7 August 1779 (2)

Letter 15. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Saturday, 7 August 1779.1


My Dearest,

      Whilst those, who last night were my companions, are still locked in the arms of sleep, I arise to devote as much of this morning as they will allow me, to love and you. – It is yet hardly light, so I need not fear any disturbance. – I was all day at Mr James’s yesterday, and the evening being wet, was easily persuaded to stay all night too, and am now writing in his study. – Will you believe that the distance I am now from you, affects me very much; I am anxious to be at home, though I have no hopes of seeing you there; but then I shall be near you, and even that thought admits consolation. – You have advised me to leave Blackfields,2 and I intended it; but I find it will be a more painful [f. 59] task than I supposed; I could conceive of nothing attracting there, after your company was denied me; every thing wore a different aspect from its former appearance; yet while you are there, the small experience of this night tells me, it is my home; how then can I leave it? – It is a wretched hope which persuades us that a change of place, can mitigate pain; it aggravates it; – and so long as a gleam of hope remains, that I shall only see you but once a week, so long will my heart feel its wonted anxiety to pass as much of my time near you, as I can call my own. – I shall have many things to mortify me, but am prepared to meet them all. – What a change has a week wrought in me; from a happy, I am become a wretched lover; yet not altogether wretched neither; – can I call myself wretched after seeing you so generous, so kind; no, ’tis a profane thought; I ought to say I am happy; you prevented every thing I wished to say; with one enduring promise, and repeated it too – after that, shall I ever look on you with indifference, shall I ever be ungrateful, or false to you? – No, tis impossible – Here then I vow before Heaven, before God and Angels, ever to look up to you through difficulties, and misfortunes, and regard you as my tender, my amiable, my beloved wife, nor shall another ever engage the delightful attention of a kind husband, from me, but you, to whom I here dedicate all. [f. 60]

    The vow has passed my lips, and now

“May all the vengeance that was ever powr’d

On guilty heads, o’er-whelm me if I break it.3

This is nothing rash, but spoken with all the temperance of cool thought; spoken with all the affection, which a two years acquaintance with your worth, and virtues, has been daily increasing – Once more I repeat, I am your’s forever – T’was after a great deal of meditation, I found myself inclined to meet you with chearfulness on thursday; I examined my heart; it passed a strict scrutiny; and its sincerity came off unsullied; I then said “this shall not be an eternal separation,” I am resolved; “why then should I raise emotions in her bosom, which would rend my heart. – To part with her for ever? it cannot be; the thought distracts me; it cannot be borne; if ever I leave her, it shall be her own command; her actions shall command me too – no power on earth shall separate her from me.” – After these considerations, my spirits which had been much agitated before, grew calmer, and I felt a pleasing, melancholy satisfaction in my bosom, till then unknown – I feel a sincere delight also, in reflecting on my conduct during the time we have been acquainted – I can lay my hand on my heart and [f. 61] say, it has been most disinterested; it would give me unspeakable pain, to think that any thing but love had ever actuated me in my addresses to you; this tells me the passion that warms me is a lasting one, which the obliterating hand of time shall never be able to efface – Insinuations to the contrary of this may not be spared perhaps; – but never credit them – believe me to have been sincere. – If I have not written or spoke to you in strains of rapture, or with the fulsome adulation of a coxcomb, I have always treated you with that sincerity you so justly merit, and which I know you prefer to unmeaning flattery – Your behaviour I shall never sufficiently admire; I know not in what terms to speak of it; but be certain it is engraved on my heart.

       You will see me in the afternoon to morrow; I can command sufficient composure to look at you, but it will be hard to be obliged to refrain from speaking to you; yet I will submit. – that sacrifice love must dispence with – Tell me, my dear, what I must do, must I leave this neighbourhood or not? – You will know from what I have already said, that I wish to stay, nevertheless I promise to acquiesce in what you shall dictate – besides my inclination, I have this reason to urge in favour of my continuing here – If I go away, what will report [f. 62] say? – as most will be ignorant of the true cause of my going, will it not be said that I have acted dishonorably to you; that after having pretended to love you so long, I am obliged to leave the place as an introduction to leaving you? – Think of this, and that I cannot exist without sometimes seeing you, and then determine; I promise obedience. –

       I readily subscribe to your ideas of a “native diffidence, and a bashfulness not to be overcome;” it is becoming, it is amiable, it is highly engaging in your sex – Yet I won’t even ^here^ flatter you; let it suffice to say I am satisfied –

       I recollect we contrived a means by which to convey a letter to you on tuesdays, but I was forgotten in that scheme; remember then I shall make application to your window on tuesday the same as on other days; or now I recollect you will be at Mrs Collier’s on tuesday, so I shall see you on returning home, and receive a letter from your hands. – I was unexpectedly interrupted several times this morning, so was obliged to defer the conclusion till this evening. – Farewell; let me see what a pleasing countenance you can put on to morrow; forget yourself awhile. – Adieu, Adieu – My dear Maria. With the utmost tenderness I am for ever your’s,

                                  John Eccles.


Saturday August 7th 1779. 

1 Brooks, Correspondence 57-58; Wedd, Love Letters 38-41.

2 Blackfields is the neighborhood that lay at the far east end of Gainsford Street, where the Baptist chapel was located (it was often referred to as the "Blackfields" chapel) and where the Hays family lived. Eccle's reference to seeing her "once a week" concerns their attendance on Sunday in the Baptist chapel, or 'meeting' as Eccles and Hays frequently call it. In the late 1770s, Gainsford Street was largely undeveloped, with groves and open land between it and Shad Thames. This is the area which contains the "grove" mentioned in some of these letters. During the 1780s Gainsford Street and Shad Thames experience considerable development and the groves turned into houses, warehouses, and stables. 

3 Lines from Addison's Cato, Act III, scene 2.