21 January 1814

Penelope Pennington, Hot Wells, Bristol, to Mary Hays, at Mrs. Mackie’s, Tansor, near Oundle, Northamptonshire, 21 January 1814.1

Hot Wells 21st Jany 1814

My dear Madam

       The Days of Romance are certainly gone by with me, yet every Line I receive from you convinces me more fully that there is an undefinable Impulse, or Sympathy, that attracts certain Minds towards each other, and governs even the minor Events of Life. – I trace this Chain conspicuously in the Casualties that have led to this Intercourse between us, and I anticipate more Satisfaction in the prospect it holds of those renewed, and congenial Feelings, which the Society of Friendship only can bestow, where similarity of Taste, and Character forms the Basis, than I dared hope ever to experience again. – I only regret that the period of realizing this Pleasure is yet so distant. –

      My Mind grows impatient for a Personal Acquaintance with an Object become so interesting! – I long to know how our Habits suit, how our Opinions agree, Religious, Political, & Poetical.

       Subjects which neither my Health, nor Leisure will allow me ^to^ enter upon, fully, through the Channel of Correspondence.

       There was a time when I shou’d have delighted in such an Employment, but the Spirit is gone! – These Subjects will however, I trust, happily and pleasantly fill up many an Hours Tete a Tete, or help to beguile still more agreeably our way as we ramble through, what you most justly style, this delightful and enchanting Country, “whose Scenery, in Landscape, and rural Beauty, I really think unmatched” – at least, they make almost all other Situations appear flat and insipid to me on comparison; – for while Nature is so rich! various and lovely all around! the contrast afforded by an immense Population, gives animation, and Effect to the whole! –

       What you say on difference of Opinion entirely meets my Ideas. – I hate wrangling, and dispute, tho’ I delight in fair discussion, and Investigation, which I think at once one of the highest Privileges, and most useful, and agreeable exercise of the rational Faculties; -- but am often deterred from this indulgence by finding it in Minds unequal to the Combat, produce an Irritation, and call forth traits of Ill Humor, and Ill Breeding, attended with the most unpleasant Consequences.

       With you I shall not have this to fear, and with you I promise myself to enjoy, in its fullest extent; – “The Feast of Reason, and the flow of Soul.”2

      If I appreciate your Sentiments and Opinions rightly, I fear you will find yourself considerably annoyed by the Spirit of Methodism that has of late years pervaded, and over run our Places of Public Worship, even in the Established Church. It is, however, worse than Methodism! – it is a dark, Calvanistic [sic] Principle that shrouds all the finest attributes of the Deity! – that is inimical to every social Pleasure and to the fine Arts! – that threatens to revive all the Hypocrisy, and Puritanical Nonsense of the Oliverian times!3 – to introduce Cimmerian Gloom4 amongst us, and all the Views of the dark Ages.

       Pushed to extremes, the consequence is always bad, and, for my own part, I feel in more danger of losing sight of the Religion (which has hitherto been the Support, & Comfort of my Life) altogether, than of being a Convert to these Doctrines, which, however, make a wonderful impression on weak, and young Minds, tho’ it prohibits every innocent Amusement, & gratification suited to their years, and many of them it has absolutely alienated from their natural, and proper Duties! – leading them into that gloomy & unsocial Abstraction which only Bigotry enjoins.5

      I read “Emma Courtney” long ago – I will ingenuously say with more admiration of its Ingenuity, than approbation of its Tendency, which I probably mistook, so apt are we, in those sort of lighter Productions, to confound “Warning,” and “Example.”6 – “The Victim of Prejudice” I am sure I read at the time, but have not as clear a recollection of that Work. – The rest I have not had the good fortune to see. – We find it difficult to get Books here, where are such parcels of idle Readers, that they will detain a Volume for a Month, or until your zest for the Work is evaporated. – The only good Libraries are in Bristol, but if you are not on the Spot to seize a Book immediately, you may wait Weeks, or Months for it.

       We have been much amused with “The Heroine”7 – it will make you laugh, & is an admirable Burlesque on the Heroines, & Plots of Modern Novels – but it is like a magnifying Glass after all, that shews you the Freckles, Spots, and blemishes in a beautiful Face, impervious to your Sight until made visible by that exaggerating Test; – or like the too officious Person who draws aside the Veil, & discovers to you all the mortal Foibles, & Failings, of a ^long^ admired, & favorite Friend. – We have been deeply engaged by Sir Carr Porters “History of the Campayne in Russia.”8 – I cou’d not have thought it possible that an account of Battles cou’d have been made so interesting to the Heart & the Understanding!

       We need not any longer have recourse to the Histories of Greece and Rome for Patterns of true Patriotism; – Russia furnishes brighter Examples, on a much higher, because the Christian Principle – how you will admire and venerate her Heros!! – I am grieved to think of your being shut up in Northamptonshire this Siberian Winter! for in these milder Regions we are literally buried in Snow, & almost frozen by the Fire – no mails have come in, or gone out for some Days! – so when this Letter will reach you, God knows!

       You say true, dear madam, “no change has taken place in my Family” – nor is there any immediate prospect that this is likely to be the case, -- but so strong is the interest you have excited in my bosom that I shoud now be miserable to relinquish the hope of attaching to myself so valuable a Domestic ^Acquisition^ and of securing (I trust for Life) a Friend so congenial to my Taste. – A dear Friend of mine, long since lost, used to say – “the House was always large enough if the Heart was so.” – My House is very accommodating, and I have decided on such Arrangements as, I trust, you will find comfortable. – The Furniture you mention will be safer under your own Care in my House, than any where else & may contribute to your convenience – Some of the Articles will save my purchasing, which I must otherwise do, as I shall take an extra Room into requisition – and I have plenty of Garrat Room for what you may not want. – With respect to Terms, be assured, dearest Madam, the only dissatisfaction I shall feel on that Head will be from receiving so large a part of your limited Income.

       Wou’d to God I was authorized to say – “Come and share our Comforts, and let your Friendship & Society, be the sole return” but that high gratification is denied me. – You shall have my leave to love Mr Pennington as much as you please; – you cannot love him better than he deserves. – His high, & delicate notions of the Duties of Hospitality, – His fraternal, & protecting tenderness, & kindness towards the Females residing under his Roof, demands ^in return^ every consideration and indulgence towards his few peculiarities,  his few Peculiarities, & Foibles. – Every thing, I think, now seems fully explained, and understood between us. – We certainly shall not meet as Strangers, & I hope we shall long reside together as true, and tender Friends. – Mr Pennington joins me in the Wish that the New Year may be productive of this, and every other desirable Blessing to us all. – It seems full of Promise. – May it be confirmed, for the sake of suffering Millions, prays, – My dear Madam  

                                                Your faithful, & much devoted

                                                            P. Pennington!


My Fingers & Faculties are absolutely benumbed with the cold! My Heart only remains active, and that has been deeply interested in this scrawl –



Address: Mrs M Hayes | Mrs Mackies – Tansor | near Oundle | Northamptonshire


1 Misc. Ms. 2181, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 510-13 (sections of the final two pages of the transcription in Brooks that were misplaced have been situated correctly above). 

2 From Alexander Pope’s Imitations of Horace, Satire I, l. 127.

3 By 1814, Evangelicalism had made significant inroads into the Anglican Church, led by such figures as John Newton, William Wilberforce (and the others in the Clapham Sect), William Romaine, Augustus Toplady, and, from Bristol, Hannah More, to name just a few. This would eventually form a “Low Church” movement akin to certain Methodist chapels and, on its more extreme end, at least to Pennington, those Particular Baptist and Independent chapels devoted to a robust evangelical Calvinism that many Anglicans found appalling, both aesthetically and doctrinally, and who sought relief instead in the more traditional “High Church” form of Anglican worship. Pennington may also be thinking of “High Calvinism,” which was a common form of Baptist and Independent preaching for much of the eighteenth century, a doctrinal position many felt was little less than overt fatalism and an assault on the character of God. Pennington is equating the origins of these doctrines and denominations largely with the rise of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century.

4 The Cimmerians, from Homer’s Odyssey, lived in a land without sunshine.

5 Most likely Pennington is criticizing the explosion of reading materials for young readers, especially among the lower orders, led by the efforts of the Religious Tract Society, founded in 1799 in London and coming on the heels of Hannah More’s successful venture, the Cheap Repository Tracts (1795-97). Hays had already written several volumes for young readers pertaining to British history and the biographies of famous women, and in 1815 will join an army of women making significant contributions to adolescent literature through the creation of moral and didactic fiction for young readers among the lower orders, though, in Hays’s case, from a Unitarian, not a Calvinistic, perspective.

6 A common complaint of many sentimental novels of intrigue and seduction from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that cautioned readers, especially young girls, in their Prefaces that their heroines were designed to stand as a “warning,” not an “example,” lest young girls should acquire erroneous notions of romantic and domestic bliss, which often happened because the novels seemed more often that not to be promoting the heroine rather than critiquing here. Aside from Emma Courtney, an excellent example is The Coquette (1797), by the American writer, Hannah Foster.

7 The Heroine, or, Adventures of Cherubina, an anti-sentimental novel by Eaton Stannard Barrett, appeared in 1813.

8 A Narrative of the Campaigns in Russia, during the year 1812, by Robert Ker Porter, also appeared in 1813.