‘Golf in the day time and his cardes at Night’ A concerned parent writes about his teenage son, 18th March 1742

The worry of parents about a child who appears to be wasting his life and getting into bad habits is most definitely not a new thing. Here, George Murray writes to his brother William about his son John who is clearly becoming a bit wild and is not listening to his parents when they attempt to speak with him about it. William appears to be sponsoring his nephew’s education and has asked for regular updates about his progress. John is reported to be gambling, (which is what ‘Gameing’ means here) and drinking and not coming home until late. He describes John’s attitude to his parents ‘he values us as much as an old broom stick’ an attitude that many parents of teenagers will find familiar.

‘You desired that my son John and I should write you every fortnight, however, I write you this by myself I can make nothing of him, for I designed to have told Mr Wilsone (ere he left town) before his face, what I had to charge him with, but Mr Willson [the boy’s tutor] can tell you how he shamed us, as I am informed he has got into that very Gentelmany qualification, Gameing, and I suppose Drinking etc will soon follow, 11, 12 at night, 1 or 2 in the morning are his ordinary hours to arrive home, and for the houses or company he frequents neither his mother nor I could ever have the satisfaction to know them from him for he values us as much as an old broom stick, his mother had preached to him yesterday in relation to his behaviour, and to mend the matter he came home near one…’

Later letters indicate that John continued to cause concern, his leaving his studies early claiming that he had business to attend to is described by his father thus ‘I believe the Hurry of his bussiness was the Golf in the day time and his cardes at Night…’

In April, George writes to William that John has been ‘taken on for a drummer’, which indicates that he is joining the army. John himself writes a repentant letter to his Uncle on the 4th June 1742, asking for his forgiveness for his behaviour: –

‘I do with shame Confess that I have not behaved so dutifully to my Parents, nor so carefull of my studies as I ought to have been And besides that I have been sometimes too easily tempted to play att games & mispend my time in a way I ought not, for all which I am heartily sorry…’

The plan to send John to the army was evidently shelved for he writes to his Uncle in January 1743 giving details of his accounts and of what he is studying: –

‘we are Reading att present Dacier Terence Juvenal for humanity Gordon for Geography & Hills Arithmetick & Isocrates for Greek…’

Later letters in the collection indicate that John qualified as a surgeon and joined the Navy as a ship’s doctor in the 1750s. He writes to his Uncle in August 1751 about his trip to China and promises to send a gift of bowls he has bought there as a present back to William in Scotland.