7 May 1777

Mary Scott, Milborne Port, to the Revd John Taylor, Daventry, [Wednesday] 7 May 1777.

May 7. 1777.

Your two Letters reach’d me this morning just as I was sitting down to a solitary Breakfast; the pleasure they afforded me render’d me insensible to the low gratifications of animal nature, & my Tea was as cold as Water just fetch’d from the pump e’er I recollected any thing about it. So that I may say I breakfasted on Love this Morning. If I knew how to be angry wth yo I wd chide yo severely for ye apology yo make in yr Second Letter about ye postage; I am indeed hurt by ye insinuation it seems to contain. Have I ever given yo reason to suppose me of a mercenary temper? Still more is my Heart pain’d by an interrogation in yr 1st Letter “Can I promise yt I will not be asham’d of yo, yt I have no thoughts of deceiving yo”? So far, so very far, am I from being asham’d of yo, yt I do not hesitate to acknowledge my regard (my Affection let me say) for yo to any of my friends. I feel no sentiments for yo wch I could not cherish wth pleasure in ye last moments of my Life, & therefore I know not why I shd be asham’d of yo. And as to deceiving yo, I thought my past conduct wd hv exculpated me frm every suspicion of yt Nature. Why was I so backward to avow my tenderness for yo, but frm an apprehension yt there was a possibility of mistaking ye emotions of Gratitude for those of Love, & from a fear of deceiving yo thro’ inadvertance? Had not yt apprehension restrain’d my pen I shd have acknowledg’d my affection for you long before I did. I was determin’d to be convinced yt I lov’d yo, before I told yo so; but had yo not been unhappy I believe it wd have been long before I shd have obtain’d yt absolute certainty of it I now have. I cannot think it possible I ever shd become indifferent to yo, except a total revolution were to take place either in yr Character or my own¾events wch I hope never will happen. Assure yourself yt “my Soul acquiesces in yo, yt yo are ye Man of my voluntary choice,” yt I do at present, & hope I ever shall, value yr merit abv all wordly price; that I hope no length of time, or distance of place, will ever disunite my Heart from yours, at least whilst yo continue as firmly attach’d to me as I believe yo are at present. Your present conduct greatly endears yo to my Heart. The generality of Men, even Men of merit, wd I fear have acted a very different part, & wd have endeavor’d to have importun’d my Mother into a Compliance wth their wishes; yo have acted more nobly & shown yourself capable of reducing to practise all those fair Ideas of excellence wch in speculation have long charm’d my Soul. Indeed I now find myself compel’d to think Providence formed us for each other, & can very easily believe yt we may not only be better & happier in this state of existence for our mutual attachment, but even thro’ Eternity. Accept then my dearest Love the Heart wch you have so long solicited, a Heart as fond, as faithful, (& I believe I must add) as proud, as ever animated a female bosom, a Heart wch tho’ formed for Love, never felt (& I trust never will feel) for another Man those sentiments it feels for you….

And now I will give yo an account of my own painful situation. Some years before my Father’s Death he place’d a Sum of Money in ye Funds; not having quite as much by him as he wanted he desir’d my Grandfather to supply him with two Hundred Pounds, which he readily did, without receiving or desiring any Security for it, (as my Father was his only surviving Child), but afterwards whenever any part of my Father’s conduct displeas’d him, he used to upbraid him about this Money, & threaten that he would have it again. This irritated my Father, & he told him he would sell out & pay him; then he would absolutely refuse to be paid, & has often declared that he never meant to have it. Thus matters remained till my Father’s Death. He made no will, for it was his desire that his Children should share alike, & as his Estate was chiefly personal, he said the law would divide it as he wished; my Mother’s Jointure, in case of her dying intestate, being to devolve equally amongst all her children. My Eldest Brother thought fit to be offended when he found he was on the same footing as Russell & myself; and my Grandfather (instigated I presume by my Brother) demanded ye 200 pounds of my Mother. She ask’d him what security he had to show that it was ever borrowed; he acknowledged he had none; she then refus’d to pay it, for he acknowledg’d that it was not a Legal debt, & that he never shd have had it if my Father had lived. I cannot give yo any Idea of his Rage; every aspersion that malice could suggest did he throw on my Mother’s Character; my Brother too represented her as the worst of Mothers. I had forgot to tell yo that my Grandfather demanded a Hundred pounds for ye interest of the two Hundred; his whole demand was three Hundred & some odd pounds. Our Family affairs were a subject of conversation for ye whole Town. However my Mother at length promis’d to give him Two Hundred pounds, (I cannot say pay, for he confesses it was never borrow’d) & took up two Hundred pounds which she had out on a mortgage; & last Saturday was a Week sent a receipt in full, to know if he chose to sign it; if he did, his Servant was to come to our house & receive a Bank Note for that Sum. Two Hundred pounds he said was better than nothing, & therefore he agreed to sign it. We pleas’d ourselves with ye assurance as we then thought it, of having no more trouble about that affair, but greatly were we disappointed. On Monday when my Brother was acquainted with my Grandfather’s having given a receipt in full, he was much displeas’d, & to such a height has his anger grown that he never intends to come near his Mother more, & not only so, but he has left ye Meeting on account of it. I have been long appriz’d of ye treatment I must expect to receive from him if I should ever survive my Mother, but I hop’d we should have been on civil terms as long as she lived. All Family harmony is I fear at an end; I see by his present conduct what I must expect hereafter. Surely he might content himself with ye certainty of possessing all his Grandfather’s Fortune (except an Estate of 30 or 40 pounds a year wch devolves to one of his Nephews at his Death) without wishing to impoverish Russell & myself. I am indeed grieved to ye Soul to see him discover so selfish a disposition, & betray such a want of Duty & Affection to his Mother, & of Respect to our excellent friend Mr. Newton, ye Worthy Dissenting Minister in this Town. I thought he would thankfully have accepted ye 200 pounds, (for it was on his account alone that my Grandfather wanted it) & not have insisted on a Hundred & 20 pounds for Interest. His undutiful conduct greatly disturbs my poor Mother, yo will easily believe, & my own Heart is greatly pained by losing in this manner a Brother whom I sincerely loved, tho’ I have too much reason to believe he never had much friendship for me. What will ye World say when ye Affair comes to be known? when it is seen, as it soon must be, that all intercourse is dropt between us? How painful Family differences are to a Mind that superadds to religious considerations, a thousand fair Ideas of Moral Beauty! Whether I shall ever have comfort in either of my Brothers seems at present a dubious matter…

Afflicted as I am, I am comparatively happy now yr Health & peace are restor’d. I earnestly pray yr religious peace may never more know interruption, & yt no misunderstanding may ever again arise between us. In ye World we must have tribulation, but in ye enjoyment of each other’s Affection I hope we shall have peace.

My poor Brother, how I long to see him! & perhaps I never shall see him again under any Character but yt of an enrag’d enemy. My Heart aches for my Grandfather, for I hear he is likewise a subject of his displeasure, & is not treated by him as he ought to be treated by one so much obliged. May God forgive him as freely as I hope I do. An improper education[iii] has ruin’d his temper; gratify’d in every wish of his Heart, whether proper or not, he soon learnt to think all with whom he was connected ought to be subservient to him. As long as I could hope for ye least influence over him, I strove to bring him to a better temper, but he never would be free with me. At ye same time never wd express those Illiberal sentiments in my presence wch he was ready enough to avow to other people; his behaviour before me was generally specious, but I have been frequently pain’d by hearing of his imperious treatment of his dependents. Yet he is what ye World calls a very Virtuous Young Fellow, for he is neither a Swearer, a Drunkard, nor a Libertine, & has more worldly Wisdom than any man of his age I ever knew, tho’ in ye present case he does not discover it; for his conduct to my Mother is very impolitic, as well as undutiful, as she can dispose of her Jointure amongst her Children in what proportion she sees fit. Whatever Animosity he might have cherished in his heart, I thought he would have suppressed it, from motives of self-interest as long as she lived…

The only reason I had for wishing yo to settle in or near London, was because I thought we could then see & hear from each other more frequently. Dissenters in London are indeed what yo say of ym; but are those in ye Country better principled, or more humble? I cannot think they are; sure I am yt they are not as far as my acquaintance amongst ym extends. I know not but very few Dissenting Congregations in which there is not, or has not lately been, disturbances. There has within ye last fortnight been a very great falling out between a Dissenting Minister in ye next Town & his people, & he is about to leave them….

I am afraid from some expressions in yr last Letter, yt yo are as fond of forming New Schemes & Systems of Religion as ever, & greatly fear yt propensity of yours will be a Source of Inconvenience & discomfort to us both in future Life. In matters of Religion, I fear our Sentiments become wider & wider; there seems no probability that we should ever think alike. Now I cannot help fearing yt this difference, if ever we should be united by ye marriage tye, may produce a shyness between us, if it does not occasion open contention. And this apprehension gives me very great pain. It is to me a surprizing circumstance, that Persons whose sentiments are so similar on every other subject of Importance, should differ so widely in matters of Religion as I doubt we do….

I have been reviewing my Letter with sentiments of amazement at ye fond Epithets yt have fallen from my pen, & I feel my Mind in a most awkward situation on that account. Never before did I write such a Letter as this; yet think not that I mean to retract what I have written. No, the fondest, tenderest Sentiments my Heart is capable of feeling are no more than what your generous affection, your strong & steady Attachment to me, entitle you to.

I expect very shortly to have ye pleasure of seeing my dear Miss Steele, my more than Sister. She talks of visiting her Estate in Somersetshire. Oh, if you love me as much as yo tell me yo do, yo will always feel a fraternal affection for her. How I long to introduce yo to ye acquaintance of each other! I assure you she thinks very highly of yo; she told me in her last Letter yt your Character rose in her esteem every time she heard from me, & that she never in her Life so much admir’d any Man whom she had never seen. As her Estate lies but a few miles from hence, I hope to pass a Week or 10 Days with her when she comes in ye Country. I shall not feel that uneasyness on leaving my Mother that I do when I take a long journey; for if she should be worse than usual, I can be with her in an hour. I have some faint hopes that change of air, tho’ but for a short time, may be of a little service to my Health which still continues considerably impair’d. I have discontinued riding on Horseback for more than a fortnight past, a circumstance which I believe contributes to retard ye progress of my Recovery; but I find it difficult to procure a double Horse in this Town, & still more so to find a proper person to ride with me, & I am not able to walk far enough to obtain any benefit from walking. Indeed I have little expectation of enjoying for any length of time such a degree of Health as would render Life comfortable; but if my dearer self be blest with ease & strength I can smile in pain….

This Letter I presume will not reach Daventry till Sunday, when it is probable yo will be abroad, so that I know not when I must expect an answer to it, & I do not much like, when I consider ye Sentiments it contains, that it should lie two or three Days in a Servant’s Hands; tho’ I seal my Letters so securely that there is scarcely a possibility of looking into them. I thought to have finished it last post Day, but was not able to.

Poor R is to come home for a Month at Midsummer. He told me some time ago, he was ready to wish it were possible that time might never come, for he knew not how he should bear to see his Mother. I am apt to think his situation must be rather dull, for there are none but small lads there, except they have had any fresh ones since he has been there. However I prevailed on my Mother to consent to his being a parlor boarder whilst he continues there, that he might be preserved as much as possible from ye danger of forming improper connections a second time, & as ye Gentleman’s Wife whom he is with, is a near relation of my Mother’s, I doubt not but they are very kind to him.—Adieu¾

You see I cannot leave off writing whilst one blank space remains. I wish I had a larger one at present. My Mind is much distressed; the more I ruminate on ye difference of our Religious Sentiments ye more strongly do my former apprehensions of Misery from our connection recur to my Mind; I would not pain ye Heart I love, but ’tis necessary in cases of this nature to avoid ye least reserve. My doubts & unhappyness on this account are proportioned to ye Strength of my Affection, and misery seems almost inevitable. If we should not see each other in London, or somewhere or other that we may talk over this & some other matters this Summer, I know not how I shall support ye uneasyness of my Mind. I know not what to think, how to act, or what to wish; & forgive me if I add, am almost ready to regret that I love you lest it should be ye means of rendering us both wretched. I am much afraid what I have said in this P.S. will give pain to that Heart in which, were it possible to avoid it, I would never excite any emotions but pleasurable ones. But my peace of mind is fled, I am ready to fear for ever, & my domestic afflictions tho’ great are absorbed in a distress of a more poignant & tender nature. Farewell, may you be ever blest.

I believe I have omitted to thank you for your second letter, but be assured my Heart has a grateful sense of your attention to everything that concerns my peace. This is a very inconsistent Letter. I hope you are much happier than I, else your situation must be very painful….

Text: Scott and Scott, A Family Biography, pp. 51-58; for an annotated text of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 4, pp. 267-72. Taylor writes on the letter: "Spoiled her breakfast, a charming letter. Account of her unhappy situation with her grandfather and brother. Alarmed at some wild expression in my letter in regard to religion. Greatly alarmed."