Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1836/11/04)

H.M.S. “Edinburgh,”
Malta, Nov. 4, 1836. 

My dear Malcolm,—  . . . You make inquiries concerning my books and companions, etc. As to books—as I have been three years in this ship, I have long ago read all on board, the stock never having been great. But the truth is, that for a long time past I have been very idle. In our mess we get all the magazines, Blackwood’s, etc., the reviews, and three or four dozen of newspapers every month, and I must confess with shame that I have read little else for many months past. I want you and Kingston sadly. I smoke nearly all the evenings, and what with regular watch-keeping and sleeping in watches below—taking long walks—beating the bushes for sportsmen—and constantly boat-sailing, for which there is a sort of mania in this ship—I have spent all this last year in a most unprofitable manner. As to companions, I have not one friend in the ship, although I am on tolerably good terms with them all. And now to come to the worst confession I have to make: I have no longer the same comfort and pleasure in religious contemplation that I have known—whether from having no one with whom to talk to, or perhaps from gradually thinking less and less. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” Ah! Malcolm, how much more happy I was when I spoke to no one but you and Kingston than now—hail fellow well met with every one. I have tried again and again, and am convinced that on board ship I shall never be happy; I have trifled on the very verge of perdition; every day I find myself placed in situations of every kind of peril and temptation, so that I can hardly escape. I hear all kinds of oaths and obscene conversation, but it does not shock my ear now. However, the ship has commenced her fourth year, and I hope in a few weeks more to be paid off, and my father writes me that I had better stay on shore for some time. So I trust I shall be able to refresh my wearied heart with some sweet discourse for which I long so much.  

I made an attempt to make a friend of a mid of about three years’ standing. I fancied that he had a scientific turn, and hoping, through that, to gain his confidence and have some influence with him, after much talk on these subjects, I commenced Arnott with him; but he was capricious and changeable, and after four or five weeks of great vexation and trouble, having only got with him through one-half of the first volume, he excused himself in various ways, and finally, in spite of all my persuasion, dropped it altogether, and has ever since held aloof from anything like particular conversation with me. I am conscious that I did everything I could, and, though very much annoyed, I do not blame myself. After this I sunk into my routine of laziness and trifling amusements. I daresay you will be surprised when I tell you that I spend upwards of two hours a day in smoking; but you must make some allowance for a solitary being. I also draw a little, but nothing to speak of. I count the days till the ship is paid off.

We arrived here a month ago after a passage of ten days from Vourla. Malta is as dull and tiresome and just the same as ever, except that six sail of the line lying in harbour make every place on shore constantly thronged with midshipmen.

I am so sick of the ship, and everything belonging to it, that I hope you will, on that account, excuse anything you do not like in this letter. I have no prospects of promotion. However, a few months on shore in society to my taste will relieve me much. Do you recollect my carrying you on my back down the road at the top of the harbour? I was wandering there alone and also at Bighi Bay a few hours ago: my thoughts were of you and happier days. I felt myself really alone.—Dearest Malcolm, I am ever your affectionate friend,

John Irving.

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