1 January 1795

Mary Hays, 2 Paragon Place, Surrey Road, to William Godwin, [25 Chalton Street, Somers Town], 1 January 1795.1


       Never did I peruse a work with greater earnestness & pleasure, nor arrive at the conclusion with more unaffected regret, than the enquiry into the principles of political justice! I seem’d, on shutting the book, to be banish’d from a world of benevolence & wisdom, which I had contemplated with an interest so lively as almost to realise it, & to be obliged to return to “things as they are,”2 to a state of society at which my sick heart has invariably recoil’d & must still continue to recoil. Ah! Is virtue indeed happiness condemned, as at present, to struggle against the vices & prejudices of others? How little virtue have I then to boast! This must surely be the subject on which you candidly tell me you had anticipated my objections & are already more than half a convert: For exquisite organization bespeaks keen susceptibility – & I cannot but suspect that the powers & energy of a mind like yours must have been “roused” & strengthen’d by adversity – adversity which, you justly say, however awakening is in reality an evil. It has been said, Enquire after the sufferings of great men, and you will know why they are great.3 “There is some soul of good in things evil would men observingly distil it out.”4 One of the best & wisest of men, we are told, was a man of sorrows & acquainted with grief.5 If my conjectures are well founded, the objection which I before urged receives <-> additional weight from the conclusion of the second volume: For where is the justice, that so many generations should toil, struggle & suffer, ultimately to assure the felicity of a favoured few, who shall at length reap, without labor, the harvest nourished with the tears & blood of countless millions? Benevolence the most disinterested must surely pause here & reconsider – Is this all the solution that can be given when we ask –

“Why the good mans share

In life, was gall & bitterness of soul?

Why heav’n born truth & moderation fair

Wore the red marks of superstitions scourge?”

Is this all the consolation that can be offered to 

“The good distrest, the noble few!

Who here unbending stand beneath life’s pressure.”6

You will pardon me, for you have encouraged me to speak freely, & the respect with which your superior reason has impress’d my mind is meliorated by the recollection of that candor & benevolence which pervades every page of the admirable work on which I am venturing to descant: had I approved with less ardor of its general principles, I should have felt less solicitous of seeing every difficulty removed. One of my former objections I already begin to suspect originated in misconception. Friendship is indeed the balm of life, but if founded on its proper basis, the conviction of real worth, will undoubtedly become less individual – more diffusive – with the diffusion of those principles which give it birth. Perhaps I am not quite so sanguine respecting the future triumph of mind as the philosophers whom I most unfeignedly revere, but while the mists of prejudice veil our sight & we stumble in darkness, it would indeed be presumption to pretend, with rash hand, to limit the glorious prospects existing, it may be in endless perspective, beyond the boundaries of our scanty & cloudy horizon. These prejudices, I confess, have lost much of their force since reading the work entire, in all its parts, & tracing the principles as they arise in a just & beautiful gradation from the only theory which affords a proper foundation for mental & moral researches – the theory of moral necessity.

       But I forbear to enlarge, you have given me the hope, by which I am much gratified, of farther conversation with you: For this patience & candor, may I be permitted to say, I am grateful? Could you make it convenient to take a family dinner with us, literally so, for the epicurism of reason is the only epicurism we cherish – & would favor me with previous notice, I shou’d have an opportunity of making a Brother & Sister7 participators in the satisfaction I promise myself. But at all times I can sincerely assure Mr Godwin I shall be happy to see him, I am seldom from home, unless when walking for health & exercise, & am never denied. The love of distinction is, you say, an universal passion – mine is never so truly gratified as by the notice & esteem of the wise & worthy.

                                                                Mary Hays.


Janry 1st 1795.  No 2. Paragon Place. Surry Road.


Address: Mr Godwin | Somers Town | 25 Chalton Street.

1 MS MH 0003, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 388-90.

2 Reference is to Godwin's novel, Caleb Williams

3 See Johann Caspar Lavater's Aphorisms on Man (London: J. Johnson, 1794), 171; quoted again (and cited in a footnote) by Hays in her article, "Are Mental Talents Productive of Happiness," in the Monthly Magazine 3 (1797), 358.

4 Taken from Shakespeare's Henry V, Act IV, scene 1, l. 4.

5 Isaiah 53:3.

6 Taken from Thomson's The Seasons, "Winter" (ll. 1054-65).  ·   

7 Godwin will have tea with Hays at 2 Paragon Place on 29 January, but there is no mention before then of having dinner with her family. Hays was living at the Paragon with her mother and her youngest sister, Marianna, and possibly John, although it is more likely that John was already living in Essex and managing properties there belonging to the Dunkin and Hays businesses. The brother and sister mentioned here who would join her at the Dunkins' residence were Elizabeth and Thomas, who had remained at the Gainsford Street home. Thomas Hays will marry Elizabeth Dunkin, John Dunkin's younger half-sister, in December 1796, and they appear to take up residence in the Gainsford Street home for the next few years, with Elizabeth remaining with them and Mrs. Hays at the Paragon. Mary Hays will leave the Dunkin residence and move to Kirby Street in October 1795; in June 1796 Marianna Hays will marry Edward Palmer and move to Little John Street, not far from her sister in Kirby Street.