Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1834/09/24) 

H.M.S. “Edinburgh,”
Vourla, September 24, 1834.

My dear Malcolm,—I received your letter of the 27th July on the 3d of August, so it has been a whole month unanswered. I suppose you are settled down quiet and, I hope, studious at the Rectory after your visiting expedition to Scotland. I am afraid it will be a long time before Maister John has the pleasure of seeing the fine sights you promise him; however, he lives in hope. My father writes me that he sees no chance of getting my promotion while the present Ministers hold office, and says that it will be best for me to remain afloat so long as I am a mate, as, at the Admiralty, they make your not having served after passing an objection to your promotion (and very properly too, if stuck to in all cases), so I must jog on as quietly as I can, for I cannot vex my poor old father—who has trouble enough to provide for the advancement of six sons in the various ways of getting a living— by telling him of my wishes to come and live at home. I have seen a good deal of old Kingston, and have taken some walks with him. He is just the same; and as I walked along, looking at his large shoes, swinging arms, and—although it was a hot day—an immense stiff black neckcloth, I could not help laughing and thinking how you would have been amused.

As people have become familiar in the ship, and reserve worn off, I and three others have attained to the name of saints. There were at one time six or seven; but ridicule has made them renounce their profession and go back into the highway of profligacy and vice. I shall mention my friends, as I daresay you would like to know about them. Norman I have already described to you. I found him, when I joined the ship, a real Christian in every sense of the word, and so he is to this day. The next is a midshipman called Moil, a very wild fellow when he came in this ship, and Norman has been the honoured means of sending him to the Fountain of all mercy. The third is a young Collegian called Fowler. He has become very serious, and the Bible is his daily study, and he has read many of my books, beside a total alteration in most of his habits; he has been a year and a half at sea—so he had some bad ones,—but he is in earnest indeed. He has gone through six books of Euclid with me, and we are going over them a second time; but he knew some of them before, also Chemistry and Natural Philosophy. He is very clever, and learns quickly; I only hope he may retain what he acquires. The whole of us are laughed at for reading the Bible, and, horrid to relate, we go by the common name of “the Holy Ghost boys.” However, Norman’s advice and truly Christian example has enabled me to conduct myself in a somewhat more Christian way than was my wont, or rather, I have obtained in mercy an increase of that spirit which overcometh evil with good, and I hope all these trials will do me good.

Poor old Kingston has been annoyed lately in the same way. I pity him, they are so closely packed together in a small vessel like the “Tyne.” He has a great help in the assistant-surgeon, a very pious young man. Also Kingston has great delight in a youngster whom he has lent a hand to, and who has become serious. They are doing Euclid together, and get on very well. These three are called “psalm-singers,” and old Kingston has been told that it is quite unnatural for a young person to spend so much of his time in reading as he does.

I was glad to hear such good accounts of your brother. I hope some of your books will do him good in moments of reflection and loneliness, in far distant lands, when you can only pray for him and hope the best. I have read an excellent book lately: “Memoirs of Henry Martyn, missionary in India.” You will find much pleasure in reading the life of such a truly good man as he was; also sermons by Arnold, a Churchman, very plain and good. We have been cruising a good deal these last three months, but never going above sixty miles from this, and frequently anchoring merely for fresh beef. We expect to go down to Malta soon, touching at Napoli by the way. No one knows where we shall go, as this Admiral keeps everything so close that really we never get two hours’ waiting before sailing. I daresay we shall spend this winter at Malta; however, it does not much matter to me where we are. I hope you are keeping your health, and growing stout. Send me your stature and weight next time you write, and then I shall be able to judge pretty well how your twelve months’ residence on shore has agreed with you. And I hope you are fortunate in your companions at Toddenham, as I suppose your comfort depends a good deal upon their conduct.

I hope you will not think from this letter that I am melancholy or vexed at the behaviour of my messmates; for I am quite happy in the knowledge that in this ship[1] my own pride and bad temper have not been the cause of their troubling me—Kingston being situated in the same way in the “Tyne” is a proof of this,—and that the only thing they trouble me about is on the score of being religious; and in such a cause it is a high honour to suffer at all.

I have the pinnace, and do nothing in the harbour but go away in her for water, etc. I keep forecastle watch at sea, and we are in four watches, which gives plenty of time for reading, which is a great comfort to me. I hope you will go on well, Elphie, and work hard, that you may not be taken aback at the College, especially in the Euclid, which you can just freshen up in your memory a little, in case you forget it; but I have no doubt you know what is necessary, and don’t think me officious for saying anything about it.

And now I must conclude my letter. May you be a useful member of your high calling which you have chosen.—I am ever your affectionate friend,

  John Irving.

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