4 September 1779
Letter 36. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Saturday, 4 September 1779.1
I dare say you think my brain must be well nigh exhausted, by its extraordinary efforts this week; I own I think it has been very fruitful, yet believe me, its productions have been spontaneous; they have not been forced. – To write when love guides the pen, certainly can never be a task; ’tis a delectable amusement; ’tis more; ’tis an inlet to the refined pleasures of the mind. – ’Tis a rational employment too, as well as an amusement. – Can that acquaintance be too much cultivated or improved, from which a man promises himself a comfortable passage through the labyrinth of life; from the kind, the sincere, the soul enlivening intercourses of which, he may be assisted to look forward to a future <--> one with hope, to enter on it without dread, and be rendered more fit to mingle in its enjoyments? – What were man without society? – A miserable being. – And what is society unenjoyed? – A name. – To live in the world, and frequent company, does not imply that a man is social, that either he improves, or is improved by society; for what are the general topics of conversation? – To say no worse, they are uninteresting, and far below the dignity of humanity. – The reasons with the gay, for going into company, are to delude time, to [f. 140] cheat the minutes away imperceptibly. – How have I seen them studying, and planning, to divide a day, so that no part of it may leave them to cruel reflection. – If this be to live happy; may I be forever miserable. – The entertainments and pleasures which stamp the man of taste and fashion, never had any attractions for me; they are false and deceitful; they promise golden joys, but experience teaches that they are but dross; the spirits pall and sicken by those very means which are used to exhilarate and enliven them. – There is more sincere, heart-felt delight, arising from the animating conversation of love refined by friendship than the universe without it could ever afford; but the inconsiderate world knows not this – they pursue happiness through paths, which can never conduct them to it – But from whence proceeds this almost universal delusion? – I believe from the nature of our education. – Gaiety, the customs, fashions and manners of the age, are too often instilled into the minds of youth, for the principles of virtue. – When the mind is open, and susceptible of the most lasting, the most generous impressions, ’tis contracted by those narrow dictates, which have been acquired by a strict adherence perhaps, to the conduct of the depraved world. – Thus the soul, which was by nature aptly formed for the reception of the seeds of virtue, instead of improving from instruction, degenerates, and is crammed2 with vanity and trash. – Over hearts like these, what power have love or friendship? – They feel not, they know not the warmth of either. – They are incapable of conceiving the tender concern of love; nor have they any notions of a disinterested [f. 141] friendship. – They can think and talk on these themes with the same concern, as on the most common occurrences of life; and ridicule and laugh at those, whose hearts being softened by sensibility, discover glowings of affection and esteem. – They entertain ideas the most despicable of love; it must give way to each intruding fashionable diversion. – How often is an adored fair one left, for the superior enchantments of whist, quadrille, the dance, the play &c. – The man of merit too must yield his pretensions to the fair, when vanity, scandal or cards hold out the bait to pleasures more engaging. – These are marks of a depraved mind. – What external pleasures can compare, to the consoling, heart-reviving emotions which flow from sincere, from mutual love? what to the soothing, the sympathetic tear of friendship? – Can the <--> world seduce us with hopes of more exquisite delight? – Can the world influence me to forsake you, and court its honors, its riches, or its pleasures? – Oh! never; on such terms it has not a single charm, but is far beneath my slightest notice. – You are the sole ambition of my heart; it feels not a wish but for you.
“----------- What is the world to them,
Its pomp, its pleasure and its nonsense all,
Who in each other clasp, whatever fair
High fancy forms, or lavish beauty can wish?
Something than beauty dearer, should they look [f. 142]
Or on the mind, or mind illumin’d face.”3
Each day you are more amiable than on the former; I still discover some new beauty, unobserved before; another indissoluble tie to the sacred engagements of love. – Continue to be yourself and I am eternally yours – you will then preserve the security that binds my undivided affections to you. – I can look on the rest of your sex with such calmness, such indifference as I never experienced before – beauty has long ceased to attract my eye; in you I see every beauty, every virtue, every charm combined which have power to captivate. – My dear Maria, how sincerely do I love you!
Adieu, may peace attend you
Saturday morn. Sepr 4th 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 94-95; Wedd, Love Letters 72-73.
2 cramed] MS
3 Lines from Thomson's The Seasons, "Spring," ll. 1134-39.