But Payne—cut from sturdier cloth than I—proceeded to do just that: acquaint Washington Irving with Mary’s continuing … interest in him. And he (Payne) became quite assiduous about his new role as go-between, as if (in desperation?) he figured: Hey, if I do this job well, Mary might change her mind! Oh, the deluded male imagination …
In one letter to Irving, Payne wrote: She said you had interested her more than any one she had seen since she left Italy; that you were gentle and cordial, and that she longed for friendship with you. And meanwhile, Mary and Payne were corresponding regularly. There were two patent items on her agenda: acquiring free theater passes from the generous Payne; finding out what Irving (whom she called Irvine often in her letters) was up to. What he might be thinking of her.
Payne, who had some financial difficulties, went to Paris to stay with Irving, and there, on August 5, 1825, he gave Irving a packet of Mary’s letters—letters that (as we’ve seen) inquired (slyly at times, blatant at others) about Irving himself. Irving’s journal records only this: Read Mrs. Shelleys correspondence before going to bed.
Of course, Payne had well prepared Irving for what he was going to read; it was no surprise to the American that Mary was interested in him. But now he was learning some details. I try to imagine what he was thinking as he read those letters—letters which Mary surely knew (hoped) Payne would share with Irving. Was he shocked? Worried? Horrified? Flattered? All of the above?
The only thing we know for certain is that he was not “interested”—not in the way Mary clearly was.