15 April 1828
Eliza Fenwick, 11 Bond Street, New York, to Mrs. M. Hays, Vanburg Castle, Maize Hill, Blackheath, 15 April 1828.1
New York April 15th 1828
No 11 Bond Street
My dear & almost only Friend,
I began to think you tardy in offering me your friendly tribute of soothing consolation, though fully conscious I had merited little from you. Long harrassed by internal anxieties respecting the dreaded event of Eliza’s death – the impenetrable obscurity which shrouded every anticipation of the circumstances in which that constant expectation & as constantly disappointment, of such remittances from the West Indies as would alleviate the added bitterness of pecuniary embarrassment, altogether combined to make me too much absorbed in self – I know it – I feel it now that suspense has terminated & I survive the stunning blow. She is gone, & I meet the cares that remain with a torpid indifference that at times even surprises me. In my musings I often go back to old times & wonder whether you also partake that indifference to all the uses that yet may come I suspect not, even poignant as your sufferings have been you still have escaped those petty & corroding pangs which the struggles of subsistence inflicts, & which eat up the heart. I have no doubt you still feel, & you have brothers & ties still to feel for – Nieces & Nephews of an age to understand the value of your sympathy & to partake ^with you^ in affection.2 In this large new world I stand alone! My ties are comparatively babes – No one remembers my youth & better days, or cares what I was, or where I came from. I pay civilities & I receive civility, & there it begins & ends. The fondness of the Children is but Childrens fondness, & brings to my mind their precious Mother & the remembrance how much dearer she was as the woman – the gifted & excellent woman than the Child!
Trust me Dear Mary though all within, when I dare enquire, is a cold & desolate waste, I have still a sense of my duties to these orphans & still the power of giving myself generally up to externals. It is singular that from the hour of Eliza’s death I have become quite careless about my West India affairs. They pressed weightily on her mind. She felt that if I had determined on removal for the benefit of her health & that of her children, & for her sake & theirs had broken up a prosperous undertaking to commence new toils in a strange land, & her regrets & her wants stung me deeply. I now give it up, & heard only last March of the death & insolvency of a Gentleman who owed me upward of £300 without any emotion. It is probable I may never recover any of my debts & if I can but live to see each of these children in the road to honest independence any corner will serve me to die in. My mode of life I was induced to change last summer, by being supplied to, to succeed a Lady who had taken a handsome house to accomodate, in the style of a genteel private family, three families who engaged to ^board &^ reside with her a year. She found herself totally incompetent to the undertaking, & at the end of three months announced her determination of giving it up. The Ladies & Gentlemen pleased with [the] house & situation, were unwilling to remove, & applied to me to take the establishment. It promised so well & called me into so much more bodily exertion & change of scene than the school, that strongly urged to try it, I gave up my pupils, & removed hither. I have had no cause to repent it. I am more called into gay society than I wd choose, & am heavily pressed on by household duties but they dissipate my thoughts & benefit my health. My inmates are pleasant, have genteel manners, are highly satisfied with all my arrangements & two of the families remain with me a second year. The other two, for a fourth married pair joined the circle when I took possession, are called by affairs to a distant part of the Union. As I have declined taking any but permanent boarders I have some fears of not finding successors for the heavy expenses of the establishment demand a full number to make it answer.
My poor ^orphans^ Children are blooming with health & pursuing such courses as would have fulfilled their Mothers utmost wishes. William & Thomas turned of 14 & 12, are both apprenticed in a most extensive Manufactory of Gold & Jewellery. There are 26 apprentices & one of four partners (an excellent & talented man) devotes himself to the care of the boys. They have ^also^ Masters attend in the Evening & prosecute their ^useful^ school studies which is very important to me as Tom was too young to send out, but his wishes to be with his brother were too urgent to be denied. I hear the warm encomiums from their employers on their abilities & manners, & the eldest after 9 months practice chases on Gold better than is usual after two years teaching. They pay me a visit [every Sunday] after their school hour, & pass all their Sundays with me. Elizabeth, a very pretty creature, little of her age, but healthy is making great progress in her education. She has a decided taste for music & already plays well. I cultivate this accomplishment sedulously, in the hope of its being together with other accomplishments a means of her independence –. Orlando the youngest 9 years old is at school, & what is to be his lot I cannot yet divine. He is a good & promising Child & I hope will emulate the steadiness of his brothers. I hope I have not wearied you with this detail.
I cannot but regret that you must remove, unless you were removing to join me. I wish our excellent Bostonian divine had inspired you with sufficient esteem for America to induce you to try how easy it is to cross the Atlantic. The Vessels are now so admirably fitted up for the accommodation of Passengers, the Captains generally so much more than mere sailors that a voyage to England & back is spoken of almost as a mere water excursion & every body I believe who can afford it make the experiment. The Hudson by which this goes & other of the line of London Packets belong to one of the Gentlemen (Mr Griswold) residing with me. I should feel a throb to which my breast has been long a stranger if I had to request Capn Champlin to be particularly attentive to you as my friend – Foolish dream! you will say – would it were no dream. I shall expect to see Mr & Mrs Lanfear when they arrive.3
Write to me, my dear Friend & do not let my sluggish aversion to using my pen deter you. To you it is habitual, & I know pleasant to pour out your thoughts on paper – To me thought awakens sorrow
Forgive all my weaknesses and believe me still & ever
I lately recd a letter from Mrs Godwin the 1st of two or 3 years. She advises my coming to London & trying a boarding house for the out-door students of the London University. I could not command the means & I could not leave the boys.4
Address: Mrs M. Hays | Vanburg [sic] Castle | Maize Hill | Blackheath
Postmark: 13 May 1828
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 244-46; not in Brooks, Correspondence.
2 The contrast could not be more stark between the two old friends. Hays was then living at Vanbrugh Castle in Maze Hill, Greenwich, along the same road as her sister, Sarah Hays Hills, who had recently moved there from her home in Islington, and the families of four of her nieces: Elizabeth Dunkin Francis (recently deceased), Sarah Dunkin Wedd, Emma Dunkin Hills, and Marianna Dunkin Bennett. In comparison, Fenwick was truly "alone" in the world. Hays would move in with her sister for a time, which may be the "move" Fenwick is referring to.
3 Ambrose Lanfear, Jr., and his wife, Mary Hills Lanfear, who had now immigrated to America. They would settle in New York City, where Mary Lanfear would die during childbirth in 1832. Ambrose would then remove to New Orleans, where he became a successful banker.
4 Mary Jane Godwin, wife of William Godwin and one of the last of Fenwick's London correspondents to hear from Fenwick in American after 1828. By the mid-1830s, as her letter to Mary Hays on 30 November 1837 reveals, Godwin had also lost touch with Fenwick about the same time as Hays.