1813 November 11

Penelope Pennington,1 Hot Wells, Bristol, to Mary Hays, at Mrs. Mackie’s, Tansor, near Oundle, Northamptonshire, 11 November 1813.2

Hot Wells Novr 11th 1813

My dear Madam

The contents of your Letter are so interesting that I shou’d immediately have replied to it, but wished to consider the Subject more maturely, and to make some necessary enquiries. – It wou’d give me great pleasure were it in my power to render any service to a Lady Circumstanced as you represent Mrs Mackie and her Family, but I am sorry to say I cannot give the least encouragement to the Plan that has been recommended to her.3 – Clifton has full as many Seminaries for young People, and more I believe than can well be supported, and tho’ none of these are exactly on the forms you mention, yet, as Parlour boarders, the accommodations answer just as well the End proposed. – I know two, ^or^ three Ladies highly qualified by their Manners, accomplishments, and Connexions with the World, who have Establishments of that sort at Bath. – My friend Mrs Siddon’s sister, Mrs Twiss,4 a most charming Woman, has an elegant House, where she receives a certain number of young Ladies exactly on Mrs Mackie’s plan, and if Interest & celebrity cou’d insure success, it must fall abundantly to her share, but with others, in the same line, she has often lamented to me the difficulty she finds in keeping up her numbers, and that the Emolument scarcely answers the Expense, trouble, & vexation, that attends the undertaking, from the Caprice, & unreasonable expectations of the Girls. – House rent and Taxes are extremely high at Clifton. – a furnished House, fit for the purpose, cou’d not be procured for less than £200, or £250 pr year; nor an unfurnished one for less than 100, or 150. – I wou’d by no means advise Mrs Mackie to think of this Scheme without good, and certain Patronage; – nor without such a number of Ladies to begin with, as will cover her Expences. –

I now proceed with more satisfaction to the latter part of your Letter my dear Madam, as I really feel flattered, in a very sensible degree by the obliging desire it expresses of improving our Acquaintance, and as I have a strong presentiment it will be much for my own Interest to gain in a Domestic Inmate such a Friend and companion, you have the best moral certainty of my doing all in my power for your accommodation. – I have said before, Terms shall not part us – but my Family remains in the same state, nor do I immediately foresee any probability of change. – I have, indeed, an aged Mother, whose Life hangs by a Thread – at 96 years every Month counts – Her loss much be expected, & submitted to without murmuring, however Nature may revolt, and, in that case, I shou’d have ample room – but otherwise, when the time comes, rest assured I will do “my possible,” and the Bed you mention &c may be assisting – but before the expiration of your Term in Northamptonshire you shall hear from me to a certainty on the Subject – in the mean while I wou’d not mislead you as to the pleasures of Society – Fatigued with 20 years of Public Life, and all the frivolous Routine of Balls, Routs &c &c &c – I am every Day narrowing my Circle of general Acquaintance & living more retired. – I have at present with me three Ladies, all sensible, well informed and well bred, which, with Mr Pennington, forms a cheerful, & agreeable Society, and I can promise you very little beyond it; – but in the infinite variety of the lovely Scenery this enchanting Country & neighbourhood abounds with, and the vicinity of such a populous, & animated City, it is impossible for a Mind of feeling & reflection, ever to grow dull, or to suffer from Ennui.

Mr Pennington desires his best Compliments, and I remain, – My dear Madam

very sincerely yours –

P. Pennington

On any future occasion I beg you will not take the trouble to pay the Postage of your Letters, as I shall always hear from you with pleasure.

Address: Mrs Hays | At Mrs Mackies | Tansor near Oundle | Northamptonshire

1 The Penningtons lived at 12 Dowry Square, a beautiful town home in a three-sided square that remains intact to this day. At the opposite corner from the Pennington’s home was the residence that had previously housed Thomas Beddoe’s Pneumatic Institute where Humphry Davy (1778-1829), the famed chemist, arrived late in 1798 as Beddoes’s assistant and where Davy met Southey, Coleridge, and other young Romantics prior to his removal to London and his career at the Royal Institution. Hays and Pennington became acquainted through Southey’s old friend, Charles Danvers (d. 1814) of Kingsdown, Bristol. Penelope Sophia Weston (1757-1827) was a friend and correspondent of Anna Seward, Helen Maria Williams, and Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi. In 1792 she married the American John Pennington, who became Master of Ceremonies at the Hotwells in Bristol in 1785; thereafter they settled in Dowry Square. As Oswald Knapp notes, Weston appeared often in Seward’s letters, with Seward referring to her as “the graceful and elegant Miss Weston,” one of “a knot of ingenious and charming females at Ludlow in Shropshire” where Seward visited her in 1787. See Oswald G. Knapp, ed., The Intimate Letters of Hester Piozzi and Penelope Pennington (London; New York: John Lane, 1914), 4.

2 Misc. Ms. 2179, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 506-08.

3 During the 1813-14 school year, Hays lived at Mrs. Mackie’s academy for girls in Tansor, near Oundle, Northamptonshire. Apparently, Mackie was thinking of moving her school to Bristol, which had, since the days of the Park Street school run by Hannah More and her sisters, been known for the quality of its boarding schools.

4 Mrs. Twiss was the former actress Fanny Kemble, sister of the famed actress Sarah Siddons. She and her husband, Francis Twiss, operated a prosperous school at 24 Camden Place, Bath. Their son, Horace Twiss (1787-1849), became a solicitor and friend and colleague of Crabb Robinson by 1809. Twiss later became MP for Wootton Basset (1820-30) and Newport (1830-31), as well as serving as Counsel for the Admiralty and Judge-Advocate of the Fleet, Undersecretary for the Colonies (1828) and Vice-Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1844). Besides composing the farewell address delivered by his famous aunt upon her retirement from the stage in 1812, Twiss also published a poem, St. Stephen’s Chapel (1807); an edition (with his own lyrics) of Scottish Melodies (1812; a play, The Carib Chief (1819); some works on legal reform; and in 1844, his important 3-volume work, The Public and Private Life of Lord Chancellor Eldon. A short entry on him appears in Samuel Austen Allibone’s Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1882), 3:2487.