Mary Hays (1759–1843): An Enlightened Quest

  • Gina Luria Walker

Abstract

Mary Hays was the most purposefully intellectual woman within the tiny community of English Jacobins in the 1790s. Her experiences reveal much about the aspirations, opportunities and difficulties of women intellectuals in this period. Like her intimate friend Mary Wollstonecraft, she bootstrapped her way into masculine preserves of knowledge. Unlike Wollstonecraft, she possessed neither physical nor social grace, nor the self-confidence born of such qualities.2 Like Anna Barbauld, Hays probed the connections between religious, domestic, and political life. Unlike Barbauld, she had neither familial nor academic structures to advance her education or to provide collaborators and critical readers.3 She was encouraged by some of her contemporaries and repudiated by others, and she often undermined her own authority by retreating from the controversies she provoked.

Keywords

Hunt Kelly Defend Century Editor Heroine 

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Notes

  1. 5.
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Selected Letters, ed. E. L. Griggs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), I, p. 563.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
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  5. 17.
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    Robert Robinson, Arcana, or the Principles of the Late Petitioners to Parliament (Cambridge: Fletcher and Hodson, 1774), p. 33.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
    Anne F. Wedd, Hays’s collateral descendant and first twentieth century editor, reported that Mrs. Hays disapproved of John because of his uncertain financial status, while the senior Mr. Eccles withheld support because John refused to continue in the family business. See A. F. Wedd, ‘The Story of Mary Hays,’ The Love-Letters of Mary Hays (1779–1780) (London: Methuen, 1925), pp. 1–14.Google Scholar
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    Len Addicott, ‘Introduction,’ Church Book: St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, Cambridge ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+), (London: Baptist Historical Society, 1991), pp. i–xxxii. See also Robinson’s letter to Hays in which he addresses her concerns about the sectarian disputes then roiling English Dissenters. ‘Disputants here [in Cambridge] want me to take a side,’ he wrote, ‘and because I refuse to do so they represent me as a man void of all principles, to whom truth and error are alike indifferent.’ Robinson to Hays, 4 March 1789, Pforzheimer MS RR60.Google Scholar
  9. 32.
    Sally L. Jenkinson, ‘The Context of Heresy,’ Histories of Heresy in Early Modern Europe: For, Against, and Beyond Persecution and Toleration, ed. John Christian Laursen (New York: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 119–38.Google Scholar
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    See Alan Richardson, British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Gina Luria Walker 2005

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  • Gina Luria Walker

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