4 November [1817]

A. Smyth1 to Mary Hays, at Messrs Hays & Wedd, Gainsford Street, Southwark, London 4 November [1817].2

 

Novr 4 

My Dear friend

      With heart felt pleasure did I receive the account of your present situation and future prospects, the home you have chosen3 seems in every respect congenial to your principles taste and feelings and well calculated to afford you those domestic comforts and intellectual pleasures you are so well fitted to enjoy and appreciate; be assured my dear friend that however time and space may divide us they can never efface the sentiments of esteem and affection with which you have inspired me and I consider our friendship and the interest we take in each others welfare and actions through life even should personal intercourse be denied: by this time I suppose you must have heard of an event melancholy in itself but attended with every consoling circumstance to friends and relatives Dr Estlin has literally died the death of the just4 and is now I humbly trust receiving the reward of his well spent life the circumstances of his death are related in a short extract from a sermon of Mr Mannings5 which I inclose as I thought you ^would^ like to read it and it may not have reached London I have seen Mrs Estlin she was calm and resigned but looked dreadfully ill she remains in the house her daughter told me but I have not learned in6 what circumstances the family are left; Mr Tobin7 has also paid the debt of esteem to him death was a release but I hope your friends interests are not unfavorably affected by the event; Since your two letters of Drs Stock and Carpenter8 the main point of the controversy is scarcely touched upon but the gentlemanly stile of the letters does credit I think to both. Dr Stocks conversion is a source of great triumph his baptism is to take place speedily so is that of Mr [Corvan?] but not by the same minister the latter declaring his system to be different from all others; the Unitarians have had a glorious triumph at Geneva but I think you must disapprove of the prohibition to preach on the disputed doctrines: I have like you been much amused with Lady Morgans France9 and would ^fain^ believe in her account of the improved state of things10 but she wrote too much like a partisan to obtain implicit credit nor can I believe that all the social and moral virtues have taken up all their abode at Paris neither do I sympathize in her admiration for the fair grey-haired votaries of Cupid the levity with which she treats religious subjects is disgusting and her historical inaccuracy almost ludicrous yet there is much good writing and just observation. I met Mr Nortons assistant in the street he told me Miss Norton was just returned from the country and tolerably well;11 Mr & Mrs Pennington are returned from their six weeks tour which proved extremely pleasant particularly to the latter I am afraid the evening will be a dull contrast to the pleasures she has lately enjoyed as she loves the society of Mrs Randolph and Mrs Brown the former going to London and the latter residing in her farm at Worcester; Miss Egerton12 however returns here; now for myself I must tell you that on Thursday next the [first] of this month I mean to sail for Ireland recollect that this voyage does not separate us more than we are at present and I feel happy in leaving you surrounded by your family connections affectionate and prosperous and situated far more eligibly than you have been since our acquaintance commenced remember me to your sister I trust that by this time her grief has subsided and that the very promising child that remains will console her for the one she has lost.13 If you feel disposed to write to me before I have an opportunity of writing from Ireland direct to me at Dean Scotts Balleen Lismore14 I should have written earlier but concluded you were not returned from Essex 

                                    Believe me your Affte

                                                A Smyth

 

Address: Mrs Hays | At Messrs Hays & Wedd | Gainsford Street | Southwark |London

Postmark: 4 November, [year illegible], Bristol  [note adds ‘Nov 5 1817]



Mrs. A. Smyth was a correspondent of Hays who lives for a time at the Pennington’s in Dowry Square. She was from Lismore, Ireland, and was the niece of the famed Irish politician, Henry Grattan (see Biographical Index). As her letter to Hays on 13  May 1819 makes clear, she was a widow. Besides living with the Penningtons in Dowry Square, Smyth also lived at various times in Bath, for most likely she is the Mrs. Smyth (she may have been a widow by that date, but not  clear) of the Green Park Buildings who subscribed to Samuel Lowell’s Sermons on Evangelical and Practical Subjects (Bristol: Biggs & Cottle, 1801), along with three generations of Dunkins – John Dunkin, Sr. and Jr. and John Hays Dunkin, Hays’s niece who lived at Beeleigh, Essex, where she and her sister often visited – and Henry Francis of the Paragon, most likely the father of the Henry Francis who married one of John Dunkin, Jr.’s daughters in 1803. Other subscribers included Nathaniel Palmer (he also married a daughter of John Dunkin), Thomas Hills of Gainsford Street (Mary Hays’s other brother-in-law), and Nathaniel Wedd, a member of the Wedd family that will join with the Dunkin and Hays families through the marriages of Peter and George Wedd to two more daughters of John Dunkin, Jr., both nieces of Mary Hays. It appears, however, that Hays did not know Mrs. Smyth at that time but met her upon her arrival at Bristol.  

2 Misc. Ms. 2195, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 531-32.The letter has been dated in an unknown hand on the address page “November 4 1817.” The postmark reveals the day and month but the year is not readable. Further evidence for dating the poem is derived from the reference to the death of John Prior Estlin, which occurred in August 1817. 

After her return from Bristol, Hays lived for a time with her sister Sarah in Islington (also near her other sister, Elizabeth) and then with her brother John at the Paragon in Blackheath. In January 1818 she moved into the home of John Fenn, an orthodox Dissenting family living at that time in Peckham.  Like her brother, John, Fenn was a cornfactor operating at 116 Tooley Street, Borough, in Southwark, not far from Hays and Wedd in Gainsford Street and the Dunkin warehouses along Shad Thames (see Robson’s 1820 London Directory, 196). Most likely the Fenns were friends of the Hays and Dunkin families, for at that time Mary Hays would not have lived in Southwark in the home of a stranger. There were Fenns associated with the Baptist Congregation at Maze Pond at this time, and it is quite possible this is the same family. Fenn is gone from the London Directory by 1822, but Hays leaves before then, moving into a boarding house in Pentonville in August 1820. 

Estlin died on 10 August 1817.  

5 James Manning (1754-1831) served as the Unitarian minister at George’s Meeting (Presbyterian), Exeter, from 1776 until his death in 1831, succeeding Micaiah Towgood as senior pastor in 1782. He was the author of A Sketch of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Micaiah Towgood (Exeter: E. Grigg, 1792) as well as a number of sermons. His son became a solicitor in London and a friend of the diarist Crabb Robinson for many years. 

6 I know not in] Brooks 532; have not not learned in] MS

This passage is difficult to ascertain. Most likely Mr. Tobin is James Tobin (1736/37-1817), the head of an important Bristol family that had made their fortune from plantations in Nevis, West Indies. Among his sons were the playright John Tobin (1770-1804) and James Webbe Tobin (1767-1814), both friends of Southey, Coleridge, and other Romantic writers; and George Tobin (1768-1838), a naval captain and artist. John and James Webbe were already dead by the date of this letter, as was the father, who died on 6 October 1817 in Bristol. It may be the Mrs. Smyth was not aware of Tobin’s recent death but that seems unlikely if she was attending Lewin’s Mead. It may be that the reference in this sentence is to Tobin’s death and not Estlin’s and the effect she mentions would be on Hays’s friend, Jane Mullett Tobin (17784-1837), Tobin’s daughter-in-law and wife of the deceased son, James Webbe Tobin. Jane Tobin’s father, Thomas Mullett, had died in 1814, so she was very much set adrift at this point in her life. She was a friend of Crabb Robinson, Elizabeth Benger, Mary Reid, and other London literati; it was most likely Robinson who introduced Hays to Tobin as well as to Sarah Norton Biggs (1768-1834), a schoolteacher in Peckham for many years and cousin to Jane Tobin, both being originally Baptists from Bristol and who, like Hays, became Unitarians in the 1790s.

Reference is to the pamphlet, Correspondence Relative to Unitarianism: Dr. Stock to the Rev. John Rowe: and Dr. Carpenter to the Editor of the Bristol Mirror (Bristol, 1817), by John Edmonds Stock (1774-1835), a Bristol medical doctor and former associate of Thomas Beddoes at the Pneumatic Institute in Dowry Square, and the Rev. Lant Carpenter; the letters were critiqued in another pamphlet, The Unitarian Answered. A Letter to the Rev. Dr. Carpenter, occasioned by his Observations on Dr. Stock's Letter to the Rev. John Rowe. By Eluzai (Bristol, 1817). Stock had been a member of Lewin’s Mead under John Prior Estlin but in 1816 left the church and defended his actions in some letters to Dr. Carpenter (1780-1840), successor to Estlin at Lewin’s Mead. Strong joined the Baptist congregation in Broadmead, led by the Rev. Dr. John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825), in October 1817, just prior to the composition of the above letter. Nevertheless, he was buried in the Lewin’s Mead cemetery and left no bequests to the Baptists or the Unitarians.

Lady Sydney Morgan (1776-1859) was an Irish nationalist and writer; her novel, France (1817), was inspired by her visit to Paris in 1817 where she met many literary figures, including Madame de Stael. 

10 thinngs] MS 

11 Most likely this is Frederick Norton, a schoolmaster in Bristol, who was married to a Miss Manning, a musician, and probably the daughter of the Rev. James Manning mentioned previously. Frederick Norton would have had an assistant in his school, and the other reference is most likely his unmarried sister, Martha, probably returning from a visit to their relations at Nailsworth. Previously she had assisted her sister, Sarah Evans Norton Biggs (1768-1834), in her school for girls in Peckham, South London. These Nortons were children of Robert and Hannah Evans Norton, formerly of Bristol and the Baptist congregation in Broadmead. Mrs. Norton was the sister of the Rev. Caleb Evans, a minister at Broadmead and tutor at (and later Principal of) the Bristol Baptist Academy.  Mrs. Norton’s sister, Mary Ann Evans (1743-1800), married Thomas Mullett. One daughter, Mary Anne (1776-1857) married Joseph Jeffries Evans (1768-1812), son of Caleb Evans and a close friend of Crabb Robinson between 1799 (the same year he met Hays) and 1812; another daughter  Jane (1782-1837), married James Webb Tobin (1767-1814), brother of the playwright John Tobin (1770-1804). Sarah Evans Norton Biggs and probably her sister, Martha, became known to Robinson and Mary Hays after 1799 through Robinson’s friendship with Mullett and J. J. Evans. The Mulletts were also close friends with Anthony Robinson, as was Crabb Robinson. By the 1790s, all of the above individuals had, like Mary Hays, become Unitarians though many still remained Baptists, attending the congregation at Worship Street led by John Evans, a relation of Caleb and J. J. Evans and a friend and correspondent of Mary Hays. 

12 These would appear to be friends of Pennington living at Weymouth and possibly Bristol.  

13 In a previous letter (now lost) to Mrs. Smyth, Hays had informed her of Elizabeth Lanfear’s loss of her son, John Hays Lanfear (b. 22 April 1805), and was buried in the cemetery at St. Mary’s Church, Islington, on 16 August 1817, some three months prior to the above letter. Another son, Francis Lanfear (b. 19 September 1806), would also die young (22 June 1830).

14 During the mid-1750s, Ballyin Gardens, near Lismore Cathedral, Waterford  (not to be confused with "Balleen" which is near Kilkenny) was created by Richard Musgrave, agent for Lismore Castle.  By the time of the above letter, the house and garden was occupied by John Scott, Dean of Lismore Cathedral, 1796-1828, whose wife was Smyth's cousin. Smyth's relationship with Scott reflects a social stature that Pennington would have found advantageous for a boarder in her home. The garden a Ballyin is still open to the public.