9 and 10 November 1780
Letter 132. Mary Hays at Fordingbridge to Mrs. Collier, 9 and 10 November 1780.1
’Tis past, my Mamma! – “The vow has past my lips! And now may all the vengeance that e’er was poured on guilty heads, o’erwhelm me if I break it!”1 – Those were the words with which my Eccles bound his soul in love and fidelity to his Maria! Dear, precious obligation, which I now return with unfeigned sincerity, kneeling on the sacred earth that covers him, with streaming eyes and hands uplifted, I ratify my firm resolves! Do not chide me, my friend, I owe everything to the memory of such a lover – ’tis true he was not my husband, but could a ceremony have added anything to an attachment like mine?
In my letter to my Mamma, I have requested permission to stay a week longer at Fordingbridge than the time appointed for my return, as my friends here insist on my completing the month with them, and we have several little excursions to make in the short time that is left me. You see, my dear Madam, that I have complied with your wishes, in not totally confining myself to the house; I have already taken two walks by moon-light, one on sunday evening, when we walked about two miles to a water-mill that stands on the river Avon, where I listened, as I leant over the rails, in all the luxury of melancholy pleasure to the rushing of the water, whilst the soft moonlight glistened on the stream; there are moments even in my present unhappy situation that are productive of sensations which I would not exchange for all the pleasures of sense, nor would I give up the refined delight of loving my Eccles, for all the advantages in the power of this world to bestow!
“For when I loved him not, chaos would come again.”2
In the midst of my distress, conscious innocence, and a knowledge of the pure yet most ardent affection of my heart, whispers consolation; I feel a pride, a gratification in evincing in my conduct the sincerity, the excessive tenderness of my attachment; my soul is incapable of changing:
“Affection lies buried, my Eccles, in thy sacred grave.”3
By the world I may be deemed romantic, but a blind man may as well judge of color, as the mass of mankind of the sentiments of a truly enamored heart!4 – You wish (my dearest friend) that I had not come to Fordingbridge – so do not I – for then I should not have known half the worth of my beloved; and the greater reason I have to love him (however strange it may appear), the less unhappy I shall be. I should wish to visit this place once a year, for it is indeed most interesting, and will be infinitely more so, when the season is more favorable – the weather at present is extremely cold, we have already had both frost and snow, but notwithstanding this inclemency, we propose making two excursions, one to the New Forest,4 about five miles from hence (a place I am very desirous of seeing, from motives the most tender); we intend riding to the entrance of the forest in a little covered cart (which I make choice of in preference to a chaise, from the novelty of it), we are to drink a dish of tea at the keeper’s lodge, and return home by moon-light. Miss Eccles and her lover, Miss Betsy and myself, are to be the party. Ah! my friend, how happy would your girl have been but let me not indulge ideas so painful! Our other journey is to be shorter: ’tis to a wood about two miles distant, which they describe as a perfect wilderness – it was a favorite retreat of my beloved’s – ’Tis thus I endeavor to beguile my anxious mind – ten thousand times rather would I converse with woods and wilds than my fellow mortals – therefore be not angry with the Miss Eccleses, for permitting me to seclude myself from company, for be assured, that the entering into it here, could answer no other end than to distress me. I believe my mind a little inclined to misanthropy, for I hate the society of all but a chosen few, and avoid them with an unconquerable distaste.
Do you not perceive (my dear Mamma) from this epistle, that my spirits are somewhat calmer? be not then any longer so kindly anxious for your Maria! Night is my worst time, for I sleep badly, and always wake with the most uncomfortable sensations, from the most unpleasing dreams.
My days here pass on with very little variety – my employments are either writing, reading, or knitting a pair of garters, which are designed for you. Sometimes Mr Eccles and I get into argument, – generally on religious subjects – he professes himself an Arminian in his principles. Miss Eccles’s lover (who frequently listens to our conversations) is charmed with my sentiments, because they are his own.5 Another theme for our disputations is the reign of Charles the first, and the usurpation of Cromwell, whom I condemn without mercy as a fanatical hypocrite; however he is very indulgent, and suffers my contradictions with the utmost mildness – indeed he seems to regard me with the partiality of a parent.
Saturday morning ……. I took a long walk last night by moon-light, round the Parsonage Green – ’tis a sweet, romantic spot, where my Eccles used very frequently to play on his flute. How exquisitely delightful would these excursions have been, could I have enjoyed the society of my beloved on them! vain reflection! useless repinings! My Mamma, I am miserable! pity me! – but I will fly from the subject. –
This town is not so despisable as it was represented to me; ’tis far from small, and there are a number of good houses in it; it has a handsome stone bridge, and the river is delightfully pleasant; the country abounds with murmuring brooks and purling streams, which you know are objects I am very partial to. I am become quite a drinker of their ale, which I think very fine.
In mentioning my amusements, I forgot to tell you, that I have bought a little rabbit which I have rendered quite tame; it eats out of my hands, and sleeps in my chamber, in a basket of tow – he is now sitting by my side, munching some bran. – But how trifling is all this! how foreign to my heart! a heart laboring under unmixed pain, and the deepest regrets! struggling with sorrow that dissolves it in tenderness and anguish.
Adieu! my dearest friend, let me hear from you again on thursday, and tell me what my mamma says to this packet; there are some things in my letter to her which I fear may displease her. I shall wait with impatience for my next letters, which I imagine will be the last I shall receive whilst I am at Fordingbridge. I will answer my sister’s letters in the next frank. Adieu my friend! my Mamma! with filial affection I am your own girl,
November 9 & 10, 1780.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 229-32; Wedd, Love Letters 216-19. Wedd's title: "Mary to Mrs. Collier near Fordingbridge."
2 Addison, Cato, Act III, scene 2 (see letter 15).
3 Lines adapted from Shakespeare’s Othello, Act III, scene 3 (see letter 34)
4 Lines adapted from Brooke, Emily Montague, 3.162.
5 See Hays's poem, “An Invocation to the Nightingale. Written near the New Forest in Hampshire,” in Letters and Essays (1793).
6 Arminianism was the counterpart to the Calvinism in which Hays had grown up in the Particular Baptist chapel in Gainsford Street; the former stressed the free will of man as standing aloof from God's sovereign will, whereas Calvin subordinated human will to divine prerogative, and thus the doctrine of predestination, a doctrine despised by the Arminians, especially the Wesleyans (and many of the General Baptists) of the 18th century.