20 May 1817
Eliza Fenwick, Barbados, to Mary Hays, 20 May 1817.1
Barbadoes May 20th 1817
Blame me not oh my friend for a silence which is (I ought perhaps to be ashamed to say it) solace to me. My pen is no longer that of a ready writer. I look at it with abhorrence – I loath – I shudder at its use. To write a letter even to you nearest & dearest of friends is a task I fly from. It renews the severest anguish that anguish that I have taken such laborious pains to subdue. Overwhelmed with occupation almost beyond my bodily as well as mental strength I pass from ^active^ employment to my chamber & ^there^ my wearied limbs & faculties ^soon^ sink into the torpor of sleep – Sleep is my balm & my blessing – It often gives me back the treasure I have lost – But Ah then what a waking moment is mine! Just such are the moments if I attempt writing. I dread to receive a letter for I cannot endure to think of the answer. Yet inconsistent as it may seem I love to think of you, to feel the soothing consciousness of your affection and sympathy to remember our past moments of precious intercourse[.] All this seems to me as something long since past & never never to be renewed, and produces nearly the same mingled sensation of pain & solace which I feel when I sit & listen to the praises of my noble my departed boy. Who does not praise him? Who does not regret Orlando! I did not know that he was half so highly estimated except among casual observers – Ah me – Ah me! I must burst asunder when I kiss’d for the last time the breathless lips of my boy. Indeed indeed I believe many mothers bereaved of such a son would have expired & gone to the grave with him, but I live, eat drink talk & enter into some of the busiest scenes of life contrive for the present, speculate for the future and all just as if he were still here. No – not so either. The interest the charm of life of prosperity is all gone. I busy myself with tenfold earnestness to what I did before. Never did I seem to be so engrossed by my business, never did I cling so closely to the cares of the family as I now do – not from interest, but from repugnance to encounter myself alone – to commune with my own thoughts – to court such emotions as now while writing to you shake every fibre of my frame. To my share of the business of the school I have discharged our Housekeeper & added her duties. This may appear no great matter but to a European, but if you knew the slavery of managing a family in the West Indies with Negro Domestics, (& we have seven of them) you would wonder how I support the toil. From five in the morning till evening I have literally not an ^un^occupied moment and this wretched condition is my refuge. For reading & writing I have no time but what I take as in the present case from sleep – The latter I court – the former I avoid.
This anguish will be wearied down, I know;
What pang is permanent with man? – From the highest
As from the vilest thing of every day
He learns to wean himself for the strong hours
Conquer him. – Yet I feel what I have lost
In him. The bloom is vanish’d from my life.
For Oh! he stood beside me, like my youth
Transform’d for me the seal to a dream,
Cloathing the palpable, & the familiar
With golden exhalations of the dawn.
Whatever fortunes wait my future toils,
The beautiful is vanish’d – and returns not.”2
A gleam like ^that of^ a wintry sun spread over the darkness of our regrets when Eliza pass’d her critical hour & brought us a little girl, one of the finest babes I ever beheld. I love her children particularly the second boy whose temper & character will I think resemble Orlando’s, but that love serves to remind me of a more ripened affection. Pat our eldest now in his fourth year cherishes the memory of his Uncle with a feeling, beyond what I could have supposed possible at his age.
I have a fresh sorrow in the misfortunes that have befallen Lanno’s employer since his death. He has lost £9,000, & assures me that upwards of seven thousand of the sum would have been saved to him had Orlando lived. Every thing has gone wrong since.
When you talk of retribution dear Friend I look back to seek for the cause of my infliction. Well Well – I must bear it for I cannot fly from it.
Mentioning that to Eliza that I was going to send you the letter I wrote at the time of the insurrection Mr R— beg’d he might first take a copy of it. I will therefore enclose it the next opportunity & if I can write at the same time.
I wanted much to send home £100 by this packet & ^have^ given an order on it for paying you, but we have several hundreds locked up & cannot get at a penny of it owing to the desolation caused by the fatal fever which sever’d me from happiness. Our expences are enormously encreased by the excessive high prices of provisions caused by an extraordinary dry season after the devastation committed by the Negroes. This & next year will be a trying season, yet we are still earning above our expenditure & few if any of our debts will prove bad ones.
If it were not for Eliza’s children I should give up this life of toil to which I grow every day more averse while more engaged by it. Orlando used to tell me I had but two years to toil & then he would find me ease & competence. Falacious dream! Mournful burthensome reality!
I am sending away now letters to his Father which were found among his fathers ^papers^ written in all the flow of youthful spirits & cheering prospects. If my nerves would have stood it I meant to have copied them for you, but the attempt blinded me & shook me like an ague. This sad event has transformed Mr Fenwick altogether, I understand. Anguish has roused his faculties & principles from their worse than Lethargy.
Farewell my excellent my worthy friend! Pity me pray for me & still try to love me, worthless, selfish & desponding as I must ever remain while I live to subscribe myself yours affectionately
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 187-90; not in Brooks, Correspondence.
2 Lines taken from Coleridge’s translation of Schiller’s Wallenstein.