23 August 1779
Letter 27. Mary Hays to John Eccles, Monday, 23 August 1779.1
I am covered with confusion when I think of our adventure this morning – why will you act so indiscreetly? – you know not who may see you, and what constructions may be put on your conduct, or my character, by the malicious, and the vulgar – such are always ready to view every thing in its most unfavourable light – besides, the honor of a woman is of so delicate a texture that the slightest aspersion may prove an irreparable injury to it – Perhaps on reflection, you have yourself thought my behavior not altogether consistent with propriety – tell me if you have? Though the idea pains me beyond every thing, yet shall I ever be thankful for your corrections, they will give me the more pleasure, (because they will be proofs of the real sincerity of your regard) than would the adulation of your whole sex beside. – No one I am persuaded is better acquainted with the rules which true delicacy requireth than Mr Eccles – as certain [f. 109] am I that any deviation from it on my part must lessen me in his esteem – to prevent this, be the guardian of my honor – the guide of my conduct – watch over me with the tender affection of a friend and protector, and when my inexperience, or little knowledge of the world may lead me in to error, reason with me, admonish me with gentleness; and when convinced of my fault, reconduct me to the right path from which I had unthinkingly strayed. –
“Love, the most generous passion of the mind,
The safest refuge innocence can find;
The soft director of unguarded youth,
Fraught with kind wishes, and secured by truth.
’Tis an heroic passion, which can find
No room in any base, degenerate mind;
It kindles all the soul with honors fire,
To make the lover worthy his desire.”2
The moon is just now rising – don’t you think a fine night preferable to a fine day – it diffuses a pleasing pensiveness, a thousand soft emotions which in the hurry and glare of day light, we have no leisure to attend to – though immured in the smoke of this great metropolis we can taste these pleasures but imperfectly. – In the spring and summer months the groves, the soft retreats, and airy summits, if joined with [f. 110] the society of those friends who are the most dear to us, must be the most perfect state of sublunary happiness. – Good night! – may the God of sleep befriend you. –
Tuesday morn: – I shall not chide you for being lazy any more; you are an early riser this morning. –
“Aurora now fair daughter of the dawn,
Sprinkles with rosy light the dewy lawn;
And now the rosy messenger of day,
Strikes the blue mountains with her golden ray.”3
If I mistake not, you are at this moment employed in the same manner as myself – there is something very pleasing in thus conversing while absent – it is a rational unmixed pleasure; which must be productive of improvement as well as amusement – I will not ask – will it never prove tiresome to you, as that is an idea which I cannot one moment admit of. –
You are fearful that the impertinence and censures of the world may affect me – be not apprehensive on that account – I never felt them but for you – While happy in the esteem, and approbation of those friends whom I love, it is a matter of perfect indifference [f. 111] to me (I do assure you) whether the world in general condemn or applaud my actions. – “No one shall cast a blot on my character (you say) without being accountable for it” – Would you then by engaging yourself in a quarrel, make me more unhappy than it is in their power to do? – is not your safety4 of infinitely more consequence to me than the ill-natured insinuations of a set of dirty beings, who spare not any body – for with them, “Was thou as chaste as ice, and as pure as snow, thou should not escape their calumny.”5 – Their malice cannot injure us, can be no alloy to those pleasures which flow from the heart, and from the pleasing intercourse of tenderness – the reciprocal esteem, in which consists the sweetness of this second species of friendship –
“Friendship is love, benevolent, sincere;
’Tis such as angels, do to angels bear.”6
There is a certain attentive tenderness difficult to be described, which your sex feel, and which is peculiarly pleasing to women – it must also give a real satisfaction to themselves, as well as be productive of the happiest consequences – regarding us as creatures placed by Providence under their protection, and depending on them for our happiness, is the strongest possible tie of affection to a well turned mind.7 – I must now lay down my pen. – With the sincerest [f. 112] esteem believe me ever to be your faithful friend (a title which is my pride – my pleasure) – Once more Adieu!
August 23d 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 79-81; Wedd, Love Letters 59-60.
2 Lines from John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, "A Letter from Artemesia in the Town to Chloe in the Country" (1680).
3 First two lines from the opening of the anonymous poem, "Aurora, Goddess of Morning," which appeared in many miscellanies at that time and into the 19th century. Lines are actually from Pope's translation of Homer, and appeared in a poem titled "Morning" in The Art of English Poetry, 6th ed., vol. 2, by Edward Bysshe (London, 1718), p. 60. Most likely Eccles or Hays owned a copy of this volume, or the entire set of volumes.
4 safty] MS
5 Line from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, scene 1.
6 Taken from an anonymous poem titled, "On Friendship," that appeared in many miscellanies in the 18th and 19th centuries, including The Methodical Guide to the English Language, a work that appeared in Prague in 1795; the lines also appear in John Ovington's The Duties, Advantages, Pleasures, and Sorrows of the Marriage State (1813), p. 31. Obviously, the poem predates 1795, but I have not found the original.
7 Passage taken from Brooke, Emily Montague, 2.199-200.