10 October 1779
Letter 66. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Sunday morning [10 October 1779].1
My Dearest Maria,
It is always with pleasure I take my pen to write to you, and particularly so, when I am to answer any questions you are pleased to put to me; your own diffidence, and your partiality to me, are very flattering circumstances; yet I would not on this account be too vain; [f. 257] let me only learn from it to set a just estimate on your worth; ’tis the only compensation I can make for your repeated goodness. – Be assured I never can forget the many proofs which I have experienced of your kindness; no; they are secured in a faithful repository, and I shall ever recollect them with gratitude. – Yet sure I ought and have a right to chide you for your cruelty2 today. – I have never merited those distresses which you know your complaints ever load me with. – I own I possess not that evenness of disposition, which some men enjoy; perhaps ’tis a weakness that my heart is so susceptible of impression; ’tis a weakness perhaps that I too severely feel disappointments; but if these overwhelm me with anxiety, can I always conceal it? – And can you impute it to me as a crime that I am not always chearful? – That which you call coldness and indifference proceeds from a too intense thought and sensibility of the constraint of my present position. – No man in the world can with greater courage meet the ills of life than I; but when touched in so tender a point as my love, I own the weight overpowers me and I sink under it. – What can I say, what is there I would not do, to administer consolation to my Maria? – Tell me how I may for ever erase from your bosom those (must I say it?) unjust suspicions of my faith and perseverance? – You ask me; “will you be my friend, if a more tender connection is denied us? – Tell me if you could taste equal pleasure in the friendship of your Maria, as in an union with any other woman?” – And can my Maria doubt it? [f. 258] If so from this moment obliterate those doubts; no woman on earth can ever deprive you of that heart, of those affections which live only for you: – Your suspicions pain me; they bring with them reproaches so tender as none but a heart that loves can feel, and ’tis in vain to attempt to describe their poignancy. – Have I not sworn myself yours? – Am I not yours by sacred obligation? – I am; and love and gratitude are perpetually confirming my vows; it is impossible they can ever be dissolved; how despicable should I appear to myself, were I capable of ever forgetting my Maria, or of thinking on her with less ardor, with less tenderness; the reflections of my own heart would be insupportable. – But I am too well assured of your power, your influence here is too pleasing, ever to be treated with lightness, and too great to admit a rival; too grateful are your chains to allow a wish for liberty; too generous is your kindness to be returned with ingratitude; and your heart, my dear Maria, is invaluable; it is too dear to me, to suffer any comparison; not all your sex, not even Petrarch’s Laura,3 could she revisit this earth, would attract a moment’s attention from me; every wish, every thought, every purpose of my heart are always yours; not an idea, not an imagination arises but looks up for your approbation. – From this time let us forget these little quarrels; they are trifling, yet very painful, why should we indulge them? – They spring from nothing, yet are the sources of many unhappy hours. – We have felt enough for our errors; it is time we learn to avoid them. – When there seems any coldness between us, I am wretched till it is removed, and I know ’tis equally unpleasing to you; let us then be wise [f. 259] enough for the future, to know our own happiness, and show our affection to each other, by shunning the appearance of any thing which can give pain.
I purposed to answer your last letter in this, but unless I stay at home this morning, I shall not be able; so I know you will excuse both that, and my writing so short an epistle. – From henceforth, my dear Maria, be forever at ease; set aside any disconsolating thought, and assure yourself of ever possessing that faithful love which now warms my bosom, and which words would in vain attempt to express. –
I am ever with sincerest affection your
J. Eccles. –
Sunday morn: Octr: 10th: 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 147-48; Wedd, Love Letters 123-24.
2 cruelity] MS
3 The Italian poet Fransesco Petrarca (1304-74), best known as Petrarch, envisioned in his famous sonnet sequence his ideal of love and beauty in the person of Laura, whom he first saw in a church in Avignon 1327.