26 November 1788
Robert Robinson, Chesterton, [near Cambridge], to Mary Hays, Gainsford Street, Southwark, 26 November 1788.1
Chesterton Wed: Novr 26. 1788.
I have a singular pleasure in all the letters with which your friendship indulges me; though your last (for which however I thank you) had like to have led me into an unpleasant mistake. Saturday is market-day at Cambridge. On that day I very seldom go to Cambridge, but, so it happened, I went last Saturday to do some business necessary to one of my sons, who was going to London on Monday to meet his ship, the Mary Captain Bell about to set sail for Smyrna. Your favour came to my hand in the bustle of business, and I just ran it over. There was something in it, which, for a reason to be mentioned presently, lay very near my heart. I dined and drank tea in town, and, for a very silly purpose refused a servant and a light to conduct me home. Indeed the evening was very dark, but I had no doubt of being perfect in the way, and I hate the incumbrance of attendance. Musing, however, on one article of your letter, I paid no attention to my path, and when I should have arrived at a stile, lo I was stopped by a quick hedge. In brief, I lost my way, and the more I strove to find it, the more effectually was I lost. I clasped and surveyed the trees, but they were all strangers. I crept through ditches and hedges in hope of knowing the next close, but wheeled round and round till I knew not where Chesterton or where Cambridge stood. Afraid of wet ditches, pasture-ponds, and above all the river, I paced up and down an hour and half, and at length stumbled into a lane that leads to the Church-yard, at which I was not a little glad. Some years ago, I sent a neighbour on such a night [on] the same road, and as it was very cold I gave him a bumper of rum. He lost himself half the night in the same manner, and despairing of success, and afraid of the cattle-ponds, he crept into a hay-stack, and slept till the moon rose. I have often since laughed at him for losing himself in a path so plain, and told him it could not have been unless the rum had muzzed his pate, for which, I blamed myself. As soon as I had done preaching last Lord’s day, George did not fail to come smiling to congratulate me with “Sir, I dare say, you had no rum last night” “And yet” I replied, “I got lost.” So now George and Robin are on an even scale, with which we are not a little pleasant^ed.^ Behold how good and pleasant ’tis – for brethren to agree! – ’tis like the oil divinely sweet on Aaron’s rev’rend head &c.2
What fixed me in your letter was the article of Church-communion, and to let you into the reason I must I must tell you a little tale. I year ago I lost at sixteen years of age, the loveliest of all girls,3 beautiful in person, wit in her mind, vivacity in her eyes, ease in her manners, and piety and benevolence in all her actions. The wound was deep, and time has done little to close it. She knitted me purses of various hues and pencilled landscapes and coloured flowers, which I have neither the prudence to avoid, nor the courage to survey. I see the charming Julia near six feet high, and elegantly slender, strait as a pine and stepping like a grace, yet living and walking before me. No! I see her decline for two years, and at length recline her head on a pillow, saying, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,”4 and without pain, sigh, or groan, stop like a watch gone down. Then this was my picture
As on some lonely building's top
The sparrow tells her moan
Far from the tents of joy and hope,
I sit and grieve alone.5
Out of this darkness the God of providence caused light to arise. Julia’s sisters had often said to me during her illness “Father, Julia is an angel.” The loss, which they most severely felt, excited them to perform what they had till then neglected; and I had the happiness some time after of baptizing at once six of my family, and of seeing the church admit them to communion.
About three weeks ago my daughter Mary was married to a Mr Samuel Brown, wine merchant No 2 Lovelane, Eastcheap, and her elder sister, Nancy, went to town with her to stay two or three weeks.6 I do not know whether you have complimented Mrs Brown, or whether you will ever think proper to do so, but you may well suppose the article of communion in London has often been a subject of discussion here. Nancy writes, I heard Mr such a one (she did not know his name. He was an occasional preacher) and it was not a sermon of orthodoxy but information. This is their taste.
I have said to these girls, Impose no restraints upon your dependents, and suffer no superiors to impose any upon you in matters of religion. If you wish to maintain a regular orderly course of life, associate yourselves in fellowship with some christian church. If you wish to be useful in a church, exert yourselves to be good, but by no means create or cherish disputes that end in divisions. Secure the friendship of all in doing kind offices to all, and, if you cannot be happy in this course, peaceably withdraw. If you mean to be happy in church-communion study the minister, and choose him less by his pulpit accomplishments than by his general manners. If he be a vain pedant, he will visit you only to display his skill, and to acquire applause. If he be an ignorant man his rude manners will disgust you. If he be a bigot he will rack your conscience. If he be a busy-body he will make mischief in your family. Do not suffer yourselves to be beguiled by his talents, but observe his temper, and when you see in him the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh verses of the thirteenth chapter of the first of Corinthians, pay such respect to him as is due to one, whose light shineth so that men may see his good works, and glorify his God. Last summer we had the pleasure of seeing the gentleman, on whose ministry you attend.7 He spent a Lord’s day here, but he could not be prevailed on to preach. He staid a few days and preached at the other meeting in pure tenderness to the minister, who was then ill, and is since dead. I forget now what happened but I could not have the pleasure of hearing Mr B. He favoured me, however, with visiting Chesterton, and he charmed all my family with his entertaining conversation. He seemed to us a very sensible, and a very well-bred man, and, what was more than all, a sincere disciple of Jesus. His literature appeared to us polished by travel, and by a taste beyond what we had ever seen in London minsters, who are not remarkable for wit, ease, and elegance of manners. This is all I know of that charming man.
I shall reserve this letter a few days, and send it in a parcel to Mrs Brown. My parcel is half a dozen copies of a sermon now printing.8 I shall beg your acceptance of one, and if you will order a servant to call on Mrs Brown, I shall beg the favour of her to send it to you. [Paper torn] by my late adventure one of the comforts of living in the country, [paper torn] evening vails the beauty of scenery. Now I have a show-piece to survey. Every thing looks cold. The old yard-dog slowly trudges round, and returns for shelter to his cell, and the swans are prying about for me, and my daily boon, a morsel of bread. I think there is something in your observation, and different situations excite very different emotions, confined or expanded similar to the surrounding scenes. The reflection is highly to the honour of Londoners, for many of them have fine ideas though they are surrounded with brick walls. I hate confinement, and when immured in a city. I think of nothing but how to escape. Every situation, however, has its advantages along with its disadvantages, and probably they are more evenly adjusted than we sometimes imagine.
I humbly thank you, Madam, for your good opinion of me. I wish I were half what you suppose but then I should grow proud, and so as I am, I beg leave to subscribe myself, Madam, your obedient humble servant,
My family all join in Comps to yourself, and all your family.
Address: Miss Hayes | Gainsford Street | Southwark
1 Misc. MS. 2159, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 256-58; Christian Reformer 11 (September 1844), 818-20.
2 Exodus 29:7.
3 Julia Robinson died in 1787; George Dyer composed a memorial elegy for her, "On the Death of a Young Lady," that later appeared in his Poems (London, 1792), 46-47.
4 Luke 23:46.
5 From Isaac Watts' hymn based on Psalm 101, from The Psalms of David, in The Works of Isaac Watts, 9 vols (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, [and others], 1813), 9.95.
6 Mary Robinson Brown and her sister, Ann, will both become friends and correspondents of Mary Hays. Samuel Brown, Robinson's son-in-law, will become a wine merchant in London and, it appears from these letters, a Unitarian. The Browns moved in Hays's circle into the second decade of the 19th century, becoming known to Eliza Fenwick (Mr. Brown assisted in her daughter's removal to Barbados in 1812) and to Mary Steele's good friends, Thomas Mullett of Denmark Hill and his son-in-law, Joseph Jeffries Evans, both of whom became friends of Crabb Robinson and Hays in 1799.
7 Michael Brown, minister at the Gainsford Street Baptist chapel in the Blackfields, Southwark. He does not appear to be related to Samuel Brown. By the late 1780s, he had begun moving toward Arianism and Unitarianism, much like Mary Hays, and thus his views would have been amenable to Robinson at that time. The somewhat harsh opinion of Brown that appears in the Hays-Eccles correspondence had probably softened by the date of the above letter, although the Dunkins and Mrs. Hays would have viewed his doctrinal alteration as heretical, which explains the Dunkins' removal from the church in the mid-1780s.
8 Most likely Robinson's reference is to his famous sermon, Slavery Inconsistent with the Spirit of Christianity. A Sermon preached at Cambridge, on Sunday, Feb. 10, 1788 (Cambridge: Printed by J. Archdeacon ; And sold by Bowtell, and Cowper, Cambridge ; and by Dilly, London, 1788). A second possibility is A Discourse on Sacramental Tests. Delivered at Cambridge Thursday, October 30th, 1788, at a General Meeting of Deputies of the Congregations of Protestant Dissenters in the County of Cambridge (Cambridge: Printed by Francis Hodson. And sold by Bowtell, and Cowper; And by Dilly, London, 1788).