Mary Reid

Mary Reid (1769-1839), sister of Dr. John Reid, was raised in the Great Meeting but in 1807, after the arrival of the celebrated Robert Hall, moved her membership to his Baptist congregation in Harvey Lane. She never married, rejecting numerous suitors, including the poet James Graham. After the death of her brother, she inherited a considerable amount of property, both in Leicester and Glasgow, where her father had originated. According to the Glasgow historian, Robert Reid, ‘Miss Mary Reid was a literary lady, and was spoken of as a blue stocking in my early days’. She was a close friend of Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Benger, even spending three weeks in the Lake District in 1802 with the latter. ‘She was also’, Reid adds, ‘a keen politician, of the Foxite school’, which would have placed her in good company in the mid-1790s with Mary Hays and many of her friends. Though never a writer like Mary Hays, Reid nevertheless maintained close friendships with literary women throughout her adult life. According to the Glasgow historian Robert Reid, she was ‘a literary lady [who] was spoken of as a blue stocking’ in the 1790s. ‘She was also’, he adds, ‘a keen politician, of the Foxite school’. Mary Reid was a friend of Richard Phillips, the radical Leicester bookseller/newspaperman who, after a series of political difficulties in Leicester, moved to London late in 1795 to commence publication of the Monthly Magazine. Mary Reid was in London about the same time that Phillips arrived, her visit resulting in an important friendship between her and the soon-to-be controversial novelist Mary Hays.

    Reid may have met Mary and Elizabeth Hays through Phillips, but the most likely source was their mutual friend Hugh Worthington (1752-1813), senior pastor to the Unitarian congregation at Salters’ Hall and the son of Hugh Worthington, Sr., minister at the Great Meeting in Leicester between 1743 and 1797, where the Reids worshiped. Worthington had been Hays’s spiritual advisor since the death of Robert Robinson in 1790, and along with three other London Unitarian ministers – Theophilus Lindsey, John Disney, and John Evans – befriended numerous Baptists, Independents, and Anglicans who embraced rational Dissent in the 1780s and ’90s, including George Dyer, William Frend, and Mary Wollstonecraft, all friends of Mary and Elizabeth Hays. On 23 January 1797, as she was preparing to return to Leicester from London, Reid wrote to Hays, thanking her for her gift of Charles Lloyd’s Poems on Various Subjects (1795) and hoping Hays’s ‘curiosity or amusement’ would bring her to Leicester at some point in the future just as ‘the various gratifications [of] the metropolis’ were sure to bring Reid back to London. Their friendship would indeed continue thereafter, with Reid returning almost annually to London, eventually acquiring a house in Hampstead within an easy walk of the Barbaulds and the Aikins (all friends of hers as they were of Hays and Crabb Robinson) and even contemplating in 1820 having Mary Hays live with her, a ‘promising plan’, Robinson wrote in his diary, though it never materialized. Reid appears often in the letters that passed between Hays and Crabb Robinson between 1802 and 1807, and more than thirty times in Robinson’s Reminiscences and Diary between the years 1799 and 1838. For more on Mary Reid, see Robert Reid, Old Glasgow and its Environs (Glasgow: David Robertson; London: Longman, 1864), 55. See Robert Reid [Senex], Old Glasgow and its Environs (Glasgow: David Robertson; London: Longman, 1864), p. 55; ‘Times Stepping Stones’, the Journal of Samuel Coltman, Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire, and Rutland, 15D56/449; correspondence between Hays and Worthington, Disney, Evans, and Lindsey can be found in a collection of letters to Mary Hays, 24.93, Dr. Williams’s Library, London; the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, Misc. MS. 2191 and 2192; and Crabb Robinson Diary, 29 February 1820, 7: f. 790.