Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1837/07/17)

Ship “Portland,”
Greenock, 17th July 1837.

My dear Malcolm,—I arrived here yesterday, and was very sorry to find by your note that you had been here so long kindly waiting to see me. I regret that you had not got a letter I wrote you from Edinburgh in time to prevent you coming here, as the vessel was detained, and I in consequence remained in Edinburgh until yesterday. I suppose, on your return from Inveraray, you found letters which had not got there before you had set off for this place. However, I take your coming as very kind, and regret much your fruitless loss of time incurred on my account. The “Portland” is said to sail to-morrow; but I do not think it will be until the day after, there seems to be so much to do. My father accompanied us here, and has just taken leave of my brother and me, having to return to Edinburgh by this evening. But my eldest brother George, whom I have often told you of, remains here with us until we sail, so that we are not quite alone, though I should have much wished to have had you with me at this time. My brother bids me say that if ever you should be in Edinburgh, he would be happy to see you at 106 Princes Street. He is a capital hand, as Kingston can tell you, for showing the lions of Edinburgh. I have got the parcel you left on board for me. I have not yet had time to open it. I thank you for it; it seems books. Now, my dear Malcolm, I must bid you farewell; I have so many things to attend to, all our things to get on board and stow away. She is in a horrid state of confusion. I will not fail to write you how we are going on. I hope you will continue to be as good a correspondent as you have been to me. When you see Kingston remember me to him. I was sorry he could not pay me a longer visit. I must now bid you farewell. Remember me in your prayers, and may God bless you. I hope we may meet again in this world; if not, in the next. —Your very affectionate friend,

 John Irving.

Saturday, “Portland,” off Greenock. 

My dear Malcolm,—We are now fairly settled on board. My brother took his leave of us last night, as we were expected to sail at three this morning; but owing to a thick fog and calm, we are still lying about two miles off Greenock. We shall sail to-day at high water. It is tantalising to think that you are just on the other side of these blue hills, but I can’t get at you. I have opened your parcel, and you could not have selected better books. I had a copy of the Commentary from my father; but on finding yours, I went to a bookseller, who exchanged for my father’s copy a copy of Milton, Johnson’s Dictionary, Campbell’s works, and I have kept your copy. I am very grateful for the letters to your cousin and Captain Hindmarsh. The latter I was agreeably surprised at. If I had had any idea that we should have been detained here so long, I would have come for an hour or two to Inveraray; but, on the whole, my dearest friend, although I have not had an opportunity of bidding farewell, still the remainder of our lives is so short a period that although it would have been very pleasant to take you by the hand and say good-bye, it is not of very great consequence. May we meet where we shall part no more, and where a friendship which began so early, and which has been of such incomparable use to me, may be sealed in an eternity of everlasting love and joy among the redeemed in heaven.

Now all my friends by blood have bid me farewell, my feelings turn with renewed force towards those whom God, in His mercy, inclined towards me when I was in such need of them, and whose steady and tried affection has been the greatest blessing of my life. I need not tell you I allude to Kingston and yourself. Do forgive me for all the unkindness and ingratitude with which I have repaid your unwearied attention and good-temper. I should have written to dear old Kingston, but I hope you will tell him about me in your next to him, and say I did not know where a letter would find him.

I feel I must confess to you a great degree of apprehension about my future proceedings, and a fear that I have undertaken what I am ill qualified to perform; and that, if I do not get on, I will regret leaving the Navy, towards the sea part of which I had a kind of liking. I also feel myself under a load of responsibility about my youngest brother, my father having by letter, since he left this, solemnly delivered the future care of him into my hands, and also funds for his behoof. And conscious of all my ignorance of business, and everything in fact but navigation and seamanship, I am in great fear that our affairs will be very badly managed.

As to the moral care of my brother I have fewer fears, as he seems for some months past to have taken a more serious consideration for the welfare of his soul. However, I trust in the kindness of God, which has already been so signally displayed towards me. 

Our ship is quite full of emigrants. In the poop we have ten ministers, besides my brother and me; in the second cabin fifteen schoolmasters; and in the steerage about 200 men, women, and children. Last night was our first night on board. All assembled at nine o’clock in the open part of the lower deck, and one of the ministers read and prayed, after which a psalm. The singing was extremely good, the schoolmasters in Scotland being mostly precentors, and a proper proportion of female voices. It sounded along the water very affectingly; it put me in mind of the Russian frigate at Napoli— at gun-fire, a beautiful hymn which I daresay you recollect. There is to be worship every day; and from ten ministers we shall have a variety of sermons on the Sundays. Before going to bed my brother and I read a little of the Scripture and your Commentary. Our cabin I have fitted up very nicely—a book-case, a folding-table, shelves, camp-stool, curtain at the door. I have almost come up to the luxury of Mr. Cooke, although I have not yet got a punkah. Our cabin is the second from aft on the starboard side under the poop, and is well lighted by a bull’s-eye over our table, at which I am now writing. I sent you a paper containing an account of a public breakfast we were at, given to Dr. Lang, who gave an account of his proceedings. I beg you will read the speeches made on the occasion.

I must now finish, or I will have to take it to Sydney.—Ever your very affectionate friend,

John Irving.

Back to John Irving’s Letters Overview