1 December 1819

M. A. Starling,1 Brewer Street, to Mary Hays, 1 Upper Cummings Street, Pentonville, 1 December 1819.2


Brewer Street   Decr 1st 1819

My dear Madam

       Allow me to assure you it is with no small pleasure that I accept your kind offer of correspondence; though I ought to apologize for not having given you earlier proofs of my sincerity. My mother has intended calling on you, when I should have accompanied her, but she has delayed it, from day to day, and the vain hope arises and is disappointed (like many others woven in the thread of life) and flies before us as the ignus fatuus deceives the weary traveller.

     I have read with very, very great pleasure the travels of Mrs Wollstonecraft:3 how deeply have I been interested in her sentiments! which she has penned with much correctness of judgment, surely a certain proof of a strong mind – “A lively imagination,” says she “is the only solace for a feeling heart.” Alas! it is a poor consolation, and I fear, renders the feeble heart more susceptible to the rude attacks of fortune – “It is a great misfortune to acquire a certain delicacy of sentiment” she says: I agree with her, for it renders us too fastidious to the world of realities: and yet I do not think that persons possessing that delicacy would feel disposed to relinquish it, for the cold though more tranquil happiness of less sensitive minds. My Mother and myself have been weeping, and really weeping over “Mary, the fiction”4 that artless tale of nature and truth – What a bitter lesson her dear bought experience must have taught her – while she learnt to penetrate and judge the minds of others with correctness, from the bitter reflections of her own. What a pity that Godwin has written her life5 – it is so cold, so inadequate a description of her mind and feelings. When I read it my judgement only was employed and I alternately admired and censured – but when I followed the workings of her mind, as given in her own writings, I seemed to live only in her sphere, and almost wondered how I had blamed her [for] any of her actions. But, although her heart and sentiments are inestimable, and resemble mine (for we have all the vanity to fancy when we wish that we do resemble) yet there were points in her character, errors in judgment, which it would have been better had they not occurred. For it is not well to outrage the established regulations of society by a singularity of conduct which it would be dangerous to imitate. There are few who can judge correctly of others, still fewer are they who can estimate their own powers. – And only very strong minds can wander with impunity from the beaten track. The lives of such individuals have, I imagine, done much injury to society – while by a better insight into their motives and feelings they might have proved beneficial.  

       I have been thinking of you almost since you left us, and am sorry that we are about to part on so slight an acquaintance. It is not the first time I have had cause to complain of the unlucky, jumble of fortuitous atoms – and to regret that my [paper torn] did not appear a few years earlier (or my friends, somewhat later) that a greater equality of years, and more intimate communication of sentiment, might have sanctioned the smiles of friendship, or endeared the society of those I esteem, allowing the innocent effusions of sensibility unbroken by disappointments and undeceived by the idle hopes which flit before us and lead us in a sportive though delusive dance – we are born in tears – the day star rises – we smile in its genial ray – the clouds o’ercast – we die – and are forgotten – Such is life – ah! is the dream worth the pain of waking thought? –

       Farewell my dear Madam – May I hope you are enjoying better health – Yours with Sincerity

                         M. A. Starling


My Father and Mother unite in best Compliments and George6 begs also to be remembered – We tell him he is idle in not calling to see you – but we hope you will excuse his ^in^attention to your kind invitation – for he is alike neglectful of all but his friend, and nothing can persuade him to relinquish for a moment his favourite flute. 

We shall however have the pleasure of seeing you soon, and of returning your volumes which my Mother is now perusing.7


Address: Mrs Hayes | Upper Cummings Street | Pentonville | No 1

1 Starling continues as a correspondent after her marriage (see below). To date, little is known of her or her mother (also mentioned in the above letter) and their friendship with Hays. It seems likely she is the same Mary Ann Hookham who authored the Life and Times of Margaret of Anjou (London, 1872).  The only Starlings to appear in Pigot’s 1823 London Directory were Thomas and William, both booksellers (and probably related), with Thomas at 7 Clark’s Place, Islington, and William at 21 Warren Street, Fitzroy Square (48). The Islington connection fits Hays well, given her many family members who had lived in Islington, including herself and her sister Elizabeth. However, the Brewer Street address in the above letter seems to place Starling as the daughter of William Starling, given the close proximity of Brewer Street and Warren Street. It is also likely that Miss Starling’s future husband is Thomas Hookham, also a bookseller, at 15 Old Bond Street (46). Given that the Starlings and Hookhams are booksellers, it is feasible they became known to Hays as sellers of one or more of her late publications. 

2Misc. Ms. 2199, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 535-37.

3 Reference is to Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (London: J. Johnson, 1796). The quotations that follow in the passage above are from that work. 

4 Mary, a Fiction (1788), Wollstonecraft’s initial entrance into imaginative literature.

5 Godwin published his Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Women and a 2nd edition with corrections in the early months of 1798.

6 George Augustus Starling (1803-71), Mary Ann's brother. He appears again in his sister's letter to Hays dated  6 October [1820]. 

7 Most likely the reference here is to Hays’s most recent publication, Family Annals: or, the Sisters (London: W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1817), although the "volumes" could suggest Hays's Female Biography (6 vols).