24-25 September 1812

Eliza Fenwick, Lee Mount, Ireland, to Mrs. M. Hays, at T. Hays, Wandsworth Common, 24 September 1812 [a final scrap dated 25 September].1

Lee Mount  Sepr 24th 1812

My dear Friend,

         I cannot describe the extreme pain which your letter dated Sepr 11th but arriving only yesterday has given ^me^. Alas am I so unconsciously base and sordid as only to value your friendship & seek communication with you when you are making active exertions to serve and benefit ^me^! If this be the case I know it not. I think I would not have deserved, according to my own ideas of deserving, such a reproach from you for worlds but I will enter upon a self examination I never thought of before and if I am this abject selfish being, you should blot me from your remembrance and the sooner I am blotted from existence the better for all people connected with me. When I received your former letter I was ill but I have been recovering & ^ever since^ with the intermission of one 24 hours almost unceasing vomittings accompanied by slight pain. And during this recovery I have availed myself of the fine weather to use every moment of leisure for exercise. My long rambles, and I suppose exhaustion from much suffering occasion me such a sleepiness in the evening that after ten oClock I cannot keep out of bed, and have found it an almost impossible thing to write at night. In the day my time is fully occupied for I have received such indulgent kindness & consideration here that I cannot in conscious conscience appropriate that time which should be the Childrens to the indulgence of my own wishes. For ten days I could not hold a pen. I lost myself one day in the ^upper^ wood & after trying in vain to find the right track, I attempted to descend by the help of the trees to the lower wood. Doing this I lost my shoe tore my petticoat to tatters and violently sprained my right thumb. After its recovery I heard of a friend of Mr Honners setting out for London the latter end of this month and meant to write at length by him to save you postage. I imagined too you would be going to Essex after you left Blackheath2 and that my letter would be in time to greet you on your return home. I had then complaints to make. You spoke in losing your poor Mother of losing all that cared for you – Again I ask myself about my own deservings – I confess you have wounded and humiliated me most severely. But to turn from this to another painful theme. I am at once gratified and grieved by all you say of Eliza – gratified for the affection which warms into such energetic praise and grieved that you should have had such alarm and anxiety created. Eliza has written to me for my consent to marry Mr Rutherford – Mr Rutherford has also written for that consent in a stile of the most manly feeling and candour. He did not write at first for my absolute consent – the He wrote to state his wishes, his hopes of Eliza’s approbation and to press me to adopt the plan of coming immediately to Barbadoes to judge personally of his character temper and prospects with many assurances of my certain success either by private tuition or opening a school. Eliza was so sanguine on my prospects there that she had fixed on the very house she wished to take for me. She urged me to come immediately or return with Mr Levi, one of her friends now in England who ^came^ fraught with tidings & directions relative to my voyage expecting to find me at Mocattas.  The same Packet brought me a solicitation from the Attorney Generals wife to come ^to Barbadoes^ and reside with her to educate her grandchildren offering me very liberal terms & every attention – and saying invitingly that the Attorney Genl & herself could not help being very desirous that these beloved grandchildren should be educated by the Lady who had brought up Miss Fenwick. Eliza candidly told the Honble Mrs Bechiles that she shd prefer the ^one or the^ other plans for me as being more independent and uniting us more closely together. Had I been still in Tavistock Square I think it is most likely I shd have placed Lanno with yr Mr Evans at Islington3 & gone to Barbadoes such surprise and anxiety did the tidings about Mr R— give me. However I had otherwise disposed of myself and I must leave her decision to the guidance of her own Judgment & feelings. May she be happy! She has – she does deserve it. If she have really found that Man whom of all the persons she ever knew (repeat her words) is most calculated, most constituted to make her happy, yet whom she will yield up if I desire it – whom she professes to esteem and to love yet without being what is called in Love, how shall I play the cold and selfish part of saying live single for my sake – Live to be old neglected solitary joyless without natural ties to bind you to the flagging remnant of life while I unhappy in marriage yet feel hourly & momentarily mingled blisses & cares through my children and am stealing towards the grave without any of those blank lonely <–> desolate feelings that you my dear Mary gifted with extraordinary resources & connected with a numerous & in a great degree kind & amiable family too often participate. That I feel the prospect of a new separation, that my heart sinks with a thousand undefined fears I will not deny, but those I never will unveil to her – I will go to her when Orlando is settled if she does not by that time return to me. Mr Rutherford is not ^a mere^ adventurer. The week before I left Town I had a communication with his mother. Little did I then imagine when I was glad to revive old associations respecting his family & my parents that a new connection ^was forming^. I well remember his Mother at the time of her marriage. She was a most elegant interesting woman. She is still the same superior kind of being & dotes on this runaway Son. Stage struck about 17 he wandered to America because he wd not wound his parents by taking that profession in England. Their rigid piety was more averse to the stage than ^ever^ yr Mr Dunkins4 He has led an unsettled life, sometimes shutting himself up for close and serious study for a long interval & then returning for resources to the Stage. His mother says she has heard from respectable persons ^as well as himself^ of the course of his life and she thanks God fervently that though guilty of many follies he has escaped vice, and that he has always been esteemed by the worthiest people wherever he had intercourse. She said his last letters had promised her to quit the stage & settle in the profession of the Law and a letter I enclosed in my frank the very day I left London from Mrs Rutherford to her son was written to urge him to return to England & follow it there. His first letter to me details his views respecting the law his connections in the West Indies & his hopes of success. Yesterday the post that brought yours brought me one acknowledging the receipt of his Mothers letter from my hands and pourtrays in a manner that would please you I am certain the ^his^ surprise and joy on discovery [sic] our old family connection. If he be playing a part he is the most consummate Actor that ever existed. The manner in which he depreciates Orlando’s going to India, where a brother of his & an Uncle also perished, affected me to tears; the manner in which he describes the high estimation in which Eliza is held by those who can in ^any^ degree appreciate her talents & the love & affection her temper and virtues win from all ranks & classes who know & approach her, made my heart beat. His urgent entreaties not to separate myself long from a child so deserving & so devoted & the captivating picture he drew of future social comforts if his views were successful & I granted him his dearest hope quite dazzled & bewildered me. I do not chose to part with his letters ^or you shd see them^ & having so much to say they are too long to copy. Thus much I thought was due to him. It was from the Bruce family I ^first^ learned particulars but lamented that his understanding & education shd have been given to the profession of the stage – They too are religious. He is now 31. Eliza represented him as older but she always under or over guesses ages. She explains that what she meant by fearing Orlando might be like him was the dread of an unsettled life at Manhood. She describes him as aiding her pursuits, improving her mind, correcting her faults, stimulating her exertions and encouraging the growth & expansion of her affection towards me & Orlando; for which, he says he first loved her. Had he her fathers habits & vices I cannot believe she would ever have listened to him for an instant. It is impossible. She describes him as constantly reminding her of me in all that he advises her, and particularly in the pains he takes to cure her of a fault I have often censured that of wasting time. Whatever I recommend in any of my letters he constantly brings to her remembrance and exhorts her to follow. Her wealthy friends, she says, think it an imprudent match because they rely on her marrying richly, but they receive his visits court his society & seem to think they cannot shew her too much favor & attention – Would they continue to do this if they thought ill of Mr Rutherford? In short I cannot but think he is not such as he has been represented to you. If it be so and she has at last become a weak credulous dupe of an artful wicked man & a blind misjudging prepossession, I shall pray for a lengthened life that I may endure ^as I ought to do^ the just punishment of my own errors. It was my silly earnestness to escape from the humiliations of poverty that devoted her to a profession she has abhorred, which has been the source of countless miseries to her – In which she now ^even^ more than ever needs the support & aid of some protector. I shall then feel that I ought in defiance of my own inconveniences & sufferings to have abided by a husband & even a wretched home while that could prove a shelter to a daughter. Shall I not then, think you, execrate the avarice, the ambition for my boy, that made me urge her to go to a distant world unaided by any human being that could be a real friend to her? – Yes, her destiny if wretched, is the cool systematic contrivance of her Mother – If you knew how my heart bled under every suggestion of your letter you would pity me. But I shall not deserve your pity – should I prove the monster of ingratitude to you, you have depicted & the contriver of my daughters ruin let me sink to the depth of wretchedness unpitied unregretted – continue my dear friend the prudence of your reserve to yr family on this affair. It has been more considerate & delicate towards me & Eliza than that of her other friends. I will send you further particulars. Before I write again I may have heard how the commotions of the Theatre had ended – Whether it was to be shut for ever or reopened another season under the guidance of a Mr Adamson (p[oo]r Mr Dyke is dismissed by the Committee) with whom on account of his arbitrary & tyrannical conduct she believes it will be impossible for her to remain. She had left the Dykes from their ill-usage had spent some time at Mrs Hayes a relation of Mrs Dummetts & when she wrote was resident at the Dummetts [who] are anxious to keep her altogether, at least till I come for they most sanguine for my success on the Island – Performances & payment of Salaries had been interrupted – She has sent me another £30 and is going as soon as she could procure a government bill send £100 for Orlando. Part of her benefit by which she clears £180.  Her friends expected more, but the charges & expences were heavy. I think it exceedingly good. One box holding twenty persons made up ^among them^ fifty guineas which was sent her in their a green silk purse. How very liberal & handsome. It proves their opinion of her. The £180 she says she must keep in case she does not follow the fortune of the divided Company to other Islands. My removing to Ireland which she did not learn till August has discomposed her plans & thrown her into great uncertainty what to chose or what to reject. But her next letter will speak of her decision – I will make some extract from hers when I write again.

        My boy is most happily settled with a quaker schoolmaster in Cork and I never see him without tracing some fresh improvement. Had I selected a Master Mr Humphries wd have been my choice ^and Lanno’s too^. He is no longer scolded & disliked, on the contrary he is in danger of being spoiled by too much kindness. Stimulated by the attention he receives he applies with ardor to his studies & has borne off the medal, six following weeks for the greatest application and the best exercises ^from fifty four boys^. He is as proud as a peacock of this suspended testimony of his merits suspended round his neck & held it up with such a glow of pleasure on his face when he first met me so decorated. He comes every second Sunday to Breakfast & returns on Monday morning. I hear of or from [him] almost every day. Mr Honner never goes into Cork without calling on him & bringing me home some commendation from Mr Humphries. He takes lessons of the drawing Master that attends Miss Honner & every Tuesday & Thursday Mr Grogan entertains us with praises of Lanno (Mr Fenwick) as he calls him – “He is so clever – so sensible – so lively – so active – so manly – (with twenty other so’s) that every body must love him” – Mary-Anne hangs her head down to her drawing board, smiles & blushes while her younger sisters glance at her with an expression that pains me. I lately prevailed on her mother to take her to a ball where I knew Sir Nicholas Coulthurst a young Baronet just come of age & to £25000 pr Ann wd ask her to dance in compt to her parents which he did & I hoped that his attentions & those of young Jefferies the Heir of Blarney Castle would make her too proud to admire the poor & humble Orlando.5 It is not usual for a girl of 15 to form a penchant for a boy younger than herself – they generally look up to Men. If any thing induces me to quit this place, suddenly it will I auger arise from that source. Mrs Honner has not deviated in the slightest degree from my former description. I wd not be accessary to giving them pain for words. They consider Orlando as one of their children & Mrs H— talks of the boys coming home at Christmas just as she wd speak of two sons. Lanno [paper torn] forget handsomer friends. [paper torn] his school [paper torn] to you [paper torn] of friends [paper torn] has introduced [paper torn] with the highest Eulogiums to this family. The day he went to school (Mr & Mrs Honner conducted him for I was not well enough) as he was standing on the Steps while the carriage was driving up I heard Anne the Lady’s maid say to Miss Honner – “Well God bless him for he seems born to make happiness wherever he comes – What a comfort he must be to his Mother.” They did not know I was so near & I walked away to quell the tear of mingled joy & pain. Mrs Wilkinson would have wondered that this strange infatuation in his favour shd have spread to Ireland[.]

             Adieu. Do not wholly distrust me as you have done. God bless you and give you peace & health

                        prays your affectionate

                                                 E  Fenwick

Remember me to Mr & Mrs Hayes & family.  Adieu

Sepr 25th

          I have pushed in this scrap to say that if Mr R— had the same alarming ideas about my poor girls fate, at least tell him that the father of this man was a sort of ward of my fathers – That he was a truly good man – that his Mother & sisters ^are^, & that it was hinted to me by Mrs Bruce that he had resigned some property that came to him to encrease the comforts in which ^his^ mother & sisters now live.  Clergymens widows and orphans are seldom too well provided for. I should be glad too that Mr Robinson wd not spread the affair & ill reports it wd be cruel to a mother whom I look up to with respect that it shd be done through me.6 Perhaps she is now equally alarmed & anxious for she can only know Eliza by a profession she looks at with Horror. Their long residence in Ireland & my total separation from all my fathers friends till Chance lately threw me in Mrs Bruce’s way makes me & mine unknown to them ^as to conduct & character^. If this be right to be done do it immediately. And once more farewell.

                                   E F.

Address: To | Miss Hays | T. Hays Esqr | Wandsworth Common 

Postmark: none

1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 112-18; a portion included in Brooks, Correspondence 348.

2 Hays's visit to Essex would have been to see her brother-in-law, John Dunkin, and his remaining daughters still at home (possibly only Marianna, who had lived for a time with Hays in Islington). Hays's brother, John, had married earlier in the year and was now living in a spacious home at the Paragon in Blackheath. 

3 The Rev. John Evans (1767-1827), long-serving minister at the General Baptist congregation in Worship Street; he lived in Islington and operated a school for boys from his home for many years. Mary Hays corresponded with Evans in the early 1790s and it appears that her sister, after her marriage to Ambrose Lanfear in 1804 and her settlement in Islington, worshiped in Evans's congregation. Most likely Mary Hays joined her sister there on Sundays during her time in Islington, 1806-09. For more on Evans, see his entry in the Biographical Index.

4 Another reference to John Dunkin, who remained an orthodox Baptist his entire life. 

5 Sir Nicholas Coulthurst (1789-1829), 4th Baronet, became a prominent Irish politician, serving as MP for Cork City between 1812 and 1829. In 1810, not long before Fenwick met him, he received a grant from the British government to construct the Cork City Gaol. The other individual is most likely St. John George Jefferyes, whose daughter Louisa married Sir George C. Coulthurst, 5th Baronet, linking the two families named in Fenwick's letter above. Blarney Castle came into the possession of the Jefferyes family in 1701. A new residence on the land was built in 1874 and has been occupied by descendants of the Coulthursts ever since.

6 One of several references in this correspondence to Crabb Robinson's tendency to spread information not always appreciated by the original sources.