Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1835/05/07)

[H.M.S. “Edinburgh,” May 7, 1835]


But, my dear Malcolm, do not think for a moment that I am at all displeased at your scolding me; far from it. Nothing could have pleased me more. It shows far more than any assertions could that you are really concerned about me; and I am sure that I never read anything of yours with such heartfelt pleasure as I did these warm remonstrances on my silence and apparent neglect of your letters. Your feeling vexed at not hearing from me convinces me, more than a dozen letters could, that your interest in my welfare is still the same, and nothing could tend more to remove a horrid feeling of jealousy which sometimes crosses my mind, when I think it possible; and it does seem natural, that you, surrounded by so many new and agreeable friends and acquaintances, and cut off from all associations with your former life, should gradually slacken your interest in, and cast off your affections for your old friends. Do not let this remark offend you. It is more owing to the morbid sensibility of my own mind, combined with the long habit of deep interest about you, that makes me feel so acutely the bare possibility of your growing cold and indifferent about me, than that I have the least expectation of such an event, or that you have ever given me the slightest cause to think it at all probable. No, quite the contrary; and I should be unjust to you if I did not tell you so, that it is the greatest comfort to me to think that, as long as we live, I have such a friend as you have been to me ever since I first knew you, and when we first called each other friends. Not that I am weak enough to believe that when you and I meet again we shall suit each other as well as when we were in the  Belvidera.” We shall not have the same ties of situation nor the same feelings of relation to each other as we then had. Your mind will be filled with learning and information on many subjects of which I shall be totally ignorant. You will feel deeply interested about many things about which I shall be totally indifferent. All your old associations, connected with ships and a mid’s berth, shall have given place to those of a University and College scenes, College adventures, College manners and habits; while I, as habit is second nature, shall have become a sea-monster, and unable to sympathise with you in anything beyond the sphere of pitch and paint, tallow and tar.

You will have read hundreds of books of which I never heard the name; you will have studied subjects of which I never dreamt, and be intimate with many persons I have never seen. My conversation, like one who had been out of the world for some time, will seem insipid and stale to you, accustomed to the society of the cleverest and best-informed men of the age; while yours will be so much beyond that to which I shall have been accustomed, that I shall be galled by a sense of ignorance and insignificance.

I can fancy you enjoying a hearty laugh after reading all this nonsense, as you will call it; but there is many a true word said in jest, and really when I went home last I was astonished, and more so since my return, in finding myself actually more at home on board here than in my own father’s house—so many changes had taken place there, my brothers growing up, etc. etc.


I am happy to say, that as I get settled on board this ship, I find my mind in a much more comfortable state than it was when I wrote you from Exeter. I was in such a perfect fever of excitement during my trip to England, that the devil got great hold of me, and my mind was open to all evil I could not in that hurry and bustle “be watchful unto prayer,” but being “troubled about many things, I was forgetting the “one thing needful;” but getting into my regular habits of reading and reflection has done much, through God’s grace, for my soul.—I am ever your very affectionate friend,

                                                                                       John Irving.

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