Mary Hays's Move to Camberwell and the Publication of Harry Clinton

Female Biography earned Hays enough money from her publisher, Richard Phillips, to move, with one servant, to 9 St. George’s Place, a new row of townhomes just to the south of Surrey Square near the intersection of Kent Road and the east end of Albany Road, the dividing line at that time between Camberwell (to the south) and Walworth (to the north).[1] From the rear of her home Hays had a view of what is today Burgess Park, a large tract of open land that allowed Hays the long walks she would enjoy for many years at a series of residences in Islington, Wandsworth, Oundle, Bristol, Peckham, and Greenwich. Her move to Camberwell was also motivated by family concerns.  A half-hour’s walk to the north through Southwark and Bermondsey brought Hays to her original family home in Gainsford Street, where her mother, Elizabeth Judge Hays (c. 1730-1812), and Mary’s younger sister, Elizabeth (c. 1765-1825), had primarily resided. In 1804 Elizabeth married Ambrose Lanfear (c. 1750-1809) and moved into his home in Islington, but Mrs. Hays was not completely deserted, for Mary’s brother, Thomas (1772-1856), and her brother-in-law, John Dunkin, Jr. (1753-1827), operated their businesses as corn factors from warehouses located along Shad Thames, Gainsford Street, and along Mill Street, Dockhead, just across a narrow inlet of water at Jamaica Wharf separating Shad Thames from Dockhead. Thomas and his young family may well have lived above one of these business locations for part of the first decade of the nineteenth century before moving to a large home on Wandsworth Common sometime prior to 1809. Mary Hays’s elder sister, Sarah Hays Hills (1755-1836), lived for many years in the Minories with her husband, Thomas Hills, though his obituary suggests they may have returned to their original home in Gainsford Street sometime prior to his death in 1803. His business, however, remained in the former location and was continued by his son, William Hills.[2] Mrs. Hays disappeared from the rate books in Gainsford Street after 1803 (her will suggests that she kept ownership of the property, however, until her death),[3] most likely residing at various times with her children prior to removing to Islington in 1809 to assist Elizabeth Lanfear with the care of her two young sons following her husband’s suicide that year due to financial losses.

         Despite being an hour’s walk from her old friends in central London, Hays’s new life in Camberwell was anything but isolated. Directly south of her residence in St. George’s Place, about a twenty-minute walk, was the spacious Champion Hill mansion of her sister, Joanna Hays Dunkin (1754-1805); her husband, John Dunkin, Jr., had served as the guardian of Mary Hays and her siblings since the death of their father, John Hays, in 1774. The Dunkins’ two eldest children, John Hays Dunkin (1775-1858) and Joanna (c. 1777-1864), were already married, and another daughter, Elizabeth (1787-1825), would marry Henry Francis (1781-1847) at St. Giles,Camberwell, on May 17, 1803, just a short time after Hays’s arrival in Camberwell.[i] The remaining five Dunkin daughters were all born between 1785 and 1795, during the years the Dunkins lived in Gainsford Street and then (between 1792 and 1798) at the Paragon in Walworth, where Hays also lived for most of 1794 and 1795, assisting her sister in the care of her large family and even hosting, on occasion, William Godwin for dinner. In 1804, after six years in Champion Hill, the Dunkins moved to Mortimer Woodham Lodge near Maldon, Essex, where the Dunkin and Hays families owned several farms as well as the Beeleigh Mill. Most of these properties had been managed since the late 1790s by Mary Hays’s youngest brother, John (1768-1862), and her nephew, John Hays Dunkin. John Hays Dunkin had married Sarah Francis, sister of Henry Francis, on May 16, 1799. Joanna Dunkin married Nathaniel Palmer (1774-1840) on June 21, 1798. He was the brother of Samuel Palmer (1775-1848), the father of Samuel Palmer (1805-81), a prominent Romantic artist. John Hays Dunkin remained at Beeleigh for most of the first two decades of the nineteenth century.[4] Mary Hays visited her brother and her nephew in Essex in 1801 (her sister, Elizabeth, lived with John Hays in Essex for most of 1801-03) and returned often for visits after the Dunkins’ removal there in 1804. 

  About the same time Mary Hays moved into her home in Camberwell, Elizabeth Hays returned to London, having lived for a time with her brother, John, in Essex. She soon met Ambrose Lanfear and they married in 1804,  taking up residence in Islington. Mary Hays remained at St. George's Place until her remove to Park Street in Islington in early 1806. After the death of Thomas Hills in 1803, Sarah Hays Hills, Mary Hays's elder sister, continued to live either in her home in Gainsford Street or in the Minories with her daughter Mary. They moved to Felix Terrace in Islington c. 1812, only a short distance from where Mary Hays had lived in Park Street and not far from Elizabeth Lanfear, now a widow like her Sarah, living at that time in Church Street, Islington. Sarah's son, William Hills, and his wife, Emma Dunkin Hills, a nephew and niece of Mary and Elizabeth Hays, moved into a home in Canonbury Square c. 1810. Prior to her death in 1812 (possibly as early as 1809, just after the suicide of Ambrose Lanfear), Mrs. Hays had also removed to Islington, most likely living with Elizabeth Lanfear and assisting in the care of her two young sons. Mary Hays had already removed to Wandsworth by the time her mother arrived in Islington; Mary Hays would spend four years living with her brother, Thomas, at Wandsworth Common. By 1805, John Hays had returned from Essex; his name appears on the Park Street house the year before Mary Hays's name appears in the Rate Book. He soon took up residence at 54 Great Coram Street, near Brunswick Square and what would later become the Russell Institution; the Great Coram Street address appears on a few letters addressed to Mary Hays. Crabb Robinson, after his return from Germany, visited Hays at Camberwell on December 10, 1805, writing to his brother Thomas later that month that “Miss Hays lives in retirement, an highly respected character. She pursues literature as a profession; she does not estimate her productions above their value; she is content to be a useful writer and does not lose feminine excellence and virtues while she seeks literary fame….”[5] 

         Mary Hays’s move to Camberwell, however, though primarily designed to seek some form of “retirement,” was not only marked by frequent visits to her relations in Southwark, Champion Hill, Essex, and Islington but also by a dramatic shift in her literary career (hinted by Crabb Robinson’s reference to her becoming a “useful” writer). Her first work produced in Camberwell, Harry Clinton. A Tale for Youth, was published in 1804 by Joseph Johnson, London’s leading dissenting bookseller and a friend of Hays who had previously published her Appeal to the Men of Great Britain (1798) and The Victim of Prejudice (1799). Harry Clinton, however, was far removed in style and content from Emma Courtney and The Victim of Prejudice. Hays’s new novel was a substantial revision of Henry Brooke’s The Fool of Quality (5 vols, 1765-70), a popular picaresque novel about the transformation of a young, untutored and undisciplined but good-hearted boy into a “quality” Christian gentleman through a distinctly unorthodox method of education. John Wesley thought the novel one of the best of its day and, with some proper pruning and altering, converted it into suitable reading for evangelicals both within and without the established church. Besides the use of more evangelical language in the passages pertaining to religion and a few plot alterations, Wesley removed Brooke’s lengthy digressions at the end of nearly every chapter (these were dialogues between the author and his friend on such topics as politics, religion, courtship, and education) which Wesley thought too distracting from the action and primary moral thrust of the novel. Upon completing his revision, Wesley had condensed Brooke’s five-volume edition into a cheaper and more easily read two-volume set that disseminated widely among the Methodists and various dissenting denominations, including the followers of Whitefield and the Countess of Huntingdon. Wesley’s The History of Henry, Earl of Moreland (1781) eventually exceeded Brooke’s original version in popularity and longevity, going through successive reprints by the Methodist Conference and various provincial presses into the middle of the nineteenth century.[6] Though the subject of Brooke’s novel was the unorthodox education and conversion of an untutored but good-hearted young boy (Brooke’s methods are not all that dissimilar to Rousseau at times) into a Christian gentleman and upstanding citizen at the end of the seventeenth century, Brooke’s actual audience were late eighteenth-century readers who he hoped would find his educational scheme instructive and his numerous digressions into art, literature, psychology, society, manners, religion, law, and British political history entertaining and enlightening. Both versions of the novel remained popular items among London’s circulating libraries and bookshops well into the nineteenth century and were thus easily accessible to Hays in 1804.[7]  It is also possible that Hays may have owned one or both versions of the novel from her youth in Gainsford Street or that the novel resided in the library of the Dunkins, her next-door neighbors at that time who adhered closely to the evangelical Calvinist preaching they all heard each Sunday at the Baptist chapel in Gainsford Street  (then known as “Blackfields”) during the ministries of John Dolman and John Langford in the 1760s and ’70s. 

         Hays’s version of The Fool of Quality departs significantly from both Brooke and Wesley in style, language, structure, and size. She not only reduced the novel to just one volume but, more importantly, altered the novel’s religious tone and emphasis, what had been to many readers, such as Wesley, its most distinguishing trait. Brooke’s devout Anglicanism was not so much demonstrated through theological discussions inserted into the novel as it was his emphasis upon the practical nature of Christianity as manifested in Harry’s character and his interaction with others (at times Brooke turns his young protagonist into a living personification of the Sermon on the Mount). Though much of this was retained by Wesley, he could not refrain from adding an overtly evangelical cast to the novel’s content, language, and action. Hays, the former Calvinistic Baptist turned Unitarian, transformed those passages by Brooke and Wesley that espoused doctrinal orthodoxy and religious piety into discourses emphasizing innate goodness and the primacy of reason and morality in forming the character of the young but now “rational” Christian hero, Henry Moreland. In removing the orthodoxy of Brooke and the “fanaticism and extravagance” of Wesley’s evangelicalism, Hays focused the novel upon the “practical education and culture of the heart,” as she writes in her “Advertisement” to the novel, thus avoiding the “narrowness of system, or the language of a party” she found so obtrusive (and probably offensive) in most of the moral fiction composed during the last quarter of the eighteenth and the early years of the nineteenth century.[8] In doing so, Hays produced the first novel in English literature in which the young picaro develops into a Unitarian gentleman.[9]

         Hays’s decision to use Harry Clinton as a platform for her Unitarian ideals identified her novel with an area of religious belief that was still hotly contested in English society, even among dissenters, many of whom believed Unitarianism to be un-Christian in some of its basic tenets. As a result, her novel had a short and unproductive shelf life, most likely removed from the circulating libraries for its perceived heretical emphases and unjustly marked as subversive reading for young Christian readers.[10] By 1804, Hays’s religious opinions differed widely from the Dunkins, who still retained their allegiance to evangelical Calvinism and the Baptist faith. In spite of these differences, Hays demonstrated a religious tolerance indicative of her intense loyalty to religious dissent and proudly dedicated the novel to John Dunkin’s grandson (her great-nephew), Henry Hays Dunkin (1800-10). His parents were living at that time at Champion Hill prior to returning to their home in Essex to join the remaining members of the Dunkin family who would move to Essex the year Harry Clinton appeared. John Dunkin obviously knew of his sister-in-law’s publication and was not one to discourage novel reading among his children, even providing Hays with some suitable titles (Harry Clinton was not one of them) when three of his daughters boarded with and were tutored by Hays in Islington in 1807 and 1808. “[A]llow me to request,” he wrote on November 29, 1807, 

you will procure for Sarah (and that you will desire our young friends at Islington [Sarah’s two sisters, Emma and Marianna] to read it seriously also) a religious Novel in Letters 3 vols octavo, called Thornton Abbey[11] – the best reasons for dissent from the establishment are there given that I have seen, and also I think some of the best, against scepticism & infidelity – I have had much pleasure in reading them myself, and I will thank you much, for your candid attention to them – A Society Book, the life of Dr Beatie[12] is now under our perusal, with which I have been particularly gratified – borrow it of Johnson, I am sure you will approve it for elegance of Style, and wish also, you might fall in with the Sentiments – I woud buy it myself now but [intend asking] the purchaser at our sale – I promise myself much pleasure on reading his essay on Truth, in answer to Hume On Natural Religion – this I have orderd from Chelmsford – when I have read it myself I shall give you my Sentiments thereon,  but perhaps you can borrow this also – I expect it will be found too abstruse & metaphysical for the Young People [as above, his way of referencing his three daughters] – I coud say much on Dr Beatie, but my paper will not allow it – excuse my recommending these subjects so earnestly – they are the only ones worthy our real Consideration – I fancy to myself if you were fully to fall in with them, with your fine lively imagination & powers, how much good you might do, with our young Friends as they woud pay much regard to your judgment[.] I have only room to request my best Love to my dear Girls, who tho’ absent constantly occupies a share in my Heart – make mine, and all our best regards to our friends at Islington.[13]


Though he wishes she was a more orthodox dissenter, Dunkin reveals some tolerance of his own and avoids directly associating his sister-in-law’s heterodox opinions with those of sceptics and infidels. If he had believed her to be an infidel, he would never have entrusted his daughters to her care and tutelage, an indication he still considered Hays to be within the “household of faith,” though stretched to its limits of inclusivity.

         Dunkin’s letter, along with Hays’s persistent creative activity and her dedication of Harry Clinton to her grandnephew, is a pertinent reminder of two factors that governed Hays’s choice of residences for most of her life after 1803: the first was her desire to live in semi-retirement away from the heart of the city (Camberwell and Islington) and near open spaces with fresh air conducive for invigorating walks and uninterrupted intervals of composition; the second was her need to remain in close proximity to members of her immediate and extended family, serving in many cases as nurse and teacher to her young nieces and nephews (like little Henry Hays Dunkin and the Dunkin girls and many years later Matilda Mary Hays), even gaining inspiration from them in ways that, despite their religious differences, propelled and shaped her writing and research between 1803 and 1808.


[1] Hays appears as “Mrs. Hays” in Holden’s London Directory for 1805, Private Residences (n.p.). She appears as “Mary Hays” in the Poor Rate Books, St. Giles Parish, Camberwell, 1802-04, and 1807 (GC/3/1/5-6, Southwark Local History Library, London, n.p.). During her time in Camberwell two other single women were her neighbors along the one-block row of townhomes at St. George’s Place. Hays disappears from the Rate Books by 1807, having moved to Islington.

[2] See The European Magazine and London Review 44 (1803), 407, for the obituary for Thomas Hills. William Hills, his son, was listed as a corn factor at 8 Haydon Square, adjacent to the Minories, in 1812 (see London Post Office Directory for 1812, 151).

[3]    Will of Elizabeth Hays, Widow of St. Mary, Islington, proved January 20, 1813, PROB 11/1540/448.

[4]    John Hays Dunkin had married Sarah Francis, sister of Henry Francis, on May 16, 1799. Joanna Dunkin married Nathaniel Palmer (1774-1840) on June 21, 1798. He was the brother of Samuel Palmer (1775-1848), the father of Samuel Palmer (1805-81), one of England’s leading Romantic artists in the nineteenth century.

[5]     Henry Crabb Robinson to Thomas Robinson, December 21, 1805, in Henry Crabb Robinson Correspondence 1806-08, Letter 30, Crabb Robinson Archive, DWL/HCR/5/4/30, Dr. Williams’s Library, London.

[6]    Brooke’s Fool of Quality appeared in first and second editions in Dublin and London (1765-70, 1771) with subsequent editions appearing in 1776, 1782, 1792, 1793, and 1808-09. Wesley’s History of the Earl of Moreland appeared first in 1781, followed by a 2nd edition in 1793 and a 3rd in 1802-03 (republished in 1813), all printed in London for the Methodist societies. In a few instances (1798, 1801, and 1822) some short selections from Wesley’s text were printed and distributed as an evangelical tract. Provincial editions of Wesley’s History were published at Burslem (1807, 1812, 1814), Manchester (1810, 1814), Liverpool (1815), Plymouth (1816), Edinburgh (1819), Redruth (1822), and Chiswick (1829). Only two reprints appeared in the next century in England, an edition in 1859 edited by Charles Kingsley and one in 1906 by Ernest A. Baker. Neither of the prefaces by Kingsley or Baker include any references to Hays’s Harry Clinton as a counter version to the texts of Brooke and Wesley, another instance in which knowledge of Hays and her work had largely disappeared from literary history by the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries.

[7]    The novel appeared as item 2622 in Bell’s c. 1788 Catalogue; 3347 in Boosey’s c. 1787 Catalogue; 3000 in Ogilvy’s 1797 Catalogue; 2408 in Lane’s c. 1798 Catalogue; 3728 in Lackington’s 1799 Catalogue; 3261 in Hookham’s c. 1790 Catalogue; and 6384 in Hookham’s 1829 Catalogue. They all sold (if purchased, not borrowed) for 15s for the 5-volume set, except for Lackington, who described the work in his 1799 Catalogue as “an excellent novel . . . new and neatly bound, 7s 6d,” noting that his copies were the same “same as sell at 15s.”

[8]  Mary Hays, Harry Clinton. A Tale for Youth (London: J. Johnson, 1804), v, vi, vii.

[9]  Anna Letitia Barbauld had published several works for young readers by 1804, but not a novel. Hays’s novel predates by at least eight years the literary career of Mary Hughes (1756-1824), a Unitarian writer from Hanwood and Bristol who between 1812 and 1824 published more than fifteen short fictional works for adolescent and working-class readers. Most of these works were published as tracts for the Christian Tract Society, founded in 1808 by the Unitarian Association, led at that time by Robert Aspland (1782-1845), Unitarian minister at the Gravel Pit congregation in Hackney, a minister and congregation of which Hays was familiar. It does not appear, however, that Hays ever contributed a work to the Christian Tract Society, though given the plethora of anonymous titles, that cannot be known with certainty.

[10] Among Hays’s published works, Harry Clinton is the least known primarily due to the scarcity of copies of the novel, another indication of its disappointing print history.  Only two copies are now extant, one at the Bodleian and one in the Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library, neither of which has been digitized.

[11] Thornton Abbey, a Series of Letters on Religious Subjects was written by John Satchel [Satchell] (1737–97). He joined the Baptist congregation in Kettering in 1777 under Andrew Fuller and by the mid-1780s was occasionally exercising his gift in preaching. The edition acquired by Dunkin was most likely the one edited in three volumes by Fuller in 1806 and published by Joseph Burditt, 60 Paternoster Row, London, whose publishing record was dominated by Baptist titles and who was a frequent publisher as well for the Religious Tract Society (the “Society” mentioned by Dunkin in the above letter). Satchell also authored an anonymous pamphlet on the followers of John Glas in 1796. For more on Satchell, see John Rippon, ed., Baptist Annual Register for 1790, 1791, 1792, and part of 1793 (London: J. Rippon [and others], 1793), 9; Michael McMullen and Timothy Whelan, ed., The Diary of Andrew Fuller, vol. 1 of the Collected Works of Andrew Fuller, gen. ed. Michael Haykin (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016).

[12] James Beattie (1735-1803) was a Scottish theologian and Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic at Marischal College, Aberdeen, best known for his Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism (1770), the counterpart to Davie Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). Joseph Johnson, Hays’s publisher, is also referenced in this passage.

[13]   John Dunkin, Woodham Mortimer, to Mary Hays, 3 Park Street, Islington, 29 November 1807; click here for the text of this letter.