29 April-3 May 1796
Mary Hays, [30 Kirby Street], to William Godwin, 25 Chalton Street, Somers Town, undated [Friday, 29 April to Tuesday, 3 May 1796].1
I wonder, if I were to say – I would write to you no more, which I should punish most, you or myself! – For the ‘b-st-y solitude’2 in which I live, requires, that I, who am so fond of talking, especially about myself, should sometimes unburthen my mind: and it flatters my vanity – still myself! – to believe a great philosopher interests himself in my prattle.
But besides abusing my letters on your yesterday’s visit, you were not – indeed you were not! – ‘pretty behaved.’ In the first place, while I had determined to banish selfish sensation, had dressed my self with more than usual care, & exerted all my powers to amuse you, you must needs chuse to be ‘stupid’ – a pretty compliment! I am destined to mortification – Do you think I can always be so meek & so forgiving a creature? I perceive the men are all tyrants. From you, the complaint of stupidity was an intolerable affront – other people might have attributed it to the temperature of the atmosphere, but you acknowledge no physical causes. ^I shoud like to know, whether it had a selfish one.^ Secondly, you were too curious, & ^too^ ensnaring, upon a certain subject – &, on another, exerted your influence to make me forego my principles, & hazard the being unjust. No, no, none of your arguments convinced me, I am, at times, a very untractable being.
And now, as to ingenuousness – you were both ungrateful & malicious – you charged me with loving secresy – and I deserved this – did I, from you? After you had left me, a recollection again popt into my head, that I had well nigh forgotten. – What is become of the secret which, a long time since, you engaged to reveal to me, at a certain & limited period? That period has long elapsed, & still I remain in the dark. I challenge you! – Who now is the disciple of their own system? I suspect, that in making this enquiry, I am hunting after no good – Punish me then! I have been tolerably disciplined in the school of humility. With-hold this intelligence, whatever be its nature, & accuse me again of reserve – & I will admire your philosophical consistency. Ah! do you not perceive, that I am a little revengeful?3
And so, all the erudition4 you will allow me, while I have been priding myself in my knowledge, is the having read catechisms, books of question & answers. – And you really think, or at least wish to persuade me, you think, that by sagely contemplating the effects of the passions, in mortals living in Greece & Rome, lord knows how long ago, we can annihilate our own, at present existing! How much further, on some occasions, does a little nature & experience go, than philosophy! On these subjects, I have got beyond my catechism.
You are, at once, kind & cruel, polite & rude, tender & savage, candid & intolerant – I cannot describe, how paradoxical you appear to me.
I prove my temerity, by thus daring to be impertinent, while consigning to your charge the precious offspring of my brain – Like a weak & fond parent, I see, in this darling, nothing but beauties – Pray do not resemble the nurse in Gay’s fables.5 I feel all over author, & shrink from criticism, like the sensitive plant. But the MS has so much in it of sentiment, sensation, & selfishness, that I was willing, for once, to risque the being saucy, rather than to harp always upon one string.
Before I conclude, I must tell you, that as your name is now enrolled among those of the few people whom I like – & you know me given to monstrous partialities – I grant you, occasionally, the privilege of being rude & ‘stupid’, but not of staying away.
Another remark – you did not like Miss Hamilton,6 forsooth, because she was not very young nor beautiful – did I give you any reason to expect this? – & do you not know how prone I am to appropriate observations? The pretty Miss –––7 perhaps never finds you ‘stupid’! I am mortal jealous & very spiteful, & wish you, in return for all your crimes, to be most desperately & hopelessly in love – Beware! – your favorite Rousseau says, that your grave, philosophical people, who are not subject to these passions, when once entangled, are lost for ever! It remains for Miss I—h—d8 to make proof of this!
I am foolish, because I would not be sad – But now, seriously, I await your decision, my vanity & my avarice, up in arms – thirsting after fame & riches! The best method, I believe of quieting one troublesome passion, is to combat it with half a dozen more.9 I am not merry, neither am I well – I feel an intolerable pain & weariness all over me, which I have been trying, in vain, to write off. I will add no more, except to repeat for the thousandth time, how sincerely I am your obliged friend.
NB. However ‘beastly’ solitude may be, remember – It is the noblest animals who live alone – while the weak & the timid, conscious of their defenceless state, flock together. You & I live by ourselves, like the lion in his den, while other people, who might be named, herd together, like pigs in a sty.
Tuesday May 3d – 1796
I have been seriously ill, my friend, since I wrote the above – the symptoms of which I hinted, were the prelude to a fever, occasioned I believe by a collection of bile, which anxiety of mind has a tendency to generate in the constitution. Under this idea, I took medicines to remove the bile, their powerful operation convinced me, I was not mistaken. The disorder lay much in my head, & at one period a frightful confusion of thought made me very apprehensive of delirium. But the fever is now, I trust, entirely removed, & I feel only great debility – I am going to take some bark10 – (I have been my own physician, for I was formerly much injured by an ignorant apothecary) – & I mean to get out in the air as soon as possible. I never felt my spirits so calm under indisposition – for the truth is, tho’ I shrink from suffering, I could have been well pleased to die – life has lost, for me, every charm. Tho’ I have said my indisposition was serious, I did not apprehend from it any fatal consequences, nor did I lie in bed a whole day together, this I never do, while I am at all able to rise – I believe I shou’d have been very bad, had I not early endeavoured to remove the cause.
Address: Wm Godwin | Somers Town | No 25 – Chalton Street
1 MS MH 0020, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 451-54. Previous to the date of this letter, Godwin had visited Hays on 9, 12, 16, and 28 April (the day before she commenced this letter).
2 'beastly solitude'
3 Most likely Godwin's developing relationship with Wollstonecraft.
4 errudition] MS
5 Taken from John Gay's Fables (London: J. Tonson and J. Watts, 1727), Fable III.
6 The writer Elizabeth Hamilton (c. 1756-1816) (see previous letter).
7 Most likely the young poet Anne Batten Christall, who attended the tea with Hamilton at Hays's residence on 16 April. Cristall (1769-1848), an English poet and schoolteacher from Cornwall. Cristall was the second of four children and the eldest daughter of Alexander Cristall and Elizabeth Batten. Her father was from Monifieth, Scotland, and worked as a mariner, later making sails, masts, and blocks at Fowey and Penzance, where he met Elizabeth Batten, his second wife. The Cristall’s moved to London and later to Blackheath during Anne’s youth. Her father had a “dread of the arts,” which did not bode well with his daughter’s preclivity toward poetry. Her brother, Joshua, enjoyed a relatively modest amount of fame and was a founding member of the Society of Painters in Water Colours (1804), sometimes known as the Old Water Colour Society, of which he became president in 1816. Both Joshua and Anne were educated in London academies. Anne eventually became a schoolteacher and earned money in her own right, though she remained somewhat financially attached to her brother, with whom she remained on close terms her entire life. Cristall knew Mary Wollstonecraft and her sister Everina by the late 1780s, and in the mid-1790s met many other London literary figures, such as May Hays and Robert Southey. Cristall's Poetical Sketches appeared in 1795, published by Joseph Johnson. Subscribers included Mary and Everina Wollstonecraft, Anna Barbauld, Amelia Alderson, Samuel Rogers, Mary Hays, and George Dyer. Dyer in particular praised Cristall for her talent with poetry and suggested that she and Hays collaborate on a novel. Little is known of Cristall’s later life. She appears to have dropped out of intellectual circles in London after 1800. It is thought that she relocated to Kent where she lived with her younger sister, Elizabeth, and worked as an assistant at the Lewisham Hill Grammar School. She died on 9 February 1848 at the age of seventy-eight and was buried at St. Mary’s Church, Islington (the same churchyard in which Elizabeth Hays Lanfear was buried).
8 The novelist Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) (see letter of 1 March 1796; also Biographicald Index).
9 See her comments on this subject in her response to John Reid's comments on insanity in the Monthly Magazine 9 (1800), 523-24.