26 May 1777
Mary Scott, Milborne Port and Yeovil, to the Revd John Taylor at Daventry, [Monday] 26 May .
I happened some time ago to travel with a Gentleman who asserted he never did anything of which he repented; very different from his I am sure is my Fate, for I am daily doing or saying something or other yt supplies me with subjects for regret. I have been vexed with myself ever since I wrote to yo on Saturday on account of one Paragraph in that Letter, which I fear will give yo pain. I mean that in which I mentioned my conjectures of your having been very communicative of your attachment to me. There was a threat in it which I think might as well have been spared, for surely my desire would have been sufficient to have induc’d my Taylor to alter any part of his conduct respecting myself which gave me pain. I will be more explicit than I could be then. I do assure you I am no longer solicitous yt our connection should be kept secret. I care not who knows it, care not who knows that I am engaged to you, but if yo speak of me in that light, take care yt ye confidence yo express in me be placed in my honor, not in my Love. Yo will perhaps deem this a strange request, but it is a necessary one. Decorum prescribes a Thousand absurd modes of conduct to our Sex, from which you are happily exempted; one of these is that a Woman ought not to acknowledge her affection for a Man, whatever his merit or attachment to her may be, till she is married to him; till that time she is to behave to him with reserve (nay to endeavor to persuade him yt she is indifferent to him) & to speak of him to others with Coldness. According to this rule in ye course of my acquaintance I should have told you a Thousand falsehoods, & endeavor’d to inspire ye World with a belief of my thinking lightly of yo; whereas I have never intentionally told yo one untruth, & even when I thought it impossible yt I ever should return yr Affection, spoke of yo in ye highest terms of approbation to others. For I ever thought ye claims of honor, truth & humanity, infinitely superior to ye rules of Decorum. These principles therefore always actuated my conduct in regard to yo. Men in general, whatever degree of affection they may appear to feel for a Woman, or how solicitous soever they may seem to obtain hers, do commonly make her on finding they have succeeded ye subject of their ridicule, or at least grow insolent, assuming, or negligent, in their conduct to her. Was it possible for me to avoid despising beings so lost to gratitude or honor? Was it possible for me not to shudder at ye Idea of an intimate connection with any of them? Yet I knew some men were capable of forming nobler sentiments, & determined if it should ever be my Fate to be addrest by such a one, I would treat him with ye utmost ingenuousness; I would tell him all my Soul. For I was ever persuaded that there were some few Men so superior to ye rest of their Sex, that a Woman might not only indulge an Affection for them consistent with Virtue, but that it might be even a Virtue to Love them. However yo must know as well as I that ye World is incapable of making those nice discriminations, which is a sufficient reason why neither yo nor I, should in our present circumstances be ostentatious of my Affection for yo. Another favour I must request of you, which is that if any of your Acquaintance should be curious to know why our Union is defer’d, you will tell them that there are peculiarities in my situation yt wil not admit of my entering into such an engagement at present. This yo know will be ye truth, & yet will convey no information of ye motives which have chiefly influenced my Conduct in this affair, which I confess I should be glad to have kept as secret as possible. My Mind is exceedingly pain’d by ye Idea of its being known, lest ye World should suppose me, & you also, to be impatiently expecting an event, which tho’ according to ye course of Nature we may expect to survive, is yet I hope at a remote period.
Now let me proceed to touch a little on ye subject of your last Letter which I had not leisure to do on Saturday. I told you then I thought there seemed not to be so great a difference in our religious sentiments as I had formerly feared, & I am inclin’d to think ye difference would appear still less, if we thoroughly understood each other. You concur with me in thinking establishments have been, & are still, not only expedient but necessary, & does not that afford a strong presumption that they always will be so, whilst mankind continue ye same frail, capricious & inconstant beings they at present are? To say ye truth I look upon ye Church of England to be, under Providence, ye chief Bulwark of rational Christianity in our Nation. Dissenters appear to me to dissent as much from Xtianity as from ye Church of England; some disgracing their understandings & their religious profession by all ye extravagances of Fanaticism, others setting up reason as ye ultimate judge of all articles of Faith, and sapping ye very foundation of Christianity. I speak of Dissenters considered as Societies, doubtless there are numberless individuals whose conduct renders them ornaments to religion & human nature. But altho’ you allow ye expediency of establishments in ye present condition of Mankind, you seem to think them of bad tendency; if that could be proved I could not grant that they were expedient. I readily acknowledge establishments are liable to abuse, but are not the modes of a Sect equally so? And yo will not surely argue ye uselessness or pernicious nature of a thing merely from its abuse?...
And tho’ I think ye Labourer worthy of his Hire I would have ye hireling always obliged to labor. Some Provision must be made for ye Preachers of ye Gospel, for how spiritual-minded soever they may be, they are not all Spirit. If they are not in a great measure independent [of] their hearers their Persons & their ministry will sink into contempt; it therefore seems to me expedient that temporalities should be annexed to Spiritual Cures. Yet I would not wish the teachers of the Gospel to be rich, except in Faith & Good Works. The middle rank of Life seems most eligible for them. The extremes of Riches or Poverty are great trials to a Man’s graces. Agur’s prayer, will always be the Prayer of every Wise Man. It seems to me that ye provision made for Ministers would be such as to afford them a competent enjoyment of ye necessaries & even conveniences of Life, yet not so liberal as to administer to ye gratification of their Vanity. You do not I think seem to approve of any stated provision for them. On your Scheme I cannot conceive how they are to subsist. Indeed my Love I think yo refine too much; when Mankind are Angels your plan may be carried into execution, but it seems not probable to me that it should before. You suppose & consider ye World as extending to a much longer date than I do. What motive induces you to entertain this supposition? ... You are of opinion that a time will come when Mankind will be in a much better situation in regard to Morals than they now are when Xtianity shall be purified from all ye corruptions that have been accumulated on it. There may be such a time; some passages in ye Apocalypse seem to favor that Notion; yet I confess I know not how to reconcile it with other passages of Sacred writ, that appear less liable to misconstruction, particularly with ye account which our Lord gives of his Second Appearance in ye 24th Chapter of St. Matthew. He seems to represent Mankind as at that time remarkably thoughtless of futurity & immersed in sensual gratifications. And that ye Dissolution of ye World should take place at a time when moral depravity is at an alarming height, seems to me to be analogous to all the past singular interpositions of Providence—as ye Deluge, ye destruction of Sodom, & even ye advent of the Messiah. Now that we have both explained our Sentiments in some degree, I think we do not differ quite so much as I have hitherto apprehended.
Yeovil.—I am just retired from a Large circle of Company to indulge myself in ye pleasure of conversing with you. Visits of Ceremony are things I hate. Miss Steele came to our house last Tuesday, & Wednesday Evening I accompanied her hither. Her society has afforded me much pleasure....
I am in a painful Dilemma in regard to yr coming into Somersetshire; sometimes I think it will be best for yo to come; at other times am in great anxiety least my Mother should be rendered more unhappy. I have consulted Miss Steele, & two or three friends besides, & they are unanimously of opinion that yo ought to come. I know not what to say, yo must do as yo will. If yo do come yo may come more conveniently than yo could have done in ye Winter; there is a Coach or Diligence, or both, goes from Oxford to Bath 3 times a Week in one Day; & there is likewise a Diligence goes 3 times a Week from Bath to Weymouth, & that comes within 3 miles of our House; so that you may be with us by 11 o’clock in ye morning....
Miss Steele desired me to present some very polite message to yo when I came up Stairs, but I have entirely forgot what it was. But she has always been your very good friend. Supper waits for me, I can add no more than that I am
Text: Scott and Scott, A Family Biography, pp. 62-66; postmarked at Yeovil. For an annotated text of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 4, pp. 274-77. Taylor adds: "Not to mention confidence in love, but honour, nor tell cause why not married. Says must do as I will about coming."