John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham


18 June 1782

My dear Sister

At another time I should not think an apology needful for writing no sooner, as it is not yet quite a month since your last came. But as you have been and are in a state of trial I could wish to be more punctual and speedy than usual. Besides my usual course of daily business, my time and attention have been a good deal taken up by sickness. Your sister and Sally [1] have both been very ill of the disorder which has so much prevailed of late. Peggy is still in the hospital, [2] and the person we have as her substitute [3] has been often hardly able to move about the house. It was well Betsy was at home from school for she was really serviceable. Through mercy we are all pretty well again, and your Sister I think better today than I have seen her for a month past.

Your letter gave us much comfort upon the whole, though we sympathized with Susie and with you, and were sorry to hear she was so ill; it was what we had no suspicion of. If it were in my power to restore her to health, how gladly should I do it. But I can only commend her to that gracious Physician, who can control all diseases and to whom belong the issues from death. We are short-sighted in such cases, and do not properly know what is best to ask or wish, because we know not the consequences which depend upon every event. But the Lord knows your situation and hat is really best for you, and if our wishes are right upon the whole, I doubt not but he will spare her to you, for he will not needlessly afflict you, nor put you to pain. He is very gracious, very compassionate, and he is very near likewise either to prevent the affliction we fear, or to support and strengthen us under it. Of his supporting power you have had a merciful proof on a late occasion; I hope it will encourage you to trust that he will at no time lay more upon you than he will enable you to bear. May he give you that true resignation to his will, which is one of the greatest privileges and brightest ornaments of his dear children. While we are here there is a need-be for changes and trials, but they will not be needful always. In yonder world we shall have unclouded skies and unabated happiness. And if we are now called to weep, we have the comfort while we are sorrowing to know that he will soon wipe all tears from our eyes.

You have now I trust an interest in all the promises made to believing widows. You have still a husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, and he will be a father to your children – put them into his hand and trust him with them to do them good. You had doubtless a mother’s feelings during the long illness of your little boy, and when he was taken from you, but I doubt not you have often since looked after him with comfort. He was early delivered from a  vain, troublesome [world], and could you see him where he is, and as he is now, you would greatly rejoice; for you had good proof that the Lord prepared him for his removal before he called him home. My brother likewise was spared to you, till you saw him enabled to meet death with comfort. And your separation is but for a time, you will meet again ere long, and be together forever with the Lord. He lived respected and died lamented, and his memory shall be blessed. Thus the Lord has sweetened your afflictions, as well as done you good by them, and thus I trust you shall find it to the end.

I think I need not attempt to tell you how glad we shall be to see you and your children here, if the Lord in his providence should direct your steps to us. But this likewise I desire to leave with him. When Israel was in the wilderness, they had no reason to be anxious about the way they were to take; for the cloud and pillar of fire went before them, to find them out a resting place. Our Saviour and Shepherd is still an equally infallible and kind guide to his people. By the light of his Word, by the motions of his good Spirit upon their hearts, and by the openings of his providence, he leads them in the right way. And whether the[y] live on the banks of the Thames, or beyond the Tweed, the place he chooses for them, is upon the whole the fitter for them, and they are unspeakably better off in being at his disposal, than at their own. Believest thou this?  It is a privilege to believe it now, hereafter you shall see it clearly, and say with thankfulness, He hath done all things well. [4]

Should any thing in my power be ever requisite, I hope I shall endeavour not to show myself unworthy of my share in the trust which my brother reposed in me by his will. At present I believe those who are named with me in the trust, will think as I do that you are the properist guardian of your children, not only on the account of your affection to them, but because God has given you prudence for the charge. And while I retain this opinion of you, which I have no reason to think I shall ever alter, you may of course expect my full concurrence with whatever you think proper. It will be chiefly my part to pray that the Lord may crown your endeavour to bring them up in his fear, with success. Give our love to them both, and tell them we often think of them, and hope always to reserve them a warm place in our hearts and affections.

Our child[Betsy] is well and grows into a fine girl. She is very affectionate and obedient, though rather volatile and heedless. But she has her serious intervals, loves the ordinances, and to be with serious people. Her spirits are very tender, and she is as subject to fears as a young fawn. In this I this[think] she takes more after your sister, than after you. It is indeed a great mercy to have resolution and fortitude, but many get safe to heaven who feel much weakness in this respect. Every temper and constitution has its benefits and disadvantages, but the grace of God supplies all that is wanting and corrects all that is amiss in each. My poor Dear is very liable to alarms and apprehension, and often suffers a good deal, especially about me. But I hope the Lord teaches her by them, the necessity of a more entire dependence upon him. Whatever constrains and quickens us to prayer, does us good. We took a long roundabout ride yesterday to Highgate and left Betsy there. [5] I think the ride did your sister good, and I may say she [is] very tolerably well – as well I hope as before her illness, only not quite so strong.

Capt Cuningham wrote me a letter upon his appointment, [6] and it gives me pain when I think that one thing or other prevented my writing so long, that at length I know not where to direct to him. If you do, and write before you can send me word, I beg you to mention me affectionately to him. I have likewise lost or mislaid his letter, and cannot recollect the name of his ship, but I think I should know it, if I saw it in the Newspapers, and should read of his arrival in any British port. In this case I shall certainly write by the first opportunity.

I know not whether your sister will write, and I shall not be willing to let my letter wait long. If she does not, you must wait for news till her letter comes, for I do not deal much in that article. Mrs Eaton is greatly recovered – but Mrs Clunie seems to be breaking. They are frequently my hearers when in town, and sometimes Mr Eaton comes. He is an amiable, friendly man, but I think the Lord has not yet given him a perception of the difference of doctrines. We can now see a great difference, but we could not perceive it always. And many who cannot perceive it at present, shall hereafter. But it is the Lord’s work, and we must wait his time, How natural is it to wish those whom we esteem and love were partakers with us in this blessedness! And it is right to wish so, and to turn our wishes into prayers for them. And the Lord is daily answering the prayers of his people in behalf of their friends.

I have had, what I seldom have, a leisure evening. And I am glad of it, for I longed to write to you, and to send you a sheet quite full. I hope you will neither be uneasy, nor displeased if I do not write so often as I would. My love will always be the same. And if you feel rather impatient, remember that we feel so likewise if we do not hear in a reasonable time from you. We join in love to Miss Cowie.

Believe me to be
Your affectionate brother

John Newton

London 18 June 1782

[1] Sally Johnson, one of the Newton’s servants.
[2] Peggy was one of the Newton’s servants who had been with them since their time in Olney. She was ‘still greatly afflicted’ at the beginning of 1783. They had another [?] servant by the same name for 9 weeks in 1774/5.
[3] Peggy’s substitute during her lengthy illness in 1781 was ‘Molly Parson’s sister’ – another ‘Sally’ (letters to William Bull 13 October and 28 December 1781).
[4] Mark 7:37 And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
[5] Betsy attended a girls’ school in Highgate run by Miss Owen, with Miss Briggs as an assistant. Newton wrote to Mrs Gardiner on 28 March 1788, who wanted to place her daughter Sarah Myra in a London school: ‘Miss Owen has given up her school at Highgate, not to a successor, but the school is at an end.’
[6] Lieut Alexander Cuningham, brother of James, was Commander and Commanding Officer of the British Yacht the Royal Charlotte from 20 September 1781 to 18 December 1783, then Captain and Commanding Officer of the Sixth Rate HMS Daphne from 18 December 1783 to 19 April 1784. The Daphne came to a sorry end in 1794, when it was captured by the French and renamed ‘La Daphne’.

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff 71-72

Marylynn Rouse, 20/08/2019