1819 August 19
Eliza Fenwick, Barbados, to Mary Hays, [no address page], 14 August 1819.1
Barbados Augst 14th 1819
When when my dear Friend, have I, since my first arrival in this Island which has been the grave of so many proud & dearly cherished expectations, sat down to write to you with such a glow as at this moment spreads from my heart to my visage! I feel my cheeks pale face is glowing with the expectation that makes me seem to be above feeling the clogs, embarrassments, labours, and anxieties, that, in reality, surround me for oh my dear Mary I shall I believe once more see you! Once more embrace the friend who has consoled me under many afflictions, and shewn me an exemplary affection through vicissitudes that have made me wear the semblance of ill deserving! We are coming to England! The cause is melancholy, but the effect I trust will be blessed. Eliza will never recover here, it is but too obvious. All that medicine, diet, nursing, air & bathing can do has been tried & tried in vain. With every change she mends a little, & presently falls back into the same wretched state of unceasing pain, and palpitations of the heart so violent, that nothing but strong opiates can allay. Such remedies of course increase the debility which
is occasions the mischief, so that she becomes less and less capable of bearing the fatigue that is necessary to our welfare, and after lingering ^perhaps^ eight or ten years in this despairing ^& almost helpless^ state of existance, would drop into an early grave and leave me old, infirm, & broken hearted to protect & sustain four destitute children. Can you wonder that such a picture should appall me? To go alone to England or America equally appalls her, whose nerves are so dreadfully shattered that she would unceasingly shudder under the supposition that I was sinking <–> ^from^ an added weight of labour, or that some of her babes were ill and pining for her maternal aid. Besides at the most moderate computation the experiment would cost £200, and the income of the drawing and dancing tuition, the latter of which has been very productive, would cease and ever ^after^ the heavy losses we have suffered no such £200 can be spared without almost insurmountable difficulties, and a most painful increase of her anxieties in absence – The two Physicians, both men of talent & experience (though they could not save my Boy) are of opinion that a change of Climate will renovate her impaired constitution, and nothing remains but that we should go together, & try new fortunes in our own dear Land. As soon as I was convinced by the failure of the effect of our removal to the sea side (Margate) whence I last wrote to you, I considered addressed Circular Letters to the Parents & Guardians of our Pupils stating my motives, & soliciting scholars to carry to England to educate there. My letters (for unable to write but when I should have slept) cost me time & labour – They were all deliverd on the 6th and 7th of this Month. This is the 14th & I have had but two positive refusals, and those accompanied forwarded statements of inability of circumstances. Seven are already promised, and the rest are yet under consideration. The letters have excited a great sensation, and convinced me that I am more estimated in this Country than I imagined. Eliza always ranked high in the Public Opinion though her marriage displeased many of her choisest friends, and I at present have every reason to believe I shall be furnished with 20 Pupils to carry to England. I propose settling about Clifton or near Bath. I do not want to live in a Town; a commodious family House with a garden &c would suit better though old fashioned in its structure &c, than a modern Mansion and would I fancy be cheaper. I hear of two Widows & one or two Maiden Ladies of small fortunes who are expressing a wish to go with me as members of my family, but that is yet in Embryo. To hurry my friends into a sudden decision was I thought unjust, or to leave those who were to stay behind without sufficient time to meditate upon a new choice was ungrateful to their preference of me. I therefore announced a 6 months notice, and to go away by the first ships after Christmas. I also dreaded to put Eliza to the trial of a long winter in her delicate state for here she often shudders at the evening breeze, and wraps up in a shawl which it would be difficult for ^to bribe^ me to endure the weight of. Another very potent reason is, that I must have time to collect in my debts and pay what I owe: And this is the worst part of the preparation for I have some heavy defaulters. I believe I told you in my last of a debtor dying between £2 & 300 in my debt & leaving me a friendless destitute orphan to provide for – She is a fifth Child on my hands. The eagerness of my pupils to go with us is beyond what I could have expected and the school room displays no dejected countenances but those who know they shall remain behind.
You my dear Mary are disgusted with living in the bustle of a school,2 so I suppose I must not ask you to make one of my family. But you will come & see me, will you not? You will come and see Eliza looking nearly as old and much paler than her Mother, with her four interesting babes around her – You must come and adopt a portion of this little Orlando who by his volatile spirits, health, & sweet temper, hourly reminds me of his uncles infancy, & twines himself irresistibly round every fibre of my heart – Ah my dear Mary there is yet a pang to be suffer’d, even in this longed for enterprise – Lanno’s Grave must be left behind! I have looked to that hallowed spot as my final shelter. Eliza, I said to myself, will have her sons to sleep with her in the tomb & I shall rest with mine! But he must rest alone! No kindred dust will join with his! – Vain foolish tears will flow whenever these thoughts occur, but our duties are to the living not the dead and his beautiful Spirit is the associate of Purity & happiness though his outward form perishes in an obscure & foreign grave.
And now my dear Friend how short an interval lies between this and my new mode of life. It is late in the day for me to begin fresh schemes but I do not seem to have grown <–> old in faculties though advanced in years. Sustained astonishingly through incredible toils & oppressing anxieties I seem but the more invigorated and the more fitted for the struggles I must look to encounter. I seek first Eliza’s restoration to health & vigour. The voyage itself, it is supposed, will do much for that, and my next object is to form a permanent establishment for her to proceed with when I am gone to be no more seen. She has had great offers to go to the Theatre at Jamaica from a report spreading that she wd resume the stage. Her health would not support the fatigue & the stage affords no settled home for the rearing ^of^ Children. You made some pleasant acquaintances when you were at Clifton. Will you not bespeak their good opinions for me when I come? I should wish for some society because I shall probably have some tall girls whom I should wish to see something of English manners. We have Harp Players & some excellent Piano-forte players, but music & dancing must not be their only recreations. I wish them to learn to relish intelligent Conversation.
But for your speaking with such dislike of your Peckham residence I should have proposed without hesitation your making my house your home but now I must not I imagine. The french Assistant I have here I do not mean to take, because though highly accomplished in French Italian & Music her terms are too high. I shall want one who will be more willing to attend to subordinate matters and yet she must be mistress of French & if possible a native of Paris & well educated. Can you enquire what salaries are usually given in schools to such a Person? Whatever information you can give me either with respect to the part of the Country where I intend to fix, of the general rate of living in England or any other matters relative I shall most gladly receive. Eliza joins in affectionate remembrances
With yrs most truly
Pray write immediately
Address: To | Mrs M. Hays
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 196-200; Brooks, Correspondence 350-52.
2 At this time Hays was living with the Fenn in Peckham Lane, south London; Mrs. Fenn kept a school, so once again Hays was living in a situation surrounded by school-age children, just as she had done at Mrs. Mackie's school in Oundle.