7 October 1779
Letter 63. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Thursday morning, 7 October 1779.1
You reprimanded me a few days ago, for disturbing your rest; I am not going to chide you on that account alone, but for a worse disaster. – Last night, as ever-waking fancy was ruminating on the transactions of the past day, a thousand vague, impossible ideas crouded in succession into my mind; as these passed away, a more regular train of thought followed, having you for its subject, and I found myself again holding you in my arms, and pressing your lovely lips; the last evening was all before me, and not a soul in the Elysian groves was happier than I; imagination painted you fairer than all the daughters of Eve, and intimated to me “’tis thus you ought always to behold her;” I replied, “’tis thus I have, and ever will regard her,”2 and eager to confirm my words, I was going to embrace you; when instead of you, I found ––– the back of a chair (which was beside my bed) in my arms, and on letting go my hold, I fell with my breast on the corner of the seat, which wakened me; the softness of the embrace was such, that I shall feel it near my heart for at least a week. – Yet I confess ’twas a pleasing illusion; and though the last circumstance convinced me of the truth of the proverb, that “there is no pleasure without pain,”3 yet the former was such as to over balance the latter; and can we here expect greater felicity? – That object which excites in us fewer sensations of pain than of pleasure, is worthy to be cultivated with attention. – Can we say as much of nominal pleasures? – Ought they not to be called by a different name? – Are they not attended with more of the bitter than the sweet of life? – There is something very instructive in dreams; with what activity does the soul, when thus disburthened of the body, range through the fields of nature; how vigorous are its efforts; how lively its ideas; how comprehensive and strong its faculties; how refined the passions, and how heightened its sensibility; every thing conspires to show its independence on the body, and even that body is a clog to its pursuits. – Without the more weighty reasons, this is sufficient to evince its immortality; but if dreams prove the immortality of the soul, how can I be denied, that there is a future state for the brute creation, for ’tis certain they dream? – The dog fancies he again pursues the timorous hare, and snapping, wakes himself; each species, according to their labors and pleasures, renew them all again. – To obviate this, the vanity of some of our dreams is objected, their wildness and inconsistencies; but [f. 249] what does this prove, more than that the body and soul are not parted, and that when the soul is soaring aloft above the transitory views of mortality and human apprehensions, its flight is checked by its union with the body. – Experience too proves, that the more intemperate the body, and the more hurried and confused the life of the man, the more incoherent are his dreams; so that this can only prove, that till the absolute separation of the soul from the body, it intermingles itself, and is in a manner connected with the concerns of life. – I wish, and believe too, that there is a future existence, for those poor creatures, who experience the cruelty and contempt of human brutes, otherwise, they are born only to misery, they have no recompense here; and can a merciful creator form any of his living works, merely as slaves to man, without a drop of pleasure for their mass of pains? – Impossible; ’tis not in his nature: he created all, according to their different capacities, for enjoyment; and raised man above the rest, not to tyrannize, but as his faculties are superior to all the other orders of material creation, to rule with moderation, and guide all according to the purposes of heaven, so that each is made for each; one to direct, the other to be directed, that there may be no confusion in creation. – Besides, unless we allow a futurity to the inferior orders of animal creation, where is the superiority of animals to vegetable life? – The balance is in favor of the latter. – In fine, I cannot help believing, that every creature, which has a capability of feeling pleasure and pain, has also an immaterial [f. 250] some thing, which will never die. – At the first creation too, man was innocent and happy, his state and conceptions were such, as I presume, ours will be in eternity; his bliss was complete, because he was never to die; and yet even then, beasts and every living creature existed with him. – They were not then designed for his use, there were no deaths amongst them; they mixed with man, and with themselves without fear: Why did they then exist? – Perhaps there is a principle in the mind of man, which requires some kind of amusement; it cannot be perpetually intent on one object. – This variety in creation, the supreme thought fit to place, for the purpose of recreating the soul, and qualifying it to resume with renovated ardor, the divine employ of praising him. – It furnishes subjects for praise likewise, so we see Milton makes Adam exclaim in rapture
“These are thy glorious works, parent of good!
Almighty; thine this universal frame,
Thus wondrous fair! thyself how wondrous then! &c”4
If Adam in a state of blessedness, could rejoice in the works of creation, and in them magnify his creator, why may not the same objects in a future state of bliss, serve to raise our disembodied souls, in higher strains of praise and adoration? – And why may we not suppose, that what we call heaven, will be a life similar to that of our [f. 251] first parents before the fall? – And if so we have all the reason in the world to conclude, that the whole animal creation is immortal, and will make a part of that heaven, enjoying and enjoyed. – In dreams we recollect and remember the circumstances of our life as far as memory can reach; but we remember them with the same sensations, hopes or fears, hatred5 or affection as when waking; this is owing to the conjunction of the soul with the body; in a separate state, the soul is only susceptible of pleasurable ideas. We shall doubtless know our friends, and be able with calmness, nay with pleasure, to acquiesce in the condemnation of those whose lives have deserved it; the soul, disrobed of its mantle, reveres and loves the virtuous alone, and detests vice, even if it comes in the shape of a father, a husband, a wife or a child. – Here we may be deceived, and often are; but there is no possibility of deception in a future state; there the soul is seen, without a beauteous outside to conceal its deformities; and as it there appears, so we love or abhor it: it will cost us not a sigh to resign those, whom in life we consider as our best friends, if they come discolored with the tints of vice. –
I know not how you like this metaphysical reasoning, but I am sure if you don’t like it, you will excuse it; it is what was suggested to me from the subject, I know you wish me to write with freedom my thoughts just as they rise; it is a copious theme and affords [f. 252] abundance of arguments; one might write sheets and not exhaust it. – One thing gives me infinite pleasure from a consideration of this subject; I shall e’er long be in a state, where there are no obstacles, no misfortunes, no disappointments; where it will not be in the power of fortune, to oppose my happiness; where my whole soul shall be yours with angelic affection; the hopes and desires of an earthly passion will be done away, and all will be heavenly love; at least we shall join hands there, never again to be disunited. – We have here felt the severest pains attendant on love, there we shall be compensated with its most exalted pleasures. – ’Tis some comfort that this bitter life is short, and that at furthest, after a few years, we shall leave it, to meet and love each other, where felicity will be undisturbed. –
I see I ought to have answered a question in your last letter; but as I fancy you are already tired with reading my philosophical essay, I shall defer that till Sunday. – Adieu! may the angel of peace guard and conduct you home, and watch over your slumbers. My dear Maria, good-night! so wishes yours sincerely –
J: Eccles. –
Thursday evening Octr: 7th: 1779. –
1 Brooks, Correspondence 142-45; Wedd, Love Letters 119-21.
2 Reference here is to Milton's Paradise Lost, Book III.
3 A cliche in the 18th century as it is today.
4 See Paradise Lost, Book V.
5 hatered] MS