Item 30h - Circular letter by F. W. Lawrence

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Circular letter by F. W. Lawrence


  • [c. 10 Sept.–Dec. 1898] (Creation)

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6 folded sheets (pp. 277–300). Pages 289–96 form a single gathering.

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Account of a journey via Yokohama, Honolulu, San Francisco, Yosemite Valley, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone Park, Monida, Ogden, San Francisco (with excursions), Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Jacksonville and St Augustine, Asheville, Washington, New York, Chicago(?), Niagara Falls(?), Boston, and New York.

(A continuation of 5/30g. Headed ‘Encyclical VIII.’ This letter was begun some time after Lawrence’s arrival in the United States on 10 Sept. and completed some time in December.)



Encyclical VIII.

I start now upon my last encyclical and it should be rapid to illustrate the country in which it is written; & yet sometimes I stop & wonder whether this country is as rapid as it is generally supposed. In spite of all some people say, the trains do not run at one express speed, to eat a meal at many hotels is often a lesson in patience, to be shaved is to take a Turkish Bath with all the ceremony & delay attached thereto; but then compare their street cars with our buses & trams (a voice says “What about the London hansom?”), their elevators with our lifts—or absence of the same—their workmen (as employers maintain) with our own; and, well, I am not quite sure what result you come to. But not of all these things did Alden and I think as standing on the deck of the Coptic in drenching rain, we bade farewell to our friends in Yokohama. So the time came that we were to spend 18 days on board ship, crossing the Pacific.

At first we found it slow enough; nobody would do anything, & the Quarter Masters could not be induced to spend the little time required to enable us to play our one game of quoits. The fellow passengers as a whole were uncongenial & the diet was second rate yet the weather was magnificent. So passed away nearly a week; then at last everyone seemed to wake up. The Captain ordered up the swimming tank which he had said he should not allow during the voyage, the Doctor started cricket of a more exciting kind than I have seen on board ship, the quartermasters made our quoits, a game of skittles was introduced, and we formed on[e] or two pleasant acquaintances. So sped away the few remaining days to Honolulu; but I must not forget the doubled day the reward of all the little sacrifices of half hours and twenty minutes, so ungrudgingly given and apparently so heedlessly received.

Honolulu so newly American. Athirst for exercise, we cycle over to the sea baths, bathe & return; a shore dinner, a shore bed—saved only by curtains from a myriad invaders—up to the great pass on our machines to see the view, down again, a “milk shake” & on to the ship at noon thoroughly exercised.

The Japanese steerage passengers who had thronged our fore deck are gone, but in their stead are cabin passengers till the quota is full; all is confusion on board.

Farewell to the bright beautiful islands of Hawaii, farewell for the last time in my travels to the lands of the tropics.

Yale & Harvard men returning to their terms add pleasure to the rest of our voyage; books, games, discussions, music fill up the time; the ship’s engines do their best in a calm sea, and [10 Sept.?] we ride peacefully into San Francisco a day before our scheduled time. {1}

Here then at last have we reached the States, the famous West, for the Orient is left far behind. For ever? I trust not, for the recollection is very pleasant. The absorbing interest of China, the beauty of Japan, & greatest of all, India & all my friends from there, seem to call me to come again; some day perhaps, but not for many years.

How to describe San Francisco? How to delineate its individual character? Quite an established city, altogether civilized. Perhaps you expected something rough, lawless. Not at all, it is quite like an Eastern town (ie a town of the Eastern States) & yet not quite; here on the main street is a fifteen storey building adjoining a one and a half storey wooden shanty; here the road way is about as even as—as an old woman’s apple store which has been half upset—Alas I fear this does not separate it so much from the Eastern cities, but see they are actually making it level & putting down clean firm asphalt! Pleasant atmosphere, warm in the sun cool in the shade, but gives Alden neuralgia in the face. A visit to the Golden Gate Park, to Pres. Jordan of the Stanford Leyland† University, a lunch at the Bohemian Club, and we are leaving the sumptuousness of the mighty Palace Hotel, to go down to the Yosemite Valley. A night in the train, & in the morning we are at Raymond. Then at 7 starts the coach & for 5 hours heat intense and dust unspeakable. So a brush down and a wash and a lunch, & we are off again another 5 hours—the last 3 cooler as we reach an altitude of 4000 feet—& dusty to the marrow we arrive at Wawona which being interpreted means “big tree”.

So a night’s rest and another early start to reach the famous valley at midday. Up up we climb, six thousand feet are scaled & now the great sight bursts upon our view. Near us upon our left is El Capitan that vast slab of rock bare, bold, barren; acres in extent is that cold grey perpendicular face. There to our right a little further on should be a mighty waterfall, but not now is there more than a mere trickle of water. But see in the distance that is the vast Half Dome, awe inspiring tremendous—who will venture to describe? Rapidly we descend to the floor of the valley, level, green, three and a half thousand feet above the sea, walled in with walls of three thousand feet! Four miles & we are at the hotel in this strange unearthly place. From there we wander out, one day along the valley, another to the Eagle’s Peak, another high up to the Clouds Rest—a full day’s climb—another to the Glacier Point; from each we get a different view of the might rocks. Would that the smoke of a forest fire were less obstructive to our vision. So we take a final gaze & return to Wawona.

With the rising sun we are driving out to the giant trees of the Mariposa Grove. Like all big things, their size confuses; it is not till one has climbed up many rungs of a ladder to the top of a prostrate monster, has driven coach & all through another, has seen a third standing side by side with an ordinary huge tree that one appreciates at all what they are; not till then, & then not fully. But the coach is carrying us away back to Ahwanee back to Raymond, & the train takes us an hour along the line to Berenda, where we sleep at a wayside inn, & on the morrow return to San Francisco. A few hours preparations, & [19 Sept.] we are again in the train {2} [,] Alden to Chicago & myself to Salt Lake City; for 36 hours, to Ogden, we travel together, then it is “goodbye”. For 5 months we have been united, our interests have been one, our pleasures in common; & now we part. A few hours & I have the delight of welcoming Annie. So one comes & another goes. “Is that not true of life?” I had hoped that at least for a day I might have had the pleasure of welcoming the coming guest before sorrowing for the parting,—a three cornered day—but it was not to be.

A charming city, the city of the Mormons, fine spacious streets with shady trees on either hand. We visit the Mormon Tabernacle & look upon the Temple from the outside, we are shown round the city with its relics of its old Mormon leaders. We take the car out to the great Salt Lake itself & bathe in its sustaining waters which allow you to float head, shoulders, feet all out of water!

Then we are off to the great Yellowstone Park. A few inconveniences of travel, and we are entering the Park at the Mammoth Hot Springs. A drive round a park, may be you imagine, is a matter of an afternoon, or perhaps, taking it leisurely, a whole day. Not so the Yellowstone. The regular drive round, tots up to something not very far short of 150 miles, & takes 5 days, or as many more as you like to spend. First the Mammoth Springs; terraces of the most delicate colours—white, pink, blue, green, brown or black. Of such were the great terraces of Rotorua New Zealand (destroyed alas volcanically, a few years ago) the wonder of the world. Wonderful indeed are these, as the boiling water pours over their flowery faces, beautiful, strange. The weather is delightful; warm but not too hot, and we congratulate ourselves upon the time of our visit. Now begins our drive, and at Norris a jovial host provides our lunch, then a first glimpse of the geysers. To Annie they are something quite new; I have seen the small ones of New Zealand. But let me wait to describe till we reach the finest of their race.

Fountain Hotel receives us before the sun has set, and the clerk at the office says to us “The bears will come down at 6 and the geysers will play at 8” much as though he had spoken of the arrival of guests & the performance of a brass band—so Annie remarks to me. So at six we go out with the hotel porter who daily spreads out the odds & ends of food at a little distance from the hotel, & shortly out of the wood comes big brown bruin to partake. The Zoo has prevented surprise, but it is the first time we have seen a fellow like that quite free & quite close. A little before 8 the geyser—“the little fountain”—goes through its performance spurting water right up into the sky.

The next day is the great field day for geysers; we drive out to the Upper Basin where they flourish in all their magnificence. From afar we behold one of them in action, & coming near we find the “castle” is performing; from its great turreted orifice it is throwing up water & steam. Like a fountain, and yet not like a fountain; for is not the water boiling hot, does it not mount in irregular violent outpourings, does not the crater gurgle and grunt? Arrived at the lunch station we find in the parlour [These words are followed by a box containing the words ‘Old Faithful will play at’ above a drawing of a clock showing the time 11.06.] So during the day is set a clock at the time of the next display. Every 70 minutes does Old Faithful perform his ceremony; & while seasons, droughts & various calamities affect other greater & less geysers, he remains alone, constant, unchanging, reliable. The time is drawing near, we approach his threshold; he gives a slight gurgle, then he spurts up. At first ten, then twenty, thirty … eighty, a hundred feet or more, into the air. For a minute or two we see him, then once more he lapses into silence, into obscurity within his crater.

Then a guide comes and takes us over the geyser field & tells us tales of some of the folk he has shown through before. Here is the “beehive” which enterprising tourists have soaped (literally) so much in the past that now it plays no more. Here is the “giantess” which only began playing again this year, & plays now 250 feet in the air, on & off for 12 hours at a time every 8 or ten days. Here a little fellow which goes off quick-shot-bang—& all over—once every two minutes. Here is the turban playing about once an hour(?). So we wander along seeing some in action, & regretting that the activity of others will not occur during our visit. Here is a pool of irridescent† blue of red of yellow of emerald. Here runs a cold rivulet where you can catch a fish, & turning yourself round you may boil him in a boiling pool within reach of your arm. Now we drive out a little way & the sun shines for a moment on a pool of sapphire. Now we watch “Daisy” a pretty little geyser which shoots out a fountain spray at an angle, & charms the Sororial heart.

So at length we take our departure not without some regret at bidding farewell to Old Faithful which we have witnessed once, twice, thrice, (now from near by, now right up close, now from afar) fulfil with unremitting zeal his 70 minute mission, an example of duty to the human race. So back to the Fountain Hotel & to the “paint pots” the little sputterers of coloured mud. The next is a long day’s “march”, and as we drive on & on and it gets colder and colder we begin to be not quite so sure of the excellence of the time of year for our visit. At length we reach the highest point of the pass, or the “Divide” as they call it, more than 8000 ft above the sea, then a short descent takes us down to the Lake from which many of the great rivers of the States take their rise. All around are the mountains covered with new fallen snow looking very grand as we make our way across the lake to our destination. Arrived there, we have the huge hotel all to ourselves, for the Yellowstone Park will soon close for the season. That evening a little snow falls, and we are very glad of the steam pipes in our rooms.

Next day we start for the Grand Canyon, & on the way pass a huge mud geysers†—last of our dear friends whom we have loved well but of whom we have grown with such constant familiarity just a little bit … or let me say we murmured

Geysers lofty geysers low
Geysers rapid geysers slow
Geysers gentle geysers rough
We thank the Lord we’ve had enough.

But the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is exquisite, with its golden rocks & lofty waterfalls; and the sun once out, the snow enhances its glory. How easily a week or more might be spent here earlier in the summer, but now we must hurry on, as 2 long days’ coaching await us to take us out of the park to Monida. The first lands us at a hunter’s inn to spend the night; thence a snowy day, & after 11 hours the coach reaches Monida at a walk in 10 inches of snow. [2 Oct.] Ogden by Sunday morning, & away towards San Francisco in the afternoon; en route 3 hours are spent in a siding while the bogey of the dining car is put to rights.

Nine days in the city are spent by me more or less in my room as I have a charming attack of neuralgia in the back, caught in the Yellowstone & accentuated by the air of California which is famous for this scourge. So I haven’t much opportunity to observe again the cosmopolitan nature of the city. It had seemed curious to me when first I came, that whereas when I went to India I kept on setting the natives in comparison with the negroes in the States, now I go about to reverse the process. As a matter of fact there is a very marked difference & next to no similarity. The negro is bright, sharp, cheeky & without any dignity whatever; the oriental is essentially dignified essentially without cheek, but deceitful rather than sharp. As for the Chinese element they are sleek & self complacent, so unlike their humble emaciated compatriots in their own country. So soon upon Oriental as well as upon African & every branch of the European family does the spirit of the American republic stamp itself when once citizenship has been procured.

Annie meanwhile was seeing a few of the sights & getting to know Mrs Cohen with whom we both went to lunch one day in the “skittle alley of the grounds of the burnt mansion”. It was pleasant to meet an old friend.

Then we started on our travels again: first to Del Monte a hotel in superb grounds perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen. The maze proves of absorbing interest & reminds us of Carry’s recitation. The Lick Observatory on the top of Mt Hamilton, and Santa Cruz claim a visit from myself, & picking up Annie, a return is made to San Francisco. Los Angeles, Passadena† & Echo Mountain how to recite your beauties, how speak of the chain of the orange groves; Coronado beach upon the Eastern Shores of the Pacific. A railway bears us away, a rail to the City of Angels; a railway carries us east for 56 hours in a carriage—longest journey of all, so at length we are stranded at Houston: further a day and a half of discomforts, and rest at Atlanta.

But if you look at a map you perhaps wonder why we did not stop at the famous city of New Orleans; the answer is Yellow Fever in the place. Atlanta brought back our recollections of the Eastern city, though signs of the South were not wanting; from there we went not a long journey to Jacksonville & St Augustine in Florida. But the great frost of ’92 has rather destroyed that part of the country, & as it was not the proper season we reluctantly gave up the thought of descending another 12 hours journey to the orange groves & pine fields.

So we returned & up to Asheville; charming spot, standing in a panorama of gorgeously coloured trees covering the horizon. A few days very pleasantly pass roaming about in the morning & driving in the afternoon; then we get once more into the train, & leaving for good the south with its sugar brakes & its cotton fields come up to Washington. So I return at length to a place which I had seen, before I started out on my travels nearly a year gone by.

What more is there left to tell? Once again have I visited New York & been carried away by the hustle of its streets, once again has educational Boston and grimy Chicago appeared before me, once again have I gazed enraptured upon the resistless fall, the tumultuous rapids, the insidious whirlpools of Niagora†.

But what shall I speak of these things? Shall I write of the Waldorf Astoria full to the brim but yielding its last rooms for my sister and myself? Shall I write of Richard Mansfield in Cyrano de Bergerac? Shall I tell of the Emerson School of Oratory? Shall I describe the banks of Niagora† clad in a mantle of snow? Or should I speak rather of Hull House and of my friends there, of friends in Buffalo, Detroit, Toledo, New York[,] New Haven, or here in Boston itself? How little could I do them justice in a a mere letter; is it not better to leave unwritten?

But let me speak, instead, of my return; another fortnight here, a week in New York, a week on the Atlantic wave & I shall be at home once more in the country of my birth. A year and six weeks shall I have wandered abroad, a voluntary exile. Five months in India, the land of a strange people with strange manners & strange customs, yet pleasant months among friends of the best—countrymen more permanent exiles than myself. Then a time with Percy Alden delightful for his companionship; a month in Australia, a fortnight in New Zealand—countries of modern growth. A few days of intense interest, surrounded by the oldest civilization of the globe; a few weeks in the land of the little people, the people of Artistic delight, and once again to a modern race in the New World.

My sister joins me in my travel, & together we visit the wonders of the States & rest awhile among friends in the East before returning to our Home. {3}

So has been spent my time; ten and a half months upon the land and three upon the sea, & now I look forward to that return which has ever been a premeditated pleasure in my mind. To come back once more to home, to friends, to Cambridge my beloved, to this do I look forward with an ardent longing. Time enough have I seemingly idled & frivoled, the day is near at hand for active endeavour; Heaven grant me a safe return that I may put my hand to the plough & not turn back.

The End.


The dates of many of the events related in this letter are uncertain.

{1} Lawrence was due to arrive on the 10th (see pp. 177, 185), and according to the newspapers the Coptic arrived on that day (see e.g. the Dundee Evening Telegraph, p. 3). Perhaps the ship spent a while in the harbour before the passengers disembarked.

{2} See 6/13.

{3} ‘New Year’s Day (1899) found us on board an Atlantic liner bound for home’ (Fate Has Been Kind, p. 47).

† Sic.

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