15 November 1791

Hugh Worthington, [Highbury Place], to Mary and Elizabeth Hays, [Gainsford Street], 15 November 1791.1


My Dear Friends

       Under this character I address you both, & esteem myself honor’d by & indebted to you both. Tho’ conscious to myself, that I by no means deserve what you have been pleased to say, either of my character or my services, yet I would put down yr expressions to the account of generous partiality, & not of intentional flattery. You are above ye latter, & show yourselves singularly capable of the former. Assure yrselves that I have a very grateful sense of yr united kindness, & will on all occasions do what I can to assist yr enquiries after truth in general, or the sense of Revelation in particular. Perhaps no 2 persons think exactly alike in every point of moral & theological opinion, & it is not necessary they should. Let us agree to differ. Unity in charity is much better than unity in sentiment.

       On the subject of Xt’s death, yr thoughts come very near my own, and the precision wth wch you distinguish is only equalled by ye modesty wth wch you write. We are perfectly agreed in ye negative view of ye subject, but I carry ye positive somewhat farther than you do.2 Permit me to recommend to ye very attentive perusal of you both the 10th and 11th sermons in the inclosed Vol.; They convey my sentiments wth more accuracy & fulness, than any letter I could write, even if ye whole week were employed in framing it. They are ye labor of a man who has taken great pains to study ye doctrine; but judge for yourselves. I resemble Dr Price in one thing (would I did in 100 more) in being “free from the rage of Proselytetism”; I wish all to think for themselves, & esteem ye circumstance of making them my Disciples, a very small matter compared with their being ye Disciples of Goodness.3

      As you may keep the Volume as many weeks as you wish, you will probably be pleased with reading ye 2 Discourses on ye state of human nature. They appear to me, tho’ mild & candid, unanswerable by any Calvinist.

       Wishing health much more established & comfort greatly multiplied (in wch Mrs W cordially joins) I am with growing Esteem

                         yr truly obliged

                                    Friend & Servant

                                                 Hugh Worthington

Nov. 15, 91


Address: Miss M. & E. Hayes

1 A. F. Wedd Collection, shelfmark 24.93(11a-b), Dr. Williams's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 268-69. The fact that the letter is addressed to both Mary and Elizabeth Hays is noteworthy, for Elizabeth's presence within Mary Hays's religious and literary circle has only recently been recovered, along with her novel, Fatal Errors, composed in 1796-97 and critiqued by Wollstonecraft but lost to posterity until 2016.

2 The negative view of the Atonement that Worthington is referencing here is the belief among the orthodox sects that Christ's death was propitiatory, satisfying God's penalty for the sins of humanity. To the Unitarians (and many had objected to this prior to the 1790s), this view created a negative image of a God who exacts punitive damages from his son for the sins of others, a payment that, to the Calvinist, was efficacious only for the sins of the elect, not for all mankind. The positive view that Worthington preferred was that Christ's death was an example of selfless love to God, an act that provided the gift of eternal life sufficient for all and a model for all persons to follow. 

3 Richard Price (1723-91) was a prominent British philosopher, Unitarian minister, and radical political pamphleteer. He became minister to the Dissenting congregation at Newington Green in 1758 and continued his ministry there even after becoming afternoon preacher n 1770 at the Presbyterian congregation (later turned Unitarian) meeting at the Gravel Pit, Hackney. He also had a part in the ministry at the congregation in the Old Jewry. He knew many of the American revolutionaries, such as Franklin, Jefferson, and Paine, and was influential upon Mary Wollstonecraft when she attended his services in the late 1780s at Newington Green. He became endeared to the advocates of political reform for his famous sermon preached on the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution in England and praising the recent revolution in France, A Discourse on the Love of our Country (1789). Theologically, Price was an Arian (similar to Worthington) but not a Socinian like Priestley.