, Wandsworth Common, Sunday Evening, [c. August 1811].1

Sunday Evening

My dear friend,

    When I went yesterday to Mrs Utterson2 I found she had been out of town above a week & is not expected home for three more at the earliest.

    Every thing for Eliza has been suddenly decided. She came here on Friday evening to inform me that Mr Dyke had required an immediate answer from her & that she had promised to give it by Sunday. I went with her to him. He shewed us his last letters from Barbadoes which forwarded him large remittances & the wishes of the Committee for his hastening his arrangements that the Theatre might be opened in Novr.  This had induced him to press for Eliza’s answer that in case of her refusal he might attend to other applications. She goes my dear Mary. I assisted at the negotiation & she assented signed her acceptance of the offer’d conditions. How it will end who can tell, but at least it promises some remuneration in money, for the sacrifice we make to that omnipotent power. She is to receive a salary of six guineas pr week, paid weekly.  Mr & Mrs Dyke who have a good house offer to accomodate her with board & lodging and washing for two guineas pr week. This I advise her acceptance of, on her first arrival, at any rate; and if we allow one guinea pr week for incidental expences & wardrobe, she will be able to save three. Should she receive the hoped for introductions, her benefits cannot fail of being productive & if she can procure a few pupils she may even put by the whole of her salary. They play eight months at Barbadoes & then go to Antigua for the rest of the year. They pay the expence of the voyage to Antigua but give no salaries while they ^the Company^ are in the passage there which together with Passion week makes about 3 weeks or perhaps four out [of] the year when she will not be in the actual receipt of 6 Guineas pr week. In any Country Company she would have as long a recess & be obliged to pay the expences of her journies. She is right to go, I feel that it is her duty, and I feel too my privation – Ah how little can my pen express what my acquiescence costs me. Oh the dreary blank of this coming winter! Believe [me], I will exert, for her sake, all the fortitude I am mistress of. In truth it is now very little. That bouyant spirit that once bore me up is gone. I am sunk indeed to a very weak & repining creature. One thing however I have decided upon – not to go to Ireland. Do not think me fickle or altogether blame my irresolution, but indeed disease & misfortune have so shorten’d my frame & my spirits that I am convinc’d if I were at once to separate from both my children, and from the little circle of sympathizing friends who feel for me & mine & with whom an occasional interview brings a gleam of satisfaction, to go where no one knew me or could feel for me, I should either die or fall into that state which would end the possibility of exertion. This is in respect to my feelings. Beside which Eliza thinks the tone of the letter too decided on the subjects of music & drawing to leave a chance of my suiting ^them^. Then my dear friend, I find, that in this frivolous age little shewy nick-nacks are more prized than solid attainments & that I should be a more valuable governess if I could impart the art of making those elegant trifles than if I had all the wisdom of all sages. It is true I might thus accomplish myself at no vast expence, but what I endur’d what yesterday when I thought of Eliza going now, of Lanno going in two years & the likelihood of my never seeing him more & removing myself voluntarily ^from him in the interim, also^ from you, from every body was what I can never consent to make a fixed sensation. Mrs Mocatta has behaved well. She talked to Eliza very properly on the subject & reminded her of the aggravation it wd be of my sufferings, if I was seized among total strangers with such a paroxysm of my complaint as I had had & the little likelihood of my being able to procure such advice there as I have here. That is true nor is it perhaps quite fair to go into a new family with such a disease actually on me. Here it was accidental, & I certainly have met with great attention in my worst parts. Strangers might be alarmed & fly or neglect me I might be thought to have acted dishonorably in taking at a high salary a station I could only at intervals maintain. Compell’d perhaps to quit the station suddenly I shd have no friend at hand to consult nor any friendly door open to give me an asylum. These are serious points and to add to them I cannot help fearing that having said farewell to both my children at once, I shd arrive at the end of my journey fit only either for the ward of an Hospital or the straw bed of a Cell. By the time Lanno goes Eliza will be in prospect of coming back & in having him I seem not wholly to resign her. To her the idea of my going among strangers in my state of health & spirits was agonizing & wd she thinks have preyed [upon] her most destructively. She feels assured that she can supply more than I shd have gained for Lanno & deems the compensation therefore quite inadequate to the sacrifice. I have enter’d into this long explanation because I cannot endure that you shd labour to serve me & I appear reluctant to be served. Nor do I meanly shrink from my duties & wish to purchase ease to myself at the expence of Elizas hard earnings. Solicitous to keep racking thoughts at a distance I will devote every leisure hour I can steal, to my pen, & lay by that, be it less or more for Lanno’s benefit. I will endeavour to continue in my situation, because the very interruption to thought, however painful, is serviceable & Mrs M. has cancell’d many unpleasant things, by overcoming the anger she at first felt & the considerate & respectful manner in which she spoke of me to Eliza: Say that you do not think me quite inexcusable & it will relieve my mind.

    I need not beg of you exertions in Elizas behalf for your kind heart suggests more than I can think of. Mr Dyke pays all the expences of the voyage & our only difficulty is to procure a few articles necessary to be taken with her, because not to be procured there. He is apprehensive of not sailing before Novr but if possible will get away in Ocr. I enclose a list of the Gentlemen in Barbadoes who form the ^chosen^ Committe[e] of the Barb subscribers to the Theatre & who make themselves personally responsible for the payment of the salaries. Mr Daniel is refer’d to for the proof of their responsibility.

    I believe I have told you all. Dr Reids2 prescriptions seem to agree with me I have not had a spasm since Wednesday, but my legs swell much & sleep has almost departed from me. Last year at this very time my heart was bounding at the hope of Eliza’s coming to town & the vain fancy that her presence would restrain her fathers excesses & restore him to a sense of his duties. O Mary! how we have suffer’d in this world! Who escapes from the general portion of sorrow but surely <–> ^your & my^ burthen has been of the heaviest.

    I say nothing to Orlando about Eliza’s leaving us. You will do it much better. I should only vent my own sad feelings, & make him a participator. You will paint the brightest side of the prospect & prevent that mischief. It is time enough for him to feel what the loss of his sister is in the moment of their final separation. Pray write to me 

                        Yrs truly       E Fenwick


Will you be so good as to send me the amount of Lanno’s information from West Hill?4 Our intended new footman came to his place take possession of his place in such a state of intoxication that I wd not admit him & Mr M— approved when he came from Brighton of what I had done. This lad is coming as a substitute for a week or two & though the respectability of his father is a recommendation Mrs M. wishes to know absolutely that he did live at Mr Durands, &c.

    Do not delay writing for I cling to you closer than ever. The Lambs express great regret in parting with Eliza but think it a right step. They are of opinion that her father by one sort of imprudence will always frustrate her hopes here, or that by another he will involve her in debts. Of her own I assure you she has none. Punctual payments & an expenditure within her income is her creed.  Adieu


Address: Miss Hays | Wandsworth Common

Postmark: Illegible



1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 38-41; not in Brooks, Correspondence.

2 Possibly the wife of Edward Utterson, Esqr, 19 Great Ormond Street (see Holden's 1805 London Directory). 

3 John Reid (1773-1822), brother of Hays's friend, Mary Reid of Leicester, from the 1790s who was also known to Crabb Robinson and most of the Romantic literary figures in London at that time.

4 Mr. Wilkinson's school was located in West Hill, just to the west of Wandsworth.