15 July 1788

Robert Robinson, Chesterton, [near Cambridge], to Mary Hays, Gainsford Street, 15 July 1788.1


Chesterton, July 15th 1788.


Dear Miss Hayes

       Is there not a sort of fatality in our correspondence? How it was dropped I am not able to say. Certainly without any design. When your last favour came June 22d I was that day set off for an excursion of a month. The wife has been in Norfolk three months for the benefit of her native air. I was happy to find on my arrival she was so much better as to be able to ride out every day and once she rode to meeting, seven miles on a single horse, and returned a little but not much fatigued. I left her in Norfolk, where she wishes to stay till September.

       On my return a few days sooner than I expected, I had the pleasure to find among my letters one from you, which not a little pleased me before I opened it, though I expected some deserved reproof but you was very good, and I was very thankful.

       I cannot recollect to what friend I mentioned Miss Hayes (for I have inquired of many) but to whomsoever it was I present my most respectful thanks. Assuredly he did me a great favour.

      I have been happy to hear from your own pen of your calm condition of mind. I pray God preserve it. I have no present prospect of ever seeing Gainsford Street again, and perhaps you will inquire what I do with myself.

       You must know, my eldest daughter is married and to her husband2 I have put off my farm, and all business, so that now I have ^no^ employ of that kind except to keep my house in repair, to cultivate my garden, to keep my pleasure boat in trim, to watch my bees, and to purr,3 like old puss by the fire, to my wife and family. We are a sort of nunnery concealed by brick walls and high trees, guarded in front by the river, our back to the town and our prospect the fields, and we have no ideas of solitude. Had Mrs Robinson her health, all would have a zest.

       My chief enjoyment is the ample provision for entertainment, which the vast libraries of Cambridge afford. By special favour I am allowed to send for what books I please, and for the last two or three years I have buried myself alive in ecclesiastical history, particularly that branch of it, the history of the baptists. I have put together as much as would make one quarto volume on the history of baptism, and as much as would make two more on the history of the baptists. My plan will be completed by one volume more. I have found, I had almost said infinite, instruction and entertainment in the pursuit, but I have not yet determined to publish it, and I doubt whether I ever shall.4

      Thus I spend my time while I wait for my dissolution, for it becomes a mortal to look for that day, and it becomes a christian to be found of his master watching, and working blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing.

      I own I am proud to know that my friends in town do not forget me, for friendship is the balm of life. Several visit me, and as I expect one this week I shall lay up this letter till his return, and give it him to send by the penny post.

       Assure yourself, Madam, I shall always be happy to hear of your welfare, and more, if it were practicable, to see you: but present or absent, I wish you every felicity, and above all that which the possession of religion communicates. Other pleasures are, some sinful, others futile, all transitory, this only is substantial, because this only is eternal. My comps to all your good family.

                        I am, Dear Miss Hays,

                                     yr obedt humble servt R. Robinson


Address: Miss Hays | Gainsford Street | Southwark

1 Misc. MS. 2158, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 254-56; Christian Reformer 11 (September 1844), 817-18.

2 William Curtis of Chesterton (1761-1829), son of the Rev. Thomas Curtis of Linton, was for some time Robert Robinson’s assistant and amanuensis and later the manager of Robinson’s Chesterton farm.  He married Robinson’s daughter, Ellen, in 1786, and later assisted William Frend in preparing Robinson’s Ecclesiastical Researches (1792) for the press.   Apparently he withdrew from the congregation at St. Andrew’s shortly after Robert Hall’s arrival in 1791, most likely due to theological differences, probably Arianism, for two of his sister-in-laws became Unitarians along with Mary Hays (see their letters in this collection). From 1791 to 1801, Curtis was the innkeeper at the Cardinal’s Cap, a popular inn in Cambridge, and later (1801-14) at The Hoop, in Bridge-street, Cambridge.  For more on Curtis, see Church Book: St. Andrew’s Street xiv, 71, 73,75-76, 125, 137; Cambridge Intelligencer 16 May 1801, 28 November 1801.

3 pur] MS

4 Robinson's monumental The History of Baptism (London: Printed by Couchman and Fry, for Thomas Knott, 1790), appeared as one volume in the year of Robinson's death, with editorial assistance provided by George Dyer, Hays's friend and correspondent after 1792. Mary Hays subscribed (listed as "Miss Hayes" in "Gainsford Street, Southwark"), as did John Dunkin, Jr., his address listed at that time as Thomas Street, Southwark, no longer Hays's neighbor in Gainsford Street and just prior to his move further south to the Paragon along Kent Road. Other subscribers known to Hays after 1790 include a host of Unitarians (some were her correspondents and nearly all appear in her letters), such as Samuel Brown, George Dyer, John Disney, John Evans, Joseph Jeffries Evans, William Frend, William Kingsford, Theophilus Lindsey, Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, Anthony Robinson, John Towill Rutt, and Hugh Worthington. Other Southwark Baptists who subscribed besides Dunkin include Samuel Favell, John Gill, Esq., Joseph Gurney, Henry Keene, Stephen Lowdell, Henry Smithers, Benjamin Tomkins, and in Broughton, Hampshire, Mrs. Martha Steele (d. 1791), whose step-daughter, the poet Mary Steele (1753-1813), would see her literary circle merge with that of Mary Hays through her introduction to Steele's Leicester friend, Mary Reid (1769-1839), in London in 1796.