MARY HARTLEY (c. 1738–1803)

Mary Hartley was the unmarried daughter of Dr David Hartley, philosopher and physician, friend of Joseph Priestley. She lived at Belvedere, Bath, with her brother, the Liberal MP for Hull, who worked in the cause against slavery and was a good friend of Benjamin Franklin. Mary Hartley was acquainted with Fanny Burney, Mrs Ord and other Bluestockings, and the Bowdlers.

(Copyright © 2000, 2022 Rictor Norton

Letter to Sir William Weller Pepys
(4 November 1797)

I have no family round me, no companion, with whom I can interchange my thoughts, except when my brother is at home, and even then I have very little society with him. He is always employed with his books and papers. Of course therefore I lead a very solitary life. I find company very disagreeable to him, (for he flies out of the room the minute he hears a rap) and it is now grown tiresome to me; for I have not the spirits I used to have; and therefore I am generally denied; at least whenever my brother is at Bath. . . .
          I told you I had few companions; but I converse very much with books: yet I am not eager to seek for new ones. There are so many valuable old books, which I have not yet read, and which I am eager to read, as soon as I can find time, that I have already a large field before me. I read however, with great eagerness, the memoirs and letters of Gibbon, when that book came out, and was much entertained with it, but his criticisms on his studies were rather too learned for me, and spoke of many books which I have not read. . . . I read too with the greatest avidity, Roscoe’s Life of Lorenzo di Medici; a most admirable performance on a most entertaining subject. . . . As I cannot afford to buy books of value, and only hire them from a library, I cou’d not keep a book so much in request, as long as I cou’d have wished to study it; but I was much delighted with many of Lorenzo’s poems, in which I thought there was much imagination and beautiful diction. But I am talking of an old subject – last year’s news. I have since read a lighter work; but of beautiful imagination, interesting scenes, and true genius, The Italian, or the Confessional of the black Penitents. I hope you like it and that you read it with as much eagerness as I do; Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, seem to me more like Epic poems, than ordinary romances. She equals any author that I ever read, in fertility of imagination, intricacy of plot, and consistency of character.

[SOURCE: A Later Pepys. The Correspondence of Sir William Weller Pepys, Bart., ed. Alice C. C. Gaussen, 2 vols (London and New York: John Lane: The Bodley Head, 1904), vol. 2, p. 132–3]

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