26 November 1814
Mary Hays, at W. Pennington’s Esq., Dowry Square, Hot Wells, Bristol, to Henry Crabb Robinson, 5 Essex Court, Temple, London, 26 November 1814.1
Novr 26th 1814. W. Pennington’s Esq., Dowry Square,
Hot Wells, Bristol
Have you yet returned, my good friend, to your native land, & may I still calculate on the friendly interest which you have so long appeared to take in my welfare & comfort to talk to you of myself & of my present situation. But first let me claim in return, what cannot fail of proving far more novel & interesting, some account from you of your late peregrinations, & your opinion of the state of things on the other side the channel. Your political knowledge, the lively interest which you have taken in the European drama, & your ardent concern in all that affects the well-being of your country & of your fellow-beings, cannot fail of giving acuteness to your observations & value to your judgement. On another subject likewise I am very solicitous for intelligence, the fate of our friend Mrs Fenwick & of her son, respecting which no tydings have reached me since they left the British shores. A pacquet may perhaps be awaiting me in London. If so, forward it, I entreat you, enclosed, by the two penny post, to N Palmer Esq, No 12. Aldermanbury, Cheapside,2 who will send it hither in a frank. God grant us happy intelligence! fortune is certainly greatly in arrears to this family.
And now, perhaps, it will not be unacceptable to you to learn some particulars respecting my own destination. I enjoy many comforts, &, considering the various errors & indiscretions of my past life, I ought to be grateful, & I am so. Yet the last summer was, on various accounts, both moral & physical, a painful & a trying one to me – & here, disappointment awaited me. My journey, though by night, was, with the aid of a brilliant moon, both pleasant & safe – But the first glance which I gained of my promised new friend, & the first tone of her voice (notwithstanding a flattering & cordial reception) convinced me that no sympathy would ever subsist between us. This tact, which, I believe, belongs in a peculiar degree to the observing & sensitive, rarely deceives. Never have I, in similar cases, found myself mistaken. Mrs Pennington possesses some talent, but little real knowledge or mental culture. The information she has acquired has been of that desultory & superficial nature which is gained by an intercourse with the world rather than by reflection & study. Vanity & common-place ambition are her ruling passions, beauty, youth, fashion, style & wealth are her idols, & her regrets from having lost or missed some of these advantages, are incessant & undisguised. The disappointments of the heart & affections subdue the temper & soften the mind; those of pride & vainglory, on the contrary, give asperity to the former & bitterness to the latter. Of this asperity & bitterness Mrs P has a plentiful share, which, while she averts, she takes no pains to vanquish or controul. She appears, originally, to have possessed many good qualities both of the heart & mind, but the world, early flattery & dissipation, with the want of all voluntary power over herself, have destroyed or rendered them unavailing. A round of amusement, in the earlier periods of her life, have deprived her of all resource in herself, & given her a constant craving after something new or exciting. The first few days I was flattered, admired & caressed – “rapturously delighted” with me, was the term made use of. But now, if I talk, I am listened to with weariness, opposed with tartness, or interrupted with impatience. Thus, though I keep my temper & even my cheerfulness (for the various trials I have encountered have disciplined my mind) my understanding is fettered ^& my heart chilled^. Brought up in received & popular notions on all important subjects, Mrs P has a horror of philosophy & philosophers, & of the right of private judgement either exercised or professed. In assertion, declamation, & deprecation she abounds, but to reasoning & consequence is an entire stranger. She talks a great deal, & not ill, but abhors to listen; can be entertaining & very agreeable when flattered & pleased, but can endure no rival near the throne. Mr P is greatly inferior to his wife in talent & capacity, & is wholly & arbitrarily ruled by her: like her he is vain, but feeble-minded, prosing, prolix & often very silly; yet, when not irritated by trifles, civil & kind. Of the three other ladies who board in the house, one is a widow, from Boston in America, a gentlewoman & well-informed, but, like myself, awed by the spirit of the lady of the mansion, & kept silent & forbearing by the love of peace. Miss Smith, an Irish lady,3 ^plain in her person &^ with the strong accent of her country, is the niece of Mr Grattan4 – Studious, well-read, patriotic, liberal, candid, benevolent, with heightened feeling & elevated principles, ^this lady^ interests me the more as her mind & character develope themselves. She foresaw & anticipated my disappointment, & sympathises with me. Modest, unassuming, & with a temper perfectly under
com the command of principle & prudence, seeking no praise from others, & satisfied with the approbation of her own heart, she requires to be known to be duly appreciated. We accord on most subjects, & where we differ discuss that difference with mutual candour & respect. My veneration for Mr Grattan & my sentiments on the catholic question have rendered me more peculiarly acceptable to the worthy niece of this worthy son of Erin. Our opportunities for the unrestrained interchange of sentiment are however but rare. The third lady Miss Wren, is a gentlewoman, mild, well-bred and quiet, who gives to no one offence. For the rest, my accommodations are very good, the house handsome & well furnished, the table plentiful & good, & the domestic arrangements, with the exception of terrible late hours in the morning, leave no cause for complaint. With the country I have been in raptures in variety & scenic beauty it exceeds, beyond all, comparison, not only that I had before beheld, but every conception that I had previously formed. I am never tired of rambling up & down the rocks, & my health, spirits & appetite are remarkably good. We have no variety of company in the house, but I brought with me a few introductory letters. One to Dr Estlin,5 the minister of the Unitarian chapel at Bristol (to which I have become a subscriber & an attendant when the weather permits!) [which led to < >] promising consequences. I am greatly pleased both with the Dr & his family, & am received by them with the most gratifying kindness. Their distance from us is however a long mile & a half; but, as the fairer seasons approach, our intimacy will, I trust, become a greater source of mutual satisfaction. I have also visited Mr Rowe6 the colleague of Dr Estlin. This will probably not be my abiding place, yet I am in no haste to change & shall not do so without taking time for due deliberation. I am certainly at a great expence here, & my pecuniary projects have hitherto failed. Mr Underwood changed his mind respecting ^concerning^ the proposal he made to me, & respecting the translation I have long since given up any every idea of profit. Yet I by no means repent that I made it, it beguiled the past winter, was an exercise to my pen, & ^an^ improvement in the french language.
Remember me cordially to every enquiring friend, & be assured of my grateful & constant esteem.
Written in Crabb Robinson's hand on the envelope:
MH was the friend of Mrs Woolstonecraft but somewhat pedantic and rather ridiculous. The Author of forgotten novels An ultra liberal but consciously a great admirer of William Fox afterwards MP for Oldham.
1 Crabb Robinson Archive, DWL/HCR/5/5/116, Dr. William's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 573-76; Walker, Idea of Being Free 286-88.
2 Nathaniel Palmer (1774-1840), husband to Joanna Dunkin Palmer, Mary Hays’s niece. For more on the Palmers, see the entry in the Biographical Index.
3 Miss Symth appears later in this correspondence.
4 Henry Grattan (1746-1820) was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, between 1763 and 1767, after which he entered the Middle Temple to study law in London. He attended the Robin Hood debating society and sat in on sessions in the House of Commons to learn debating techniques. He became associated with Irish patriot politicians and reformists like Henry Flood, in the late 1760s. He returned to Dublin and practiced law and was admitted to the Irish House of Commons for Charlemont in November 1775, soon becoming a major voice for Irish reformist politics. He joined the patriot club known as the Monks of the Screw and became steadily a voice for popular reform, including free and more equal trade and more authority for the Irish parliament. In December 1782 he married Henrietta Fitzgerald of County Kilkenny. He helped form the Irish Whig Club in 1789 to promote political reform and protect the constitution of 1782. He represented Dublin in 1790 and sought to find a solution to the Catholic question of relief. A more conservative bent in the Irish government worked against Grattan during the 1790s, and he did not seek relection for 1798, nor did he join the United Irishmen. He returned to parliament in 1800 as a member for Wicklow, opposed to any legislative union with England; his opposition was in vain, and the Act of Union became law. He sat out of parliament for a few years then returned in 1805, continuing his support for Catholic relief but now doing so in the combined parliament in Westminster, London, for the next 15 years. He died in his home in Portman Square, London, in June 1820, still pursuing Catholic relief. He was interred in Westminster Abbey, noted for his great oratorical skills and his relentless desire for legislative independence for Ireland and Catholic Emancipation.
5 John Prior Estlin (1747-1817) ministered to the Presbyterian (Unitarian) congregation in Lewin’s Mead, Bristol, from 1771 to 1817, and with whom Hays corresponded (see following letter) and where she attended during her time in Bristol. This was the same minister and church in which the poet Mary Scott also attended during her final year of life in 1793 and which Samuel Taylor Coleridge attended during his time in Bristol c. 1795-96. Estlin, John Prior (1747-1817) was originally from Leicestershire. He was educated by his uncle, an Anglican clergyman, who was chaplain to the Earl of Moira. He then attended Warrington Academy and studied under John Aikin, father of Anna Letitia Barbauld and Hays’s correspondent, John Aikin, Jr. He began his duties at Lewin’s Mead in 1771, and shortly thereafter opened a school in St. Michael’s Hill, and eventually was awarded a LL.D. from Glasgow for his teaching accomplishments. Other prominent figures he knew include were Robert Southey, Joseph Priestley, and the Baptist minister, Robert Hall. He preached his final sermon at Lewin’s Mead in June 1817 and died that August. Among his publications is the posthumous Familiar Lectures (1818).
6 For Rowe, see above, Pennington to Hays, 4 September 1814.