10 March 1796
Mary Hays, [30 Kirby Street], to William Godwin, 25 Chalton Street, Somers Town, Thursday, 10 March 1796.1
Thursday Evening – March 10th 96
Now, cannot I settle to anything, till I have sat down to make an apology to you for the blunders of the morning. I was, perhaps, justly punished for my idleness, it is not my general custom to dress by the fire side – but so it happened to day, & the consequence I need not inform you. It is not usual with me to have visitants before twelve o’clock, but with my landlady it is frequently the case, your knock therefore did not alarm me. But you were a little perverse, that you would not walk into the back parlour, for how otherwise was I to make my escape, & had I known how refractory you were, I certainly shou’d not have ventured thro’ ^the^ passage. I did not see you, & therefore, like the ostrich who believes himself concealed when he hides his head, I hope I was not seen ^by^ you – but I confess I was completely mortified, on coming downstairs a few minutes after you had left the house, to find you were gone, & to hear from the servant a detail of the ludicrous particulars. I have laughed, & blushed, twenty times today, at the recollection. Either in my morng dress, or dressed for the day, I shou’d not have hesitated admitting you, at any hour – but I am not sufficiently french in my manners to admit the gentleman to my toilet, & the etceteras of a woman’s dress are not adjusted in a moment, on these subjects I am, perhaps, a little over nice. But enough of this, & let me beg you will forget it.
I know not whether you mean I shou’d understand your quick perusal of my papers as a compliment, but it is certain, that I cannot help feeling it as such. This punctuality & promptness is, in my opinion, the charm & the cement of friendship, it adds tenfold worth to every obligation – Oh! how many heart aches should I have escaped, had I always been treated with this considerate kindness! It is perhaps your general habit, but it is not on that account the less, but the more, valuable! Half the misery of my life has been occasioned by the want of this excellent quality in those with whom I have been connected – It may be, that there are no sufferings more acute, than those which the delicate, susceptible, mind, endures from a state of suspence. You must not be so good & so kind, unless you feel tolerably certain, that my errors & weaknesses will not, in future, deprive me of your esteem. My friendships, lively & constant, become interwoven with my mind and existance – the only real misfortunes in life, in my idea, are the loss & estrangement of friends – Yes; I can bear every thing with more fortitude than the unkindness, or injustice of those whom I regard. – I never expect to experience either from you, & if I am sometimes jealous of your esteem, it is from a deep, & unaffected, conviction of my own want of desert. Tho’ my heart has been lacerated by the coldness & – is cruelty too harsh a term? – of one inflexible spirit ^being^2 – I ought ^to^, & I do, admit the balmy consolation, which is still offer’d me by many gentle, benevolent, spirits. How much of the happiness of life depends on the nameless, lesser, attentions, which the benign heart dictates, the delicacies of humanity, that escape investigation, & are only to be felt. I have talked of these to people who could not understand me. – I have grieved that they could not, both for their sake & my own. You, my friend, I am convinced are not of this number – you do not, or I am much mistaken, “take your good and evil in the gross.”3 – I do wish you had been in love (but not, as I have, tasted only its bitterness) & then you wou’d always understand me, which you are yet, I doubt, notwithstanding your delicacy & sensibility, too wise & too reasonable to do.
I thank you for the little note which accompanied my MS – I thank you for the encouragement it conveyed, but I still feel impatient to have a little conversation with you on the subject – neither shall I get over my mortification of the morng till I have seen you again. On Sunday ^& Friday (tomorrow)^ only, do I know of any engagement4 – you see how I presume, your indulgence spoils me – it produces the greater effect, because I have not lately been – But, why do I revert to the past? – wou’d it were for ever blotted from my memory!
I have been walking all day, & I have tired myself – I cannot believe with Mr H – that ‘weariness is not in the limbs’ – I feel it, at this moment in mine – tho I am always the better for exercise – it seems (as Dr Johnson expressed it) to rub of [sic] the rust of the soul.5 The sun has shone to day, & the air did not pierce me – I was in health & I wou’d not say – ‘all these things are mockery’ – I tried to rejoice in the gift of existence. – To night, I anticipate some hours of calm repose – I have the luxuries of cleanliness, of temperate plenty, I have moral & intellectual powers. I am free from the sting of remorse, I foster no corrosive nor malevolent passions – if there are any who have injured me, I wou’d return it only with kindness – And there are still some, yes, I will believe there are some, who look with an eye of tenderness on my faults, & who love my virtues – A gentle & kindly emotion swells my bosom – I am not miserable this evening! How I prate to you of myself & my feelings!
Good night to you, my friend!
Address: Wm Godwin | Somers Town |No 25 Chalton Street
Postmark: 11 March
post paid 2d
1 MS MH 0017, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 444-46; Wedd, Love Letters 235-37. Having sent a note on 9 March about her MS, Godwin chose to drop by the next morning in person, only to catch Hays not fully dressed; he left, after which she responded in the above letter.
2 Most likely William Frend.
3 Line found in Emma Courtney, 1.177.
4 Godwin's diary records a visit by him to Hays on Saturday, 19 March.
5 A phrase from Samuel Johnson's Rambler, no. 47.