Letter to Fannie

August 9, 1870

Mss 12: S-g 1, Series A, S-s2, Folder 13

 

                                                                             Langham Hotel

                                                                             London Aug 9th 1870

 

My dear Fannie

We leave here tomorrow morning early for Paris via Dover & Calais, stopping over night in Dover, that will give us all tomorrow afternoon to sketch whatever we find that is interesting.

I must go back and give you an idea of what has transpired since I wrote that hurried note before going board of the steamer in New York.

I have forgotten how often you said I might write you and perhaps you will be shocked at getting another letter from me so soon (as it may seem to you(?) although it seems long to me.

The first two or three days at sea were quite pleasant excepting that the wind was ahead, quite a number were sick and I had headache but that soon passed away and I got accustomed to the motion of the steamer and along admirably.

About the third day we ran into bad weather and did not see the sun again for several days - not until the night before we arrived at Queenstown Ireland.

While running through the ice current we were in a dense fog and by way of variation we had rain every once in a little while - the steamer rolled so heavily that the dishes got badly smashed up although we had the racks on the tables.  For two or three nights we had to brace our knees against the sides of the berths to keep ourselves in.  One day, in the afternoon during the most severe part of the storm quantities of birds came and rested upon the rigging and the sailors caught some of them.  One particular was kept in a crudely constructed cage and the sailors fed it and by the time we reached Liverpool it had become so tame it would eat out of our hands.  All these were land birds and looked something like our song sparrows.  It seemed strange to me to see them so far from land - certainly eight or ten hundred miles.  I must say that I do not long to take another sea voyage of any length again for a long time.  I cannot imagine anything more monotonous particularly in foggy weather.  Always the eternal shiver from the machinery - same rolling motion, the same red smoke stacks from which fall cinders that fill your eyes - fall down the back of your neck - get into your shoes and be-gr??? you generally.  If we had had some interesting passengers on board to talk with it would have been more endurable, but there were only two or three and those were gentlemen and interested mainly in what they were going  to eat next mealtime. I heard one gentleman say that he had crossed the Atlantic on steamers eighteen times and never before had he seen such an uninteresting company of passengers.  Nearly all of them were people who had got rich suddenly and were determined to do Europe.

I think I shall like Tiffany very much - the only fault I find is a want of decision, if I waited for him there would be nothing done.

On Friday morning, last we came in sight of the southern coast of Ireland, and it was a glorious sight. I longed for your companionship you would have enjoyed it so much and I would have enjoyed it so much more with you.  I find that the case constantly.

On board of the steamer I drank many an hour away thinking of you and living over again as I best could, the happy times we had together. Were your thoughts of me intensified by it?  The picture Ella gave me - or loaned me - of you has done some good service.  When I feel at all homesick or lonely that comforts me and gives me courage.

We arrived in Liverpool on Saturday morning early and after some delay occasioned by the Custom House officer we took a cab and drove to the Lime St Depot where we took the train for London.

The city of Liverpool - what little I saw of it - seemed unlike any city in America at least in our part of the country. The houses are low and built of yellow brick, many of the common ones have tiled roofs of a bright red color.  The people evidently feel it necessary to impress upon each other the right of ownership of property and shield each other from temptation by cementing on the top of every fence and division wall, huge pieces of bottles - broken window glass pointed fragments of crockery ect ect(sic).  They looked awfully suggestive and must inspire demoralized youth with a certain feeling of awe beyond that produced by the eloquence of moral suasion.

The railroad from Liverpool to London runs through an interesting portion of the country, highly cultivated fields on every side. Groups of trees dash against the golden fields of grain.  Every once in a few minutes we passed extremely picturesque English cottages white and yellow washed with ivy and vines creeping up against the walls - their roofs invariably were either covered with red tiles or thatched.  I know you would have been delighted with them they were so full of color. 

We reached London in the afternoon and put up at the "Langham". But I must tell you something about the pictures. We have visited the "National Gallery" & the "South Kensington Museum".  I never for a moment before, thought Turner such a great painter.  Imaging from the prints and chromos I have seen of his works I supposed he did nearly everything in watercolors - on the contrary he did his best and most celebrated works in oil on white and also on tinted paper - his favorite tint of paper was a bluish gray.  He was an immense man - or artist (some people make decided distinctions).  All the other English landscape painters sink into insignificance in comparison with him.  Everything he undertook to do he did well - not in a common way at all - everything was seen and done by that keen - farseeing- almost superhuman quality of mind that we seldom meet with here on earth. More light?? was given him than commonly falls to the lot of man. Whatever idea he wished to express he expressed that idea and nothing else.  I can see how Coleman was benefittd by studying him.  His (Coleman) Gibraltar was painted soon after his return from England and I can see how much he was influenced by Turners "Arch of Titus and the Campo Vaseino??" no. 504, painted in 1820, it looks as fresh as if painted within the year.  I will make a little sketch of it and mark the masses of color. [ Sketch follows]  This is a very crude thing but it will serve to give you a general impression of the masses.

Another remarkable picture is the one you probably have seen engravings of it is "Agrippa landing with the Ashes of Germanicus"  It is wonderful in color. I will try to make a little sketch of it and send it in my next letter to you.  There is still that struck me, and I took notes of the colors and made a little pencil sketch of it (when nobody was looking).

Turner did not paint as Englishmen of the present school do, he painted in his own way but was, I think considerably influenced by the French School.

There is so much I might write you about what has been greatly interesting to me but I will only give you just enough of an idea to arouse your curiosity without giving you ??? satisfaction that I think I will stop now and give you a little more in my next, whenever that may be.  I have forgotten how often I was to write you - please let me know the very oftenest!

I have made quite a number of little drawings since I came and when I get to Dover before crossing the channel I hope to make quite a number more.  The war guns from France have stirred up everybody to a great pitch of excitement and Tiffany has tried to go Havre?? by way of Southampton but I don’t wish to and then I want very much to visit France while the war is in progress. The time may come again to me to see such a state of affairs and I  told Tiffany I should go by way of France and he might go by steamer and we would meet at Gibraltar.  After some deliberation he decided to see it my way and expect to be in Paris on Thursday evening next and if nothing happens by next Sunday, we will be as far south as Bayonne.  I am anxious to push on and get at work as time is passing rapidly and we have yet to do an immense amount of traveling.

I wish you were with me we would settle down anywhere whenever we found good things to paint.

Now my dear Fannie please write me.  You know I shall get very few letters and I am a  long way from home.  Poor Louis is very homesick tonight.  I have been trying to cheer him up.  It doesn't do for me to show a particle of my own feelings to him.

My dear girl, may God bless and keep you tenderly.  I hope I may dream of you tonight - Good night, I hope I shall find a letter from you in Paris.

 

Ever yours

Robert