21 October 1780

Letter 131. Mary Hays at Fordingbridge to Mrs. Elizabeth Hays, London, 21 October 1780.1

    I arrived here about six o’clock yesterday evening, after a very fatiguing journey; but indeed (my dear Mamma), the fatigues of my body were nothing in comparison to those my mind suffered; I was in a state of such horror during the journey, that I could hardly have been envied by the condemned in eternity! How often did I wish myself with you, but in vain – I was obliged to proceed; the country which still retains verdure sufficient to render it very beautiful, filled my soul with the most poignant distress, that part more specially from Salisbury to Fordingbridge – I looked for the footsteps of my beloved Eccles – every place – every tree forcibly reminded me of my loss – ah! how bitterly did I then feel it – I even wished in those painful moments, the carriage might overturn and give me immediate death – for life was insupportable!

     When I entered the town I turned instantly sick, – a total suspension of sense would have been a desirable event, but I am still reserved for a life of unmixed anguish.

     Miss Eccles received me with great tenderness; the Miss Eccleses seem agreeable good tempered girls, and had their angelic brother been with me, I should have undoubtedly been very happy with them – when I look at the youngest, I can hardly suppose my Eccles dead – she not only resembles him, but is exactly the same – every feature, – the shape of the face – the turn of her countenance – the smile – the look – the manner perfectly resemble him – I can hardly bear to see her, and yet look on nothing else – I fear I shall oppress her with my eyes; her height, shape and gait are as much like her brother’s as her face – if it was not for the smoothness of her complexion, I should be apt to think her him in disguise. Ah, my God! was such an event possible, how transportingly happy should I be! She is this moment come into the room – Indeed, my dear Mamma, I must not stay here – I am wretched beyond all words – the continual sight of this sister destroys me – I long to be at home to indulge a sorrow, which here I am obliged to restrain. How foolishly I fancied coming to this place would relieve me – it only adds to the weight of what before was insupportable.

     Mr Wood waited on me at the inn at Salisbury, and gave me an invitation to spend a fortnight at his house. Mr and Mrs Gifford also sent the same request, and begged I would make out the winter amongst them, – but it will not do, my Mamma, I must soon return to you again – the fatal arrow rankles in my heart – I cannot fly from it.

     Mr Eccles’s sister who is at Mr Franko’s, sent me a very fine coco-nut and some peaches – the family are exceedingly kind – indeed too kind – for they distress me with their attentions. Mr Eccles’s house is quite in the cottage style, ’tis covered with thatch; had I been happy I should have been charmed with the novelty, and the rural appearance of everything about me, but now,

“The groves, the soft retreats and airy summits,

They wound my busy memory to torture,

And all their shades but add to my distress.”2

They oppress me with apologies, and because I have no appetite, fancy there is nothing I like at their table; ’tis in vain I assure them I am perfectly satisfied, and want only an easy mind to enjoy their good things – they talk of nothing but my condescension, the old gentleman especially. His youngest daughter and I cannot meet each others eyes without tears; she speaks but little, but seems to possess a mind replete with sensibility; indeed she wants only the advantages of education to be like her brother in everything; their constitutions appear to be the same; I cannot help fancying that she will early quit this transitory world; she has by no means the look of long life; – sweet girl, I envy her the resemblance she bears to my Eccles.

     I sleep alone, in a very pretty little apartment, with everything in it very neat; I feel no fears, though the wind has blown almost a storm ever since I have been here; but indeed, I am too wretched to fear; Miss Betsy Eccles and myself were obliged to quit the table at dinner today, we distress each other when we meet, which is not too often for she flies me – she tells her father that she loves me, but she is very shy; her sister is more chatty a great deal, she is not so handsome as her sister Betsy, but her manner is very affectionate and attentive; had my beloved been with us, we should have been very happy, I make no doubt; but now everything is painful to me; you may be assured, my Mamma, that I will make my stay as short as possible; this place fills my3 mind with glooms and horrors; the idea of the happiness I have lost, tortures my soul with the keenest anguish; I don’t think I shall stir out of the house till I return to London; pity your unhappy girl, – she has lost everything, even hope itself – despair has taken possession of me; there is only one idea gives me any satisfaction, which is that I have the best, the most indulgent of mothers, and friends whose tenderness has been tried by adversity.

     Will my Mamma be so obliging as to let Mrs Collier read this letter, for I have not time to write another narrative, I shall therefore only enclose a few lines to her now. Give my affectionate love to my brothers and sisters, to Miss Dunkin, Mrs Knight, etc.: tell them I exceedingly wish to hear from them. May I expect a letter from you next week? It will give me the greatest satisfaction I am capable of tasting, for be assured I am your dutiful though afflicted girl

                                                         Mary Hays


Fordingbridge, October 21, 1780.

1 Brooks, Correspondence 227-29; Wedd, Love Letters 213-16. Wedd's title: "Mary to Mrs. Hays from Fordingbridge."

2 Lines from Thomson's Tancred and Sigismunda (London: A. Millar, 1745), Act III, scene 1. 

3 me] MS