1786 (undated)

Mary Steele to her half-sister, Martha Steele, undated [c. 1786].

I am now about to take a Liberty with My Dear Sister which nothing but sincere Affection could ever induce me to, the motive therefore will I hope prevent her from misunderstanding or resenting it, to point out the faults of those we love is the most painful ^office^ of Friendship but it is ^also^ the most unequivocal proof that can be given of disinterested Affection, if we do it not to gratify any ^private^ selfish Animosity – For the present case the kindest Accents of Love would but faintly describe the feelings with which my heart is full while I am addressing my Dear Patty – Involved in the same ^irreparable^ Calamity the Loss of the Dearest Best of Fathers & of Men – I feel the Ties of Affection strengthen’d, & shall I see my dear Fathers the Darling of my Dear Fathers Age his little Playfellow His Beloved Child indulging Dispositions which have a tendency to render his loss Amiable & consequently less happy & not attempt to assist her in plucking up the weed from the mental Garden. Blessed as she is with one of the best of Mothers she will not I hope take this freedom amiss from a Sister so many years Older than herself.

My Pattys Mind is naturally Frank, Generous, & Affectionate, I recollect with pleasure many instances that prove it so. How then comes it to pass that these Amiable Dispositions Qualities have suffer’d an Eclipse? That habits have been requir’d which indicate very different dispositions? I think I can on this Occasion read her Heart – Has it not arisen from an Opinion that some of her Young Companions particularly perhaps her Sister was more admired & beloved than herself? This has check’d the flow of Affection & harden’d in some degree perhaps the otherwise yielding heart. “They don’t Love me & so I wont them,” “I don’t care if nobody will regard me & so I wont them,” &c. Has not something like this been yr thoughts My Dear? – But this is ^all^ founded in a mistake. Your Friends do love you. Love you with fondness – but they do not love your faults. It is impossible they should – Nothing is more fatal to mutual Affection than conceal’d distrust, Suspicion often creates the Evil it fear’d, where it did not before exist, & even if it did exist we are culpable in returning behaving with Coldness & Unkindness in return. Thus Rather should this be our Language

“My Friends are all the World to me

And if they will forget me

I’ll mourn to think how frail they be

And love them if they’ll let me”

We more frequently estrange our Friends from us by little disagreablenesses in our behaviour than by any flagrant act of unkindness, from that we start back with horror while the former like a worm at the Root of Domestic Comfort destroys it without being perceived but by its effects. – Continual Contention about Trifle, a Tenaciousness of our own Opinions, A Love of Contradiction or

Small slights, contempts, neglects unmixt with hate

Make up in number what they want in weight

These & a thousand things minute as these

Corrode our Comfort & destroy our ease

I can scarcely forbear transcribing the whole of Miss Mores beautiful object Passage/Lines & just as beautiful on this Subject, but I refer you to the Poem “Sensibility” & wish you to peruse it with attention.

Submit yourselves one to another & Let each esteem the other better than himself are precepts of Divine Authority – God hath made ^us^ dependent upon each other & we can be no longer Happy than while we are attempting ^at least^ to contribute to the General felicity. There is more merit in suppressing one angry answer than in uttering twenty witty ones – And more real Dignity in

“The meek forbearance of anothers fault

The taunting word suppress’d as soon as thought”

Than in all the forced Submission of others which Pride or Passion may extort from those about us – Love ^not respect any more than love^ can neither never be purchased – nor obtain’d by arbitrary demand. Permit me to recommend Mrs Chapones Letter on the Regulation of the Tempers to my Dr Pattys serious perusal. It well deserves it but do not think my Dr I suppose you alone faulty in this respect. I should say the same to Nancy or any other young Person on this Subject & I would daily read the same Lecture to my own heart. –

But the Error in My Dr Pattys Conduct which I observe with the most concern is her Behaviour sometimes to her Dearest & best Friend – mistake me not I do not mean to charge you with intentionally undutifulness & want of affection to yr Dr Mother but pardon me for saying a Stranger must unavoidably do so where they to hear you contradict & dispute with her as you sometimes do. – Her will ought ever to be loved & should be cheerfully complied with whether it [partly] accord with yr Inclination or not, Affection ought even to make the Sacrifice pleasing – we may be sure it is the dictate of Wisdom & Love whether it be perceiv’d by us or not. A Time may come (But ^oh^ distant be the hour) I speak from Sorrowful Remorseful Experience when you will bitterly regret having neglected her Instructions or oppos’d her Judgment even in the most trifling instances – Oh prevent this unavailing Agony while Providence indulges you with the Opportunity – Self sufficiency & an overbearing disposition are despicable & odious in All, but more particularly in Young People. Let me recommend one more Lesson of Instruction. It is Dr Blairs Sermons ^on Gentleness^ to Young Persons & I could wish all such to read it. Nothing perhaps more enfeebles the mind & renders it petulant & captious than permitting our Attention to be perpetually engross’d by Trifles. You know who hath said “Take no thought of saying what shall we eat or what shall we drink or wherewithal shall we [be] clothed.”

To be great & notable is certainly very commendable – but the Regulation of our Tempers & the Acquisition of useful Knowledge are abundantly more important. I wish my Dr Sister would pay more attention to the improvement of her mind and read not merely for amusement but instruction. Happy should I be to lend her any little Assistance in my power.

But there is one Species of Knowledge compar’d to which all others are of no value – This is Eternal Life Eternal to know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent – One thing is needful, One Great Pursuit claims our attention without which we must be forever miserable. Life is stealing swiftly tho’ unperceived ^away,^ Youth Health Beauty are no Security against Death, Every Hour Every Moment are we expos’d to his awful Summons and yet how unconcern’d how thoughtless are we of our Danger.

But not so our dying eyes shall view

The Objects that we now pursue

You my Dear have been highly favor’d have been bless’d with the Instructions & Prayers of the most Affectionate & best of Parents – but Religion is a personal Concern & in vain will be all the Advice of our Friends ^if^ we do not attend to these awful Realities for ourselves. Serious Consideration is as necessary for the Young as the Old. Do not therefore content yourself with thinking Religion is an excellent thing but something I cannot attain to, something I cannot possess myself of – the Scriptures we are expressly told are able to make us wise unto Salvation – This blessed Book we all are possess’d of & what is ye blissful information which it contains, That this is a faithful Saying & worthy of all acceptation that Jesus Christ came into the world to save Sinners even the chief of them – A moments pause will tell us that we are indeed Sinners. Oh My Sister, what hinders us then from flying at once to this benevolent Savior imploring his Mercy & obeying his precepts? – The Joys the Amusements perhaps of the present Scene & that conscious Guilt which we all feel. But from this Slavery to Sin this attachment to Folly & vanity & forgetfulness of Eternity this Compassionate Savior came to deliver us. Oh let us then never be weary of saying Jesus Thou Son of David have Mercy on us if we can say nothing else. I hope My Dr Patty does not neglect to read her Bible. but I wish she would begin reading the New Testament & make a point of reading some every Day & endeavor to understand it for herself not read it merely as a Task but consider it as something infinitely interesting to her if she meets with difficulties ask her Mama Lucy anybody or talk sometimes to her Sister. It would furnish a much better Subject of Conversation than what generally employs us. Young People are apt to imagine Religion wd make them Melancholy & nothing can be more false. Her ways are ways of Pleasantness, ^& who could be more cheerful yn our Dr Father?^ Will? Will not all the Comforts of Life be heighten’d by the Idea of their being the Gifts of a Gracious & kind Benefactor

Who hath prepar’d a more divine repast

A sweeter Banquet in his heavenly Kingdom

For those who are content to use this World

And not enjoy it as their only Good

Who could be more cheerful

Solomon hath well compar’d thoughtless mirth to the crackling of Thorns under a Pot. There is more ^real^ pleasure even in the Tear of Contrition than in the liveliest Follies of an unreflecting Mind – If we think but one moment we must be sensible we are guilty ungrateful Creatures that if God who hath fed & supported us all our Lives long have been forgotten by or but slightly remember’d. Let us not fly from these thoughts because they are painful let us indulge them till they lead us to the footstool of his mercy. Come unto me ye that are weary & I will give you rest is the encouraging Language of Divine Benevolence. We cannot it is true give our selves new Dispositions we cannot change our own Hearts – But He who hath said A new heart will I give & a new Spirit put within you hath added nevertheless will I ^be^ intreated of to do this from for them You & I My Dr have had many Prayers put up for us. I hope they will not all be in vain. We have had many an Example too. Our Dear Our Hond Father Remember’d His Creator in the Days of his Youth. Oh we love his Memory let us imitate his Example. Led by the Divine Counsel thro’ Life He is now receiv’d into Glory

He taught us how to Live & Oh (too high

A Price for Knowledge) taught us how to Die

Oh May the Agonizing the triumphant Scene never be blotted from our Remembrance when we behold ^Him^ Ascend “To God rejoicing To Heaven to Rest to Happiness” To the General Assembly &c – “To His God & I hope Our God His Father & Our Father.” And shall we witness such a Scene in vain! Oh let us cherish as Life his ^Memory & his^ Instructions & if his Eye is indeed “Still upon us” as was his dying wish, live as he must approve – The same Power the same Grace is extend’d for our relief & support ^as were for his^ – Oh may His God be indeed our God & Guide unto the Death. Then may we hope those his blissful prediction “We shall meet again we shall all rejoice together” will be fulfill’d, Then will failing pangs rend our Souls no more – Oh Let us shew our Love & Grief by obeying his Precepts & following his Example – & soothing thought! Like as a Father pitieth his Children so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.

I have made my Letter much longer than I intended. I write from the fullness of my heart & therefore hope it will be receiv’d with no unfavorable Sentiment by my Dr Sister. I wish you may be able to read, my Sight will not permit ^me^ to transcribe it better – I have tired myself & doubt I have you too, nothing but a Sense of Duty & Affection could have impower’d me to do it – I am with the sincerest Affection & most ardent wishes for Her happiness My Dr Sister

yr sincere Friend &c

M Steele

None but Mother & Lucy know of this Letter – I know my Dr Patty has often read Doddridges Sermons to Young People has she ever particularly noticed ye 2d If not I would wish her to read it with attention

Text: STE 5/12/i. No postmark. Address: Miss Martha Steele. For an annotated text of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 3, pp. 319-23. References to Mr. Steele’s death place this letter sometime in 1786, the same period when Mary Steele was having difficulties with her vision. Martha Steele was sixteen at the time, visiting at an unspecified place, and apparently experiencing a modicum of teenage rebellion. Mary Steele’s spiritual exhortations seem somewhat incongruous considering her state of religious despair and ‘perfect Stupor’, as she describes it in her letter to Mary Scott the previous January, just after Mr. Steele’s death. Poetry quotations are from Hannah More’s poem ‘Sensibility: a Poetical Tribute to the Hon: Mrs. Boscawen’, which appeared in Sacred Dramas: chiefly intended for Young Persons: the Subjects taken from the Bible. To which is added, Sensibility, a Poem (London: T. Cadell, 1782), as well as Hymn CXCI, ‘The One Thing Needful’, in A Collection of Hymns adapted to Public Worship, 3rd ed., corrected (Bristol, 1778), p. 192; and Thomas Tickell’s verse epistle, ‘To the Earl of Warwick, on the Death of Mr. Addison’, which appeared in numerous poetic anthologies in the second half of the eighteenth century, including The Poetical Preceptor; or, a Collection of Select Pieces of Poetry, 2nd ed. (London, 1780), p. 307.