8 February 1819

Mary Hays, at Mr. Fenn’s,1 Peckham Lane, Surrey, to Henry Crabb Robinson, Essex Court, Temple, 8 February 1819.2

Mr Fenn’s Peckham Lane, Surry.

Feby 8th 1819.


   My good friend, as you kindly undertook to make some enquiries for a residence suited to me, when I shall leave my present abode, I thought, after you left me, that it would be better to state to you more particularly what are the accommodations ^& advantages^ that I require. In the first place, an airy chamber, in a respectable house & family, where there are no young children. Islington would be most agreeable to me, &, after that, Hackney, Clapton or Newington. I would not willingly go into a family of Calvinistic dissenters, or evangelical (as they term themselves arrogantly) church-people. Religion is necessary, whether in prosperity or adversity, to every heart of sensibility, to every mind of elevation – but I detest the cant of what are called your “serious people,” they weary me to death with their nonsense and verbality, & rouse my indignation by their intolerance, arrogance & exclusive pretensions. I am perhaps one of those of whom Rochfecauld says – Their own pride will not let them endure the pride of others3 – But that – “Stand by I am holier than thou!” – always moves my gall. For the rest, though I should prefer an Unitarian family, I should not object to any other – whose tenets did not render them inquisitorial. But there are two things indispensible to me in any house in which I should become a resident, cleanliness & order. They are necessary both to my health & to my habits. I should prefer taking my breakfast in my own chamber, in which, of course, I should require a fire when the weather was cold; that is from the beginning of Octr to the end of April generally. The mornings I always spend alone; but afterwards I should hope (without however being any restraint upon their occasional engagements) for the Society of the family. If that family was intelligent, it would be the more agreeable; but to be courteous & well-bred would suffice. I am myself cheerful & even in my temper, & of too social a nature to be fastidious. I require but little – & not any personal – attendance; but that little must be regular & punctual. I drink only water, & a very plain table will satisfy me. I find my own linen, &, if more convenient to the family, can bring a bed &c dressing glass & some other articles of chamber furniture. In this case, however, I should expect to pay terms somewhat lower. Farther than this, it will not, I believe, be necessary to state to you who know my character & habits, & have known me so long. I should by no means object to a boarding house, where the inmates were select & of respectability.

   I trust from your so often experienced friendship & zeal to do me service, that you will avail yourself, on the present occasion, of what ever opportunity may occur. Believe me, with sincere esteem, your obliged friend &c. 

                  M. Hays


If, without inconvenience, you can borrow for me [“]The Modern Prometheus,”4 I should be glad to read it, how “detestable and scho shocking” so ever it may be. From what you said, you took, I suspect, your idea of it from the Quarterly Review, a proceeding altogether unfair. For what is it that party malignity cannot make odious? However that may be, I cannot but feel curious to see a production of the daughter – of Mary Woolstonecraft & of Wm Godwin.


Address: H. C. Robinson Esqr | Essex Court, | Temple.

Postmark: Peckham 10 February 1819.


[Robinson has written on the back of the letter: “Mrs. Hays wants a residence.”]

1 Hays was living in the home of John Fenn, Esq., of Peckham Lane (see Holden’s London Directoryfor 1805).Most likely is the same John Fenn, corndealer, operating at 116 Tooley Street, Southwark, near the businesses of John Dunkin and Mary Hays's brothers (see Pigot’s 1823 London Directory, 106). Hays’s connection with the Fenns it would appear arose from his connection as a corndealer with the male members of her family. When John Dunkin lived at Champion Hill (1798-1804), he was not far from the Fenns in Peckham Lane, for both houses appear in the same Poor Rate Book for the parish of St. Giles.  According to Crabb Robinson’s diary (19 May 1818), Mrs. Fenn operated a preparatory school for girls (Peckham was the same location where Sarah Norton Evans Biggs also operated her boarding school for Dissenting girls). Comments by Eliza Fenwick in the following letters reveals that Hays, as she had experienced at Mrs. Mackie's at Oundle, did not find the atmosphere of the school suitable to her tastes and inclinations. The Fenns, like the Dunkins, were a prominent orthodox Dissenting family (Particular Baptists and Independents) in Southwark and London, which may explain Hays’s comments in the letter about not wishing to live anymore with an orthodox family, for she had long rejected such doctrinal positions. The John Fenn of Tooley Street and Peckham Lane may have been the son of John Fenn, hosier, at 78 Cornhill, London.In 1799 Fenn took on a new partner in his business, Joseph Wickenden, a member at James Dore’s Baptist congregation at Maze Pond, Southwark. Both Fenn and Wickenden were supporters of the Baptist Missionary Society (as were the Dunkins), subscribing £2.2 each in 1800-1801 and 1804-1805. See Universal British Directory, 1/2:142; Periodical Accounts,2:204, and 3:132, 137; Maze Pond Church Book(MS., Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, Oxford) 2: ff. 20,184, 189, and 194;Valentine, Concern for the Ministry, 48.

2 Crabb Robinson Archive, DWL/HCR/5/6/22, Dr. Williams's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 579-80. 

3 Line taken from Rochefoucault’s Maxims and Moral Reflections (1781), maxim 310.  

4 Reference is to Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). The Quarterly Review commented on the novel rather negatively in its October 1817 and May 1818 issues.