Travel Letters: On Steamship Verona (1883)

MY DEAR GERTIE, — It seems to me that our correspondence has not been very lively lately.. I don’t think I had a letter from you all the time I was in India. I hoped I should, because I wanted to show it to the Rajahs, and other great people, and let them see what beautiful letters American children can write. But now I am out of India, and for the last ten days we have been sailing on and on, over the same course where we sailed last December. Last Tuesday we passed Aden, and stopped there about six hours. I went on shore, and took a drive through the town and up into the country. If you had been with me you would have seen the solemn-looking camels, stalking along with solemn-looking Arabs on their backs, looking as if they had been riding on and on that way ever since the days of Abraham. I think I met Isaac and Jacob on two skinny camels, just outside the gates of Aden. I asked them how Esau was, but Jacob looked mad and wouldn’t answer, and hurried the old man on, so that I had no talk with them ; but I feel quite sure it was they, for they looked just like the pictures in the Bible.

Since that we have been sailing up the Red Sea, and on Monday evening we shall be once more at Suez, and there I say good-by to my companion, who stops in Egypt, and goes thence to Palestine, while I hurry on to Malta and Gibraltar in the same steamer. She is a nice little steamer, with a whole lot of children on board, who fight all the while and cry the rest of the time. Every now and then one of them almost goes overboard, and then all the mothers set up a great howl, though I don’t see why they should care very much about such children as these are. I should think it would be rather a relief to get rid of them. Now, if it were you, or Agnes, or Tood, it would be different !

There has just been service on deck, and I preached, and the people all held on to something and listened. I would a great deal rather preach in Trinity.

I hope you will have a pleasant Easter. Mine will be spent, I trust, in Malta. Next year I hope you will come and dine with me on Easter Day. Don’t forget ! My love to Tood. Your affectionate uncle,

PHILLIPS.

STEAMSHIP VERONA, March 25, 1883.

DEAR JOHNNY, — I must send you an Easter greeting from this queer cabin, where, and on the deck above it, we have spent our Easter Day. I hoped that we should be at Malta for the great festival, but we were detained a long while in the Suez Canal, and shall not be at Malta till next Wednesday. On Saturday, I hope to land at Gibraltar.

… How I wish you were here tonight. We would sit late on deck, and you should tell me all about Springfield ; and I would tell you all about India. This long return voyage is a splendid chance to think it over, and arrange in one’s memory the recollections of the wondrous land. Besides the countless pictures which one saw every day, eleven great sights stand out which you must see when you go to India. They are these:

First, the rock temples of Karli and Ellora. Think of buildings big as Christ Church, Springfield, not built, but hewn out of the solid rock, and covered inside and out with Hindoo sculptures of the richest sort.

Second, the deserted city of Ambir, a city of the old Moguls, with hardly a human inhabitant, and palaces and temples abandoned to the jackals and the monkeys.

Third, the Kuttub at Delhi, the most beautiful column in the world, covered with inscriptions; the most splendid monument of the Mohammedan power.

Fourth, the golden temple at Amritsir. Think of a vast artificial lake, in whose centre, reached by a lovely white marble bridge, is the holy place of the Sikhs, the lower half of most delicate marble mosaics, and the upper of sheets of beaten gold.

Fifth, the Taj at Agra, a dream of beauty : the tomb of an old Mogul empress, made of the finest marble, and inlaid in the most dainty way. The whole as large as the State House.

Sixth, the river shore of the Ganges at Benares. Mile after mile of palaces and temples, and in front of them the bathing-places of the living and the burning-places of the dead.

Seventh, Buddh-Gaya, where Buddha sat for si-: years under the bo-tree, till enlightenment came to him. A valley full of Buddhist temples is there now.

Eighth, the view of Kinchinjinga, from Darjeeling, the second highest mountain in the world. Think of a hill five times as high as Mt. Washington, blazing with snow in the sunshine.

Ninth, the seven pagodas near Madras, where whole stories of the Hindoo mythology are sculptured on the face of perpendicular rocks; and they are queer enough.

Tenth, the Sivite temple at Tanjore, one mass of brilliant color and sculpture, with its great pyramid, two hundred feet high.

Eleventh, the temple at Kandy, in Ceylon, where they keep Buddha’s tooth. You see the strange Buddhist priests and their strange ways.

These are the greatest things in India, and there are ever so many more like them, only not quite so great or interesting. I am very glad I went, and I wish that everybody who cares about interesting things could go there, too.

DEAR WILLIAM, — This is not much of a place for Easter Day. We have had the queerest sort of week. Last Monday night we reached Suez, and put about half our ship’s company on shore to go to Alexandria, Brindisi, and Venice. Since then we have been dragging along through the Suez Canal. There were twenty-six steamships in single file ; we were the eleventh. Every now and then, No. 1 or No. 6 would get aground, and then we all had to wait till it got loose, five or six hours, as the ease might be. Every night, the whole twenty-six of us pulled up and tied fast to the bank, and waited for morning. So we crept along till yesterday (Saturday, Easter even), when we reached Port Said, where we stayed four hours, and then launched out into the broad Mediterranean. Now all is clear. The broad sea is rolling merrily around us, we have a lot of sail set, and are scudding on towards Malta. We shall get there on Wednesday; I hope to be put on shore at Gibraltar some time on Saturday, the 31st, and begin my Spanish experiences on April Fool’s Day.

Meanwhile, here is Easter Day at sea. A missionary from New York, on his way home from China with a sick wife, has just read the morning service. He did not attempt any sermon, and the singing was uncommonly feeble. Only the religious passengers came down for service. Now there will be nothing more to show that it is Easter Day,— no children’s service this afternoon, no flowers, no eggs, nothing but the monotonous plunging of the ship as she goes on towards Malta.

After all, it is rather good fun, this long voyage. I have had time to read big books on India, and the people are some of them pleasant, some of them amusing. They are mostly returning Anglo-Indians, with something the matter either with their lungs or with their livers. They are peevish and positive, not liking to be contradicted, and very set in their opinions. It is all very nice. Then there are a few really bright, companionable people, and I have a beautiful pipe.

An Easter greeting to you all. Thanks for a lot of good papers and letters, which I received at Suez. They were a great resource in the canal.

Ever affectionately, P.