John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham


[undated: c. May 1781]
[no initial greeting - pages missing?]

Indeed my dear Sister we do not stand upon equal grounds as to letter writing. You certainly have not so many correspondents; I think you cannot have so many engagements. I have generally something to attend to as today, which cannot be put off till tomorrow. You may expect everything from me to my power, but it is not in my power to write as often as I wish, not when I please. Sometimes I have a letter in hand a fortnight before I can finish. Your Sister has as many engagements (I mean unavoidable ones) as she can well bear, and she is so often indisposed, that she cannot promise to be very punctual.

I hope upon these accounts you will not blame me for being tardy; when it is so I cannot help it. And be not uneasy – you may take it for granted we are pretty well while you hear nothing to the contrary. Your kind complaints of us, make me take up too much of every letter with apologies, which I suppose are nearly repetitious of what I have said before. When you can assure me that your time is as much and as necessarily taken up as mine, I will make the same allowance for you. But I think as it is, you usually make us wait as long for a letter, and therefore should the more readily excuse us.

Whether my dear can write today, or will detain mine until she can, I know not. I must refer some of your enquiries to her – some I can answer. I think I met Mr Halford [1] once and but [not] more since I have lived in London, and have some notion he has removed from town. We once called on Mr Turville, [2] he was full of professions; I believe they were mere words of course. That is I suppose he does not wish to see his old friends, though he speaks them fair if they come in his way. I can tell you nothing of Mrs Roberts [3] but that she died before your Sister knew of her being in town, or she would have longed to see her. Your reflection upon the removal of so many of our early acquaintance is very just. We that survive have reason to be thankful, especially that the Lord has been pleased to call us out of that giddy circle to which we once belonged, and has given us views, desires and hopes to which we were once utterly strangers.

Mr Cowper and Mrs Unwin still live in Olney. He is in many respects much better than formerly, but not yet fully delivered so as to appear as church and in public, but I trust he will in good time. We hope to see them soon, purposing to go to Bedford on Whitsun Monday [4 June 1781], from thence to Olney etc; and to be out about all the month of June. Olney was for a time supplied by a Mr Page, [4] whose wrong spirit and conduct made my leaving them the more regretted by many. But they are now well off. Mr Scott [5] is there to whom the letters in Cardiphonia Vol 1 to Mr S_ were written. He has been for some time my dear friend and fellow-labourer in the Gospel. Sally and Peggy are both with us. [6] They and your Sister are invalids: they are seldom all well together, and through mercy they have never been all sick together. We love each other and live in peace. Frequent sufferings teach mutual sympathy, and the Lord is very gracious to us all. Bettsy is very well. She left Northampton at Christmas, we hoped to have kept her quite at home, but my dear is so often ailing, and I am so much engaged, that neither of us can do what we wish for her, and your sister has thoughts of sending her for a year to Mrs Favel [7] who now lives upon Blackheath. Thus I have been as particular as I can.

Give our love to my Aunt and tell her, that her bill was paid a few days after it arrived. You must not suppose that we are very rich, but we have enough, because the Lord sees it enough for us. We live comfortably, and our yearly income suffices to bring the year about. As to the Chatham debts we should know what to do with the money if Mr Eggier [8] can get it; if he cannot, our attempting it would probably be only throwing good money after bad. What is necessary the Lord will provide, but I cannot hazard my money and lose my time and temper by dealing with lawyers. At any rate we are perfectly well satisfied with the settlement made with you when at London. As you say, we endeavour to be as frugal as we can, but my very public situation, and the high rate of house rent and all necessaries, will not admit of hoarding. But he who has provided for us hitherto, could find a thousand ways of giving me more, if he saw more was necessary or even expedient. Indeed this is not a time for us to seek great things for ourselves, when sin prevails, and judgements are abroad, and so many who were rich are daily becoming poor. May we have his favour which is better than life, his peace which the world can neither give nor take away, his providence to guide and guard us, his promises to cheer us, and at last arrive at his eternal joy, and then we may say All is well. The continuation of my ability to preach the Gospel, and the continuance of our dear Sister to me, with a tolerable measure of health and freedom from pain (so much better she is than I once had reason to hope) are blessings of much more value to me than thousands, than mountains of gold and pelf. Thus I hope my Brother Cuningham and you, judge in your own concerns; you are spared to each other, you have two true children – you have the necessaries, the comforts of life; if to this you have an eye to see and a heart to acknowledge the goodness of the Lord, if you have a hope in his mercy, and your chief desires are placed upon the things within the veil, you have all that is necessary to make you as happy, as in this imperfect state of things we can expect to be.

I am glad you have received the printed letters. They will not prevent my writing when I can. But those two volumes [of Cardiphonia] [9] contain the substance of all I could say on the best subjects, were I to write by every post. We love you dearly and pray for you daily. I believe I cannot write to Mr Cuningham this time.

I am with love to aunt and the children,
Your affectionate brother
John Newton

[undated: c. May 1781]

[1] Both Thomas Halford and James Halford had children christened at St Mary’s Chatham (the Catlett’s family church, where Elizabeth Cuningham has also been christened, in 1730).
[2] Of London contemporaries William, George and Thomas, this seems most likely to be Thomas Turville of 20 Fish Street, who was a generous subscriber to Dr Wheelock’s’ Indian Charity School of Academy, along with Daniel West of the Tabernacle (who was a trustee), and Robert Butcher – all 3 of these visited Newton in Olney as a group 24-27 August 1765. Thomas was a subscriber to SPCK from 1766, he bequeathed £20 in his will to the Lying-in Charity, London. He seemed to be an associate of Alexander Clunie.
[3] Mrs Roberts?
[4] Benjamin Page, curate at Clifton Reynes, was curate at Olney from 1780 to 1781. Newton was extremely upset that the people declined his recommendation of Thomas Scott in preference to Page. Diary 2 October 1779: ‘To my surprise and grief, I have found a strong opposition against Mr Scott, so that he has given up the thought of coming. I know that all events are right as under thy management but surely I have seen much of a wrong spirit in this business, when I expected better. Contempt has been cast upon one whom thou lovest and honourest. My care for their prosperity has given offence and provoked anger. Lord enable me to bear it as I ought, to pray for them and to continue to love and endeavour to serve them. Let not my spirit be hurt and pity and provide for the faithful few, who would have rejoiced in such a Minister, and indeed I know not where to find one in any respect so suitable, but thou dost if after all the provocations amongst us, thou still hast mercy for such an ungrateful place, where many are hardened under the means, and many sated with the plenty of ordinances.’ Page was such a disaster that he was in fact replaced by Scott in 1781.
[5] Thomas Scott (1747–1821), former curate of Ravenstone and Weston Underwood, when he was converted through Newton’s patient friendship and prayers, became the finest Bible commentator of his day. Newton recommended William Wilberforce to attend Scott’s preaching at the Lock Hospital. Scott was the first secretary of the Church Mission Society. He ended his days as Rector of Aston Sandford.
[6] Sally Johnson and Peggy were long-term servants to the Newtons – treated as part of their family. Letters from Newton to Sally were published in Cardiphonia. Peggy continued ill from her last year in Olney through all her time in London.  At the end of 1783 Newton recorded in his diary: ‘Peggy is released from all her burdens. I thank thee for making us willing to do our part to alleviate them while she lived.’
[7] Mary Favell ran a Boarding School in Eltham with her cousin Miss Halsey from 1773. In January 1779 she gave notice in The Morning Post and Advertiser that they were moving the school on Lady Day to Blackheath, when they would also admit a few young ladies as day scholars. They lived at what was formerly No. 4 but is now No. 24 Dartmouth Row [Neil Rhind, Blackheath Society,]. The original house was destroyed. Mary Favell died in 1785, bequeathing everything to ‘my dear cousin Mary Halsey for her dutiful and affectionate behaviour to me’, with an annuity of £8 pa for ‘my old and faithful servant Jane Otterway now living with the Reverend Mr Davies of Shooters Hill’. There was a large Halsey family in Chatham when Elizabeth was growing up.
[8] Mr Eggier of Chatham was a subscriber to The History and Antiquities of Rochester and Its Environs, Samuel Denne and William Shrubsole, 1772. John Eggier, leather-cutter of Chatham, was bankrupt in 1778. There was still a John Eggier in Chatham in 1800 (possibly the son, as he was married in 1798) who was affected by the Fire of 30 June.
[9] Cardiphonia , John Newton (London: Buckland, Johnson, 1781), 2 vols

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff 68-69