2 August 1779
Letter 11. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Monday, 2 August 1779.1
My dearest Polly,
Your letter was as opiate to one whose eyes had long forgotten2 to sleep; – it composed me; – and for the first time since I saw you, a gentle calmness and tranquility stole upon my senses and hushed them to rest – the inspirer hope, fluttering in my bosom, seemed to whisper, “all would be well.” – I indulged the pleasurable insinuation and fell asleep – but still on you my busy heart was fixed – fancy painted you in all the different situations, which disturbed repose, in the hour of distress, can feign; but still I saw you amiable, still kind as heaven. – Oh, my dear, I have already learned one thing from absence; I never saw your worth; I never sufficiently prized you; I was blind before, but now I see;3 – absence has taught me that you are invaluable; a jewel of inestimable worth. – But then a thought rushes into my memory; “this inhances thy loss.” “The greater her worth, is not her loss the greater too?” – No, it shall not be; sooner could I bear my heart wrenched from my bosom, than bear the loss of her – how far less painful the thought! – And yet can you suppose that time, that amusements, that hurry and bustle can ever efface you from my heart? – I confess that to judge [f. 42] from the general conduct of my sex, you have a right to think so; but you ought not to think of me in so humiliating a manner. – You and I, have been acquainted (have been tenderly acquainted) above a year and a quarter;4 – in this time have you ever perceived me to be unsteady, to be wavering in my heart? – I believe you will answer no; – yet I have had hard trials before, but never yielded to them. – If then I could stand the test of absence and misfortune, before time had ripened our attachment, before it was grown perfect in mutual affection, is it possible I can desert you now? – desert you at a time when I owe you every thing, the lover, the friend, and those only can repay? – How ungenerous, how debasing the idea; but you do not think so meanly of me. – I am convinced you know I shall never forsake you.
You say you shall be ashamed to see me. – I know you possessed of all the delicacy of your sex, but will not this be extending the line of delicacy too far. – What have you said or done that your cheeks should be suffused with the blushes of shame? – The last time I saw you, every word, every look, every action, raised you in my love and esteem.
“The pure, ingenuous elegance of soul,
The delicate refinement known to few,”5
marked every feature, word and action. – Your delicacy is founded on a fear that you have reposed too great confidence in me – that I know too much. – But oh think me in this an exception to the generality of my sex. – I have not yet attained to such refinement, that because I know you esteem me, I must despise and ridicule you for it; Heaven forbid it! – What you term “weakness,” I call the pure ingenuous elegance of soul, the delicate refinement – and sure that is known but to few; the way of the world is to deceive – that is ^their^ refinement – and in general ^our sex^ deserve this latter kind of refinement from yours, because they shewed them the example. – Be not ashamed to see me then, I assure you, you have no reason – perhaps I may term it false delicacy or female pride – pardon me if I am wrong; perhaps it is impossible I should know what female delicacy means – but if I am right, confess it. – But whether I am right or wrong, this I am convinced of, that you are sincere and never were formed to deceive.
Who could be so cruel as to endeavor to persuade you that I never loved you? I never supposed that would be doubted, I never thought my love would be suspected. – I have always conducted myself with the utmost caution; it cannot be said of me that ever I courted or frequented the company of any one but you; it has been very rare that accident introduced me to the company of any one; I have even avoided those accidents, and have many times left company [f. 44] rather unpolitely that I might not be seen with them by any of your acquaintance – But I am confident you desire no further assurances from me than what you have been witness to yourself. – Conscious of the integrity of my own heart, I can with the most pleasing satisfaction affirm, that all my happiness since I knew you, has been in loving you. – When I have went out in the morning, I have ^been^ supported through the day, with the hopes of seeing and conversing with you in the evening. –
You have two or three times expressed a fear that I shall abuse that confidence which you repose on me, but if I know any thing of myself, your fears are needless. – Generosity, honor, delicacy, friendship and love forbid it – in all these, you are secure. –
Part of the morning and evening yesterday I walked; in the middle of the day I sat at home about six hours. – How differently has this sunday been spent from many which are past; with what an anxiety when I have been a little distance from home, have I hastened to see you at lecture6 – and your smiles more than recompensed me. – Yesterday the heavy hours; (but this brings to my mind words which I can no longer repeat; which yet I have repeated with the most refined sentiments of the purest love! – that time is, oh dreadful, past; tis gone) the hours seemed to pass too slow, and night approached but [f. 45] unwillingly – almost every face I saw only reminded me that I was unhappy; – I did not envy them their chearfulness, but I was ready to repine at the dispensations of heaven for snatching that bliss from me, in the enjoyment of which I had so long pronounced my future happiness – I have been at Mr James’s today, and immediately after dinner he set down to play on the harpsichord; the first tune forced me to leave the room; it was “He’s aye kissing me”7 – such a train of tender emotions followed that it was some time before I could return – I have heard that tune with emotions as soft though not so painful. –
I purposed here to have given you a piece of as consummate treachery as ever you heard of, but see I must defer it – It is Mrs Ludgater’s8 conduct towards me; it appears almost incredible to myself, and I sometimes think it impossible she could have sent her son to Mrs Hays’s on such an errand, had I not too fatally experienced its effects. – As I intend to write to you again on wednesday evening, I shall leave off now, though I have a thousand things to say to you yet. – Be comforted, be as happy as you can, and you will in part render him happy – who feels a sincere pleasure in subscribing himself your most affectionate
Brother and the tenderest of friends
Monday August 2d 1779. [f. 46]
Tuesday morning – As I could not see Miss Betsy last night I now sit down to add a few ^more^ lines to which I then wrote. – This now is all the pleasure I feel; and it is a real and sincere one; it is what nothing can deprive me of. – When I used to expect to see you in the evenings I was always afraid some accident might prevent you from keeping your appointments; but now I have no such fear; for I cannot be disappointed, unless I myself am the cause of it. – I purpose, my Maria, always to devote three evenings in the week to write to you; I have been used to see you three times a week, and shall I not now converse with you as often – Is it probable I shall rob myself of the only comfort I have to hope for. But perhaps that will be tiresome to you; perhaps in reading so much from the same hand, you will be cloyed – Yet let me not entertain such an idea, it makes me unhappy; let me rather hope the same pleasure will attend you in reading, which always supports me in writing – Oh! what exquisite delight, what enlivening ideas shall I possess from that thought! – To think that though absent, I may raise in that tender, loved bosom some grateful, some pleasurable sensations, will be almost a paradisiacal9 enjoyment. – Let me not be disappointed – you see what I promise myself, you have called my constancy in question; let me only remind you, that you are younger than I am; that you will also have greater difficulties to encounter than I; that you will perpetually have friends about you whose [f. 47] business it will be to persuade you that I am unworthy the least of your attention; will not these persuasions in time be productive of the desired effect? Especially as I too shall be absent, and without a single friend to speak to you in my behalf. – What have I not to fear? – I feel with all its weight of tenderness the promise you made me; I know the sincerity with which you spoke; but will you always continue the same; I doubt not your resolution, but will you be able to resist the many temptations to break it? – Suppose another lover, young and handsome, with good sense, good dispositions, and withal blessed by the partial hand of fortune should be introduced to you; could you withstand such a prospect of happiness as would be urged in his favor by your friends – And would not the addresses of such a one soon consign to oblivion one who has nothing but love to offer you. – Examine, and see if your heart is proof against all this. – I have no friends who dare attempt to persuade me against you, but then I shall have none to whom I can speak with freedom – will not that be almost an equal misfortune? – But so long as you remain the same, I shall not regret the want of friends – you shall be all to me – the confidence I shall place in you, will be without bounds, and I believe you will never give me reason to repent it. –
Lest I should not have an opportunity to give Miss Betsy another letter to morrow evening, it is best I should tell you where [f. 48] I purpose we shall meet on thursday – Suppose at three o’clock you walk down the road; I mean for you to turn to the right hand as soon as you have passed by Lilliput Hall, and not go strait forward as we used to do – I will be somewhere between that, and the Bermondsey Spa,10 with a coach and we will go to Greenwich – exactly at three – If you object to this let me know. –
I hope I shall meet you with greater firmness than I did the last time, at least my endeavors shall not be wanting to render our meeting as little painful as possible – It will be necessary as I have a great deal to say to you. –
Adieu! my love J: E.
I see I must beg your pardon, for not answering a question you sent to me; you say you shall have many to propose to me; I shall not be often guilty of disobeying you – only be sparing of them yet. –
1 Brooks, Correspondence 49-52; Wedd, Love Letters 30-33.
2 forgoting] MS
3 John 9:25.
4 This would place their actual courtship as commencing sometime in May-June 1778. They had become acquaintances through church c. summer 1776.
5 Lines from Thomson's The Seasons, "Summer," ll. 1295-96; closing quotation mark is missing in MS.
6 "Lecture" was another name for the "sermon" in Dissenting chapels at that time.
7 A popular tune that would soon appear in Charles and Samuel Thompson's Compleat Collection of 200 Country Dances, vol. 4 (1780).
8 Mrs. Benjamin Ludgater was Eccles's landlady. The Ludgaters lived on Gainsford Street and, though the letters suggest they lived across the street, the Poor Rate Books would suggest otherwise, for the Lugaters appear next to John Dunkin, Jr., who is followed by Mrs. Hays, thus suggesting the three houses were in a row on the north side of Gainsford Street. The Ludgaters, like the Hays and Dunkin families, were also attendants at the Blackfields Particular Baptist Chapel in Gainsford Street.
9 paradisaical] MS
10 Bermondsey Spa was discovered around 1770 and had recently opened to the public. It was a small version of Vauxhall but was never as successful, and the gardens closed in 1805. The Bermondsey Spa Road is named after it. Lilliput Hall was a pub (it survived to the end of the 20th century) along what is now Old Jamaica Road.