This text was taken from William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, Vol. 1 by C. Kegan Paul. Henry S. King and Co., London, 1876.
THE WOLLSTONECRAFTS. 1759-1791.
GODWIN'S increasing intimacy with Mary Wollstonecraft has been already noticed. She had not made any great impression on him at their earliest meetings, nor, when he first knew her, had she ceased to consider herself as virtually the wife of Imlay, whose name she bore. The treatment she had received from this person, however, was such that when the connection was finally dissolved, the bitterness of parting was already past, and the affectionate friendship existing between herself and Godwin passed easily into a warmer feeling. There were, however, many reasons on both sides which rendered the idea of marriage distasteful. Mrs Shelley has left a note in regard to her father which must be given at length.
"He was very averse to marriage. Poverty was a strong argument against it. When he concocted a code of morals in Political justice,' he warmly opposed a system which exacted a promise to be kept to the end of life, in spite of every alteration of circumstance and of feeling. Objections to marriage are usually supposed to infer an approval, and even practice, of illicit intercourse. This was far from being the case with Godwin. He was in a supreme degree a conscientious man, utterly opposed to anything like vice or libertinism, nor did his sense of duty permit him to indulge in any deviation from the laws of society, which, though he might regard as unjust, could not, he felt, be infringed without deception and injury to any woman who should act in opposition to them., The loss of usefulness to both parties, which the very stigma brings, the natural ties of children, entailing duties which necessitate the duration of any connection, and which, if tampered with, must end in misery, all these motives were imperative in preventing him from acting on theories, which yet he did not like to act against.
"Among his acquaintance were several women, to whose society he was exceedingly partial, and who were all distinguished for personal attraction and talents. Among them may be mentioned the celebrated Mary Robinson, whom to the end of his life he considered as the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but though he admired her so greatly, their acquaintance scarcely attained intimate friendship. It was otherwise with Mrs Inchbald; he saw her frequently, he delighted in her manners, her conversation, her loveliness; yet he was not in love, and, above all, never thought of marrying her. He was intimate with Miss Alderson, afterwards Mrs Opie, but their friendship is purely such as is formed every day in society. He admired her beauty and sprightliness. She liked his conversation arid respected his talents.
"There was yet another favourite. She was married, and this circumstance was a barrier to every sentiment except friendship, but be certainly experienced for her more of tenderness and preference than for any other among his acquaintance."
It will be plain from what has been already said that Mrs Shelley may possibly have been misinformed about Miss Alderson. There seems reason to believe that Godwin did contemplate marriage with her, and did make a proposal on the subject to Dr Alderson, if not to the lady herself. The lady to whom Mrs Shelley alludes in the last paragraph is of course Mrs Reveley, afterwards Mrs Gisborne. It may be added that Godwin's dislike of what in " Political justice " he terms " co-habitation," ie., in his use of the word, the living perpetually in the same house with another person, and having no time or place which can be considered absolutely one's own, without unkindness or incivility, worked greatly in aid of his graver theoretical objections to marriage. It is now necessary to give a detailed account of her who broke the even tenor of Godwin's passionless existence, who for his sake altered not a little her own views, and whose character has been a mark for severer censure than those of women who to a far greater extent than herself have run counter to the prejudices and instincts of ordinary society.
Mary Wollstonecraft, who was born April 27, 1759, wasthe eldest daughter of a large family, the children of a man who had inherited and spent a considerable fortune. The family appear to have been originally of Irish extraction, but Mary's grandfather was a respectable manufacturer in Spitalfields, and realized the property which his son squandered. Her mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Dixon. She was Irish, and of good family. Mr Wollstonecraft was not bred to any profession, but after he had come to the end of his money he left Hoxton, where he had lived for a short time, and after many changes of residence-to Essex and to Beverley, in Yorkshire, among others-he went to live at Laugharne in Pembrokeshire, where he had a farm. He soon, however, returned to London for a time. Mary Godwin's mother died in 1780, leaving six children-Edward, an attorney, settled near the Tower in London; Mary, Everina, and Eliza, James, afterwards in the Navy; and Charles, who finally emigrated to America. Mr Wollstonecraft speedily married again, but though his wife seems to have done what she could to keep him out of difficulties, he was a man of idle and dissipated habits, and dropped ever lower in fortune and respectability. His home became no fit place for his daughters, who indeed were obliged to endeavour to earn their own livelihood.
Mary had a friend in Fanny Blood, a girl of her own age, and whose circumstances were somewhat similar. Fanny Blood supported her family as an artist, and lived for some time at Walham Green, where Mary joined her, and earned her livelihood by helping Mrs Blood, who took in needlework. She looked to an independent career as a teacher in a school; Everina went to keep her brother's house; and Eliza married, when circumstances occurred which threw on her a far greater amount of responsibility and difficulty.
Eliza Wollstonecraft had married a Mr Bishop, but the marriage had proved from the first an unhappy one. It is more than probable there were faults on both sides. All the Wollstonecraft sisters were enthusiastic, excitable, and hasty - tempered, apt to exaggerate trifles, sensitive to magnify inattention into slights, and slights into studied insults. All had bad health of a kind which is especially trying to the nerves, and Eliza had in excess the family temperament and constitution. With a great desire for culture and self-improvement, she had less actual education than Everina, and very far less than her gifted sister Mary, so that there was little to counteract the waywardness of a hasty disposition. Yet with all this there can be no doubt that Bishop was a man of furious violence, and from the letters which remain it would seem that many of the painful scenes in Mary's unfinished novel, " The Wrongs of Women," are simple transcriptions of what she had known or even witnessed in her sister's married life.
Mary, much attached to all her brothers and sisters, was devoted to Eliza, and considered no sacrifice too great to make for her. To save her from her misery, she at once gave up all hopes for the time of an independent career, and so soon as it was determined that Eliza should leave her husband, resolved to make a home for her. On Mary fell the real responsibility of urging so strong a step as her sister's flight not only from Mr Bishop, but also from their child. But Mrs Bishop's reason had all but given way under her trials, and to escape was the immediate and only course which presented itself. As soon as a final separation from Bishop had been effected, Mary took lodgings at Islington with Fanny Blood. The scheme proposed was that Mary and Eliza should obtain daily pupils, and that Fanny Blood ,should maintain herself as an artist. This plan was tried for a very short time, but with no success, 'and the sisters then removed to Newington Green, where they had some influential friends, and soon obtained about twenty day-scholars. A relation, Mrs Campbell, and her little son, came to board with them, as well as another lady and- her three children. This flash of prosperity induced Mary to take a larger house, the expense of which involved her in serious difficulties. The sum due for the board of the three children was irregularly paid, and the Green proved too small a place in those days to support a day-school, which should prove remunerative. It subsisted, however, in a languishing state for two years and a half.
George Blood, Mrs Skeys' younger brother, had also a great share of her affection. His disposition and the unfortunate condition of his home, since his father was a drunken spendthrift, attracted her to the lad, and she felt a so much for him because he entertained a hopeless, unrequited love for her sister Everina, who was considerably older than herself. Somewhat wild and reckless while a mere lad, and somewhat unsettled, he accepted a situation as clerk near Lisbon, with hopes of promotion, but abandoned it almost at once. He then returned to Ireland, where his father was settled in a situation far beyond his deserts, gained some good appointment, and appears to have done very well. During several years Mary's correspondence with George Blood was frequent and intimate, and some of her letters to him, as well as those to her sisters, will at once fill up details, and receive illustration from this sketch of her life at Newington. Those who have known Mary Wollstonecraft only by reports which may have reached them of her after career, and by secondhand criticism on her writings, will be astonished to find in them so strong a vein of piety of the type Viat would now be called evangelical.
Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wollstonecraft.
"Saturday Afternoon [November 1783].
"I expected to have seen you before this, but the extreme coldness of the weather is a sufficient apology. I cannot yet give any certain account of Bess, or form a rational conjecture with respect to the termination of her disorder. She has not had a violent fit of frenzy since I saw you, but her mind is in a most unsettled state, and attending to the constant fluctuation of it is far more harassing than the watching those raving fits that had not the least tincture of reason. Her ideas are all disjointed, and a number of wild whims float on her imagination, and fall from her unconnectedly, something like strange dreams when judgment sleeps, and fancy sports at a fine rate. Don't smile at my language, for I am so constantly forced to observe her-lest she run into mischiefthat my thoughts continually turn on the unaccountable wanderings of her mind. She seems to think she has been very ill used, and, in short, till I see some more favourable symptoms, I shall only suppose that her malady has assumed a new and more distressing appearance.
" One thing, by way of comfort, I must tell you, that persons who recover from madness are generally in this way before they are perfectly restored, but whether Bess's faculties will ever regain their former tone, time only will show. At present I am in suspense. Let me hear from you or see you, and believe me to be yours affectionately, M. W.
"Mr D. promised to call last night, and I intended sending this by him. We have been out in a coach, but still Bess is far from being well. Patience- Patience. Farewell.
The Same to the Same.
"I don't know what to do. Poor Eliza's situation almost turns my brain. I can't stay and see this continual misery, and to leave her to bear it by herself without any one to comfort her, is still more distressing. I would do anything to rescue her from her present situation. My head is quite confused with thus being to so little purpose. In this case something desperate must be determined on. Do you think Edward will receive her? Do speak to him; or if you imagine that I should have more influence on his mind, I will contrive to see you, but you must caution him against expostulating with or even mentioning the affair to Bishop, for it would only put him on his guard, and we should have a storm to encounter that I tremble to think of. I am convinced that this is the only expedient to save Bess, and she declares she had rather be a teacher than stay here. I must again repeat it, you must be secret; nothing can be done till she leaves the house. For his friend Wood very justly said that he was I either a lion or a spaniel.' I have been some time deliberating on this, for I can't help pitying B., but misery must be his portion at any rate till he alters himself, and that would be a miracle.
"To be at Edward's is not desirable, but of the two evils she must choose the least. Write a line by the bearer, or by the post to-morrow-don't fail. I need not urge you to use your endeavours; if I did not see it was absolutely necessary, I should not have fixed on it. I tell you she will soon be deprived of reason. B. cannot behave properly, and those who would attempt to reason with him must be mad, or have very little observation. Those who would save Bess must act and not talk."
The Same to the Same.
"Monday Morning [January 1784].
"I have nothing to tell you, my dear girl, that will give you pleasure. Yesterday was a dismal day, long and dreary. Bishop was very ill, &c., &c. He is much better to-day, but misery haunts this house in one shape or other. How sincerely do I join with you in saying that if a person has common sense they cannot make one completely unhappy. But to attempt to lead or govern a weak mind is impossible; it will ever press forward to what it wishes, regardless of impediments, and, with a selfish eagerness, believe what it desires practicable, though the contrary is as clear as the noonday. My spirits are hurried with listening to pros and cons ; and my head is so confused, that I sometimes say no, when I ought to say yes. My heart is almost broken with listening to B. while he reasons the case. I cannot insult him with advice, which be would never have wanted, if he was capable of attending to it. May my habitation never be fixed among the tribe that can't look beyond the present gratification-that draw fixed conclusions from general rules-that attend to the literal meaning only, and because thing ought to be, expect that it will come to pass. B. has made confidant of Skeys; and as I can never speak to him in private, I suppose his pity may cloud his judgment. If it does, I should not either wonder at it or blame him. For I that know, and am fixed in my opinion, cannot unwaveringly adhere to -it; and when I reason, I am afraid of being unfeeling. Miracles don't occur now, and only a miracle can alter the minds of some people. They grow old, and we can only discover by their countenances that they are so. To the end of the chapter will their misery last. I expect Fanny next Thursday, and she will stay with us but a few days. Bess desires her love; she grows better, and of course more sad."
The Same to the Same.
Here we are, Everina; but my trembling hand will scarce let me tell you so. Bess is much more composed than I expected her to be; but to make my trial still more dreadful, I was afraid in the coach she was going to have one of her flights, for she bit her wedding-ring to pieces. When I can recollect myself, I'll send you particulars; but, at present, my heart beats time with every carriage that rolls by, and a knocking at the door almost throws me into a fit. I hope B. will not discover us, for I could sooner face a lion; yet the door never opens, but I expect to see him panting for breath. Ask Ned how we are to behave if he should find us out, for Bess is determined not to return. Can he force her ?-but I'll not suppose it, yet I can think of nothing else. She is sleepy, and going to bed; my agitated mind will not permit me. Don't tell Charles or any creature. Oh! let me entreat you to be careful, for Bess does not dread him now so much as I do. Again, let me request you to write, as B.'s behaviour may silence my fears. You will soon hear from me again. Fanny carried many things to Leafs, brush-maker in the Strand, next door to the White Hart-Yours, MARY.
"Miss Johnston-Mrs Dodds, opposite the Mermaid, Church St., Hackney.
"She looks now very wild. Heaven protect us!
"I almost wish for an husband, for I want somebody to support roe."
The Same to the Same.
Sunday Afternoon January 1784].
Your welcome letter arrived just now, and we thank you for sending it so soon. Your account of B. does not surprise me, as I am convinced that, to gratify the ruling passion, he could command all the rest. The plea of the child occurred to me, and it was the most rational thing he could complain of. I know he will tell a plausible tale, and the generality will pity him and blame me; but, however, if we can snatch Bess from extreme wretchedness, what reason shall we have to rejoice. It was, indeed, a very disagreeable affair; and if we had stayed a day or two longer, I believe it would never have been effected. For Bess's mind was so harassed with the fear of being discovered, and the thought of leaving the child, that she could not have stood it long. I suppose B. told you how we escaped; there was full as much good luck as good management in it. As to Bess, she was so terrified, that she lost all presence of mind, and would have done anything. I took a second coach, to prevent his tracing us. Well, all this may serve to talk about and laugh at when we meet, but it was no laughing matter at the time. Bess is tolerably well; she cannot help sighing about little Mary, whom she tenderly loved; and on this score I both love and pity her. The poor brat! it had got a little hold on my affections; some time or other I hope we shall get it. Yesterday we were two languid ladies; and even now we have pains in all our limbs, and are as jaded as if we had taken a long journey . . . All these disorders will give way to time, if it brings a little tranquillity with it; and the thought of having assisted to bring about so desirable an event, will ever give me pleasure to think of. I hope you sent the letters I enclosed to you, as Bess writ a few very proper lines to B. I am very glad you are in town, as I depend on you for keeping Ned firm. B. would make a more determined person flinch. This quiet portends no good; he will burst out at last, and the calm will end in the usual manner. Tell my brother that Bess is fixed in her resolution of never returning; but what will be the consequence? And if a separate maintenance is not to be obtained, she'll try to earn her own bread. Write to us an account of everything; you cannot be too particular. She carried off almost all her clothes, but we have no linen. I wish you could contrive to send us a few changes at the first opportunity, it matters not whom they belong to. We have neither chemise, handkerchief, or apron, so our necessities are pressing,"
The Same to the Same.
[After discussing the possibility of keeping a school.] " With economy we can live on a guinea a week, and that we can with ease earn. The lady who gave Fanny five guineas for two drawings will assist us and we shall be independent. . . . If Ned makes us a little present of furniture it will be very acceptable, but if be is prudent, we must try to do without it. I knew I should be the Mrs Brown-the shameful incendiary, in this shocking affair of a woman's leaving her bed-fellow, they thought the strong affection of a sister might apologize for my conduct, but that the scheme was by no means a good one. In short 'tis contrary to all the rules of conduct that are published for the benefit of new married ladies, by whose advice Mrs Brook was actuated when she with grief of heart gave up my friendship. Mrs Clare too, with cautious words approves of our conduct, and were she to see B. might advise a reconciliation . . . . .
"Don't suppose I am preaching, when I say uniformity of conduct cannot in any degree be expected from those whose first motive of action is not the pleasing the Supreme Being, and those who humbly rely on Providence will not only be supported in affliction, but have a Peace imparted to them that is past all describing. This state is indeed a warfare, and we learn little that we don't smart for in the attaining. The cant of weak enthusiasts has made the consolations of Religion and the assistance of the Holy Spirit appear ridiculous to the inconsiderate, but it is the only solid foundation of comfort that the weak efforts of reason will be assisted and our hearts and minds corrected and improved till the time arrives when we shall not only see perfection, but see every creature around us happy . . . . ."
Fanny Blood to Everina Wollstonecraft.
"WALHAM GREEN, Febry. 18th, 1784.
MY DEAR EVERINA.-The situation of our two poor girls grows ever more and more desperate. My mind is tortured about
them because I cannot see any possible resource they have for a maintenance. The- letter I last night received from Mary disturbed me so much that I never since closed my eyes, and my head is this morning almost distracted. I find she wrote to her brother informing him that it was our intention to live all together, and "earn our bread by painting and needle-work, which gives me great uneasiness, as I am convinced that he will be displeased at his sister's being connected with me, and the forfeiting his favour at this time is of the utmost consequence. I believe it was I that first proposed the plan, and in my eagerness to enjoy the society of two so dear to me, I did not give myself time to consider that it is utterly impracticable. The very utmost I could earn, one week with another, supposing I had uninterrupted health, is half-a- guinea a week, which would just pay for furnished lodgings for three people to pig together. As for needle-work, it is utterly impossible they could earn more than half-a-guinea a week between them, supposing they had constant employment, which is of all things the most uncertain. . . . I own with sincere sorrow that I was greatly to blame for ever mentioning such a plan before I had maturely considered it; but as those who know me will give me credit for a good intention I trust they will pardon my folly and inconsideration. " [She then suggests that a small haberdashery shop- should be taken and stocked for the sisters, and proceeds.] 11 If your brother should be averse to assisting them from a notion that I should live with them. . . . I wish you would take the earliest opportunity of assuring him from me that on no account whatever will I ever live with them unless fortune should make me quite independent, which I never expect. My health is so much impaired that I should be only a burthen on them, and for my own part I don't spend a thought on what may become of me. All I wish is to see them provided for comfortably; but I will neither add to their distress, situated as they now are, nor meanly gain a subsistence by living with them hereafter, if fortune should smile on them. This is my fixed resolve. I beseech you to let me hear from you as soon as possible, for I am impatient to know whether there is the least prospect of comfort for our dear girls. Believe me to be, dear Everina, yours sincerely, F. BLOOD."
In the spring of the following year Fanny Blood married Mr Hugh Skeys, a merchant, and went with him to Lisbon. Mr Skeys had played fast and loose for some time, the uncertainty had greatly injured her health ; and her new found happiness was to be of short dura- tion. She left behind great sorrows. Her sister Caro- line had disgraced her family, and her father drank. George, who was steady and respectable, had yet been mixed up with some discreditable associates, and had gone to Ireland only in time to avoid being seriously compromised by his association with them. Mary's letters throw light on the trials of the Blood family as well as on her own.
Mary Wollstonecraft to George Blood
"NEWINGTON GREEN, July 3d .
The pleasure I felt at hearing of your safe arrival [in Ireland] was a good deal damped by the account you gave of the captain's brutality. By this time I hope all the effects of so disagreeable a voyage are gone off, except your being a little weather-beaten or so; and you and I don't think that of much consequence, we have met with so many rough blasts that have sunk deeper than the skin. You need not have made any apology to me about-the old man. When I entreated you, my dear George, to be prudent, I only meant to caution you against throwing your money away on trifling gratifications, but I did not wish to narrow your heart or desire you to avoid relieving the present necessities of your fellowcreatures, in order to ward off any future ill which might happen to self. It would give me great pleasure to hear there was any chance of your getting some employment. In the meantime give way to hope, do your duty and leave the rest to Heaven, forfeit, not that sure support in the time of trouble, and though your want of experience and judgment may betray you into many errors, let not your heart be corrupted by bad example, and then, though it may be wounded by neglect, and torn by anguish, you will not feet that most acute of all sorrows, a sense of having deserved the miseries that you undergo.
" Palmer has been respited, and of course will be pardoned. I have made many inquiries concerning the affair that alarmed us so much, and find that Palmer's servant has sworn a child to you, and that it was on that account those men came to our house. The girl was waiting at a little ale-house near us, so that if you had stayed, you would have been involved in a pretty piece of business that your innocence could not have extricated you out of. I suppose the child is PA, or many fathers may dispute the honour. Let that be as it will, the recent affair of Mary Ann would have given this some colour of truth. How troublesome fools are 1 Mrs Campbell-who has all the constancy that attends on folly, and in whose mind, when any prejudice is fixed, it remains for ever-has long disliked you, and this confined ill-humour has at last broken out, and she has sufficiently railed at your vices, and the encouragement I have given them. . . . I have been very ill, and gone through the usual physical operations, have been bled and blistered, yet still am not well; my harassed mind will in time wear out my body. I have been so hunted down by cares, and see so many that I must encounter, that my spirits are quite depressed. I have lost all relish for life, and my almost broken heart is only cheered by the prospect of death. I may be years a-dying tho', and so I ought to be patient, for at this time to wish myself away would be selfish. Your father and mother are well, and desire their love ; the former has, received a letter from Fanny, but her letters to your father are seldom satisfactory to me. I am trying to get your father a place, but my hopes are very faint. I forgot to tell you that Palmer's servant says she followed you one day in town and raised a mob, but that you ran away. God bless you, and believe me sincerely and affectionately your friend. I feel that I love you more than I ever supposed that I did. Adieu to the village delights. I almost bate the Green, for it seems the grave of all my comforts. Shall I never again see your honest heart dancing in your eyes?"
Palmer, whose name is mentioned in the foregoing letter, was an attorney, whose clerk, it would seem, George Blood had been. He was induced to forge documents for a client of his, one Mrs Jones, with the intent to represent her as a clergyman's widow, and her son, therefore, a fit recipient for a charity for clergy orphans. For this he was tried and sentenced to death, but was, as the letters show, afterwards respited.
The Same to the Same.
NEWINGTON GREEN, July 20th, .
. . . . " Iam not a fair weather friend; on the contrary, I think I love most people best when they are in adversity, for pity is one of my prevailing passions. I am not fond of possessions, yet, once for all, let me assure you that I have a mother's tenderness for you, and that my heart dances when. I make any new discovery of goodness in you. It gives me the sincerest satisfaction to find that you look for comfort where only it is to be met with, and that Being in whom you trust will not desert you. Be not cast down while we are struggling with care, life slips away, and, through the assistance of Divine Grace, we are obtaining habits of virtue that will enable us to relish those joys that we cannot now form any idea of. I feel myself particularly attached to those who are heirs of the promises, and travel on in the thorny path with the same Christian hopes that render my severe trials a cause of thankfulness when I can think. . . . I often see your father and mother; they desire to be remembered to you in the kindest manner, and entirely acquit you of the crime that is laid to your charge, as do the girls. . . . I have no creature to be unreserved to. Eliza and Everina are so different that I could as soon fly as open my heart to them. How my social comforts have dropped away-Fanny first, and then you went over the hills and far away. I am resigned to my fate, but 'tis that gloomy kind of resignation that is akin to despair. .. . . Your affectionate friend, MARY."
The Same to the Same.
"NEWINGTON GREEN, July 25th .
"My dear George,--I have received the long expected packet. . . . The account Fanny gives of her health is far from pleasing me, though I imagine that her complaints arise from a new cause, that you can easily guess. . . . She has received several of our letters, and read in the papers an account of Palmer, which made her very uneasy lest your name should be mentioned, which would have been an effectual bar to your settling in Lisbon. . . . Skeys has received congratulatory letters from most of his friends and relations in Ireland, and he now regrets that he did not marry sooner. All his mighty fears had no foundation, so that if he had -had courage to have braved the world's dread laugh, and ventured to have acted for himself, he might have spared Fanny many griefs, the scars of which will never be obliterated. Nay more, if she had gone a year or two ago, her health might have been per- fectly restored, which I do not now think will ever be the case. Before true passion, I am convinced, everything but a sense of duty moves; true love is warmest when the object is absent How Hugh could let Fanny languish in England, while he was throw- ing money away at Lisbon, is to me inexplicable, if he had a passion that did not require the fuel of seeing the object. I much fear he loves her not for the qualities that render her dear to my heart. Her tenderness and delicacy are not even conceived by a man who would be satisfied with the fondness of one of the general run of women. . . . -Your affectionate friend, MARY."
The Same to the Same.
NEWINGTON GRREN, Sept. 4th .
By this time, my dear George, I suppose you have received Fanny's letter, informing you that your fortune has at last taken a turn. I only heard of it yesterday, and I most sincerely rejoice, as I earnestly wish to hear of your arrival at Lisbon, on Fanny's account as well as your own. I hope to see you before the year is out, as I am determined to be with her on a certain occasion if I can possibly contrive it. . . . Palmer has hatched up some story to my discredit, in order to be revenged on me for opening Mrs D.'s eyes to his villanies. He is still in prison. I believe I forgot to tell you that the girl laid the child to him when she could get no one else to father it. .-Your ever affectionate friend.
" MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT."
Fanny Skeys wrote from Lisbon entreating her friend to be with her during her confinement, and Mary Wollstonecraft, then, as always, utterly unselfish, complied, leaving her scholars and house in Mrs Bishop's charge. She arrived only to nurse her friend in what proved the last hours of her life, and returned almost heart-broken, for her friendship for Fanny Blood was even more than a sister's love, to find matters at Newington worse than before. All chance of future success was at an end, and the school was given up.
Mary Wollstonecraft to Mrs Bishop.
[LISBON, NOV. or Dec 1785.]
My dear Girls,-I am beginning to awake out of a terrifying dream, for in that light do the transactions of these two or three last days appear. Before I say more, let me tell you that, when I arrived here, Fanny was in labour, and that four hours after she was delivered of a boy. The child is alive and well, and considering the very very low state to which Fanny was reduced, she is better than could be expected. I am now watching her and the child. My active spirits have not been much at rest ever since I left England. I could not write to you on shipboard; the sea was so rough, and we had such hard gales of wind, the captain was afraid we should be dismasted. I cannot write to-night, or collect my scattered thoughts, my mind is so unsettled. Fanny is so worn out, her recovery would be almost a resurrection, and my reason will scarce allow me to think it possible. I labour to be resigned, and by the time I am a little so, some faint hope sets my thoughts again afloat, and for a moment I look forward to days that will, alas ! I fear, never come.
" I will try to-morrow to give you some little regular account of my journey, though I am almost afraid to look beyond the present moment. Was not my arrival providential? I can scarce be persuaded that I am here, and that so many things have happened in so short a time. My head grows light with thinking on it.
" Friday morning.-Fanny has been so alarmingly ill since I wrote the above, I entirely gave her up, and yet. I could not write and tell you so: it seemed like signing her death warrant. Yesterday afternoon some of the most alarming symptoms a little abated, and she had a comfortable night; yet I rejoice with trembling lips, and am afraid to indulge hopes: she is very low. The stomach is so weak it will scarce bear to receive the slightest nourishment; in short, if I were to tell you all her complaints, you would not wonder at my fears. The child, though a puny one, is well. I have got a wet-nurse for it. The packet does not sail till the latter end of next week, and I send this by a ship. I shall write by every opportunity. We arrived last Monday. We were only thirteen days at sea. The wind was so high, and the sea so boisterous, the water came in at the cabin windows, and the ship rolled about in such a manner, it was dangerous to stir. The women were sea-sick the whole time, and the poor invalid so oppressed by his complaints, I never expected he would live to see Lisbon. I have supported him for hours together, gasping for breath, and at night, if I had been inclined to sleep, his dreadful cough would have kept me awake. You may suppose that I have not rested much since I came here, yet I am tolerably well, and calmer than I could expect to be. Could I not look for comfort where only 'tis to be found, I should have been mad before this, but I feel that I am supported by that Being who alone can heal a wounded spirit. May He bless you both.-Yours,
Before the date of the next letter, poor Fanny was in her grave, Mary Wollstonecraft had returned, as also had George Blood, who had thrown up his situation, without a word to any one but his correspondent. It is probable that, after his gentle sister's death, he did not get on so well with his brother-in-law, on whom he was in great measure dependent. Shortly after Mary's return, she made her first essay in literature, publishing a small, and in no way remarkable pamphlet called " Thoughts on the Education of Daughters," for the copyright of which Mr Johnson, the Bookseller in Fleet Street, gave her ten guineas. This sum she applied to enable Mr and Mrs Blood to carry out their desire of going to Ireland and settling in Dublin.
Mary Wollstonecraft to George Blood.
"NEWINGTON GREEN, Feby. 4th, .
"I write to you, my dear George, lest my silence should make you uneasy, yet what have I to say that will not have the same effect? Things do not go well with me, and my spirits seem for ever flown. I was a month on my passage, and the weather was so tempestuous, we were several times in imminent danger. I did not expect ever to have reached land. If it had pleased Heaven to have called me hence, what a world of care I should have Missed. I have lost all relish for pleasure, and life seems a burden almost too heavy to be endured. My head is stupid, and MY heart sick and exhausted. But why should I worry you? and yet, if I do not tell you my vexations, what can I write about?
" Your father and mother are tolerably well, and enquire most affectionately concerning you. They do not suspect that you have left Lisbon, and I do not intend informing them of it till you are provided for. I am very unhappy on their account, for though I am determined they shall share my last shilling, yet I have every reason to apprehend extreme distress, and of course they must be involved in it. The school dwindles to nothing, and we shall soon lose our last boarder, Mrs Disney. She and the girls quarrelled while I was away, which contributed to make the house very disagreeable. Her sons are to be whole boarders at Mrs Cockburn's. Let me turn my eyes on which side I will, I can only anticipate misery. Are such prospects as these likely to heal an almost broken heart? The loss of Fanny was sufficient of itself to have thrown a cloud over my brightest days : what effect then must it have, when I am bereft of every other comfort? I have too many debts. I cannot think of remaining any longer in this house, the rent is so enormous, and where to go, without money or friends, who can point out? My eyes are very bad and my memory gone. I am not fit for any situation, and as for Eliza, I don't know what will become of her. My constitution is impaired, I hope I shan't live long, yet I may be a tedious time dying.
"Well, I am too impatient. The will of Heaven be done! I will labour to be resigned. I The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' I scarce know what I write, yet my writing at all when my mind is so disturbed is a proof to you that I can never be lost so entirely in misery as to forget those I love. I long to hear that you are settled. It is the only quarter from which I can reasonably expect any pleasure. I have received a very short, unsatisfactory letter from Lisbon. It was written to apologize for not sending the money to your father which he promised. It would have been particularly acceptable to them at this time, but be is prudent, and will not run any hazard to serve a friend. Indeed, delicacy made me conceal from him my dismal situation, but he must know how much I am embarrassed. . . .
"I am very low-spirited, and of course my letter is very dull. I will not lengthen it out in the same strain, but conclude with what alone will be acceptable, an assurance of love and regard Believe me to be ever your sincere and affectionate friend,
It was soon quite clear that the school must be altogether abandoned, or rather it abandoned the teachers, and all three sisters determined to seek their livelihood as governesses. Everina's home with her brother was comfortless, and the shelter grudgingly given; they could none of them find a home with their father and step-mother. Mr Wollstonecraft had again retired on very small means to Laugharne in Pembrokeshire, with his wife and younger children James and Charles. James soon afterwards went to sea, and Charles, after suffering great privations at home, emigrated, with, as will be seen, indifferent success. At Laugharne Mr Wollstonecraft led an obscure, besotted life, which could bring nothing but misery on his children, and the constant harassing thought of his daughters was how they could best help him, and wring from their brother Edward the support he had promised to give. Mrs Bishop and Everina obtained and abandoned many situations, the changes of which are not important, nor need any of them interest us except one which Mrs Bishop held in Pembrokeshire, from which were dated letters worthy to be quoted hereafter.
Mary Wollstonecraft obtained a situation as governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough in Ireland, through some friends of one of her chief patrons at Newington, and sailed for Ireland with these friends, Mr and Mrs Prior, who were crossing to Dublin, in the autumn of 1787. Mr Prior, at this time Assistant Master at Eton, was a grandson of a former college porter, had obtained a King's Scholarship first at Eton and afterwards became Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. He built the red house opposite the west doorway of the chapel at Eton. One of his daughters became the wife of Dr Goodall, Provost of the College. Mary's life in Ireland will be sufficiently detailed in the letters she wrote thence, and little need be said beyond what she tells us. The "dear Margaret," to whom she was so sincerely attached, became afterwards Lady Mountcashel, was her close friend through life and Godwin's correspondent in after years. It is necessary however to draw particular attention to Mary Wollstonecraft's own religious views at this time, and to point out the tone of earnest orthodox piety which pervades them, and the high morality which also is their characteristic. For one of the chief slanders brought against the governess in long after days, was that she had corrupted the minds of her pupils, teaching them lax morality and false religion. On the contrary, her whole endeavour was to train them for higher pursuits, and to instill into them a desire for wider culture than fell to the lot of most girls in those days. Her sorrow was deep that her pupils' lives were such as to render sustained study and religious habits of mind alike difficult. The tone of Society in Ireland -at that date, even in the highest families, would now scarcely be credited. Most of the women with whom Mary Wollstonecraft came in contact were frivolous, and most of the men were coarse. It is not wonderful that her spirits and health flagged, and that in spite of the affection of the one child to whom she was attracted she saw almost everything round her in gloomy colours.
The letters will now speak for themselves, or rather extracts from them, the lines omitted referring to. domestic details devoid of interest.
Mary Wollstonecraft to George Blood.
"NEWINGTON GREEN, May 22d .
By this time, my dear George, I hope your father and mother have reached Dublin. I long to hear of their safe arrival. A few days after they set sail, I received a letter from Skeys. He laments his inability to assist them, and dwells on his own embarrassments. How glad I am they are gone." [It will be remembered that their voyage to Dublin, where Mr Blood hoped to obtain a situation, was brought about wholly through Mary's exertions, and in great measure by her money, ill able as she was to afford such assistance.] " My affairs are hastening to a crisis. . . . Some of my creditors cannot afford to wait for their money as to leaving England in debt, I am determined not to do it. Everina and Eliza are both endeavouring to go out into the world, the one as a companion, and the other as a teacher, and I believe I shall continue some time on the Green. I intend taking a little cheap lodging, and living without a servant, and the few scholars I have will maintain me. I have done with all worldly pursuits and wishes; I only desire to submit without being dependent on the caprice of our fellow creatures. I shall have many solitary hours, but I have not much to hope for in life, and so it would be absurd to give way to fear. Besides, I try to look on the best side, and not to despond. While I am trying to do my duty in that station in which Providence has placed me, I shall enjoy some tranquil Moments, and the pleasures I have the greatest relish for are not entirely out of my reach. . . . I have, been trying to muster up my fortitude, and labouring for patience to bear my many trials. Surely when I could determine to survive Fanny, I can endure poverty and all the lesser ills of life. I dreaded, oh 1 how I dreaded this time, and now it is arrived I am calmer than I expected to be. I have been very unwell; my constitution is much impaired; the prison walls are decaying, and the prisoner will ere long get free. . . .-Remember that 1 am your truly affectionate friend and sister,
" MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT."
The Same to the Same.
NEWINGTON GREEN, July 6th .
. . . Lady Kingsborough has written about me to Mrs Prior, and I wait for further particulars before I give my final answer. Forty pounds a year was the terms mentioned to me, and half of that sum I could spare to discharge my debts, and afterwards to assist Eliza. . . . I by no means like the proposal of being a governess. I should be shut out from society and be debarred the pleasures of imperfect friendship, as I should on every side be surrounded by unequals. To live only on terms of civility and common benevolence without any interchange of little acts of kindness and tenderness would be to me extremely irksome, but I touch on too tender a string. I said just now friendship, even friendship, the medicine, the cordial of life, was imperfect, and so is everything in a world which is meant to educate us for a better. Here we have no resting-place, nor any stable comfort, but what arises from our resignation to the will of Heaven, and our firm reliance on those precious promises delivered to us by Him who brought light and immortality into the world. He has told us not only that we may inherit eternal life, but that we shall be changed, if we do not perversely reject the offered grace. Your letters, my dear boy, afford me great pleasure. . . . -Yours,
Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wollstonecraft.
"ETON, Octr. 9th, Sunday, 1787.
[After saying that Mr and Mrs Prior do not leave for Ireland quite as soon as they had intended, she continues.] "The time I spend here appears lost. While I remained in England I would fain have been near those I love.... I could not live the life they lead at Eton; nothing but dress and ridicule going forward, and I really believe their fondness for ridicule tends to make them affected, the women in their manners and the men in their conversation, for witlings abound and puns fly about like crackers, though you would scarcely guess they had any meaning in them, if you did not bear the noise they create. So much company without any sociability would be to me an insupportable fatigue. I am, 'tis true, quite alone in a crowd, yet cannot help reflecting on the scene around me, and my thoughts harass me. Vanity in one shape or other reigns triumphant. . . . My thoughts and wishes tend to that land where the God of love will wipe away all tears from our eyes, where sincerity and truth will flourish, and the imagination will not dwell on pleasing illusions, which vanish like dreams, when experience forces us to see things as they really are. With what delight do I anticipate the time when neither death nor accidents of any kind will interpose to separate me from those I love. . . .-Adieu; believe me to be your affectionate friend and sister, " MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT."
The Same to the Same.
"THE CASTLE, MITCHELSTOWN, Oct. 30, 1787.
"Well, my dear Girl, I am at length arrived at my journey's end. I sigh when I say so, but it matters not. I must labour for content, and try to reconcile myself to a state which is contrary to every feeling of my soul. I can scarcely persuade myself that I am awake; my whole life appears like a frightful vision, and equally disjointed. I have been so very low spirited for some days past, I could not write. All the moments I could spend in solitude were lost in sorrow and unavailing tears. There was such a solemn kind of stupidity about this place as froze my very blood. I entered the great gates with the same kind of feeling as I should have if I was going into the Bastille. You can make allowance for the feelings which the General would term ridiculous or artificial. I found I was to encounter a host of females-My Lady, her stepmother, and three sisters, and Mrses. and Hisses without number, who of course would examine me with the most minute attention. I cannot attempt to give you a description of -the family, I am so low; I will only mention some of the things which particularly worry me. I am sure much more is expected from me than I am equal to. With respect to French, I am certain Mr P. has misled them, and I expect, in consequence of it, to be very much mortified. Lady K. is a shrewd, clever woman, a great talker. I have not seen much of her, as she is confined to her room by a sore throat; but I have seen half a dozen of her companions, I mean not her children, but her dogs. To see a woman without any softness in her manners caressing animals, and using infantine expressions is, you may conceive, very absurd and ludicrous, but a fine lady is a new species to me of animals. I am, however, treated like a gentlewoman by every part of the family, but the forms and parade of high life suit not my mind. . . . I hear a fiddle below, the servants are dancing, and the rest of the family are diverting themselves, I only am melancholy and alone. To tell the truth, I hope part of my misery arises from disordered nerves, for I would fain believe my mind is not so very weak. The children are, literally speaking, wild Irish, unformed and not very pleasing; but you shall have a full and true account, my dear girl, in a few days. .-I am your affectionate sister and sincere friend, " MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT."
The Same to Mrs Bishop.
" MITCHELSTOWN, Nov. 5th .
". . . . Now to introduce the castle to you, and all its inhabitants, a numerous tribe, I assure you. The castle is very pleasantly situated, and commands the kind of prospect I most admire. Near the house, literally speaking, is a cloud-capped hill, and altogether the country is pleasant, and would please me when anything of the kind could rouse my attention. But my spirits have been in continual agitation, and when they will be at rest, heaven only knows. I fear I am not equal to the task I have been persuaded to undertake, and this fear worries me.
" Lady K. is a clever woman, and a well-meaning one, but not .of the order of being that I could love. With his Lordship I have had little conversation, but his countenance does not promise more than good humour, and a little fun not refined. Another face in the house appears to me more interesting, a pale one, no other than the author of 'Shepherds I have lost my love.' His wife is with him-a gentle pleasing creature, and her sister, a beauty and a sensible woman into the bargain. Besides them and several visitors, we have resident here Lady K.'s stepmother, and her three daughters, fine girls, just going to market, as their brother says. I have committed to my care three girls, the eldest fourteen, by no means handsome, yet a sweet girl. She has a wonderful capacity, but she has such a multiplicity of employments it has not room to expand itself, and in all probability will be lost in a heap of rubbish, miscalled accomplishments. I am grieved at being obliged to continue so wrong a system. She is very much afraid of her mother,-that such a creature should be ruled with a rod of iron, when tenderness would lead her anywhere 1 She is to be always with me. I have just promised to send her love to my sister, so pray receive it. Lady K. is very civil, nay, kind, yet I cannot help fearing her. . . . You have a sneaking kindness, you say, for people of quality, and 1 almost forgot to tell you I was in company with a Lord Fingal in the packet. Shall I try to remember the titles of all the lords and viscounts I am in company with, not forgetting the clever things they say? I would sooner tell you a tale of some humbler creatures; 1 intend visiting the poor cabins; as Miss K. is allowed to assist the poor, and I shall make a point of finding them out.
Adieu, my dear girl,
Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wollstonecraft.
"MITCHELSTOWN, Nov. 17, .
..."Confined to the society of a set of silly females, I have no social converse, and their boisterous spirits and unmeaning laughter exhaust me, not forgetting hourly domestic bickerings. The topics of matrimony and dress take their turn, not in a very sentimental style-alas, poor sentiment ! it has no residence here. I almost wish the girls were novel readers and romantic; I declare false refinement is better than none at all, but these girls under stand several languages, and have read cartloads of history, for their mother was a prudent woman. Lady K.'s passion for animals fills up the hours which are not spent in dressing. All her children have been ill-very disagreeable fevers. Her ladyship visited them in a formal way, though their situation called forth my tenderness, and I endeavoured to amuse them, while she lavished awkward fondness on her dogs. 1 think now I hear her infantine lisp. She rouges-and in short is a fine lady, without fancy or sensibility. I am almost tormented to death by dogs. But you will perceive I am not under the influence of my darling passionpity; it is not always so, I make allowance and adapt myself, talk of getting husbands for the Ladies-and the dogs, and am wonderfully entertaining; and then I retire to my room, form figures in the fire, listen to the wind, or view the Gotties, a fine range of mountains near us, and so does time waste away in apathy or misery. . . . I am drinking asses' milk, but do not find it of any service. I am very ill, and so low-spirited my tears flow in torrents almost insensibly. I struggle with myself, but I hope my Heavenly Father will not be extreme to mark my weakness, and that He will have compassion on a poor bruised reed, and pity a miserable wretch, whose sorrows He only knows. -almost wish my warfare was over." . . . [The rest is lost.]
The letters after this date show some improvement, both in health and spirits, though she was much troubled about family matters, which it is not very easy to understand in full from the allusions in the letters. It would appear, however, that Edward Wollstonecraft, the elder brother, not only refused to contribute anything to the support of his father, which fell almost wholly on Mary, but declined to afford a home any longer to Everina, who had been with him for some time. He also retained in his hands a sum of money, apparently a legacy, which the sisters conceived should have been divided between them all. He seems to have been selfish and extravagant, though doing a fair business as an attorney. The letters which passed between the sisters are either of no special interest or harp on the same string as those already quoted. In the winter of 1787 the Kingsborough family went to Dublin, and the letters thence again afford suitable extracts.
Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wollstonecraft.
"DUBLIN, March 24th, 1788.
"...I believe I told you before that as a nation I do not admire the Irish, and as to the great world and its frivolous ceremonies I cannot away with them. They fatigue one; I thank Heaven that I was not so unfortunate as to be born a lady of quality. I am now reading Rousseau's 'Emile,' and love his paradoxes. He chooses a common capacity to educate, and gives. as a reason that a genius will educate itself. However he rambles into that chimerical world in which I have too often wandered, and draws the usual conclusion that all is vanity and vexation of spirit. He was a strange, inconsistent, unhappy, clever creature, yet he possessed an uncommon portion of sensibility and penetration. . . . Adieu, yours sincerely,
The Same to [the Same or Mrs Bishop].
DUBLIN, March 14th, 1788.
I am very weak to-day, but I can account for it. The day before yesterday there was a masquerade; in the course of conversation some time before, I happened to wish to go to it. Lady K. offered me two tickets for myself and Miss Delane to accompany me. I refused them on account of the expense of dressing properly. She then to obviate that objection lent me a black domino. I was out of spirits, and thought of another excuse; but she proposed to take me and Betty. Delane to the houses of several people of fashion who saw masques. We went to a great number, and were a tolerable' nay, a much admired group. Lady K. went in a domino with a smart cockade; Miss Moore dressed in the habit of one of the females of the new discovered islands; Betty D. as a forsaken shepherdess, and your sister Mary in a black domino. As it was taken for granted the stranger who had just arrived could not speak the language, I was to be her interpreter, which afforded me an ample field for satire. I happened to be very melancholy in the morning, as I am almost every morning, but at night my fever gives me false spirits: this night the lights, the novelty of the scene, and all things together contributed to make me more than half mad. I gave full scope to a satirical vein and suppose . . . " [The rest is lost].
From Dublin Lord and Lady Kingsborough and their family went to Bristol, Hotwells, and Bath, and from these places again the letters complain bitterly of the tone of society in which Mary found herself. She speaks of the 11 dissipated lives led by the women of quality," and finds that " in many respects the great and little vulgar resemble each other, and in none more than in the motives which induce them to marry." Her health was better away from Ireland, yet the employment continued to be thoroughly uncongenial to her nature, while she had nothing in common with her employers, It is, therefore, not wonderful that in the autumn of this year Lady Kingsborough dismissed her governess. In addition to the long standing want of cordiality Lady Kingsborough had a new grievance because the love which her children were unable to give to her was bestowed on a stranger. In one ,of her letters Mary Wollstonecraft speaks of one of the younger children having cried herself sick because she was to go into the country with her mother alone, and Margaret above all the others showed the great affection she felt for -one who in return was devoted to her. During the year spent with Lady Kingsborough, Mary wrote a tale called by her own name " Mary," and devoted in a measure to the record of her own deep friendship with Fanny Blood .
Mr Johnson, the Publisher, had been struck with the promise Mary Wollstonecraft had shown before she went to Ireland, By his strong advice she had greatly improved her knowledge of French, and he now proposed to her that she should settle in lodgings not far from his house of business, and promised her constant literary work, chiefly to consist in translating from the French. This offer she at once accepted, and Lady Kingsborough having parted with her in London, whither the family had come for the winter, the dismissal and the new life were communicated to her sister in one and the same letter.
Mary Wollstonecraft to Everina Wallstonecraft.
LONDON, Nov. 7th 1788.
I am, my dear girl, once more thrown on the world; I have left Lord K.'s, and they return next week to Mitchelstown. I long since imagined that my departure would be sudden," [From another letter. "The regret Margaret showed, when I left her for a short time, was Lady K.'s pretext for parting with me. They had frequent quarrels, and the consequence was this determination."] "I have not seen Mrs Burgh, but I have informed her of this circumstance, and at the same time mentioned to her, that I was determined not to see any of my friends till I am in a way to earn my own subsistence. And to this determination I will adhere. You can conceive how disagreeable pity and advice would be at this juncture. I have two other cogent reasons. Before I go on will you pause, and if, after deliberating, you will promise not to mention to any one what you know of my designs, though you may think my requesting you to conceal them unreasonable, I will trust to your honour, and proceed. Mr Johnson, whose uncommon kindness, I believe, has saved me from despair and vexation, 1 shrink back from, and feared to encounter, assures me that if I exert my talents in writing I may support myself in a comfortable way. I am then going to be the first of a new genus; I tremble at the attempt, yet if I fail I only suffer, and should I succeed my dear girls will ever in sickness have a home, and a refuge, where for a few months in the year they may forget the cares that disturb the rest. I shall strain every nerve to obtain a situation for Eliza neater town: in short, I am once more involved in schemes, heaven only knows whether they will answer! yet while they are pursued life slips away. I would. not on any account inform my father or Edward of my designs-you and Eliza are the only part of the family I am interested about, I wish to be a mother to you both. My undertaking would subject me to ridicule, and an inundation of friendly advice to which I cannot listen; I must be independent. I wish to introduce you to Mr Johnson, you would respect him, and his sensible conversation would soon wear away the impression that a formality, or rather stiffness of manners, first makes to his disadvantage. I am sure you will love him, did you know with what tenderness and humanity he has behaved to me. , . .
"I cannot write more explicitly. I have indeed been very much harassed. But Providence has been very kind to me, and when I reflect on past mercies, I am not without hope with respect to the future. And freedom, even uncertain freedom, is dear. . . . This project has long floated in my mind. You know I am not born to tread in the beaten track, the peculiar bent of my nature pushes me on.-Adieu, believe me ever your sincere friend and affectionate sister, MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT."
" Seas will not now divide us, nor years elapse before we see each other."
The Same to the Same.
[No date, but a few days later.]
... [Mr Johnson] "has now settled me in a little house in a street near Blackfriars Bridge, and he assures me I may earn a comfortable maintenance if I exert myself I have given him ' Mary,' and before your vacation I shall finish another book for young people, which I think has some merit. . . . Whenever I am tired of solitude I go to Mr Johnson's, and there 1 meet the kind of company I find most pleasure in. . . . I spent a day at Mrs. Trimmer's, and found her a truly respectable woman. I intend to try to get Bess a situation near me, and hope to succeed before the summer vacation ; at any rate, she shall spend the approaching one in my house. Mr J. knows that, next to obtaining the means of life, I wish to mitigate her and your fate. I have done wit the delusions of fancy, I only live to be useful; benevolence must fill every void in my heart. I have a room but not furniture. J offered you both a bed in his house but that would not be pleasant I believe I must try to purchase a bed, which I shall reserve for my poor girls while I have a house. If you pay any visits, you will comply with my whim, and not mention my place of abode or mode of life. I shall have a spur to push me forward, the desire of rendering two months in the year a little pleasanter than they would otherwise be to you and poor uncomfortable Bess. . . ."
The "other book for young people" is called "Original Stories from Real Life," and is intended to lead the minds of children to truth and goodness. It is beautifully written, though in a style now obsolete, and for which children in these days would not care, but it ought not to be quite unknown, since it was illustrated by some of Blake's most striking and beautiful woodcuts. The frontispiece, a simple composition of three figures standing in a doorway, up either side of which climbs a creeper; and another, in strong contrast, of a father standing over a bed on which lie his two children, who have died of want, can never be forgotten by those who have seen them.
A MS. note in Mr Johnson's writing gives an account of her work and life at this time:
"She entered upon her house in George St. at Michaelmas 1787, and continued there till Michaelmas 1791.
"Here she wrote the 'Rights of Woman.' A translation from the Dutch of 'Young Grandison' was put into her hands, which she almost re-wrote. She translated 'Necker on Religious Opinions,' compiled the 'French Reader,' introducing some original pieces, and prefixed a preface to it. She began a novel under the title of the 'Cave of Fancy,' wrote many articles in the 'Analytical Review,'-' Answer to Burke,' I Elements of Morality from the German,' which she first studied here, and a translation of 'Lavater's Physiognomy' from the French.
" Her brothers and sisters were occasionally with her when they were unsettled. Her's was their home; and she took every method to improve and prepare them for respectable situations. She consulted with Mr Barlow on the probability of getting a farm in America for Charles, which was determined upon, and he was placed with a farmer here for instruction. He left England the latter end Of 1792. James, who had been at sea, was sent to Woolwich for a few months to be under Mr Bonnycastle, and afterwards on board Lord Hood's fleet as a midshipman, where he was presently made a lieutenant. Much of the instruction which all of them obtained was obtained under her own roof, and most, if not all the situations which her sisters had were procured by her exertions. In the beginning Of 1788 she sent Everina to Paris for improvement in the language.
"During her stay in George Street she spent many of her afternoons and most of her evenings with me. She was incapable of disguise. Whatever was the state of her mind, it appeared when she entered, and the tone of conversation might easily be guessed. When harassed, which was very often the case, she was relieved by unbosoming herself, and generally returned home calm, frequently in spirits.
"In a part of this period, which certainly was the most active of her life, she had the care of her father's estate, which was attended with no little trouble to both of us. She could not during this time, I think, expend less than L 2 00 on her brothers and sisters.
"At Michaelmas 1791 she went to Store Street, and continued till Deer. 1792. She then-went to Paris."
The correspondence with her family grew far more infrequent after the date of the last letter. Nor is there much which needs extraction. The sisters were for some time at Putney, when intercourse was more easy. Mary Wollstonecraft was very hard at work. and her sisters had little sympathy with the direction in which her thoughts were now turning. It is not quite so clear why the correspondence with George Blood grew slack-indeed, who can tell why their own correspondence with one and another friend waxes and wanes?-but from the tone of the few that remain, the intimacy was less cordial than in former years. The little coolness, from whatever cause, passed away, and George Blood, now in a good position, seems to have written to Mary Wollstonecraft to ask if there were any hope that Everina would become his wife. The following., extract shows the ill-success of his wooing:
Mary Wollstonecraft to George Blood.
LONDON, Feb. 4th, '91.
..."Now, my dear George, let me more particularly allude to your own affairs. I ought to have done so sooner, but there was an awkwardness in the business that made me shrink back. We have all, my good friend, a sisterly affection for you; and this very morning Everina declared to me that she had more affection for you than for either of her brothers; but accustomed to view you in that light, she cannot view you in any other. Let us then be on the old footing, love us as we. love you, but give your heart to some worthy girl, and do not cherish an affection which may interfere with your prospects when there is no reason to suppose that it will ever be returned. Everina, does not seem to think of marriage, she has no particular attachment, yet she was anxious when I spoke explicitly to her, to speak to you in the same terms, that she might correspond with you as she has ever done, with sisterly freedom and affection. .-Your affectionate friend,
It has been mentioned that Mrs Bishop and Everina Wollstonecraft were wanderers during these years. Mrs Bishop was teacher in a school at Market Harborough, at Putney, and at Henley; while her sister was at the same school at Putney, in Ireland, for a short time in France-now and then resident with her brother Edward, and then again for a time with Mary. But few letters are preserved from them during this time, nor have those which remain any special interest. In 1791 Mrs Bishop obtained a more permanent engagement in Pembrokeshire, near Laugharne, the town in which her father, supported by Mary, was now living. Extracts from the letters from this place will prove of interest. They will shew the wretchedness of the home of these three sisters, and the utter impossibility that they should ever permanently return to it in case of ill-health or other misfortune ; they will make it clear that the sisters had to frame for themselves a theory of life; and, with such a training, how little likely it was this should be the usual one, about the sanctity of home, and of home relations and ties. They give a curious picture of the savagery still existing in far corners of the land among those who yet required a cultivated woman as governess, of ignorance and prejudice, and, towards the end of the series, the view taken by the family of Mary Wollstonecraft's change of life and opinions.
The situation at Upton Castle had been obtained for Mrs Bishop by Mr Woods, a Welsh clergyman, and an old friend of the family.
Mrs Bishop to Everina Wollstonecraft.
"[LAUGHARNE], Tuesday Night, May [301, 1791.
MY DEAREST EVERINA,-Here I am at Laugharne, without being recollected by anybody. Neither Miss Brown nor her mother have condescended to call on me. Many of the inhabitants have left it, others are dead, or else have quite forgotten Miss Betsy. Mrs Larne is the only one who wished to recollect me, but the old face she, sighing, says is quite gone. In fact, the town is now full of decayed people of fashion. Not one eye have I met that glistened with pleasure at meeting me unexpectedly , and I revisit our old walks with a degree of sadness I never felt before. The cliff-side, the churchyard, &c., &c., are all truly romantic and beautiful-a thousand times more so than I imagined; yet all creates a sadness I cannot banish.
"The sight of my father's ghastly visage haunts me night and day; for he is really worn to a mere skeleton, and has a dreadful cough that makes my blood run cold whenever I listen to it, and that is the greater part of the night, or else he groans most dreadfully; yet he declares he has good nights. There cannot be a more melancholy sight than to see him, not able to walk ten yards without panting for breath, and continually falling; still he is able to ride ten miles every day, and eat and drink very hearty. His neighbours think, as he has had such a wonderful escape, he will quite recover, though his death-like countenance tells me it is impossible. I am harassed to the last degree how to advise him to act; if he gives up his horse now, he is a dead man in a very short time. When I beg of him to be more careful in money matters, he declares he will go to London, and force Ned; or when I tell him how Mary has been distressed, in order to make him save in trifles, be is in a passion, and exhausts himself. He is mad to be in London. I represented matters as they are, that he might abridge himself of some unnecessary expenses; but now he is too weak in mind and body to act with prudence. She is truly a well-meaning woman, and willing to do the little she can to lessen the debts.
"Charles is half naked, and is treated by my father in the way that he deserves, for he is at him perpetually; he never even tried to get him into the Excise, or anywhere else. He is actually altered rather for the better, drinks never anything but water, and is much thinner, and all submission. . . . He now talks of listing for a soldier; if he does, there is an end of him. . . . I am very cool to Charles, and have said all I can to rouse him; but where can he go in his present plight? Thanky, my dear, for your kind letter. I am afraid this will not raise your spirits. Pray tell M. my father received the note. I have many things to chat over with you when I get to my Haven. Shall I find peace when I get to the end of my journey ? Good night."
The Same to the Same.
UPTON, June 12, 1791.
". . . The only thing here that resembles man is a noble Newfoundland dog, and a fine greyhound. Neptune and his friend Shark have contrived to find a comer in my heart, contrary to my reason. I look on them as Friends; indeed, when with them I am not quite alone 1 They render my walks still more delightful. The situation of this spot is truly picturesque. The way to the house is through a fine wood, dreadfully neglected, so much so, that one can hardly find a path in it-surrounded by hills. Close to the castle is an old chapel, and near it is a cross, shaded by a yew tree, and many a lofty ash at a distance. The castle joins the house. In one of its turrets is my room, which is furnished in the Eastern manner, though half the ornaments must not be used, for the Captain gave them to Maria, and she must keep them for his sake. The library no one values, though it is a most excellent one. The arm-chair, however, and spacious bed, none of them claim. My room leads into a large drawing-room, which contains all that might be made useful. It has a door at one end that opens, and gives a full view of the woods. . . . There I often sit when all are fast asleep, as it is quite away from their roosting places. For though the kitchen was made fit for a nobleman, and the coach-house, stalls, laundry, &c., &c., are all rendered truly commodious, the good family here did not like to have their bedrooms altered, no! nor even the common sitting-parlour, which is a dark hole. . . . Their room is quite filled with chest upon chest, which are filled with trumpery sixty years old; and though they have hardly room to turn themselves', they will not let their boxes remain in the garret. Here is a strange medley 1 a farthing candle, or one as thick as my wrist. Though they have drawers loaded with everything, they still make the shifts that necessity compelled them to in former times. . . . The girls have dozens of gowns never worn, which they only look at, and everything else that might be made useful. . . . They never have been permitted to walk, on account of wearing out shoes. I am certain I shall break the old woman's heart if I take them out a-walking. . . . Send me a few wax tapers, for a farthing one often falls to my share, and we go to bed very early. . . . Adieu."
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