11-12 September 1779
Letter 42. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Saturday night and Sunday morning, 11-12 September 1779.1
My dearest Maria,
I confess myself at a loss how to answer your two last letters; it is a point of so great delicacy, and in which I am so much interested, that I hardly know what to say. – You too perhaps will think, that it is impossible for me to speak my sentiments impartially. – I am not afraid of being insincere; but I own, the nature of the subject, and the intimate concern I have in it, involves me, and leaves me almost without hope of speaking, even to my own satisfaction. – I feel what I wish to say; but the feelings are beyond description; they require a more refined, a celestial language. – What if I divest myself of passion: I then reduce myself to a predicament too cold to speak with propriety of the concerns of love. – In either situation I am distressed. – However, difficult as I find it, I am at length resolved to speak as your lover; but let me see what you say – “Seek not to obtain such proofs of my esteem, as are inconsistent with delicacy to grant, and which you in your cooler moments, divested of passion, would esteem me less for; confess honestly, should you not?” – Let me examine my heart: I am sure, if any thing could lessen my affections for you, I’d fly from it as [f. 162] the greatest of misfortunes. – Never should a thought intrude into my breast, never should a word, much less an action escape me, which could take from that love, that tender esteem, which ’tis my sole ambition to preserve inviolate. – I am too sensible of the goodness of your heart; too well I know how valuable is the acquisition of your regard, to set so lightly by it. – I am not so fickle a being, as your apprehensions paint me. – I was born to love, but never to betray the object of that love. – You afterwards say “be the guard of my honor and character, and attempt not liberties, which I must blush at the recollection of.” – Young as I am, that honor might safely be intrusted to my care; that character shall ever remain unsullied as I found it; my private behaviour2 to you shall never injure it, and I am ever ready to defend it in any other way, if necessary. – Look not on me as the headstrong, inconsiderate lover of a day; think I am yours by indissoluble3 ties, and forever yours. – Can you think I shall ever break the vows I have so solemnly made? – Can I ever forget the tenderness I have experienced from you? – You seem to rank me amongst the vulgar herd, in whom tenderness begets contempt; but know I am not such; I have a soul too proud ever to descend to so absurd a meanness – I always note the value of an action from its intent. – ’Tis the knowledge of the heart from whence they spring, that enables us to judge aright, either of words or actions. – What would <–> ^displease^ me in others, is amiable in you, [f. 163] because I know you; I am conscious of the sincerity wherewith you conduct yourself. – You have never played the artful; you have never deceived me; you have never endeavored to conceal any thing from me, nor to impose any thing on me by false shew. – Your heart has always echoed to the truth of your tongue; you have invariably been honest; and you know Pope says,
“An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”4
And sure so polite a man as Mr Pope, could never think of excluding an honest lady, from the number of the noblest works of creation. – Indeed my dearest Maria, you are all lovely you have no defect, no imperfection; you are in every respect unexceptionable; the severest (unless lost in insensibility) could not censure you. – I know, I feel your delicacy; it has a thousand charms in it. – Diffidence in your sex, always raises you in the ideas of the man of honor. – But remember, love claims a distinction beyond indifference; there is a tenderness due in return, which insures your power, far beyond the acts of reserve, generally practised by your sex. – Yet ever be reserved till you ^perfectly^ know your man. – From the unprincipled, you have every thing to fear, from the man of honor nothing. – There, I think I have answered you on this subject, and I hope to your satisfaction. – [f. 164]
Sunday morning – Sepr 12th 1779.
Whilst you have been wasting your time in bed, I have been walking; ’tis a cool, very pleasant morning; nature seems to be giving her last smiles for his season. – You are grown very lazy again; I wish I was near enough, I’d rouse you from your slumbers. – I shall insist on your taking a walk some fine morning next week; consider, the gloomy months are approaching; now is the time for enjoyment. –
“Falsely luxurious! will not man awake?
And springing from the bed of sloth enjoy
The cool, the fragrant, and the smiling hour
To meditation due and sacred song?5
I have wished for your company all this morning; every object would then have appeared doubly delightful; solitary pleasures amuse the mind, and calm the passions; but they have not those charms which flow from social pleasure. – To communicate the joys we feel, is the refinement of happiness, which only a favored few can enjoy. – Good morning – I am, my dear Maria!
Affectionately yours -- J. Eccles.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 104-05; Wedd, Love Letters 80-81.
2 behavour] MS
3 indissoluable] MS
4 Line from Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, Epistle IV, l. 248.
5 Lines from Thomson's The Seasons, "Summer," ll. 67-70.