4 August 1779 (2)
Letter 13. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Wednesday, 4 August 1779.1
I know not whether my spirits are sufficiently collected, to enable me to give my own sentiments on the question you put me; it requires the utmost coolness, extreme delicacy, and the most refined imagination; pardon me then if any thing should escape my pen which is not correspondent with your ideas. –
First you suppose women to be by nature more constant than men – by second nature, I suppose so too; their educations are so different, and their occupations, and habits so opposite to ours, that it is impossible but the ideas of a woman must be of a more delicate texture than those of a man; consequently the [f. 53] attachments of a woman of fine sentiments, and polished education are softer and more deeply rooted, and likewise secured by a more lasting cement than are those of men. – For every reason women, (of the character here mentioned) are less often false than men. – But this is intirely the force of education and habit. – Nature, though she has formed your persons more beautiful than ours, has yet been impartially beautiful in distributing to each the faculties of the mind – To prove this I need only instance the lower order of your sex in this country, and the effects which a different species of education produces in some foreign countries. – You will perceive that I admit every effect you have laid claim to, but I derive them from a different cause. – With a little more consideration I think you will be of my opinion, that it is the refinement of education, and the influence of different habits or customs, and not the hand of nature which constitute the minds and passions of your sex of a tenderer susceptibility than ours. – I only here advance arguments on a general basis; there are numerous exceptions, to account for which you must seek for particular causes. – Tell me if this satisfies you. –
I am much affected with Miss Betsy’s2 generous and kind offices; they convince me, I have not formed a wrong opinion of her; how seldom is the confidence, how rarely the friendship of those of her age to be depended on: may she be rewarded [f. 54] according to her desert; may she never feel distress like mine; if she should, may she find some pitying friend to assist her, and alleviate her affliction.
To morrow, good heaven! I am again to see you; – merciful God! assist me to meet her with composure; let me not think it is the last time; let me enjoy the few moments with that peaceful serenity which flows from sincere, unaffected love; let not memory be too officious in recalling what is past, nor in hurrying me beyond the scene which shall then be before me; may the present arrest my whole attention; may I forget there is such a being as myself and be lost (as I often have been) in contemplation of her; and oh! thou boisterous thing ^heart^ be still in her presence, and pain her not with the slightest expression of the tortures thou endurest; for know that every sigh she heaves, pierces thee with severer pangs; be quick then, and assume that calmness which hard necessity requires. –
Oh absence! oh solitude! how tedious are ye to the mind replete with social ideas – I am as one alone, no company is pleasing; I can form no idea of happiness without including you in that idea – Those pleasures, those amusements, which, with your company, would delight me, are now at best disgusting or tasteless – indeed every thing which is called by the name of pleasure, is now more converted to its opposite – and I wish it not to be otherwise – Ungrateful! could [f. 55] I sink into the lap of pleasure, after having excited the bitterness of distress in that bosom, where dwell my hopes, where I have reposed my whole soul? – No, my heart, however distracted, thou art a stranger to the black arts of ingratitude, thou despisest them – No, when she ceases to live in thee, then oh ever restless! mayst thou be motionless – may thy throbbings then be for ever over. – Now I am going to prepare to meet my love – sure it needs some preparation –
Adieu, my dearest Maria adieu! –
Wednesday eve: August 4th 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 54-55; Wedd, Love Letters 36-37.
2 Elizabeth Hays.