16 October 1779 (1)
Letter 71. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Saturday evening, 16 October 1779.1
I have this day been charmed with my dear Maria, but shall I say I have been pained too? – I let fall an expression and was going to explain myself, on what has been the subject of more than one of your former letters, when “I never received such a shock!” –– My little girl need not fear I shall ever suspect her delicacy, I have experienced too many proofs of it; I would not for the world have reason to suspect it, and I am confident I never shall. – But does she not entertain suspicions of me which I do not deserve; does she not suppose me capable of treating her unworthily? – If she does, she ought to [f. 280] reject me immediately; but if I may be allowed to have any knowledge of my own heart, how little has she to fear! – How attentive would I ever be to her happiness! – Indeed I am concerned you doubt the disinterestedness of my fidelity; sure I have not lost all your confidence. – How dear is my little girl’s honor, how dear her every interest to me! And can she think I shall ever be tempted to injure them? – In the virtue of her conduct, all my happiness exists, shall I then teach her to err? – Shall I attempt to lead you astray; shall I instruct you to deviate from the paths of rectitude? – Don’t so cruelly doubt me. – I am uneasy; I shall have a thousand fears on opening your next letter; don’t incur the censure of being too rigid; nor charge me with acting in a manner which is unjustifiable. – Why will you threaten to reproach yourself; don’t you know how much those reproaches affect me? – And am I not the author of them all? – Indeed they are undeserved, and your conduct has ever been amiable. – Is there not a distinction between an acquaintance of two years standing, (the most tender connection;) and the slight acquaintance of two or three casual visits? That was the comparison I was going to make. – I know how watchful you are over your own be^h^aviour, and I am far from being displeased with it; it stamps a value on your esteem; yet be always open to conviction, and be not too severe, where – shall I say I deserve your tenderness? – Yes, I confirm it; nor will my Maria deny it. –
[f. 281] With what delight shall I ever reflect on the visit I made to you at Ballam; never did I spend so agreeable a morning as this; the weather was dull and heavy, but my soul was active and all my Maria’s; not a busy thought disturbed my devotion; the longer I enjoy your company, the more desirable it becomes; how can cruel fate part me from her; is it to shew an example of its extreme power? But hush! nor pry beyond the sphere of human knowledge. – All will e’er long appear in the chain of universal providence to have been right and designed for the best of purposes. – Learn me to acquiesce in thy all-wise mandates, oh thou most high! – Yet give me my Maria! – Who but she can calm the storms of the boisterous ocean of life? – ’Tis by her I exist; where are the comforts of the world which can render life supportable without her? – How unfeignedly and how fervently do I love her? – Yet I think you was a little cruel to desire to send me off last night; you would not let me enjoy the pleasures of the carpet without doing penance.2 – I must confess I had no great inclination to go in quest of a bed, after the kind offer Mr P.3 made me, yet you would have it so. – What a pleasure is it to be witnesses of the happiness of others! – How sincerely do I congratulate the happy P----r; all the world smiles on him in the smiles of his mistress, and he is sensible of her worth. – Their minutes are marked for enjoyment; they glide imperceptibly along, as the present life should. – I have not a spark of envy; I would [f. 282] only ask Dame Fortune in what I have offended her, that she denies to me, what she so liberally lavishes on others? – In one thing I am equal to them all; I have a heart susceptible to my Maria’s charms, and love her with an ardor which few of my sex can boast: this is my all, and she must accept it; were it a thousand times greater, she should be a thousand times more welcome to it. – I believe you are now writing to me; I see the light in your window: oh! be merciful to me, chide me not, for indeed I don’t deserve it: I shall see tomorrow whether this prayer had any effect or not. – I shall not have room to answer your letter in this, as I want to talk to you pretty largely on one or two of your questions. – One of them however I will answer; you ask me, “is not that frankness, which you once termed, ‘the pure ingenuous elegance of soul,’4 infinitely more charming, more endearing to the man of sense and sentiment, than either the cold frigidity of a stoical disposition, or the affected prudery of a dissembling one?” – Most certainly it is; I love you ten thousand times the better for it; it discovers the mind free from all art and deceit, it shows her in her native dress, unprejudiced by the forms and etiquette of the age: there is so much finesse in the general conduct of your sex, that it is almost impossible to see through it, to your real selves. – But my Maria is without disguise, and she speaks and looks her heart; what ineffable sensations have I felt in only gazing on that face; oh! did the libertine but know these pleasures! –
[f. 283] My dear little girl, you are writing yet; write on, and may your own heart, guide your pen; may your letter be like yourself, and I’ll adore that too. – I am going to leave off; you will have two of my letter’s to read; they will serve as an interlude between morning and evening service to morrow. – May that repose you so much want close your eyelids, and guard all the avenues that lead to your heart. – Good-night, my dear girl; peace be yours as much as is –
Saturday even: Octr: 16th 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 157-58; Wedd, Love Letters 133-34.
2 Possibly an allusion to dancing, an activity generally frowned upon by Baptists at that time, although not an exclusive ban, as the letter makes clear.
3 George Parker has recently married Ann Lepard, Mary's close friend, and were living in Balham, near Wandsworth. Parker will die in 1782, two years after Eccles. Ann Parker remarried in 1784 to August Applegath, a distant relation of Mary Hays (see next letter for more on the Parkers). For the Applegaths, see the entry on the family in the Biographical Index.
4 Line from Thomson's The Seasons, "Summer," ll. 1294.