24 April 1818
Eliza Fenwick, Barbados, to Mary Hays, 24 April 1818.1
Barbadoes April 24th 1818
My dear, dear Friend,
I yesterday received your kind letter accompanying a production of which indeed I have reason to be proud since its excellence is such as to confer distinction on her to whom it is dedicated. Ah my dear Mary had you seen how my now colourless cheek flushed when I read that dedication you would have done me the Justice to believe that my ^warmest^ affections are still yours though others might have deemed the glow an impulse of highly gratified vanity.2 I fear I am unworthy of you! Why do I thus continually shrink into myself & retire even from communicating with a friend whose value, whose talents, whose acquirements I am at all times eager to contemplate & proudly to boast of. It has been invariably the fault or rather one of the faults of my disposition – Happy – no one so eager to impart my pleasurable emotions – unhappy I shrink ^from my pen^ with an undefinable reluctance so potent that I have not courage to contend with it. I lament it, I believe, daily to myself yet the days & months wear away & I have still to mourn over the added folly. I bow beneath your tender reproaches when I receive them & I still go on, unworthy as I said before, of such a forbearing long suffering kindness.
I received your letter per Mr Dalrymple some little time since, when I was trembling under the apprehension of losing my surviving Child. Eliza has been sinking for some months. She was compell’d to wean her Babe at 4 months old and was ordered a sea voyage. She went to Demarara & was for a short period amended, but her return to the confinement of the school brought on a return of her complaints & since she has been in a state of perpetual fluctuation sometimes better & sometimes worse. The physicians here advise a change of Climate but being pretty far advanced in pregnancy a removal cannot at present be thought. Since it is ascertained that she is pregnant of which contradictory symptoms furnished a doubt my alarm partly subsides & much as I should otherwise regret this encrease of children the prospect revives my hopes that her recovery will follow. Her assistance in the school has been entirely relinquish’d since before Christmas except for the dancing & I have that on my hands & shall most probably go on with it, for a widow Lady of English birth & education who has been left in narrow circumstances by a dissipated Barbadian husband now resides with me. I hire her domestic slaves for my Servants & the £130 I pay her for ^their^ wages with her own & her two girls (her boy is gone to England to school) accommodation in the as members of the family is her remuneration for the entire superintendence of all domestic concerns; a labour so great so constant so oppressive in this country where every order must be executed under the eye of the mistress that Mrs Rutherford could still less go on with that than with the school. I now no longer know what I have for dinner till I sit down to Table & every hour is uninterruptedly given to the room, where I have a male assistant for writing & arithmetic at a very high price. Heavy as these expences are, I am obliged to [run] them for otherwise I must have given up the school entirely. Every body has seemed satisfied with the new arrangements tho’ every body laments Elizas giving up the school, for she is a great favourite in this community, & I believe she would have continued to struggle on, till no chance had been left for her recovery till had not the claims of her children impell’d her to try every means that might afford her longer life. The school is not as numerous as it was, because so many families are removing to England. Since the end of the war it has become quite a spirit of emigration. I have lost 5 since Christmas & 6 more are preparing to leave the Island the latter end of next month. Still I ^shall^ have 40 left but how far the late arrival here of a Lady who formerly lived [as a] Governess in the Presidents family & who has extensive connections on the Island may affect me, I cannot undertake to prognosticate. She opens a school exactly upon our plans in a fortnight & has brought with her, a most accomplished french-woman as her assistant. I do not fear her taking any from me that I have, but those who were coming here may, tempted by novelty be sent to a newer teacher. This has already been the case when another Lady set up in opposition a year ago. We shall thus destroy each other, and none of us be able to do more than barely live. For my own part, though I am ^now^ able to live with all the comforts of a good table, a large & handsome house, if I can do nothing more than live, I will seek privations with less toil, for no slave that digs the field under a strict driver ever felt more fatigue & lassed lassitude than I do when school closes at 4 in the afternoon after being unremittingly employed from 7 oClock in the morning. I am utterly incapable of any exertions & have given up all visiting because I cannot bear the effort of dressing to go out. Do not let this threat alarm you. Dreadful as the idea of separating from Eliza must be, if, as the physicians say, she must seek for health in a colder climate, for her sake & her lovely babes I will not rashly abandon my present station. We have had terrible losses & all that had been saved ^& more^ has been swallowed up, but thank God the worst is past. We know the worst & extent of our loss for the speculation is at an end, & could I collect in what is due to the school we should have no deficiencies. Eliza has made a great and almost desperate effort to free me from the inconveniences this unfortunate attempt of Mr R—s to make us suddenly rich had produced & has succeeded. A Theatrical company is here & she ^has^ joined them. Her favor with the public is unimpaired though her illness has sometimes rendered her unable to appear & at others little fit for much exertion. They play only twice a week & the rest she has between gives her that renovation that the daily hourly drain of the school denied. She cannot on account of her pregnancy go away with the company but her dancing school is at present so full, that she will still be earning more than her proportion towards our heavy expences. After the other baby comes the state of her health must determine her future plans. If she leaves Barbadoes she will probably try her dramatic fortunes in America. If it seem wisest for me to remain, remain I will & my Orlando’s grave may be my final resting place. I no longer grieve for him. I see so little happiness in this world that I consider him as blessed. Sometimes a mothers pang shoots thro my frame & I feel my desolation in his loss, but generally I dwell with gratified recollections on the remembrance of what he was. In all my hours of retirement his form seems to hover near & soothe my fatigues & cares. I talk of him for ever & from my doing so others venture on his commendations in my presence & the tear that fills my eye is more sweet than bitter. May Mrs Lanfears case soon be the same!3
My health is very good but now the hot season is commencing[.] I suffer from it much more than I did last year from my being less relaxed probably[.]
Forgive this hasty scrawl. I meant to have made some remarks on your prior worthy productions but self has engrossed me. Go on I entreat & suffer not your happy talent to rust.
I hope I shall write again soon. Farewell Farewell & believe me truly yrs
Address: For | Miss Hays
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 190-93; a portion in Brooks, Correspondence 349.
2 Hays dedicated her 1817 work, Family Annals, to Fenwick. The work was composed in Bristol in 1816; the reference to "twenty summers" would place the first meeting of the two women in the summer of 1796. The short dedication reads as follows;
To Mrs. Fenwick, of Bridge Town, Barbadoes.
While the Atlantic rolls between us, allow me, dear friend, to gratify my feelings, by addressing to you this little volume, as a testimony of that friendship which nearly twenty summers have ripened; and which, founded on a parity of mind and principle, and a sympathy of feeling, neither time nor distance will, I trust, weaken or destroy.
“Is it ought so fair,
In the birth eye of Hesper, in the morn,
In Nature’s fairest forms—Is ought so fair
As virtuous friendship?”
3 Elizabeth Hays Lanfear lost her eldest son, John, on 16 August 1817; he was twelve years of age.