8 March 1796
Mary Hays, [30 Kirby Street], to William Godwin, [25 Chalton Street, Somers Town], Wednesday 8 March 1796.1
Wednesday morng – March 8th ^96^
Now, you have given me an agreeable subject,2 upon which, having so long harrassed you with painful ones, I must expatiate a little. – But let me premise, that I dwell on it, not because I flatter myself with its being very important to you, but because it is pleasant to myself – You guess I wou’d speak of the respect & esteem with which you have inspired me. My heart is so constituted, that sensations of asperity & resentment, what ever may have been the provocation, are not more painful than transient, but acts of kindness it treasures up never to be effaced or forgotten – And from you, I have received nothing but acts of kindness, & I shou’d abhor myself, as most unjust and capricious, if I did not feel, & acknowledge, all their value! Yes, I repeat, your friendship is one of my greatest & most unmixed, consolations, & the idea, now, of being considered unworthy of it, wou’d sensibly afflict me. The very opposition you have lately given to me, I consider as a new act of kindness, because I am convinced it was intended for my benefit: & tho’, I believe, on some subjects, from the different circumstances which have formed our characters, we shou’d never entirely agree, yet I own myself culpable, if I have spoken with petulance, & I trust in your humanity, that you will make allowances for the late trying state of my mind – The struggle has been severe, it involved a number of complicated emotions, but, tho’ certainly very far from happy, I am better than I have been. I am concerned at the observations of your friend, & shall take care, when I have an opportunity, to efface the impression from his mind. –– Do you remember the letter of mine which you once shew’d ^to^ him – dare I suspect, tho’ probably unconscious of it himself – I will say no more!
I think, I understood the distinctions you endeavour’d to convey to my mind, when I last conversed with you, but, still, I do not entirely allow their force, but am inclined to believe, that as the understanding improves, & we extend our plans ^views^, that, in our general conduct, we substitute happiness as a plan, an aggregate of agreeable sensations, for those of the moment, & that the highest degree of virtue, is the pursuit of rational enjoyment, that enjoyment, which comprehends the greatest variety of relations embracing the welfare of our fellow citizens & fellow beings – its disinterestedness will come of course, so that, in tracing the various branches, we shall often, & sometimes altogether, lose sight of the root. This at least, at present, appears to me sufficient for all the purposes of morals, sufficient to procure pleasure, the greatest good, for the individual & for the whole. You may perceive how I combat for my system, but shou’d you drive me out of all my strong intrenchments, I hope you will, at last, grant me the honors of war?
I am solicitous for your opinion of my papers, that I may calculate my chances of success. The time you spare from your numerous avocations for the perusal of my scribbles I feel as a real obligation, & yet, you suspected that I esteemed you less. No, your friendship is my pleasure & my boast, & if you do not tell me, you are convinced of my sincerity, I shall be afraid3 of being proud & saucy again. This is a letter I believe, without a complaint, I must not end it so, or you will suspect, that somebody has assumed my signature & imitated my writing. I will confess, then, that I am not sufficiently disinterested as to expect to be happy. I want a certain number of agreeable sensations for which nature has constituted me – I want, perhaps, a greater number of social & civil advantages, which my education, & the society in which I have mix’d, have taught me to consider as valuable. I look back on the past with a variety of painful ideas & recollections, & I look forward, at present, with joyless indifference.
I believe, there is one circumstance which I have not yet mentioned to you, & I am determined by my ingenuousness (if I have no other virtue) to give myself a claim upon your esteem. I early one morng, in last week, accompanied by a friend (to whom a full explanation of my motives and conduct was unnecessary)4 call’d on the man who had been the subject of my confessions.5 I made my friend ^announce, &^ precede, me to his apartment, & notwithstanding this precaution, which I conceived delicacy required, my entrance most completely disconcerted him (I had never from motives, easy to be conceived, visited him before) – ‘I am come (said I, smiling) to call upon you for the exercise of less than a Christian duty, the forgiveness, not of an enemy but, of a friend – I have, no doubt, been guilty of errors, who is free?’ – I held out my hand – He took it, & replied to me, with a degree of cordiality. The past was no farther alluded to. – I ask’d him, if he wou’d, with our friend present, come & drink tea with me, to this he assented without hesitation. A few days since, they fulfilled their engagement, two other friends were ^also^ of the party. Whether he will ever think proper to call on me again, I know not, but as I conceived, I had not been faultless, & as it is particularly painful to cherish severe feelings, where I have heretofore felt affection, I do not repent of what I have done, but feel myself relieved by it. I likewise, since this, see the whole affair with a cooler eye, & observe it in more points of view, than I had before done – absence magnified objects – my hopes have, now, entirely ceased, & with them, some illusions appear to be losing their force – my mind seems regaining a firmer tone – it is no longer convulsed with uncertainty. I promise nothing, I am aware of the danger of relapses, but my situation is certainly changed, from the removal of suspense – I perceive this, & I am calmer – I do not deceive you, unless I deceive myself. It is no bad method of examining our motives & actions, to try how far we dare reveal them to a judicious & benevolent friend – I have, hitherto stood this test, when it fails, I shall sink in my own esteem.
I shou’d like to meet you some day at Mr Holcroft’s when there is not too much company, Mr H need not trouble himself to procure ladies to meet me, his daughter is sufficient, I am more used to, and therefore more at ease in, the company of men – I wish to hear Miss H perform on the harpsichord. I wou’d call some day & take my chance, if I thought I shou’d meet ^find^ your friend at home.
Do not let it be long before I see you, yr last was a very transient visit6 – believe me to be, with lively esteem, & sincere respect your obligd friend –
1 MS MH 0016, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 442-44; Wedd, Love Letters 233-35.
2 Most likely this originated during Godwin's visit of 5 March to see Hays (see Godwin Diary). At the time of this letter, he is still reading her MS. of Emma Courtney.
3 affraid] MS
4 Most likely Wollstonecraft.
5 William Frend.
6 Reference again to his visit on 5 March Godwin will call again on Hays on 10 March.