From: Memoirs of Mary Wolstonecraft, Constable and Co.
Limited. London 1928
But a connection more 1 memorable originated about this time, between Mary and a person of her own sex, for whom she contracted a friendship so fervent,2 as for years to have constituted the ruling passion of her mmd. The name of this person was Frances Blood; she was two years older than Mary. Her residence was at that time at Newington Butts, a village near the southern extremity of the metropolis; and the original instrument for bringing these two friends acquainted,3 was Mrs. Clare, wife of the gentleman already mentioned, who was on a footing of considerable intimacy with both parties. The acquaintance of Fanny, like that of Mr. Clare, contributed to ripen the immature talents of Mary.4
The situation in which Mary was introduced to her, bore a resemblance to the first interview of Werter with Charlotte. She 5 was conducted to the door of a small house, but furnished with peculiar 6 neatness and propriety. The first object that caught her sight, was a young woman of a slender and elegant form, and eighteen years of age, busily employed in feeding and managing some children, born of the same parents, but considerably inferior to her in age. The impression Mary received from a scene, which so happily accorded with her two most cherished conceptions, the picturesque and the affectionate,7 was indelible; and, before the interview was concluded, she had taken in her heart, the vows of an eternal friendship.
Fanny was a young woman of extraordinary accomplishments. She sung and played with taste. She drew with exquisite 8 fidelity and neatness; and, by the employment9 of this talent, for some time maintained her father, mother, and family, but ultimately ruined her health by her extraordinaty exertions.10 She read and wrote with considerable application; and the same ideas of minute and delicate propriety followed her in these, as in her other occupations.
Mary, a wild, but animated and aspiring girl of sixteen, contemplated Fanny, in the first instance, with sentiments of inferiority and reverence. Though they were much together, yet, the distance of their habitations being considerable, they supplied the want of more frequent interviews by an assiduous correspondence. Mary found Fanny's letters better spelt and better indited than her own, and felt herself abashed. She had hitherto paid but a superficial attention to literature. She had read, to gratify the ardour of an inextinguishable thirst of knowledge; but she had not thought of writing as an art. Her ambition to excel was now awakened, and she applied herself with passion and earnestness. Fanny undertook to be her instructor; and, so 11 far as related to accuracy and method, her lessons were given with considerable skill.
It has already been mentioned that, in the spring of the year 1776, Mr. Wollstonecraft quitted his situation at Hoxton, and returned to his former agricultural pursuits. The situation upon which he now fixed was in Wales, a circumstance that was felt as a severe blow to Mary's darling spirit of friendship. The principal acquaintance of the Wollstonecrafts in this retirement, was the family of a Mr. Allen, two of whose daughters are since married to the two elder sons of the celebrated English potter, Josiah Wedgwood.12
Wales however was Mr. Wollstonecraft's residence for little more than a year. He returned to the neighborhood of London and Mary, whose ascendancy in some respects had now become considerable, was able 13 to determine his choice in favour of the village of Walworth, that she might be near her chosen friend. It was probably before this that she had once or twice started the idea of quitting her 14 parental roof, and providing for herself. But she was prevailed upon to resign this idea, and conditions were stipulated with her, relative to her having an apartment in the house that should be exclusively her own, and her commanding the other requisites of study. She did not however think herself fairly treated in these instances, and either the conditions abovementioned, [sic] or some others, were not observed in the sequel, with the fidelity she expected. In one case, she had procured an eligible situation, and every thing was settled respecting her removal to it, when the intreaties and tears of her mother led her to surrender her own inclinations, and abandon the engagement.
These however were only temporary delays. Her propensities continued the same, and the motives by which she was influenced15 were unabated. In the year 1778, she being nineteen years of age, a proposal was made to her of living as a companion with a Mrs. Dawson of Bath, a widow lady, with one son already adult.16 Upon enquiry she found that Mrs. Dawson was a woman of great peculiarity of temper, that she had had a variety of companions in succession, and that no one had found it practicable to continue with her. Mary was not discouraged by this information and accepted the situation, with a resolution that she would effect in this respect,17 what none of her predecessors had been able to do. In the sequel she had reason to consider the account she had received as sufficiently accurate, but she did not relax in her endeavours. By method, constancy and firmness, she found the means of making her situation tolerable; and Mrs. Dawson would occasionally confess, that Mary was the only person that had lived with her in that situation, in her treatment of whom she had felt herself under any restraint.
With Mrs. Dawson she continued to reside for two years, and only left her, summoned by the melancholy circumstance of her mother's rapidly declining health. True to the calls of humanity,18 Mary felt in this intelligence an irresistible motive, and eagerly returned to the paternal roof, which she had before resolutely quitted. The residence of her father at this time, was at Enfield near London. He had, I believe, given up agriculture from the time of his quitting Wales, it appearing to be now19 less a source of profit than loss, and it being consequently 20 thought advisable that he should rather live upon the interest of his fortune.21
The illness of Mts. Wollstonecraft was lingering, but hopeless. Mary was assiduous in her attendance upon her mother. At first every attention was received with acknowledgments and gratitude; but, as the attentions grew habitual, and the health of the mother more and more wretched, they were rather exacted, than received. Nothing would be taken by the unfortunate patient, but from the hands of Mary; rest was denied night or day, and by the time nature was exhausted in the parent, the daughter was qualified to assume her place, and become in turn herself a patient. The last words her mother ever uttered were, "A little patience, and all will be over!" and these words are repeatedly referred to by Mary in the course of her writings.
Upon the death of Mrs. Wollstonecraft, Mary bid 22 final adieu to the roof of her father. According to my memorandums, I find her next the inmate of Fanny at Walham Green, near the village of Fulham. Upon what plan they now lived together I am unable to ascertain; certainly not that of Mary23 becoming in any degree 24 an additional burthen upon the industry of her friend. Thus situated, their intimacy ripened; they approached more nearly to a footing of equality; and their attachment became more rooted and active.
Mary was ever ready at the call of distress, and, in particular, during her whole life was eager and active to promote the welfare of every member of her family. In 1780 she attended the deathbed of her mother; in 1782 she was summoned by a not less melancholy occasion,25 to attend her sister Eliza, married to a Mr. Bishop, who, subsequently to a dangerous Iying-in, remained for some months in a very afflicting situation. Mary continued with her sister without intermission, to her perfect recovery.
1 But a connection more] A CONNECTION still more.
2 fervent] warm
3 original instrument . . . acquainted] person who introduced them to each other's acquaintance.
4 Mary] Fanny.
5 bore a resemblance . . . Charlotte. She] was peculiarly adapted to conciliate a mind of simplicity and affection. Mary.
6 peculiar] much.
7 a scene, which . . . the afiectionate,] this spectacle Ist ed.
8 exquisite] uncommon.
9 employment] exertion.
10 exertions] assiduity.
11 so] as.
12 The principal acquaintance . . . Josiah Wedgwood. del.
13 ascendancy . . . was able] spirit of independence was unalterable, had influence enough Ist ed.
14 her] the
15 influenced] instigated Ist ed
16 a widow lady . . . adult.] the widow of an opulent tradesman of the city of London.
17 respect] article.
18 True to the calls of humanity del.
19 to be now] that he now made it Tst ed.
20 it being consequently] being Ist ed.
21 fortune] property already in possession Ist ed
22 bid] bad.
23 Mary] Mary's.
24 in any degree del.
25 by a not less melancholy occasion] in a not less critical circumstance.
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