18 November 1779 (2)

Letter 100. John Eccles to Mary Hays, 18 November 1779.1

    Really the twenty thousand pound prize which was drawn yesterday, has disturbed me a little; – I am vexed I have not a part of it for my Maria. – With what an unfeigned delight should I have brought you the news, and would you not have welcomed me? ’Twas so easy to have obtained it too; – but no doubt it was not proper for us, let us then acquiesce in the want of it. – And why should I be uneasy? – I have lost nothing, but am just in the same situation now, as I was yesterday morning. – But such an acquisition would have brought me a far greater; – oh! my dear [f. 370] Maria, it would have given me you forever; – ’tis only on your account I so much lament the want of fortune. – I never knew its value, till I too severely felt it. – Yet under the most discouraging appearances, your affectionate assurances of kindness and unceasing regard, how do they console me! – There is so much tenderness, so much sensibility in your character; it has ever been so amiable, that I never could behold you, but with the utmost fervency of sincere affection. – The most unbounded affluence, the richest gifts of fortune, could not bestow a moment of pleasurable content, were I to be bereft of my dear little girl; – indeed I am sensible now, we shall never be parted, for (do I flatter myself?) we neither of us could ever bear it.

     I shall give you ^the^ Fatal Friendship2 this evening, – fatal indeed it is; I almost repent I have got it for you; – ’twill make you weep: the catastrophe is truly mournful; – I have just run through the most interesting parts of the second volume, and you cannot conceive how much it moved me; – the softest powers of my soul were affected; – scenes, though of only fancied distress, how they gain on the heart; – we realize them, and feel their keenest pains. – Yet do they not by sympathizing, alleviate the misfortunes we ourselves endure? – Besides, by going to the very extremes of probability in depicting human misery, do they not render our circumstances less painful? – By seeing others in deeper distress than ourselves (or even by attending to fictitious relations) though we take no pleasure in their sufferings, we derive much consolation; – [f. 371] Indeed the happiness <–> or unhappiness of life, in a great measure arises from the comparison we make of ourselves with others; – and in proportion as our affairs wear a more or less promising aspect from this comparison, so are we happy or unhappy. – I think we have seen darker scenes than the present; – things have appeared more gloomy; – ought not this to be a source of some comfort? – It would have been perhaps possible a twelve-month ago to part us; – we did not then know each other so well as we do now; – I did not so well know the worth of my Maria; – she appeared to me then lovelier than all her sex beside, but now I have far more exalted ideas of her than I at that time had. I could then endure distress for her, oh! what is there I would not risque for her now! – Too well do I know the pleasures of your society, not to regret to live without it; – what a tranquility of soul possessed me on Wednesday afternoon; – how inexpressibly delightful were the hours I passed with you! – How happy am I in your company! – Could any of the bestowments of fortune add to that happiness? – No; – to you alone will I ever be indebted for peace, for serenity of mind; – I sometimes have wishes beyond my present situation, but never beyond a sufficiency, and that only to present to my Maria; – her happiness (oh! were it in my power to effect it) is the ultimate desire of my heart. – When I cease to love her, may this now fond heart cease to beat; – may it ever be still. – But ’tis impossible I can ever look with cold indifference on her; – no, even to look on her, melts my whole soul to love and tenderness. – Surely the time will come when I may call her mine; – we shall not always be obliged to meet by stealth; – let me live in that hope; – [f. 372] and that we shall one day live together with peace, content and mutual affection, and all those joys which the happiest conjugal state can produce. – It was foolish in me yesterday, to be uneasy, about what, with the utmost human prudence, I could not obtain; – yet I could not help it. – Providence may yet have something in store for us; – this was perhaps improper,

                “All-gracious providence is good and wise,

                “Alike in what it gives and what denies.”3

My dear Maria, all I ask of Heaven is to give me you, and means to support you; – is this an extravagant ambition? – Adieu!

             I am faithfully yours –

                                             J. Eccles. –

November 18th 1779.

1 Brooks, Correspondence 198-99; Wedd, Love Letters 173-74. 

2 The Fatal Friendship, a sentimental novel previously mentioned in Letter 62.

3 Lines adapted from Pope’s Essay on Man, Epistle I, ll. 205-06  (see Letter 46).