This article appeared in the Edinburgh Magazine for 1843 (Volume 10) published by William Tait, Edinburgh.


In the spare corner of some newspaper there appeared, a good many years back, a copy of verses of some mark, in which the nameless writer, himself in the heyday of youth and passion, moralizes with tenderness on the common lot, and expresses wonder whether the serene or indifferent old men, whom he saw far advanced on the downward path of life, had ever possessed as warm a heart as his, or been agitated by feelings akin to those which filled his own breast. Following out this train of musing, he comes to the conclusion -

Yes! each has had his dream of joy,
His own unequalled, pure romance,
Commencing when the blooming boy
First thrilled to lovely woman's glance.

These fugitive lines were forcibly brought to recollection on perusing the subjoined Letters; to which it is our duty to prefix a short explanatory preface.

With all the caution, prudence, and keenness of acquisition, which is said to distinguish our countrymen - be it the acquisition of knowledge, or of pounds shillings and pence, dollars, rupees, or pistoles, there is often lurking at the bottom of the heart of the genuine Scotsman, a fund of latent romance, which will sometimes break strongly out where it is the least suspected to exist. Sir Walter Scott, both in the strength and the weakness of his character, was an eminent exemplar of this peculiarity of the national character; of this double nature, or racy mixture of the shrewd and prudential, with the enthusiastic. Like the hero of our true tale, Scott seems to have cherished, to the latest moments of his life, the memory of an unfortunate early attachment; though most unlike that excellent person in almost every feature of character, in which one good man can differ from another. It was our intention, at first, to tell this "True Tale of a true love" in the form of a narrative; but upon second thoughts we shall give the original letters. One letter from Judge Thomson to the long-beloved it would be sacrilege to touch; though it were only to correct the ungrammatical thee, so characteristic of the engrafted Quaker.


From A. D., Manchester, To H. W., Esq., Banker, Ludlow.
Manchester, 29th Sept., 1842.

My Dear Sir, - I am pretty sure you will be gratified with the perusal of what follows.

You know the town of Kirkcudbright, with its old castle, its quay, and its tall jail tower! Well, some sixty years ago and more, a group of playful children might be seen daily wending their way to and from Kirkcudbright school, their homes being two or three miles distant from the town. Two of the group, a boy and a girl, about the same age, were generally seen hand in hand, seemingly more attached to each other than the rest. The girl's name was Mary Sharpe, the daughter of Adam Sharpe, a small farmer on the Selkirk estate; and her companion's name was William Thomson, the son of a neighbouring ploughman or cottar.

More than twenty years passed away, and a man, still in the prime of life, visited Kirkcudbright, after many years' sojourn in the West Indies.* He had gone to push his fortune, and had not been unsuccessful. Though his face was bronzed by a tropical sun, his heart still beat warmly at the recollection of old scenes and old friendships. He was William Thornton, the cottar's son; and he inquired anxiously for Mary Sharpe, the companion of his childhood. He found her in Liverpool, the wife of Captain Cunningham, the master of a foreign ship, with two or three children playing around her knee.

Forty more years rolled away. An aged and infirm female called upon my friend, Mr. John Rae, ship-owner in Liverpool, and formerly one of the magistrates of Kirkcudbright. She was decently dressed, and had evidently seen better days, but had latterly tasted the bitter cup of poverty in her declining years. She told her tale, and found ready sympathy from Mr. Rae. She was Mary Sharpe ** now Widow Cunningham, and the inmate of an alms-house. Mr. Rae, in the kindness of his heart, administered to her pressing wants, and promised to exert himself in her behalf. He immediately addressed a letter to the Earl of Selkirk, on whose estate her family had been tenants for some generations, and four of whose uncles and aunts had been nursed by her (Mary Sharpe's) mother. His Lordship, however, did not reply. Mr. Rae wrote to others connected with the widow's family with no better success. On communicating the disappointment of his hopes to the aged widow, Mr. Rae inquired of her if she could think of any other friend to whom he could make another appeal on her behalf. She said there was only one person, an old schoolfellow, who, she was sure, would befriend her, if he was still alive, and had it in his power. "What is his name, and where is he to be found!" inquired Mr. Rae. -" His name is William Thomson ; he sailed for America forty years ago, where, I believe, he settled; but I have never heard of or from him since." - "This is a wide address, and, I fear, a hopeless chance," said Mr. Rae; but he is not easily baffled when good to a deserving and suffering fellow-creature is the object. He knew something of a worthy and benevolent Gallovidian citizen of New York, a Mr. Johnston ;*** and he at once penned a letter, detailing all the circumstances of Widow Cunningham, the Mary Sharpe of other years, addressed it "William Thomson," and despatched it, under cover, to Mr. Johnston of New York. Mr. Johnston knew a Judge Thomson of Broome County, who, he thought, answered the description given by Mr Rae.He forwarded the letter to him, and he was the man! Read his letter,of which I enclose a copy.

I may tell you that Judge Thomson is now dead;**** but the widow Cunningham still lives. He left her £600 by his will: which will render her comfortable in her old age; and probably leave a handsome sum to her daughter, (an unmarried woman) who has, for several years, attended her mother in the most dutiful and affectionate manner.

I am, &c. A. D.

* See Mr. Thomson's letter subjoined, where he details the circumstances of his voyage out to Jamaica, &c
** The following are a few particulars of Mary Sharpe's intervening history: - her parents being poor, she went to work in the house of an aunt of the third Lord Selkirk, where she remained some years; and being a handsome girl, she had several admirers; and amongst the rest, Mr. Lennox, afterwards of New York, and the father of the Mr. Lennox who purchased Dalscairth, near Dumfries, some years ago. She removed to Liverpool, and was soon afterwards married to Mr. Cunningham, Master and Supercargo of a large ship. He died 35 or 36 years ago at Surinam, leaving his widow with four young children, their only provision being the industry of the widow. She, however, contrived to bring up her family in respectability ; and when they were all able to do for themselves, she once more went to service at Stobo Castle, near Peebles, the seat of Sir James Montgomery, whose Lady was Lord Selkirk's aunt. Three of her children having died, and age and infirmity coming upon her, she some years ago took shelter in the alms-house at Liverpool.
*** It is singular, that this Mr. Johnston, to whom Mr. Rae addressed his letter, should happen to be the only surviving acquantance which Judge Thomson had in New York.
**** He died (as appears from the Dumfries papers of 17th March, 1842,) on 30th January, 1842. He had previous remitted the first year's annuity to Mrs. Cunningham, in addition to the previous remittance of £10.

From Judge Thomson To Mr. Rae.
Binghamton, Broome County, State of New York, Aug. 23, 1841.

John Rae, Esq.

Dear Sir, - Your favour of the 19th ult. reached me on the 9th instant. I have to return you my sincere thanks for the Herald newspaper; though the intelligence conveyed of the result of your elections grieved me exceedingly. Our late elections have also resulted in the overthrow of the liberal, or democratic cause. This I regret; as the progress of Liberalism, in the two freest countries on earth, most be arrested in its onward course - at least, for some time. The monied power seems, for a while, to be in the ascendant; and I doubt whether there ever will be sufficient virtue in the masses to effectually contend with it. I perceive, in your country, that whenever a few beneficial reforms have been adopted, the popular claims (as it were) run riot, and call for Chartism, Socialism, and every ism that is impracticable in a well-regulated community. All that the masses can reasonably demand is, that there be no impediment or bar to their rising in the world: such as that a private soldier may fight his way to the office of General; a sailor, who enters before the mast may be, by his courage and conduct, promoted to the rank of Admiral; and that public offices be impartially bestowed on the most capable and honest. I perceive that the constituencies of Ireland, Scotland, and the English boroughs are sound, - that Toryism being triumphant is owing to the landed aristocracy of England - alas! no longer Merry England. Enough of politics.

I am truly happy to hear that my dear and early friend, Mrs. Cunningham, is well. The explanation you gave of the institution where she resided was perfectly satisfactory. I should like to know the name of the benevolent founder. I hope your business will permit you to see Mrs. Cunningham frequently. Say everything kind to her for me. In November, our mutual friend, John Johnston, forwarded you a draft for her use, (say £20 sterling.) You will oblige by sending occasionally a Galloway newspaper. After an absence of sixty years, it does not appear that much change has taken place in the landed property in the Stewartry, or in Wigtonshire. You are desirous to know my native place. My father was from Dalry, my mother from Borgue. Fortune brought them together about the middle of the last century, as servants, at the house of Mr. McMillan of Barwhinnock, in the parish of Twynholm. They were married there, and went to live, as cottars, with Mr._______ of ______, who, I have often heard my mother say, was one of the cruellest and profanest of men. My parents soon left Lochfergus and went into Borgue, in the same humble capacity. There I was born on the 17th of July, 1765. After being some years at the parish school there, I was put to board at an uncle's, who farmed Castlecrave in the parish of Rerwick, and walked three miles daily, in the summer, to Mr. Gordon's school in Kirkcudbright. In the winter, I boarded at the house of Hugh Johnston in the Milburn. I recollect a family of your name there, that were wrights. During several summers I passed the house of Adam Sharpe, Mary's father; and his children, of which Mary was the eldest, also went to Mr. Gordon's school. We generally went and returned together, and formed an attachment founded on the most innocent love and youthful friendship; and had I been the heir of the fairest estate in Galloway, Mary would have had the offer of my hand: but, alas! poverty was an insuperable bar, and we were but children of about fourteen years of age. Mary's parents were both from Borgue, and there was only a few months' difference in our ages. I cannot consent to my friendly feelings to my schoolmate being made public. The good old bookseller is not to let the left hand know what the right hand doth. My means of liberality were all disposed of previous to my knowledge of Mrs. C.'s situation. I wish she would get her daughter to write a letter for her to me.

I have, if my executors are honest - which I hope they are - secured to Mary £600, which will support her in comfort, and something be left to reward her daughter. My schoolmates that I recollect, were James Mitchel, son of the ancient Dr. Mitchel; Alexander Gordon, son of our schoolmaster; Thomas Bean, James Bean, James Liddesdale, David M'Lellan; James, John, and Robert Clarke, sons of Dr. Clarke. William Johnston, and his brother John, went to Mr. Monnoch's school. My health is such, that I have little prospect of surviving the coming winter. Should it be so, I cannot complain: my days of pilgrimage have already surpassed the ordinary age allotted to man. My ancestry are truly plebeian, and my poor father, out of twenty years' penurious economy, laid up what paid for a steerage passage for me in a Glasgow ship to Jamaica, where I landed in May, 1783, a poor lad, unbefriended and penniless. I lived there fifteen years, and left in August, 1798. I was one of twenty-four young men who were my fellow-passengers in the Glasgow ship; and have been for the last forty-two years the only survivor, and the only one of them that had saved any property worth notice. I have been two weeks writing this letter. Should you not again hear from me, you will hear of me from your friend John Johnston, who is very wealthy, and as respectable as any man can be. Since the death of my ancient friend Robert Lenox, he is the only one left to me in the city of New York. I am exhausted, and must finish. Most truly your friend.

(Signed) Wm. Thomson.

Binghamton, Broome County, New York. 16 October, 1841.
Mr. John Rae.

Dear Sir, - By a letter from our mutual friend, John Johnston, Esq., he informs me that on the 29th ultimo he has remitted to you, on my account, for the use of my dear friend, Mrs. Mary Cunningham, a set of exchange for £21, 2s. 2d. sterling, which I doubt not will come to hand safe, and be duly honoured. This sum I hope, together with the other little perquisites she at present enjoys, will place her in tolerably comfortable circumstances. Be so kind as to present to her my sincere love and regard; and [say] that she may depend on the like sum annually, during my life. I have also by will left her £600 sterling, payable in two years from my decease, the interest annually. But, my dear Sir, it would probably be best that little should be made public on this subject, as it might lead to the curtailment of her present comfortable location. She owes much to you. I hope you see her often. I am desirous to receive a letter from her; her daughter can act as amanuensis. I have to thank you for a Dumfries and Galloway newspaper occasionally. Galloway, both Shire and stewartry, acted well at the last election, - Broughton nobly. We have a strong war feeling here. I hope the good sense of Britain and the United States will perceive the advantage of peace. War between those states would disturb and retard the civilisation of the whole human race. The human passions are yet far from being chastened by the mild precepts of our holy religion. - Yours sincerely. (Signed) Wm Thomson.

P.S. My health has been very poor for a year past. - W. T.

Mr. John Rae, 10, Charlotte Place, Liverpool.

From Judge Thomson To Mary Sharpe, Mrs. Cunningham.
Binghamton, Broome County, State of New York, 28th Feb., 1841.

Mrs. Mary Cunningham, - My earliest and most beloved friend, Mr. Rae's letter of the 20th November, 1840, did not reach me until the 2d February, 1841. In two days after it came to hand I remitted to my friend, John Johnston, Esq., of the city of New York, £10 sterling, for thy immediate relief, which he writes to me he has done. I was truly happy to learn that thee was still numbered with the living; but I was much distressed to think how much thy feelings must have been wounded by the humiliations thee has been compelled to submit to. Thee did me justice in believing that, if I knew thy distress, I would be willing to assist thee; and I cannot express how much I am indebted to thee for the present call. But, my dear Mary, why was thy situation not made known to me twenty years ago? How happy it would have made me to have averted from the woman I have ever loved above all others, the distress and mortifications she has undergone. It wounds my feelings extremely to think that thee has become the pensioner of an alms-house. It must not continue so. Would £25 annually enable thee to remove into thine own rented house, and support thee in anything like comfort! That sum I can spare, without curtailing the comforts of my family. My circumstances for the last forty years have been easy, but never very rich. I give thee my history. A few months after I parted with thee in Liverpool, I married into a Quaker family in the State of New York, and commenced farming my own freehold. In six or eight years, perceiving that there was no probability of my having a family of children, I disposed of my property near to New York, located myself in the State of Pennsylvania, where, for thirty years, I employed myself in superintending my farm, (a large one,) and in discharging the duties of a Magistrate and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, in Susquehanna County. I had no desire to be very rich, and the bent of my own mind rather disposed me to literary pursuits, which now afford my principal enjoyment. Some years since I sent to Galloway for my sister, her husband, and her three daughters, their husbands, and their fifteen grandchildren, all of whom are now settled on three valuable farms, with stock and everything they can reasonably want. If they are industrious and prudent, they and their descendants are placed where, if poverty reaches them, it will be their own fault.

My sister deceased a few weeks since, aged 80 years. In 1836, my wife deceased. She confided to my protection an aged maiden her sister, who had lived with us 35 years; also her niece, a girl of 12 years, which she had adopted. I married the old maiden, and domestic matters were conducted without change. Becoming infirm, I sold my farm, and now reside near Binghamton, 170 miles from New York city. While I live thee shall have £25 annually, in December, which Mr. Johnston will remit; and I have made a codicil to my will, by which thee will receive £600. Should my life, however, be spared for a few years, I will remit that sum to thee myself. If the interest of £600, say £30, would support thee in comfort, the principal sum, or a part of it, would put it in thy power to reward thy dutiful child, who has foregone opportunities, no doubt, of bettering her condition, in order to wait on and comfort her aged parent. When I last saw thee, thee had three children, a son in Scotland, and two daughters with thee; one about three years old, I think, named Mary, and the other a babe in the cradle. How many of thy children grew up! What year did Captain Cunningham die? I think thee said he was then in Martinique. If your hand has become unsteady, get some one to write me for thee, and give me a history of all thy troubles. Are thy brother and sisters yet alive? The Scottish aristocracy are a heartless race. It is a disgrace to the Selkirk family that Mary Sharpe ever knew want. I am now in my seventy-sixth year, and I well remember there was but a few months' difference in our ages. I hope, my dear Mary, that thee will believe me to write in sincerity and truth when I say, that thee has conferred on me an obligation, that I can never repay, by calling upon me in thy distress. Had I known whereabouts thee was to be found, the call would not have been waited for. Had I known thy situation twenty years ago, how much humiliation would have been spared thee. On receipt of this give me a long letter in return; and write to me every three months. Address, William Thomson, Esq., Binghamton, Broome county, State of New York. Put thy letter in a packet, or steam-ship bag, a day or two before the set time of sailing, and I will receive it in about three weeks. Farwell, my dear Mary; and believe me to be, at moment, as sincerely thy friend as when we ware footing up the Barhill together, on our way from school. With sentiments of love and affection unchanged, I remain, thine ever,

William Thomson.

One is at a loss whether most to admire the faith of Mary Sharpe in her old schoolfellow of whom she had not heard for forty years, or the unswerving truth of that ancient friend. What a singular combination of tender enthusiasm and matter-of-fact duty and prudence, does this worthy man's epistle display! Marrying the "aged maiden" bequeathed to him, is indeed somewhat repulsive to our insular ideas; but it is thus that, by the law of the land, things are regulated in the New World. We conclude by hoping that Judge Thomson may be the citizen of the State of New York, who lately left an annual sum to be given as a prize for the best Essay on the advantages of Free trade, and direct taxation. Indeed, his politics seem as sound and enlightened, as his heart must have been warm, faithful, and devoted.