4 February 1801
Elizabeth Hays, Chelmsford, Essex, to Mary Hays, 22 Hatton Street, Holborn, 4 February 1801.1
Feby 4 1801
Though I have now no wish to change it, I perfectly agree with you in pronouncing a state of celibacy to be but little favourable either to virtue or happiness – I wonder not that old maids generally speaking have been objects of censure or ridicule – Perhaps there is no character, which it is so difficult for a woman to maintain with propriety. Her affections likea stream impeded in its course either run into irregular channels, or return into her own bosom where pent up, they ravage& destroy the soil they ought to have adorned & fertilized. In the first case unless her understanding is of the superior class (for understanding will always command respect) there is danger of ^her^ becoming contemptible, in the latter ofgrowing unamiable. Pride (& it may be a want of that very soft sensibility which some of my sex possess) will nowpreserve me from one of those evils, whether I shall entirely escape the other time & future events must determine. Thereare ^more or less^ I should suppose in the life of every one particularly trying periods, periods in which the mindundergoes a sort·of revolution. The last two or three years has been one of those to me. – The struggle is over, & now thatI have resigned for ever the sweet illusions of youth, I shall endeavour to reconcile my mind to the world as it is, & dailymore & more cultivate a taste for those rational & simple pleasures, which if they do not afford any very lively interest,leave no sting behind. It is well as you observe that each prefers his own burthen to that of his neighbour. I wish not to be again under the dominion of the passions, & would not for worlds exchange my situation for yours. Our dispositions though similar in some points, are in others materially different – I with you could have placed my happiness in the affections & for procuring or preserving the felicity of mutual attachment should have thought few sacrifices too great – but my heart was not formed to cherish the romantic disinterested sort of passion, which you have rather too much prided yourself on being capable of feeling – for without that pride I think it ^your present attachment^ could not have lasted so long2 – its commence^me^nt was whimsical, & its perseverance madness – But the dart has not corroded too long in your breast to be extracted with safety, & I do not wish to probe a wound I have ^not^ the power of healing. The subject is to me on various accounts a painful one – I do not say I shall love you more, (because my friendship for you is not the friendship of a day, nor founded on mere sensation) but I certainly should enjoy more pleasure in your society if your heart was at liberty. Apathy is a bad thing – but mental slavery is a worse, & equally if not more dangerous to virtue – Affectionate sorrows may have in them a species of sweetness, but I know by experience that all is bitter in the sensation which arises on the conviction “Of friendship unreturn’d, & unregarded love”3 –
I [am] glad you have at least for the present given up your plan of taking a house,4 for these are not times to make experiments. – If I had one wish it should be for money, though that is an article which in one sense I may be said neverto have known the want of, & while I continue to live with my brother, most likely never shall.5 Of John I ^have^ nothing to complain, I believe he has a regard for me, & when we are together we are very friendly & comfortable – was I sure he would settle in the country, & not marry I should be very well satisfied with my situation & make the best of it – I have no wish to live again in London – It is my lot, & in some degree my inclination now, to be a solitary, & the solitude of the Country is certainly preferable to the solitude of London where the distance is not too great to admit of occasional intercourse with our relations and friends ^is certainly preferable to the solitude of London.^
& as we get more acquainted with the people in Essex, I have no doubt but we may find some agreeable society, & I do not wish for a great deal. Now that I have recovered the use of my arm & the weather is sufficiently good to admit of walking almost every day, I do not find my hours pass on heavily – solitude with an incapability of employment, & that in the very worst season of the year, with a mind always too ready to prey on itself was very bad, neither my health nor spirits could support it, but that is past, & I hope I shall never be again in a similar situation. You who have never experienced it, can have no idea of the weariness, & many inconveniences I suffered – My arm has much mended since I left Town, & I am trying by a liberal use of cold water to strengthen it as fast I can. Farewell & believe me
Letter continues one another loose sheet of paper, with address on the back:
On reading your letter again, I find I have not yet answered every part of it. I am ready to allow that there may be somepositive, & much comparative happiness in the world, though I believe the state of society in England was never moreunfavourable than at present to both, all I meant to affirm was, that realities but little resemble the fond pictures of·immagination, & that every situation in life has its attendant evils, for where can we go “that the voice of complaint is notheard.”6 – I am sorry the unmerited calumny you have incurred should have given you a distaste to general society – Thenarrow cir[cles] to which most women are confined is [I] believe one great cause of their unhappiness and of their errors.I seldom go into company my self, however averse I may have been to making the effort, without finding my self thebetter for it. The more we see of, & compare the different lots of our fellow creatures, the less we are inclined to repine atour own & the more we expand our feelings in general benevolence, the less danger there is our becoming a prey toconcentrated passion, or selfish misanthropy – both of which originate in the same source7 – Sickly & Distorted Sensibility.
It will give me pleasure to hear from you, what ever be the subject of your letters, when ever you have leisure &inclination to write.
Address: Miss Hays | No 22 Hatton St Holborn.
1 Misc. Ms. 4076, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 482-84.
2 Reference here is to Mary Hays’s affair with William Frend, which, though it had officially ended by January 1796, resurfaced several times until around 1806, after which he later became engaged and then married in 1808, dashing her hopes forever. The affair, however, would continue to affect her mind and emotions for some time thereafter.
3 Line is from Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Vicar of Wakefield.”
4 Sometime in 1800 Hays moved into Ann Cole’s new residence at 22 Hatton Street, Holborn; the two women had previously lived together at 30 Kirby Street since 1795 (except for Hays’s year-long visit to the home of Edward and Marianna Hays Palmer in Little John Street. Hays will remain with Cole in Hatton Street through May 1803, after which she will live with various relations and other women (in Oundle and Bristol) before returning to live once again with Cole for portions of 1819-20 in a new residence at 1 Upper Cumming Street, Pentonville. Hays achieves her goal of maintaining her own residence at 3 Park Street, Islington, between February 1806 and February-March 1809, during which time three nieces – Sarah, Marianna, and Emma Dunkin – all daughters of John Dunkin, live with and are tutored by her.
5 At this time John, like his brother Thomas, had been brought into the cornfactoring/granary business of John Dunkin, a business that would eventually incorporate nearly all the husbands of his many daughters, from Joanna Dunkin Palmer through Sarah Dunkin Wedd, and several of his own children. His attention to the establishment of his two younger brothers-in-law (Dunkin was 15 years senior to John Hays and 21 to Thomas) was part of his remarkable legacy of guardianship over the five Hays children, whose father died in 1774, the year Dunkin married Joanna Hays, eldest sister of Mary and Elizabeth Hays. In the late 1790s Dunkin purchased a mill at Beeleigh, Essex; he already owned or would soon own large farms as well in the area around Maldon and Chelmsford, Essex, where John Hays was living in 1801 and appears to have remained for some time. Dunkin eventually settled his family, just prior to the death of his wife in 1805, nearby at Woodham-Mortimer Lodge, Essex. Thus, by 1801, the Dunkin and Hays families were intimately connected both in familial and commercial matters, with a business that had already brought considerable wealth to Dunkin (at that time he lived in a spacious mansion in Champion Hill, Camberwell) and, by means of his enlargement into both the production, refining, storing, and shipping of grain beginning with their farms and mill in Essex and extending to their warehouses along Shad Thames, insured financial success to all members of both families into the 1840s.
6 Source unknown.
7 sourse] MS 1801