27 September 1779
Letter 55. John Eccles to Mary Hays, Monday evening, 27 September 1779.1
My dearest Maria,
Had you not apprized me, I certainly should have been alarmed at the former part of your letter; even as it was, it at first filled me with a thousand frightful ideas, which it was with difficulty I got the better of. – In our fears what is there we do not believe? – Imagination too is ever busy to confirm them. – To fear what we dread is almost to believe it. – Fancy is a pleasing, yet often a troublesome guest; it elevates our hopes and adds torment to our fears. – I have many times thought that endeavors would be used to part us; but why should I seek to pry into futurity? – It only pains; besides after all, the search is fruitless and indeterminate, and leaves me full as wise, though not so happy as before; let me then await my destiny with composure and firmness. –
“Heaven from all creatures hides the book of fate,
All but the page prescrib’d, their present date.”2
But supposing the worst; whatever events take place I am resolved; and not the Alps are more immoveable than I in my resolves; ’tis not [f. 216] in the power of mortals to turn me. – You ask me how I could acquiesce in a separation; if I would leave you? Need I answer you that question? – But you have asked it and I will. – It is not in my power to leave you; you are the vital flame that animates my soul! – ’Tis you who give life to my desires, my affections and every faculty I am possessed of, and so long as the breath of existence heaves within my bosom, so long shall my heart beat only for you. – I know you are convinced no power on earth can make me forsake you. – Though obstacles and force weigh very light with me, yet I should be sorry to be put to the test; it would grieve me to offend Mrs Hays, more than I have all ready done; I know she looks on you with all the affections of a mother, and how could I bear to deprive you of that tenderness; or how more to wound her peace. – I am sorry to say it, but what a contrast are our parents! – Your’s has your every interest at heart; whilst mine is easy so long as I am no expence to him; the troubles of mind which I have borne, he has no consideration for; they are mere trifles. – Depend upon it, My dear Maria, I’ll ever love you, and never, never will bear to be forced from you; for how could I live when robbed of that happiness, which alone constitutes the comforts, the very essence of life? – No; I am eternally fixed. –
What a turbulent life do we live in! Perpetually harassed with care and anxiety! – Tossed to and fro with passion, disappointed hopes, and too certain fears! – Happy the heart, I had almost said, whose [f. 217] impenetrable substance braves all their attacks, or at least deadens the keenness of their strokes; yet there is some thing in ^in^sensibility so contemptible, and so disgraceful to the dignified station which we hold in the scale of existence, that those who feel it not, will affect a measure of sensibility. – Few will submit to be thought allied to the brute creation, yet there are some men who are but a small degree above it. – The man of sensibility, on whom heaven smiles with a look of indulgence, enjoys the most exquisite pleasures our nature will admit of, but then he is equally susceptible to the sensations of pain: temper these with each other, and to what do they amount? – The medium or average of the enjoyments of human life. – The man of apathy perpetually walks in this medium, undisturbed by cares and incapable of pleasures; so that the omnipotent creator has been strictly impartial: the balance of justice to each, hangs exactly even; yet after all, who would not prefer the former condition? – Does not the justice and impartiality of the supreme being in this, as well as in every thing we can see or understand him, call us to conclude that he is absolutely impartial? – Is it not almost a demonstrative proof? – At least it is a convincing one. – How then could he from all eternity predestinate one to be eternally happy, whilst another is doomed to be everlastingly miserable? – Oh! narrow sentiment!3 – His favors are free to all; he dispenses his kindness to all alike. – But man, blind to his own happiness, refuses to accept the gracious offers of his maker. – I am aware much [f. 218] could be opposed to what I have said, and I am conscious that to a mind unbiassed with prejudice, I could produce not only specious, but sound arguments in its favor. – I know all the objections of predestinarians, but they are not satisfactory. – Tell me (for I don’t know) if I speak your sentiments. – If so, and if you approve of it, I know not but I may write to Mr. B–––.4 Yet in such style of mildness, as will convince him, I am not his enemy. – Whatever I write you shall see before it goes to him, and soften it if you think necessary. – I think the rigor with which he treats those who differ from him in religious sentiments, demands some judicious and pertinent observations. –
There is a circumstance in your letter, which I see I must make a remark or two on; you seem to doubt whether I now write to you with that pleasure, which I did at first, because I was not punctual in it last week. – Consider I have not very much time, and have always appointed to write to you on the day previous to the delivery; last week I was unavoidably detained at Mr. J---s on two of those days till very late; till it was impossible I could write you a letter of any length or any sense; however I will endeavor to remedy that for the future, by writing the first opportunity after delivering the last letter. – No, Maria, it is not less pleasing to write to you now than it was two months ago: it is a solid pleasure that can never cloy; it is a growing pleasure too; it is an amusement that brings ever new delight. – I sit down to it with the same ideas, as when I am in your company; I sometimes think I see you and hear you speak. Besides there is something selfish in it (we are all a little selfish you know) I can talk to you and make you answer as I please; with a thought I can instantly make you smile, and assent to every thing I say; ’tis charming not to be contradicted. – I am afraid that obstinate girl Miss D. will not accompany us to Lark-hall on thursday; yet I cannot see what very material objections she can make; she is amazingly timorous; she’d make a poor figure in an elopement; I would not run away with her on any account: her continual fears, would terrify and alarm me so, that I should deliver her to the first person who demanded her, and very cooly return home. – But to return, I shall expect you; then Miss D.–––’s company may be easily dispensed with; yet for once I wish, she and Miss Betsy could be prevailed on to go; I know we shall spend an agreeable afternoon.5 – You know I don’t like trios in company; duets are my greatest favorites. – I have a strong notion the weather will be propitious to our hopes. – What an immense long letter! Are not you ravished at the sight? I know you are; ’tis crouded so close too: oh! you are charmed! – Well then good night! – Adieu! may soft slumbers rest on your eyelids and peace be in your bosom,
J: Eccles. –
Monday evening Sepr. 27th: 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 128-30; Wedd, Love Letters 105-06.
2 Lines from Pope's Essay on Man, Epistle 1, 77-78.
3 Eccles is stating one of the central tenets of Calvinism and the Particular Baptists at that time: God's divine sovereignty is demonstrated by his predestinating some to receive grace and salvation (the elect) and withholding it from others (the non-elect). Even though Eccles attends the Baptist chapel in Gainsford Street, he has clearly rejected this doctrine for a more universalist, free will position, but whether Mary Hays has done so by this date is uncertain; she will by the late 1780s, after her interaction with Robert Robinson.
4 Michael Brown, minister at the Gainsford Street Baptist Chapel, Blackfields, would move into Arianism and Socinianism in the 1780s, and thus reject the Calvinism he appears to have been preaching c. 1779. If Eccles was already more acceptable of an Arminian position on free will, then Mary Hays's movement away from orthodox Calvinism may have begun at this time and not be solely the result of her correspondence with Robert Robinson in the 1780s, but that is not clear from this correspondence. John Dunkin would remain a staunch defender of Calvinism, though more from an evangelical position, as evidenced in his 1783 pamphlet, The Divinity of the Son of God, and the Complete Atonement for Sin . . . in a Letter to a Friend, a response to Joseph Priestley’s An Appeal to the Serious and Candid Professors of Christianity, which appeared that same year. Dunkin appears to have left the Gainsford Street Chapel by that date (he was involved in founding another Baptist chapel in Southwark) which may further suggest Brown's movement into heterodoxy by that date.
5 Miss Dunkin and Elizabeth Hays.