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Letter:
John Moodie to Susanna Moodie
Date:
September 07 1830
Collection:
Patrick Hamilton Ewing Collection of Moodie-Strickland-Vickers-Ewing Family Papers (National Library of Canada)
ID:
10

Scrabster
7th September 1830

My Dearest Susie:

On receiving your former letter I sat down to endeavour to cheer your heart after the suffering you had experienced but alas! my love, I had nothing to communicate regarding my prospects of a more encouraging nature than what you already knew, & on second thoughts I determined to delay writing for a few days until I could get an answer to a proposal I had made to Mr. Heddle,1 my brother in law, who is now in Orkney.

     Ah! my dearest girl how I grieved to hear of your illness. What would I have given to have been with you, to have supported your aching head in my arms. Every day of absence, every line I read of your dear letters augments my love and esteem for you and when I think that much of your sufferings have been occasioned by your affection for me, my heart would indeed be cold if I did not love you more than ever. I now indeed feel that life has no enjoyments for me while absent from you. What toils could I not endure what sacrifices could I not make to clasp my Susie once more to my heart, to press those dear lips to mine. My whole soul is absorbed in one sweet dream of you – you must and shall be mine. I cannot describe the anxiety I feel on your account – For God's sake my dearest, endeavour to calm your mind and despise the opinion of those who would reduce your best and most exalted feelings to their own standards. The most dangerous of all decievers are those who first decieve themselves. I believe Mr. R2 to be in many respects a good and an honest man, but you must excuse me dear Susan when I say that I consider him as a man whose mind is perverted by fanaticism. This is really the most charitable construction that I can put on his conduct. The passage you quoted from his letter when I first read it excited the most unqualified disgust and indignation, and I am most glad that you resented it as you did. You owed it to your own insulted dignity and wounded feelings, and I trust you will not again be troubled with his interference. Do not mistake me dearest, I feel but for your own happiness in the matter. As for myself individually tho' in [his] persecuting you I indeed feel wounded in the tenderest part – every other feeling for such people is absorbed in contempt. I believed that my Susie knows me too well to think that I would wish her to marry me if she thought she was violating her principles in doing so. Indeed much as I love you I could not urge it on such terms. I shall never quarrel with my own darling's enthusiasm but at the same time remember that in this world where the feeling mind has so much to suffer, a little indifference is also a most useful quality to enable us to pass thro' it in tranquility and make us independent of others who would poison our enjoyments every moment of our lives. But I am encroaching on Mr R's privilege of preaching – would to God that I could act up to my own doctrines. It would have saved me many a bitter pang. It is now time that I should tell you what I have been doing and mean to do. I have been trying to raise the wind which is no easy matter for a poor man. I am in want of a lever and a fulcrum, so that if old Archimedes was alive I doubt whether he would find it much easier to assist me in this respect, than to succeed in his own plan of raising the world. I have been recommended to endeavour to enter into a compromise with Mr. Threpland3, a gentleman who is indebted to our family in the sum of £3000, to avoid the expense and delay of a law suit should he contest the claim. I have in consequence requested my friend Mr. George Traill4 (who has just been elected M.P. for Orkney) to write to Mr. Threpland on the subject as the mutual friend of both parties to endeavour to get the business settled by compromise. I have also written to Mr Heddle to get him to join me in the application to Mr. Threpland, as he is interested in the matter thro' his wife. If he will do this it will be a matter of great importance to me as he is rich and can pursue his claim legally should Mr. Threpland refuse payment. I have not yet received an answer from Mr. Heddle but I shall see Traill before I close my letter and shall tell you what he says. At all events should Heddle not be inclined to assist me in this respect I shall try to see what I can do without him, and I feel that the happiness of both of us is so much involved in our speedy union that I am prepared to make any sacrifice if it can be brought about by this means. Should this means fail, my friend James Traill in London (brother of the M.P.) offered to assist me in getting a loan of £100 but I would rather avoid contracting any debts if I can help it. Should your Aunt relish the plan you mentioned in your last letter I have little doubt that we could manage to live as comfortably as either of us care about, provided we could get a cheap house, and I think we could contrive to make her more comfortable than she would be with strangers I am fond of old people particularly when they are intelligent and I really hope she would consent to your proposal. Our chief expense would then be the furniture we might require. I care for no luxuries, dearest, let me but press you to my heart and I will live upon those dear lips, and these worldly cares would be forgotten. My uncle is very much pleased with your letter and desires to be most kindly remembered to you. How shall I thank you my sweet Susie for your verses on such an unworthy subject. The last is beautiful in particular. Would to God that the hand that wrote them was now within mine, how would I resist writing in such sweet numbers what I so truly feel and would write had I language to express how I love you. You say Susie that you are working a watch guard for me of silk – could you not make me a hair one? You know from whose head it must be cut – But do not spoil your sweet locks for it. The story about the Duke of Clarence and my uncle is quoted correct and shows with many other early anecdotes of him that he is an excellent hearted man for all that has been said against him. You are too romantic, dear. I must tell you once for all my love, that I will not father any of your bairns unless I write at least one half of them and stand by while you write the other half. I am glad you have begun your larger work as it will amuse your mind. Only keep the characters true to nature and themselves and give them sufficient individuality and I am sure you will succeed. As it is a romance some allowance must be made for improbability of incidents, but you must look to the characters principally for shewing your skill and talents. If they must be high coloured let them be a[t] least naturally sensational. I feel so lost and out of my element when away from you, love that were I capable of writing anything tollerable, I could not do it now. I have long been intending to write a personal narrative of my residence and adventures at the Cape but I know not when I shall be able to settle myself to the task. I can do nothing in that way unless I am perfectly easy in my mind at the time. Your last letter dated 21st Augst, received yesterday – by the bye, dearest in both your last letters you wrote a good deal which might be read without opening the seal by simply squeezing the sides. There are many prying people here as well as at other places. And from the appearance of the letters I rather suspect someone had been looking into them. You must not write a word, dear, in your next on that part that can be seen from without. Remember me most kindly to your mother and your sisters and believe me ever My Dearest Susanna, Your faithful and affectionate

J.W.Dunbar Moodie

I have just learned that Lord Caithness is not to be one of the sixteen Peers and I think there is no chance of his being in Caithness soon. However it is not improbable that I shall be obliged to go to Edinburgh to look after the money I mentioned, when I shall most likely see him. My uncle Dunbar5 has every chance of succeeding to a property of £3000 a year if he follows up the matter. There is no doubt that he is the next heir of entail, and so well aware is the present possessor of the weakness of his title to the estate that he is selling every movable he can but he will have to refund. My uncle has also become entitled to take up two Baronetcies by the failure of heirs male. I think I told you that he is now the head of the family, so that much property may yet revert to his family on the failure of heirs. He is proceeding very quietly in getting his claims established, never mentioning the subject to any one. I have hardly seen any of my friends here yet but I intend to see my Grand Uncle Lord Duffus6 as soon as I can. Perhaps he may be able to be of use to me.

1st Oct.

My own ... My beloved Susie, I have just returned from Orkney and found my dearest's letter. Its contents did not at all surprise me. Ah! My dear, how anxious I feel regarding your health. I am most unhappy in being the cause (tho' innocent one) of suffering to one whom I so dearly love, but I thank God you did not know the cause of my silence. The truth is I have been given up for lost by my friends in Caithness for the last three weeks. My old craze for boat sailing siezed me one day and I went with a young man who had bought a small vessel from a cousin of mine to take a sail along the Caithness side of the Pentland Firth intending to be back in a few hours. The weather was delightful and the rocks of my native isle looked so grand and beautiful that I could not resist the temptation to pay them a visit and see my excellent friend the clergyman of Hoy. Many a time, Susie, I wish you had been with us to enjoy the stupendous views we had of the western rocks towering up to the height of a thousand feet from the ocean. It would have transported your mind beyond itself. I felt proud of having been nursed amid scenes exceeding in grandeur the wild imagination of the poet. Our vessel was about 24 feet in length and was only half decked, and our crew consisted of my companion, a young man of very little experience in boating and none of the Pentland Firth, and a little boy not worth his salt for all the work he could do. I of course played the part of steersman and pilot as being best acquainted with the coast and my companion managed the sails. We had just rounded the promontory of Rora-head when the wind began to blow with great violence with heavy squalls from the mountains. We took in our gaff-topsail which we had hitherto carried and proceed[ed] along the rocks towards Hoy mouth. Once or twice we were nearly laid on one broadside with the gusts from the mountains but we were obliged to carry sail to stem the tide and get in before dark. Unfortunately I had been misinformed regarding the time of low water. I had depended on having the flood tide to carry us in at Hoy mouth before dark. We were consequently not able to beat up against the ebb tide which was running out like a river between the islands (you are perhaps aware that the tides here run at the rate of from 3 to 9 miles an hour at this place). After being off and on for some time until the ebb tide was exhausted we were beating up between the islands of Hoy and Gremsay, the channel between which is very narrow from the outlying rocks on the Hoy side, when my companion took it into his head to knock up and contrary to my remonstrances took in the foresail without which (being sloop rigged) she would not come about, in consequence of which proceeding she twice missed stays and went ashore on the very worst part of the island of Gremsay. Fortunately there was not any sea from its being low water or we must inevitably have been provided for. My companion dropped the anchor, which was the last instance of presence of mind he showed on the occasion. While we were lying thumping on the rocks in this manner, I perceived a boat pulling up along the rocks towards us but from the darkness of the night they did not perceive us at first. On hailing them they came towards us when I recognized the voice of my friend the clergyman of Hoy, who happened to be returning from Stromness and was about to stand over to Hoy before they heard us call to them. The worthy minister was quite astonished at being saluted by name as he did not know my voice and did not know that I was in the country. The old man was rejoiced to see me and to have it in his power to assist us. His boat was crowded with men and women who all knew me. It would have done your heart good to see us shaking hands and hear the heartfelt welcomes I received from our poor islanders – kind hearted souls they completely reconciled me to my country which only a sudden, but irresistible impulse tempted me to revisit.

     We stowed the women into our little vessel to be out of the way while the boat proceeded to carry out a spare anchor which we fortunately had to endeavour to haul out the vessel from the rocks – in the meantime the kind clergyman went ashore to get more assistance. My companion remained quiet from being quite unprepared for difficulties which I was glad of as I could now do as I liked and was most anxious to get him out of the scrape his obstinacy and inexperience had got him into. I made the boat take up the anchor which was first dropped and carry it out to the whole length of the cable and before the other boat had come to our assistance I had the vessel hauled out quite clear of the rocks, and with the assistance of the head sails we got into Stromness. It blew at this time a perfect hurricane so that my friend the clergyman was obliged to remain all night in the island of Gremsay which is not a mile from his own house in Hoy. Next day we crossed over to Hoy where we have been detained for the last three weeks from a continuance of bad weather which prevents the post from leaving Orkney. It would have been of no use writing from there as we intended returning to Caithness as soon as it was possible to cross the Pentland Firth which you know is a very dangerous place in bad weather. As soon as we could we proceeded to Long-hope which was part of my father's property, where we were again detained for some days by bad winds. I cannot describe the kindness of the poor people. Some of them shed tears when they saw me, saying that 'they never expected to see one of our family again.' I could not pass a cottage without shaking hands with my old acquaintances. A poor old woman near a hundred years of age, who had been a servant of my grand fathers, sent her grand daughter to me with a pair of worsted stockings in a present. She was not able to come herself. I could not wound her feelings by offering her a return for this genuine instance of kindness, but went to see the poor woman and received her blessing. Ah! my Susie had you been with me this would indeed have been one of the happiest moments of my life. I left Orkney under painful circumstances and certainly did not expect to find such attachment remaining towards my family and myself. If my dear Susie lived here she would be adored by the poor people. I have been thinking if we could manage to live here for some time we might buy a little place which might be improved in value. The clergyman acting here is a man after my own heart and is beloved by the people. He visits them all in health and sickness. Having studied medicine he prescribes and gives them medicine gratis. You may therefore easily concieve his moral influence with his extensive flock. He is a son of the clergyman of Hoy. Hamilton is his name7 . I have not yet seen Mr. Heddle, but I am going today to see Mr. Traill when I expect to hear what he intends doing. If not I shall go to Orkney again in a few days. I have written this long story about my adventure in Orkney to amuse you and exculpate myself from the charge of neglect. My dearest do not conjure up imaginary ills to distress your mind. Do not fancy that I can love you less because you love me more. My happiness is yours and all I desire is to be in any situation that will make you happy. Write me what your aunt says to your proposal. I shall be glad to come into any arrangement you may make for I feel we cannot live but in each other arms. That cough you complain of allarms me – for Heavens sake my dearest girl take care of yourself and avoid catching cold. Before concluding my letter I shall have seen Traill who has been every day in Thurso inquiring about me since I left Caithness.

Castle-Hill 2nd October 1830 –

My dearest I am now with my friend Traill who will frank my letter for me. Heddle has recieved my letter but has not thought proper to answer it. I fear from what he tells me that there is but little chance of getting the money due to our family as the Bond is amissing and payment will doubtless be refused until it is produced. I intend going over to Orkney in a few days – Unless your aunt will agree to your proposal I fear we must wait for better times. However, my love I shall strain every nerve to find means of being united forever to my beloved Susie. It is not impossible that I may be able to get a house cheap in Orkney in the mean time, and living is not dear in this country. Farewell dearest love and believe me ever your sincere and affectionate,

J.W.Dunbar Moodie

Notes

1. Robert Heddle of Melsetter was married to Henrietta Moodie, John's sister.

2. John is referring to Pastor Andrew Ritchie.

3. In PHEC, no. 98, John Phin, an Edinburgh lawyer who corresponded on matters related to Melsetter, mentions a Sir Patrick Murray Threpland Rudge, the proprietor of Toftingall. Apparently the Moodie family had some claim against him, but it is not clear that this is the same Mr Threpland mentioned by John.

4. George Traill (1787–1871) was a member of the Ratter and Hobbister branch of the Traill family.

5. A Dunbar Pedigree, prepared by William Jaggard, does not list an Alexander Dunbar having entitlement to any traditional Dunbar properties; for example, Grangehill or Earnehill or Durn. Although Grangehill, the area from which John Moodie's mother came, had been acquired by Mark Dunbar, Baronet of Durris and Grangehill, in 1592, by the early eighteenth century it is not cited in connection with the main Dunbar inheritance. Presumably some Dunbars still lived in the area and claimed association with the main line. A Dunbar Pedigree: A Biographical Chart Tracing the Descent of the Dunbar Family, through Fourteen Successive Centuries, from the early English and Scottish Kings, prepared by William Jaggard, author of 'Shakespearean Bibliography' (n.p., n.d.).

6. Benjamin Dunbar, Lord Duffus, of Hempriggs Castle (1761–1843) See Complete Peerage, 4:498.

7. The Edinburgh Almanack, or Universal Scots Register for 1828 (Oliver and Boyd, 1827), 397, lists G. Hamilton as the incumbent for Graemsay in Cairston Presbytery, Synod of Orkney.

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