13 March 1797
Elizabeth Hamilton, 5 New Millman Street, to Mary Hays, Little John Street, 13 March 1797.1
From the length of time that has elapsed since the subject of your letter has occupied even a momentary place in my thoughts, I could not avoid surprise at its receipt,2 or regret at its perusal.3
I confess, I am very sorry that you should thus have arrested on its road to oblivion, ^a subject^ which in my apprehension it would have been much wiser to have permitted quietly to have taken its course to eternal rest: but since you have thus called upon me for an avowal, or a recantation of the opinion you already heard me give; the silence which I have from that evening invariably maintained, must of necessity be broken.
You assert the “purity of your intentions.” I am afraid I am not sufficiently versed in the new nomenclature of virtues thoroughly to understand your meaning. In my old fashioned way of thinking purity of intentions comprehends candour, and sincerity, and is altogether incompatible4 with every shade or degree of treachery, or malevolence. In the case which you have forced upon my recollection there is no need of any appeal to the recording Angel5 in search of the inspiring motive. The Action speaks for itself.
A book is published which containing no accusation against any sect or party; throwing out no aspersions upon any character. No personal reflections. No invidious remarks upon the conduct of any individual; but which without quoting a single line from any author, or bringing forward a single incident that could point out any particular person as the object of its innocent raillery, merely raises a laugh at some self-evident absurdities. This book is written by a person for whom you professed a degree of friendship; whom you flattered with expressions of your esteem. And to whom you had in confidence confessed how severely you had felt the slight animadversions that had been made upon your first performance in one of the reviews. With a perfect recollection of the pains you had experienced in your friend; And with the smile of friendship upon your face, did you voluntarily offer yourself as the instrument of inflicting similar pains upon the mind of that unsuspecting friend. (You must forgive me if I declare ^from my own knowledge^ that the books being put into your hands by the editor of the review is a misstatement of the case, unless you shelter yourself by the same sort of literal equivocation you made use of when you said you had not seen the review.)
The task was not put upon you. No. With the Ardour of an ancient champion did you volunteer your entrance into the lists, but not with the generosity of an Ancient Knight did you maintain the combat. Instead of fairly, and openly, pointing out the passages which displeased you, that betwixt you and the author the world might have it in their power to decide. You, in the dark, and with a muffled dagger aimed the blow which was to fix, as far as it is in the power of a review to fix, the fame and character of the person you saluted as a friend! That the blow ^it^ did not more deeply wound, was not owing to the compunction of the heat ^by^ which ^it was^ dictated – but to the feebleness of the arm which struck the blow. – For the praise which you were pleased to bestow upon some parts of my little work, you seem to think I owe you much acknowledgment. I confess I am inclined to say of it, in the words made use of by Thomson upon a similar Occasion
Why not all faults Injurious critic why,
Appears one beauty to thy blasting eye?
Damnation worse than thine, if worse can be
Is all I ask, and all I want from thee.
As this is determinedly the last time that I ever will put pen to paper upon the subject, I cannot conclude without one further observation.
In my opinion it is a strange sort of a compliment you pay your friend Mr Godwin, in taking it for granted that he has made a monopoly of all the absurdity, and extravagance in the world; and that it is impossible to laugh at any thing ridiculous without thinking of ^pointing at^ him. Ignorant as I am, and ^ignorant^ as to the world you have declared me to be, I could point out to your perusal volumes upon volumes where ^you might see that^ in the regions of Metaphysics fancy has taken as bold a flight – and that in the rage for systemising authors of at least as distinguished eminence have laid themselves open to ridicule. – To convince you of the truth of my assertion – I here assure you that the account of the Philosophers in the Rajah, and their various absurdities (in all of which you can only see Mr Godwin) was written before I had looked into his book.
As to what you observe of the ^disadvantages of drawing a^ narrow circle &c. I perfectly coincide in your opinions: but to which of us the observation is most applicable – the friends to whom we are both best known can best decide. In the little circle of friends by whom I should wish to see myself surrounded I hope the light will always shine of Sound Judgment, and unsophisticating truth.
You will perhaps think that I have been too severe. But remember it was not I who sought the contest, though when dragged to it sincerity compelled me to speak as I have done. The same sincerity now dictates the assurance which I give you that resentment has no place in my breast; that I shall never be divested of an interest in your welfare; and that to hear of your happiness will ever confer upon me the sincerest pleasure. With which assurance I remain
Your obed Servant
5 New Millman St
March 13th 1797
Address: Miss Hays | Corner of Little John Street
1 Misc. Ms. 2210, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 313-15. Hays and Hamilton had met at least twice in 1796, once at a tea at Hays’s residence on 16 April with Godwin and others, and later at the theatre on 12 November joined by Wollstonecraft, Godwin, and others, which is most likely the "evening" mentioned in the second paragraph by Hamilton.
2 receit] MS
3 A review of Hamilton's Translation of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796) appeared unsigned in the Analytical Review 23 (1796), 429-31; Hamilton clearly believes Hays to the reviewer, which she was, as revealed in Eliza Gregory's letter to Hays on 28 March 1801 (see below). Hamilton would get her revenge through her character Bridgetina Botherim, a caricature of Hays, in Modern Philosophers (1801).
4 incompatable] MS
5 This phrase can be found in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Book VI, ch. 8.
6 Most likely the negative review of Letters and Essays which appeared in the English Review 22 (October 1793), 253-57, portions of which were quoted by John Evans in his undated letter to Hays from autumn 1793.