27 February 1802

Mary Hays, 22 Hatton Street, London, to Henry Crabb Robinson, Leipsick, Germany, 27 February 1802.1  


February 27 – 1802    No 22. Hatton Street. London.


   My good friend, I am exceedingly mortified that you should suspect me of neglecting to acknowledge the receipt of your last very sensible, entertaining2 & friendly letter. You ought to have known too well my friendly & punctual habits. I replied to it very shortly after it came to my hand; it was directed according to the address you gave me, & put into the generall post by a young gentleman who, at that time, lodged in our house, and who, by my desire, gave with it a shilling. These I believe were the only precautions, within my power, necessary to ensure its safety. The contents I have now wholly forgotten; I remember only, that, on contrasting it with yours, I was so little satisfied with my performance, that I concluded, from not hearing of you again, that you felt no inclination to encourage so dull a correspondent. Travellers have greatly the advantage of the friends they leave behind. – With them every thing is novel, every sentiment vivid; & succession of objects & scenes gives vigour to the animal spirits & a flow to the mind; they paint with spirit what they feel with vivacity, & reward the solicitude of their friends by the pleasure they communicate. But, <–> ^from^ those who remain on the same spot, surrounded by the same circumstances, thinking over the same thoughts, & feeling the same sentiments, what entertainment, can be expected, what information gained? Affection & friendship may indeed give an interest to the most uniform images ^& sentiments^, & you flatter me, most agreeably, by telling me that I have still a claim on your remembrance and esteem. Thus encouraged I have, according to your desire, taken a folio sheet, tho’ how to fill it, I have not yet determined.

   I received your favor, of the 26th of Jany, this very morning, &, though labouring with the disadvantage of a violent head-ache, have determined immediately to speak in part to its contents. I perceive you return the same <–> friendly character, the same thirst of seeing celebrated writers, & the same reasoning metaphysical turn ^of mind^. Now, do you know, that respecting these things excepting the first, in which I trust I shall never change) I am greatly altered. I no longer care for authors, except for reading their books, which is always my dear delight, and I have done with systems. I am a complete and an indifferent sceptic. Nothing appears to me of importance but as it is connected with ^individual^ happiness, & all ^human^ happiness ^must have^ appears to me to have a physical foundation. In attending to the mental and moral education of man, this more important part, appears ^seems^ to have ^been^ neglected & forgotten. The health, the animal spirits, the quantity of agreeable sensation, must make up the whole <–> ^real good^ of good ^sensitive beings^ – So far as the cultivation of the mind, the taste, & the imagination, go to heighten, to vary & to multiply these pleasures – so far they have their ^such cultivation has its^ subordinating worth. You may perceive ^that^ I am an epicurean, but it is of the purest school.  Gross sensual gratification is in itself destructive of the well being of the individual & ^consequently^ of the community. Every species of intemperance carries with it it’s immediate punishment. The sensibility must be exercised, not exhausted, the appetites satisfied not jaded, & ^the^ mind & body preserved in their just & equal temperament, that constitutes the health & the vigor of both. Upon this principle, I would banish all intense studies & pursuits, all excess in sedentary occupation, all unnatural institutions & pernicious restraints.  I would not have the happiness of youth & childhood sacrificed to uncertain & perhaps useless attainments, ^the end sacrificed to the means^. I would not have the nerves unstrung & the spirits saddened in their joyous season; I would not have a laborious & anxious youth prepare the way for an enfeebled maturity, & a premature old age. I know not whether you comprehend me, but I have at least given to your active inquisitive mind materials for thinking. I no longer say – “How charming is divine philosophy!”3 – For the term, divine, I substitute vain – and, I doubt, your Kantian studies would not form an exception to my rule.  True! to persons of a strong imagination it is very desirable as one illusion fades, to find another & ^ano^ther in endless succession. Paradise, & the Elysian fields are very fine places, I wish my mind were so constituted as to receive the evidence of either one or the other. “It may be so,” (I say) – “I hope it will be so!” – But I can go no farther.

   If men had not taken so much pains to deprive themselves of real & substantial good, to follow phantoms, & to leave nature & simplicity (I do not mean rusticity) far behind, they would have less need of these philosophical & theological chimeras. But to have done with this, lest you should suspect that, like other people of sensibility, disappointment has soured my mind, & made me regard all objects through a jaundiced medium. Or rather, will you not have recourse to my constitutional melancholy – if indeed it be constitutional! – at which you so kindly hint. The best things corrupted become the worst, so it may be said of extreme sensibility, or nerves too prone to vibrate. If such a disposition heightens pleasure; in the present state of European society, it but too frequently, to women more especially, aggravates pain. The causes of my habitual dejection, my friend, it would not be difficult to trace. Brought up in domestic retirement & simplicity, with every pure & natural affection, called into exercise, at the period when the feelings are most vivid & the character takes its colouring, my fond plans of futurity were blasted by the premature fate of a virtuous & amiable youth with whose life & happiness my own seemed connected ^bound up.^ I survived indeed, the shock, but only to know more sorrow. Romantically refined & conscious of my impressions, I have through life cherished constancy as a virtue, which I begin to suspect it is not, in this mutable state ^of things^. But of what use is it to have the mind enlightened, when the habits are fixed? I ought not to say, I am unhappy, though perhaps I cannot, with truth, say otherwise. The few friends I love still remain to me unchanged; I miss not one whose affection is important to my comfort from the circle. It is true, that I have been insulted & ill-used by the world ^public^, & have been convinced of the folly of desiring literary fame, the accompaniment of which, to a delicate female mind, must ever overbalance it’s gratifications. My solitude, against which you kindly warn me, has become more profound, though my intercourse with my family, which I love & in whom I can trust, has encreased in frequency. As to <–> my sentiments (I do not mean opinions) feelings & habits, I am just the creature you left me, excepting, that they have received an acquisition of strength. O had you not encouraged me to this egotism, I ought to apologise for saying so much about myself. I am glad to find your travels have answered so many desirable purposes. I think you plan, as an independent man, a very good one, & I admire your perseverence. By this time, I supposed you were in the Republic, flown there ^thither^ on the wings of the peace,4 (of which, by the by, you say nothing) & immersed in the dissipations of a still more corrupt London. But your letter breathes greater simplicity & goodness than could have been dated from Paris. & Friendship, ^good^-faith & affection, occupy, in great cities, but a small space. Your old acquaintance Stephen W Browne is at Paris,5 & has lost his fortune by an imprudent speculation. You, it seems, have been wiser, on which I congratulate you! I have not seen the ‘Iphigenia’ but will try to get it. You must ask your other friends for news & gossip, for I am a perfect recluse. I know not what to say about P——s,6 I believe he is safe as to pecuniary matters, in other respects (excepting that he has taken a house, distinct from his business, in Hatton Street, & has become a great publisher &, in his own estimation, a great man) he stands much where he did. It is true, I do business with him, because I find it convenient. Should you feel inclined for the same reasons, to do the same ^thing^, take care to have written agreements. Mr Fenwick has a new plan which I hope, for the sake of his family, will prosper. An agricultural gazette ^to be^ called the Plough, to be published twice a week. He has received liberal encouragement & assistance.7 Dr Reid has had an acquisition of fortune, by the death of Dr Pultney to whom he was no relation, & with whom he had but a slight acquaintance. That young man has been fortunate in making friends, I cannot exactly say – why? His sister is, at present at Leicester. The Dr has, I think, considerable talent, & is much improved. Do you read his medical reports in the M Magazine?8

   I spent the latter part of last summer in Essex, had a visit from Mr Rutt & called upon him.9 Of course you are acquainted with poor Wakefield’s death.10 Be assured it will give me pleasure to hear from you, & that frequently, if you will except ^accept^ of my factless & matterless letters in return. I will send this as you direct, to Mr Rutt, & I hope it will have better success.

   I am solicitous to assure you of my continued esteem, & that I am very sincerely your friend

                                             Mary Hays.

My work can scarcely make it’s appearance, I think, before next winter.11 Coleridge, I am informed, is about to publish on the Kantian system, most ^which^ can never do very extensive good, while it is so difficult of comprehension.12 Godwin is married <–> to a gay travelled widow, without fortune, without cultivation of mind, with agreeable manners & one ^two^ child^ren^ a boy.13 The eldest Miss Plumptre is gone to Paris, to settle there, I believe.14 Never take anything for granted, you are mistaken in supposing I have a passion for Werter. It has too little of nature & too much rant for me. The tenderness of St Pierre’s Paul & Virginia affects my soul. Such is the species of writing that suits my turn of character. A passion like that of Werter, if it were not desperate, would be transient. The affectionate sorrow of Paul gradually conducts him to the tomb. The one has it’s seat in the sense, the other is planted deep in the heart. Do you not perceive the distinction? But perhaps not – you are a man.15

Mr Fenwick wou’d take it as a favor, if you could send him any intelligence for his paper, either agricultural, literary, or of what ever nature. Pray write to me soon again, you will give me pleasure.


[note by John Fenwick]

Dear Sir, Mrs F. and myself are obliged by yr remembring us. – If you can send me anecdotes of Schiller &c; description of their persons &c. you will greatly serve me. Yours sincerely, J. Fenwick.


Address: Monr H. C. Robinson |Chez M. Magr Töpfer16 | Grimma |Pres de Leipsick

Postmark:  [?] 1802.

1 Crabb Robinson Archive, DWL/HCR/5/2/42, Dr. Williams's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 554-58.

2 entertainting] MS

3 Taken from Milton’s Comus, l. 476. 

4 The Republic of France, led by Napoleon, made peace with England (The Treaty of Amiens) in March 1802, but by the spring of 1803 hostilities had resumed. 

5 Stephen Weaver Browne has appeared previously in the Hays Correspondence; see his entry in the Biographical Index.

6 Richard Phillips, publisher of the Monthly Magazine and various works that both Hays and Robinson had contributed to prior to 1802.

7 Fenwick's enterprise did not materialize. 

8 Richard Pulteney, M.D. (1730-1801) established himself as a prominent botanist in Leicester during the 1750s and 1760s; he removed to Blandford in 1765 as a physician, having just completed his medical studies at Edinburgh. He married Elizabeth Galton of Blandford in 1779 and in 1782 published A General View of the Writings of Linnaeus, which further enhanced his reputation as a botanist. While in Blandford, he became a friend of the poet, Mary Scott (1751-93). He was elected a member of the Linnean Society in 1790.  During his time in Leicester, Pulteney attended the Great Meeting (Presbyterian) there, and knew the Reid family, all of whom also attended the Great Meeting. As Samuel Coltman writes in his Journal, Mary Reid was ‘the old friend of our family’s so often alluded to in the letters of Dr Pulteney and the sister to Dr Reid; both of them distinguished for talents in the society they frequented’ (Leicestershire Record Office, 15D57/449). After his death in 1801, Pulteney left much of his estate to John Reid, which further enhanced his already substantial wealth. Reid contributed regularly to Phillips’s Monthly Magazine on medical matters. Phillips, like Pulteney, was an old family friend from Leicester, and it may have been through the Reids that Hays first came to know Phillips and contribute to the Magazine. Hays had previously responded to a series of essays by Reid on insanity in the May and June 1800 issues of the Monthly Magazine; Hays’s response appeared that July (pp. 523-4).

9 Hays's brother, John, had been living at Chelmsford, Essex for a year or so, most likely managing the mill at nearby Beleigh that John Dunkin, Jr., had purchased a few years previously. Elizabeth Hays had been living with him as well. J. T. Rutt's wife was from nearby  Maldon and would have made frequent visits there. In 1804, John Dunkin, Jr., would move his family to Mortimer-Woodham, Essex, also near Maldon and Chelmsford.

10 Gilbert Wakefield (1756-1801) took his B.A. from Jesus College at Cambridge in 1776, after which he was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church.  He soon adopted Unitarian views, leaving the Established church to become a tutor at Warrington Academy, working with Joseph Priestley, William Enfield, John Aiken, and other leading Dissenters. In 1790 he removed to London, where he commenced duties as classical tutor at the new Dissenting academy at Hackney.  He resigned after only one year; he remained in Hackney, however, where he devoted himself to political and religious writing.  His criticism of William Pitt and the war with France eventually led to charges of libel for his pamphlet, A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop of Llandaff’s Address.  He was found guilty and sentenced to two years in Dorchester goal; his pecuniary difficulties were greatly relieved by a fund of £5000 procured by his friends.  He was released on 29 May 1801, but died of typhus fever not long after his return to Hackney.   Among his numerous publications are an edition of Lucretius (3 vols., 1796-99), a translation of the New Testament (1792), Evidences of Christianity (1793), An Examination of Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” (1794), The Spirit of Christianity compared with the Spirit of the Times (1794), and A Defence of Revealed Religion (1795).

11 Hays’s Female Biography (1803).

12 Another of Coleridge’s many projects left incomplete.

13 Godwin married Mary Jane Clairemont (1766-1841), his neighbour at the time, in December 1801.She brought two illegitimate children, Charles and Mary Jane (they had two different fathers), with her into the marriage. During her marriage to Godwin she had a son, William, born on 28 March 1803.

14 Anne Plumptre (see Biographical Index) who travelled to Paris in 1802 with Amelia Opie and remained there for three years.

15 Reference is to Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe and Paul et Virginie (1788) by Bernardin de St-Pierre (1737-1814); a popular translation of the novel by Helen Maria Williams appeared in 1795.   

16 Heinrich August Töpfer (1758-1833) studied Philosophy, Physics and Mathematics at Leipzig, where he earned an M.A. From 1796 to 1828 he taught Mathematics and Physics at the Fürstenschule, Grimma.