9 February 1796

Mary Hays to William Godwin, 25 Chalton Street, Somers Town, Tuesday, [9 February 1796].1


     I write only a line, to say, I feel as if I had done you some injustice – Perhaps, I still think you refine too much – may there not be philosophical romance? Forgive me, these imperious feelings make me sometimes, impertinent, even to my best friends! But your model is too high, my eyes ake to look up to it. No, I do not doubt your sympathy – I cannot doubt your humanity, words wou’d do injustice to the sense I have of your delicate consideration & benevolent attentions. I may have form’d an erroneous judgement, in many respects, both of the characters both of you & your friend,2 however that may be, I wish not to extend my confidence – Tho’, at once, too humble & too proud, I am satisfied, nor repent the trust reposed in you! Yet – yet, will you allow me to say, that I conceive there is this difference in our situations, which necessarily makes us see objects thro’ a somewhat different medium – The ruling propensity of your mind, I conceive, has been gratified – mine torn away, destroyed, rudely destroyed, with an accumulation of aggravating circumstances – Hence, I view every object thro’ a jaundiced, distorted – Ah! need I go on, to say – that the whole world appears to me a wilderness of devouring beasts of prey – society, a sickly mass of calamity & corruption – I feel every moment in danger of resigning my virtue or my benevolence – I want the sunshine of the mind, that spreads its illumination on the surrounding objects. No one can exactly enter into the sensations of another – for even we ourselves, at different periods of time, look back astonish’d at the tumult which has subsided –

“The calm sea wonders at the wreck it made.”3

I suspect that all ma^n^kind are pursueing phantoms however dignified by different appellations.

      I shall recover, of this I make no doubt, if I live long enough for the usual, healing operations of time – but in the meanwhile, the ardor of youth is passing – I wake out of a deleterious dream, to find myself a comfortless, solitary, shivering, wanderer, in the dreary wilderness of human society.

      I cannot love mankind collectively – they are a mere abstraction to me – why shou’d I love them? – they do not make me, nor can I make them, happy. But I cou’d have encreas’d the felicity & improvement of a small circle of individuals – & this circle, spreading wider & wider, wou’d have operated towards the grand end, general utility. Every person is not intended for a hero, neither wou’d this be necessary! The only true morality is that which tends to encrease the bulk of felicity – my plan had this tendency, I am put out, & now perhaps shall do mischief – The placid stream, turn’d out of it channel, lays waste the meadows. The man I too tenderly loved, appears to me ^at this moment^ a great criminal, on my principles of morality – He wou’d not receive & confer happiness – such an opportunity may never present itself to him again – He is degrading himself – he will sink yet lower, he has laid waste my mind, & he has, or I much mistake, given a mortal stab to his own.    

      But I weary you – I feel again proud & presumptuous – not a word on these subjects did I mean to say – I took up my pen with a different intention – Not to speak of gratitude, since you quarrel with the term, but reason & justice compel me to reassure you of my respect & esteem! Shou’d I promise to be, in future, more worthy of your friendship, more rational, I shou’d, perhaps, deceive myself & you, but I repeat, what I have often said, I will do what I can! I request the continuance of your patience & candor! Ever call upon me, without hesitation, for ingenuousness in all that concerns only, myself, this is a quality on which I value myself – It affords, in my opinion, at least a basis for virtue. I will not, then, deceive you, I will not try to appear better than I am – you may pity my weakness, but you shall not despise my hypocrisy. I have finish’d your friends play,4 it contains many excellent sentiments: your commendation of the character of Hair-brain appears, to me, to be just, it is not more comic than pathetic – it inclined me both to laugh & cry. I wish Olivia’s conduct (not motives) had appear’d less equivocal.  Poets ^& dramatists^ know how to reward their heroes – is it so in real life? – you say yes! – My heart, alas! pertinaciously, answers No! It wou’d be unreasonable to expect you often to listen to wayward & monotonous complaints – yet, your conversation takes me out of myself – & I give you no new information, when I tell you how selfish I am! The last sentence has a paradoxical appearance, but it shall go. I meant but to have written a line, & have fill’d my paper – Tell me frankly when I weary you, either by letter otherwise – But I shall judge by your conduct, for you have the remedy in your own hands. Adieu, my friend –

                                                M H.


Tuesday morng – Janry 10th – 17965


Address: Wm Godwin | Somers Town | No 25 Chalton Street

Postmark: 9 February 1796, 12 o’clock Noon.

post pd


1 MS MH 0013, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 431-33. Godwin spent the previous evening at Hays's residence in Kirby Street. 

2 Thomas Holcroft.

3 Line taken from the closing scene of Edmund Waller's The Maid's Tragedy. 

4 Holcroft's comedy, The Man of Ten Thousand, opened in January 1796 at Drury Lane. 

5 Date is obviously in error.