Travel Letters: Madras, India (1883)

MY DEAR WILLIAM, — We had a beautiful sail down from Calcutta. For four days the Rohilla slid along over the most beautiful glassy sea, the sky was lovely at sunrise and sunset, the nights were the most gorgeous moonlight, and the sun at noon was hotter than Sancho. There were a good many pleasant people on board, two bishops, an archdeacon, and the usual queer lot of sailors who run the steamships in these Eastern seas. We arrived at Madras very early on Friday morning, and I have been charmed with the place ever since. It was glorious last night. I drove five miles into the country to dine at Mr. Sewall’s. He is the archaeological director of the district, and knows all about the Vishnu temples and the Buddhist Topes, of which the whole region is full. The road ran through long avenues of banyan-trees, which looked like ghosts with their long arms ; little temples peeped through the trees, and picturesque groups of people were flitting about on foot, or in queer bullock carts, and it was all as unlike the Mill-dam as possible. We had a charming dinner with people who knew all about India, and drove home at eleven o’clock through the February summer night.

I sent from Calcutta a box which will reach you in due time ; not for a long time, perhaps, for I left it there to be sent the first time there was a sailing vessel going direct to Boston. There is nothing particular in it. Only a few travel books, which I wanted to get out of the way, and a number of small traps, which have accumulated in my trunk. There is nothing really fine or artistic to buy in India. Art seems to have stopped here some two hundred years ago, so I have made no purchases, and these things in the box are mere trinkets and a few pieces of cloth and some photographs.

There is something which I wish you would do some time, when it is not much bother. When I left I took some sermons with me in a great hurry. I did not make a very good selection, and do not like what I have brought ; when I get to England I may preach some more. Would it be much trouble for you to go some afternoon into my study, and look in the back of my writing-table and find six or eight sermons, among the later ones, which you think would do, and send them to me at Barings’, only marking them not to be forwarded, but kept for me there ? You will know about the ones to send. There is one about Gamaliel, which I remember. Do not hurry about this, but if you think of it some afternoon, do it like a good fellow, won’t you, and I will do as much for you when you come to India.

Strawberries are first-rate here, cocoanuts and plantains and oranges and guavas everywhere. It will be hard to leave these gentle Hindoos and their delightful land when the time comes, three weeks hence. The only compensation will be that I shall be coming nearer to you all. Affectionately, P.