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

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