23 January 1800
Henry Crabb Robinson, Bury St. Edmunds, to Catherine Clarkson,1 Penrith, Cumberland, 23 January 1800.2
Sarah Jane3 has kindly lent me a side of her paper as the subject on which I wish to write, will interest you too little & has indeed too much of the form & appearance of Impertinence to permit my wasting a whole sheet about it. Since the long suspension of our Intimacy, tho’ many changes must have taken place in our characters, I trust I have not lost what I then felt strongly, a zeal for the reputation of my ffriends And you I hope respect the ffeeling enough to excuse my troubling you with a few words in vindication of my ffriend Miss Hays against the wilful calumnies of a man to whom I should ^apply^ an appropriate epithet if I did not understand he was that he is your acquaintance I hope for your own sake you do not honour him with the name of Friend. My acquaintance with Miss Hays began at the very time that Charles Lloyds ceased,4 from her accidental detection of his base & scandalous conduct. I therefore became acquainted with the affair long before I heard from Miss Maling of his injurious representations of her to you. In consequence I procured from her the most satisfactory proofs of his unparrelled rascality. I have a letter of his to her now before me dated in July 98 containing the most kind & sympathetick enquiries after her concerning her mind arising from an interview with her when some misfortune had given her a reas thrown ^her into an^ unusual melancholy And I have the assurance of a personal acquaintance (Dr Reid of Leicester)5 that Lloyd informed him of that interview & declared that her affliction arose from his (Lloyds) refusal to understand her amorous addresses – in consequence of which he could not continue acquainted with her – Miss Hays hearing of his vain & absurd supposition that she loved him; behaved as you or any other woman of spirit would have done, she would not answer his letters & resolved to mark her resentment by contempt. Alarmed at this, Lloyd in April 1799 writes a letter of whining6 repentance (which I have copied myself & read to Sarah Jane) in which he confesses that he had uttered the [words?—paper torn] since repeated to you – at the same time acknowledges their falshood – with [paper torn] submission begs her pardon & adds th “I am sure your heart your intentions are [pure] [paper torn] I am certain of it And none but a villain or a fool could know you & alledge the contrary” – You know best whether Lloyd arises has authorised you to make the choice bet[ween] these characters – And he concludes this letter of palpable & self evident contradiction by saying “I am likely in a few days to be married to Sophia Pemberton and I could not sacredly unite myself with a pure & blameless girl without wishing to wipe every stain from my own mind – farewell Mary I am in spite of all these inconsistencies deeply your ffriend And for the future if we maintain an intercourse will prove to you by conduct how severely I condemn the past” Now (to give the Devil his due) it must be confessed that he is not bound by this hypothetical promise to behave well in future. Miss H renounced his acquaintance and answered his letter in so severe & unmerciful a style that his wife declares he flew into a rage & tore it in pieces before he had finished it – In revenge it seems he has repeated the outrage And Miss Hays in self-defence has circulated his letters. I understand too that he has made insinuations agt Miss H’s veracity – this is a wise precaution Unfortunately his own notorious habits will deprive him of the power of deriving any advantage from it in the opinion of those who know him. Coleridge declares that he is “a male Jane Gibbs”7 And Southey has expressed to Miss Hayes his regret that he ev introduced him to her but pleads as his excuse that he did not know him then – This is no solitary instance of the kind. An Acquaintance of mine (I know the fact, you will excuse my mentioning names[)] was involved in an unfortunate amour which terminated in the young Ladys committing Suicide in his presence. When Surely a more convincing proof of attachment could scarcely be given – Lloyd had the brutality to tell this unhappy young man that the girl was in fact in love with him also & made advances – Is not this enough? And will you not now pardon the warmth with which I have expressed myself of this “sentimental hypocrite”8 Tho’ I can have no personal enmity to it ^him^, I feel no slight indignation agt such vile & dastardly conduct. I say dastardly as I know several instances in which he has submitted to personal insults which no man of spirit would endure. And perhaps you will not think this impertinent in support of one for whom I am beginning to feel what I have felt for you ever since I had a heart – a ffriendship grounded on the knowledge of moral & intellectl qualities of high excellence. Miss H.[’s] life has been unfortunate & her affections ^have^ suffered a severe disappointment, naturally very affectionate, of all women, she is the most ready to form the inferior & subordinate attachments of esteem & ffriendship. From the singular incidents of her life it is morally impossible that she shod ever again love. Let me add too that in the uniform train of her sentiments, she is pure & chaste even to excess – from which possibly the unguarded & unrestrained warmth of her language has arisen She I am confident that C. Lloyd cannot know her better than I do And as I am very far from being a Lover, my testimony alone wod I hope weigh agt him If his Testimony could be received or was not affected – If it were not put out of the question by his own Letters and general character –
I must not encroach on Miss Maling’s Paper by entering on a subject relating to ourselves nor should I wish it As I would ^not^ blend a confidential ffriendly communication with a Letter of general concern And which you may communicate to any one you please – I shall be happy to receive from you a Letter of a different kind – But I understand that your domestick cares engross all your cares ^attention^ – I cannot yet fully sympathise with them. But I am now qualified to imagine your Situation amid the wild & romantic beauties of the Lakes Last Autumn I made a pedestrian Tour thro’ Wales in the course of which I walked more than 1100 miles – You display philosophic indifference to the World by retiring from it And I a republican strength of body by my walk. Both are important acquisitions.
They ought not to be compared in their general influence on happiness. You are enabled to participate in the happiness of domestick life; whilst I am capable only of Amusement –
ffarewell, excuse the haste & incorrectness with which I have written, be not displeased with the intrusive freedom with which I have ^written^ founded on a regard on my part not yet obsolete And believe me to be
Your sincere ffriend
H. C. Robinson
Bury 23d Jany 1800
1 Clarkson Papers, British Library, Add. MS. 41267 B, f. 18.
2 Catherine Buck Clarkson (1772-1856), originally from Bury St Edmunds and a close friend of HCR from his early teens until her death in 1856. She married the famous abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) in 1796 and remained a close friend of Crabb Robinson, as well as his friends, the Wordsworths, the remainder of her life.
3 Sarah Jane Maling was the daughter of Abraham Maling of Bury and she, like Catherine Buck, was a childhood friend of Crabb Robinson (all of them were Dissenters as well).
4 That same year Lloyd, like many radicals from the early- and mid-1790s, turned away from certain political opinions he had previously shared with Hays, Robinson, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and others; as he did, he turned against some of his former friends, including Hays. In his novel Edmund Oliver (1798), Hays served as Lloyd’s model for the naive, freedom-loving, Emma Courtney-quoting Lady Gertrude Sinclair, a character recast two years later as Bridgetina Botherim in Elizabeth Hamilton’s Memoirs of Modern Philosophers. Not even a review by her friend John Reid in theJune, 1798, issue of Johnson’s Analytical Review (638-41) could provide much cover for Hays. Despite Lloyd’s harsh fictional criticism of Hays, the two writers saw each other often during the summer of 1798 and resumed their interviews after Lloyd’s return to London from Cambridge that December, about the same time the Reids arrived from Leicester. Not long thereafter the infamous escapade involving Hays, Lloyd, and their friend Stephen Weaver Browne occurred, in which Lloyd accused Hays of making unwarranted advances upon him.41 Letters passed between them, not a wise thing on Hays’s part, for Lloyd not only circulated stories of her showering him with sentimental pleas, tears, confessions – even declarations of love and sexual desire – but also publicly humiliated her by reading her letters aloud to gatherings of his friends.
Various accounts of the affair by Southey, Coleridge, and Lamb have survived in their correspondence, mostly negative toward Hays (Southey is somewhat sympathetic because of his guilt for having introduced them to each other) and culminating in the oft-quoted line by Coleridge that Hays was “a Thing, ugly and petticoated.”42 Hays was nearly forty at the time and sixteen years older than Lloyd, but she possessed enough pride and self-respect to declare that she would no longer have any contact with him. Lloyd supposedly recanted, but the content (and sincerity) of his apology is unknown, since neither his letters to Hays nor hers to him have survived. Consequently, Hays’s voice has remained silent in an affair that proved to be a defining moment in the public’s estimation of the pronounced feminist and friend of Godwin and Wollstonecraft.43 Even without the gossip circulated by Browne, Lloyd, and others within their circle of friends in the spring of 1799, the damage already done to Hays’s reputation by caustic reviews and uninformed readings of Emma Courtney, condemnations of her friendship with Mary Wollstonecraft (now considered the beau ideal of decadent Jacobin feminine morality), disparaging lines in Richard Polwhele’s poetic pantheon of “unsex’d Females,”44 and the damaging fictional portrayal of her in Edmund Oliver were sufficient to ensure an irreversible decline in public opinion, despite the best efforts of John Aikin and John Reid at the Monthly Magazine and, after the spring of 1799, Crabb Robinson, to defend her talents and reputation.
5 Dr. John Reid, brother of Mary Hays's friend, Mary Reid (see Biographical Index).
6 Robinson may have taken this term from an article titled “Retrospect of Domestic Literature,” which appeared in the Monthly Magazine for July 1799. The writer (most likely John Aikin, the primary editor) describes a recent poem by Lloyd on the February 1799 Fast Day as a “whining, metaphysical rant” (7: 536).
7 For Coleridge's response to Southey about the Hays-Lloyd affair, see below, Coleridge to Southey, 25 January 1800, in Miscellaneous Letters. Jane Gibbs appeared in court at the Old Bailey on Saturday, September 21, 1799, having accused Jeremiah Beck of assaulting and robbing her. In his defense, he declared that she had first taken the money out of his pocket, returned it to the pocket, then screamed for help, declaring he had robbed her of the exact amount of money she had seen in his pocket. When caught by the authorities, he confessed out of fear and desired to give her the money at that time, even though the money was his, if she would drop the charges. That was probably her design, but the officer took him to Bow Street nevertheless and a trial was held. During the trial, eight men, including a clergyman, spoke against the character of Gibbs, declaring her to be a prostitute by trade, half-crazed, and an expert at crying foul in public when no foul was committed. Beck was acquitted, with one of the attorneys being none other than John Gurney, and one of the speakers for the defense another friend of Crabb Robinson, a young lawyer named Andrews who had previously been a debating companion of Robinson and Pattisson at the Quintilian Society in 1796 (Reminiscences, 1796, 1: f. 82). Gibbs was reprimanded, put under watch, and told to desist such conduct. The next month, however, she was back in court, this time facing charges herself for having falsely accused another man, a Mr. Evans of the Admiralty, by using a similar trick to which she used on Beck. She was placed in Bridewell in solitary confinement, but at her trial the jury acquitted her! The account of the first trial in the London Chronicle, September 21-24, 1799 (292-93), along with a broadside of her printed after her October trial, must have impressed Coleridge, fresh from his sojourn in Germany and about to set off for his first visit to the Lake District. If the Chronicle’s description of Jane Gibbs is what Coleridge had in mind for Lloyd, it was truly a damning comparison, a caricature of her appearance and language aimed at Lloyd that made his caricature of Hays seem tame. The writer described Gibbs (and the broadside clearly mimics this) as “tall, bony, thin-visaged, and masculine; her face is somewhat marked with the small-pox, and her features are very coarse; she wants one or two of her front teeth; she has a turn-up nose, and squints most horribly . . . Her language was extremely low and vulgar; and the very tone of voice in which she delivered herself was disgusting. She seldom attended to the questions which were put to her; but poured forth a heap of words without much connection or meaning; and without any endeavour to guard herself against inconsistencies and contradictions” (292).
8 In the same review of Lloyd’s Fast Day poem mentioned above, the writer also adds: “Mr. L. seems to be one of the many sentimentalists, who, feeling themselves animated by the rich poetry of Mr. Southey, fancy themselves endued with his genius, his taste, and his talents: this is a miserable delusion, and ought to be done away” (536).