11 January 1796
Mary Hays, [30 Kirby Street, Hatton Garden], to William Godwin, 25 Chalton Street, Somers Town, Monday evening, 11 January 1796.1
Monday Night. Jan 11. 1796
You think me incapable of heroism, I fear so, &, yet, I am call’d to great exertions – I do not repine at trifles – believe me, I do not! but a blow that has been suspended over my head for days, weeks, months, years, has at length descended, & still I live, & tho’ my tears will flow, in spite of my struggles to suppress them, they are not tears of blood – & my heart, though pierced through is not broken!2 My friend! Come & teach me how to be happy – I am wearied with misery – all nature is to me a blank – I shall, I doubt, never be a philosopher – a barbed & invenomed arrow rankles in my <–> ^bosom^ – philosophy will not heal the festering wound – But you, tho’ a philosopher yourself, will not despise me, you have ever shown a humane & tender consideration for my feelings, it is a proof of the sensibility & of the goodness of your heart, & tho’ a dear friend, the other evening, affected to rally you upon it, she has told me, that it has raised you greatly in her esteem. – I was glad to see her so lively tho’ I knew the gaiety to be very superficial, she has been a great sufferer & with all her strength of mind, her sufferings had well nigh proved fatal – happy for her, & happy for me she is yet, preserved!3 – I shall ever love her, for her affectionate sympathies, she has a warm & generous heart! Yes, I have many excellent friends, & I am sensible of their value – &, yet, ungrateful that I am – I am exquisitely miserable! – I know you will not chide me till I get more strength – I speak to you of my sorrows for your gentleness & kindness have inspired me with confidence – & my desolate heart looks round for support! but don’t mention my weakness to any one, it will do no good. I have had exertions to make &, I believe, have not acquitted myself very ill – &, now, I sink into helpless, infantine, distress! But my mind is not destitute of energy – I have struggled, suffer’d, & conquer’d, before, & by & by I shall again recover – you will still be my good physician, will you not? Call upon me, for the few incidents of my life, & you shall have them, simply, & without disguise – there is nothing extraordinary in them but the mind upon which they have operated, yet, I suppose, they help’d to form that mind!
After all, my friend, what a wretched farce is life! I wou’d willingly sleep & shut my eyes upon it for ever, – but something whispers – this wou’d be wrong. Three times ^for the second time has been twice repeated^ have I had to tear from my heart all its darling, close twisted, associations4 – the blood seems to follow the rending – and still I live – reserved for what? – I was going to say – God only knows, but I know not whether there be a God – if there be – can he sport himself in the miseries of poor, feeble, creatures, forced into existence without their choice, impell’d, by the iron hand of necessity, through mistake into calamity? – But these are not questions to ask you. Who wou’d be born if they cou’d help it? – you wo’d perhaps, for you may do a great deal of good, but I wou’d not, I frankly confess! Torn by conflicting passions, & wasted in anguish – my life is wasting ^wearing^ away, a burthen to myself, a trouble to those who love me, & worthless, I doubt, to every one! Why is all this, whence came I, & wither am I going? Now, I rejoice that I live alone, for I wou’d not wish to be an hourly sorrow to any one. Yet, I shall not desert myself, I shall employ my mind & seek conversation & society – but weaken’d by long suspence, prey’d upon by a combination of feelings – I fear, I greatly fear, the irrevocable blow is struck! I have not been treated altogether kindly, nor generously – but I blame no one – I have been guilty of many errors myself, yet they have sprung from a generous source – few people are able to conceive my feelings, & who is faultless? – My harrassed mind has seem’d a little reliev’d while pouring itself out on paper – The world wo’d say I have chosen a strange confident, but if your heart is inaccessible to tender sympathies, I have but added one more to my numberless mistakes.
May be you will call upon me ere long, friday afternoon, I believe I must spend with some friends.
On looking over what I have written, I perceive it is a wild, incoherent, scrall, but it is the effusion of the moment, & you shall have it – I am at present, worn out with fatigue & anxiety – I shall, I trust, soon be better.
Address: Wm Godwin | Somers Town | 25 Chalton Street
Postmark: not readable
post pd. 2d
1 MS MH 0011, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 422-24.
2 Reference here is to her recent affair with William Frend which he broke off at the end of 1795 or the first week of 1796; some of the material in this letter will make its way into Emma Courtney.
3 Godwin visited Hays for tea on 8 January 1796, joined by Holcroft and Wollstonecraft, his first meeting with her since her return from Europe; their earlier meetings in 1792 had not gone particularly well. Hays is also referencing Wollstonecraft's recent suicide attempt.
4 Reference is to the ending of relationships with three men she has dearly loved: her father (1774), John Eccles (1780), and now William Frend (1796), the latter two being similar in that these men were lovers, though the relationships ended differently, one by death and the other by rejection (apparently twice by this date).