John Newton to James Cuningham

18 October 1771   

Dear Brother
As Mr Samples thinks of seeing you soon, I am desirous of sending a line by him. I believe I have already thanked you for your last letter. You promised me another and a longer, when you found yourself better. I hope you will be able to write it soon, and thereby assure us that your health is perfectly restored. However, it is a mercy that you are recovered from the lowness of spirits you so long complained of which is indeed a distressing disorder. When it is in the constitution it yields with difficulty to the power of medicine, but when it is the effect of disappointment and uneasiness, the Word of God is the best dispensatory, and affords excellent remedies against it, if we can receive and apply them in faith. To know that God is our reconciled Father, that our sins are forgiven, that Heaven is our home, and that while we are upon earth all things shall surely work together for our good, these are excellent cordials to revive our fainting spirits. With these I wish you an increasing acquaintance. And that you may abound in these consolations, which are found in communion with God, and which the world can neither give or take away.
We were extremely glad to see that our little boy [Jacky] has recovered of his hurt. [1] As the Lord has preserved him hitherto, I hope he will live to be a comfort to his parents and friends. I hope the smallpox is now over, as we have had none fallen of it for about three weeks, [2] so that we shall be ready to receive him whenever you please – if his Mamma and you think that as winter is advancing, it may be better to keep him till spring, we will wait so long, but I hope it will not be delayed longer, for if I do not have him while he is quite young, I shall have but little heart to undertake the care of him afterwards. The time between six years of age and eight or nine appears to me of peculiar importance. [3] Give our love to him, and tell him I hope soon to see him under my thumb, and that I hope he will mind his book and be able to read as well as me. I will do my best to instruct him, in what I know myself. I think I can undertake to teach him to understand his mother tongue, and to make him master of arithmetic and accounts, if his turn lies that way. As to what is usually called learning, he must be content with such a smattering as I have attained to myself. But my chief aim would be, to inspire him with a sense of religion, and to guard him against the evils of the world, before he is called to act a part in it. May the Lord give me wisdom, and crown my endeavours with a blessing, if he comes to me.
Had I known the books were in Scotland I would not have given you the trouble of writing for them, for I have books in abundance, and rather accepted them to show my sense of your kindness, than for any real want of books.
I hope your little girls are well, give our love to Sukey. Respects and love to Aunt Soan – duty and love at the Chatham house. [4] May the Lord bless you all. May you and my sister feel the comforts of his love, and live under the shadow of his wings.
I am dear Sir
Your affectionate brother

John Newton

Olney 18 October 1771

[1] Jacky Cunningham hurt his leg. It eased up but when the family later moved to Scotland it became so severe that he died from it. See Some Account of John Cuningham by his mother.
[2] Between March and the end of September 1771 there were at least 60 deaths in the parish of Olney. The smallpox epidemic extended to the surrounding villages also.
[3] In his Authentic Narrative Newton writes of the education he received from his mother, who died before he turned seven: ‘Though in process of time I sinned away all the advantages of these early impressions, yet they were for a great while a restraint upon me; they returned again and again, and it was very long before I could wholly shake them off; and when the Lord at length opened my eyes, I found a great benefit from the recollection of them. Further, my dear mother, besides the pains she took with me, often commended me with many prayers and tears to God; and I doubt not but I reap the fruits of these prayers to this hour.’
[4] The ‘Chatham house’ refers to the Catlett’s family home, where Newton’s wife Polly (Mary) was born, on the corner of the High Street and what is now Gundulph Road.

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 2935 ff 241-2 

Marylynn Rouse, 19/08/2019