22 December 1783
Robert Robinson, Chesterton, [near Cambridge], to Mary Hays, [Gainsford Street], 22 December 1783.1
Chesterton, Monday Dec’r 22 1783
Though I generally make use of an amanuensis, yet I seldom do so to your sex, but at present I am obliged to serve all alike. Just after I received your last I was getting into a coach, when the coachman rather too quick for me clapped the door to, and caught two of my fingers. I have been obliged to nurse them ever since, and am happy to find they are almost well. It was my right hand, and I have not yet been able to hold a pen with more than a finger or two. First, give me leave to tell you, yea to threaten you that, if you do not leave of complimenting me, as soon as I can write, I will spoil a quire of paper, and stretch every power I have to try to out compliment you. Would not that be an edifying correspondence?
I hope shortly to have the pleasure of seeing you in London, for I fear I must spend from the 15th of April to the 25th in the turbulence of town. At present I am enjoying a rural peace by directing one to plant my garden, another to dress my pastures, another to sow my barley, travelling about to inspect calves and colts, and young plantations. I have been obliged for some weeks thus to nurse my shattered fingers. What a contrast to all this is the frippery of town!
It does not signify, good Miss Hayes, for once, for this once you must submit to an amanuensis. Consider it in the light of a messenger bringing an apology. An apology is certainly necessary for not answering a lady’s letter from July to December.
Give me leave to inform you that, beside frequent preaching at Cambridge and elsewhere, the largeness of my family obliges me to occupy a farm of two hundred acres. A dairy of seventy cows, a team of horses, a herd of swine, ploughing, manuring, sowing, weeding, mowing, reaping, threshing, fencing, and all the et ceteras of agriculture require no small time and attention. Your favour came (good news from a far country) to refresh me in harvest, at a time of field fatigue, a sort of cordial to invigorate me, who drink nothing but water, milk, and tea. Gratitude alone made me resolve to return thanks in a letter the moment harvest was in. That day some of my servants fell ill, and I instead of writing was forced to direct strangers to prepare by ploughing, harrowing, ditching, and so forth near fifty acres for the next crop of wheat, and then to see it all sown. Well, the moment the seed is all in the ground I will write to Miss Hayes. Alas! Next to seed time comes a law suit with Mr Lepard, which in an arbitration, an arbitration highly satisfactory to me, not only for awarding me all my money, but for securing my integrity, which my opponent had taken infinite pains to impeach. Next to this comes the translating several french sermons, and preparing five volumes for the press. All this while a constant train of company, and quantity of letters coming in, and most unanswered. To this add the illness of the young gentleman, who writes for me, who was abed two months. I verily think by this time the compassionate Miss Hayes will cease to blame my silence, and consider me as an object of pity. Had I to choose again, I would flee to the further side of a welsh mountain, and there in privacy and patience possess my soul! As it is I am a mere beast of burden, carressed and persecuted, ridden and wrought, and beaten at night by way of supper. Lepard has not obtained his end, however he has for a year and half exceedingly mortified a man of my pride to pretend to call me into a court of law, and my wife has shed many a tear; and exclaimed, poor man the dissenters would some of them serve you as they served Delaune,2 and let you perish in prison, rather than pay your jail fees! You do not deserve this at their hands. I forgive him all he has done to me, but I do not know how to forget the tears he has caused my mother, my wife, and my young family to shed under an apprehension of my being merely called into a court of law.
After all, what is christianity in the Bible but a display of the character of God? And what is orthodoxy in us but a conformity to that lovely character? the first is a standard, by which all preaching may be tried, the last is a balance in which all professors of religion may be weighed. Without these, all theological words, all emphatical sentences, all rites and forms, all religious modes of distorting the features and convulsing the body are nothing, less than nothing, and vanity itself. So much is semblance of God, so much perfection in a creature. So much contrariety to him, so much resemblance of the most odious of all creatures, the devil. In different degrees on this immense scale all mankind are placed, reward ascending with no virtue, and punishment descending with vice, and falling more and more heavy as it approaches the bottom of the scale.
I only mean this as an apology for not writing, and as an inducement to you to take a pen, that never scribbled impertinence, and always becomes in your hand an olive branch of peace. My wife and house join in compliments to your good parent, yourself, and all your family, on whom may every benediction rest!
Address: Miss Hays
1 Misc. MS. 2156, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 252-54; Christian Reformer 11 (September 1844), 816-17.
2 Thomas Delaune (1635-85) was imprisoned in Newgate in 1684 for "seditious" activities as a Dissenting preacher. Tragically, he and his family died there the following year.