6-7 June 1796
Mary Hays to William Godwin, 25 Chalton Street, Somers Town, Monday, 6-7 June 1796.1
June 6 – 1796
I perceive, that I am again about to write you a desultory letter – But has not your conversation, of late, been likewise a little desultory? I can only write as you afford me subjects. On our first acquaintance, impressed by the idea of your literary reputation, I carefully digested what I wished to say to you, & corrected on a fair copy my first crude thoughts – Now, though my respect & esteem have encreased, they are in some measure soften’d by the familiarity of friendship, & I can take up my pen when my heart, or mind, is full, & unburthen them with freedom, & without previous study, in the flattering hope, that with all my faults, I have yet some little interest in your regard & sympathy.
I wish you wou’d not accuse me so frequently, & sometimes so unmercifully, of selfishness. Were I indeed so selfish, my heart wou’d not sink under the cruel necessity of being obliged to restrain its feelings, & “cut off from the opportunities of expanding its sensations & wedding itself to society, be constrained to bestow the strong affections, that glow consciously within it, upon a few.”2 I am unhappy I can confess, & my eyes fill with tears while I write – but do not let me forfeit your esteem though you shou’d consider my misfortunes as my faults.
I thank you for introducing Miss Alderson to me3 – her spirits appear unbroken – She does not look as if sorrow ever touch’d her heart. I am not sure, that her manners entirely pleased me – I mean to say, that I have some unfashionable & obsolete notions & prejudices – I love the retiring delicacy that sometimes shrinks from observation. – Assured, fearless, & self-satisfied, Miss A must have long ^since^ forgotten to blush or to hesitate – You laugh at me, & with reason perhaps – I am out of my place – I shou’d have been born a century earlier or later. The age of chivalry might have suited me, or the age of reason – but, in the present motley times, I am an alien – an awkward being.
Excuse me for the contents of my last letter – it was a subject upon which my feelings might easily mislead me – It was a subject which I now wish to be forgotten by myself – & yet more by the few to whom I have ventured to unfold my mind & its weakness. One observation only permit me to make, tho’ you shou’d be disgusted with the vain & selfish creature ever labouring to excuse herself – I shou’d never have been attached to Mr –– had I not conceived his principles & conduct to have been magnanimous, had he not been persecuted for those principles, & a sufferer by that conduct! Yes! I will say, with pride, my affection had its source in generosity & virtue – and – I am well repaid – And now let me quit, for ever, the ungrateful topic.4
I have a favour to ask of you, my dear friend – Will you give me a sketch for the review of Theodore Cyphon – or will you write it wholly & permit me to copy it? On your own principles you shou’d not refuse me, your criticism may be useful. Tell me from ^what^ part a quotation shou’d be selected, or if it wou’d be proper to give any?5 I shou’d be obliged by the return of the books in the course of the week, as I cou’d wish to send my parcel to J—n6 in time for the next journal.
I feel that I grow a little unreasonable in my claims upon your time – I am aware of its value – but your indulgence has spoiled me: & whether you are ‘stupid’ or animated, I always feel that I gain some knowledge or improvement by your conversation. I am fond of analyzing my feelings, were I some years younger – or you many years older, I might call my regard for you filial – though that is not an adequate term – it has in it the deference of a pupil, the respect of which is due to superior talents & powers, the grateful sentiments which are excited in a susceptible temper for kindness conferred, & the cordiality & affection of equal friendship. I could wish, when you visit me, that you wou’d act with the same unconstrained freedom as in your own apartments, that you would read, write (I can always supply you with the implements) or converse, just as you are in the humour. I shou’d be more gratified & flatter’d by your seeming thus entirely at liberty – I shou’d feel it as a truer compliment, than all the observances which are dictated by etiquette or sanctioned by custom. ‘Form in friendship (Mr Robinson of Cambridge used to say) resembled ceremony in religion.’7 The heart has no share in either.
NB. Do not misconceive me respecting Miss A, I am not a niggard of praise – She appeared to me to possess talents & powers of pleasing, with an engaging frankness of character & a happy vivacity – all that the french term piquant. But perhaps the touchee more powerfully awakens my sympathy. I shall be glad to see her on her return to Town, & will ask some friends to meet ^her^ – you, I hope, will do me that favor?8
I have filled my paper, but you never told me you were wearied with long letters, or disgusted with my egotism, I will therefore yet add a few lines more. Our acquaintance has now been of some standing, & you have always found me complaining, & a prey to vexation, you have therefore a right to conclude that my temper is wayward & discontented, but your conclusion would not be just. The circumstances which form’d my mind – particularly my first attachments, which have great power
of ^over^ a heart of sensibility – rendered three things necessary to my existence – affections, virtue, & self-respect. After the death of my lover,9 my heart still true to the sentiment, was restless & unhappy till it again found an object to which to attach itself – This was a work of time – my second attachment10 was entirely generated on an apprehension of magnanimous principles, of high and [paper creased] worth, & cemented by a sympathy with what I conceived injustice & misfortune. – Its progress, ^its mistakes^, & its consequences you have seen. Those consequences have, at one blow, deprived me of all my sources of consolation. It wou’d be romantic now to expect those affections for which I have only lived – Could I find a man who really possessed those qualities I require (such a one may exist) – or to abate my demand – did I know any man calculated to make me rationally happy, & to heal the wounds which have been inflicted on me – I cannot disguise from myself, that even the best men have catched a corrupt contagion, & seem to require other charms than integrity, sensibility, & the simplicity of affection. I have few personal attractions, had nature given me more, I either am ignorant of, or I despise, certain arts – To meretricious or coquettish allurement I shall ever be a stranger – I know how to love but I must love with delicacy & purity, & so must I be beloved, or I shou’d feel only horror & disgust. You smile at my romance, & perhaps with reason, yet, I know you will not suspect me of affectation – Indeed, I have given sufficient proofs that I am no prude – but I cannot separate delicacy of taste & passion. I could, from habit, ^have^ continued to love the man to whom I had been so long attached, had he not so rudely repelled me. I could even have been contented to have yielded him up if I could have justified myself in my extravagance, & preserved my respect for him unabated – this I cannot do, & it is this which humbles me, & which sinks me in my own esteem, the more so, as I cannot yet, tho’ truth glares upon me, entirely disentangle my affections. Thus are my heart & my pride equally wounded, & how can I, so situated, dare to make pretensions to virtue – I, who am consuming the vigor of life, time, talents, & opportunity, in unavailing anguish, in the struggle of contending passions. “All, then, that might have germinated into usefulness is converted into henbane & deadly nightshade.”11 I have laid before you a faithful representation of my mind. I almost wish sometimes you could find time to write to me, letters, you say, make a greater impression than words, & I can perceive in conversation your kind fear of hurting my sore & sickly mind renders you less frank & sincere than your principles ought to make you. – Banish this humane caution, I will not shrink from the truth, & I am convinced you will not speak it, in a harsh or indelicate manner.
Address: Wm Godwin | Somers Town | 25 Chalton Street
Postmark: 7 June 1796, 10 o’clock [am]
Post pd 2d
1 MS MH 0022, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 459-62. On this day, 6 June 1796, Hays's youngest sister, Marianna, married Edward Palmer.
2 Most likely Hays is quoting from a letter to her by Godwin that is no longer extant.
3 Godwin brought Alderson with him to see Hays on Sunday, 5 June, the day before the above letter.
4 William Frend.
5 See the following letter for Godwin's reply. A review of George Walker's Theodore Cyphon (1796) appeared in the June issue of the Analytical Review 23 (1796), 600-01, signed "V.V."
6 Joseph Johnson.
7 Robert Robinson, Baptist minister at Cambridge who corresponded with Hays in the 1780s.
8 Hays will host Godwin, Alderson and several others for tea at her home on 9 June.
9 John Eccles (see his correspondence in this collection of letters).
10 William Frend.
11 Taken from the close of Caleb Williams (see Hays to Godwin, 14 October 1794).