Letter #89

A curtain lecture is defined in Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) as ‘a reproof given by a wife to her husband in bed’. It also appears in letters 98 and 124. 

John Watson Pringle was a Captain in the Royal Engineers and a veteran of Waterloo. His report to Parliament on the state of the prisons in the West Indies was published in 1838.

Barbados 29th Octr 1837

Tomorrow my dear Kate I shall be tormented with visitors and official papers all the morning, therefore commence today in order to obtain a good offering, but not without interruption, for possitively I had just seated myself when young Hamilton RA came to call & he is such a favorite that I cannot but see him. After two or three turns to the sea shore & back, making Nelson take the water, and a few common subjects of the day, as the heat, the change of weather, a large ship in sight which might be the Seringapatam, what news by the Echo steamer just come to anchor from Jamaica & so on. He has departed, thus I am alone, how long it may last is doubtful. I must now endeavour to collect what has occurred since dispatch of my last letter dated about the 12th Inst. The following night, 13th, we had the Eclipse of the Moon, which with various other Endications, decided the natives that we were to be favored with a first rate hurricane. However, it all passed over with a little tempestuous squall or two & we are now entering upon the season of repose so far as relates to the elements. In other respects I suspect constant motion will be the case for the Gen and his troops. He is fond of field days & must make his tour of inspection. The Engr will be expected to make his annual visit, therefore my dear Kate you may hope for some relief from the monotony of my letters, of late so much to be desired, which the curtain lecture would be far far more than the long written one. From the former something amusing might result, from the latter nothing but vexation & misunderstanding. In the first place you must be well aware that I am passing a life in any way but in comfort. In the second, if you judge from the tenor of all my letters, the only possible conclusion you can draw is that I am not disposed to stay in this climate a day longer than I can avoid. I ought not to express myself so as to climate, for were you all with me and I could banish the idea of your suffering from it, my mind would be at ease & I would be as happy here as in any other comd. In fact it is the best undoubtedly, but I would throw it up tomorrow to pass a few months at Wickham, quoting from KE, ‘to make any thing do for the remaining few months’. This is rather vague & some what like your conception of society in the W I generally. The months I fear will be many. At all events, according to existing regulations, I cannot indulge a hope of home until next May or June twelvemonths and society is not in that degenerated state you are led to supose. There is a want of it here more from the distance of families from each other, the total difference of ideas and pursuits of the proprietors, planters, Government officers and the military are all guided by the various effects on their energies by climate. In my letter, to the best of my recollection, I requested a piece of muslin for musquito curtains to my sitting room of a pretty pattern, a matter probably of about 30s in Portsmouth or Southampton & three times 30 here, old and damaged, and a piece of shewey chince or other to cover my sophas, which has unfortunately drawn from you remarks far from agreeable as to the inference I cannot but draw from them occupying nearly three sides of your paper now laying before me, that you all perished with cold last winter for the want of a piece of muslin &c &c. Beyond an esprit de Corp I have no grandure existing if it ever did. Attached to being in command, I have always kept a steady fixed purpose with no expenditure from thoughtlessness but tending to the comfort of yourself & our children, which I intend to stick to. Therefore it is needless for me ‘to stop and consider’ as you have allowed your pen to rattle on & recommend. Nor have I yet forgotten that I have six amiable children, for you are in my thoughts daily. We have got thro the world thus far with credit and you deserve a full share of it. I trust the firm will yet stand & that I shall not be quite such a fool as to play Ensign at the rank of Col. Therefore dear Kate, you need not tremble, purchase the muslin for Wickham windows, the winter must be fast approaching ere you get this. Whatever I do here, I’m wide awake & think far more about you than you seem to suppose. If Wickham does not suit, quit it and endeavour to be as happy as circumstances will admit of. My lot is to be here against my wishes but so it is, & nothing shall alter my determination to go thro the ordeal with spirit. As to being unemployed after 5 years in the Tropics, we will see about that & you shall see that, health sticking by me, I will have a voice in my Corps, notwithstanding the humbug & shirking going on. I have written to the Inspr Genl pointing out strongly the disadvantage of not keeping up our establishment out here & expect a Capt with 4 subs, intimation of the 4 last I have recd but know not their names. 30th: As the last words were penned, Col Tyler and Mr McClery called, the latter to request I would dine with him yesterday and the latter’s today to meet Johny Pringle who beat up my quarters at ½ past six in the morning of yesterday week by the Linnet Packet with Capt Mayne, formerly R Artillery, as his Secretary. Fancy how I stared & exclaimed. He is sent out to report upon the state of Prison discipline in these colonies and is full of business. I was quite delighted to see him, and looking young and handsome, he remains about a fortnight. He also asked me, as you have, about L Smith, but I could not tell him for the best of reasons, as Gusto writes, because I did not know the tales alluded to, nor shd I wonder at any Ldy S might spread about him as they quarrelled constantly and latterly had a determined break up. He is so vain a person that he spares naught to be talked of, but from what little I know of him his vice ends there. I may be in error, but as he is my confidential officer by name and we are so constantly together on duty affairs, I keep very very distant, never giving myself the most trifling trouble about his deeds, pursuits or where he is after hour of business. He is now ordered home so soon as relieved & I do not regret his departure. Such scandal as may have reached England regarding him relates to matters, I conclude, before I joined at Barbados. Do not be prejudiced against Mr Wood – depend upon it, not the twentieth part related to you is the fact, if you mean Lady Lennox’s affair. He only paid her common attention as 1st Lt of the ship which in a moment of jealousy Lord Lenox foolishly made some hasty remark & quarrelled with him, but I was not here & no nothing about it. I regret exceedingly to learn such an unfortunate account of my brother John’s affairs and my sisters’ conduct to Edward. The breach they have so widened now, I fear nothing will ever bring us happily together again. It is the source of constant misery to me whenever thinking of them. You astonish me having got over your alarms of water excursion. Am happy to find that you move about to the Island &c, it will amuse your mind. I shall get lively letters notwithstanding we are in such a sad plight & I have succeeded a man without principles and without a family & forget my babes. But, as I have not time to make a sketch of Shot Hall, I will give you a list of its furniture for I feel I have much too grand an idea of furnishing a C Engr house. To wit: vestibule, 2 dark green seats, Ord property, a serpent’s skin on each, a drip stone, Ord prop, a rudder & 4 oars, mine. Inner Hall: a one candle lamp bt at a sale, no beauty, an oak office Desk & drawers, covered with ink, & black leather bottomed chair, some letter books & regulations, a few walking sticks, dog Nelson, 2 stained common chairs & a set of Indian Paddles. Grand reception Room: 1 small officer’s barrack table, 1 Soldier’s Iron bedstead covered with an old stripe gown pattern got when at St Lucia, cushion of old camp bedstead made by Groom at Weedon & covered the same, 6 common chairs & one Army, and a self constructed fold up chair, camp, a small table Mahogany for a side board, 3-6 long with 4 tumblers, 2 decanters & 5 wine glasses on the side, 2 Ord ½ circle tables hid by 2 blue moth eaten cloths bought at a sale Demerara 2½ years ago & to hide them all, the old books lay one on top of tother. Now you have the Comd Engr’s state room, the next is ornamented with own spoils & curiosities, 3 barrack chairs, soldier table & one Ord taken out of the kitchen & 2 Barrack Iron beds for sophas, cushions stuffed with husk of Indian corn grown on estate. Kitchen: no chair, 2 tables Ord & frying pan & 2 saucepans, kettle, my property. Bedroom: Iron bed, 2 Barrack chairs, old chest of deal drawers, Ord property & looking glass, much quicksilver wanting. There is a tiny table in another room. The rest of the furniture is too rich & in such abundance I must describe it in another letter, so dear Kate adieu

Your ever afft Fred E

[The following appears to have been added as an afterthought; it is written in red ink between the lines of the opening page.]

I nearly left one: that outward & inner dressing room, the one having a barrack chair and a table, but the jug & basin mind are mine, the other has a carpet bag, 2 pr of boots lately from England, a soldier’s Barrack table and a chair. An ornamental piece of cord answers for a horse on which my jackets red & blue hang. I am much amused with dear Gusto’s letters – give my best love to him & to Fred when you write. Kiss my choice lassies for me, God bless them & you & regards to Miss Parker. Times will improve dear Kate. I have much to bother me here in the comd so do let me have to hail your letters, as heretofore my greatest comfort. FE

Remember me to the Miss Gardiners & Lady G.

Regards to MOB.