The Idea of Being Free
A Mary Hays Reader
  • Publication Date: December 9, 2005
  • ISBN: 9781551115597 / 155111559X
  • 343 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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The Idea of Being Free

A Mary Hays Reader

  • Publication Date: December 9, 2005
  • ISBN: 9781551115597 / 155111559X
  • 343 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Mary Hays (1759-1843) is often best remembered for her early revolutionary novels The Memoirs of Emma Courtney and The Victim of Prejudice. In this collection, however, Gina Luria Walker reveals the extraordinary range of Hays’s oeuvre. The selections are mainly from Hays’s non-fiction writings, including letters, life-writing, political commentary, and essays. The extracts demonstrate her importance as an advanced and innovative thinker, philosophical commentator, and writer of deliberately experimental fiction.

This Broadview edition includes a critical introduction and full annotation. Texts by numerous other writers are interleaved chronologically with Hays’s writings to illustrate her idiosyncratic intellectual genealogy, how her understanding modulated over time, and the multiple ways in which she influenced and was influenced by the most significant issues and figures of her age.


“Over the past 10 years or so, the work of Mary Hays has become increasingly familiar to those studying the literature of the French Revolutionary period. Interest has focused mainly on her two experimental 1790s novels, however, while her equally important philosophical and biographical writings remain less well known and are difficult to access. Gina Luria Walker’s The Idea of Being Free: A Mary Hays Reader will thus be invaluable—not just in bringing Hays’s non-fictional publications to a wider readership, but in the way it makes the most of the excellent Broadview Editions format, providing a rich selection from other contemporary texts in order to set Hays’s work in its intellectual context.” — Vivien Jones, University of Leeds

Mary Hays in Her Times: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text

Chapter One 1779-81
Mary Hays and John Eccles
Samuel Richardson
From Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady (1747-48)
Edward Young
From Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality;
or,The Complaint
Alexander Pope
From Imitations of Horace,The First Satire (1733)
“Eloisa to Abelard” (1717)

Chapter Two 1782-92
From Robert Robinson’s Letters to Mary Hays
Jacques Saurin
Sermon on the Repentance of the Unchaste Woman (1775, 1784)
Robert Robinson
Slavery Inconsistent with the Spirit of Christianity (1786, 1788)
Gilbert Wakefield
An Enquiry into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship (1791)
[Mary Hays]
Cursory Remarks on an Enquiry into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship … [by] Eusebia (1791,
Gilbert Wakefield
Letter to William Frend (undated)
William Frend
Letter to Hays (16 April 1792)
Anna Barbauld
Remarks on Mr.Wakefield’s Enquiry (1792)
George Dyer
“On Liberty,” Poetics (1812)
Robert Robinson
A Political Catechism (1782)
Report of Edmund Burke’s speech, March 2, 1790
William Frend
Peace and Union Recommended to the Associated Bodies of Republicans and Anti-republicans (1793)

Chapter Three 1793
Mary Hays
Letters and Essays I, II, III,V, XII (1793)
Joseph Priestley
The History and Present State of Electricity: with original experiments (1767)
William Enfield
“The Pyrrhonic Sect,” History of Philosophy (1791)
Theophilus Lindsey
Letter to Mary Hays (15 April 1793)
Mary Wollstonecraft
Letters to Mary Hays (12 November 1792; [late 1792])

Chapter Four 1794-99
Mary Hays
Letter to William Godwin (13 October 1795)
Mary Hays
Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796)
Matthew Prior
Henry and Emma, a Poem, Upon the Model of the Nut-brown Maid
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
From La Nouvelle Heloise: Julie, or the New Eloise. Letters of Two Lovers, Inhabitants of a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps
William Godwin
From Things as They Are; or,The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794)
[Thomas S. Norgate]
The Cabinet, “On The Rights of Woman” (1795)
Helvétius in The Cabinet
“Abbreviation from the Code of Nature” (1795)
[William Enfield]
From Monthly Magazine, “The Enquirer.” No. III (1796)
Mary Hays
Letters to the Editor, Monthly Magazine (1796)
From The Victim of Prejudice (1799)
Richard Polwhele
From The Unsex’d Females (1798)

Chapter Five 1800-07
[Mary Hays]
Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women (1798)
“Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft,” Annual Necrology for 1797-8; Including, also,Various Articles of Neglected Biography,
Vol. I (1800)
From Female Biography, or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of all Ages and Countries Alphabetically Arranged in Six
“Anne Askew”
“Catharine Macaulay Graham”
From “Mrs. Charlotte Smith,” Public Characters of 1800-1801 (1807)
Letters to William Tooke (1799-1807)

Chapter Six 1814-36
Mary Hays
Letter to Henry Crabb Robinson (26 November 1814)
Memoirs of Queens (1821)
“Caroline, Wife of George IV”
Mary Shelley
Letter to Mary Hays (20 April 1836)
Mary Hays
Letter to Mary Shelley (30 November 1836)

Mary Hays
Letter to Henry Crabb Robinson (April 1842)
Mary Hays
Last Will and Testament
John Hays
Letters to Henry Crabb Robinson (20 February, 23 February 1843)
E. Kell
“Memoir of Mary Hays,” The Christian Reformer
Mary Robinson Brown
Letter to Hays (17 May 1791)
[Elizabeth Hays]
“Josepha, or the Pernicious Effects of Early Indulgence,”
Letters and Essays, Moral and Miscellaneous (1793)
Charles Lamb
Letter to Matilda Betham (27 September 1811)
Henry Crabb Robinson
Handwritten Note (c. 1843)
Capel Lofft
Letter to William Godwin [undated] (1805)
Amelia Alderson
Letter to Mary Wollstonecraft (15 December 1796)
Amelia Alderson
Letter to William Godwin (22 December 1796)
William Godwin
Letter to David Booth (14 October 1799)
Robert Southey
Letter to Samuel Taylor Coleridge (16 January 1800)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Letter to Robert Southey (25 January 1800)
Elizabeth Hamilton
Letter to Mary Hays (13 March 1797)
Elizabeth Hamilton
Memoirs of Modern Philosophers (1800)
William Beloe
The Sexagenarian; or the Reflections of a Literary Life (1817)
Eliza Fenwick
Letters to Mary Hays (31 March 1806, 10 February
William Thompson
Appeal of One Half of the Human Race,Women, against the pretensions of the other half, Men, to retain them in political and
thence in civil and domestic slavery, in reply to a paragraph of Mr. Mill’s celebrated article on Government
Joyce M.S.Tompkins
“Mary Hays, Philosophess,” The Polite Marriage: Eighteenth Century Essays (1938)
Anna Barbauld
Letter to Maria Edgeworth (1804)
Kenneth N. Cameron
Shelley and his Circle (1961)
Roy Porter
Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (2000)
Barbara Taylor
“Gallic Philosophesses,” Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (2003)
Mary Hays
Letter to Henry Crabb Robinson (1807)

Appendix A: Principal Figures and Important Terms

Appendix B: Selected Reviews of Hays’s Publications

  1. Reviews of Letters and Essays
    1. From the Critical Review (August 1793)
    2. From the English Review (October 1793)
  2. Reviews of Female Biography
    1. From the Critical Review (April 1803)
    2. From the Monthly Magazine (June 1803)
    3. From the Monthly Review (January 1804)

Select Bibliography

Gina Luria Walker is Chair of the Department of Social Sciences at The New School, New York. She is the co-editor of the Broadview edition of William Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (2001) and has published widely on Romantic literature and Enlightenment feminisms.