16 April 1792
William Frend,1 Jesus College, Cambridge, to [Mary Hays, Gainsford Street], 16 April 1792.2
Mr Brown3 flattered me lately with the agreeable hopes of being introduced on my next journey to London to the acquaintance of a Lady who entertains the highest esteem for the writings of revelation & examines them with that freedom of candour described by Eusebia in the first page of her elegant pamphlet.4 To one who has been under the necessity of listening to the wranglings of contending parties & been wearied with ineffectual struggles against the power of interest & prejudice no higher gratification could be offered than that of hearing sentiments unsophisticated by scholastick learning & drawn without prejudice from the source of truth. Eusebia has given the world a proof that she has dedicated her time & talents to the best employment & she will permit me on Mr B’s account to number myself among her friends & to thank her for the pleasure I received on reading her excellent remarks on social worship. So much candour & sound reasoning cloathed in insinuating language excited in us the hopes that the aid of the fair sex may in future be often called in to soften the animosity & fervour of disputation.
We seem to agree together nearly in our creed. Out of three articles I presume on your assent to two & shall hope soon to have the pleasure of hearing your sentiments on the third. The belief of one God & of one saviour of universal love to mankind are in my view of religion the characteristicks of Christianity. You believe in one God & certainly embrace the apostle’s description of universal benevolence in its full extent, but Unitarians are very much divided at present in their notions of our saviour’s character & it is from you that I expect to hear my own opinion either confirmed or confuted on scriptural grounds.5
There is another subject gently touched on in your work to which I must beg leave to call your further attention. The quotation from Rousseau gives us a very animated description of a character which my own experience leads me to believe was not entirely drawn from the fertility of his imagination. Coming down the mountains of Savoy on sunday I stepped into a church crowded with healthful & happy peasants. The pastor6 an elderly man appeared like a venerable patriarch at the head of his family & as he was walking up & down the church instilled in the minds of a grateful people in the most familiar language lessons of the purest morality. His subject was some of the mortal sins of which he sometimes asked the explanation from the younger part of his audience & then deterred by instructive examples his flock from the commission of vice. Never did I see a more attentive audience nor instruction so easily conveyed. As I was pursuing my journey & meditating on the preacher’s eloquence a peasant overtook me whose looks announced that he had been benefited by similar discourses. I enquired of him the character of the pastor & examined him a little in his theology not that part of it which is peculiar to the romish church but what relates to his conduct here & his expectations hereafter. He loved his pastor & recollected his precepts. From a boy he had been trained up to answer questions publickly in the church & could give a very easy & rational account of his faith. The pastor seems from the peasant’s description to have been the vicaire savoyard of Rousseau7 & if his flock entertained several notions of religion their defects were amply compensated by a much greater portion of benevolence than falls to the lot oftentimes of wiser & more learned congregations.
If the scenery around me & the peasant’s simple tale had excited a regret that my own lot had not fallen in these peaceful vallies the enthusiasm of the moment might have been pleaded on my behalf. But it is our duty to bring the sensibility of our nature under the control of reason. The view of a people rendered happy by the efforts of a benevolent man is pleasing in the eye of an infidel & every Christian whatever his religious persuasion may be ought to rejoice in contemplating such a prospect. Few societies have the manners of the Savoyards & the plain tale of such a pastor would be lost among the refinements of a London audience. How far then does this picture agree with the character of priest pastor or minister delineated in the scriptures or exemplified in our country? What is the scriptural account of a minister or rather is there such a character as a minister among the dissenters & clergymen in the church of England anywhere instituted by Christ or his apostles?
These are questions which I beg leave to suggest to your consideration for though I admire many parts of Rousseau he is not the person whom I should choose for my guide in religious subjects. Eusebia will I am confident receive much satisfaction from the enquiry & on that account accept in good part these hints from her unknown though sincere well-wisher
Jes: Coll: Cambridge
Apr. 16. 1792.
Address: To Eusebia
1 William Frend (1757-1841) began his studies at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1776 and after his graduation in 1780 became a fellow at Jesus College, teaching mathematics and philosophy. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1783 and served two parishes near Cambridge (Long Stanton and Madingley) during his tenure at Jesus College. As he developed friendships with Robert Robinson, George Dyer, and Robert Tyrwhitt in Cambridge in the 1780s (he and Dyer attended regularly at Robinson's Baptist congregation in St. Andrews's Street), Frend's orthodoxy gave way to Unitarianism and his politics embraced many of the radical tenets of reform. He resigned his livings in the two parishes near Cambridge in 1787 and in 1788 acknowledged his adherence to Unitarian doctrine in An Address to the Inhabitants of Cambridge. He followed that work with another bold pamphlet, Thoughts on Subscription to Religious Tests (1788), a work that cost him his tutorship at Jesus College but not his fellowship. He soon became friends with two of the leading Unitarians at that time, Theophilus Lindsey and Joseph Priestley. With the publication in February 1793 of Peace and Union Recommended to the Associated Bodies of Republicans and Anti-Republicans, Frend's heterodoxy could no longer be winked at by the authorities at Cambridge. He was tried by the university in May 1794 and was banished for his offenses, his expulsion from Jesus implemented that September (he still retained his fellowship at Cambridge, not relinquishing it until his marriage in 1808). Frend published a defense of his actions in An Account of the Proceedings in the University of Cambridge Against William Frend (1793) and A Sequel to the Account (1795); by the time of the latter publication he had moved from Cambridge to London, where he would eventually establish himself in the insurance business. He continued his participation in radical politics the remainder of the decade, publishing On the Scarcity of Bread (1795) about the time of his affair with Mary Hays, though they had begun a friendship through correspondence as early as 1792, as the above letter makes clear. Their affair was over by January 1796, about the time he began publishing an important work, Principles of Algebra (1796-99), though for the next decade he would continue to maintain a friendship with Hays that continued to fuel her hope for her eventual marriage to him, a hope that ended in 1808 when he married Sara Blackburne, daughter of Francis Blackburne of Brignall and granddaughter of Archdeacon Francis Blackburne. He became an actuary at the Rock Life Assurance Company in 1806, and later contributed many articles to the Monthly Repository. He espoused progressive ideas about education in his Plan of Universal Education (1832) and his support of the Reform Bill. He died at his home in Tavistock Square in February 1841, just prior to the death of his long-time friend, George Dyer. Hays made much of her correspondence with and attachment to Frend in 1795 in her novel, Emma Courtney (1796).
2 A. F. Wedd Collection, shelfmark 24.93(2), Dr. Williams's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 268-70; Wedd, Love Letters 220-22; Walker, Idea of Being Free 129-31.
3 Samuel Brown, husband of Hays's friend and correspondent, Mary Robinson Brown, was known to Frend and Dyer and formerly attended at St. Andrew's Street with those two men during the tenure of Brown's father-in-law and Hays's mentor and correspondent, Robert Robinson (1735-90).
4 Hays used the nom de plume "Eusebia" (a Greek word for "piety") for her first significant publication, Cursory Remarks on an Enquiry into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship: Inscribed to Gilbert Wakefield, B.A., late fellow of Jesus-College, Cambridge. 2nd ed., with a Postscript (London: T. Knott, No. 47 Lombard Street, 1792). Wakefield and Frend had been colleagues for a time in the same college at Cambridge.
5 Another reference to the debate among the Unitarians between Arian and Socinian views of the nature and person of Christ.
6 pastour] MS (four other times used this way in the above letter).
7 See Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile; or, A New System of Education (1762), Book 4, for his famous depiction of the Savoyard Priest.