23 March 1796
Mary Hays, [30 Kirby Street], to William Godwin, 25 Chalton Street, Somers Town, [Wednesday], 23 March 1796.1
I take up my pen to address you, prompted by inclination, as well as by grateful esteem; yet, I feel, that I am to you, as one whose intellects are exhausted – & that I have nothing interesting to say, nothing deserving your attention. – Neither, can I get rid of the idea, that my late confidence has lower’d me in your esteem, I ought perhaps, to blush myself at the recollection of my extravagant fanaticism – whether from organization, or habit, or a mixture of both, I cannot tell, but I ever have been, &, I fear, ever shall be, in all my pursuits, an incorrigible enthusiast. The fervor of my disposition is rather, I believe, delirium, than vigor – it exhaust’s [sic], and leaves me vapid & spiritless.
You tell me, that I am ‘ill humoured’, & you seem to impute to me, as a fault, that I am not always, & equally, pleased. – Ah! my friend – do you speak from experience, are you, indeed, continually happy & satisfied – do you seek to deceive me, or do you really deceive yourself? I am <-> far from well, I cannot get rid of my cold, morbid & phlegmatic sensations have no tendency to produce cheerfulness; yet I am not more dispirited than usual; the temperature of my mind, has, at present, some resemblance to that of the atmosphere, it is still & gloomy – but the sun will ere long pierce the clouds, & spring will return – Yet, not, I fear, to me!
I am not satisfied with the work I am engaged in, I had better, perhaps, have chosen a different subject, but it is now too late to recede. You urge me, respecting story, I have little invention, am too fastidious, & too addicted to philosophical habits of truth – Impart to me a share of your all creative genius, & I might then have a chance of success. The most interesting Romance in the world, has little story – Rousseau’s Heloise – What presumption is implied in this remark! I begin to be fearful, that I may not be able to preserve my present situation, & indeed, I know not how to return!
I am ashamed of thus complaining for ever – of thus for ever repeating – I am not happy – Who is? Nobody but you – &, even, here my scepticism intrudes itself. Your visits to me, lately, are shorter than they used to be, & at longer intervals, no wonder – those who love not their own company, can afford little entertainment to others. But do not think that I mean to be querulous, indeed I do not, I am, & shall ever confess myself myself, greatly indebted to you – your conduct tow’rds me has had in it, the delicacy of humanity.
But a truce with grave subjects, let me tell you, that I was a good deal entertained, on Monday evening, by a visit I made in the city. There were a few friends of mine present, who smiled & were good humoured, & communicated a corresponding hilarity to my heart. The party was large, a motley groupe, & we kept it up late. Among the strangers were a Dr O'Keefe and a Mr Nitch (if I spell their names right) professors of the Kantian philosophy2 – they were very civil to me, & endeavoured to teach me their principles – but I confess they conveyed to me no clear ideas. The Dr said he wou’d visit me, if he does, I must introduce him to you, that is, if you are not already acquainted with him. They spake of Miss Holcroft as one of their disciples – I know not whether it was the daughter of your friend. There were also present military gentleman, fashionable ladies, & a famous performer on the Pedal <-> harp, who brought with him his instrument, to entertain the company – one of the ladies sang, & the german philosopher played on the harpsichord. With one ear, I attended to the music, with the other to the wisdom of the sages, a pretty mixture, while my eyes rested, with pleasure, on the animated countenances of my friends. It was a true English concert, all talk’d & few listen’d, yet my head did not ache, & I came home, at two in the morning, in fresher spirits than ^when^ I went out. Yet, in this festive scene, a sigh wou’d intrude, & once or twice my eyes glistened – I feel the social affections too keenly – why, why, have my pleasures, been like the light breeze of the summer, which refreshes the air but for a moment? – And why do my pains twist themselves with a thousand complicated emotions & reflections, & rend the heart, ere a separation can be effected?
My friend, will you accept this desultory, idle, chit chat, as a letter, & shall it procure me the satisfaction of your conversation?
March 23rd – 1796.
I am ashamed to send you this scrall, but I am really very unwell, & have not spirit, nor power, to write anew.
NB. Dr G3 assured the Kantian gentleman, that I shou’d become their proselyte – for that, like the Athenians, I was ever thirsting after something new. You do not think me so docile, you no longer controvert with me, & I fear, give me up.
Address: Wm Godwin | Somers Town | 25 Chalton Street
Postmark: 24 March 1796, 7 o’clock Night
Post pd 2d
1 MS MH 0018, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 446-48.
2 J. A. O'Keefe, author of An Essay on the Progress of Human Understanding (London: V. Griffiths, 1795) and F. A. Nitsch, a Professor at Konigsberg and former student of Kant and author of A General and Introductory View of Professor Kant's Principles Concerning Man, the World, and the Deity, submitted to the Consideration of the Learned (London: J. Downes, 1796).
3 Apparently at the party was also Hays's friend, Dr. Gregory, an editor at the Analytical Review.