15 September 1796

Mary Wollstonecraft to Mary Hays, undated [15 September 1796].1

    I send you the fourth volume of T-S. there are but six, of course you have had them all.2

      If you are not reading the Elegant Enthusiast send it by Mary, and I shall soon return it.3

       Mr Johnson4 has been invited to dine out of town on Sunday, and I requested him not to be ceremonious with us, but receive our visit the Sunday following – Thus stands the engagement.

       A fever, which has tormented my little Darling for some days past, gave me no little uneasiness. I am now relieved by the sight of ^the^ Chicken-pox, and know that she will soon be well again.5

    I am glad to find that you are out of suspense with Robinson.6 Say what day you will drink tea with me – I will then tell you what I think of your Sisters M.S.  It has merit; but displays more rectitude of mind than warmth of imagination.7 Adieu!


Thursday morning


Address: Miss Hays. –

Postmark:  15 September 1796.

1 MS MW 0002, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Todd, Collected Letters 364; Brooks, Correspondence 307. An attached note by the letter collector Mary Heywood Gaskell  reads: 

This letter written by Mrs Wolstonecraft Authoress of the Rights of Woman and addressed to Miss Hays authoress of the Lives of Illustrious Women was given me by Miss Hays 1st May 1836./ –

It may have been written 1792-6 And certainly before her marriage with Godwin / –

Mary Heywood Gaskell (d. 1848) was married to Daniel Gaskell (d. 1875), MP from Wakefield, Yorkshire. A Unitarian and Liberal, Gaskell came from a family of Dissenters that produced three MPs from Lupset Hall, Wakefield. For more on the Gaskells and this letter, see Shelley and his Circle, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library, Wollstonecraft Review, August-September 1976, p. 154, n. 1.     

2 Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, which appeared in numerous 6-volume editions between 1770 and 1794.

3 Reference is to William Beckford's Modern Novel Writing: or, The Elegant Enthusiast (1796), a spoof on sentimental fiction. "Mary" was Wollstonecraft's maid. 

4 The bookseller/publisher Joseph Johnson.

5 Fanny Imlay, Wollstonecraft's daughter with Gilbert Imlay. 

6 The publisher] MS note. The added note was probably to distinguish the reference from the poet and novelist Mary Robinson (1757-1800), whom Hays met about this time or shortly thereafter through Wollstonecraft most likely (see below, Wollstonecraft to Hays, [14 December 1796]). The reference here is to either George Robinson I (d. 1801) or George Robinson II (d. 1821), a father and son who were part of the long-established Robinson bookselling/publishing house in London. Between 1794 and 1801 they were joined by John Robinson (George II's brother) and operated as G. G and J. Robinson at 25 Paternoster Row. They would publish Hays's Emma Courtney about two months after the above letter. 

7 Wollstonecraft is referring here (and in the following letter) to Elizabeth Hays's MS of her novel Fatal Errors, which she would not  publish until 1819. The novel (only one known copy is extant) remained undiscovered until recently and is now available in a new edition by Timothy Whelan and Felicity James as part of the Chawton House Library series of Women Novelists, published by Routledge Press (2019).