26 July 1800
Charlotte Smith,1 Hastings, to Mary Hays, 22 Hatton Garden, 26 July 1800.2
Hastings – July 26th 1800
I cannot my Dear Madam look at the date of your last obliging Letter, without doubts whether you can forgive my apparent negligence in leaving it so long unanswered – Apologies are generally feeble as false. I will make none, but relate the simple truth, that the friend whom I wish’d to have commision’d to have look’d out [for] the books, and who has the key of my book room, has been so ill, that, as he lives in a village on the Essex road, at a great distance from the quarter of the town where my lodgings are, I could not ask him to undertake, indeed he could not have undertaken, even so slight a journey – I have myself been harrassed with sufferings both of the mind and body with ^an account of^ which however, I will not intrude upon your patience- -- but tho amid this delicious weather, & on this very pleasant coast, I have been for many weeks almost entirely confin’d to my lodgings, I have been so much occupied with some very troublesome family business which it falls to my lot to transact, that I have been equally prevented from continuing my labour for the press, or writing to my friends, for having seldom written less than five, and often seven or eight Letters a day, I was so fatigued by the time of dinner, that it was impossible for me to write another line – If I could not at times have been a little amused with the study of botany, which by sending out into the fields & hedges I could indulge here, I should have hardly sustain’d my fatigued spirits at all; for of even tolerable Novels, or books of any kind of amusement, the wretched collection in what they call a library here,
does not contains ^not^ a single specimen – & still less of books of science – I marvel at the people who read such stuff, or who find a wretched resource in lingering in a public room, call’d a library – & I am afraid that the necessity my shatter’d health imposes upon me, to frequent these places, encreases my extreme dislike to general society, while the impossibility, situated as I am, of enjoying that which is select, makes me wholly a recluse – or rather would make me so if I was not about to be engaged again in a larger family, my eldest daughter from Scotland, with ^one of^ her Brothers with whom she has resided this last year; & my Son Lionel being soon expected from Quebec where he has been five years3 – I shall then be surrounded by those, who without having the same tastes, have a right, I believe to my time – and it is very seldom I can have this indulgence of literary society – for which, & quiet alone, my heart languishes – What you describe however, in what are call’d literary meetings, I have more than once felt, & have wonder’d how it happens, that when several persons of reputed talents are collected, the conversation is often, so little pleasant – I was heretofore admitted being then a mere novice & much in favor, to the celebrated conversations at Mrs Montagues,4 & I found that the greatest difficulty I had was to resist a violent inclination to yawn, tho I suppose every body talk’d their very best. Since I have been at other assemblies of literati, when I own I have been equally disappointed tho not quite in the same way – Of several new acquaintance, I know none for whom I am more interested than Mrs Fenwick. She always appears to me to be not only a Woman of talents, but of great sweetness of temper, and an excellent heart, & it grieves me when I hear she is not as fortunate, as I am sure she deserves to be – I have really felt afraid of knowing more of her, because I am sure I should love her enough to feel an additional source of concern, in knowing so excellent a woman to be unhappy from causes which might be relieved, without having the power to relieve those causes. I have known so much of pecuniary distress myself, & feel so acutely what it is to have children for whose future the mothers heart is always oppressed, while their immediate wants, claim every hour of the passing day, that it makes me feel acutely for our friend, in whose pleasing countenance I imagine I see all those sensations. I wish I had the house & the income I ought to have; less for any other reason (for I have become indifferent to almost all the world calls good) than because I could then sometimes receive my friends, and sometimes ask proofs of their friendship – but I am – married -- & tho released by my own resolution from the insufferable misery I endured from the age of fifteen, (tho then like a child, I was half unconscious of it) till my thirty seventh year, yet I am still in reality a slave & liable to have my bondage renew’d, tho I am now content to purchase a remission, by giving up far the greater part of the interest of my own fortune, & obtaining my own & much of my childrens support by my labour – Circumstances are lately becoming rather more favourable tho my indefatigable toil in the affairs of my childrens grandfather and the friendship of a Nobleman, who saw the difficulties I was struggling with, & did what only a man of his property could do, by one act of generosity ^set me free^ – My family have now a clear estate worth near twenty thousand pounds in the West Indies, & this I am this year about to sell; But you will perhaps hardly believe, that tho’ I have rescued this & about seven thousand pounds more for them, I have been opposed & thwarted in everything I have done, by their father & now have from day to day to contend with him, when any step is to be taken for the benefit & security of his own children, more than half whose patrimony he wasted, & then to save himself from the consequences of that folly, gave up the rest to be plunder’d by his own relations from whose clutches I have, after incredible difficulties rescued it – Do not imagine all this egotism means nothing but to tell you of my own feats – I have another purpose – it is to ask you what I can do or ought to do in regard to the request Mr Phillips made me, to send him or allow him to collect materials for an account of me to be inserted in his Public characters of this year – I promis’d him I would put the sad narrative for sad I assure you it is, into the hands of a friend to compose it for the press but an heavy domestic affliction has made that ^request to him^ impossible – It is very difficult to speak of oneself & I find it would be very difficult to speak of the very unhappy Man whose name I bear, without injuring myself by withholding too much truth, or my children by telling it. I wish Mr Phillips would leave me for his necrology5 – My internal notices greatly deceive me if this will require much patience on his part. Advise me & assist me if you can – I should not be pleased, tho it would not hurt me much, to be attacked by some of those reptiles who have the audacity to call themselves critics – I am extremely disliked by them, & nothing is more likely than that if they insult me, one of my Sons would personally resent it – Something of that sort has already happen’d, & such disagreeable contention I am not now in a state of health to support – As Mr Phillips informs me he goes to press the first ^of^ August, I wish to have your immediate opinion upon it.
I am afraid I must go to town about this sale; & as I am now weary of being here, because I cannot walk, and have not one acquaintance here, nor any books, I shall go tomorrow to Tunbridge Wells which is half way between this place & London – The Season there I believe is nearly over, & I shall find only a few invalids, and perhaps the very prolific and profound Mr Cumberland,6 who lives there – but he has so great an antipathy from Lady Authors, & so perfect a contempt for female talents, that I shall not venture to approach so aweful a personage – From Tunbridge I can be in London at any time & at short notice when the conveyances want me – At all events my daughter will after friday be in Clipstone Street, & I will desire her to send the books, which I am ashamed of having delayed so long.
Forgive me for paying for this Letter – It is worth nothing, and I cannot get a frank here – If I am so fortunate as to hear from you, be so good as to direct to me at Tunbridge Wells – where my Christian name must distinguish me from the numbers of Mrs Smiths of all ranks & conditions, that are to be found at all such places & indeed in all places. When you see Mrs Fenwick assure her of my affectionate wishes & tell her I am impatient for the novel promis’d in the papers. I trust you will yourself believe me
Dear Madam your most obligd friend & servant
Address: Miss Hayes | Hatton Garden. | London
1 Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) was a popular poet and novelist. Hays would compose her biography at this time for publication in Phillips's Public Characters for 1800-1801. Hays would also assist Smith by composing the final volume of her History of England (1806). For more on Smith, see her entry in Biographical Index; see also Hays's letters from 1805-06 for her dealings with Phillips after she completed volume 3 of the History.
2 Misc. Ms. 2152, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 328-31.
3 Between 1767 and 1785 Smith bore eleven children, of which several died in infancy and only six survived her. The son mentioned here is Sir Lionel Smith (1778-1842), an Army officer and colonial governor who was sent to Quebec in 1795. He served in Nova Scotia, Africa, the West Indies, South America, and India during his career, rising to the rank of major general, KCB, GCB, and governor of Barbados in 1833 (during the time of the Emancipation Act by Parliament) and later at Mauritius.
4 Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800) was the sister of the writer Sarah Scott. Elizabeth married Edward Montagu and became one of the wealthiest women in England, using her wealth to promote literature and the arts. She became one of the most famous socialites of her day and a leader among the influential group of women writes and patrons known as the Bluestockings.
5 See “Mrs. Charlotte Smith,” Public Characters of 1800-1801 (London: R. Phillips, 71 St. Paul’s Church Yard, 1801), 42-64, by Mary Hays.
6 The playwright Richard Cumberland (1732-1811) of Tunbridge Wells. See his entry in Biographical Index.