Postponement of the Exploring Expedition projected at the beginning of 1860. My Son's Letter to his Sister on going into Society. Mr. Birnie's Opinion of him, and Extract from his Lecture. Letter from William to his Mother on Religious Views and Definitions of Faith. His last Communications to his family at Home, before the Departure of the Expedition.
I OMIT my son's letters of January and February, 1860, as they contain nothing on scientific matters, or on the subject of Australia, although interesting in other respects. They mark the habitual tone of his feelings and principles, his constant habit of self-examination, his study of his fellow-men, and how strongly he was impressed with the truth of Pope's grand conclusion, that
"Virtue alone is happiness below."
"You will be glad to learn," he says, writing to his mother on the 17th of March, "that the Exploring Expedition is postponed for six months, for want of a suitable leader, as none of the candidates who offered their services were thought qualified in a scientific point of view. [Footnote: Oddly enough, Mr. Burke, who was afterwards chosen, with many requisites of a high order, was deficient in this, which, indeed, he never for a moment pretended to possess.] You need not work yourself up to such a state of excitement at the bare idea of my going, but should rather rejoice that the opportunity presents itself. The actual danger is nothing, and the positive advantages very great. Besides, my dear mother, what avails your faith if you terrify yourself about such trifles? Were we born, think you, to be locked up in comfortable rooms, and never to incur the hazard of a mishap? If things were at the worst, I trust I could meet death with as much resignation as others, even if it came to-night. I am often disgusted at hearing young people I know, declare that they are afraid of doing this or that, because they MIGHT be killed. Were I in some of their shoes I should be glad to hail the chance of departing this life fairly in the execution of an honourable duty."
The following selections from his numerous letters at this time are little more than extracts, and form but a small portion of the whole. All speak his admiration of a great and beneficent Creator, derived from the study of his works. He had a great distaste for sectarianism, and for a too slavish devotion to forms and conventionalities, whether in religious or social practice, fearing lest these extremes might savour of untruthfulness or hypocrisy.
Magnetic Observatory, Melbourne, April 18th, 1860.
MY DEAR BESSY,
The mail was to have closed to-morrow, but the Emeu has met with an accident which will delay it for another week, so that I hope to treat you to a long letter. I was much disappointed at receiving nothing from you this month. It would be a first-rate plan to do what a friend of mine was recommending to me only this evening, namely to commence an epistle at the beginning of each month, and add a little daily, adopting as your motto the Latin proverb, "Nulla dies sine linea," which means, No day without a line. You might at least favour me with a few monthly. It would be as much for your own benefit as for my pleasure. Pray don't send a poor excuse again about waiting for an answer to a former letter.
I must now return to the subject of my last. I hope you have carefully considered the remarks contained therein; and I wish to draw your attention to other matters not so immediately connected with religion, but which may seriously affect your prosperity and happiness in this world. I fear that mamma is too much inclined to discourage your going into society. If so, with all due deference to my dear mother's experience and judgment, she has adopted a mistaken view. You will perhaps say, you do not care for society. So much the worse; that proves the evil of seclusion. I had the same ideas once, and greatly to my disadvantage in a general sense, although in one point they may have been beneficial, by making me devote more time to my studies. But I am doubtful even about that. At any rate, girls are differently situated. Having no need of deep scientific knowledge, their education is confined more to the ordinary things of the world, the study of the fine arts, and of the manners and dispositions of people. It is often asserted that women are much sharper than men in estimating character. Whether that be the case or not, is more than I can say, but I think it ought to be, because women have better opportunities and more leisure than we have for noticing little peculiarities and the natural expression of the features. Now, my advice would be, to go as much as you can into quiet, good society, and moderately into gay; not to make it the business of life, as some do, who care for little beyond frivolous amusements, and that merely for the sake of killing time. But go to these places, even if you do not like them, as a duty you owe to yourself and others, even as you used to go to school, when you would rather have remained at home.