25 September 1779
Letter 53. John Eccles to Miss Hays, Saturday, 25 September 1779.1
I have a notion you have a mind to grow saucy; how else durst you shake your head yesterday morning at my – wit? Amazing impertinence for certain. – I cannot exercise my inoffensive brain, but you must put yours into agitation too. – Perhaps you imagine there is as much wit in that queer shake of the head, as in my whole letter? – Perhaps so; yet ’tis pity my humble efforts should [f. 205] die in contempt; few are the plaudits it receives, and these few, (like the clappings extorted by orders, presented by the author of a new play) come from – my own dear self. – ’Tis really a hard case, I am obliged to be my own puffer; were you polite, clever, good-natured and so forth, you would save me from that mortification; but, “myself first,” is the ladies motto. – I allow your claim; well then, if I bestow a few compliments on your person, good sense and amiable demeanor, will you be grateful? – But let me set aside this levity, not of heart, but words, and talk seriously, like a human being. –
You know I am not an advocate for unbounded license, yet I will venture to oppose decent freedom, against an affected reserve: the former is one of the loveliest parts of your character; ’tis where I see you with the most affectionate sensations. – Had you always kept me at an “awful distance,” instead of that tender passion I now feel, I should have regarded you with something like a religious veneration; I should have feared you more, but I should have loved you less. – Real modesty in your sex is truly adorable, and that which is fictitious, equally contemptible. – No species of affectation, would become you so well, as your own native manner; that is far beyond the powers of art; and affectation is only an attempt to imitate supposed perfection: supposed I say, for there are some who affect even our vices. – Besides ’tis an idea incompatible with real love, to be reserved; [f. 206] the happiness of each party is depending, and ought they not to know each other? – and will reserve be conducive to this? Indeed where a woman means only to play the coquette, it is allowable and even necessary, but to the man, to whom she intends to give her hand, reserve and distance ought to be out of the question. – All dissimulation between lovers (of which reserve is a species) should be laid aside; and the man with whom a lady finds it by experience necessary to dissemble, is unworthy to be her lover. – In short, though I by no means lay it down as a general rule, this “awful distance” does not at all suit me; nor do I think if you had always treated me as you say Miss E---- does her lover, I should have been “ten thousand times more attentive;” I might have assumed an air of gravity and respect in your presence perhaps, and have stood at a formal distance from you, but believe me I should have made a very awkward lover; besides I think it a piece of ill policy to be severe; ladies should learn to govern as they wish to be governed; if they act the tyrant during their reign, revenge you know is sweet. – But you say “indulgence spoils you all,” without any exception: consider again! – sans vanité, you should have taken me from the general heap. – I believe ’tis frequently true, but as for me; thank heaven, I am innocent; but then there are – few like me. – I wrote you so short a letter last time, that I intend to be rather “explicit” now; well then for another subject. – Do you wonder [f. 207] that Jove laughs at lover’s perjuries? – How can the old rake do otherwise? – Must he not countenance his followers in what he himself was so often guilty of? – But as I am neither a heathen nor a libertine, I shall never content myself with his absolution. – You only can absolve me from my vows, by breaking yours first. – Sooner than subscribe to the maxim, that the performance of lovers promises and oaths may be dispensed with, I’d adhere to this: “Heaven absolves all other treason, In the heart that’s true to love.”2 – ’Tis those only who are guilty of breaking them, that can plead how trifling it is to get through a solemn engagement; and how many such can this town produce! – Such whose hearts are perpetually giving their tongues the lie, and without any degree of remorse too! – Conscience in them has lost its power, and themselves have lost the relish for such pleasures as alone are productive of real happiness. – But do not, my Maria, doubt that my tongue or pen ever spoke more than my heart was ready to confirm; conscious with what sincerity I loved you, I have never hesitated to tell you of it, nor do I repent my openness; I never once had reason. – The world has been witness to our attachment; I know it will never reproach me with inconstancy. – Were it ever possible I could be so base as to forsake you, I should be in continual torment; guilt would be ever preying on my heart; I should be incapable of a moment’s happiness. – I could never bear the reflections of my own heart, nor those of the world. – But to love alone shall you be indebted for my heart, honor is too cold to have [f. 208] any interest in it. – When I cease to love you, I shall have lost all sense of honor; it can never influence a mind stained with such guilt. – But you are safe; you need be under no apprehensions; if I am worthy to be regarded by you, I am very sensible of the value of your kind thoughts; and every thing that is dear or sacred, fixes me your's firm as the pillars of fate. – Indeed I cannot think it possible, after so long and tender an intercourse as ours has been, that we can ever be indifferent to each other. – I know my own heart too well, to think I can ever look on you, with emotions beneath the ardor of love; I am not formed of such mutable materials. – I’ll repeat what I think I once said to you before; “only be yourself and I am constantly yours.” – I hope we shall be able to engage Miss Dunkin, to go with us to see the old lady3; I long to go there again; ’tis a delightful place, but my dear Maria, your company can render any other place equally delightful; yet I wish to go there in preference to all other places, because I know ’tis pleasing to you, and what is there I would not do to make you happy; believe me, I would do much. – I believe we both enjoy these country excursions; there is something so inspiring in rural scenes and prospects; particularly to such as can feel them; whose hearts have a serious turn, and glow at the beauties of nature. – I returned from Lark-hall both times, in a far more pleasing state of mind than I went out, for which reason I am anxious to go again; [f. 209] but, my Maria, I always see you with increasing pleasure; millions of worlds should not purchase you from me, for how could they repay me for the loss of you? – Oh! never, never. – I am not made of such vulgar mould. – I love you and am happy. – Adieu! my dear Maria, my whole heart is yours
J: Eccles. –
Saturday Sepr: 25th: 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 124-25; Wedd, Love Letters 101-02.
2 Lines from an Air in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comic opera, The Duenna (1775), Act 1, scene 2. The air was probably composed by Thomas Linley and his son.
3 The resident, possibly proprietor, of Lark Hall, in Lambeth, where Eccles and Hays visit several times during their courtship.