[This letter was sent c/o Messrs. Proudfoot & Munroe.]W-MCP5-6.262 TO ISAAC BALDWIN MCQUESTEN from his friend W.H. Elk
Aug 18 1870
To: Isaac B. McQuesten, Hamilton, Ontario
From: 50 Penton Place [?], London, S.E., [U.K.]
My dear Ike,
I have read with feelings of the deepest satisfaction your truly gratifying epistle. I know of no purer pleasure than that which is afforded to the virtuous mind by perusing
evidence tending to shew that those who once wallowed in the
filth of folly and vice have been reclaimed to the paths of
wisdom and virtue, and aspire with all the charming zeal of
proselytes to offer advice and instruction to their betters. Such a pleasure, Isaac, has been mine, and you have been the cause.
I am now living in London which is a good sized town situated on the river Thames. The inhabitants are
principally Cockneys. They speak a language peculiar to
themselves but which has many points in common with the
English tongue. They have some very curious religious and philosophical beliefs among which I may mention that London is the nucleus of the Universe, that all other beings were created for the pleasure of the Cockneys, that the Garden of Eden was in Covent Garden, that the Lord Mayor is a lineal
descendant of Adam, and that Heaven is situated immediately
above Temple Bar. They worship two Idols which they call Gog and Magog. The priests of their Idols are called "Bobbies." There are two churches here St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey. Contrary to the custom which prevails among Christians the inhabitants go to these churches on weekdays, and spend Sunday in the Beer shop or in a trip to the seaside. It is comparatively rare to see a drunken man or hear an oath in the streets.
A fortnight ago I spend a few hours in Oxford. I was
charmed with it--quaint houses, crooked narrow streets--fine old trees and a score or so of magnificent grey old colleges
scattered in here and there at haphazard--High St. resembles King St. in Toronto squeezed to half its natural width and wriggling violently under the affliction.
On my way down to London I paid a visit to my birth place and renewed my acquaintance with sundry companions of my childhood. It is an affecting sight to see those whom you left innocent children grown into bearded men and lovely
and accomplished women, (generally engaged to be married).
The Sturgeon and I occupy a suite of Apartments
consisting of a Dining Room, Drawing Room, Library, Bed
Chamber, and Hall, and, I had almost forgotten it, a
Breakfast Room. I am writing now in the Library. The
Sturgeon has characteristically just retired to the Bed Chamber which is separated from the other apartments by a
wooded partition. The Breakfast, Dining, Drawing Rooms and the Library command an extensive prospect of the chimney pots over the way.
I went the other day to call on your friend Roper but
found that he had gone into the country for his holidays. When he returns I
shall look him up.
It is now the witching hour 8 past twelve. The organ
grinders have ceased their melodious discords, the cries of the Itinerant Vendors are heard no more and I must seek my uncontaminated couch to gain strength for the duties and operations of the morrow--Till then adieu!!!
18th--Yesterday was so taken up with operations and
with the visit of a fellow from Canada whom we accompanied to the national Gallery, and afterwards to the Queen's Theater, Long Acre finishing with a super in a Coffee House on Oxford St. that I had no time to write to you. Today the
mail goes and I must finished [sic]. The Sturgeon has just opened a letter from Vander1 and is reading it. It has the
Club seal on the outside of the envelope, and is addressed
with half the letters of the alphabet after his name. I
wish that you would disperse with all letters in addressing
us--I mean unnecessary letters. Especially when it comes to the care of some respectable old Buffer who opens his eyes in horror and astonishment at me. Vander has sent us his
Presidential Blessing, signed with his pipe in his mouth.
One part of your Epistle surprised and perplexed me greatly. In alluding to that divine creature to whose
celestial name my trembling pen is all unworthy and whose
mention in your epistle cast such a brilliant but hallowed
radiance over the page that I was able to read it at
midnight, that sweet Angelic Presence that once illumined
Gloucester St. (sacred name!) now Sarnia, that Paragon of
all that is virtuous and fair and lovely in Woman who was
turns from the thousand haughtily to all beside, humble as Humility to her who pour out their passionate wooing at her feet to bestow the Paradise of the smiles, the Lombard St. of her love, on her own, her darling, her roseate haired, Isaac, you said that she "sends glowing accounts of the Glorious Apollo (!) well known to fame and the Sturgeon!"--at least that is the only meaning which I can extract from
you hieroglyphics. Now in reference to the Sturgeon I learn that the Glorious Apollo is a "Public" as it would be called here--America a Saloon. What meaneth this? There is only one meaning which I can discover and my hand refuses to
guide my pen to form the words that give it a name. Oh
Isaac! Isaac! While there is yet time fly to her, charge
her, entreat her on your knees to beware! the bowl give her if need be your own sad experience such a crisis will brook no half measures. Tell her from me, a medical man, that if she flys [sic] to the enticing cup, her ambrosial nose will
assume the hue of ruby and will vie in brilliancy with your own, that your meetings will no longer be sweetened by the sparkling eye of love but each will be repelled by the nasal corruscations of the other.
But I must draw a veil over the sad picture--think of these things my beloved Isaac, and all the other admonitions
wherewith I admonished you.
Shun excess in alcoholic drink,2 but a glass of Ale at
dinner is not bad--I sometimes take one myself--and hot Whiskey and water in moderation is a comfort to the soul. Remember that nothing consoles like the Indian Weed. Be virtuous and you'll be happy.
With love to the Club I am
1 Vander Smissen or Vandersmissen is a professor at the University of Toronto.
2 This comment helps to establish that Isaac developed
a dependency on alcohol while a student.