1 August 1779

Letter 9. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Sunday, 1 August 1779.1

[f. 25]

August 1st Sunday morn. 4 OClock. 1779.


My Love –

     I had purposed to dedicate all the past night to you; so indeed it has been your’s, but I meant to have set it apart solely for writing to you: yet I know you will pardon me when I tell you I declined it. – The night before, was spent, how? – In all the agonies of love and despair; rest fled from me. – Yesterday I went to Mr James’s and back twice; once to Rotherhithe, and afterwards to the city and home again. – I was tired; I thought myself sleepy; I indulged it – Once more I courted the God of slumbers, but in vain – he refused his wonted assistance – and now the morning dawns, but not on me; her beams are wide diffused in vain – In the morning I wish for evening, and in the evening, for morning, but both are equally insupportable. –

                “The day too short for my distress,

And night even in the zenith of her dark domain

Is sunshine to the color of my fate.”2

Yesterday when I went to Mr James’s and desired to speak to him in private; he immediately replied; “Mr Eccles, distress is painted in your [f. 32] countenance” – He was generous; he pitied me and was ready instantly to assist me – he would have went any where – would have done any thing – I felt his kindness. – Last night I was just going out and saw Mrs Collier and her company returning from their walk – I started back and tears followed – I recollected you and I were to have been of the company – I passed by your grove; it seemed to have an unusual gloomy appearance – melancholy seemed to reign there, and I could not persuade myself to enter it – it would have introduced such a train of tender ideas as would have overcome me, and I was then expecting Mr James – every thing I see brings back to my mind the thought of what I have lost – and even this morning which used to bid me with a singular pleasure now lowers on me, and threatens me with the keenest anguish – I used to rise with the assurance of seeing you, and now with a certainty of not seeing you without putting you and myself to the severest pain. – You know I have said I scorn to be pitied, but oh! it is a false idea; I have learned better now; the sensations I yesterday felt from its sighs in Mr James, were pleasing: It was truly grateful – the pity of a generous mind is grateful. – I am now looking in the glass, and really I pity myself – I am observing the force of passion; in what strong colors it lives in every feature; how visible the marks of love and disappointment sit there. – But let me stop my complainings and follow your example – generous, lovely girl, you are before me in every thing that is good, while I loiter behind. [f. 33] You were the first to administer the kind cup of consolation! – you are all goodness – and I am bidden to think no more of you – But

“When I forget the vast, vast debt I owe you

Forget! (but ’tis impossible) then may I

Forget the use and privilege of reason,

Be driven from the commerce of mankind

To wander in the desert among brutes –3

No – think no more of you? – Confound the thought; I’ll live with thinking on you – you shall be in every thought; that shall be my support and my comfort. – I almost wished for a continuance of that state of insensibility in which you saw me involved on thursday evening, but now I see my error. – There is more real pleasure, and I feel it too, in these tears through which I see to write to you, than is in the power of all the world to give without you – I have been reserved to you, and with some reason; but now can converse freely with you; can ask you any questions and you shall solve them. You shall be my friend, my counsellor; I will do nothing without your advice. – This intercourse, the only means left us, will surely be a source of great happiness. – I used to come home in the evening with the warm hope of seeing and conversing with you; it was the only real pleasure I enjoyed; I shall still have a delightful [f. 34] hope remaining, that of seeing your name subscribed to a pleasurable conversation – I will think I see you too – and press your hand – and hear you speak – and live on your lips as they pronounce the words. – Thus shall this shock which we call disappointment be productive of much sincere delight, and of improvement too – perhaps it was essential to us, to bring us to know each other better – the better perhaps to fit us for social happiness; and it may be to teach us by this greatest of misfortunes how to bear the lesser ills of life. – Let us think so, and ever keep it in mind; let us think it one of the unerring dispensations of all-wise Providence, which though now “dark and intricate,”4 yet shall in some time, shine forth with the greatest perspicuity, and happily evince to us, that “whatever is, is right.”5 This parting will at first be severe, will touch the tenderest powers of nature, will frequently be visible in the lucid dross swelling into the eye; but it will not always be so; the violence of passions must subside, and what remains, will be grief of an even, calmer kind, which in a little time we shall be enabled to bear. And when that time comes (for it must come) when these trials of ours shall be done away; when that hand to have so often pressed and kissed shall be mine; with what a renovated gust will the sensations of pleasure and rapture return, and we be possessed of fuller powers to enjoy them. – Here let me pause a little and look forward – I would wish to go to meeting once to day; but [f. 35] I dare not meet your eyes there; nor could I bear to see your place vacant – so what would be prudence must at present give way to tenderness; perhaps after I have seen you again, I may have sufficient fortitude to attempt it – You I suppose will not be there neither – I had thoughts of coming to see you in the afternoon, but on consideration it would be imprudent; for if known, it would cause you a great deal of uneasiness; you would be obliged to bear the sting of reproach, and I should be deemed impudent; though for you I could bear that, or even any thing – for your use too, and your happiness, I would gladly forfeit mine. – Though I am reasoning against coming to see you, I cannot be answerable for my conduct, only it will be difficult for me to know who is with you – lay a book against the window and pass by in the evening about 9, and if you will write me a few lines, shall be glad to receive them from Miss Betsy. – Tell me when I am to see you; let it be as soon as possible; chuse your own time and place – Suppose we go to Greenwich; it must be somewhere, where we are not known. –

       How could you talk of fettering me? what, where my hopes are fixed, my heart, my love, my all? – Is it to be fettered to follow my own dearest inclinations? – When you [f. 36] perceive in me the marks of infidelity, may I for that infidelity be cursed with your contempt and never more feel the pleasures of social and mutual love. – This will be a day of trial to me; I know not how to spend it; I scarcely know how to begin it; you claim my first prayers; for you they are, and ever shall be poured forth – but I see Miss Betsy waits for me, and must break off. – Believe me that in spite of misfortunes I shall ever

                           Most constantly be

                                      Yours affectionately

                                                   John Eccles.

1 Brooks, Correspondence 44-46; Wedd, Love Letters 26-28. 

2 Lines from Young's The Complaint, "Night the First" (p. 1).

3 Lines are from Nicholas Rowe's The Fair Penitent, Act 1, scene 1 (p. 12) (see also Letter 3).

4 Line from Joseph Addison's play, Cato, Act II, scene 1.

5 Famous expression used by Pope in his closing line of Essay on Man, Epistle I, l. 294.