James Stephen to Mary Stephen Dougan, August 1831


James Stephen, a prominent abolitionist who married William Wilberforce's sister Sarah, was a close friend of John Dougan (1765-1826) and godfather to his daughters Mary and Emily Dougan.

This letter was kindly sent to me by Charles Baron.

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[Addressed to] Miss Dougan, Prospect Street, Reading

Missenden, Bucks, August 4 1831

My Dear Mary

It is very long since I heard from or of you. It is perhaps my own fault. I might have written sooner to enquire about you. I have for months past, though almost daily of doing so; but strange though you may think it, my writing time and facilities are always even here so hard to [?] by [?] demands on them, as to force me to procrastinate in those purposes when I can. Often, I can truly say, have you and the other children of my departed friend been in my thoughts and prayers.

How and where is Emily? I have not heard from her since we parted in Portland Place and I am consequently left uncertain whether [JW Brannah?] kept his word with me by forwarding the briefing case to her or Sir Harry Verney by the first coach. I have not been since in London to enquire of him; but as I gave the precise address that Sir Harry gave me for the purpose and the direction he also gave me to the Coach and Inn, I think it is alright. Indirectly, I heard and was very sorry to hear, that Mr Charles Elliott had been unwell and that they were or had been at Cheltenham. I hope his health is now established and that they are as happy as it pleases heaven to allow that we poor mortals soon shall be in this imperfect state of being.

I heard also circuitously and with surprise that Laura had actually embarked for the East Indies - with surprise because, if I was told that her departure was so early an event expected, I certainly either did not hear, or had quite forgotten it. She should not otherwise have sailed without an affectionate letter from me.

Pray, my dear Mary, let not friendly intercourse or communication between us be diminished during the brief remainder of my days; by any retaliation on your part for defaults on mine. Remember that I am an old man, and that old men are naturally dull and forgetful. They are, I admit, too often cold and insensible too. But I do not think I shall ever feel those effects of age so chillingly, as not to put warm interest in your welfare and that of your family. I hope therefore that you will not leave me uninformed of any occurrence important to you and my other young friends at Reading, more especially if it is a case in which my advice or any assistance in my power may be useful.

On my side I have little to communicate. The Wilberforces stayed with me three weeks. Since then my sons Henry's and George's families and other friends have kept this house full to overflowing. My daughter Anny and her children, with two of George's [and?] are still here and I expect the Garretts soon. Thus it pleases a kind Providence to give me in [? still a] to see and hear the enjoyments most [?] for my age and which are also the [?] to my choice. I have also cause for thankfulness in the large portion of health that I and all my children and grandchildren and other visitors, have enjoyed here. The only illness among us has been that of my dear daughter Anny, who brought the influenza with her from London and is still suffering from its weakening effects, but is nearly well and I hope trust[?] will be quite so in another day or two. She joins me in affectionate remembrances to you and your sisters. Pray let me have a line or two soon.

I am my dear Mary very sincerely and affectionately yours

JW Stephen