Item 147 - Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

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Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence


  • [8 Nov. 1904] (Creation)

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3 sheets

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Gives an account of her journey to Egypt with her sister Marie and Henrietta Lawes.



1st Letter

That important & long looked-for day has come at last, Nov. 3rd, which is to begin a new chapter of life, & marks the starting point of one more journey. “To follow the road wherever it leads”—whither will it lead? To lands of the ardent sun, to the wonderland of the East.

London is lightly veiled in a bright mist, the Thames glistens, there is a smell of the falling leaves: at Victoria station a little group of dear friends are gathered to bid us farewell, & speed us with good heart, upon our way. The whistle is blown, we are starting, now we leave behind those dear faces that we love—in that moment is concentrated that pain of parting that every journeying means. Oh how beautiful in the soft golden light, are the curves of field & upland, and the trees in their glowing colour: how more than beautiful at that time of lingering farewell—those smiles of our native land will be treasured till we return.

And the blue sea laughs a greeting at Dover, and all is sparkling bright. And now we are in the train for Marseilles rushing down to the sea all through the night, and at 7 o’Clock next morning we see our good ship Victoria in the Dock {1}: it is like a bit of our native land once more. With her, we shall be at home on a distant sea. Soon we are aboard, and the first question is “Where is our cabin? What will it be like?” Here it is—29 to 31! What a dear little place! a port-hole, which the Steward opens; three little berths; but oh how are we going to get all our luggage in?—“oh that will be all right”—we take it on trust, & presently find that everything has found its right niche—& the longer we live in this cabin, the more spacious it seems. It must have elastic sides! Breakfast is ready. The Captain comes & sits down by us & we have a talk. We find he knows Canning Town very well. On the Quay, there are fruit-sellers & flower sellers & gay stalls, covered with beads & shawls & as we pass up & down the gangway, these things are held out to us with beguiling smiles & “cheep, cheep, cheep”. There are acrobats—singers asking for pence—& lascars in scarlet caps & blue linen smocks & bare feet running up & down the gangways. At noon, we get under way & we steam out in the full sunshine, out into the midst of a shining sea, calm as a lake. It is quite hot, quite a relief to once more find summer clothes & put away all recollections of November! We are back in June. And now begins a time of delicious leisure and perfect well being: a voyage with all the conditions absolutely perfect: the cabin is on the North side of the ship & is cool by day & night. Day after day the sun rises in a wide clear sky & sets in radiant glory, sometimes with a pageant of clouds, suddenly called & marshalled out of the infinite.

And out of the glowing dusk, first Jupiter & then other stars appear, & later grand old Orion looks down upon us.

We have no set places at table, except for dinner, when the party is so large that it has to be divided. We dine at 6 o’Clock, just a few of us, the passengers from Marseilles. Breakfast & lunch we take between certain hours—they are moveable feasts. From some points of view this is a poor plan, but it suits us very well. For us the voyage is so short that we do not want to spend our time in making friends with men & women, but to enter into fellowship with other things—with the sea, whose breath we feel—above all with that.

About midnight on Friday, we pass the volcanic island of Stromboli, & from its peak, from time to time, a dull glow brightens into a flame that leaps to the stars & dies again in darkness.

On Saturday morning, I woke at 2 o’Clock, & on looking through my port hole saw that we were passing through the straits of Messina. We were very close to the Mainland. The coast line in the Starlight looked mountainous—it rose against the clear pale sky line like a dreamland.

Apart from that, we have had little incident. One day was given up to some amusing sports, & every day one makes a few more acquaintances. But for the most part one sits on the deck & it is hard to tell whether sleep or waking is sweetest. Now the meaning of Nirvana begins to dawn on my mind. To be thus at rest, released by the greatness of sea & sky & sun & stars from the limits of personality, to come to one’s spiritual inheritance in the earth & the universe, to realize no past & no future, only an eternal present. All too soon is this calm to be disturbed. The last day comes, & once more one has to think of packing of luggage & trains & tips!

Already there is a quiver in the air, & something more in the rays of the sun than hitherto. Something tells of the nearing East.

Once more there is a future & a near future that holds definite things, that depends on & calls for action. What are its hidden gifts?

For that answer we must wait.


This undated letter was evidently written on the last day of Emmeline’s sea voyage, Tuesday, 8 November. The events of the early part of her journey, as related herein, are misdated. A few alterations have been made to the punctuation of the original, which is erratic and often indistinct.

{1} For lists of the passengers see The Homeward Mail from India, China, and the East, 8 Oct. 1904, p. 1448, 15 Oct. 1904, p. 1486, 22 Oct. 1904, p. 1521, and 29 Oct. 1904, p. 1556.

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Sent with PETH 7/157.

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