Monday, March 28, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (3)

Letter No. 3

August 12, 1852

To Father:

… You see there does exist an infatuated youth (to whom, in the language of advertisements, salary is no object) and I should principally dread the trouble which you might possibly experience on my account until I were again “settled.” Doubtless the prospect of living in London with a salary more than sufficient for my wants, and progressively increasing as years went on and I became more experienced and useful, is a very attractive one, but there are drawbacks which do not permits its realization at present, though I think it probable that at a future time it will be carried into effect; I do not, in point of fact, wish to return unless I can do so as a healthy and sane man, sitting down among you “clothed and in his ryghte mynde.” To repeat the old drama of a gent with a pound-a-sixpence-instead-of-a-shilling sort of countenance, going reluctantly to his office, and coming home perhaps to add to the gloom instead of the cheerfulness of the family circle, would not, I think, be a very agreeable state of things – with which I think you will probably concur.

As I have said on several occasions (until indeed you are probably wearied of “the oft repeated burden of my song”) my chief object is health. That obtained, I care little where I go to, or in what station of life I may exist for the next two or three years. At present I consider a healthy coolie to be a most enviable personage. Old Esculapius is the only deity in the Grecian list (as for Mercury and Apollo I laugh ‘em to scorn) to whom I direct my orisons, and I shall consider a year or two in the colonies, if they bring with them no advantage whatsoever, except the inestimable one of health, vigour, and strength of limb and muscle, and as a consequence of mind also, to be well and satisfactorily spent.

You are right in defining the New Zealand project as a wild and visionary one. But I have two strings to my bow, I have. Surely in the large workshop of Sydney, or the smaller ones of Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart town, Geenlong[i] or Launceston a bench may be found for the able individual now having the honor to address you. And, that able individual, ensconsing himself in some bread-and-cheese-giving situation, as a clerk to some house or other – living frugally, healthily, and usefully, will with the sagacity which characterizes him, institute enquiries into the condition and prospects of a livelihood afforded by Wellington, Auckland, Nelson, Canterbury, or other New Zealand towns.

Having ascertained beyond a doubt that the means of existence are to be there found by him, we shall see him one fine morning facing the deck of some noble conveyance, steering toward a crimson cloud lying land-like on the deep; the voyage concluded, we observe him set his foot on the shore of the New Canaan, the land flowing with cheap potatoes and unlimited porkers (vide my communication to Nanny some time ago) and disdaining to hand the port-manteaux to a swarthy Maori expectant of sixpence, trudge manfully towards a group of houses near the pebbled beach. Scene 2 shows him the occupant of some trading establishment, and alternately wielding the lever or the pen – deftly rolling bulky bales, swiftly shifting ponderous cases, nimbly stacking oat and corn sacks – and stowing all kinds of native and extraneous productions, with the activity of a practiced stevedore – at eve contemplate him at the door of his mansion, surrounded by English faces, among whom are children with ruddy cheeks. A book (no, no books in the name of goodness) conversing cheerfully in his native language, and in his hand a social pype… As the night draws on, you perceive him enter his ‘umble home. Without is heard the breeze, converting all the trees into wind harps: within, the crackling and spurting of hemlock in the flames; or of pine logs which yield glory to the walls and faces in the sitting room – these are his music and his pictures.

Some time after, we can show you scene 3. Are you ready? Pay here, gentlemen, if you please. Dress circle, Sir? Only one guinea. Thank you, Sir. Only one guinea to see this magnificent spectacle – dress circle – pit five shillings – gallery half a crown. Curtain incontinently rises. A noble scene it is, wanting nobler pens than mine to speak of it. I accordingly retire, and give place to the real magician. No empiric, no charlatan is he, but your true sorcerer and enchanter. “It is one of those days,” he commences, in accents serene and like unto a god, “when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when in these bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have heard of in the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. The air, a chartered libertine, is still.” The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. To have lived through all its sunny hours seems longevity enough. The tempered light of the wood is like a perpetual morning and is stimulating and heroic. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them and quit our life of solemn trifles. We think we might easily walk onward into the opening landscape, absorbed by new pictures and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, and the blue zenith seems to be the point where romance and reality meet. We pass into a delicate realm of sunset and moonlight, too bright almost for the spotted man to enter without noviciate and probation. We penetrate bodily this incredible beauty; we dip our hands in this painted element; our eyes are bathed in these lights and forms. A holiday, a villegiatura,[ii] a royal revel; the proudest, most heart-rejoicing festival that valour and beauty, power and taste, ever decked and enjoyed establishes on the instant. The sunset, the delicately emerging stars with their private and ineffable glances signify it and proffer it, and beauty breaks in everywhere. On the confines of the forest, and where the trees are thickest, we see a stalwart form attacking with brawny arms and gleaming hatcher, a monster pine, and at intervals shouting with a glorious vigour the inimitable song.

“Under the green wood tree, who loves to live with me,

And tune his merry note unto the wild birds’ throat,

Here shall he see no enemy,” etc.

We contemplate for some moments this admirable individual. Involuntarily we exclaim, as did glorious Jack Dryden of the hero of one of his stunning epics – “See how he shines in arms, and suns the field.” Arms being the hatchet aforesaid, a big pickaxe, and a spade or two “girt on his ample thigh.”

We approach and confabulate with the gent on this wise – suddenly inspired by the grandeur and loftiness of the scene to speak in lofty verse (blank, very blank) not dreaming that such a Titan could heed the common forms of diction, or speak in a strain a witless high than “Homer’s speech divine;”

“Sir, we greet you well, may there be

(if that were possible) more power unto your elbow.

We, as you see are strangers, and

Walking among these noble woods, our devious steps

Have led us to this place where we have gladly met

With one who seems its fit and proper occupant

For not without a purpose have we come

From yonder group of houses near the shore

Of that majestic lake whose placid flood

Sweeps on, scarce conscious of the lazy breeze

Which hardly serves to fill the tiny sails

Now idly hoisted on its glassy face.

We seek a dweller in these distant wilds.

Lonely his father’s name. A puny gent he was

When erst we knew him, and on his sickly form

Were stamped the seals of misery and pain,

And, ere his proper time, decrepitude

With palsied hand had marked him for her own.

Him we would see again – would gladly know

How fareth he – whether he lives or hath departed hence

Unto the dark and shadowy resting place

Whence there is no return. Haply the cove

May unto you be known. If so we should rejoice

If straightway you would shy such knowledge up

As would direct us to him.”

(Whereat the giant with a mighty laugh, laugh of the early gods,

Shaking the hills with resonant peal on peal,

In a great mellow voice, which on the ear

Fell like the roar of distant cataract

And the reverberate thunder, made answer thus:)

“That vormly sickly gent were ol Nick be by neam

Arty my nature is. What’er it was afore.

Friends I be glad to see yer domd if a beant’…

Give us some on yer’ands. That’s arty now.

Dnag it yer needn’t squeal. Call that a hand?

Lord love your gents a never meant to urt yer.

‘Old on a bit while I picks up this log.

And when we reach the house a will about

My life in these here wildest pearts

A tale unfold over a drop of beer.”

You will please excuse the nonsense perpetrated above. I think the Australian project not on the whole an ill-considered one, and likely to prove beneficial to me. I am glad that my intention of, at some time or other, proceeding in that direction was communicated to my present employers before the gold mania developed itself, so that they cannot imagine that I am running after el dorados. It is possible that the effect of the immense crowd now rushing to Australia may be to render employment more difficult of attainment a year or so hence, but I hope that I shall nevertheless find something to do, and doubtless an impetus will be given to affairs in the neighbouring islands of New Zealand. He dicho. I have spoken – and you will not be annouyed, I hope, at my having written so much, so foolishly, and so little to the purpose.

Somos hoy a 13 de agosto de 1852[iii] as the Spaniards say when making additions to a letter on a different date. I am now enabled to acknowledge the receipt of the parcel sent by Mrs Eaton, and of yours and Henry’s and Harriet’s letters. For your kind letter I am very much obliged indeed, and I have duly deliberated over, and weighed all that you say. I have no letter from home by the June mail which arrived a few days ago, but presume that the wedding came off with immense éclat and I hope the “young people” will be happy. Respecting the delicate hint which you gave me concerning cadeaux (gifts) it will be duly attended to, though just now what I could do in that way would be too insignificant to be acceptable. I’m an imperial gent, I am, and when I take to giving gifts they must be imperial ones though they arrive many days after the fair.

I am much pleased with the two wood engravings. Nanny appears to be a dabstress at the art, and as for Henry, I should judge from the specimen you send me that he’s equal to engraving Turner’s or anybody else’s most difficult pictures. I am sorry I cannot write to him by this opportunity, for his jolly letter has given me any quantity of gratification. But there shall be answers from this hand and that right quickly. Please communicate to Harriet the fact that for her well written and interesting letter I owe her many thanks, and that by the next mail I shall do my best to repay her in like kind. I hope that you have long ago heard satisfactory news of Robert and that the yellow fever kept itself away from the “Duchess of Leinster.” The “Eliza Bell,” it is to hope, will make up before long the expense incurred in repairing her. I think that the shipping interest will soon be much benefited taking into consideration the amount of tonnage employed to Australia and the new sources of commerce which are being opened up.

You ask about my board and lodging. I thought I had mentioned that I live with Messrs. Ker, and that $50 per month are deducted from my salary. I notice what you say about Lizzie and the young individuals Jack and Bob, of whom I am glad to hear such promising accounts.

In the ship “Marion” (Capn. Bilton, for Liverpool) I sent a piña dress for Mrs. Eaton, and a piña handkerchief for Mrs. Peter Loney with my best regards. There was also I think a cuff or two for somebody or other. By the “Beethoven” to sail in a day or two, I shall probably send a dress which I had bought some time ago for Mary, and another cuff or two for someone, though there is such a bother at home with the Customs that I don’t think troubling Francis James with them. Nanny, I observe, was away on a festive expedition and did not write in consequence, which I have no doubt she felt to be a great respite, for though so kind as to write so frequently, it must be a great drag on her time and patience per mensum. I believe I must now conclude this precious production. If in what I have written there appears anything which you do not approve, you must be indulgent to a maniacal individual.

We English are said not be a demonstrative people, and the Loneys do not I think much belie the national characteristic in that respect; therefore, I will say nothing about my gratitude to you for what you have done for me and the interest you take in my well-being, but merely subscribe myself, with love to all,

Your affectionate son,


[i] Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka)

[ii] A village festival

[iii] Today is August 13, 1852

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (2)

Letter No. 2


To Nanny:

“Above all there is little physical suffering where there are neither hot summers nor cold winters,” etc., etc., and further on – “In New Zealand little expense is incurred for clothing, and literally none for the Doctor, the only result being that the number of rosy-cheeked urchins increases with astounding rapidity, but where potatoes are almost a weed, and pork is 2d. a pound, who can complain of the number of brats, particularly as they begin to earn a livelihood almost as soon as they can walk. In the towns a labouring man can earn from 3/6 to 7/6 a day, which is enormous when the cheapness of provisions and the few necessary expenses are taken into consideration. While the husband is so well employed, the wife need not be idle, as in the smaller settlements, or at the outskirts of the larger ones, there is always abundant pasturage for cows, so that she may add butter, cheese and milk to her stores.”

Don’t you see yourself up to yer elbows in butter, cheese and milk, pounding, churning, moulding, forming with creative power, a quantity of things eatable, drinkable, saleable and useable? If you don’t, then you’re lost to every proper and Christian feeling, and no ray of enthusiastic ardour lights up your callous heart – look at this and burst into a ipp-ipp-ipp-ooray.

All English vegetables and fruits grow exceedingly well, and require but little looking after as there are no frosts, blight, or snails of any kynde. You’ve ip-ip-ipped, haven’t you, and likewise hurrayed? Blow it y’know, where tatters is almost a weed, and pork is 2d. things must be roaringly jolly, Hay? Look at here – at times the prospect of my speedy emancipation puts me into a tearing state of spirits which gets a tearinger and a tearinger as the time comes swiftly on. It may be said in a summary way that here’s an individual commonly known as N. Loney. Him, after a long series spent, under protest, mostly on tops of elevated stools, we find beginning of a sudden, with much muttering and intelligible growling, to put his hitherto silent protests into palpable, though strangely incoherent and ill-chosen words – indications you might have previously gathered from him that he had all along felt within him, germs of a revolutionary nature. Nay, from sundry half-stifled exclamations uttered at distant intervals, an intelligent observer might have seen that he had long since ceased to be satisfied, indeed had become far otherwise than satisfied with the state of things with which he found himself mixed up and carried along…

I suppose by this time Mary has become Mrs. May, and hope that both she and M. will be as happy as the prince and princess at the conclusion of a fairy tale.

There are many things in your letter requiring special notice and remark. But that notice, and those remarks I am not now in a position to enunciate. I am much interested in the wood-engraving tendencies of Henry and yourself, and must beg of you to let me know how they get on and succeed. On the subject of writing a small paper anent Manila, I shall address you at future periods. Please tell Mother that the answer to her letter which I have so inexcusably and unaccountably neglected, is coming on, and has not yet made its appearance because it is to be a model one, and will require much deliberation. I feel it to be a sort of bounden duty to finish this page, but sleepiness is potent and I feel myself hurried swiftly bedwards. The shrine of Terpsichore is deserted now and dark, and I hear the shuffling feet of votaries hasting homeward. Even the little lamps in the street which I see through the open window have one by one gone sputteringly out. My own lamp sends a mellow radiance across the way – would there were some mental ray to illuminate the life of this here gent. But there ain’t. No doubt the returning revelers wonder who that youth whose noble head is probably thrown into strong relief can possibly be. I hear a voice exclaim, “Dolores, vamos, que es tiempo de retirarnos.”[i] I too exclaim, “Si tiempo es de retirarnos”[ii] and rapidly dive into bed. With the image of a cove rising up with a sigh, extinguishing a lamp suspended from the ceiling, I leave you, and with love to Mother, Lizzie, Molly and all at home and friends who may be desirous of a quantity of affection from distant lands, I remain, my dear Nanny

Your very affectionate brother,


[i] “Let’s go, Dolores, it’s time to go home.”

[ii] “Yes, it’s time to go home.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Letters of Nicholas Loney (1)

Letter No. 1


To Mr. MacTaggart:

This (Manila) is not at all a bad place to live in, and to a fellow with health and spirits and fond of amusement it would be quite the reverse. It is a large place containing some 20,000 inhabitants. Beyond the more regular and stone-built part of the town, an endless amount of nipa (palm leaf) houses stretch away into the distance, each with its little Indian occupants, its pig, its small naked urchins, its little prints of different saintly personages, its small effigy of Our Saviour or the Virgin Mary, its little crop of vegetables, its indispensable ladder for purposes of ascent or descent, and its equally indispensable pool of dirt beneath the whole.

The street in which we live, the Escolta, is, after the Rosario, about the best in the place. In it are the best of the Chinese shops which display an ample store of articles of the Central Flowery Land, with goods of the kind most adapted to the consumption of the European population. The Rosario again contains an almost entirely British manufactured goods in the shape of gaudy handkerchiefs, prints, sayas, cambayas,[i] trouserings, muslins, cards and the like; hoc genus omne[ii] are prominently displayed both inside and outside the doors of the celestial establishments underneath the shade of the capricious awnings (sustained by light iron poles) the size cut, colour and duration of which are regulated by government ordinance, and which keep the pavement eventually cool and shaded during the whole of the day.

Here flock Indians of various colours, sorts, and sizes, from a fine clear olive yellow, to a dark and dirty brown (the majority) others again of attractions sufficient to render the place dangerous…..

Beneath this long arcade sit groups of damsels each with her basket of piña or jusi (fabrics made of pineapple fiber) busily employed with needle and thread, an occupation which they occasionally interrupt to gaze upon you with great bead-like inviting eyes as you pass… Let us in imagination cross together the fine stone bridge which connects the extra-muros or suburbs of Manila on the Binondo side of the Pasig with the city itself. Observe the water of the fine river rushing through the massive archways. Look at the bancas[iii] large and small which rush swiftly by, propelled by vigorous strokes of rummy-looking oars. See those clumsy cascos or lighters (evidently built on the lines of Adam’s first attempt at fabricating cargo boats on the Euphrates) creeping slowly along, instigated by long poles of thick bamboo. Do you see those provincial crafts of queer shapes and dimensions, whose names “Encarnacion,” “Santa Lucia,” “San Jose,” etc. denote that you are in a land where Roman Catholicism flourishes and rears its ancient head? Behold lower down the small forest of masts appertaining to vessels of larger size which have entered the river to lay up for a while for repair or in low water to unload. You ask the nature of that green substance with which the river is covered here and there, and which comes down from the lake in vast quantities and gathers into little fields and banks where the current does not come. That is a peculiar plant called the “quiapo”[iv] weed which, at times though so fair and pleasant to look upon, assails one’s olfactory organ in an unpleasing manner.

That not ignoble, looking-building by the river side is the Customs House, a horrid Upas tree which cramps the custom of the Port, and beneath whose deadly influence Enterprise grows faint and languid , and Energy itself grows listless and benumbed… at some future time we will conduct you there and show you the mode of getting things through, and instruct you in the signings and countersignings, the runnings up and waitings cap in hand, the manifestings, and the cocketings and formulas….

The little box opposite is the Guard House of the Captaincy of the Port, and near it lie the faluas which visit every vessel which arrives, and supply it with Customs officers, and guard the river from the entrance of contraband goods. Yonder is the suspension bridge, a light airy looking structure which sets the river off well. That tall pillar surmounted by a yellow globe and ornamented with gold dolphins, is erected to the discoverer of the strait which bears his name – “Quae nunc Magellan ab illo dicitur.” It has the plain inscription – “To Hernando Magellan.”

We have now arrived at the end of the bridge,[v] but we have to stop before we enter the archway which terminates it, by command of the sentry, who perceives five to six carriages coming up the other way, and as there is – absurdly enough – only room for one file to pass at a time, we must wait awhile, which gives you leisure to examine the two Chinese lions above the gate, each bearing shields with an inscription commencing “In the reign of King Charles….” On your left you have the calzada with its row of almond trees, where in the cool of the afternoon any quantity of carriages career about with Dons, Doñas and Señoritas…

On your right is a small drawbridge, and a road leading to a portcullised gate, and a fierce-looking sentry. Then we come to another and bigger portcullis, and fiercer and bigger-looking sentries. We take a rapid survey of the moat with its stagnant water, rank weeds and wavy grass, encounter the weary glance of the officer on guard, progress through it, and enter the City.

A curious-looking place, isn’t it? Though there is nothing very striking about it. Up long narrow streets we go, with tall house on either side apparently sealed up with squares of oyster shells.[vi] Scarcely a human being to be seen, though one or two shadows are discovered flitting about like unearthly things – dodging the sun, and diving into mysterious portals whence they issue not nor are any more seen. Here and there is an apothecary’s shop, or a place for selling wines and refreshments. In the portals of some of the best houses are little strands of siri and beechnuts with an accompaniment of three nondescript fruits, five or six mangoes and a bunch of plantains. At intervals a sign such as:

“Fonda de los Dos Hermanos”[vii]

“Tienda del Chino Lim Chai. Zapatero superior”[viii]

“Aqui se venden billetes de la Loteria” and so on.[ix]

There you see a big church, and there is another, and round the corner a third. You see those skulls exposed in a sort of framework outside some of them, and underneath, dreadful representations of Ye Unpleasant Place, with sketches of unhappy-looking people, men women, and children, Kings, Bishops and monks, struggling desperately in bright red flames? That’s to inspire Ye Vulgar with a proper dread of what will happen to them if they don’t attend properly to their religious duties…

That old, grey, lichen-covered building is a convent, and you will see more of them about. Through more silent streets, past more sacred edifices, and we reach the Palace square. That’s where my friend the Marquess de la Solana lives, moves and has his being. It isn’t a very imposing-looking building, neither so big as the new House of Parliament nor so splendid as St. Peter’s, but as Mercutio remarked when Tybalt ran him through the body – “Gad, twill serve, Sir.”

In the middle of the square is a statue of King Charles the something or other with a legend stating that he was the first man to introduce into the Philippines a health measure, a man whom the ancient Greeks would have deified, and who would have been canonized in the Middle Ages. I allude, Sir, to smallpox vaccination and the admirable Jenner.

Nearing the bridge again on our return, is the shell of a large and fine old church, burnt it is said, during the time of the occupation of the place by our irreverent countrymen, and where they used to stable their horses. You enter, and see great beams lying prostate in wild confusion, odd bits of carving, trunks of apostolic figures, and niches in the wall now tenantless of their former saintly occupants. Above, the deep blue azure sky in a frame of grey old stone and weeds, which if you had read them, remind you of the following lines from “The Roman” [x]relative to the Coliseum, (though if you haven’t read ‘em, why of course they don’t naturally enough, occur to you!):

“… When the clouds

Dressed every myrtle on the walls in mourning

With calm prerogative the eternal pile

Impassive shone with the Unearthly light

Of Immortality. When conquering suns

Triumphed in Jubilant earth, it stood out dark

With thoughts of ages: like some mighty captive

Upon his deathbed in a Christian land

And lying through the Chant of Psalm and Creed,

Unshriven and stern, with peace upon his brow,

And on his lips strange gods…”


[i] Sayas are skirts and cambayas blouses that form part of the native female attire.

[ii] All of this sort

[iii] Bancas are dug-out canoes and cascos are larger wooden flat-bottomed craft used to transport heavier cargoes.

[iv] The present form of water lilies that clog inland waterways.

[v] The old Puente de España, located approximately where the Jones Bridge has been built.

[vi] Latticed oyster shells used as glass in windows.

[vii] The Two Brothers Inn.

[viii] Store of Lim Chai, the best Chinese shoemaker.

[ix] Lottery tickets sold here.

[x] A dramatic poem by Sydney Dobell (1824-1874).