[19] May 1803

Mary Hays, 9 St. Georges Place, Camberwell, to William Tooke, 39 Ormond Street, Lamb’s Conduit Street, [19] May 1803.1 


No 9 – St Georges Place, Camberwell.

May – 1803.


    Will you allow me to remind you that I am still in existence, by, presuming on your former friendship, to request of you a favour.  You must know, that I have lately launched into extraordinary expences, & have at present no business in view.2 These circumstances, as prudence however unworthy of a great genius, happens to be among the number of my good qualities, affords me no very pleasant subject of reflection. Beside which, I hate to be idle, since melancholy is with me a somewhat constitutional evil. Some new instances of the unprincipled meanness of a certain great publisher has determined me to break with him, though utterly at a loss to find a more profitable connection. Johnson’s procrastinating & unenterprizing habits exhaust my patience, & I have met with but little success in an application to Longman. It is true, he offers to treat with me for an original work, but this at present is not my purpose. I wish to be employed, but I do not wish so severely to task my poor brain. I should be content with dull, plodding, inglorious, occupation, so as, in these hard times, it promised to bring me a little pelf. The wings of my ambition are clipped; I want not to be farther known, flattered or abused, but merely to live independant & free. I would engage either in compilation, abridgement or translation, & promise sober drudgery & punctual performance. But as a woman, I feel myself under peculiar disadvantages in seeking or procuring connections.

      If you or your good father could befriend me, <I would> on this occasion, I would pray for you, as in duty bound. Or possibly, as I know you to be a diligent student & enquirer, you may be able to point out to me some undertaking, suited to the measure of my talents, or some <demeaning[?]> ^light^ French poetry, not new, that might possibly prove acceptable to the amusement-loving public, neatly attired in an English dress. I was struck, a few days since, in reading Robertson’s delightful History of America, by the contents of one of the Notes, from which the following is an abstract. “M. de la Condamine, in the year 1743, sailed from Cuenca to Pard, a settlement of the Portuguese &c. in less than four months. This hazardous undertaking, to which ambition prompted Arellano, & to which the love of science led M. de la Condamine, was undertaken in the year 1769, by Madame Godin des Odonais, from conjugal affection. The narrative of the hardships which she suffered, of the dangers to which she was exposed, & of the disasters which befel her, is one of the most singular & affecting stories in any language, exhibiting in her conduct a striking picture of the fortitude which distinguishes the one sex, mingled with the sensibility & tenderness peculiar to the other. Lettre de M. Godin, a M. de la Condamine.”3

       Now, can you tell me where this account is to be procured, & whether it has yet been translated? I am here quite out of the literary world, & must depend on my friends for f information & assist aid.

       You will oblige me by as speedy a reply as your avocations will permit.

       The ladies of your family, to whom present my respects, have promised a visit to my little retreat. Your father & yourself will, I hope, accompany them.

                         Your friend, with esteem,

                                      Mary Hays.

The aspect of public affairs at present, I am sorry to observe, is not calculated to lighten the measure of private vexation. We stand, I fear on the brink of ruin destruction – Which Heaven avert!


Address: Wm Tooke Esq. | No 39 – Ormond Street, |Lamb’s Conduit Street

Postmark: 19 May 1803, 7 o’clock

1 MS MH 0029, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 331-32; Walker, Idea of Being Free 280-81.

2 At this time Hays finally achieved her dream of living independently in a house of her own (not as a boarder) and supporting herself from her small annuity and her income from her publications. In early spring 1803, Mary Hays moved from Hatton Garden, where she lived with Ann Cole, to her own house (along with one servant) at 9 St. George's Place, Camberwell, a new row of houses built along Albany Road near Kent Road and just to the south of Surrey Square. Her sister, Elizabeth,  married Ambrose Lanfear in March 1804, and her brother, John Hays, appears to have returned from Essex in 1804 and taken a house in Peckham, just to the south of Hays's new home.  Sometime in 1804 Hays's eldest sister, Joanna Dunkin, and her family moved to Mortimer Woodham Lodge, near Maldon, Essex, which may explain John Hays's return from that location that same year since his labors with the family's business were no longer required now that John Dunkin was living in Essex (the Dunkins and Hayses were partners in several businesses as cornfactors at this time, including farms and a mill in Essex). She will reside at St. George's Place until February 1806, when she will move to 3 Park Street, Islington, to be near her sister Elizabeth. Holden's London Directory for 1805 lists Hays as "Mrs. Hays," but that was not uncommon at that time for older single women to be given the prefix of "Mrs." The reference is not to her mother, however, who disappears from the Rate Books at 5 Gainsford Street after 1803, though she  retained ownership of the property until her death in 1812. If Mrs. Hays rented out the family home, she may have moved in with her daughter, Sarah Hills, who was also living in Gainsford Street in 1803, the year she became a widow. Or Mrs. Hays may have lived for a time with her eldest daughter, Joanna Dunkin, and her family at Champion Hill, prior to their departure for Woodham Mortimer, near Maldon, Essex, in 1804. She could also have lived with her son, Thomas, and his family now living and working in Mill Street, Dockhead, just across a narrow inlet of water at Jamaica Wharf from Gainsford Street. After the suicide of Ambrose Lanfear in 1809, Mrs. Hays moved to Islington, most likely living with Elizabeth Lanfear and assisting in the care of her two young boys. Mrs. Hays died at Islington in 1812.

3 Reference is to The History of America (1777, 1796) by the Scottish historian, William Robertson (1721-93).