9 August 1779 (2)
Letter 17. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Monday evening, 9 August 1779.1
Surely if pleasure and pain kept any kind of proportion here; if their balance bears any thing near a degree of equality; then there are large stores of happiness reserved for me, and if for me, for you too; for I despise and reject the idea of being happy, unless you participate with me, of the same communications of enjoyment. – [f. 67] Nothing can attempt to impose itself on me with pleasurable prospects, so long as I am deprived of the delightful privilege of heightening the comforts of life by sharing them with you. – To the generous, to the well informed mind, to the mind whose powers are ennobled with the more delicate instillations of nature, nothing in itself is pleasure; ’tis the idea of a vulgar, selfish, groveling soul; to taste real pleasure, is to bestow it on those we love; to divide it with them; this constitutes the utmost perfection of happiness we are here capable of attaining to; ’tis the summit of bliss; ’tis the source of all the endearments of life. – Let those who are actuated only by self love, be content with the sordid pleasures their ideas can afford; I envy them not; my present situation however severe, is to me a scene of delight, when I consider the paltry, contemptible objects, on which their prospect of happiness is founded: the satisfaction of those appetites which their fellow-brutes possess, is their whole pursuit: without consulting the happiness of that society they live in, their own desires they seek to gratify: what despicable mortals are such! and what an insult to the dignity of that nature, to which, as erect animals they lay claim – O! ye enjoyments of social life! – ye tenderest ties which knit the intercourse of souls! – ye are my passion; to you I would fly for that heaven-born peace, which, without you, worlds could not give. – I am unhappy, but you know my sorrows, and sympathise with me; your gentle heart feels for me – that’s the stamp of [f. 68] true nobility on the soul; Oh! ’tis most consoling where the mind is distressed:
“ . . . griefs, when divided, are hushed into peace.”2
I dread the approach of the long evenings; I am puzzled to conceive how I shall pass them; I am unfit for company, and solitude is not always agreeable; continual reading too will grow tiresome. – One pleasure will remain to me, that is, this of writing to you; and the thought that, whilst I am occupied in this grateful employ, I am not only alleviating the cares, but increasing the few agreeable amusements of her, to whom I have devoted all my future life. – This will be my pleasure, and my duty; it will sooth my own afflictions, and I shall at the same time, be performing the vow I have made. – Perhaps too (indeed I am sure of it) a secret satisfaction, which minds of a less delicate frame are not susceptible of, will warm your bosom, while listening to words which, you know, flew from sincerity and constancy of affection. – I wish you would lay down some plan, and tell me how best to employ the leisure hours, which I shall have; my inclinations prompt me to do as you direct me, so that however you dispose of me, I shall obey you, though I am able to make no resolves in my own strength. –
I possessed great fortitude yesterday till I was going out of the meeting; it cost me some struggles to resolve to go up the street; I hesitated, but I found it would hurt me more, to walk behind you without [f. 69] speaking; so of two evils I was prudent enough to chuse the least – In the evening I was distressed; I gave way to reflection – past scenes of better days crouded upon my memory, and forced me to compare them with the present; this, you will be sure, presented me with no very agreeable picture. – But away with comparisons, till I find it more safe to make them: it cannot be a pleasing task to render oneself unhappy. –
I hope I shall see you to morrow evening, especially as I was so unluckily disappointed last night; I know you generally come from Mrs Collier’s about then, so shall be ready to receive ^you^ at that time – I shall bring you pens too; but I hope you will not pretend to excuse yourself from writing or want of them. – I am obliged to leave off here to go in search of a penny post office this evening – Pray tell me what time this comes to the destined haven. – Farewell – may every good angel wait on your steps and guard your slumbers. –
I am with the sincerest love
Monday evening August 9th 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 60-61; Wedd, Love Letters 42-43.
2 Taken from the popular song beginning, "The world, my dear Myra, is full of deceit," The two lines from which the phrase is quoted above can be found in countless publications into the 20th century: "Our joys, when extended, will always increase; / Our griefs, when divided, are hushed into peace." It may have first appeared in the The Chearful Companion: or Songster's Pocket Book. A New Edition (London: G. Kearsley, 1769).