c. January 1796
Elizabeth Hays, Gainsford Street, to Mary Hays, 30 Kirby Street, Wednesday morning, undated [c. January 1796].1
John2 brought me such an indifferent account of you yesterday – as makes me anxious concerning your health – send me word therefore how you are today, & whether you would wish me to acquaint my Mother of your indisposition, which I believe she is at present ignorant of – I read Rousseau yesterday from morn, till night, – & have return’d you the two first volumes – the others I have not quite done with – that it has interested me I need not say, the rapidity with which I have pursued it, is a sufficient proof – the farther I proceed, the more I am charm’d – yet I find in it a thousand things to disapprove, – many of their principles are false – their ideas of duty erronius3 – their sexual distinctions absurd – & their loves though trebly refined, the extreme of voluptuousness. It has enervated me beyond measure4 – but this will soon be over, my mind will shortly regain its elasticity – I return to Helvetius5 with new vigour. You sometimes reproach me with want of sensibility – in this you do me injustice – I much doubt whether my feelings are not equally strong with your own – though various circumstances may have rendered them less irritably acute, the only difference between you, & me, is this, – that terrified by your example, it has been the business of my life, to repress sentiments, which it has been too much yours, to indulge – in avoiding one extreme, I may sometimes have run into the other, – & vainly boasted of a philosophy which in an hour of temptation would have avail’d me nothing. You know my heart to be capable both of love, & friendship – though a more indiscriminate mixture with society than you experience, may have made my ^made me less^ romantic expectations – I am neither cold – nor selfish – I am only more cheerful – more rational & not quite such a maniac as my unfortunate favourite sister –
Mr Martin from Yarmouth John6 informs me is come to Town – he is a person of whom I have heard much, & should like to be introduced to – tell our friend Brown,7 I wish he would bring ^him^ some afternoon to drink tea with us8 – that is if it is convenient to himself, & he thinks it would not be disagreeable to Mr Martin – not otherwise, for I do not wish to be troublesome.
I wish to say of my friendship, as St Paul says of the gospel – It is a law of liberty9 – Adieu, I hope you will soon recover your health of body – would to God you could also recover your health of mind.10 At any rate get well, & live – I thought Lord B—s11 letter against suicide a good one, I would have you read it again before the books go home – yours affectionately
Should Browne bring Mr Martin to see us, I should like to know the day – lest I should be out, or engaged in frivolous company.
Address: Miss Hays | No 30 Kirby St.
1 Misc. Ms. 4075, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 481-82.
2 John Hays (1768-1862), Elizabeth’s younger brother.
3 erronius] MS
4 Reference is to Rousseau’s important work, Emilius [Emile] and Sophia: or, A New System of Education, which appeared in a four-volume set in London in 1783 and was carried by nearly all the circulating libraries at that time, which is most likely where Hays obtained the volumes and which she had loaned for a very short time to her sister.
5 By the mid-1790s, the sensationalist philosophy of Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-71), especially his views on the natural equality of the sexes as expressed in his important works, De l’esprit: or, Essays on the Mind (Paris, 1758; London 1759) and A Treatise on Man, his Intellectual Faculties and his Education (London, 1777). These two works significantly influenced the opinions of Mary and Elizabeth Hays on the gendered nature of human experience and education. Mary Hays’s vigorous defense of the French philosopher foreshadowed similar claims she would make in her own novel, The Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796), positions she had previously set forth in her first critique of Helvétius published in the Monthly Magazine in June 1796 (385-87).
6 John Hays and Thomas Martin of Yarmouth. By the date of this letter, Martin was most likely a Unitarian, even though he was the minister at the Great Meeting (Independent) in Yarmouth. He would resign from the church in 1798 and remove to Liverpool, where he became a wealthy merchant, owner of Calderstones Park (1807-25), and eventually Secretary of the Royal Liverpool Institution. He became bankrupt in 1826. He was the author of Zetemata Dianoetika: or a View of the Intellectual Powers of Man (Liverpool, 1819), a paper Martin delivered before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool. Martin maintained his friendship with William Taylor into the 1820s. He is probably the same Martin who dines with Godwin at the Aldersons house in London (along with a Taylor, Marsh and Bartlett Gurney, a Quaker banker from Norwich) on 28 June 1794. See J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), vol. 2, p. 297.
7 Stephen Weaver Browne had been a friend to Mary and Elizabeth Hays for some time; he would also become friends with many of their London friends and young literary figures, such as John Reid, Southey, Coleridge, Lloyd, and Lamb. In 1819 Browne was a subscriber to Elizabeth Hays Lanfear’s Fatal Errors in 1819.
8 Thomas Martin supped with Godwin at the Alderson home on 28 June 1794, along with Bartlett Gurney, Taylor, Charles Marsh, William Firth, Dr. Southwood Smith, and Robert Merry, several of which were from Norwich. Most likely it is Stephen Weaver Browne who has tea with Godwin and Holcroft at Mary Hays’s house in Kirby Street on 2 December 1795, at which time they talked of “causes.” Browne was a good friend of Mary and Elizabeth Hays and would later become known to many of their friends and literary figures, including John Reid, Southey, Coleridge, Lloyd, and Lamb. He was also a subscriber in 1819 to Elizabeth Hays Lanfear's Fatal Errors. Browne has tea again at Hays’s apartment on 20 January 1796, with Godwin and Rev. Draper, the same person Hugh Worthington had mentioned in a letter from 1794. This reference may be the most helpful in dating this letter. Browne appears often in Godwin’s diary in the spring of 1796. On 9 June 1796 Godwin writes: "Tea Hayes’s, with Wolstencraft, A A [Amelia Alderson], Brown, Tookes & Hayes’s." Godwin seems to imply multiple “Hayes,” which was most likely Mary and Elizabeth and one of her brothers, most likely John, as well as Mrs. Hays. Alderson also brought Catherine Buck to see Godwin on 17 May, 21 May, 3 June, and 11 June 1795. Buck was HCR’s close friend and at the same time he is writing in defence of Godwin in the Cambridge Intelligencer, his Bury friend is visiting Godwin in person in London.
9 Paul’s most prominent passage discussing the doctrine of the ‘law of liberty’ is found in Romans 14:1-13.
10 This letter arrived about a month after Hays’s rejection by Frend.
11 See Rousseau's Eliosa, 2.253-68.