1813 December 28
Penelope Pennington, Hot Wells, Bristol, to Mary Hays, at Mrs. Mackie’s, Tansor, near Oundle, Northamptonshire, 28 December 1813.1
Hot Wells 28th Decr 1813
My dear Madam,
When I look to the date of your Letter, and feel the strong interest of its Contents, I am Conscience smitten under the reflection of the time that has lapsed, and the construction you may put on my Silence. – Yet be assured I appreciate as I ought the amiable Candour & warmth of Heart which has rendered you thus explicit, and the Confidence you have done me the honor to repose in me.
A mode of Conduct, and way of thinking so consonant to my own Character, cannot fail to conciliate my Esteem, and lay the foundation stone of a Friendship that may have an important influence on the rest of our lives. –
We certainly shall not meet as Strangers to each other. – My Heart is ever on my Lips. – I cannot exist in Domestic Life buttoned; and locked up; – in general therefore I converse to a great disadvantage – but shou’d our Opinions and Tempers accord, with you I entertain a presentiment I shall find a congenial Mind, & congenial Feelings, tho the superiority of Talents & Acquirement will be all on your Side – To that however, accustomed, as I have been through Life, to the intimate Association of some of the first Literary, and Talented Characters of the Age, I can with Pleasure subscribe; – and you will not deem this a vain boast when in that List I enumerate as my more particular Friends, the celebrated Mrs Piozzi, – Miss Seward, – Hannah More, – Helen Maria Williams, – the late ingenious Dr More, Mrs Siddons’s &c &c2 – It is the assumptions of inflated Ignorance – and the arrogance of narrow minded Prejudice that I cannot cope with, & that calls up al that is irrascible and faulty in my nature. –
With such impressions you may well wonder how such a Letter as your last cou’d remain in my Hands a Month unacknowledged! – believe me only an unusual degree of languor and depression of Spirits, from severe Indisposition, and constant anxiety on my poor Mother’s account, who has also been very Ill, and required more attention than I have had Health to pay her, cou’d have prevented my telling you how fully the contents of your charming Letter has occupied my Mind, and interested my Heart. – In the History it contains I retraced much of my own, that I am half inclined to think I am reading of myself, with only a slight transposition of Facts. – Alas! is it not the sad abstract of ninety nine Women’s Lives out of a Hundred, who have any Character, or feeling at all? – In early Life admired, & caressed beyond my deserts; – of an ardent and affectionate Temper and lively Imagination; – Ingenuous to a fault, and particularly susceptible of Professions, – I have been the Victim of all those Disappointments which outraged Love and Friendship are peculiarly calculated to inflict upon a Sensibility the most tender, & acute. – To these, Fortune has added some of her most cruel Injuries, and those pointed by the Hand of an only Brother. – The result has been that a Temper once gay & vivacious, has lost all its hilarity & equanimity; – and a Heart that was once open, as Day, to every kindly sensation is become chilled almost to misanthropy; – while my Health & Nervous system has suffered shocks from those Causes, that no future time, or circumstances can now repair. –
But I have not yet lost the faculty of Sympathy, & tho deeply injured by some, and capriciously deserted by others, with whom I had trusted “the richest Treasures of my Heart,” I am yet capable of esteeming Merit; – tho never perhaps of forming the warm attachments I have entertained. – The Friends I have lost were not in a Class to be easily replaced, yet shall I gratefully and eagerly embrace a Substitute, when ever Providence throws such a Blessing in my way; – for I perfectly agree with a late elegant Writer (Lord Byron) – that
"The keenest Pangs the wretched find,
Are Rapture to the dreary Void;
The Leafless Desart of the Mind,
The Waste of Feeling unemploy'd!"3
You will naturally say, – how can that ever be the case with a Woman who is the beloved Wife of a most amiable Man? -- That is true – but your Candour demands an equal return on my part, and I wish that you shd rightly understand the Character & Feelings of the Person under whose Roof, I hope & trust, no inconsiderable portion of your future time may be passed. – Mr P. & myself united late in Life; – Circumstances, rather than choice made me a Wife at that period. – You will love my Husband, every body, that knows him, loves & Respects him. –
To the Manners of a finished Gentleman, he adds all the manly Virtues, with the Simplicity of Childhood.4 – An excellent Understanding and fine Taste, from Indolence of Temper, never made the most of, & incrusted with little Oddities and peculiarities he never wou’d take the trouble to correct. – A kind Heart & chearful Temper, but open to Irritations that oftener leads me to conceal and mask my own Feelings, than to seek sympathy in his Bosom. – Mine were expansive Affections, and without this support, Marriage did not altogether Console me from the numerous Ties & Connexions it almost imperceptibly dissolved; – It is however become my only Resource, and every Day rises higher in my estimation, but still there is a Blank in my Mind, – “an aching void” in my Bosom, which only the associates of former Days cou’d ever fill up. –
You have now the outline of your new Friend before you, I wish I cou’d have made it more correct, but I cou’d not without deviating from Truth. – Tell me however sincerely how you are affected by the Picture – as you acknowledge you have been the Author of some Literary Productions – may I enquire the Titles? – I have an Idea of having (a great while back) perused some Works of Ingenuity under your Signature – am I mistaken? – That your Opinions shou’d be changed with the Circumstances of the Times is only a proof that your Mind has risen superior to Prejudices, which those Circumstances were likely to impose on a young, & ardent Spirit. – The Revolution of Countries “in this our day” has not been more rapid & frequent than the Revolutions they have produced in human ^opinion^ – and the present awful crisis is so important and big with Events that it occupies every ones Thoughts and Attention.5 – When next I have the pleasure of hearing from you, let me know (as nearly as you can) when it will best suit your Plans to take up your Residence here, that I may make the necessary arrangements. –
In the meanwhile accept a tender of my best Dispositions & best Wishes, particularly those of this Season – once so Joyous! but now wholly dis-regarded excepting by those who are happy enough to live in the Bosom of extensive Family Connexions.
Mr Pennington desires his best Compliments & I remain
My dear Madam
Sincerely Yours P. Pennington
I have written most part of this letter under such continual interruptions that you must excuse a thousand inaccuracies & Blunders.
Address: Mrs M Hays | Mrs Mackie’s – Tansor | near Oundle | Northamptonshire
Postmark: 30 Dec. 1813
1 Misc. Ms. 2180, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks,Correspondence 508-10.
2 Hester Lynch Piozzi (formerly Mrs. Thrale) (1741-1821), a friend of Samuel Johnson and who, after the death of her husband, lived at Bath and corresponded extensively with Pennington; Anna Seward (1742-1809) of Lichfield, possibly the most popular woman poet of her day; Hannah More (1745-1833), educator, poet, dramatist, and major Evangelical religious figure who lived with her sisters for many years in Park Street, Bristol, and then in other places in the Bristol area; Helen Maria Williams (1762-1827), poet, novelist, and political commentator (especially on the French Revolution) who lived most of her life after 1790 in France; Dr. John Moore (1729-1802), Scottish physician and writer and author of the radical novel Zeluco (1789); Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), the actress best known for her portrayal of certain women characters from the plays of Shakespeare.
3 Line from Byron’s The Giaour (1813), ll. 957-61.
4 Childwood] MS
5 Reference to the French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic Wars, of which the culmination was nearing in Europe at this time.