12-13 September 1808

Mary Steele Dunscombe, Broughton, to Anne Steele Tomkins, Bath, 12-13 September [1808].

My dear Sister

How seldom even in triffles can we obey the impulse of our hearts. I fully intended that my first employment after your dear children had left me should be ^that^ of writing to you – their society have afforded me purer pleasure than I have felt known for a long time – My heart felt refreshed, as by it was by the sweet soft yet bright verdure of Spring upon a long dreary Winter – I congratulate you on their opening Excellence with sympathetic delight to you I may say what I ought not to them – I however know not two such children, such rectitude of mind & such sweetness of temper. Emma is a lovely beauteous Bird not yet unfolded but displaying already many lovely traits, Her Sister combines the sweet simplicity of early Growth with a strength & comprehension of mind that would lead me to suppose she had number’d twice her years – Indeed my Dear Sister I cannot express the emotions she excites in my heart – there is a certain something in her character that makes me feel she ^is^ one of our family – perhaps I am in danger of loving her – not more than she deserves, but too much for my own peace I did not think I could so have felt again

Oh my sweet Mary with Affections Eye

And fond solicitous Anxiety,

I gaze on Thee, & think of future life,

Think of its cares, its follies, & its strife.

Shield gracious Heaven, this early opening flower

From Suns too fervid, from too cold a shower,

Bid it mature in loveliness expand

And bless a Mothers cultivating hand!

You will probably have heard from themselves that they left ^us^ last Tuesday. I hope they will return to you as well as they left us, Emmas health was evidently improved by Charmouth. I never saw anyone enjoy anything more than she did the Sea & all its appendages – she has certainly a great taste for fossils &c as well as drawing – As to Mary – I believe studying Greek was equally a scene of pleasure to her Uncle & herself, how often did I wish for you! I think you would frequently have smiled at their learned dissertations but alas our enjoyment was greatly marred by Mr Ds affliction his leg was never so bad as it has now been & though better I fear it is not now likely to be speedily well – but it is a peculiar mercy that it affects his health much less than it used to do though it imprisons him – it is doubtful whether we shall be able to go to Abingdon or not.

We were in some little anxiety about the measles which have been about prevalent here – but as we knew you did not wish to confine Emma from it we thought it best not to say anything of it as it could ^only^ give you uneasiness – but I hope she will now return to you in health & spirits as she left us. I lately received a Letter from Miss Reid she has been very ill but I hope she is now getting better she is at Liverpool at present but the weather has been very much against her – she says in her Letter “thank Mrs T.” Do you know if she ever received a pair of Hand linens I sent with a line by some Leicester people to Bath sometime months ago? They are not worth mentioning, but I hoped she would accept them as a trifling memento of grateful remembrance. I shall tell her when I write that I forgot for some time to inform you of her address.

Sept 13th

I am glad I did not finish this Scrawl yesterday for I have just received a nice Letter from your Dear Daughter – the writing so much resembles your own that at the first glance I thought it was from you but in the inside there is another resemblance, of that kind dear hand ^which has long been^ motionless – Our revered Theodosias which she particularly admired when here. Can I wish her 2 better models to copy, in more important things?

I can give you too a rather better account of myself than I could Yesterday. This is the best day I have had since our enliveners left us – my old malady has overtaken me again but I have missed it today – but I am become very weak, (every thing overcomes me) – in mind I fear as well as body – I rejoice to hear a good Account often from Abingdon – I hope nothing will prevent us from our having the pleasure of seeing you here with Mr T in Octbr – & may past mercies teach us to confide for the future. I wish my bad writing may be legible. Mr D unites in kind regards to Mr T & yourself with my ever Dear Sister

Your affect: M D

Pardon this sad Scrawl I am ashamed of it

Text: STE 5/11/vi. Postmark: Stockbridge. Address: Mrs Tomkins / No. 9 Grosvenor Place / Bath. For an annotated text of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 3, pp. 373-74. This letter can be dated by the Tomkins’s removal to Bath in 1808. In this letter Mary Steele notes the importance of intellectual strength and individuality that had marked so many women in her family, from her grandmother the diarist to her aunt the poet, and that now was being passed on to her niece. Also mentioned is Mary Reid (1769-1839) of Leicester, friend of Mary Steele, Elizabeth Coltman, and Mary Hays in London.