20 January 1819
Eliza Fenwick, Barbados, to Mary Hays, at T. Hay’s Esqr, Mill Street, Bermondsey, 20 January 1819.1
Barbados Jany 20th
What sad interruptions take place my dear friend in our correspondence. I take shame to myself when I acknowledge that much blame rests with me but in the present instance the arrear is on your side for neither of my two last letters have purchased me a reply. How is this? Are you determined to punish me for what has appeared to you, though not so in reality, past negligences I would rather believe this to be the case than fancy that illness or new afflictions had caused your silence. Put an end I beseech you to my suspense and tell me, which I hope you can, that I still possess the blessing of your esteem and affection.
I am going to open my heart to you on a subject which has often put fetters on my inclination to write to you & made me with-hold my pen, prompt as it always is to speak <–> of every occurrence in which my feelings are interested. I did not consider it either just or generous to tell even you that Eliza was not more fortunate in marriage than her mother had been, while the evil was new, & there appeared, from avowals of repentance & better determinations, a prospect of amendment. An insatiable love of Company & late hours seduced Mr R— into the habit of constant intoxication. A speculation, two indeed, which he had engaged in with certainty (of one in particular) the most flattering prospects of extraordinary advantage, failed, and embarrassed our concern extremely by the money sunk & engagements entered into. For this he ought not to be blamed, except as far as the zeal & spirit with which he commenced the enterprises sunk too early before unexpected difficulties that arose, but most blameable indeed was he to suffer these disappointments to urge him to a continuance of the detestable practice which made him not only incapable of benefitting his family but rendered him a disgrace & a burthen. Elizas health sunk under the perpetual irritation of her feelings. It was a subject on which she could not speak to me nor I to her, though I could perpetually trace her suppressed anguish & bitter mortification in her haggard features, decaying constitution and altered temper. This was misery enough for me. The present was torture – the future promised but an aggravation of a very suffering of my former life, and I passed daily from the fatiguing mind of my toils, to gloomy meditations & anticipations which made the writing even to you a revolting task. At length however Eliza after every effort, that a strong sense of the duties & moral obligation of her ties could dictate, insisted on a separation; advising him to try whether change of scene and a cessation of those intercourses which he had not resolution to avoid, would not restore him to a better course of life. She urged this reasoning: that while his habits destroyed her peace & her health she was equally incapable with himself of due exertions for the benefit of her children: That she must believe (till time had confirmed him a new man) that he never would labour for the advantage of his children; & therefore all their claims were transferred to her: & that in her calculations for the future
her their wants & her maternal duties must be her only consideration. Thus she argued, or rather insisted, unknown to me, for she carefully avoided making me any participator in her resolve because he imagined already that I had taken a dislike to him. Finding accordingly that she was stedfast & immoveable on this point he took his passage for England and departed exactly one hour after she had been put to Bed of her fourth child. What she felt she did not express but it was pretty visible in her sufferings. A dangerous illness followed and she had ^many^ weeks confinement to her Bed – Mr R—left us a ^new^ bundle of vexations in the perplexed state of his affairs; neither settling his debts, nor claiming those due to him, which ^rather^ comes to much the greatest amount – We can do nothing on either side – We have only to labour for the support of these interesting babes & to hope that health and life will be granted to us to rear them to honorable industry & virtuous conduct. But oh how different does the toil of this occupation sit now on me. Eliza, though her constitution is not restored, has recovered ^much of^ the elasticity of her spirits, & the evenness of her temper. We now converse without restraint or restriction on the past & the future. She feels the relief of no longer being exhausted with nights of watching, shame & terror of what evils intoxication might involve her in before the dawn of morning; & what still more reconciles her to her hard destiny is that her children are saved from witnessing the errors of their father & that she shall bring no more little beings into life to have but one protecting parent. She cannot however return to the ^daily toil of the^ school room though she still attends ^gives^ the dancing lessons twice a week. I believe it will be absolutely necessary for her to try the effects of a voyage & perhaps America will be her course. If she goes she will take the two eldest boys with her as a solace & protection & the two younger will remain with me. I look with composure toward this separation (which will be probably of six months) because without it I fear her complaints may end in decline. The school which had a little sunk from the number of families removed to England is now rising again & I have a highly accomplished French Woman who resides with me & is ^a^ very useful assistant I believe I complained in my last that great as my income is my expenses equalled it. I cannot remedy this evil. It is hard to labour so incessantly & not save money.
Eliza’s last baby is called Orlando Fenwick & is I think one of the loveliest infants I ever beheld though so reduced at his birth by his mothers previous afflictions that we did not expect to rear him. He is six months old – strong – large & vigorous; yet precious as it was to give him the memorial of his Uncles name we have neither of us courage to use it. When uttered by any other: it produces so visible & acute a pang that the family all avoid it & the beautiful Child is still boy-boy with us all. I think his eyes will exactly resemble Lano’s (the others have dark hazel eyes) & the contour of his head & face resemble his, but he is as fair as alabaster. They are all fine & intelligent Children. Mrs R— has once heard from her husband – A letter full of contrition & avowed remorse but what he is doing or what he intends to do we are strangers to.
And now my dear friend having unburthened my heart to you & confessed why I have written with restraint or shrunk from the very few opportunities incessant claims and occupations leave me, let me entreat you to write and write often. Do not make any particular comment on the circumstances I have now communicated. Eliza has great pleasure in reading your letters and I would spare her as many recollections of the past as I can, nor seem to push her misfortune in such a husband into observation.
Many apprehensions are entertained here of a second insurrection. I hope the danger is greatly magnified, but the reports tend to keep the militia & regulars on the Alert.
My own health is matter of Amazement to me. I wonder how I support my fatigues especially during the hot months when I pass sleepless nights. We had a dreadfully long
& hot season this last year yet it was not attended with fever on this Island. Children suffered severely from an eruption almost as virulent as small pox. Two of ours had it dreadfully from head to foot. We who seek for gain in these climates have terrible penalties awaiting us. I am at this moment, with a good appetite & sound health other wise suffering from a gathering in my leg something of the nature of a boil. I have had a tormenting succession of them equally painful & particularly disagreeable as they come on the lower extremities entirely.
Farewell my dear dear Friend! Every comfort & blessing that you can wish in the present & succeeding years
be yours prays your affectionate
I hope you are again writing. Your success will surely instigate you to the constant use of the precious talent you possess.2
Address: To Mrs M. Hays | T. Hays Esqr | Mill Street | Bermondsey
Postmark: 30 March 1819
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 193-96; not in Brooks, Correspondence.
2 Hays's next work would be her Memoirs of Queens in 1821.