Travel Letters: Hôtel De La Paix, Geneva (1883)

DEAR WILLIAM. — Yesterday I received your letter of July 23, which gave me the greatest anxiety about poor little G . It is very hard indeed that she should have had a relapse, and lost something of the hard-won ground. I hate to think how she must have suffered this long winter and spring. My comfort is, that the news is two weeks old, and before this she must be in Sharon, which is to be the fountain of life to her. If I believed all the wonderful stories of what it does, I should send you a bottle of the miraculous water of Lourdes, and we would be grateful worshipers of the Virgin for all the good that it might do the dear little thing. I shall not do that, but I shall be very anxious until, next Sunday at Interlaken, I hear of your reaching Sharon and what are the results.

Do you remember this hotel, and the forenoon which we spent at Geneva ? It is as bright as ever, and the lake this Sunday morning is shining like a monstrous jewel. Do you remember how we talked about the Grande Chartreuse and the possibility of getting there, but finally concluded that it was too remote and took the train for Basle and Strasburg instead ? We came out of the Pyrenees by Toulouse and Nîmes, and spent last Friday night up at the Grande Chartreuse. Arthur and Lizzie went there last year. Whether they spent the night or not I do not know. The drive up to the wonderful old nest of the monks is very fine. Most splendid valleys, at first open and broad and bathed in sunshine, and then growing narrower and wilder, until they were nothing but woody gorges ; and finally opening into the little plateau on which the monastery buildings stand and seem to fill the whole place from one mountain side to the other.

There are about forty fathers there, Carthusians, in their picturesque white cloaks and cowls. Solitude and silence is their rule. They spend the bulk of the time in their cells, where they are supposed to be meditating. I suspect that the old gentlemen go to sleep. There was a strange, ghostly service, which began at a quarter before eleven o’clock at night and lasted until two in the morning. The chapel was dim and misty, the white figures came gliding in and sat in a long row, and held dark lanterns up before their psalters and chanted away at their psalms like a long row of singing mummies. It made you want to run out in the yard and have a game of ball to break the spell. Instead of that, after watching it for half an hour, we crept back along a vast corridor to the cells which had been allotted us, each with its priedieu and its crucifix, and went to bed in the hardest, shortest, and lumpiest of beds. In the morning a good deal of the romance and awfulness was gone, but it was very fine and interesting, and the drive down into the valley on the other side at Chambéry was as pretty as a whole gallery of pictures. Thence we came by rail, and reached here Friday night.

Yesterday we drove out to Ferney and saw where Voltaire used to live ; looked at the bed in which he used to sleep and at the church which he built. It has over its front door perhaps the strangest of all strange inscriptions which men have carved on churches, —

” DEO EREXIT VOLTAIRE.”

Here we fall into the tide of travel again, and Americans abound. The Suters are all here. I shall preach to them in the American church this morning, and I shall find myself looking for you and your family two pews behind them. Richard Weld and his wife and sons are also here, and a lot of other Americans whom I never saw, but feel as if I had seen every day of my life. Seven weeks from today I preach in Trinity.