Matthew Fontaine Maury/3

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CHAPTER III.


Appointed Master of the ship Falmouth on the Pacific Station — Melancholy anecdote — Literary studies under great difficulties — First study of Winds and Currents — Paper on the low barometer off Cape Horn — First Lieut. of the ship Dolphin — Return home in 1834 — Marriage — Publication of his work on navigation — Birth of his eldest daughter — Appointment to survey Southern Harbors — Visit to his parents in Tennessee — Fall from a stagecoach — Fracture of his leg — Long illness — Death of his parents — Application for employment.



In 1831 Matthew Fontaine Maury was appointed master of the sloop-of-war Falmouth, which had been ordered to the Pacific Station. Years later, Maury used to warn his children against any injustice to their companions in thought or deed, by telling them the story of “Johns”, a young midshipman who was on the Falmouth when Maury joined her for her four years cruise. Young “Johns”, when going ashore at Norfolk, had been entrusted by a comrade, whom we will call “Brown”, with a case containing two bottles of very precious attar of roses for his sisters. He shared his room at the hotel in Norfolk that night with another midshipman, who we shall calle “Alex”. “Alex” was to leave very early in the morning to visit some relations, having leave of absence for some months. He accordingly rose early and took his departure, without waking Johns, but first, only for a joke, he poured out the attar and filled the bottles with water. Johns awoke in due time and took the case, which he had never opened, to the sisters of Brown, afterwards joining the Falmouth for her cruise in the Pacific. The sisters, as soon as they found the bottles were filled with water, wrote to their brother to complain of the dishonesty of Johns, “who must,” said they, “have stolen and sold the attar.” Their brother immediately agreed with their conclusion, and, after telling the story to the whole mess, demanded that Johns should be treated as a thief and “sent to coventry,” being no fit associate for young gentlemen. In vain did the poor young man tell his story; no one believed him. Matthew Maury, who did not think the evidence sufficient to convict, and who therefore refused to treat him with scorn and contempt, as all the rest did, stood by him, and, as he himself often said, was his only comfort in that long cruise. “Johns” died of a broken heart, and was buried at Callao, protesting his innocence to the last, which was fully established in the minds of all by the remorse of “Alex” when he heard the result of his cruel practical joke.


On the Falmouth Maury had a cabin to himself, and in addition to his own small store of books he had the use of a fine collection belonging to a richer messmate, William Irving (brother to the famous author, Washington Irving, who wrote The Sketch Book (1819-1820) under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon which contains “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”. I make specific mention of these details as well as the pseudonym because in the years to come, Matthew Fontaine Maury himself wrote under his own pseudonyms such as “Will Watch and Ben Bow” and may have been influenced here as with Edgar Allen Poe who Maury also became acquainted with when Poe was an editor. I see these authors as possibly influencing Maury’s future writings and plans. Maury seems to have learned something of value with all he became acquainted with. But brother William Irving was never a great reader. He was often heard to say that it was not until he had been put repeatedly to the blush because of his ignorance of the standard literature of the day, and had wondered at the evident delight afforded to some of his companions on reading or quoting a beautiful or striking passage, that he resolutely set himself to work to read the English classics, and to try to enjoy what gave so much pleasure to the most cultivated of his associates. His was eminently an original mind, and he delighted to spend hours in meditation, working out his own great ideas. But he had the Bible and Shakespeare at his fingers’ ends, and his many writings abound in quotations from both.


It was during this voyage on the Falmouth to Rio de Janeiro, on his way to the Pacific, that Matthew Fontaine Maury conceived the idea of his celebrated “Wind and Current Charts”, which have since accomplished so much for the commerce of the world. This was the first occasion in which he accepted the responsibility of sailing master, and he was naturally anxious to make a quick voyage.


Before leaving New York, Maury had searched in every direction for reliable information as to the winds and currents to be encountered, and the best path for his vessel to follow. He soon found that little was known on the subject. Here was a deplorable want which Maury resolved he would one day supply. It was on this voyage also that he observed and began to study the curious phenomenon of the “low barometer” off Cape Horn, and it upon this subject that he wrote his first scientific paper for publication, which appeared in the American “Journal of Science” But the labors of his pen did not end here, for it was on this cruise also that Maury began to prepare for the press a work on navigation, the materials for which he had been gathering together in his mind for several years.


While the ship lay at Callao, he wrote the following affectionate letter to his brother Dick in Tennessee:

U.S.S. Falmouth, Callao, April 16th, 1833

Dear Dick,

I owe you much for your kind letter of Oct. last, which came to hand last night. I am writing on my knee for want of a table, so do not grumble at the illegibility of the writing. Your letters are always very charming to me; they give me the best and fullest accounts of all that is going on, only you have never told me of your third increase of family, though it is so common for you and your wife to multiply I do not wonder that you should have forgotten it. Four years married, and three children already! Why, that is as many as I want altogether. Old Mr. Spotswood, the poorest man I know, has some fifteen or twenty children. He says he values each one at 7,000 pounds, and his wife at 12,000 pounds! I hope you will realize at that rate off each one of yours. I am getting frightened, seeing you doing these things at such a round rate; however, I may have none. In that case we will call yours ours. I cannot say when I shall be married; that depends upon my promotion, and God knows whether I am to look for that this year, or the next, or the next. I am, and have been for the last year, doing the duties and receiving the pay of a lieutenant. I am sorry to hear you have had such ill luck with your crops. I hope you will make up this year for all lost time, and be able to place yourself square in the world. But can’t you farmers make more than three hundred dollars a year? That seems monstrous little. How much will it cost me to live on shore? I have given A.K. (the 4th auditor) directions to pay to you the sum of three hundred dollars — a claim which I have had standing with the department for some years; reading your letter reminded me of it. The claim is a just one; I have ordered him to send you the amount. This little sum I send you to speculate with; if you make anything from it, we will share the net profits; if you lose it, the loss is mine, and we will say nothing about it. I suppose even ten or fifteen dollars off it, a year, would be some little help to you? If you do not get more than that from your investment, appropriate the whole profits, my good fellow, to your own purposes. You need not be scrupulous about it, for it is lying idle in the department, and would continue there doing nothing until I should call for it after I get to the U.S. When I was last in the U.S., thought if I could get employment as a surveyor, or anything of that sort, by a State, I would try a hand at it and let “Uncle Sam off”; but I believe I have too many notions, and that after all “Uncle Sam” will have the selling of my bones to the doctors.


I like what you say of Charles. I hope he will make a useful man of business; I wish he was not so unsociable as he appeared to be when I saw him last. Say something affectionate and encouraging to him from me.

From the continuance of K.’s silence, I suppose he must be miffed at something I may have said to him from Georgetown. I do not care how little I have done to injure his feelings, or how innocently; be pleased to make any apologies that are becoming. Make advances on my part and meet him more than half way. I hope, though, that I may be mistaken about his feeling hurt at anything I’ve done or said.


Your brother,
Mat.

Having been transferred from the Falmouth to the schooner Dolphin, Maury performed the duty of first lieutenant on that vessel until he joined the frigate Potomac, on which he returned to the United States in 1834.


The ship was paid off at Boston, and the young officer returned to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and married his cousin, Miss Ann Hull Herndon, to whom he had been engaged for several years.


Maury's fee to the clergyman who married them, the Reverend Dr. Maguire, was the last ten dollars he possessed in the world. Not long after his marriage he went on to Philadelphia to make arrangements with Mr. Biddle, a prominent publisher of that place, to bring out his "first born," as he used to call it — his work on navigation.


So great was his poverty while there that he lived on cheese and crackers, which he would eat at odd moments in his little garret chamber.


It was considered a bold step on the part of an officer of no higher rank than that of a passed midshipman to publish a work on navigation; but the book, like its author, had the ring of true mettle, and made its way in spite of all obstacles. It was favorably noticed by the highest nautical authorities in England, and it BECAME THE TEXTBOOK OF THE UNITED STATES NAVY overshadowing "Bowditch" and only ROTE memorization of his Practical Navigation, a complex work with errors, the Navy's "Bible" -- but without any understanding, of sections as the requirement of the U. S. Navy -- useless foolishness on the part of the navy for any true navigator whose life was at great risks while far out to sea in what is termed "Blue Water".

At about this time Maury's eldest child, Elizabeth Herndon Maury, was born.


A month after his work on navigation was published, he applied for sea service again, and was attached to the South Sea Exploring Expedition, then fitting out under the command of Commodore Catesby Jones. Maury joined the expedition as astronomer and hydrographer, although he was at that time junior lieutenant on the list.


On receiving the appointment, Maury went to Philadelphia for study and to prepare himself for this responsible position. In a little plank observatory in Rittenhouse Square, Maury became adept in the use of the telescope, transit instrument, and theodolite.


In 1834 Captain Charles Wilkes succeeded Commodore Catesby Jones in the command of the expedition. Captain Charles Wilkes, it was understood, wished to reorganize it, and Maury, with great delicacy offered to resign. But on the same day Maury again applied for active service, and was then assigned the duty of making surveys of southern harbors. On leaving home he took with him a tiny shoe from the foot of each of his little daughters (for by this time he had two) to hang up in his cabin and remind him of the pattering feet he loved so tenderly and would miss so sorely. In the following letter to his brother, written while he was in Philadelphia, Matthew Fontaine Maury writes of his plans and aspirations for the future:


Philadelphia, October 29th, 1835


Dear Dick,


Yours of the 10th instant is before me; for which I thank you most heartily. But first I must tell you how comes it that I am here. I left Fredericksburg ten days ago, and am here for the purpose of hurrying my book through the press. The publishers were to let me have the proof sheets in Fredericksburg but they came to me so slowly that I resolved to come on here and use every exertion to bring the book out before Congress meets. Without wishing to excite your expectations, I will let you into the secret of my plans, which I wish you to preserve as secret, in order that, if I should not succeed in what I undertake, my friends and family may not feel the effects of disappointment. You must bear in mind that this is the first nautical work of science that has ever come from the pen of a naval officer; and upon its merits I intend to base a claim for promotion. Such a case has no precedent. Therefore you must look upon it as an experiment in which I may, or I may not, be successful. If I succeed, I shall be put over the heads of many who are now above me. You see in this another motive for secrecy, for many of those over whose heads it is likely I would be placed would, if they knew I contemplated such a thing, use every exertion to prevent it. I shall ask to be made a Lieutenant of ten years rank. If this is done (of which I am by no means sanguine), besides the advantage of making me old in rank, it will entitle me (I think) to back pay, as though I had been a Lieutenant for these ten years; and this back pay will amount to some $4,000 or $5,000.


I shall be promoted next March at any rate, and my object is to get the book out and present my claim before that time, which, by being presented before I receive any promotion, will be doubly strong. Hence the haste to have the book out. I wish to impress upon you that I am not sanguine of success, but am resolved to try every honourable means to accomplish the object, and to take the most favourable time for it. The book, I hope, will be out in about six weeks. One hundred pages are printed; them are about 300 more. Negotiations for having 150 of the latter stereotyped (they are tables) are on foot. So much for my book, and my secret plans.


Now, Dick, for your letter and your generosity, which you prove to be what, Dick, I know it is. In my dilemma last Fall I did not apply to you for assistance, not because I thought you would not render it cheerfully (for I have always felt that to do so would be a pleasure to you), but because I thought K. would do it cheerfully also, and with less inconvenience than you could. While I was waiting for his reply, I was relieved by having the greater part of the money, which the department had withheld from me, allowed to me. This placed me beyond the necessity of calling upon my friends for pecuniary aid. I then announced this circumstance to K., and offered to serve him in any way I could, and I assure you I should be very happy to serve him. So, Dick, I beg that you will not suffer yourself to have any unpleasant feelings about the matter; for I feel that security in your friendship and affection which I have ever felt, which grew up with us from our childhood, and which has been and is a source of unutterable gratification to me. You know that of all of our brothers, we two were more as one in feeling and in disposition; even our boyish fights never interrupted the tide of affection between us. It has never been the custom with us to use words in order to express our feelings for each other, nor shall I break in upon that custom now; but I delight to think of our happy days together when we were young. I do not think that I shall want any money, Dick. I am making the book bear my expenses while I am here, and my pay is appropriated to the use of my family. I shall be here about six weeks, I expect. I have put matters in such a train that I shall know of this to-morrow.


Tell A. R. Maury that if I am not in Fredericksburg when he passes through, my wife will be there, who will be much pleased to form his acquaintance, and that I hope he will allow her an opportunity of so doing. How does little Mat come on, and who is he like? Give my love to Sr. Peggy and every one of the children. Tell Charles I hope he is getting rich. He must write to me. I never know where to find him, else he should hear from me. Love to Pa and Ma and Catherine. Tell the latter she must knit me a pair of yarn socks. Goodnight, dear Dick, and believe me as ever,


Yours affectionately, Mat.

The following is a remarkable letter from a young man of twenty-eight to his elder brother. He writes as if he felt every word, although he did not become a professing Christian himself until 1867, when he joined the Episcopal Church while in London after the American Civil War:


Fredericksburg, November 16th, 1834

My Dear Brother,


For several days I have been promising myself this pleasure. I am at leisure today, and housed in consequence of the sleet, which fell last night, and the bleak wind which whistling at the windows. Last Sunday I wrote to our good old mother, and during the week I mailed to her a religious newspaper — which Ann takes — and proposes, after she herself shall have finished it, to send for Ma’s entertainment.


Aleck tells me, Dick, that you have joined the Campbellites and become a disciple. I do not regret to hear that you have turned away from worldly things. There is another thing, Dick, persons professing to be Christians are very apt to make the conduct of their brother professors around them a standard for their own conduct towards God. This may, without knowing it, and unless one keep a watchful eye upon his own heart, tend, more or less, to lead us to regard unduly the opinions of the world, and prompt us to do what an untrammeled conscience would condemn. Learn your duties, Dick, from the Bible. There you have them laid down in example, law, and precept. I love to see Christians after the Bible and according to their own consciences, and not according to the opinions of other men. I hope, Dick, whatever persuasion you join, that you will be a Christian according to the Bible as you understand it.


As ever, yours, Mat.

After being engaged on surveying work for more than a year, Maury obtained a few weeks leave to visit his parents in Tennessee, and attend to some business matters for his father, who was now old and infirm. He also wished to make arrangements for bringing his parents into Virginia to live with him. On his way back to New York he was thrown from the top of a stagecoach, he having given his seat inside to a poor woman who could not stand the exposure of the cold night air. Maury’s leg was broken at the knee. It was set by an incompetent surgeon, and he languished for three months at Somerset, Ohio. It was found necessary to break the limb over again and reset it, and this was done without the aid of opium or chloroform, the use of which in surgical operations was then unknown. In January 1840, he believed himself so far recovered as to be able to resume his journey to New York, where the vessel was still lying to which he was attached. But he had to be driven in a sleigh from Ohio across the Alleghany Mountains in the dead of winter. He was much delayed on the road, and the vessel sailed without him.



The following letters were written just before and after his accident:


At Home, near Franklin, Tenn., Sept. 27th, 1839 My Dear Cousin,

In my last I alluded to the possibility of my parents return with me; but all their plans, and mine too, have been changed, at least for the present.


The Navy Department will not allow me to wait here for the rising of the waters, and I am afraid to venture with the old people and the very rough roads between this and Louisville, Ky. These considerations have induced my father to determine on a visit to my Sister Holland. It is their present intention to spend the winter with her in Mississippi, and in the spring, if Pa thinks himself equal to the undertaking, they will come on to Virginia. My mother, who is quite as untravelled as Aunt Herndon was, thinks she could perform the trip from here to Fredericksburg on horseback! My father’s voice, which was always very powerful, is as strong now as it ever was; he frequently exercises it in calling to his hands while at work at the top of its hail; it can be heard distinctly a mile off; under favourable circumstances it has been heard two miles.


Besides, being at Mrs. Holland’s, he will be within a day’s ride (35 miles) of Memphis on the Mississippi, whence he can choose his own time for the journey.


Since writing the above, I have received a letter from Nannie informing me of the arrival of a letter in a liver coloured envelope, requiring my immediate presence in New York, so I shall have the pleasure of seeing you sooner than I expected.


Sincerely, M.F.M.

The following letters describe his accident, sufferings and surroundings, at Somerset, Ohio:


___________________________


M. F. Maury to Ann Maury, New York

Somerset, Ohio, October 23rd, 1839 My Dear Cousin,


I shall not be with you according to intentions expressed in my last. I write, toes up, to inform you of the accident which detains me. With twelve others I was upset in a stage here last Friday, about 1 A.M. I was the thirteenth, and had my right knee joint transversely dislocated and the thigh bone longitudinally fractured, making together a very serious injury, from which a recovery must be slow.


Fortunately I am in the hands of a good physician, and my mind is at ease. According to one of the first physicians of the State, whom I had to examine the leg, treatment, &c., I may consider myself fortunate if I am off my back in three months time. With this prospect before me, I have written for Nannie and the children.


But for this or some other accident I should now have been in New York. My most affectionate good wishes to your father, and ever, dear Cousin, your friend,


M. F. Maury [1]

In December 1839, Maury had so far recovered from his accident as to be able to leave the place here it occurred. The following was one of his last letters written at Somerset, Ohio:
Miss Ann Maury, New York Somerset, Ohio, Dec. 25th, 1839

. . . . I hop out on the porch every day to take an airing and to inure myself to the weather. We have a fine snow for sleighing. I hope it will hold; travelling will be much more easy and much less fatiguing. The night, or a few nights before I left home, I pointed out the evening star to Bett and told her when I was gone to look at that and think of me. Not long after they heard of my misfortune the family were looking out upon the evening, and Bett gazing on the star, her little voice was heard in the tiny prayer, “I pray God to make my papa well.” There was a poetry and even a sublimity in this childish fancy, which, at the time and under the circumstances, were very touching. Message after message she sent me, Make haste to get up; go to the window and look at that beautiful star; but never have I been able to see it.


Thinking to keep up the train of poetry in their little minds about that star, I sent word to her and Annie to look at that star and wish for one thing, and whatever they wished for I would bring them. They both wished for cake! So much, you see, for my romance.


Your friend, M. F. Maury

In May 1841, Maury, having a home at Fredericksburg, in Virginia, sent his nephew, Dabney Herndon Maury, to Tennessee to bring his parents to live with him; and they went with the family to Washington in 1842, but both died within a year of the removal. The fracture of his leg had seriously affected Maury’s prospects in the Navy, and at one time there was ground for the apprehension that he might be altogether incapacitated from active service. At this period he wrote the following letters to his cousins, Mr. Rutson Maury of New York and Miss Ann Maury, in which he reviews his past career.


____________________________________________


Letter to his relative, Mr. Rutson Maury of New York: Fredericksburg, Virginia, August 31st, 1840

Dear Rutson,

My panacea, for ennui is the pen. There is no time hardly, when I enjoy more refined pleasures than when, deprived of companions, I dip into the ink-stand for friends that are far away. Therefore, I seldom or never feel lonesome. But, I account for the fact rather from an accident of education, than from any peculiarity of natural disposition.


When I became old enough to reflect, it was the aim at which all my energies were directed to make myself a useful man. I soon found that occupation, for some useful end or another was the true secret of happiness. With this idea, I left school, where I had received a very desultory sort of education. I was anxious to enter the Military Academy at West Point. But the bare mention of the wish put my father in a rage. I abandoned the idea, therefore; but secretly set about, through the agency of a friend (at that time a shop boy), to obtain a warrant in the navy; for my prospects, as I thought, had become exceedingly gloomy.


I had, at school, been called on by the teacher to hear first one class, and then another, until I became a regular amateur assistant. This was being useful, and I was proud of the occupation, though it seriously interfered with my own studies. The teacher, who was a poor young man from New York (he is now a lawyer of property at Newberg), finding that I was to be taken from school to follow the plough, offered, in the fullness of his heart, to send me to one of the northern colleges. He had just drawn $500 in a lottery, and like Gil Blas with his “ducats,” he thought there would be no end to his $500 prize. And no doubt in my eyes, also, the $500 seemed, like the old woman’s empty barrel of meal in the Bible, perfectly inexhaustible. But pride, or unwillingness to lay myself under such obligations, prevented the acceptance of the good Dominie’s offer.


In the meantime, my appointment in the navy came. I went home, and the first intelligence my parents had of my intentions was this letter of appointment. It disturbed the family very much, and my father expressed his disapprobation of my conduct in strong terms. As I had proceeded without consulting him, he determined to leave me to my own resources. I was resolute. I bought a horse, and got the man to trust me until I could remit him the money after selling the horse in Virginia. I set out from home without a cent in my pocket, intending to trust to luck, and, if necessary, stop on the road and work out my bills when I got to town. However, (Sunday morning), I found that the faithful Dominie had left $30 for me. I had not travelled many days, when mine host informed me that thenceforward my Tennessee money “would not go”; and he offered, “as it was me, “to give me $20” for what I had left. I thought him very kind, and accepted his offer. When I got to our cousin Reuben’s (Reuben Maury of "Piedmont" in Charlottesville, Va.) I had but 50 cents left, which I was exceedingly afraid Reuben would find out. And when I finally reached Fredericksburg the 50 cents was reduced to 25. I sold my horse “Fanny” for what I gave for her, and remitted the money to the man in Tennessee. And though I came without orders, Southard, who was then Secretary of the Navy, allowed me 15 cents a mile from Franklin to Washington City, which fairly put my head above water.


When I went on board ship, I set out to make everything bend to my profession. I was required to study Spanish; and that nothing might be lost, I got a Spanish work in navigation, and studied that. The information that I wanted I knew not where to seek. The consequence was, that I had to search for grains of knowledge among bushels of chaff. Hence it is that I have studied to so little advantage; but in studying I always kept in view some particular point on which I wanted information, and it is to that I alluded as an “accident of education.”


I used to resort to various artifices for study while on watch. If I went below only for a moment or two, and could lay hands upon a dictionary or any book. I would note a sentence, or even a word, that I did not understand, and fix it in my memory to be reflected upon when I went on deck. I used to draw problems in spherical trigonometry with chalk on the shot, and put them in the racks where I could see them as I walked the deck. That with so much perseverance I should have failed in my prime object, I attribute to the want of books and proper teachers in the navy. Therefore, if the next collection of Scraps from the Lucky Bag [2] should appear to you a little outre, you will know the cause. I have sent them to Mat to be overhauled by him.


Yours truly, M.F.M.

_______________________

Ann Maury of New York
Fredericksburg, Va., February 15th, 1840 My Dear Cousin,

I have not been long enough at home yet to systematise my time, and therefore have not set about anything in particular. In fact, I am not yet done playing with the children.


Sometimes I think, when I become desperate, that I’ll write. Sometimes I have a notion to take to books and be learned; but then such vast fields and pastures and wastes and seas of unexplored knowledge appear on the horizon, my ignorance sickens at the prospect. I am reminded of how little, how very little, I do know; just enough to be sensible of this fact. Then I’ll content myself with cultivating a few little patches of knowledge. What shall they be? Shall they be light or heat? — storms or currents? — ship building or ship sailing? — steam or trajectiles? — hollow shot or gravitation? — gases or fluids? — winds or tides? — or.. and in the wilderness of subjects, the mind is confused, and knows not which to choose; so I play with the children and bend the knee, which, though now more readily bent, does not admit of but very little more flexion than it did when I saw you. I have disrobed the leg of its bandages, and flung away the splints, and taken to going through the motions of walking, by putting “the pet” to the floor every time the crutches are planted ahead for a step. The effects of all this have been to make the size of the “pet” equal that of its fellow, and I am beginning to regain the use of the muscles — all excepting the lifting ones. I have no power to operate through them on the tendon which was torn from the lower part of the knee pan; so that I cannot prevent the knee from sinking under me. This then, you see, is the seat of the great injury. Though more ungainly, I sometimes think a stiff knee would have been more serviceable than a weak one.


_______________________

Ann Maury of New York
Fredericksburg, Va., March 29th, 1840 My Dear Cousin,

The cheerful tone of your letter to Nannie gave us cause of congratulation. All hands, but the children and I, have gone to church. Betty is with me in the dining room running around the table for amusement. Little Nannie is upstairs, where she has been stowed away to be cheated into a nap. Judging by the sound of her little voice, she has almost played herself to sleep. I am acting as nurse, you know, to keep Betty from running out. She has just interrupted me to hear her repeat her little hymn you sent her, “Stars that on your wondrous Way.” Nannie, too, from hearing Betty recite it, is very ‘au fait’ at it.


I sometimes lament the natural turn of these last for poetry and music. If Nannie attempts a new song, before she can play it, “Stewart,” a lad of ten or twelve years of age, has caught the air, and pumps water or saws wood to the tune of “Flow gently, Sweet Afton,” or whatever else happens to be the favourite air with us all for the time being.


Tell Mat I have applied for service on crutches.

Yours, M.

Soon after his return to Fredericksburg, it was urged by the a Washington paper, the National Intelligencer, that Matthew F. Maury should be made Secretary of the Navy.[3] Other prominent newspapers caught up the cry, and public sentiment seemed all in favor of this selection. But Maury steadily declined the honor, and thus speaks of it in the following letter:


Fredericksburg, Va., Jan. 26th, 1841My Dear Parents,


I do not think there is much danger of my having a Cabinet appointment inflicted upon me. The newspapers continue to discuss the subject, though, with much earnestness. That I should be thus brought forward and commended is, of course, exceedingly gratifying to me, as I am sure it must be to you also. In these times of party rancor and bitter political strife, high places in the State edifice are far from being desirable to those who value peace of mind.


In another letter to the same, he thus refers to his affliction:


The leg gains strength slowly. I can walk now with the assistance of a stick only; but a walk of two or three hundred yards breaks me down. A terrible calamity is this, indeed, to me. [4]


For several years subsequent to this, his correspondence is full of sweet allusions to his little children, his family, and surroundings. To his parents he writes:


The boy Richard Launcelot (Maury) grows apace. He is a fine little fellow, and I think he is the pet with both his aunts.


Little Betty has just skipped in, and says, “Tell ganpa to come and see us, and the son too, and that’s all.” She can read understandingly, and is quite proud of it. Little Nannie (Diana) is only in her “A, B, C’s” as yet, under little Betty’s tuition. She has a good memory, and can repeat several hymns and verses, standing on the table and accompanying herself with appropriate gestures. She, every night and morning, “Pays to God to bless her dear ganma and ganpa.” They are both very affectionate children, though very unlike in their dispositions. Betty is devotedly fond of flowers; Diana cares very little for them, but takes much delight in associating with cats, dogs, &c. She is sitting in my lap while I am writing, and says, “Tell ganma to send me some pay toys.”


You must not suffer yourselves to be annoyed by W. B. and the land, nor to be at all pinched or straitened for the want of a little money. It will not only be convenient, but a pleasure to me, to let you have what you want and whenever you want it.


Our stove has proved a great comfort and convenience, and we find it a great economy also. I am now writing in the parlour, and though there is no fire in the room, the warmth from the stove in the dining room makes the air in here soft and balmy as a spring morning.


With affection, my dear parents, Your son, Matt.

In 1841 Matthew Fontaine Maury flattered himself that he was able to perform sea duty; but, fearing that the intervention of family and friends might defeat his application, he went from his residence in Fredericksburg to Richmond, and from thence he addressed the following letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Hon. J. E.Badger:


Sir,

Notwithstanding my crippled condition, I think I shall be able to perform any of the lighter duties at sea which do not call for much bodily exercise, as of Flag Lieutenant for instance, to which office in the Pacific Squadron Commodore Jones has signified a desire that I should be appointed. That duty, or any other elsewhere, to which I am able, and with which the department should see fit to entrust me, shall be undertaken with pleasure.


Respectfully, &c., M. F Maury

Hearing of this application, Judge John Taloe Lomax, a distinguished ornament of the bench in Virginia, and a warm personal friend of Lieutenant Maury’s, addressed a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, remonstrating in strong terms against the propriety of yielding to Lieutenant Maury’s application, and enclosing a certificate from the three best physicians of the town. Doctors Wellford, Carmichael, and Brown, who had been attending him since his injury, which testified to his incapacity to stand the exposure and hardships of sea life at that time. In consequence of these letters the Secretary declined to order Lieutenant Maury to sea duty.


Matthew Maury speaks of this in the following letter to Rutson Maury of New York:


Fredericksburg, Nov. 13th, 1841

. . . . There is no move as yet seaward. The physicians in town have made quite a man of importance of me. They, I understand, united in a sort of remonstrance against my going to sea, setting forth to the Secretary the unseaworthiness of the leg. As this was done without my knowledge or consent, I do not know what action the Secretary will take upon it.


Yours, Matt.

[1] This letter is written in a changed and trembling hand, and evidently with great effort, as indicated by the abbreviations, not usual with him at that time, and the interlineations, mistakes, etc. The appearance of the ink shows that it was not all written at the same time, or with the same pen.


[2] The title of a series of articles on the Navy which made a great impression at the time.


[3] His nomination, by a portion of the press, as a good man to fill the post of Secretary of the Navy, arose from his publication of the series of papers advocating naval reform, entitled Scraps from the Lucky Bag


[4] This event, which, at the time, Maury considered the greatest calamity of his life, as he thought it put an end to his professional distinction, was but a blessing in disguise. For though for many years his maimed body was considered unfit for active service, his ready mind turned and grasped the scientific part of the profession and there found a broad field for his labor.