23 September 1779
Letter 51. Mary Hays to John Eccles, Thursday morning, 23 September 1779.1
You are an unreasonable creature to remind me so often of thursday, when you have given such evident proofs of the shortness of your memory; your letter did not make amends for the omission, for you would not have written then (I believe) if it had not in a manner been forced; “You was not in the humor.” – A very pretty excuse truly; at one time, no party, company or employment, was to prevent your writing to me; “it was one of the most pleasing amusements of your life, you said”; but now how changed! ’tis quite tiresome to write so often, three times a week is too much – were those not your reflections on tuesday? confess honestly! – Well, I do think if I had kept you at an awful distance (as Miss E---n does her swain), you would have been a thousand times more attentive; ’tis certainly the best way of dealing with you men; indulgence spoils you all; you despise favors too easily won; as humorsome children, the fruit which is most difficult to attain, you are most eager in the pursuit of. – I owed you a little scolding, and could not be easy till I had given it to you; but now for a salvo, what shall I say? in spite of your failings, I cannot hate you, not so heartily as I could wish; you have an advocate in my heart that pleads a little too forcibly for you: I know not what methods you use to make interest there, but so it is. – I must now go down to breakfast, [f. 198] adieu for a little while. –
Having a little time to spare before I dress I resume my pen to employ it to you. – Upon reading over what I have written, I don’t like it at all, but it shall go as “I am not in the humor” to write it over again, and you must allow that to be a very good excuse. – I sincerely sympathize with you in regretting2 the departure of summer;
“In mournful plight the tarnish’d groves appear,
And nature weeps for the declining year;
The sun too soon reaches the western sky,
And rising vapours hid his evening eye.”3
I would have you compose an elegy on the approach of winter; if you feel as many anxieties about it as you express, I think you would not find it a difficult task. – When we go to the cottage next, I shall not be able to suppress a sigh, when I reflect how long it must be before we see it again: perhaps never! – Alas! – Eccles, what events may have taken place before next spring! – Yet while you continue faithful, I think I could meet with fortitude every other ill; should you cease to love me, what will there remain in the world worth a wish? – but is it possible for you to forget the solemn vows of constancy [f. 199] which you have so often repeated? – Jove laughs at lovers perjuries (they say)4 is not that a shocking idea? – What a soul must that man possess who can sport with the happiness of a woman, who judging of him from the guileless5 innocence of her own heart, and entertaining the tenderest partiality for him, deluded by an equal appearance of sincerity and affection, fondly reposes an intire confidence in his honor and love: (is not a man of this sort) who can repay such a tender disinterested affection with ingratitude, and desert her whom he has so often promised to love eternally, is he not, equally culpable with him who practises a greater degree of seduction?6 – What a mistaken notion do many of my sex possess, “that a reformed rake makes the best husband.”7 – ’Tis a dangerous idea, which ought to be carefully eradicated from the minds of the young, and inconsiderate. – What woman of delicacy can be pleased with the addresses of a man whose tenderness has been lavished on many before her, and who generally entertains the most indifferent sentiments of women, from being connected so much with the infamous part of them; can she imagine that such a man will be faithful to her? – No, not even were she as beautiful as an angel, and possessed a mind equally amiable, such will be the depravity of their taste; every refined sensation, every delicate sentiment would be obliterated by vice and dissipation;8 all those domestic virtues which can alone produce happiness in the marriage state would be tasteless insipidity [f. 200] to them; and rarely do they quit their follies (I believe) till their fortunes are involved, and their constitutions ruined; then the woman who is blessed with their hand, has the pleasing employment of nursing them, and being perpetually rendered uneasy either at their impatience at being precluded from pleasures which alone could render them happy; or by the stings of conscience, and a remorse for past guilt. – Did every lady entertain the same abhorrence of libertine principles as I do, and would agree to prohibit such men from their society, and treat them with that contempt they so justly merit, I am persuaded there would be fewer of that character in the world. – Are not you of my opinion? – How happy am I in this age of licentiousness, in having met with a lover so different – continue to be what I have ever known you, continue to be mine, and I will be ever and ever your own.
Maria Hays. –
Thursday morn: Sepr. 23d: 1779. –
1 Brooks, Correspondence 120-22; Wedd, Love Letters 97-99.
2 regreting] MS
3 Lines from Mary Leapor's poem, "Colinetta," in Poems upon Several Occasions (1746).
4 From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene 2.
5 guiless] MS
6 Preceding section paraphrased from Brooke, Emily Montague, 2.90-91.
7 A common expression by 1779, but made popular by Samuel Richardson in his Preface to Clarissa, arguing that parents should strive to steer their daughters away from "preferring a man of pleasure to a man of probity, upon that dangerous but too commonly received notion, that a reformed rake makes the best husband."
8 disipation] MS