27 February 1815
Henry Crabb Robinson, 5 Essex Court, Temple, to Mary Hays, [at W. Pennington’s Esq., Dowry Square, Hot Wells, Bristol], 27 February 1815.1
5 Essex Cot Temple 27th Feby 1815 –
My dear friend,
I am both sorry and ashamed by remarking the date of your interesting letter. I put it by, not considering that it required an immediate answer, And after a considerable delay, sharing your anxiety concerning Mrs Fenwick, I was unwilling to write till I should know your mind was at rest on the subject. Not long since I forwarded her letter to you, And I trust that the contents did not diminish the satisfaction which the mere superscription gave you. I have been since I forwarded that letter, very much engaged.
And now to turn to your own letter to me: You will believe that I read it with interest. I am sorry that interest was painful. Yet I do not mean to expatiate on the subject at large, And I do not suppose you will expect me to do so. There is a satisfaction in pouring forth our pains, as well as pleasures, when we are assured they will excite a friendly Sympathy, tho’ the affliction is what no counsel can assist in relieving, nor any representations of mere understanding materially diminish. I know not whether it will be any great consolation to you to be assured, that the mortifications to which you have been exposed have their source in a cause you do not & can not wish removed, And that they are such as feeling minds have ever endured from those who have less sensibility than themselves. Your last trouble has arisen from an error into which you have been falling all your life, & are destined to fall as long as you live – And this error resembles certain optical illusions into which the sense falls, even when the intellect is undeceived. The error is one into which we fall, precisely in proportion th to the candour & generosity of our nature; And it consists in an incurable & ineradicable faith in mankind – I have no doubt that you never see a stranger whose physiognomy pleases you, but you instantly suppose all kind of virtues & excellencies in the mind which is expressed in such a countenance; you never read a letter in which there is either the language of sensibility, or the apparent refinement of a cultivated understanding, but you instantly take for granted that this sensibility is genuine & permanent, and that that refinement runs thro’ at the whole character & renders the individual uniformly delicate and consistent – Notwithstanding your repeated disappointments, you cannot learn to have no faith in the appearances of things – But I put it to your cooler judgement in an unimpassioned moment – Should this letter reach you in such a moment – Whether it is not after all better to be constantly so erring, than by a different constitution moral & intellectual, not to be liable so to err – I think you will answer me, or at least you will confess to yourself in secret, that such sufferings as you have endured are the tribute which minds of a certain stamp pay to the world, – the uncongenial world – in which they are placed – I make no application of all this to your letter[.] It is needless to refer to the details of your letter. I have only to say concerning your account of yourself & situation that I shall be anxious to receive from you a less gloomy representation of your actual feelings & a promising account of your plans.
I spent five weeks at Paris. I did not suffer, while there, an hour’s Ennuie. I did not, on leaving my departure, feel an hour’s regret. I was very much entertained and amused, but I was not interested by what I heard and saw. I love France better than England, but cannot endure that Frenchmen should for an instant be compared with Englishmen. Yet they are a good natured, if not a benevolent people. Their social principle stands instead of a better And their light-heartedness exempts them from many a suffering to which more disguised natures are exposed. I saw all the wonders of Paris, which every traveller sees, And I had some means of opportunities of seeing more than falls to the share of most travellers. I was several times in company with Miss Williams.2 I was not prejudiced in her favour, and she rose in my esteem. She has no un-English feelings, and retains her original love of liberty. She spoke with frankness of Buonaparte and bore a testimony concerning him & the public opinion of him which I have not been remiss in making known among our English lovers of liberty. She assured me, that having during the last five years seen much of the military even of rank and of persons high in civil employments, she during that time never saw a man bold enough to speak well of him in company. All the enlightened & patriotic abhorred him. The terror of his power kept them silent – Sir Humphrey Davy3 who two years ago went to Paris was actually obliged to leave the place on account of the cold reception he met with, in consequence of his affecting to praise Napoleon – This was considered either as baseness or a mockery.
I saw twice the venerable Lafayette4 – he confirmed Miss Williams statement & declared that all the better people in France abhorred the Emperor – There is no party for him, said Lafayette, but certainly many individuals, all who administer to the vicious extravagance of a court, all who look to the violence of a military tyranny for means of pillage – Lafayette is not looked on by the Court with a friendly eye yet he [paper torn] expressed the most favorable opinion of the probab[le] [success] of the last revolution. He believes that the King has no desire to make himself a despot, and that he could not succeed if he tried. He has [said] that if attempts were made to persecute the original revolutionists, they would fail. The tribunals would not concur &c. It will give you pleasure to hear this from such authority – As to the permanence of the present government, my opinion is, – tho’ I confess it to be worth nothing – that it is not in danger – With a little prudence I think the sceptre of Louis as easy to wield as that of any other Sovereign5 – I may err in this, And men who have seen more & had better means of judging think differently. I do not think that the language held in France abo.t Buon: & against the Court evidence of a wish to revolt and produce a civil war – The heads of the army, all the public authorities & all the proprietors, with the great body of the people are uninterested in maintaining the govermt. Indeed what body, what ind is otherwise interested?
Of Politics in general I do not think so much as I used to do – Not that I care less about such things but because I feel more strongly the inutility of self-tormenting. I am disgusted with the proceedings of the Allied Sovereigns at Vienna, but do not think the dethronement of the K. of Saxony either unjust or impolitic – I am alarmed by the Corn bill, or rather by an apprehension which that problematical measure confirms, that England is destined, having survived the shock of War, to sink under her financial embarrassments[.] I am persuaded that England must decline – And how naturally does a decline lead to a fall[.]
I have no faith either in the wisdom or economy of government which alone could retrieve, or in the long continuance of peace which alone can allow the sinking fund to continue it’s operations. Our foreign trade must decline when other European nations become our rivals as manufacturers And our foreign ^transatlantic^ possessions must be severd from us whenever the United States are strong enough to beat us in offensive, as they have already in defensive war – These are sad prognostics yet there is one Comfort – how idle is political prophecy! And how foolish do events make even the wisest of political reasoners appear! Adieu my dear friend – I hope soon to hear how you [are] and to know what your intentions &c are
With Service Esteem Regard
H. C. Robinson
Address: Mrs M. Hayes
1 Crabb Robinson Archive, HCR/Bundle 6/XIII (a.), Dr. Williams's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 576-79.
2 Helen Maria Williams (1762-1827) published several poems in the 1780s while living in London, where she had come under the influence of Dr. Andrew Kippis (1725-95), a prominent Dissenting minister. She moved to Paris in 1788, and, except for a brief return to England in 1792, remained in France and Europe the rest of her life, making a name for herself as a political writer. Her Letters written in France (1790-96) brought her considerable attention by providing English readers with a sympathetic eyewitness account of the French Revolution (Flower published an excerpt from the Letters in the Intelligencer, 4 January 1794). During her stay in Paris in the 1790s she became intimate with John Hurford Stone, who came to France shortly after the Revolution. Though a married man, he accompanied Williams’s on her travels in Switzerland in late 1794; at that time, she had been forced to flee France for fear of reprisals upon her by Robespierre (she would later record this experience in her Tour of Switzerland ). J. H. Stone was accused of treason and tried in absentia in 1798. He and Williams would live together until his death in 1818.
3 Sir Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), noted chemist, began his career at the Pneumatic Institution in Clifton, near Bristol, under Thomas Beddoes, before achieving considerable fame in London at the Royal Institution.
4 The Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) was a French aristocrat and military officer who gained considerable fame during the American Revolution and during the French Revolution, although by the time of Napoleon’s rule, he was reluctant to serve in his government. After the Bourbon Restoration in 1814, he joined the Chamber of Deputies, remaining in that role until his death. In 1824, Lafayette returned to America and toured all 24 states during his visit. During the Revolution of 1830, he supported Louis-Phillipe as king, but later regretted that decision.
5 Louis XVIII fled France in 1791 and remained in exile until 1815.