9 September 1779
Letter 40. John Eccles to Mary Hays, 9 September 1779.1
“Love the most generous passion of the mind,
“The safest refuge innocence can find.”2
What a difference is there between real love, and the notions entertained of it by the vulgar! – So unlike are they, that (contrary to the nature of things) the shadow scarcely bears a distant resemblance to its object. – Never having felt the soft passion, their conceptions of it are false; insensible of its pleasures, they scorn and defy its impressions; – and grown callous by habit, the generous tear of compassion is a stranger to their eyes. – To pity the distress, the disappointments they are incapable of suffering; to the poignancy of which, their ideas can never rise, is beyond their humanity. – Their love is reduced to a form; every deviation from which, they consider as ridiculous. – The thousand little tendernesses, the kind, though trivial attentions of the impassioned heart, are unintelligible to them, or else are imputed to weakness. – So the sensible man is termed a fool.
But what is love, and how is it produced? – ’Tis a passion that raises in the breast sensations most refined; a complacency replete with delight; emotions the most interesting toward the beloved object. – ’Tis an inexpressible power, that moves all the faculties of the soul, with [f. 153] a softness unfelt before; – ’tis a celestial spark, given to animate and dignify the affections; – ’tis the finishing stroke of heaven, the polish of existence;
“’Tis the cordial drop,
To make the bitter cup of life go down.”3
Various are the avenues, by which this passion, gains possession of the heart; through some it finds a direct passage, whilst through others, it is conducted gradually by slow yet surer advances. – Attachments hastily formed, are rarely lasting ones; – they are built on a brittle basis,4 so that a faint opposition overturns them. – Connections entered into from a first meeting, are very hazardous, if not absolutely dangerous. – What can we know of a man or woman from an hour or two’s conversation. – We may form an opinion of them, but ten to one it is a false one. – Ought we to engage our hearts from so slight an acquaintance as this? – If we always had it deeply impressed on our minds, that on such an engagement all our future happiness depended, we should act with greater caution, than people in general do. – It is impossible to know a person’s disposition, and sentiments in a short time; – there are many latent (and ill) qualities which require particular circumstances to call them forth; and it often happens, that he or she who appeared at first an angel, sinks beneath the mediocrity of human nature. – To those indeed who look not beyond externals, who are studying convenience, whose passion is interest [f. 154] caution of this kind is very immaterial; – the beauties of the mind are of little or no import to them: – let them gain their ends, perhaps ’tis all the happiness they are capable of. –
Yet the first impressions of love, are for the most part received from a something which strikes us in the person; – something amiable in the features, or the expression of the countenance perhaps, calls our attention; – if we indulge this, it soon grows to a partiality little short of love. – But here we have time to call in reason to our assistance; to examine into the real merits and pretentions, the character and dispositions of the person, who has thus engaged our notice; and as it gives the verdict, to approve, or disapprove. – It is hardly possible for one of either sex, long to experience a regard in which the affections are engaged, without discovering it by some inadvertency; such as the hasty, yet undesigning look; the softened features, or an unspeakably enchanting serious air. – This cannot be long unobserved, and (where the heart is disengaged) frequently begets sentiments alike favorable, which, when improved by intimacy and frequent converse, soon ripen into love. – These are the attachments which promise to be most permanent; – formed on a similarity of minds, no change in the affections need be apprehended; – themselves are their own security; and each day instead of bringing on a coldness, adds to the flame of mutual love. –––– When we consider the views and aims of the great, we need not wonder at the [f. 155] disturbances and breaches made in their families. – One exchanges nobility and titles, for riches; – another, antiquity and high descent for more modern honors; – the rich plebian, leaves a name “unknown to fame,”5 to be enrolled with the great – a coronet has irresistible6 charms. – Love is the last (and least) requisite thought of towards the matrimonial union. – Can happiness be expected by such, whose endeavours to attain it, grasp at such mere trifles? – and is not the misers, so often attendant on the alliances of great families, a natural consequence of the unworthy motives that led to them? –
“Let him ungenerous, who alone intent
To bless himself, from sordid parents buys
The loathing virgin, in eternal care
Well merited, consume his nights and days.
But happy they, the happiest of their kind!
Whom gentler stars unite, and in one fate,
Their hearts, their fortunes and their beings blend.7
Though honors and affluence smile not on such, yet content, the heart-felt satisfaction derived from a reciprocity of affection, and the pleasures flowing from a confidence in each other’s love, makes them ample amends for what appears deficient in the bestowments of fortune. [f. 156] Their happiness depends not on the empire of so fickle a goddess. – If she be their friend they are grateful, and if she frown on them, they submit. – Their happiness is in themselves, their passions are generous; they live for each other. –––––– “Each is to each a dearer self.”8 – Their hopes, their prospects being entirely disinterested and independent of what the world can either give or deprive them of, are not liable to be disappointed. – Their life is harmony and peace, and they only part to meet and rejoin each other,
“In scenes where love and bliss immortal reign.”9
In my next I shall make some few observations on your two last letters; I hope I shall not write in a style hard to be understood, which you know has been the case. – I shall be sorry if my letters require, explanatory notes. – Let me have the satisfaction of thinking I am writing to your heart, and don’t puzzle your head to put the worst interpretation on my words; if you do I shall be obliged to copy my letters. – You have been pretty good of late; never suffer a fit of criticism to overtake you again; – you never appear so amiable as when peace softens your countenance; – the more severe passions don’t become you. – Don’t you think you are a most abusive, contradictory girl? – And am I not of a most peaceable disposition? – Never exert your powers to take advantage of my weakness. – Your persuasions are ever efficacious. – My [f. 157] whole soul is your’s; direct it to act the man. – Every thought that arises looks for your acquiescence. – It is not in my power, wilfully to do any thing to disoblige you; you have the ascendant in my bosom too securely. – The thoughts of my Maria, can raise a chearfulness in my breast under the most perplexing cares. – Be ever my comfort; ever smile on me; can the frowns of the world then ever hurt me? Adieu! – I am, with invariable love
Thursday even: Sepr 9th 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 99-102; Wedd, Love Letters 77-78.
2 Lines from John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, "A Letter from Artemesia in the Town to Chloe in the Country."
4 bases] MS
5 Line from Thomson's The Seasons, "Spring," l. 578.
6 irrestible] MS
7 Line from Thomson's The Seasons, "Spring," ll.1123-26, 1110-12.
8 Line from Thomson's The Seasons, "Summer," l. 1183.
9 Line from Thomson's The Seasons, "Spring," l. 1174, the final line of this section of the poem.