7 August 1779
Letter 14. Mary Hays to John Eccles, Saturday morning, 7 August 1779.1
Sweet were the sensations I experienced on thursday whilst reviewing those scenes where I had passed many of my early days – days of happiness and innocence;2 “Before the world – the mean unfeeling selfish world, broke in upon the gay mistakes of the just expanding heart – which saw nothing but truth, and had nothing but happiness in view.”3 –
Oh, lovely source of generous foibles
Youth! when opening minds are honest as the light,
Lucid as air, as fostering breezes kind,
As linnets gay, tender as buds,
And lavish as the spring.4
Alas! how changed the prospect! – but I will not murmur whilst blest with the affection of those I most esteem – ^I^ and can with fortitude, without repining, bear all the ills that fate may have in store for me. – The unreserved, the generous confidence you reposed in me, was truly grateful; I felt for your difficulties, and participated in your distresses. – That a parent can be thus regardless; when the happiness of his5 only son is concerned (a son too who merits his utmost care) is really astonishing. Had he been educated, and had his residence amongst the great – had entered into all their follies and fashions – I should not have wondered at his conduct – for such situations too often blunt the edge of every tender feeling – but in the stillness and solitude of the country, and at his time of life, one would naturally suppose, all his cares, all his pleasures would be centered in his children’s welfare: – I love your sisters – generous, worthy girls – may their kindness to you be rewarded by a long life of uninterrupted felicity. – How pleasing was our ramble on thursday – to a well formed mind there are ten thousand charms in the lovely simplicity of nature, which are in [f. 56] vain sought for amongst the works of art. – How little do mankind know their own happiness – there is no luxury like the luxury of the heart! what the generality of the world call pleasure, to souls capable of thinking properly, is all tasteless insipidity – I shall grow a perfect misanthrope and unfit for society – the thoughts of going into company is painful to me – I am just now in the humor to turn recluse and retire to one of those caves in Greenwich Park.6 –
Sweet solitude when life's gay hours are past,
Where e’er6 we range, in thee we fix at last;
Tost thro’ tempestuous seas, the voyage o’er,
Pale we look back and bless thy friendly shore.8
Reading and writing, are the only sources from which I derive any real satisfaction. – Shall I see you to morrow – but don’t come if it will give you pain – Yet I cannot see why it should – but I leave you free – do what will be most conducive to your own peace of mind. – My pen’s are intolerable bad – they oblige me to conclude sooner than I wished. – Adieu! – with the tenderest esteem I am your
It runs in my head that you slept at Mr James’s last night – am I right in my conjectures. – I make no apology for the badness of my writing – my pens are a sufficient one. –
Saturday morn: August 7th 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 55-56; Wedd, Love Letters 37-38.
2 Since John Hays does not appear in the Rate Books for St. John Parish until 1768, it may be the family lived elsewhere prior to that date, possibly near Greenwich, since John Hays was a mariner and ship's captain for many years. It is possible the reference here is to a boarding school for young girls in Greenwich that Mary may have attended, typically between the ages of 8 and 15. One possibility is the Greenwich Blue Coat Girls' School, founded in 1700, but given her Baptist connection, most likely she attended a private school not affiliated with the Church of England, such as Mrs. Fenwick's school at Flint House, which catered to the daughters of merchants, including many from West India (see Susan Skedd, "Women Teachers and the Expansion of Girls' Schooling in England, c. 1760-1820," in Hannah Barker and Elaine Chalus, Gender in Eighteenth-Century England: Roles, Representations and Responsibilities [London: Routledge, 1997], 107-08). Since she was only nineteen at the time of this letter, it would not have been as long in the past as her reverie seems to imply.
3 Lines adapted from Brooke, Emily Montague, 1.4.
4 Lines taken from William Shenstone's "Economy. A Rhapsody, addressed to Young Poets," Part 1; also in Brooke, Emily Montague, 4.163.
5 is] MS
6 Jack Cade's Cavern of Blackheath, near Greenwich Park, also known as the Blackheath Caverns, though previously mentioned in various histories, was rediscovered shortly prior to the date of this letter.
7 Who e’er] MS
8 Lines from a work titled "Maxims, Characters, and Reflections in Verse: Particularly Addressed to the Fair Sex, for their Entertainment and Amusement," stanza CXLII, in The Lady's Magazine 6 (February 1775), p. 102.