c. September 1780
Letter 128. Mary Hays to Miss Eccles, c. September 1780.1
If it were possible in my present situation to admit of one ray of consolation, it would arise from the idea of acquiring as a correspondent the sister of my beloved Eccles; for his sake I will love you – if you will permit me to do so? for always must the relations of my Eccles be dear to his Maria! his sisters shall be my sisters, and his father mine! Ask him (my dear Madam) if he will accept me for a daughter? In that endearing character I once hoped to stand before him, and have often pleased myself with the idea of endeavoring to obtain his partiality and favor; nor will I yet give up that intention. If he comes to London (and I can assume sufficient composure) I will see him, and solicit his blessing and affection.
It gave me a melancholy pleasure to hear that your dear brother forgot not his Maria in his last moments. Ah! why was I not with him, to support him in these faithful arms; to press him to this fond, this affectionate bosom, and catch his last breath, the fleeting soul from those lips, whose soft, persuasive accents had so often sunk into the inmost recesses of my heart, and dissolved it in love and tenderness. – You, my dear Miss Eccles, though so nearly related to him, knew not half his worth! The confidence he reposed in me was intire, and unbounded! Not a thought of his heart did he ever conceal from me! Such a lover! Such a friend! Ah my God! how can I bear the thought of having lost him for ever? The world is now a scene of tasteless insipidity to me; all that was pleasing in it, seems totally annihilated! I anxiously pant after retirement, and wish for an entire seclusion from a society, which has no longer any charms for me. – My Mamma, who is the best, the most indulgent of parents, has permitted me to put on mourning for my beloved; ’tis a dress I never intend to quit; ’tis the dress most suited to the sadness of my mind! Gaiety and vanity I have for ever done with.
You ask (my dear Madam) how my Eccles seemed when he left London? I will endeavor to give you the account you wish, if I can sufficiently recollect my scattered spirits. – The saturday before he began his journey was the last day that I saw him for any time; he came to our house in the afternoon, and then seemed very weak and low. – My heart felt the keenest anguish, whilst I looked upon him; but I suppressed its feelings, lest I should give him pain; after he had sat about an hour, he suddenly got up, and told me “he must go home and take a bottle of medicine.” I entreated him to stay, and offered to send our servant for it, but he insisted on going, saying “he would be back in a few minutes,” and flew from me. I was alarmed at his manner, and waited in the utmost agitation for his return, when I received a message that he found himself very poorly, and was gone to lie down; terrified beyond expression at this account, I immediately sent to know what was the matter with him – the servant soon returned, but could give me no particular information – “the doctor,” she said, “was with him, and would call on me as soon as he could leave him”; the distress I suffered during this interval was inexpressible!
In less than half an hour his Apothecary came, and told me “there was not the least reason for my being alarmed, for that Mr Eccles had only been seized with a pain in his stomach,2 which proceeded from an oppression of wind, but that he had given him something which had entirely removed it, and he was now a great deal better.” I then desired him to tell me sincerely, if he thought your brother in any danger? for I was very apprehensive of his going into a decline. He assured me “there were no symptoms of it,” and said “he had not the least doubt but that the change of air would restore him in a few weeks.” I then asked if he did not think him too weak to attempt such a journey? He replied “not at all, he may go it with perfect safety.”
In the evening your brother sent to desire I would come and sit with him; I immediately complied with his request (though I had never before been at his lodgings), and staid with him two or three hours. He appeared quite easy and composed; his behavior was affectionate and tender beyond expression, he threw his arms around me, and leaned his head on my shoulder, while his fine eyes swam in tears – he was silent – it was a silence affecting and eloquent beyond the power of words to express; – fearful lest these emotions should overcome his spirits, I assumed a chearfulness that was very far from my heart, and told him that his Apothecary had assured me I should see him again in a few weeks, as well and as saucy as ever. He answered me only with a look of fondness, and compassion, which sunk into my soul! He afterwards became more composed, and talked very seriously – he told me he “had prayed very fervently for me; that he never walked in the night without offering up the most earnest supplications.” I endeavored to soothe3 and console him and had the pleasure of succeeding, for he seemed quite easy and comfortable when I left him, and did not seem to have the least fever upon him.
On sunday I rose very early, and sent to enquire what sort of night he had passed? when to my great surprise, Mrs Ludgater sent me word “that he was gone out with Mr Shepherd, to take a walk on the road.” I stood at the window till they returned, which was soon after. – I flew to the door, and they came in, and my Eccles told me “they had been walking two hours, and that he did not find himself in the least fatigued, on the contrary, he thought the air had refreshed him very much”; he likewise told me “I must excuse his coming to dine with me as he had promised, for that he had appointed to meet Dr Letsome4 at one o’clock, but that he would call in the afternoon and bid me adieu!” I knew the weakness of his spirits, and feared the taking a formal leave of our family might hurry him too much; I therefore told him, I thought he had better not come out after he had been with the physician, but endeavor to keep himself still and composed, to enable him to perform his journey the next day.
He soon after left me, – my fortitude also forsook me, and I gave a free vent to my tears. My heart whispered me, that I had seen him for the last time, though I had not the least suspicion of his dissolution being so near.
On monday morning, Mr Shepherd, who accompanied your brother to the diligence, called on me, and informed me “that his friend went off in very good spirits, and that I might depend upon having a letter from him as soon as he was a little recovered from the fatigue of his journey.”
From that time, till Mr Ludgater returned, I was continually on my knees, I wearied heaven with my supplications. The night before I received that fatal intelligence, I wrote to you, earnestly enquiring after your brother, and begging an immediate answer to my letter, which letters Mr Shepherd (to whom I sent for a direction) offered to get conveyed to Salisbury by a private hand, and I have been since informed, that my Eccles being no more when it arrived, it was returned again to London, and destroyed.
But ah! my dearest madam, how shall I describe to you my sensations upon hearing the dreadful news? Wild, distracted, and outrageous, I accused Providence, and my Creator! I stamped out on the earth in an agony of despair, and made the house echo with my cries; at last my spirits were exhausted, and I sunk into insensibility and stupidity; for three days refused all refreshment – I shed not tears – my senses were confused – my head seemed disordered – I talked calmly but very incoherently – my eyes were fixed, and I scarcely changed my position. My friends were alarmed at my situation; I saw them continually in tears around me – but they did not excite mine – I talked to them – I endeavored to comfort them – those endeavors redoubled their distress; they feared their poor girl’s intellects were affected – but it pleased the Almighty to restore me – nature was almost exhausted, when I was prevailed on to take some sustenance. Tears once more came to my relief, but with them I felt the whole weight of my misfortune – my wildness and impatience all returned, and I again sinfully uttered murmurings and repinings – but I trust God has now brought me to a sense of my unworthiness – humbled in the dust, I acknowledge the justice of his inflictions; he will not suffer a rival in our hearts; mine was too much devoted! He has therefore taken away my idol! Grant me, oh my Creator, submission to thy will! Devotion is the only balm for disappointed love, the soul being too much softened by true tenderness to admit of any other cure.
I sent for Mr Shepherd last Saturday (which was the first time of my seeing him since my Eccles’s decease), and had the satisfaction to hear that he seemed very serious and composed; he said “he now saw the reality of religion, and that there was salvation only through the blood of a Savior.” He desired Mr Shepherd to pray with him, and said “he knew that his recovery was impossible.” He mentioned me – he knew my affection, and was in agonies at the idea of what I should suffer in losing him; “he desired those around him to conceal from me, as much as possible, the very weak state he was in,” – too tender precaution, which only served to add additional weight to the blow, which has forever destroyed my peace! he “wished much to see his father, on account of some little debts (which it was impossible for him to avoid contracting) in this part of the world, and unless,” he said, “he had the promise of their being discharged, he should not die in peace.” Will you, my dear Madam, inform your father that I have a paper in my hands (written by his son some time since, and when he was in perfect health), which I think it proper he should see.
And now, my dear Miss Eccles (a name so loved, so interesting), may I request the favor of your correspondence? I will not impose on your goodness by requiring letters too often, but I wish ever to keep up a connection with a family so near being related to me by the tenderest ties – and if we may allow of the idea, that the blessed in heaven know what passes on earth, will not such a connection be pleasing to him, who was so dear to us both? I flatter myself that you will comply with my desire, that you will not refuse my proffered friendship! Let me hear from you soon to confirm these hopes, and believe me to be with unfeigned sincerity,
Most affectionately yours
1 Brooks, Correspondence 222-25; Wedd, Love Letters 206-11. Wedd's title: "Mary to Miss Eccles."
2 stumach] MS
3 sooth] MS
4 John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1815) attended John Eccles during his final illness. Lettsom founded the medical society of London in 1773, the oldest medical society in the UK. Originally from the British Virgin Islands, he was a Quaker and was educated in Lancashire. He came to London in 1766 and studied at St Thomas’s Hospital. He received his MD from Leyden in 1769. He became a good friend of Benjamin Franklin. He was also involved with Hawes in the founding of the Humane Society in 1774. In the 1790s he was living in Newington Green. At the time of the Eccles affair, Lettsom was working out of Aldergate Street. He built his spacious home at Grove Hill, Camberwell, in 1779, so by the time he assisted Eccles he was living in South London.