18 September 1779 (3)
Letter 48. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Saturday, 18 September 1779.1
My dearest Maria,
The former part of your letter is flattering, ’tis sincerely delighting; I esteem your commendations more than those of all your sex beside, for do not they proceed from the warm heart? – They are without dissimulation, and that you think me worthy your praise, is a most pleasing idea; it gratifies the highest ambition my nature is capable of. – I cannot suppose you would attempt to make me vain of qualities, which (though I see them not) I do not possess; t’would be ungenerous. – If in any thing I appear amiable to you, be convinced I wish to appear so only for you; I feel your partiality with the loveliest emotions; can the tenderest responses of ever-faithful love [f. 184] satisfy you in return? You smile the affirmative. –
Yet dear as you are to me, I must now assume a little severity; you deserve a little gentle chastisement; but unless I can forget for awhile, to whom I am writing, how can I chide? – If then I speak in terms too mild, think it is impossible I can for a minute banish you from my mind. – Why did you mention Mrs C----- to me? Yet if it gave you any pain to think of her, I am glad; because it gives me an opportunity of removing it, which will be a far greater pleasure, than it was ever in Mrs C ----- power to bestow on me. – She was never of that consequence to me which you have been persuaded to imagine. – I’ll relate the whole affair to you as well as I can recollect it, and then leave you to judge on it, according to its circumstances. – Before I went to Dartford, I only knew Miss B.—2 by sight, I had never spoke to her; I had seen her at Tooting and with others admired her beauty, and being (perhaps) the only literary beau there paid her some compliments both in prose and verse, which she received under a fictitious name. – It was generally understood I believe that those compliments came from me; be that as it will they were attributed to me and appeared to be not unwelcome. – Soon after this, both Miss B.— and I left Tooting; I went home, and she (I suppose) went to Dartford. – I was at home about ten months and then returned to London, when you first saw me. – After being in town a [f. 185] few weeks, I was accidentally informed where Miss B.— was, and having but few connections in town, I formed a scheme of a Sunday to go to Dartford; accordingly I took a post-chaise and went, as well for the pleasure ride as to call and see Miss B.— Mr Shepherd3 went with me; we got thither about noon, and after dinner went to church, where I saw the lady at a distance; we then returned and drank tea and continued sometime at the inn, till we began to think it time to return home. – I then resolved to call on Miss B.—as we returned, and accordingly ordered the chaise to stop at her door which was about eight or nine in the evening. I knocked and enquired for her, and was introduced into a parlor; in two or three minutes she appeared, but with no great degree of astonishment – We discoursed together for some time, a little on a particular, but for the most part on general subjects; from the minute she entered the room I began to entertain a disgust for her; there was in her manner and conversation something of a loftiness and self consequence which my disposition is but ill qualified to brook; but being thus far engaged I was obliged to finish the evening in the same strain, in which I had begun it – both she and the lady who kept the school behaved very civil, and repeatedly asked me to stay to supper, which I as often declined; they however insisted on my drinking a glass of wine which I complied with. – I then took my leave and terminated the subject for that time by promising to wait on the little man whom I have [f. 186] several times pointed out to you, and who I believe is her uncle; to him she referred me to plead my cause and to receive an answer. – Merely to fulfil my promise I went to him; he informed me Miss B.— was then at Dartford, but that he expected her home in two or three days; at the end of about a week I went to him again, when he informed me he had talked with his niece, and understood from her that she was perfectly satisfied in a single life. – I accepted this as an answer and never spoke or wrote to him or Miss B.— afterwards. – I waited on this gentleman solely to perform the promise I had made to Miss B.— I was aware objections enough would be made by him (according to custom) to countenance my retreat. – As near as I can relate it, this is the tenor of the whole affair; there may be circumstances which have escaped my memory, I cannot be positive as to that, but I am sure there is nothing here but what is fact. – From what you know of me, I leave you to judge how far these obstacles would have had weight with me, had the pure flame of love prompted me to be resolute. – You know very well too in what manner I should have returned their contempt, had I ever experienced it. – Like others I admired Miss B.—’s person, but found the qualities of her mind inferior to those of her form; yet had I pursued her with the greatest assiduity, I cannot pretend to say I should not have been disappointed; I am not possessed of so much vanity. – You surely will not call this an attachment; I was an admirer of Miss B.— but never her lover. – Whatever [f. 187] impressions she made on me (if ever she made any) were the impressions of superficial beauty, and these I had forgotten long before I knew you. – No, my lovely Maria, never did I feel the tender solicitudes, the anxieties, the thrilling sensations of unaffected love for any one but you: to you I have long assigned my heart and ’tis every faculty; you are and ever will be unrivalled there. – I am of your opinion; ’tis a matter of doubt with me whether it be possible for a person from the tenderest recesses of the soul to love a second time; I rather think it impossible. – For if a man himself act beneath the lover and leave her whom he feigned to adore, he is incapable of the refined passion of love. – If on the contrary she in whom his every thought, his inmost affections centered, betray him, he will yet hardly forget her; and even if he should, still something will remain on his mind, which will degrade the whole sex in his opinion; he will consider himself perpetually liable to be deceived, which will render him disagreeably cautious and reserved. – Where love is opposed by others, when a tender connection is forcibly broken off, it is (I think) absolutely impossible, for either of the parties, to place their hearts on another; could they humble themselves so far, they would be very humble indeed in my opinion. – Yet however it is, be assured, my dear Maria, I can never cease to love you, much less can I support the idea of loving another; every lively, every animated emotion of my soul flies to your bosom; oh! cherish them, and whilst they find [f. 188] a welcome refuge there, is there other happiness for me?
Adieu! – I am eternally yours
J. Eccles. –
Saturday evening Sepr 18th 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 114-16; Wedd, Love Letters 90-93.
2 Dartford is a village in Kent, about 18 miles southeast of central London. Miss B. is the unmarried name of Mrs. Chissel. It is possible she was a relation (maybe a sister) of William Button, which would make sense given their presence already as Baptist friends of the Dunkin and Hays families through Button's congregation in nearby Dean Street.
3 Mr. Shepherd is Eccles's closest male friend in London and appears in several letters in this collection, especially during his fever just prior to his death; most lostly Shepherd is an attendant at the Gainsford Street chapel or one of the other Baptist chapels in Southwark, which may have been where the two young men met.