THE LETTERS OF RICHARD WALN WELLS (part 2)
Nov 27th, 1815
At last my dear A, we have arrived at our journey's end after a tedious passage of 161 days. We are now going up the river and shall be at Canton tomorrow night, where I possibly may be gratified with letter from America. I need not tell thee how delightful it would be, once more to see thy dear hand and to know that altho thousands of miles divide us, thee still loves me. That alone cheers me during this dreadful absence from family, country and friends. I however will not complain, but look forward to the future, and the prospect tho' distant is bright. I wrote thee by the sloop of war Peacock, who boarded us off the Cape of Good Hope the 30th of August. And a second time from the Straits of Bally, where we stopped a few hours. I most ardently hope my letters reached America especially the last I wrote for you would not then have been uneasy at not hearing from us by the ships which I understand sailed from Canton a few days ago.
We went what is called the Eastern Passage, round the Peleu Islands, which is the occasion of our making so long a passage. There was an American ship just now anchored near us, but to my great disappointment she has come last from Lisbon. Of course we hear nothing from America. Thee cannot imagine what a newsmonger a passage of 161 days makes a man. We were this time partically gratified, for they have given us the grand battle in Europe, and our own victories over the Algerians. That for some time will serve us for conversation.
I have a dozen letters to write and but a short time to do it in.
Rest assured my dearest girl, that whilst life seems amis, thee will be loved by one, who with all his failing, cannot accuse himself of for one moments forgetting, or ceasing to love thee.
May heaven bless thee
Remember me affectionately to your family
Canton Dec 13th, 1815
I write thee to day my dear A., by the ship Alert, which sails the same day with this vessel. But for fear any accident should happen to her, I now will merely tell thee that we have arrived here in safety after a passage of 161 days. In a few days there will be several more opportnities when thee shall again hear from me. I have not a moment to spare. Believe me my dear girl
Most sincerely then RWW
Canton Dec 13, 1815
Tho' tis but a few days since I last wrote thee my dearest A, I cannot let one opportunity pass without conversing thee if not personally, yet what is nearest to it by letter. I wait most anxiously to hear from America, but fear I shall be disappointed. One line from thee would now be more satisfying to me that any thing on earth. I would not exchange my present feelings for any consideration yet they are sometimes painful in the extreme. I picture to myself the many happy hours we have passed together and then look at the contrast. Again, I figure to myself that moment when we again shall meet and when I shall find thee as I left thee unchanged.
Any thing I can and could bear but that. Somethimes I almost wish thee had never known me; for thee then would have been spared many, many a wretched moment. The wish is but momentary, for my selfish heart tells me I never can or could be happy without thee. At this moment I would almost sacrifice my life to see thee but for a moment. To many this uncoherent letter would appear a rhapsody. But not I trust to thee. I write what I feel. It comes from the heart, and will be felt by thee. Should I find thee changed (and there have been instances) on my soul I would never trust the dearest friend I had on earth. I would not trust my own parents.
Forgive me my dearest girl for daring ever to thing of such a thing. Did I believe twere within the range of possibility, I should be most wretched. I know thy character is the very reverse of what thee has so often truly applied to me "Everything fits and nothing long". For except in the solitary instance of loving thee better than my life, I am afraid I am too much of a weathercock. Take me under thy tuition, I shall be every thing thy wishes.
Does thee not already see the change. When I first began this letter my very face was coloured with the blues. One half hours scribbling to thee, has like a talisman cleared them away. I have often seriously asked myself what there was that could have induced thee to bestow thy heart on such a volatile fellow as myself. And I never could answer the question. I have often asked thee the same and thee appears equally puzzled. So that I must conclude I have some hidden excellences which time alone will bring forth to the light. Suppose thee were to ask me the same question. What should I say. Twas thy beauty? No. That thee would not hear of. Twas thy good sense? For there are many sensible girls that I hate.
It was a je ne sai quoi which taught me to love thee, and convinced me that I could not be happy without thee. So says thee tis a selfish motive after all. Well I have written it and as I never reread my letters it must go. And as I know my judge is rather partial, I am not much afraid.
Thee would much rather read my thoughts than my observations on Canton. So I shall leave those till I get home.
Til I get home! There is magic in the sounds. Oh that I were once more there, I think I should then be happy.
Sometimes I suppose the conversation turns upon me. I often please myself with thinking that at this very moment our thoughts are upon the same subject.
I must now conclude. Tis now dark and I have to dress for dinner at the consuls. Or as we say for a chow chow.
Farewell my dearest girl. Remember me to all thy family affectionately.
Should I find on my return that thee has given way to thy feelings and has lost thy spirits I can only say that 'twill excessively hurt and mortify me. Thee however knows my feelings and wishes on this subject and I hope will act as all my friends would with thee.
Canton Dec 13th, 1815
I am almost afraid my dearest A. that my scrawls will weary thee out, but I cannot help snatching every leisure moment (very few of which I now have) to write to her who alone can constitute my future happiness. I have almost given up the idea of hearing from America yet I cannot help ardently wishing it, although 'twould be much against our interests for another ship to arrive.
I hope to leave this by the 1st March and on the 1st of July shall again take my customery seat in Front St. It really sometimes appears to me a dream that I am 10,000 miles from home and yet when I look back six months is but a moment and the next I hope will fly as same.
I wish I could persuade myself that thy spirits during this tedious time were as good as mine. But I am afraid they are not. Shall I own I hardly wish it. Thee is my dearest girl totally different from me. Altho' I love thee more than any thing on earth, yet absence does not affect me as I know it does thee. I am engaged in business from morning to night, and have not really time to think of any thing but teas and silks. When some bitter thoughts of thee and home intrude (in spite of me they come across my mind) I strive to banish the present from my mind and think only of the future, bright in every thing that can make us happy.
Does thee not often form schemes of future domestic happiness? I do. I cannot now tell thee all I think and all I hope. Some day twill all be realized. That alone is sufficient to excite me to every exertion to render me worthy of thee.
Farewell my dearest girl - Farewell
Canton Dec 23rd, 1815
I am afraid my dearest A, thee will be disappointed at not hearing from me by the ship Messenger, which sailed from here two days ago. But the fact is we were mistaken in the time of her sailing and consequently did not write a single letter by her. I have written thee since we arrive, three times, by the Voltaire, by the ship Alert and by the Braganza and I hope sincerely my letters may all come to hand. I now write by the Bengal which sails direct for Philadelphia and I hope we shall follow her by the 15th of February.
Had I nothing to attract me towards home, yet still I should most ardently wish to leave Canton, which is to me a most disagreeable place. Every man here lives to himself and for himself. Perhaps it is best for were it an agreeable place twould draw us too much from our business. In the course of a week or two we shall be left almost solus and after that time thee must not expect to hear from me till thee sees me in Front St. Expect me on the 1st July for by that time should nothing a presently unforseen occur, I hope to clasp to my dear heart all that I hold dear on earth. I would give the world to have one short look at Philadelphia to see how you look, how you are and what you all are doing. Many changes may take place before I return and some that I now cannot forsee or dream of. I know that when I land I shall dread to see an acquaintance, lest he should be the messenger of ill news. At all events I shall not remain long in uncertainity for in five minutes after my arrival thee shall hear my well known knock in Front St.
I should not be much surprised to find on my return that my father had removed from Trenton to Philadelphia. I shall be rejoiced to hear it for many reasons.
Will the time ever arrive when they can call thee daughter? I hope and believe it is not far distant. Whether or not thee hopes for that time to arrive, I must only conjecture, for I suppose thee will not tell me.
Thee writes me that thee often indulges thyself in forming schemes of future happiness. Tell me my dear girl what they are, tell me all thee thinks and all thee feels. Twill be to me most interesting, for well I know that in all thy dreams of happiness I am included.
Should this voyage prove fortunate I should no longer be doomed to see happiness within my grasp and not be able to secure it I hope forever. Should I be unfortunate, why I must again leave thee for a short time. At present the prospect is as fair as I could wish. Something may however possibly happen to defeat all my hopes. I am not naturally of an envious disposition, yet when I see thousands around me possessed of that without any exertion of their own, which I am toiling for, I sometimes really envy them. But on the contrary have they one whom they love as I do, or have the one who they are assured in every situation, will continue to look up to them for happiness.
'Tis a most gloomy day and I feel completely hipped. The rainy season I fear has commenced and we may not have a pleasant day for a month. We have however an excellent factory and a fire place in every room, a very unusual thing in Canton. The weather is and has been extremely cold, about equal to our November. I was not at all prepared for it for I always thought it was excessively warm.
Thee may expect to see me of a copper color by the time I get back for when I arrived here after boiling for 50 or 60 days in a vertical sun I hardly knew myself. I never was more heartily tired or more completely out of patience than the last 30 or 40 days before we arrived. We were drifting about in the Pacific Ocean completely becalmed among the islands in a most dreadfully hot sun. And at one time I began to think we should never get here. Add to that our being on 4 pints of water for 24 hours, and that very bad, and thee may suppose that altogether we had a pleasant time. Our passage home will be however very delightful. We shall sail in the best season for a pleasant and regular passage and I hope and think shall not be longer than 120 days, which is rather better than 160.
I shall have many things to tell thee and many things to hear when I return. Somethings I expect to hear which I shall be sorry for. I will not tell thee what they are because possibly they may not happen. By this time W Redwood has not doubt removed to Philadelphia. I have often regretted that there should be any kind of coolness between thee and her, more especially as we are near relations and have always been as one family. Should it unfortunately continue, I have no doubt thee has acted in such a way as to throw no fault from thyself. I do not intend to know anything about it.
I have been informed here by good authority that one or two American vessels may be expected in a few weeks. I am anxiously awaiting for them, for I shall then once more have thy feelings and thoughts brought to my heart. I will not excuse thee under three sheets of paper for there must have happened a thousand things to interest me, since I left home. Or were thee living in a desert, everything thee would write would be a cordial to my spirits.
I should be extremely sorry did the ship Messenger arrive before the vessels we wrote by as you all would not know what to think. And now let me impress one thing on thy mind.
Should any vessel arrive from Canton without bringing thee any letters, do not worry thyself with imagining a thousand evils that might have happened. Do I not write (which is almost impossible). I shall have some very good reasons for it, which I now cannot forsee. It will never be because I for one moment forget thee.
I just now inquired what day it was and to my great surprise was told twas Sunday. There is here no manner of distinction between one day and the other. The stores are never shut and you might not recollect that twas Sunday once in a year, were it not for the large American flag that is on that day hoisted before the factory. Thee need not tell father this for he would say twas no excuse. I was never famous for going to meeting thee knows and therefore I do not much miss it. I must conclude my dearest girl. That thee may always be happy as thee deserves to be, and that I soon again may see thee, never again to part from thee will be the constant prayer of thee
Canton Dec 31, 1815
I write thee my dearest girl by the Chasseur who sails to day, and although I have written several letters within the last two weeks, I think tis most probable that this will come first to hand, as she is a remarkably fast sailer. I wish most sincerely twere possible for me to step into her, without waiting for the Caledonia, but I must drag on the heavy hours for a long fifty days more when I hope to leave it forever. Tis now nearly seven months since I saw thee and every moment my impatience is greater once more to be upon the ocean. When there I shall be better satisfied for each night I shall lie down with the certainty of waking nearer home.
Those only who have loved as I do thee and who have left family and friends dear to me as mine are, can conceive the many wretched moments I have passed. I am willing to hope that I shall find all as I left them but I may be dreadfully deceived.
Perhaps when I left America I saw some of my dearest friends for the last time. These gloomy feelings will sometimes intrude spite of myself. May they never be realized. We are all on tiptoe in expectation of the arrival of an American vessel which they say must be here shortly. I need not say that I am little anxious. She will I hope bring among many others a long letter from thee. I am sure I deserve one for numberless are the lines I have scribbled to thee since I have been here. Never was I more completely sick and tired of any thing than I am of Canaton. There is nothing on earth to interest me here and the most pleasurable feelings I have are when I forget that I am here and fancy myself once more at home. This year is almost gone and I hope the next will see me seated with thee at our own fireside. What scenes of happiness do I picture to myself when that shall happen. I cannot express them by words. Does thee remember those times with thy head leaning on my heart. Thee used to say thee could not be happier. I remember it well. Those times, and even happier ones will again return and tho thee may as thee sometimes use to do turn away and chide me for my looks, yet thee will acknowledge that had I never left thee, thee would not so much have loved me. I think I see thee calling me a most impudent fellow, and therefore will as I used to, be quite.
Upon sometimes thinking that my letters might possibly fall into other hands I have been tempted merely to write a few lines telling thee I was well etc etc but as I know thee would not forgive me if I did, I'll even run the risk. Thee will give me credit for writing thee at this time as long a letter, when I tell thee that I have been all day packing China and am tired to death.
Let people say what they please but super cargoes earn their money richly. And I would only advise any one who envys us to take a trip to Canton. Were God himself here I think these Chinese would try his patience. I am convinced we had to day at one time 25 of them in the factory, each one insisting upon being heard and & having his business settled. I wished very much you could have seen us in spite of my vexation. I could not help laughing at the scene. Unless you turn them out of doors by main force you cannot have a moment to yourself. I was waked the other morning by a fellow drawing my curtains and bidding me good morning. As I was very sleepy I asked him in a very bad humor what he would please to have. He told me had some samples of Bohea tea to show me and hoped I would buy some. I took up a bamboo that stood by the bed side and civilly informed the gentleman that if he ever again came into my room I would use it over his shoulders. He decamped very quickly and I came down to breakfast I saw him waiting for me in the parlor. No room in the house is sacred from them and I am very often tempted to insult even the respectable ones. Had we bought every thing we have been begged and pestered to buy, Noah's ark would not have offered a greater variety than our Ship. Canton is a world in miniature. The people, the different kinds of trades and professions are innumerable. Their streets are always as much crowded as our market is on a Saturday morning and tis sometimes almost impracticable to get thro' them. I have been into some of the rich merchants houses, which were as large as any 20 dwelling houses in Philadelphia.
In fact 'tis almost worth a voyage to see this most astonishing city & people. Canton is supposed to contain 2 millions of people of which I think 2 or 300,000 live on the water in boats entirely and never set their feet on shore. I have found the greatest difficulty in getting thro the boats in going down the river to Whampoa. Some of them are elegant and I am getting some drawings here that will give you a much better idea of Canton and every thing belonging to it than I can by letter. I have not yet been able to see a Chinese lady. They seldom go out and when they do tis in a palanquin closely shut up. The women here are divided into two classes. The small feet and the large. Numbers of the former I have seen whose feet were not larger than a child of two years old. It has to me a disgusting appearance. The Chinese themselves acknowledge 'tis a cruel custom and they tell me that for 4 or 5 years the poor child is in constant pain. The custom originated I suspect in jealousy as it almost entirely prevents a woman from walking or gadding about. Their customs in this respect are most singular.
They never see their wives till the moment of marriage. Their mothers settle the alliance years before hand and a Chinese have so great a reverence for their parents that to refuse or even mummur is a thing unheard of. Among a civilized people tis almost incredible and I took a great deal of pains to ascertain the fact.
Twenty respectable Chinese whom I have asked all assure me that tho' for several years they were engaged to be married, yet they never saw the lady one half hour before the knot was tied. Brothers even are not allowed to see or converse with their sisters. The wife has apartments of her own, and her husband will not suffer her to eat at the same table with him. They are in fact complete slaves and I have often laughed at Chinaman's definition of a bad and good wife. The former is one who seldom or ever talks, the latter is forever gabbing. For altho' the men are the greatest talkers I ever met with 'tis an absolute fact that to have a talking wife is considered by them as a dreadful thing. Old custom obliges the women to be silent and I have heard that the most respectable Hong merchant here say that a good wife never ought to speak except when her husband asks a question.
Do not think my dearest that by telling thee the duties of a Chinese wife I should ever try to exact it from thee. I suspect that did we form our estimates of good and bad wives by their criteria there would not be a very good one in America.
I have written an unconscionable letter and suspect the part will not be very interesting to thee. I must however conclude. Farewell my dearest girl. Believe me always thine.
Remember me kindly to all thy family
Canton Jan 9th, 1816
Thee would never forgive me my dear girl did I suffer a vessel to sail for Philadelphia without writing to thee, and tho I have written so lately and so often, I will once more take up my pen to write thee the last letter thee will ever receive from me this side of the globe. The Pacific is the last vessel here, and the next news thee will receive after this will be from my very lips. I think there is every probability of our following her in a month and if we do, we shall arrive about the middle of June, which will close the longest twelve months I ever passed in my life.
I cannot say that the time at present hangs very heavy on my hands. We have just commenced loading the vessel and every moment is fully employed.
I hope and believe that I shall make a very good voyage unless some unfortunate thing shall happen to balk all my expectations. Were I alone interested in the event, 'twould not give me a moments uneasiness. For if I were not fortunate I could only try it again and again. But now the idea of leaving thee is horrible to me. Nothing but necessity shall compel me to it and under those circumstances thee would I am convinced be perfectly reconciled to it. None but a madman would hesitate to sacrifice one year of his life to insure an independency for the remaining. For believe me my dear girl, poverty with one we love is much harder to bear and much more galling than if we were compelled to bear it alone. My wishes are moderate and all tend to one point. Till that is attained I never can be satisfied or happy and never can consent to do otherwise than make every exertion to arrive at it. Had I the wealth of worlds, thee knows my first wish would be to share it with thee. One thing there is, thee never shall share with me that is poverty. I almost begin to despair of hearing from America. If any vessel are to arrive 'tis time for them to be here. I shall live in hopes two or three weeks longer and then shall give it up. One line from thee would make me easy, but if we sail without hearing from home I shall be fancying a thousand things that probably will never happen.
. Our circle is now very contracted. The only Philadelphians (M Ralston and Chaloner) have left us and we shall live almost alone. The only man that can always succeed in putting me in a good humor with myself and all the world is Ben Wilcox. He has behaved in the most friendly manner to me and I make his house perfectly my home. Latimer who left here in the Bengal is I believe acquainted with Tom. He is a fine fellow and can give hm a description of how we contrive to pass away the time. I am afraid Redwood will think me remiss in attending to his business here. But I have done all I could, and am sincerely sorry I was not more successful.
I must now bid thee my dearest girl farewell. Remember me affectionately to thy father and all the family and believe me forever thine
When I concluded the above I thought the vessel was to have sailed today, however she does not go 'till tomorrow which gives me an opportunity of adding a few lines. Did I not believe that any thing from me would now be interesting to thee I should confine my scribbling within.
Canton Jan 24th, 1816
Were it possible for any thing in the world to cause one unpleasant feeling towards thee my dearest girl and the rest of my friends in Philadelpia twould be what I before considered as most improbable circumstances. And that is the arrival of an American vessel from Providence without a single letter or line to tell me that I was not entirely forgotten. Judging of you by myself I cannot but think that altho' thousands of miles divide us sometimes in a leisure moment the thoughts of old friends and something dearer than friends will intrude and bring me back to your rememberence. Certain it is I was most heartly vexed and disappointed at not hearing from Philadelphia. But I soon reconciled it by believing that you did not know of the vessel's departures. But now to a more interesting subject, I hope to thee. When do we leave here and when shall I again see thee. In two weeks I expect to see Canton for the last time and on the 10th of next June shall once more be happy in the sight of all that can make life desirable. Tis said that jealousy is inseperable from love. I am unwilling and cannot believe it. For did I think so. I should be convinced that I did not love thee as I ought. I have fancied many things that may happen to blast all my hopes but never dared to entertain on doubt of thy fidelity or love. Should I be deceived I shall never expect happiness in this world.
I cannot help again reverting to my disappointment in not hearing from thee. The vessels arrival we knew for two days. And were waiting with the utmost impatience for the captain to come up with the letters. When he came and said there were none for us, I almost made a vow that I never would put pen to paper to a soul in America. As I said before I am convinced that you could not have known her sailing.
I can scarcely reconcile to myself the idea of once again seeing thee and of pressing to my heart one whose I am convinced beats responsive to it. Time flies on eagles wings and in two or three weeks after receiving this letter expect to see me.
Letters part 1