27 September 1779 (2)
Letter 56. Mary Hays to John Eccles, Monday evening, 27 September 1779.1
I have been so very busy all day, that I have had neither leisure nor inclination to dress; in the morning I wrote a long epistle to Mrs Collier; afterwards I starched, hung up my cloaths and ironed; and now I am finishing the evening with scribbling to you; – a very good conclusion of it, I suppose you will say; why, I don’t know, that is as it may prove; you see my conscience is very tender on this head, I don’t allow any employments to plead my excuse; don’t you feel yourself blush a little at this place? Or are you hardened in indolence?
What shall I say to your arguments for freedom of behaviour? You seem to think my conduct needs a defense. – I must confess I was rather shocked at an observation I met with to day, in looking over an old magazine; I will here transcribe it, I tore it out on purpose. – “The fervor of a man’s love is preserved by a proper opposition to his passion; the easy yielding female soon damps the flame which she had raised: by keeping men at a prudent distance women stand the fairest chance of keeping them in their service.” – What think you of it? It has made me rather serious. I own it is mean and ungenerous in a woman to behave capriciously to a man of sense and character, who makes honorable addresses to [f. 221] her, and whom she really prefers in her heart; such treatment is never to be forgotten; and if in a fit of fondness they marry those who have trifled with them, when that fondness abates, the smothered injury will arise with aggravated force in their minds, and they will not rest till they have satisfied themselves by retaliation. – But there is a medium to be observed between caprice, and forwardness (I don’t know by what other name to call it) that happy medium is what every woman of sense and delicacy ought to practice; – but in reflecting on the method in which I have ever behaved to you, I cannot help condemning myself for too much deviating from that modesty, which you say is so adorable in women; the natural frankness of my temper, and my little knowledge of the world may have betrayed me into this error; but there is yet another reason, (shall I say a justifiable one?) for this neglect of punctillio; our situation! – had you been a lover received and favoured by my relations, I should perhaps have teized you with a little flirtation; but when I saw the mortifications, the fatigues, the pains you suffered for my sake, shall I (said I to myself) by giving way to female caprice, or an affectation of that prudence which always borders on coldness and insensibility, increase the uneasiness of a worthy man, and one who professes to love me? gratitude, honor, generosity forbid it; and though it has often been inculcated on my mind, that every attention, or favor a woman shews, lessens her power; yet is not this the maxim of a narrow [f. 222] heart? can the man of sentiment, of sensibility cease to esteem a woman, for discovering that softness and susceptibility which is the characteristic and ornament2 of her sex? can he I say love her less because the impression he has made on her heart? no, certainly! unless he is devoid of every feeling, and equally ignorant with the brutes! – never can I believe it possible for a man of sense to be possessed of such depravity of soul; I hope experience will not oblige me to alter my opinion; pardon the thought, I know it never will. – You engaged the early, the first attachment of my heart, and while you continue thus to convince me of the justness of my choice, be assured it never can stray from you. – But you must permit me to lay down some restrictions on your behaviour. “You are not an advocate (you say) for unbounded license”; I hardly know whether to believe you or not; I do not wish to treat you with reserve, as I am too partially engaged in your favor to give you a moments pain if I could help it; besides, that freedom with which we converse and exchange our sentiments to each other has a thousand charms for me; ’tis truly pleasing; but then there are liberties which you frequently take, that hurts me on the recollection; it seems as if secure of forgiveness you took advantages which – don’t be angry, I wish not to offend, but I am fearful lest you should think me tinctured with levity or immodesty – If I know myself they are vices to which I am a stranger; I shudder at the [f. 223] very idea; but we are not proper judges of our own conduct, and men will sometimes endeavor to persuade or draw us into indiscretions in order to try the strength of our virtue or prudence; if we come off victorious, their esteem and admiration are encreased; if we fall – Alas! they leave us to lament our folly! – yet, surely such conduct would be the height of cruelty to us the weaker, the frailer sex – are they not engaged by every law human and divine to support us when tottering or sliding into errors? – not precipitate us into the precipice of guilt, and plunge us into endless remorse? – Is not your Maria a little moralizing girl to night? She knows you look with an eye of indulgence on her scribbles, which encourages her to give full license to her pen. – Good-night, may the angel of peace be your guard prays your
Maria Hays. –
Monday even: Sepr: 27th: 1779. –
1 Brooks, Correspondence 130-32; Wedd, Love Letters 106-07.
2 orniment] MS