23 October 1779 (2)

Letter 78. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Saturday evening, 23 October 1779.1

          Saturday evening Octr. 23d. 1779. –

My dearest Maria,

     You lament that we must one day part; that death may perhaps snatch one away early, and leave the other to wander long in the vale of tears. – I join with you, ’twill be a sorrowful parting. – Yet may we not go together, or at least, may not one follow the other almost immediately? – Some have been so highly favored; where then is the cause for sorrow? – Death considered in itself cannot be a misfortune; ’tis in death we begin to live; ’tis in death only the union of souls is complete: after we have put off this “mortal coil,”2 when worldly interests are no more, all the obstacles which rise between me and my dear little girl, will vanish, and we shall forever be one. – I believe it is our duty to enjoy this life; all nature tells me so: man was not sent into the world [f. 300] to be unhappy; if he is so, himself is in fault; the sources of happiness are abundant and rich; if one fails, let him make application to another, and even if all fail, let him look beyond the grave; – there are miseries connected with the present life, even in its most perfect state, which tell us it is not our resting place; they are wisely intermingled with our comforts to direct our views to another world! – We should live here as a traveler who passes through foreign countries, taste the pleasures in view, but keep our eyes fixed on our native home. – I own that to us, every thing here looks dark and gloomy; scarce a glimmering of hope permits us to think of any happiness here; but then, how short is what we call time, to the boundless space of eternity; there, we may promise ourselves such bliss, as will never cease, nor suffer any interruption. – Whilst here, all my ambition all my thirst of happiness, centers in my Maria; she is all I ask of heaven; ’tis with her only the journey of life will become smooth and easy; to walk hand in hand with her; to bear a part in her destiny; to sooth her under every affliction; to console and partake of all her cares and to support her through the current of life, is all the felicity my heart can wish; I ask no more; this at present is denied me, yet perhaps fortune may take a more favorable turn, if not, enable me oh! my God,

                     "To look beyond this vale of tears

                       To the celestial hill.”3

[f. 301] and when the dread messenger separates us, let us remember it is not forever, ’tis but for a short space of time;

                    “And we shall meet again

                     To live like God’s (though here we die like men)

                     In the blest regions where just spirits dwell.”4

How easy is it to talk, and to deduce precepts from the principles of philosophy, and yet how hard to obey them! – Nature will burst the bounds of reason and philosophy; and arguments are of no avail to stop the tears of a wounded heart. – Let the rigid dictate as they please, and perpetually urge ^on^ the mind the thoughts of death; we ought not to neglect preparing for it, but has not the wisdom of providence so ordered it, that we should not too much pore thereon, lest we depress and unhinge the mind for action? – To be good, is it necessary we should always think of dying? – Certainly not; the idea is too gloomy, for a soul burthened with the frailties of human nature always to sustain. – Were I always to think of parting with my Maria; this life would be an insurmountable state of misery; we ought always to be ready, but not to anticipate the strokes of fate. – I feel myself inclined to be rather serious, so I shall wave the subject. –

     I suppose I must go to meeting tomorrow morning on purpose to hear Mr B---n; you will hardly be there. – To be obliged [f. 302] to listen to him is a punishment not of the gentlest kind; his oratory has but few charms, nor are his arguments persuasive: however I’ll submit to be mortified once in the day, provided you make me amends with your presence in the afternoon and evening (I mean if you are perfectly well; if not I shall come and see you.) – You have not let me see you all this day; I looked, but in vain, for you all the evening: if you have been well enough to come to the window, I shall not easily forgive you; does my little girl think her illness gives me no pain? – Can she suppose it is a matter of indifference to me? Let me then undeceive her. – Is there any uneasiness, is there any pain or affliction, I would not gladly bear in your stead? – What would I not suffer to relieve you? – Indeed I have been very anxious this evening; – I have been restless; – several times I have been out waiting at the door, but could not see even Betsy to ask for you; – and within I am still uneasy. – I shall be distressed till tomorrow: oh my Maria! how I love you! how is my heart now perplexed for you! – Should you be worse; – yet let me retract the supposition; ’twould be cruel not to have informed me; – You know how I depend on you; – you know how the thought of any danger being near you, would alarm me. – let me for this night (if possible) indulge the hope that you are better, and let me not find myself disappointed in the morning. – Oh, sleep! rest on her dear bosom tonight! – Let nothing disquiet or disturb her! – Soothe and [f. 303] refresh her with the softest, the gentlest slumbers! – Let the morning find her restored to health and renewed spirits; and may she feel such peace as wishes her faithful –––––

                                J. Eccles. –

1 Brooks, Correspondence 166-67; Wedd, Love Letters 142-43. 

2 Phrase from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, scene 1.

3 Lines from the opening stanza of Charles Wesley's hymn, "Come on, My Partners in Distress."

4 Lines from "A Prospect of Death" by John Pomfret (1670-1703).