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Letter:
John Moodie to Susanna Moodie
Date:
August 19 1830
Collection:
Patrick Hamilton Ewing Collection of Moodie-Strickland-Vickers-Ewing Family Papers (National Library of Canada)
ID:
9

Scrabster1
19th August 1830

My Dearest Susanna

I had expected to hear from you soon after my arrival here, and therefore delayed writing for a few days, but I know my Susie will be anxious to have some account of my voyage which was happily terminated on last Saturday being two weeks from the day we sailed from Gravesend. It would not make a bad article to send to some of the periodicals were I capable of doing justice to all the little incidents in the course of it. A fishing smack is I believe the most uncomfortable conveyance in existence and tho' I am by no means particular as to my comforts and knew them of old yet I confess I felt my landing like a release from the pains of Purgatory. But I am so fond of adventures that I was by no means without my enjoyments, particularly in observing the manners and habits of my messmates, for all hands met together at meals. We had a fair wind as far as the Firth of Forth which we reached after two days sail, and enjoyed a fine view of the coast most of the way with many a town and fine old castle. But I could hardly distinguish the coast of Suffolk from the distance, and a haze which veiled from my anxious view the spot which is dearest to my heart – perhaps my dear girl was walking on the beach – that vile mist!– I felt as if my heart could have leaped ashore and taken up its abode with yours for ever – Ah! would to God this wretched corporeal frame which occasions me so much suffering were as free and unsubstantial as my Spirit: – how delighted and swiftly would it fly to the arms of my beloved Susie – to bask in her sunny smiles what countless kisses would I imprint on her dear lips – kind heaven which has often preserved me from danger and misery give me only her I love; I ask no more for this world to make me happy! Believe me you are indeed with me when I lie down and when I rise my thoughts are still with you – you still are present in my dreams with your smiles and the looks you wore when first I loved you and your eyes still rest on me with that expression which spoke to my heart that you loved again. Alas my dearest, how long shall my arms on awaking from some sweet dream of you return empty to my breast. My kind uncle remains as he ever did to take an affectionate interest in all my concerns and approves of my choice and would I am persuaded assist us if he could, but he is not a man to talk of what he would do. I have seen but few of my old friends or connections as yet. My kind friend Lord Caithness2 is expected north soon; when he arrives I shall see him and if he can be of any service to me I know he will spare no trouble to forward my views – he is a particular friend of the kings and will it is thought be one of the Sixteen Scotch Peers. The climate here is by no means agreeable and the season particularly cold. I can hardly write, my fingers are half frozen as you will perceive by this miserable scrawl which you must decipher as you best can. In going north we were detained for more than a week at Fort George3 in the Murray Firth where I had first joined the 21st regt. We anchored between the walls and the beautiful village of Rosemartney. I can hardly describe my feelings in thus unexpectedly revisiting the scene of the happiest part of my life – the country was much improved green fields where formerly were extensive mosses – so painful were my sensations that I could not for two days summon resolution to land. I thought on my poor comrades then bouyant with youth and spirits nine-tenths of whom are now under the sod. I cried like a child when I saw the furze and tufts of Scotch fir where I had sported with my companions. I saw the well known cottage where she dwelt who to my boyish ideas was all perfection, who first taught me to sigh. What a melancholy history is that of [a] Seventeen year [old] soldier. A.R.d I have alluded to in my account [of the camp]ai[g]n in Holland – her parents compelled her to marry when scarce Sixteen to a veteran officer of fifty who was [and] he is now Fort Major of Fort George – shortly after the marriage her father who had gone to dine with a friend in the Fort was found dead not a hundred yards from his own cottage which death prevented him from reaching. I went to see Mrs. R. who is a melancholy widow of sixty, and next called to surprise A.R. what a change – scarcely thirty years of age, from a lovely girl she has become a tall spare figure. I gathered her history by half sentences from her sister who walked over with me – she has lost her health and has four children – sorrow was painted in her face – my heart bled for her – she saw it, and I saw the tear rise in her eye but she checked the feeling and attempted to look cheerful but it would not do – I soon took my leave of her – thank God I did [not] see her husband as I could hardly have been civil to a man who cou[ld ta]ke a women's hand [on] the terms he received A's. Now my dearest [Susie] you will say 'what is all this to me entertaining me with his first love' but I never told that love ever to her who was the object of my first tears – & I know you will forgive my feeling keenly for an unhappy girl who deserved a better fate, and you know that I can feel as warmly towards yourself as I ever did to another. You see my dearest girl that I can have no concealment with you. I am impatient to hear from you, and do pour out your heart as freely as I do mine to you, let us drink from the same cup – we have both tasted unhappiness and now let our spirits be mingled for we must endeavour to make up for what we have already suffered by the happiness we expect to enjoy in each others arms. And now farewell my beloved Susie. May God bless you with health and comfort you in this vale of tears – continue to love me as I believe you do at present and let us trust in God to make us both happy in this world if it is his will – & I remain, My Dearest Susanna

yours ever Affectionately
J.W. Dunbar Moodie

PS Mrs. Pringle desires me to tell you that they could not manage to write you before leaving London being so much occupied with preparations for their departure. They were to [leave the] day after I left London

J.W.D.M.

I believe you already have my direction. If not, direct to J.W. Dunbar Moodie Esqr Scrabster, Thurso Caithness, W.B.

I have begun to write an account of my voyage which if I can make it readable I shall send to some friend in London to get something for it if possible – my dear Susie you must do me a little favor, if you are in the humour of painting5 will you send me one of your pretty little birds done in your best stile, for the Chief of the Dunbar's my dear Uncle, which will gratify him exceedingly. You can paint it perhaps on a part of your letter so that it may be cut out. I have been reading a history of the Dunbars which is full of romance and instances of heroism particularly of the celebrated defence of the castle of Dunbar by Black Agnes6 the Countess of Dunbar against the English army – it is a fine subject for a tale. I am going to make extracts from a box full of charters and old letters as old some of them as the 14th century. What a treat to an antiquarian! Farewell my Susie

J.W.D.M.

Notes

1. The site of an anchorage under high cliffs on the western part of the interior of Thurso Bay on the north coast of Caithnesshire.

2. John Anstruther, on the deaths of his mother, Grizzel-Maria Thomson, daughter of Henry St Clair, and his grand uncle, Colonel James Paterson St Clair, became heir-general of the Earls of Orkney and Lords Sinclair. Sinclair was the name of the Caithness lords. It was presumably expected that he would become one of the sixteen Scottish peers in the British House of Lords, the representation set by the Act of Union in 1707. The sixteen peers were chosen by the other lords in open election. See Sir Bernard Burke, A Genealogical History of the Dormant, Abenant, Forfieted and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. 1987).

3. On the Moray Firth in County Nairn, Parish of Ardersier. Its building commenced in 1748 on a site at which 'the ramparts' on three sides 'rise almost out of the sea.' The fort was capable of housing three thousand men, and it included 'elegant accommodation for the Governor and other officers.' See A Survey of the Province of Moray, Historical, Geographical and Political (Aberdeen: Isaac Forsyth 1798); and The Topographical, Statistical, and Historical Gazeteer of Scotland, 2 vols (Edinburgh: A. Fullerton & Co. 1848) 1: 614.

4. In 1814 John's regiment, the Royal North British Fusiliers, had been stationed at Fort George and embarked from it to begin 'foreign service' in Holland. John writes of that embarkation and of the girl he left behind at the beginning of his 'Narrative of the Campaign in Holland in 1814, with Details of the Attack on Bergen-Op-Zoom': As for the officers, most of us being young fellows, and single, we had little to damp our joy at going on foreign service. For my own part, I confess I felt some tender regrets in parting with a fair damsel in the neighbourhood, with whom I was not a little smitten, but I was not of an age to take these matters long to heart, being scarcely sixteen at the time. Poor A— R— has since been consigned, by a calculating mother, to an old officer, who had nearly lost his sight, but accumulated a few thousand pounds in the West Indies (United Service Journal and Naval and Military Magazine [1830], Part 2, 385).

5. See LOL, 16, 198–9.

6. Actually the Countess of March, who, in the absence of her husband, led the defence of Dunbar Castle against the English army during a siege of nineteen weeks, from late 1337 through the early part of 1338. According to one verse account of the defence, the castle was seated on a promontory projecting into the sea and connected to the mainland by a bridge of rock. See Black Agnes; or, the Defence of Dunbar (London: F.C. and J. Rivington 1804).

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