c. Late July-Early August 1780

Letter 124. Mary Hays to Mrs. Collier, late July or early August 1780.1

     No, indeed, my dearest Mamma, Mr Eccles’s health is far from being reestablished; his fever2 has scarce ever been off him all this last week; it does not confine him to the house, but he has no appetite, and is exceedingly weak. I live in perpetual anxiety. When, oh when shall I be at rest? I fear, not on this side the grave. I always felt a presentiment that I should not be happy!

     Ah! my dear mamma, it would indeed be a hard trial to part with my Eccles now, when every obstacle is removed; for the business is now quite settled, and there seems nothing to prevent its taking place, unless this illness of my Eccles should terminate in a decline, which is what I am fearful of. I long to know how he does this morning, for he was freer from the fever last night, than he has yet been; but we have imagined him better several times, and the fever has returned again; if it was intermitting, I should not be so uneasy, as there would be the greatest hope that the bark would carry it off; but the doctor will not treat it as such because it does not return at a particular hour. Your poor girl is ever fluctuating between hope and fear.

Monday evening, 9 o’clock. I have not had time to resume my pen till this moment, as Mr Eccles has been with me all the day; he had a return of the fever last night at the usual hour, and Mr Corney now says “he has not the least doubt of its being intermitting,”  he has therefore ordered the bark to be taken immediately after its leaving him last night; he is to take it as often as possible, and his doctor gives us hopes, that he shall intirely remove it in two or three nights. – God Almighty grant he may not be mistaken! I certainly think it must be intermitting, as he has been perfectly free from it all day, and eat some pudden and potatoes for his dinner with some degree of appetite; he also seemed in pretty good spirits, and said “he felt as if nothing was the matter with him,” but as night came on he experienced the same symptoms as before of the fever returning; yet as it only stays about three hours, and he sleeps pretty comfortably after that, and retains his chearfulness tolerably well, and his strength too considering, I live in hopes of the bark taking effect.

     You may expect (my dear Mamma) a letter next week fraught with despair, or breathing thankfulness to the Almighty for his goodness. I tell you now, that I shall never be able to support the loss of him! Oh! no; I must inevitably sink under a stroke so dreadful! I pray daily (I hope I am not sinful in so doing) that should such an event take place, I may be deprived of life, or of reason; for the idea of thinking in such a situation (when deprived of all that makes life desirable) is worse than the torments of the condemned to eternity! Am I not, my dearest Mamma, a most unhappy girl? To be thus in the first prospect of felicity which I ever experienced, snatched from the fancied dream of bliss, and precipitated into endless ––– but let me stop ––– I will not yet sorrow as one that has no hope! – Hope, thou dear deluding sorceress, still, still will I lean upon thee! I fear what I have written is tinctured with a little too much of the gloomy; but you must attribute it to my present disposition of mind, and situation, as I am quite alone, my Eccles having left me about half an hour; Betsy is out, and my Mamma is with my sister Dunkin,3 who has been in labor ever since seven o’clock this morning, and seems likely to continue as much longer in that situation, so that I imagine I shall have to sleep by myself tonight, as I have not spirits to be with my sister. I seem surrounded with suspense and melancholy; I am sure you pity me! Indeed I never stood more in need of the consolations of friendship! …

     I must now bid my Mamma good-night, as the clock has struck ten, and I expect the postman every minute. Adieu! perhaps you may never see me again; for sure my constitution is not so hardened as to bear everything. – I love you most sincerely,

                                                     Maria Hays

1 Brooks, Correspondence 218-20; Wedd, Love Letters 200-01. Wedd's title: "Bad Reports of Eccles to Mrs. Collier."

2 Most likely John is dying of typhus, for which there was no vaccine or reliable cure; bark, or quinine, tended to affect the symptoms but not the root cause of the fever. 

3 Most likely Joanna Dunkin, second child of John and Joanna Dunkin; she married Nathaniel Palmer in 1798.