Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1844/06/01)

 H.M.S. “Volage,”
Bantry, June 1, 1844.

The sight of your well-known handwriting did my eyes no small good this evening. Do not suppose that I make the slightest allusion to my seeing it seldom. The fact is I am really surprised, when I think on it, to hear from you at all. It is now such a long time since we parted, that it is quite contrary to all the known effects of time and absence, to suppose that much correspondence would pass between us. The more so, as you are living among people who are all strange to me, and occupied with pursuits quite out of my way; and I also similarly situated in respect to you. As you refer to our old castle-buildings which gave us so much amusement during our many nightly pacings of the weary deck,—I often think of them, when I fancy to myself you turned country-gentleman, and settled on shore. Ignorant in the extreme as we were (I ought to speak for myself however) of life in all its ways, excepting a mid’s berth, I am no way surprised to learn that your country abode cannot realise our delightful conceptions; but I daresay you forget half of them. I do at all events. I remembered them well when I used to be trimming my lonely fire of a winter’s evening in Australia; but I wanted only your dear individual self to fill up the scene, and we should many a time have had to the life our half-savage features of domestic happiness acted over, with everything around in unison with our airy plantations of old. As it was, solitude was none of the parts thereof, so I in disgust, after four years’ trial, walked the deck again. However, I learned that there are “many things in a farmer’s life not dreamt of in our philosophy.” But your farmer’s life, I daresay, bears no resemblance to my bush experience, and I doubt not you are enjoying yourself very much.

You ask me about our doings. Of these I can tell you very little, as we have been generally doing nothing. We have been backwards and forwards between Bantry Bay and Cove of Cork for the last six months. We were a month at Plymouth at Christmas. We have been here for some time back; and as the ship’s time expires next month, we expect soon after that to be paid off. For some time I have been trying to get appointed to the “Excellent” gunnery ship at Portsmouth. I have great hopes of succeeding. If so, I shall be there upwards of a year, during which I am most sanguine of seeing you. Should I not get appointed to the “Excellent” previous to this ship being paid off, immediately on that event I shall take a run down to Scotland and be there on half-pay until I get some appointment. At all events, it is unlikely I should go abroad without seeing you. Last August, if I had not been suddenly sent to this ship, I should have paid you a visit at Burnfoot. But, my dear fellow, it will not be my fault if I do not see you, if I get a chance at all. You are my earliest friend. I never knew the meaning of the word until I met you, and I have met no one since to whom I could feel so much attached; and there is little in this world would give me so much real hearty pleasure as giving you a squeeze of the hand. I had a letter last week from our mutual friend, dear old Kingston. He is at Cromer for the vacation. The kind, honest old fellow: he heard that I had a cousin— a youth of some seventeen or eighteen years—going next term to Cambridge; and he writes to me offering to chaperone the lad, and says he will give him a lift. He seems in good spirits. He mentions his having got at his last examination the second prize. He seems delighted with the sea-side. What a steady, persevering honest fellow he is! I shall write you, without fail, should I get appointed to the “Excellent,” or if this ship should be ordered to England to be paid off. These are the only changes likely to occur affecting my movements.

My time is spent in the routine of duty appertaining to a lieutenant of a 26-gun ship, varied by walks on shore and returning the calls of the residents in the neighbourhood, who are almost oppressive in their hospitality. It is hard to compose a letter out of such materials, so excuse this composition.—From your affectionate,

John Irving.

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