Six Printed Letters of Hannah Towgood Wakeford, 1764-65

These letters by Amynta (Hannah Towgood) to Aurelia (unknown recipient), appeared in The Christian’s Magazine, or A Treasury of Divine Knowledge (London: Printed for J. Newbery and J. Coote, [1760-67]), vol. 5 (1764), pp. 417, 466-67, 503-04, and vol. 6 (1765), pp. 36-37, and 86, between September 1764 and March 1765.  Just prior to Letter I is the following note from the editor of The Christian’s Magazine:  

‘We have the pleasure to present our readers with the first of a series of letters, meditations, and poems, which were composed by an amiable and excellent lady, who died in her twenty-first year; and of whom a brief account will be given at the close of these pieces, which we are assured will give great satisfaction to the reader; and for which we are much obliged to the gentleman who communicated them. The lady chose to write to her friend, whom she calls Aurelia, under the fictitious name of Amynta; and we have therefore thought it best to retain these names’ (vol. 5, p. 416). 

No biographical notice appeared, unfortunately, and the writer is never identified, though it is Hannah Towgood, who became the first wife of Joseph Wakeford of Andover in 1745. He kept the manuscripts and had them published nearly twenty years after her death. 

These published letters by Wakeford (writing as “Amynta”) mirror the use of pastoral names similar to those used by other members of the Steele Circle, such as ‘Silviana’ and ‘Amira’ (Anne Steele and Mary Steele Wakeford), ‘Silvia’ and ‘Myrtilla’ (Mary Steele and Jane Attwater), and ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Myra’ (Mary Steele and Mary Scott), as well as individuals outside the Steele Circle. The use of “fictitious” names, as the magazine editor put it, was a popular tactic throughout the century or members of the Steele Circle.

For biographical information on Hannah Towgood Wakeford on this site, click here; for a selection of her hymns, click here; for selections from her poetry, click here. For the complete poetry, prose, and published correspondence of Hannah Towgood Wakeford, along with a complete biographical account, see Timothy Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 4 (pp.  107-16) and vol. 8 (pp. 81-104).

Letters from Amynta to Aurelia


Letter I.

   I know it is needless to desire my dearest friend to make favourable allowances for the numerous faults, which any one but herself would discover in these lines. They were dictated by my heart the dreadful evening you left me, and that must atone for all. I now long more than ever to see you, &c &c.

   I am now again pleasing myself with the hopes of seeing my dear Aurelia; and whilst health and ease flatter me with the prospect of years to come, I can scarce admit the probability of leaving the world, before I can enjoy that happiness. But now and then some friendly monitor warns me of the danger of such a fatal security; and a violent pain in my head, which I seldom pass a day without, joins with the sicknesses and deaths of others to tell me, I am mortal;– and, whilst something within me convinces me I am immortal too;– I shall be stupid to the last degree, if I neglect to secure a happiness, lasting as the sacred principle which assures me, that I shall survive the ruins of a falling world.

   Here I stop – to listen to an immediate call from the grave; the solemn sound of a bell, which is tolling, to inform me, among others, that an immortal soul is gone to receive it’s final sentence.

   May I improve the admonition it gives me! – perhaps the next time it is heard, it may be to summon my friends to my funeral! and whilst they are mourning over a senseless corpse, this trembling soul may be hearing her eternal doom! – Oh! that in that tremendous moment, I may behold a smile beam from the face of my reconciled judge! this is a joy worth all the pains which could be crouded into a thousand ages.


                     ’Tis this makes christian triumph a command;

                     ’Tis this makes joy a duty to the wife:

                     ’Tis impious in a good man to be sad.


   But I forget myself: – I never know when to leave off when I am prating to you: because you indulge me so much, and suffer me to talk of whatever my thoughts run upon. Sure, this is the oddest letter in the world! It has scarce a beginning; and, I believe, you will think it will never have an end – unless I immediately conclude; which shall be done, when I have insisted on the performance of your kind promise of a long letter this evening and again assured my charming friend that I am

                                 Entirely her




Letter II.


My dear Aurelia!

   I must begin with telling you, that I got home very safe, and as chearful as I could be, after parting with such agreeable friends. I should be too happy, if it was in my power to see you oftener: yet, I cannot help wishing for it. Sometimes I am so lost in romantic conceits, as to fancy, nay, I have half believed it real, that we live on some fine flowery plain, among groves and streams, singing birds, and echoing hills, divested of all other names but our poetical ones; and, in short, turned downright shepherdesses. This sweet, pleasing scene I have often amused myself with; till, upon recollection, I have seen the vanity of wishing for things, which, if they could be obtained, would make us far more uneasy than the state we are in at present; though they may appear gay and agreeable at a distance.

   I own, I cannot but think, in defiance of all poets, ancient and modern (there’s a bold girl for you!) that there are a great many inconveniencies attending this pastoral way of life, of which they all agree to give such charming descriptions: till the subject is grown as thread-bare, as some will have it their coats are. Notwithstanding this, I cannot help believing, that you are as happy in your hive, as you could be among all these rural scenes, which make such a shining figure in a poem. For, my dear Aurelia must never hope for solitude: wherever you are, people will find you out: and, I fancy, if ever you should take it into your head to turn recluse, you would have so many followers, that you might justly fear, as Cowley did, that


                                 They’d make a city there.


   Amongst the rest, you would be continually molested with

                                                         Your Amynta.



Letter III.


   It is impossible to tell my dearest Aurelia, with what pleasure I received her charming letter. I could not omit this opportunity of sending you a very small token of my gratitude. I think, that, in my present circumstances, that pleasing ardor ought to fill my whole heart. May it ascend to heaven! to that gracious God, who hath recovered me to perfect health; and, still much more, hath restored my dear father! Join with me, my friend (I am sure you do) in returning the most solemn thanks to our heavenly Father, for this inestimable mercy I would not only be grateful for the removal of this affliction, but for the affliction itself. You tell me the advantages I may receive by it; and, I hope, my dearest, my best friend, that your advice, and, I will say, instruction shall not be lost upon me. I cannot forbear considering you as some good angel appointed to direct and guide me, to lead me with delight in the narrow path of virtue; chaining me first to yourself, by the most inviolable ties, that I might be, as it were, constrained to follow you in the road to bliss. Do not think this extravagant, my dear Aurelia: it is forced from me: and I seriously declare, falls vastly short of what I think. Adieu! my dear friend. My next shall be longer.

   In the mean time, do not forget your unalterable




Letter IV.


My dearest Friend,

   I can hardly help making an apology for not writing sooner, tho’ the time seems so tedious since I heard from you, that, till I recollected, I was ready to think ’twas a month ago. I should have sent yesterday to know how you did, but expected to hear at night by Miss –, and am still in hopes of seeing her some time to day: If I don’t, I shall be in the greatest anxiety till Monday evening. I wish I could find words to express my concern for you – though I hope my Aurelia does not want to be convinced of my esteem: I hope she is already sensible how much my happiness depends upon her’s: and I won’t tire my friend with tedious repetitions. ’Tis enough to say, that I am your’s, and will always be so; and am more and more so every succeeding day of my life. Whilst I am blest with your friendship, let what will happen, I shall still have one rational, substantial pleasure.

   What selfish creatures we are! Now, whilst I am professing the greatest value for your esteem, I don’t consider, how easy it is for you to see, that my own happiness is regarded: and really, if one observes the world in any light, one may soon find all the pursuits of mankind, how ever different they may appear to be, terminate in this one, – to make themselves happy.

   It would be well if we could be persuaded to turn this inclination into the right channel, and to seek pleasure where it is to be found. How charming a scene would it be, were all mankind to agree in this reasonable pursuit; and with one heart, endeavour to answer the ultimate end of their being! what harmony would it create amongst all ranks of people! There could then be no such things as quarrels in the world – but this is supposing impossibilities, and transplanting the joys of heaven to earth; a soil, in which thy will never flourish.

   I always read the descriptions which the poets give us of The Golden Age, with inexpressible pleasure: but then they make me more dissatisfied with the world I live in, and incline me to satyrize upon all my fellow-creatures. I am ready to quarrel with every thing I see, for not looking so agreeably, and affording so much delight, as the same objects seem to do, when brightened with a flow of eloquence: not considering, that it is from something within we must derive our happiness; and that even paradise itself had no charms for it’s inhabitants, when guilt had entered there. Whilst the mind is disturbed with tumultuous passions, tormented with disappointments, and ruffled with disagreeable occurrences (for this I must imagine to be in some degree the case of even the wisest and best: – and whilst it is thus with us) if every thing conspired to entertain and please; and if spring and autumn could be blended in one delightful view, and put on their highest charms – the prospect would be over-clouded by our own intestine gloom, and all it’s beauties vanish. This consideration leads one naturally to reflect, that the most innocent enjoy the largest share of happiness.

   But one would think there were no books of morality in the world, or, at least, that they were kept from you; and then indeed it would be a piece of charity to send what I have writ. – But, as it is otherwise, I am almost afraid to venture: nor could I take the liberty to give my thoughts such a loose in writing to any person in the world, but my Aurelia. Do not let me, however, presume too much upon your candour, and so rob myself of what I set so high a value upon, – your good opinion. Do not let me depend too much upon your partiality; but convince me that you are my friend, by reproving my vanity, where-ever any occasion appears; and by cautioning me against any thing you dislike in my conduct, writing, or behaviour. You will oblige me ten thousand times more by this, than by winking at my follies, or extolling those good qualities, which your kindness makes you believe me possessed of.

   I am my dearest friend’s ever faithful




Letter V.


   I am at present, my dear friend, out of humour with myself, and almost every thing about me. Wherever I turn, disappointment, care, and vexation meet my sight. I am surrounded with troubles: – and yet, when I reflect how many thousands in the world are exercised with far greater afflictions, I blame myself for the bare rememberance of my own; and much more for that melancholy I am too apt to indulge on account of them: though we ought certainly to attend to the voice of the rod,* and consider that God, who delighteth in acts of beneficence and compassion, would never lift up his arm against us, if our sins had not deserved, or our indifference in his service needed the stroke. May I endeavour to learn some useful lesson from every disappointment, and not depend on any thing below the skies. This will at once prevent my being deprived of earthly blessings, and my excessive grief, when they are torn from me.

   Here I left off, and am returned to my friend in a more chearful temper. I bless God, my papa’s disorder is almost worn off, and my mamma seems somewhat better. It is impossible to know the value of a mercy till one hath experienced the want of it. It is that which raises my soul to an exalted pitch of gratitude; which I hope will be the happy effect of my late painful hours.

   I have been just looking over some papers and letters which belong to my dear mamma, and, among the rest, I have found a solemn covenant with God, written, as I have reason to think, by my grandfather. I cannot express how much this has affected me. – What a peculiar privilege it is to descend from pious ancestors! to have the blessing entailed, as it were, from age to age; and, still more, to be able with an humble confidence, to address the God of our fathers, and have reason to hope he will never forsake us! Such happy families seem peculiarly related to him, and have a double claim to the blessings of the everlasting covenant.

   Let us rejoice, my dear friend, and bless God, that we are in this happy number. Let us secure the invaluable treasure, and prize it infinitely beyond the wealth of the Indies. Had they both been mine, I can truly say, they could not have given me half the satisfaction this old manuscript hath.

   I could not forbear imparting my joy to my friend, who has long shared the soul, and took her part in every grief and pleasure of

                                 Her most sincerely affectionate



* Micah. vi. 9.


Letter VI.


   I must now thank my friend for Monday’s favour. How can you want me, when you have so much good company! – One would think they intended to take your castle, and secure you a prisoner of war, they came in such a formidable body. I am extremely sorry to hear that dear Myrtilla’s disorder increases. I sincerely pity her and you, and long to know how she does.  As you say, our joys are but few and transient: like stars in a cloudy night, they glitter amidst the gloom, and sometimes, alas! are quite obscured. But how transporting will be the period, when they shall all unite in one fervent blaze; when the darkness shall vanish and tides of glory flow in upon the raptured soul! – How sublime, how delightful is the contemplation of these certain joys! – certain to all, who take care to secure a title.

   You have exactly guessed my inclinations: nothing suits me so well as solitude; but I am not for confining it to woods and groves, though I make no doubt but that the beauties of nature may assist the mind in the contemplation of the great animating soul. But is He not also the father of our bodies, and the father of our spirits? Can we consider ourselves without adoring him? – And this we may as well do in any place, as in a field or grove. Since


                     God is ever present ever felt.


   I think there are no objects more worthy compassion, than the persons, who choose one sort of retirement: I mean to retire from themselves, in order to bury their thoughts in noise and tumult; acquainted with the world, and strangers to themselves! I am,

                                                         My dear Aurelia,

                                                                     Your’s ever affectionately,