Three letters written by KCB from Paris have survived. But most of the content is about London. The first is dated October 13, 1894.
My dearest brother,
We spent eleven days in London and came over to Paris yesterday. The channel was as quick as it could be and none of us were sick. We are comfortable located for about a week at the Chatham Hotel, where everybody seems to speak a little English but nevertheless I find my little french very useful.
My first impression of London was very different from any idea I had formed from reading and hearsay. We got to Southhampton about two o’clock at night, and finding the steamer had provided a special train to London, decided to go right on thinking it would be only about two hours. But we were delayed two or more hours by the customs officers for the other passengers so it was daylight before we got to London. The customs officers went through our satchels but did not open our trucks, and we have papers now that will I think prevent their bothering us anymore. One small cab was all we could get at the station in London so early in the morning. The driver did not hesitate to take us all in, including Shep, and then to take all our trucks and hand baggage on top, and one poor horse pulled the load. As we drove to the hotel, the Thames on one side of us, spanned by beautiful bridges, and a wide, prettily kept parking on the other, the sun rose. I never saw a clearer more beautiful sun rise. Banks of red clouds – no fog, no smoke. So you see my first impression of London was very favorable. The sun shone for three or four days. Then we never saw his face again until we got to sunny France. We had one real London fog, which I was glad of as an experience, but which I would not care to repeat often. It was so dark that all the stores, streets, cabs, etc were lighted as at night and every light was needed. But we were told that once in a while London had even darker fogs than that.
We were going every hour, either shopping or sightseeing and I enjoyed it all – although we all took bad colds, and I was tired out always. You never felt anything like the chilliness of London. We were cold all the time. None of the houses are heated except by tiny little open fires and we did not find them lit except in a few American houses. How the people stand the winters I don’t see. We had a good deal of kind attention and except that our time was so limited we saw London I expect under more favorable auspices than travelers usually do see it. We of course had no time for the surrounding country. Although we did take a day for Windsor. We are standing the fatigue pretty well but by the time we reach St. Petersburg I am sure we will need a rest.
We have not seen anything of Paris yet. I have taken today to get our heads washed and write some letters. A great deal of love to each member of your family. Always my precious brother. Your devoted sister.
And as you can see a lot of this letter is the same as her letter written from London to “my dearest sister” and dated October 11, 1894 (see here). She talks about the delay at customs in Southhampton and the cramped drive from the coast to London. And the weather! Three recurring themes appear in KCB’s letters from Europe and Russia – weather, health, and money. Weather can mean the weather outside or how the homes are heated (or more to the point when they are not heated). I’ve always wondered if it was truly an American thing – How the people stand the winters I don’t see – or if as a Southerner, she just didn’t get used to the cold.
She does mention where they are staying in Paris and a quick Google search produced this image from the 1885 Harpers Handbook for Travelers in Europe. I wonder if KCB used an edition of this handbook or if the hotel was recommended by friends, family or one of CRB’s work colleagues?
In addition to her letter to Lily dated October 15, 1894 (seen here in a previous post), KCB wrote her third and final Paris letter to “My dear friend” dated October 16, 1894. I made a photocopy of this one!
My dear friend,
I fully intended writing to you before I left New York. But I had countless things to look after, and kinsfolk and friends coming and going all the time.
It was a real disappointment to us not to be able to go home. I did not even get to see my brothers. My brother in Knoxville spent ten days with me in New York. I left auntie not feeling very well and depressed at our going away so far. She writes she feels “much older” and “very friendless.” She promises to try and make us a visit, but I have not much hope she will.
We all took wretched colds in London and have been sick even since, but we have not had time to stop going. Those barbarous English do live in such cold uncomfortable houses! And then damp climate is the most penetrating cold I ever felt. And they invite you to a dinner, and you must go low neck, and set you in a room without a fire, and you can consider yourself fortunate if they haven’t a window open. We saw one real London fog, although we were told, not the worst London could get up, as we could not smell sulplur (sic), I felt about it as I did about the storm at sea. Glad to have had the experience, but don’t care to repeat it. It was so dark that the houses, streets, stores, cabs, etc were all lighted as at night then nothing looked bright or cheerful. And cold went through and through one.
Our stay in London was very interesting. Of course we could not begin to see everything in the brief space at our disposal. But we saw a good deal in a very charming way. One day a Mr. Gwyn undertook to show us “old London.” He is the man who gets up Baedeker’s Guide books, and they say knows every inch of London. He is an Episcopal clergyman as well and has charge of a school among the poor, of a thousand children, and astounded Lees by telling her he had three hundred babies! He is a most interesting man, and made the day very interesting for us. He had a lunch prepared for us, with fourteen guests, in the old Banqueting Hall of Richard III. The hall too where he was declared king. A very quaint and in some respects beautiful old bit of architecture, and all that is left of the old palace. One day a gentleman, whose position corresponds to that of Commissioner of Education at home took us through Westminster. This was perhaps the most interesting day we had. And the gentleman with us was perfectly familiar with everything and much pleasanter than a guide book. We saw the coronation chair in which all the kings and queens for so many hundred years have been crowned with the old coronation stone of Scotland suspended beneath it. I presume the Scotch have ceased to long to have their own kings crowned on their own stone. Of course we looked up the Lowell window and Longfellow bust, and were proud to see our country new honored. Although the Lowell window seemed to me to be in a very out of the way corner. However I suppose it would satisfy most mortels (sic) to be in Westminster at all. We gazed on the tombs of most of the kings from Edward the Confessor down. And saw the stone under which most of the Cromwells had been buried, but all afterwards removed but one young girl. Elizabeth and her rival, Mary, Queen of Scots lay in opposite wings, etc. I could go on all night. We gave up nearly a day to Windsor and vicinity, which was not nearly enough. Visited Gray’s grave, in the village church of which he wrote, and stood under the yew tree, where he wrote his “[single letter illegible] Elegy” as the guide called it. Saw William Penn’s old home, with its beautiful park. The guide said the “Queen wanted to buy it for Princess Beatrice, but wasn’t able. And of course Prince Henry, being a German didn’t have any money, so it had been bought by a man who made matches.”
Do tell me all the house news. I am pining for home people and home talk. Direct to the care of United States Legation, St. Petersburg, Russia. It sounds so far off. Love to every body. Your devoted friend.
Visited the “Tower” and stood on the spot where Henry VIII had most of his wives heads chopped off. And afterwards stood on the stone that covers him at Windsor. Saw some genuine Queen Ann houses. As different from our Queen Ann as it is possible to conceive. Being extremely plain and simple. A peculiar doorway and style of carving being their characteristics.
My first thoughts in re-reading this letter again – who is “my dear friend” and where is “home”? If home is Louisiana, Memphis or Arkansas, then it could have been Kate Savage? “My brother in Knoxville” is William Waller Carson who taught engineering at the University of Tennessee. And auntie is most definitely Susanna Preston Lees.
In this letter, KCB might answer some of my previous questions. In the fourth paragraph, she gives some clarification to the Richard the Third banquet hall. It seems that they stayed pretty close to London – “we could not begin to see everything in the brief space at our disposal” – and she refers to seeing the hall where Richard was “declared king” at the same time as visiting the banquet hall. Their tour guide was a Episcopal clergyman named Mr. Gwyn whose expertise was London. So I don’t think that they ventured off to Gloucester and Sudeley Castle after all. And according to Wikipedia, Richard III was crowned in Westminster Abbey. But are crowned and declared the same in KCB’s mind or am I putting words in her mouth? And Gwyn, their tour guide for that day, didn’t take them to Westminster Abbey. It was the other guide who took them there.
When they did go to Westminster, she comments on the “coronation chair” and “the old coronation stone of Scotland.” Her statement “I presume the Scotch have ceased to long to have their own kings crowned on their own stone,” made me laugh out loud. Did the Scotch have much choice in the matter? For a great movie on the Stone of Scone and an attempt to get it back to Scotland, watch Stone of Destiny.
In addition to the bust of Longfellow (right), she refers to the Lowell window. I thought I might have mis-transcribed as window instead of widow but sure enough there’s a Lowell window in Westminster as well as a tablet dedicated to the American poet, James Russell Lowell. The tablet reads
“This tablet and the windows above were placed here in memory of James Russell Lowell, United States Minister at the Court of St James from 1880-1885 by his English friends. Born 22 Feb 1819. Died 12 Aug. 1891”.
Their visit to Windsor included a visit to Gray’s grave and the yew tree where he wrote his Elegy. This was particularly interested into me because at one point in time I wrote a comparison paper on Gray’s Elegy and Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Maddening Crowd. And at that point in life I thought I might be a literature professor. So I have a soft spot of Gray, his grave and that yew tree.
I love her comment about “William Penn’s old home” and the Queen wanting to buy it. Nothing on the internet about William Penn’s home in England. Did you know that he only spent 4 years in America? Yep and that’s according to the Pennsbury Manor website and I think they would know! And nothing about Queen Victoria wanting to buy it for Princess Beatrice and her husband (Prince Henry) not having the money.
After Paris, the Breckinridges are off to Berlin. And unfortunately I didn’t transcribed or photocopy either of her Berlin letters. In my inventory of the LOC’s collection, I show two letters postmarked from Berlin – one to a brother dated October 23, 1894 and one to Florence dated October 24, 1894. I’ll add these to the list for the next DC trip!!!!