Travel Letters: On P. & O. Steamer Verona (1883)

DEAR. WILLIAM, — I wrote last Sunday to M. from beautiful Kandy. That letter, I suppose, is somewhere on board this ship at this moment ; but not to break my good habit of a weekly letter, I will send you this, to show how I felt when we were half-way from Colombo to Aden, and next Sunday I will send still another from wherever we are in the Red Sea. You will get them altogether, but you can read them in their order, and so get three consecutive weeks of my important biography at one time.

It seems so strange to be on the sea again and thinking about the Indian journey as a finished thing. The days from Venice to Bombay keep coming back, when I was full of wonder about it all. Now, I know at least a great deal about what I shall always think one of the most delightful and interesting lands in all the world. In some respects, the last bit of it was almost the best. The tropics had seemed to elude us before. Many a time in India it seemed as if the landscape were almost what one might have seen at home, but the minute that we touched Ceylon, everything was different. One cannot conceive of the gorgeousness of nature. Only the night before we left, we drove a few miles along the seashore, with such groves of enormous palms and cocoanuts on one side, and such color of sunset on the water on the other side, as no dream or picture ever began to suggest. And the whole four hours’ ride from Colombo to Kandy is marvelous. The mountains are superb, and in the valleys there are depths of jungle which show what the earth is at only eight degrees from the equator. And then in Ceylon for the first time we saw Buddhism, that great religion which sprang up in India, and has completely disappeared in the land of its birth, but has spread elsewhere, till more than a quarter of the human race are Buddhists. We just caught sight of it when we were close to the Himalayas on the borders of Thibet, but in Ceylon we saw the strange system in its fullness.

Last Monday afternoon I drove out to the Buddhist college and saw the old high-priest teaching a class of students, who sat around him with their shaven heads and their yellow robes, getting ready to continue this atheistical religion for another generation. The old fellow looked up and asked us who we were. I gave him my card, which he spelled out with difficulty, then he asked me, ” Do you know anything about me? ” and seemed disappointed and disgusted when I was obliged to tell him that, much as we were interested in his religion, and glad as we were to see his college, we had never heard of him before in all our lives. He evidently did not understand how local his great reputation was. He dismissed his class and untwisted his legs, and got down and toddled away.

We have been four days on the Verona. The people are pleasant, the captain is cordial and agreeable, and the weather is cool, so the voyage is charming. The Archdeacon of Calcutta is on board, and preached this morning. He is a very jolly sort of person. I am to preach next Sunday. There are some private theatricals in prospect, so the future looks lively. Next Sunday you shall hear how the week has gone.

Long before you get this, the great house question will be settled, and you will have decided where your declining years are to be passed, whether in the house in G- Street, which I know already, or in

some new nest in M— or B streets. Which-ever it is, I have the deepest interest in it, and shall be very anxious to hear. Very many of my few remaining hours will be spent by the new fireside, and years hence, I shall come tottering up to the door to recall the old days when we were young and I went away to spend a winter in India. I cannot help wishing that the change, if there is to be one, might bring you nearer to the corner of C and N— streets, instead of taking you farther away, as I fear it will.

Spain is the next thing, and I am counting much upon it. I have some expectation of meeting the Brimmers there, but it is not at all certain. At present I am alone. Wendell left me at Suez to go to Cairo, and then to Palestine. He has been a very agreeable companion, intelligent, good-natured, always bright and obliging. I feel very much attached to him.

I had a letter at Suez from Canon Farrar, asking me to preach for him in the Abbey and also at St. Margaret’s. I wrote him that I would do so, and England begins to seem as if it were not very far away. All of May and June I hope to be there. The Captain sends his love. Good-by.