14 May 1799

Mary Steele Dunscombe, Yeovil, to Martha Steele, London, Tuesday, 14 May [1799].


I hope My Dear Sister is enjoying all the pleasure which the novelty & variety of the scene around her can afford, yet to you who are acquainted with Bath & Bristol London must lose much of its effect. When I first saw it I was at the age of wonder & simplicity & the confused amazement that fill’d my mind is still recorded on the Tablet ^of Memory^ having never before seen a place of ^any^ bustle or any Size beyond Salisbury – from Broughton to Cheapside was an astonishing transition. I think you could not have chosen a better time for your Excursion & I hope none of these little untoward Accidents, which tho they tell for nothing often effectually destroy Comfort, will embitter yours. –

Of all the varied Amusements ^the Town affords^ none appear to ^me^ so rational & interesting as the Theatre that I suppose you will often visit if the Friends you are with do not disapprove it – but shall I own that to ^me^ the Pomp the Grace especially at a first view diminishes the higher pleasure which the Drama inspires & I should feel Mrs Siddons[iii] powers ^still^ more I think in a Scene less magnificent, but this I fancy soon goes off, external decoration may strike the Eye but comes not near the heart – but how I am running on about nothing – Indeed I have little to say at present. Time steals on with me much as usual, but tho I am “The world forgetting by the world forgot” I do not wish to include my friends in that world, & thought your ^late^ Silence very long. I have not yet heard from Anne – but her Avocations are many & I hope nothing unpleasant keeps her Silent.

Oh my Sister how triffling & uninteresting when we reflect seriously are all our pursuits here “So Emmetts struggle for a Grain” You recollect hearing of our dispute with Mr Newman – Intelligence is this moment brought me that he is no more The Awe it inspires can be express’d only by Silence. How often do I think of Dr Watts words

See the vain race of mortals move

Like shadows oer the plain

They rage & hope desire & love

But all their noise is vain

Farewell my Dear Martha for the present


Mrs Howe is rather worse than usual at present with a bad cold. Poor woman she is indeed arrived at that period/come to those days when she may emphatically say I have no pleasure in them. The folks here do not forget you, I have many enquiries. Mr D is engaged most Sundays – & has more applications than he can comply with. I have not heard very lately from Lucy but when she wrote last I had the satisfaction of hearing she was remarkably well – but Mr Barton Senr is drawing near the End of his pilgrimage. Mrs H Senr continues wonderfully well for health & a model of patience.

I have sent in vain for Mrs Miss Coltman’s little Book entitled Plain Tales perhaps you may like to enquire for it. It is printed for Vernott [sic] & Hood. Thank you My Dr Sister for your kind offer of doing anything for me or Mr D. I do not at present recollect anything to trouble ^you^ about – but your Sister being a very fashionable person if you chance to recollect it when you write would like to know what kind of Bonnetts are worn now & how they attire their heads as you are in a world where they are in general

“Of outward form elaborate

Of inward less exact”

I am much obliged by your enquiries for Miss D. I have at length ye pleasure to say her health is amended. I imagine she is now at Bampton on a visit, in consequence of Miss Stennetts intreaties & I wish it may not make her ill again (this by ye bye) Should you see Miss Stennett remember me affectionately to her & tell her I hope to write soon.

My Love to Clarissa if you should see her & Mr D sends you his & Mrs H her respects. Excuse this sad Scrawl. I fear I shall be too late & if you can catch a quarter ^of an^ hour let me have the pleasure of hearing from you. Present my compts to Mrs Reynolds & Miss T & believe me Ever Affect: yrs


Text: STE 5/12/viii. Postmark: Yeovil. Address: Miss Steele / Mr Reynolds / Barbican / London. Address: at Mr Reynolds, Barbican. ‘May 15’ written above the address, the day the letter was mailed. For an annotated text of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 3, pp. 350-52. References in the letter are to Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), one of the most popular actresses of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and to Elizabeth Coltman's publication for young readers, Plain Tales: Chiefly Intended for the Use of Charity Schools (London: Vernor [not ‘Vernott’ as Mary Steele puts it’] & Hood, 31 Poultry Lane), which appeared in April 1799. For more on Coltman, see her entries on this site.