15 April 1821
Eliza Fenwick, Barbados, to Mrs. M. Hays, 41 Cross Street, Islington, Sunday, 15 April 1821.1
Sunday April 15th 1821
You are right my dear Friend: I am painfully convinced this is no Country for you. My solicitation was dictated by affection but it wanted judgment. Even experience will never I fear make me wise enough to distrust the sanguine impulses that in all my the vicissitudes of my life have led me astray. I had scarcely sketched the course of our bustling days when and urged you to become a member of our family when fever in all its tremendous violence visited our Island and what has rarely been the case women & young Children have been among its victims. Two lovely daughters (formerly our pupils) of one family went to the same grave. Several officers & young men Europeans of our acquaintance were swept off. Our eldest boy was attacked but happily escaped though severely infeebled, & happily he was the only one ^of us^ that caught it. But those who had not fever were annoyed with distressing eruptive disorders & our other Children were severely afflicted in that way; & our second boy just recovering from them, met with an accident, a fall of 15 feet perpendicular on his head, which kept us for 10 weeks in uncertainty respecting his getting well. In short I scarcely can say that I have known a peaceful or happy comfortable day for a long Season. The fever is gone but poverty and afflictions abound. The Crops have again failed – Several planters are nearly ruined, business is tolle totally at a stand and money is not to be had. Our family is so large that the weekly consumption of dollars would distress me exceedingly but that the prices of provisions are much reduced. Yet as it is we are greatly inconvenienced and of that you may easily judge when I tell you that I wrote begging letters a fortnight since to the amount of £58 and have not yet received one shilling. I get out of temper with these moral evils and still more with the physical evils of the Climate. Such a Season as the present has scarcely been known in the memory of Man. No cool weather – no rain – no thunder – nothing but heat, dust – a burning <–> Sun & glaring skies – This dry & hot winter deprives us even of hope as well as comfort, for the new plantations of Sugar cane are perishing with drought – the ponds on the windward side of the island are drying up & the grass is burned to stubble so that the Cattle are suffering greatly. In short I envy the lady who brings this letter to England and is removing with her whole family to your more favored and more equal Country. Ah will it ever be our lot to return? How often do we talk over the wish of seeing home again, after the bustle noise & distraction of the day has ceased & left us to an hours uninterrupted converse. How gladly would we exchange the luxuries of our present dwelling for ^a cottage &^ narrower means at home. We do not love the idea of rearing our boys here, and yet we dread to encounter the hazards of a new commencement. A Gentleman of St Thomas’s who knew Mrs Rutherford 8 years ago at Santa Cruz is here and has fascinated my imagination at ^a^ little with his animated description of the comforts of living in America. He intends removing thither with his family next <–> year and seems to think we should act wisely in doing the same, but though Newhaven in Connecticut has <–> been very stationary in my thoughts I have not courage for such a speculation on one report; or indeed if I had while all we earn is thus locked up from our use any such project if is impossible, and grumble we may, but go on as we are we must. Eliza’s health is astonishingly improved so that she has during two months gone through ^the^ excessive fatigue of preparation for our Annual ^School^ Ball without one attack of Palpitation – Yes poor, embarrassed & distress’d as are the general circumstances our Ball went on as usual except that we were compelled to defer it, on account of ^the^ fever, from Christmas till this month. It took place on Friday last and the Ball room was as numerously and as elegantly filled as I remember to have seen it. A school Ball is certainly a pleasing & interesting spectacle, & ours in particular for the children begin that branch of their education very early, and the little groups all in one <–> elegant costume of ^white^ sattin trowsers with lace ^gauze^ or book muslin frocks ^tastefully trimmed^ appear like fairies. Our Elizabeth, four years and one week old, made her first appearance, and has been so well trained by her mother that though she cannot dance any variety of steps, she went through a reel and ^a^ Quadrille without one mistake either in time or the figure to every body’s ones surprise & admiration. She is small of her age, brown but very pretty, & the room being very large & very lofty made her small size more conspicuous & her exertions more singular. <–> ^Her^ eldest brother Pat now 7 ^years^ & 8 months, dances in a very superior manner, but Tom the second boy from weakness of muscle has little chance of excelling in that accomplishment. I avoid evening gaieties as much as possible for my constitution refuses to support them, but on such an occasion I could not with propriety be absent and not getting home till past 4 – the next morning ^for the company dance after the pupils have done^ cost me [a] head-ache that lasted me the whole of yesterday & is not quite gone to-day. The succeeding calm & quiet that we shall now have for a fortnight of Holidays we should most perfectly enjoy indeed but that we have some formal irksome visits to pay that our interest will not allow us now we have leisure to avoid. So many of our boarders are very young that except in holidays we now rarely go out in the evenings. A few boarders from Demarary remain all the vacation so we still have household cares & claims. I have <–> lately had a very disagreable embarrassment that caused me vexation enough to set all the bile in my stomach afloat & confined me three days to my Chamber. Upwards of a year since I hired a very excellent Cook of a widow lady & soon after I had him, she pressed me to purchase him. As he suited us particularly well, and had fewer faults & evil propensities than most of the black servants, & as I was convinced her circumstances would compel her to dispose of him to some one, I took him at £140, part of which I paid to two of her Creditors who were pressing in their claims the residue she received herself & I had agreed to allow her daughter to continue a day Scholar without payment as she was in narrow circumstances. To my no small surprise and vexation when the man had been mine about 6 months he was seized on & sent to jail for an execution given by his former mistress of a date six months previous to the date of my sale. I could not lose the man and I was forced to buy him over again at the Marshalls sale for £125. £70 of which I was compelled to lay down & thought myself favored by the Creditor in being allowed three months for the remainder. No other execution can now touch the man so in him I am secure and I have my remedy against Mrs Todd in law but she is lame & infirm & basely as she deceived me I cannot bear to send her to a prison and I have some hopes that a son in law of hers who expresses great indignation at her conduct will indemnify me in a part of the money. It will no doubt be repugnant to your feelings to hear me talk of b^u^ying men – It was for a long period revolting to mine but the heavy sums we have paid for wages of hired servants who were generally the most worthless of their kind rendered it necessary. Out of 8 in our household 5 are now our property – 2 men 2 boys and one woman. The latter should we ever quit this Island I shall give freedom to because she is old and has attentively nursed our little Orlando. This babe is an engaging & noble^ creature – the most robust & large of Elizas children but does not as we fondly hoped resemble in face his Uncle. He is fair with light curling hair & light eyes <–> has not a feature that we can find a likeness for in the family. In temper & vivacity & intelligence he is does resemble the early childhood of him for ever lost yet ever to here. I call this Child Roland and all the family follow my lead. How sweet it is to cherish the remembrance of the dead. When fatigued & oppressed with the petty vexations & the toils that belong to our occupation the recollection of the bright youth of my blessed boy has power to <–> soothe and revive me.
We thank you dear kind friend for your promise of friendship to our boys should we send them to England for education. Should we continue here we shall certainly I believe do so but not till our income is so much in our own possession as to enable us to send as a years funds at least along with them. They shall be trained to be honest industrious & independent but never if we can help it shall they encounter the misery of blushing for the non-fulfillment of their parents promises. – Our rich landlord is dead & in him we have lost a warm friend. ^To^ [t]he two little girls, his granddaughters, he placed with us he has left large fortunes but by some error in the wording in the will they fall into the Guardianship of their father & mother an unhappy worthless pair who are intoxicated from morning to night and fight like adverse dragons. The poor old Gentleman gave me strict orders injunctions never to permit the Children even to go to dine with their parents – Now the father is going to remove them to Europe & blushed with exultation at the handsome income that will fall into his hands intends, as he says, to take them [on] a tour of England Ireland & Scotland. The loss of two very profitable scholars does not grieve me as does the certain destruction ^of mind & manners^ which will overwhelm these poor little girls. We have read 8 of the novels of Walter Scott and with delight. In Ivanhoe there is a chivalric lofty tone that inspires enthusiasm. That Rebecca is the most saintly creature I ever met in print and her father is a masterly portrait of the characteristic features ^both good & bad^ of that extraordinary people. Richard’s ^gay^ festival with the Clerk of Copmanhurst is a high dramatic treat. In short the work appears to me almost Unique [paper torn] Thank you also for the mention of other works [paper torn]. I have not met with them as yet. Whenever you read new books send me their <–> names that I may enquire for them.
I am glad for your sake that we still use Mr Amyots2 name as the frank for our letters – As for myself the sight of a letter from England does one so much good that I even pay for it with indescribable pleasure. Pray write very soon & very often. I shall long to hear how you approve your new residence & what society or characters you find in it. Forgive my late silence for really surrounded by sick Eli Children and uncomfortable from the oppression of the Climate I had not courage to write till the present opportunity occurred.
Eliza joins in every affectionate wish
With yours most truly
Address: To | Miss M. Hays | No 41 Cross Street | Islington
Postmark: 5 June 1821
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 204-08; not in Brooks, Correspondence.
2 Thomas Amyot, Crabb Robinson's long-time friend (see Fenwick to Hays, 23 August 1813).