11 January 1783
Robert Robinson, Chesterton,1 to Mary Hays, [Gainsford Street], 11 January 1783.2
Chesterton Jan. 11: 83
Good Miss Hayes
I had certainly answered your complaisant favour of the 27th of last month had I not been ill. I take this first opportunity of laying my acknowledgements at your feet.
Short as the narrative you give of yourself is,3 it is a miniature portrait of a lady in danger and distress, the work of an exquisite artist calculated to touch the heart. Happy for you and your friends it is an historical portrait of what was. I can easily conceive, that a person in such a condition must be very susceptible of disagreable impressions from such objects as distort christianity and tire out the most patient spectator. The power of deism lies in its dress, that of christianity in itself. Who would not prefer innocence and beauty in rags before deformity and prostitution in fashionable finery?
I am obliged to be silent on all that part of your letter, which concerns myself, only I must take the liberty to say that you have adopted that mode of instruction which the preceptors of princes of Egypt formerly did, that is they ascribed to them such virtues, not as the princes had but as they ought to have. Some of them took the hint and refined their manners. I wish I could do so, and be the man you describe. If ever piety was rendered amiable by an insinuating manner of describing it, it must be so by the aid of your elegant pen. No, you are not my pupil, but my friend, and if there be objections, which I can say anything towards removing, I shall always be extremely happy to contribute all in my power to such a work, yet give me leave to say if Miss Hayes expects too much with a correspondent equal to her self for fine sense and delicacy of stile, she will be disappointed in her poor, dull impoverished
Thanks for the frank, and compliments, in which Mrs Robinson and family join to Mrs Hayes and all the branches of your family.
Address: Miss Hayes
1 At the time of the above letter, Chesterton was a small rural village about two miles from the city centre of Cambridge; now it is a suburb of Cambridge.
2 Misc. MS. 2154, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 250-51; Christian Reformer 11 (September 1844), 815.
3 Hays had composed a short narrative of her life, most likely focusing on her recent affair with John Eccles, demonstrating in her writing an ability that was noticeable to Robinson, a successful writer himself. He offers the first critique of Hays as a writer, referring to her as an "exquisite artist" with an "elegant pen" and possessing a "fine sense and delicacy of stile."