26 November 1807
Mary Hays, [No. 3 Park Street,] Islington, to Henry Crabb Robinson, c/o Mr Collier’s, 56 Hatton Garden, London, 26 November 1807.1
Islington. Novr 26th 1807
My good friend, the interest which you have always appeared to take in the fate & fortunes of my friends Mr & Mrs Fenwick, irresistibly2 impels me to communicate to you their present situation – a situation more calamitous & deserving of commiseration than it has been at any preceding season of their eventful & unhappy life.
I know not whether you are acquainted with the general outline of the history of my unfortunate friends; or that the first ruin of Mr F (who was a man of fortune & family, & early in life an officer in the army) was occasioned by the failure & fraudulent conduct of a man of business, in whose hands his property was entrusted. This blow, marked with circumstances of peculiar atrocity,3 was followed by a variety of unhappy circumstances & events, & my friend now languishes in a prison, overwhelmed by debts, which it is not possible for him ever to discharge.
For many years both himself & Mrs F, a woman of admirable qualities have earned for themselves & children, by literary avocations, a toilsome & precarious subsistence. Never have I seen in woman more patient sweetness, fortitude, activity, ingenuity & resource, than in Mrs F, whose mind is richly endowed, & whose talents are of a very high order. But long anxiety & suffering have at length materially injured both the vigour of her body & mind; & the task of supporting herself & children, a task which now wholly devolves upon her, is become almost too severe. Still she resigns not her efforts in despair, but, with a heart laden with sorrow, & a mind distracted with care, labours unremittingly to supply & educate her children. Her employments confine her to London, in which the expence of furnished lodgings (for she has long been without a settled home) are particularly burthensome. Could she be relieved in part from this charge, by a small sum raised, sufficient to furnish plainly & usefully a couple of rooms, it would free her mind from a heavy part of its care. Or could any interest be made to get her son, a fine boy about nine years of age, into a free-[s]chool, it would indeed be a consolation. But this perhaps is scarcely to be hoped for.
You are not rich, I know my friend, but you possess what the wealthy too generally want, a benevolent & feeling mind & a sympathy for the worthy in distress. Your circle of connections is not small, & should an opportunity occur to you of procuring assistance, or doing service, to this unhappy family, I feel assured both of your alacrity & zeal in their cause. It occurs to me, that they have a claim on the Literary Fund, a strong & affecting claim. Have you no acquaintance with any of its members?
Poor F—k, who has both talents & industry, if misfortune has not wholly overwhelmed them, would engage with eagerness in any employment which he can pursue within the dreary confines of a prison.
I need, I am convinced, say no more: & it is in reply to the enquiries which you made when I last saw you, that I have ventured to say thus much. I shall hope to see you here when you have more leisure – In the mean time, believe me to be with sincerity & esteem, your friend &c4
Address: Mr H C Robinson – at | Mr Collier’s5 – | Hatton Garden. | 56.
Postmark: [ ] 1807.
1 Crabb Robinson Archive, DWL/HCR/5/4/103, Dr. Williams's Library, London; Brooks, Correspondence 572-73.
2 irresistably] MS
3 attrocity] MS
4 Robinson writes in his 1807 Reminiscences concerning Hays’s request:
anecdotes of the day ^incidents of the time which excited my feelings^ I mention that dur in this month of December I was exerting myself in behalf of poor Mrs Fenwick – A most interestg lady – reduced to extreme poverty by the folly of an Irish husband – A generous heedless man who in thoughtless generosity threw away a fortune & reduced himself & wife & children to a state of destitution They he was a political Jacobin And Irish Jacobin ^Malcontent^ A few years earlier would have been (perhaps indeed was) a rebel And would have been later a rebel ^[reparteur]^ – He wrote violent pamphlets She was one of Phillips’s dependents – She was worked to the bone by a hard task master – I & other friends managed to raise a sum to buy her a little furniture to spare the expence of furnished lodgings – And she applied the money in fitting out her daur for the stage in which she failed – They went over to America where Mrs F & her daur kept a school – Long dead
5 Upon his return from Germany, Robinson lived for several years as a boarder in the Hatton Garden home of John Dyer Collier, father of his friend, the writer and antiquarian, John Payne Collier (see Biographical Index).