13 June 1795

Mary Steele, [Broughton], to Miss Martha Steele, Abington, [Saturday] 13 June 1795.

Saturday 13 June

At length My Dear Sister I have taken up the Pen to thank you for yr kind Letter it seems long since I read it but you will I hope pardon the delay when I tell you that I was favored with the Company of my Guests till last Friday Morn when we parted with I believe mutual regret the Drs health is I hope rather improved by the Journey I ^have^ heard from them both since – & they had a safe return home & bore the painful remembrances that await them there as well as could be expected – Miss S & I tho we have so often met were never much acquainted before she now does me ^the^ honor of numbering with her Friends as ^well as^ with her Fathers – Yr kind ^wishes^ were granted with regard to our little Jaunt – it is long since I have pass’d so pleasurable a Day – the Dr was peculiarly pleas’d with the prospect the Ride & Stonehenge fully gratified his expectation – but Miss we had an Entertainment of another kind of which – I can give you but a faint Idea. We visited the nuns & were admitted into their Chapel. I think I shall hardly ever forget the sensations I felt – their profound attention, which our entrance seem’d not at all to disturb, the still solemnity of the place, the singularity of their Dress, altogether produces an effect I cannot describe. Pope’s Eloisa fill’d my mind – it seem’d a “Divine Oblivion of low thoughted care” – but cooler Reason check’d my Enthusiasm when I beheld some very lovely young women in the white veil & ^I^ could not help viewing ^them^ with an ^Eye of^ pity – as deluded victims about to sacrifice each social each endearing sensation of the heart. – Miss S & I felt it almost profane to speak to them just as they left ye Chapel & contented ourselves with a distant homage – but we visited them a second time accompanied by the Dr who had a Conversation with one of the nuns who had taken the black veil. I wish I could give you an Idea of her. I never I think saw a more interesting figure – ^She was a middle aged woman^ extremely graceful & elegant in her manner – a very inticing Countenance evidently mark’d with deep traces of Sorrow – but it ^was^ a meek Sadness – a subdued Chasten’d Grief exactly Corresponding with the Idea of attach’d to her Habit & profession – she behav’d with great Politeness, ^spoke in a low tone somewhat peculiar.^ The Dr told her we who were in the world were almost ready to envy their Retirement – they will not number him ^I fancy^ amongst “The Ruffians of Reformers” as Johnson calls them – Miss S & I wander’d about the Grounds which are really delightful – & I enjoy’d it much the more because the place was not shewn, but we were left to wander where we would – the woodland walks are just suited to the Character of the present Inhabitants of the neighboring Mansion – after all this shall you be surprised to hear Yr Sister has taken the Veil? – I mean however first to visit my friends & purpose going my long talk’d of Journey on Thursday next –

Since I began this yr the Parcel is arriv’d. I am greatly oblig’d to my Dr Sister for her kind ^Letter^ & hope to write to her from Bradford. Lucy too is greatly oblig’d by yrs – but is doubtful whether she shall be able to answer it, but would be peculiarly oblig’d if you would let her hear from you when I am gone. I tell her she [ought] to write – it is very kind my Dr Sister in you to [visit] yr poor Old Neighbours – but I fear Mrs Judd will [paper torn] to wear your Petticoat as she is worse again. Betsy too continues ill. Polly Parvane is thought to be in a very bad way – & Mr Kent is greatly decay’d since you saw him we may perceive a evident alteration almost every visit I much doubt where I shall see him again – And my Dr Sister I cannot forbear telling you (tho I would not have it mentioned only to Anne) that I fear we shall lose Mr Steadman. Circumstances seem paving the way for ^his removing to Northampton^ it [viii] it seems I think the will of Providence – that I should live without Society not only of my own Class Sect which I have long done but without almost any – well be it so

Here I can stay

And muse the poor remains of life away

Very unfortunately Mr Taylor propos’d bringing his little Girl to see me in a week or two I have been obliged to decline it tho’ with regret.

I have received some Drops from Mr Ware & am flatter’d with the hope that it may be beneficial – but I would not depend too much – Nothing is impossible to the Great Author of our Being & should he bless bestow on ^me^ so unexpected a Mercy as amended Sight may he also bless ^me^ with a thankful heart.

I am much oblig’d to my Sister & Mr T about the Horse – but I hope my new Steed will answer my purpose – I have taken to Ride the Pony & mean to go a great part of my Journey on it, it goes quiet enough with me. I rode to Sarum Thursday – thank Mr T for my Pens – will you excuse this sad scrawl. I have went on as fast as my fingers would move being very busy about nothing – present my kind regards to all – adieu my Dr Sister


It is dangerous to praise things. The new horse has kick’d Willm – but happily not materially injur’d him but it is a bad bruise & I do not know where. I shall not part with her but if Mr T has an opportunity of selling his I would by no means have it kept on my Acct

I have just heard poor Mrs Judd is much worse & it is thought cannot survive long. I have spoken to Mr Steadman about the taking a Boarder but it would not be convenient to them.

Text: STE 5/12/iv. Postmark illegible. Address: Miss M Steele / Caldecot House / Abingdon / Berks. For an annotated text of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 3, pp. 337-40. References in the letter to "Miss S" and her father are to Dr. James Stonhouse of Bristol and his daughter, both friends of Hannah More and the Steeles, as well as Steele's relation, Mary Froude, since the 1770s, when he removed to Bristol from Northampton (for more on the Stonhouses and their friendship with the Doddridges, see The Doddridge Family Correspondence). Stonhouse would not recover from his illness and died in his home in the Hotwells, Bristol, on 8 December 1795. His second wife died in 1788, leaving him with two sons and one daughter, who accompanied him on this visit to the Steeles. Other references are to John Taylor, husband of Steele's deceased friend Mary Scott, and their young daughter Mary Ann Taylor (see references to her in letters in this section from 1811), and to William Steadman, Baptist minister at Broughton and boarder in Steele's home. After John Ryland, Jr., left the Baptist congregation in College Street, Northampton, to succeed Caleb Evans as pastor of the congregations at Broadmead and President of the Academy in December 1793, the church in Northampton remained without a stated minister for some time. William Steadman was one of many who preached there. Northampton was tempting, ‘nor could he repress a rising feeling of dissatisfaction’, his son would later write, ‘with the narrowness and sterility of the prospect at home’. If his congregation in general was disappointing, his friendship with Steele, more than anything else, kept him in Broughton. As his son writes, ‘The society of a lady like Miss Steele, whose muse was dedicated to the service of the temple, could not fail to exert a salutary influence. It would give exercise to faculties and thoughts, which otherwise would have remained dormant amidst that intellectual torpor which composed the negative character of the majority of the inhabitants of Broughton. Nothing external is more conducive to the mind’s healthy action and vigorous advancement, than collision with kindred or superior minds’. Mary Steele's fear that she would lose her intellectual companion at this time, however, was unfounded. Steadman would remain at Broughton until 1798, when he joined with Isaiah Birt at Plymouth Dock, later becoming sole pastor for a few years of the congregation at Liberty Fields, Plymouth Dock. In 1805 he removed to Bradford, Yorkshire, where he served as pastor of the Baptist church there and the first President of the new Horton (later Rawdon) Baptist Academy. Though having attended the Baptist church at Broughton since her birth, Mary Steele did not join the congregation until 12 April 1795, largely due to Steadman's encouragement. See Steadman, Memoir, p. 117, 135; Broughton Baptist Church Book, Angus Library, Oxford.