24 March 1824
Eliza Fenwick, State Street, New Haven, Connecticut, to Mrs. M. Hays, Vanbrugh Castle, Maze Hill, Blackheath, near London, 24 March 1824.1
State Street Newhaven
March 24th 1824
How gratifying dear dear Friend was your letter of Novr 18 1823 to me, which however did not arrive till January. The flow the vivacity with which it is written proves equally with your assurances that you are established more to your satisfaction & taste than you have been for many years before. Long may such domestic comfort be yours & long may the amiable family with whom you are domesticated continue to appreciate your value. I feel an additional interest about Mrs Browne from her following the same laborious occupation with myself but I envy her station. I am silly enough to think sometimes when encountering difficulties & vexations that I could suffer much more with tenfold patience in such a house as yours or any where in Black-heath – that is to say in or near London where all my early habits & all my fondest associations were engendered. I never pined half so much for England in Barbadoes as I do in America & yet my taste & reason both prefer America to England ^Barbadoes^. Perhaps certain similarities of climate & manners revive dormant sympathies which had slumbered under the influence of a tropical country & tropical customs – However so it is & if I could <–> transport me & mine to England with a wish, you would before this have seen personally how old I am grown & possibly have been surprised to see how much of the Governess my manners have imbibed instead of that suavity for which I had so much credit in my younger days. I remember a Cornish Gentleman once saying “I was born to govern & understood my vocation.” I was very angry at the time for I believed myself to be led & that I knew not how to lead nor did I desire it considering the remark rather as a censure than a compliment, but times cal change manners & I now not only assume the reins but never relinquish them. I sometimes on looking into myself, wonder how Eliza who possesses a much firmer character than mine, yields so invariably & unresistingly to my decisions. Her opinions, deliberately formed, she does not relinquish but her principle of respect & duty constantly keep alive a deference to my will & a yielding to my sway that perhaps renders me somewhat arbitrary & sometimes perhaps unreasonable. When I compare my present with my former self I acknowledge a greater change in mind than body. Years of calamity & petty vexations have worn my temper into asperities & rendered me captious & petulant. I know it & am sorry for it yet I go on sinning & repenting under the powerful imperious influence of pecuniary disappointments. A friend once said “If you leave your debts behind you ^in Barbadoes^ you will never get a shilling,” & his judgment appears correct[.] I cannot get a shilling from thence. Yet I do not blame myself as being precipitate for had I staid I suppose my chance would have been the same, & the advantages of health to Eliza & her babes by the removal is a species of compensation. The pupils I brought with me from Demarary have doubled & trebled under the necessity of expending money for the wants of these ^very^ children. Nor do we yet succeed in getting American pupils. We are & in a particular degree Mrs Rutherford is much admired & liked. All the principal families have visited us & we are invited to the largest parties. Our invitations in return have always been accepted & our society is evidently sought & approved but still our school is West India & the Americans prefer as a teacher of young ladies a Man (doubtless of talent) but who talks to them not only coarsely but indecently. Dr Browne, the Bishop of Connecticut (at once the handsomest most polished & Gentlemanly man I have seen in America) assures me our success would be greater in Hartford, 40 miles from this, but then we should quit our West India connections who are not only our present support but shew us every friendly attention in their power.2 I acknowledge also in the midst of my complaints that a year & half is not sufficient to impress a conviction of the stability of a school & it is so common here to fly off to serve new place & profession on the first symptom of disappointment that they may calculate upon our abandoning the project.
We have had an English winter – such a one as has scarcely been known in the memory of man for this climate. But little snow & much rain, mist, & fog, & such perpetual changes that we dared not part with our fires or our comfortables & have been paying all the penalties without any of the enjoyments of an American winter. Two of my Grandchildren have had low fever but are recovering & the spring will quite restore them I trust.
How much younger you are than I am my dear friend[.] Without spectacles I can neither write or read, and I am very deaf at times so much so, that when I fall in with people who do not speak articulately I make the strangest mistakes imaginable. This gives me a distaste to going into strange company & I should avoid it if Mrs R— would let me. I have not the vestige of a tooth in the whole upper gum therefore what remains sound & firm in the lower are still useless. Then I have at times such a stiffness in my knees that on first rising from my chair I can scarce walk & like an old horse cannot go till warm’d with exercise. Such are my infirmities & warnings dear Mary & long may you escape them. I am very large & stout & still preserving an upright carriage have some proportion in the largeness of my size. I always wear black & look [like] a respectable old dame & I have no doubt if we were side by side you might pass for my daughter. Eliza looks now much younger than when I went to Barbadoes having recovered the glow of her complexion. All she has seen, all experiments & all she has suffered, aided by a strong mind & expanded intellect has improved her countenance & encreased its interest. It is this expression & the animation of her features when her animal spirits are in full force that causes many persons to think her handsome. So much for family history – will you again apologize for talking of yourself.
Your accusation is unjust. I do not destroy your letters. The drawer of my desk is now almost full of them & it must be because self & the dependencies of self engross me so much when I write that I forget or do to leave room for other subjects. Your lovely Mrs Francis with her twelve children are a picture to my mind’s eye. Merit & happy fortunes have gone hand in hand with her – a rare association. Mrs Bennet was one of your protegees & owes much to you. I remember your liking Mr Wedd. Is he still kind & attentive to you? Where are Mr & Mrs J. Dunkin & Joanna. I regret exceedingly that Mr Lanfear did not find Newhaven in his route. It would be such a delight to see any one connected with you. We were ready to embrace that Capn Richardson who had seen you at Mr T. Hays & brought ^us^ your Memoirs of Queens.3
Our critics here do not like St Ronans Well,4 but I think W. S. has shewn the pen of a Master by making a hackneyed story & commonplace incidents highly interesting. I was pleased certainly but must own some of his characters well outlined are not appropriately fitted up. The arrangement of the story of Reginald Dalton I thought admirable & all the Oxford scenes highly delineated. The book was much read in our College here & I told some of the Students whom I know that I feared it had roused them to some experiments they had lately tried to get rid of a very obnoxious tutor but which only terminated in the expulsion of several members of the senior classes. You could not suppose yourself near a college ^in Newhaven^5 for all you see or hear of the students, generally speaking, is, when they are playing ball on the college Green or taking their prof promenades. A few venturous spirits venture to the Balls that are sometimes given, but dancing is against the college rules but the tutors wink at the infringement provided it does not interfere with their prayers, or recitations. Adam Blair gave me a severe heart-ache – Margaret Lindsay interested me much but Valerius was too dignified to awaken much emotion.6 You must read The Pilot & give me your opinion of it. It is by James Cooper of Coopers Town State of New York,7 the Author of The Spy &c &c I think so highly of this mans talent, that I was mortified at hearing that he is vain to such an excess of egotism, that some New York wit has given out that he writes his Novels in the street leaning against a Lamp-post. The high tone of the present race of Novels is a blessing to the rising generation. Have you met with any of Mrs Hemans poetry? I have been delighted with the fugitive pieces which have got into the Newspapers. She is I believe of Boston.8 Our intimates the West Indians here, though highly well bred, & genteel, are not literary, & in the large parties conversation is unavoidably divided into little groupes, whilst the eternal rounds of sweetmeats, ices, jellies &c &c &c prevent any thing like continuity so that we do not often get into the associations we best love. Continue to describe all that surrounds. Oh that I could visit your castle & walk with you in the well remembered & beautiful scenes of Greenwich park.
Eliza offers most affectionate remembrance with these of dear Mary
Yrs ever E. Fenwick
What family has Mr Hays9 & how are Mr T Hays sons now going on?
Address: Mrs M. Hays | Vanbrugh Castle | Maize Hill Blackheath | near | London
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 230-33; Brooks, Correspondence 357-59. Hays spells her location as "Maize Hill" but the modern spelling is Maze Hill.
2 Fenwick is not quite correct with the name (Brownell), but the Bishop had just established his own school (Washington College, now Trinity College) in Hartford, and no doubt saw potential in Fenwick's expertise both as a teacher and writer.
3 Another of Fenwick's many paragraphs of enquiry into the lives of Hays's large extended family. References here are to Elizabeth Dunkin Francis, the schoolteacher with 12 children living at that time on the same street (Maze Hill) in Greenwich with her aunt and who will die prematurely in 1825; Marianna Dunkin Bennett, who had formerly lived with Hays in Islington c. 1807-08 and who was now, like her older sister Elizabeth Francis, living on Maze Hill in Greenwich; George Wedd, the husband of one of Hays's favorite nieces, Sarah Dunkin Wedd; Mr. and Mrs. J. Dunkin are John Hays Dunkin (1775-1858) and his wife, Sarah Francis Dunkin, with the reference to Joanna possibly to Joanna Dunkin Palmer (c. 1778-1864), John Hays Dunkin's sister, or to his youngest daughter, Joanna Dunkin (b. 1801); the "Mr. Lanfear" mentioned above is not the husband of Elizabeth Hays Lanfear, for he had died in 1809, but rather his son and Elizabeth's step-son, Ambrose Lanfear, Jr. (1787-1870), who would marry his cousin, Mary Hills, in 1826 and emigrate to New York City and eventually to New Orleans. He was for a time a haberdasher, but by this time had embarked on becoming an American agent and was traveling often in America, as Fenwick notes here and in a subsequent letter; the final reference is to Thomas Hays, Mary Hays's brother and in whose home she lived for several years in the previous decade.
4 St. Ronan's Well (1824) was the only novel by Sir Walter Scott to be set in the 19th century.
5 Yale College, now Yale University, is located in New Haven.
6 Adam Blair (1822) was another novel by John Gibson Lockhart, Sir Walter Scott's son-in-law; Margaret Lindsay was the main character in John Wilson's novel, The Trials of Margaret Lindsay (1823); Valerius (1821) was also written by Lockhart.
7 The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground (1821) was another of the early novels of James Fenimore Cooper.
8 Felicia Browne Hemans (1793-1835) became one of England's most prominent woman poet in the 1820s and '30s. She was born in Liverpool, raised mostly in Wales, and married Alfred Hemans in 1812, and they soon settled in Daventry, Northamptonshire. She published three volumes of poetry through the London firm of John Murray between 1816 and 1819, the year she separated from her husband. She later removed to Dublin, but, unlike Fenwick's claim above, she never lived in Boston. Her best known works in her lifetime were The Forest Sanctuary (1825) and Records of Woman and Songs of the Affections, both appearing in 1830.
9 John Hays, Mary Hays's other brother, who had married in 1812 and who gained three children from his wife's first marriage and, by the date of Fenwick's letter, had three children of his own, including Matilda Mary Hays (1820-97), who would later become a prominent feminist and writer much like her aunt, Mary Hays.