|Henderson Wightman, Malta to Sister, Nancy, [Alabama?].
|Irish Emigration Database
|T 1475/1 p.14: Copied by Permission of Miss A. McKisack, 9, Mount Pleasant, Belfast.
|The Public Record Office, Northern Ireland.
|Document added by JM 27:08:1993.
|Malta. 11th. July 1816
My dear Nancy,
Under the influence of a burning sun and almost boiled to a cinder,
I can scarcely collect resolution enough to enter on a letter. I think
I have never experienced anything equal to the heat of this place.The chief
cause why strangers feel it so much is that the difference is not so great
here between the heat of the night and that of the day, as it in other
parts. At Naples and Palermo, it is also very intense, but there is one less
affected by it-at least I find it so. This island is a complete mass of
rock from which the rays of the sun are darting at every point,and this rock
being of a white colour such a glare is emitted that during the day about
noon, the eyes can scarely support it. In consequence of this a great number
of the Maltese become blind at an early period of life. Were I obliged to
be much abroad I would have a pair of green (curtains) over my
previous luminaries, the brightness of which however was lost many years
beyond my recollection; but fortunately my occupation in the middle of the
day is usually within doors. A little before dusk I venture to creep out
like the owl,and saunter about, sometimes with a friend on the parade,
sometimes solo around the bastions and outside the gate of the Floriana
gardens.Instead of white rock how much more refreshing a little verdure
would be to the eyesight, but this is a novelty which only presents itself
in the shape of a curosity [curiosity?] and therefore not to be looked for on
all sides. As to amusements I can tell you nothing about them, for in fact I
have resolved to detach my mind from them as much as possible. The opera
I can't describe, for I have never been there yet - as to dances, I have'nt
performed a single step in any figure since my arrival and tea and card
parties are things I am an utter stranger to, for I dont know a single
family in the place. Indeed I believe it is much better so, for it is
tiresome visiting persons in whom one feels no interest. The society
here is not the most desirable as far as I understand. It consists
chiefly of merchants most of whom here have families, and some holding
government situations in the Island, but it is such a society as may be
expected in a garrison where tittle tattle prevails the tongue of slander
is ever on the move, and every step a person takes gives birth to a thousand
whispers and endless surmise. If the cup of social intercourse be thus
soured and empoverished [impoverished?] without any sparkling ingredient to
give it brightness it is not worth tasting. You will be doubtless led to
exclaim what a changed society after the conversazione and gaiety of Genoa.
It is so I must confess and yet a pleasing change in one sense, for after
having been so much engaged in company I may now sit down at leisure with
Jaques, and moralize the spectacle. I am disposed to think that it is all so
much nonsense and folly, and that a man may live more wisely by living more
with his own thoughts. Solitude you see has its charms for me, but you must
not suppose that I am become a misanthrope. A large fly has just now settled
on my brow and I brush it off gently with my hand, but you must not suppose
that I hate the fly - no on the contrary I wish it to enjoy itself as much
as possible though I dislike being annoyed or incommoded by it. So it is
with the society of a military garrison which is little better than an
assembly of flies shut up in a small room buzzing about wheeling around each
other circles and as they pass tearing off a piece of each other's wings
through more sport or contention. The only society which can be called such
here is English - as for the Maltese they scarcely ever mix with us being
a people extremely reserved and tenacious of their own customs. To judge
of English society abroad you must not suppose it the same as at home - quite
otherwise. An English family when transplanted to foreign soil shoots
out nothing but sprouts of affectation and its natural honest and good
qualities are completely warped, and this you will believe when you consider
that most of these who come abroad are adventurers, and discontented with
themselves, and consequently with all around them. For this reason I am
persuaded the worst Italian society or that of whatever place one may be
in is less insipid and more palatable than that of the English.
Elegy on the death of Mrs. Cumming.
Sad was the Bark across the Atlantic borne
In plaintive dirges sighed the Western Gale,
Which bade the flood of weeping friendship mourn,
The tidings Mary, of thy hapless tale.
Alas! whoever thy matcheless worth had known
But would its loss thus premature deplore
What breat [breast?] ungirt [ungird?] with adamantine zone,
Would not be bleeding in its inmost core?
What ear, once by the lively converse blest,
Which from the tidings would not shrink away,
What eye, that saw thee in youths roseate vest,
Would not embalm with tears thy lifeless clay?
Though in thy native soil to thee denied
Mid friends beloved to seal thy early doom
Although Columbia's zephyrs o'er thee glide
And strangers footsteps pass the unknown tomb,
Yet be thy Requiem sung by one who trode
With thee thy darling haunts-thy native bowers
When lightly tripping o'er the verdant sod
In bloom of youth you plucked its sweetest flowers.
Nor may it ought displease thy sainted shade
Which from these scenes its heavenward flight has sped
If friendship, in the muse's garb arrayed
Strew flowers of Cypress o'er thy earthly bed
No none of Erin's daughters ever owned
A soul more pure, with brighter virtures fraught
Beaming in looks, where mingling sat enthroned
The dew of feeling and the ray of thought,
How every act-creative of delight
Showed as therein, some Grace its magic wore
Her heart - an open temple where the light
could natures image silently adore.
Forth from that elegant and cultured mind
How did intelligence its radiance shoot
Within that bosom sympathizing - kind
Each soft affection intertwined its root.
Such were the virtues which with artless charm
Did her parental mansion so illume
Diffusing Joy - Ah! how could Fate e'er harm
And blast a flower that breathed such sweet perfume.
And from that home when torn with struggling pain
New duties led her o'er the Atlantic tide
Her heart no wide extent of hillowy main
Could e'er a moment from its friends divide.
To them and to her husband still devote
Her thoughts n'er wandered but to seek the skies
At last the unwonted clime her soft frame smote
Severing with baleful breath those earthly ties.
But yet by virtue's powerful arm sustained
Mary undaunted eyed the coming blow
Whilst calm religion at her couch remained
And dried the tears affection bade to flow.
Then when as if with angel hand she traced
The words that told her friends the last adieu,
And their eternal weal their prayers embraced
Which fervent from her quivering pale lips flew.
Those parting moments - so serene - so mild
The dawning of eternal bliss might seem
On her pale features resignation smiled
And her last look reflected Hope's bright gleam.
Thus on the bosom of a crystal fount
In trembling line the lambent sunbeams play
And thus exhaled its drops pallucid mount
And point to Heaven's blue vault liquid way.
Alluding to her parting letters to her friends.
On the other side I sent a copy of verses I wrote tributary to the
death of Mrs. Cummings one of our earliest friends on whose virtues
I need not expatiate, Being devoted to her you loved, I am convinced
they will be acceptable to you, though they may recall some sad
sensations. I was lately delighted at received [receiving?] a letter
from James Craig in answer to one I wrote him from Genoa. I am
now about to write to him at Paris whither he expected partly to go.
Remember me sincerely to Mr and Miss Craig. I am now about to
depart for Tripoli as part of a Mission which is to leave this for
that count. It seems the [Day?] has presented the Prince
Regent with some of the antiquities in its environs, and our object
will be to ascertain what will be best worth removing. On the whole
I think it will be a very pleasant trip. As we will most probably be
detained there for some considerable time and there will be no opportunity
of forwarding letters thence you must not be uneasy should you
not hear from me for four months at the least; perhaps it will be longer
o'er I can write.
Since writing the above I have given up the idea of going to
Tripoli from the conviction that my eyesight which is not particularly
strong and might be materially injured by exposure to the rays of the
sun reflected from the burning sands of Africa - a circumstance for which
no other advantage could compensate, not even the sight of the Day's
Court and all its splendour, nor a handsome sabre with which he might
present me nor the pocket full of antiques which I might carry of with [me?]
Write me therefore when you please. This Mission on which I was about to go
is to proceed some distance into the country and the length of time
for which they will be scorched and boiled there is uncertain. It is
reported the department here is going to be entirely broken up in which
case we will all go home, how soon I know not.
I expect to hear that William is as happy, as we all wish him to be.
My dear Mother and yourself will no doubt feel much distressed at
parting with him, but I hope you will support it as much as possible,
with the belief that we shall all soon be together again, which I trust
in Providence will be the case. You must console yourselves with the
thought that it is for his good, and therefore not greive [grieve?] at the
privation which his temporary absence may occasion. Give my love to my
Mother, Bess and Margt [Margaret?] and all friends. I know I scarcely
deserve a thought yet I hope my dearest Nancy does not think so. Your
goodness and affection is such that I know not if I can ever sufficiently
most prove myself
Your most affectionate brother
H. [Henderson?] Wightman.