26 March 1783

Robert Robinson, Chesterton, [near Cambridge], to Mary Hays, Gainsford Street, 26 March 1783.1


Chesterton March 26 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 of2 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!       

       I think myself honoured by your inquiries. They discover, as everything you write does a wise and virtuous mind bent upon the acquisition of truth. You are pleased to say, you have examined Claude’s Essay. I flatter myself if you will turn to Vol. ii pag. 152. Note 6th – Pag 155. Note 1 – you will find the best answer I can give you to your questions. I believe both the divine decrees and man’s free agency. In my opinion it is extremely difficult to deny either, and there is no difficulty in believing that the reconciling of them is possible to God, though far above our comprehension.3

       Saurin is indeed out of print, and I am a great sufferer by it though Mr Lepard,4 who bought the copy to reprint, and now refuses to pay for it, having placed it in such a condition that nobody can reprint it, I have been applied to within the last two months for near a hundred and had not one set. My wife had sometime ago asked me for a set for each of my children, and lest any should be imperfect, we had put aside the number of sets and two over: Happily they are perfect as far as we can find. These two sets therefore will be sent in a few days to Mr Keenes5 for you. Our compliments await the whole family. I am, Dear Miss Hays,

                                     yr obliged hble serv’t

                                                R. Robinson


Address:  Miss Hays |Gainsford Street |Southwark

1 Misc. MS. 2155, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 251-52. 

2 of] MS

3Reference is to Robinson's translation of Jean Claude's Essay on the Composition of a Sermon (Cambridge: Hodson, [1779]), complete with Robinson's notes, one of which pertains to Hays's question (posed in a previous letter) concerning the interplay between God's sovereignty and human volition. Robinson's position in the above letter places him squarely within the evangelical Calvinist community of which the Particular Baptists were the most prominent sect, in which both positions exist side by side within the authority and nature of God, yet seemingly  irreconcilable to human reason. 

4 Reference is to Robinson's translation of Jacque Saurin's Sermons: On the Attributes of God. Translated from the original French of the late Revd. James Saurin, Pastor of the French Church at the Hague, 4 vols (Cambridge: Fletcher & Hodson, 1775-82); a 5th volume appeared in 1784, after the lawsuit with Lepard was settled (see following letter), with the title page reading "Printed by E. Fawcett for W. & J. P. Lepard" (William and John Pelly Lepard, both known to Mary Hays). The Lepards were a prominent Southwark Baptist family and friends with the Hays family. Mary Lepard, daughter of the Mr. Lepard mentioned above, was one of Hays's closest friends during her teenage years and appears many times, along with her parents, in the Hays-Eccles Correspondence. For more on the Lepards, see the entry in Biographical Index.

5 Henry Keene (1726?-97), for many years a coal merchant in Blackman Street, Southwark, and later in St. Mary Over-stairs, joined the Baptist congregation in Maze Pond on 3 July 1748, becoming a deacon on 20 May 1765.  Keene’s first wife, Mary, died on 16 March 1767. His second wife, Mary Winch, joined Maze Pond on 3 November 1765, remaining a member until her death in 1813.  Keene was first appointed a Deputy to the Protestant Dissenters Fund in 1757, serving into the 1780s.  Keene and Thomas Flight became Messengers to the Particular Baptist Fund in 1768, serving almost continuously until their deaths (see Benjamin Beddome to Henry Keene, 14 September 1772, Mann Collection). Like many of Flower’s London friends, Keene was a generous subscriber to the Sunday School Society in 1789 (Plan 31).  In 1795 he served, along with James Dore, on a London Committee for the Baptist Missionary Society that recommended the creation of what would later become the Baptist mission in Sierra Leone (see Abraham Booth to Andrew Fuller, 30 March 1795, Mann Collection). He was also active in the movement for political reform and religious toleration in the 1780s and early 1790s. Like Flower and Robert Robinson of Cambridge, Keene was a member of the Society for Constitutional Information (“Lists of the Members” 6).  He also served on the Committee of Protestant Dissenters for the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the late 1780s. Robinson knew Keene in the 1770s. His sermon, Christianity a System of Humanity.  A Sermon in behalf of the Protestant Dissenting Charity-School, at Horsly-Down, Southwark, for the Education and Clothing of fifty Poor Boys, preached at Salters’ Hall, London, on Wednesday, March 3d, 1779 (Cambridge: Printed and sold by T. Fletcher, on the Market-Hill, also by J. Buckland, Paternoster-Row, London, 1779), is prefaced by “A brief account of charity-school, at Horsly-down, Southwark,” written by Keene, who was serving as the school's treasurer at that time. This event may have been Mary Hays's initial introduction to Robinson. Robinson continued his friendship with Keene, commemorating his gift of a cow to Keene (not long after the time of the above letter) in a poem titled The Rocket Cow (Biggleswade: T. W. Spong, 1784). Robinson's explanatory note at the end of the poem reads: 

N.B. – The above Lines accompanying the present of a Cow, were addressed to Mr. Henry Keene, of Walworth, by the late Rev. Robert Robinson, of Cambridge, as a grateful acknowledgment of kindness received by him during an attack of Small Pox at the house of his friend, in 1784.

    Here is Robinson's poem, from a copy kept by Henry Crabb Robinson and placed within his copy of Dyer's Memoir of Robert Robinson (1795) (shelfmark 5146 H.C.R. (I.)39, Dr. Williams's Library, London):

These are to certify good Men and True,

That I have conveyed the white Heifer to you,

To have and to hold for ever and ye,

On condition of finding her good Grass and Hay.


Go gentle Rocket serve that faithful friend,

Who saved your Master from the spotted fiend—

Go milk-white messenger to “Walworth” go,

And be the generous Harry’s own milch Cow.

When Godfrey doffs his hat with low’ring brow,

And hacks out, Sir, I’ve lost the Rocket Cow;

I’ll ease his heart by telling him a tale,

And make him swicker as with harvest ale—

The Heifer, Godfrey, is to London gone,

To serve my friend–my friend, I had but one:

For know my boy there was a dismal day,

When I your Master trav’ling lost my way,

Forth from a thicket where I dream’t no ill,

A Tiger sprung—I think I see him still,

Fast in his horrid fangs he clasp’d me round,

And foaming laid me sprawling on the ground;

O Godfrey, had you heard your Master cry,

(We heard you, Sir, but none of us were nigh)

Well one was nigh and he a humane man,

Kind and intrepid out the Hero ran,

Touchd to the quick to see my piteous case,

The tear of friendship trickling down his face,

He stamp’d his foot and gave one deadly blow,

The Tiger struggled and his hold let go,

I sprang and fell at my deliverer’s feet,

And vow’d an offering should his Mansion greet.

Godfrey, observe, some hundred years ago,

Before mankind did God the true God know,

They daily offer’d to the unknown good,

A cup of milk, or wine, or salt, or blood,

And when in trouble tried to bribe his power

By promising to make the offering more.

But when the God who lives and reigns above,

Unfolded to his creatures heavenly love—

Magnificent he shone, and thus he said,

I’ll take no bull, no goat, no wine, no blood;

Yet call on me in all your darksome days,

I’ll set you free and you shall give me praise.

Ah! Godfrey, gratitude’s a painful thing—

High heaves my heart, some offering I must bring,

What can I do, God will not have it, then 

To ease myself I’ll force that best of men,

That actor of my God in that sad scene,

The great, the good, the generous Henry Keene.

Go favourite heifer, browse beneath his eye,

Crop his rich herbage, near his garden lie:

Lie full in sight the live-long summer’s day,

And round him when he walks my homage pay.

See where he comes, his consort by his side,

The best of wives, his virtue, and his pride—

Twice every day your udder fill nor fail,

Gently to low for Molly and the pail—

She’ll milk you softly don’t you kick her down,

Nor whisk your tail about her Sunday gown.

Methinks I see the full froth’d pail go in.

I see that thirsty heathen Griffiths grin,

O hang the Cow, why don’t she porter give,

By beer and not by milk mankind must live.

Not so, the good old father Winch replies,

His face a cherubs and a dove’s his eyes,

Mistress, I’ll have some milk, Oh! I could live,

Tho’ Heaven had nothing else but milk to give.

I knew a widow who with one milch Cow

Brought up six sons, there’s no such woman now—

Milk was the beverage of Paradise,

Milk harmless milk, that never gender’d vice.

Run, Judith run, your Mistress rings for cream,

See there the circle sits that I esteem,

There sits the Governor like ancient jove,

The man made up of all that mortals love—

There sits the Queen of all domestic peace

And there the man of God with looks of grace;

There Isaac simpers and there Stavely stares,

And there perchance some stranger unawares.

But all are wise and every one loves cream,

E’en tea insipid without that they deem—

But what thy milk and what thy luscious cream,

Delightful Cow, there’s magic in the theme:

Thy silver-fluid Manufacturers know,

Simple and mixed in many channels flow—

With milk the Baker shortens his hot roll,

With milk and rum the Vinter fills the bowl,

With milk the Plasterer silvers o’er the wall,

With milk are Poultry whiten’d for the stall,

With milk the Farmer fats both pork and calf,

And of a pudding milk’s the better half—

With milk the wench stirs up the Ploughman’s froise,

And fries nice shrove-tide Pancakes for good boys,

Cheese-cakes and custards from the milk pail flow,

And thence comes syllabubs and trifles too –

Thence curds-and-whey, posset and white pot come,

Thence many a nick-nack at the Farmer’s home.

See how the flummery on the table shakes,

And how the broad flat hasty pudding quakes,

The gay peas pottage and the gooseberry fool,

The soft milk broth, light food for boys at school.

When Dr. Trindle has spent all his brains,

And could not cure his patient’s racking pains,

A poultice and a glister milk became,

Performed the cure and stole poor Trindle’s fame.

Yet what are these and what ten thousand more!

Thy staple traffick who can e’er explore,

Thy weekly butter and thy daily cheese,

Employ and keep some thousands at their ease—

Thine annual calf, thy rich manure, thine all

Demands a tribute both from great and small.

Go universal blessing, Rocket go,

Long live and preach, and let your Master know

God gave a noble present when he gave—the Cow.