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Helen Hunt Jackson 2-2-23b transcription

Helen Hunt Jackson Papers, Part 2, Ms 0156, Box 2, Folder 23b, H.S.D. to HHJ, 1860.
Transcribed by Gloria Helmuth, 2003.

Berne, Switzerland
May 28th, 1860

My dear Mrs. Hunt,

Have you become quite indignant on my long silence; surprise having exhausted itself in conjectures, so that if a little envelope with various foreign stamps should present itself to you, it would be received with quiet contempt? It is rather late in the day to say so, but your last letter was very welcome when after a long chase it found me in Florence! Little did you dream when writing it in Bratleboro, what a weary journey lay before it. Now if you were only here beside me what a chapter of talk we should enter upon. The why and wherefore of our sudden change of locality you will not need to have set before you, but you will rejoice to know that we trust the great end of our journey is being attained shortly and surely. It takes a longer time than we had at all imagined thoroughly to rest on our taxed head, and I assure you foreign galleries and sight seeing are not places to promote it. We found that out very soon, so that our winter in Italy added to the trial of forced idleness, the discipline of resisting such temptations. The almost continuous bad weather disappointed us too of the desired enjoyment in the open air, still Mr. Dana was better for the seclusion from ordinary haunts, and there were fine days that gave us an idea in our walks and drives of what "Sunny Italy" would be. We were nine weeks in Florence, six in Naples, three in Rome. Saw much I should like to tell you of personal adventures and observations in each place, but it would be ruinous in patience if not in postage if I were to enter very much into detail here. You would have enjoyed seeing us scrambling up Vesuvius, which was unquestionably rather hard work but it pays, in American phrase. The glimpse into that awful gulf now completely filled with dense smoke, and now j-u-s- lifting just enough to let you catch an uncurtain view far, far down; is a remembrance for a life time. The point of latest eruption where the lava issued first two years since, and from which it still flows, is at the foot of the great cone, and so we had a second ride over those acres of blackened fields on which the fiery current has so often poured, and were rewarded by standing beside the actual moving stream. It was very grand to see glowing sluggish mass roll on, in there more intense than that of any furnace I ever saw and the heat radiated from it, in proportion. They arranged a seat for us with cloaks set at a safe distance, but where my dress and feet rested it was quite unbearable, it seemed as if my clothes would take fire. My childish dream of visiting Pompeii and [Duculeneuym?] was realized at last, and with all the anticipated interest. It is a strange feeling that it gives you to roll back the scroll of time and look into the actual daily life of people who filled its now deserted homes while yet the Saviour walked [India?]. Rome took strong hold of me and with a growing interest. The spring time had come thru and sunshine to the [hoary?] walls of the Coliseum were gay with flowers and we realised the charm this mantle threw over decay. The sleep of ages of oppression and superstition is being broken thru now, and that fact added a keen interest to the record of past greatness. At Florence we had been in the midst of a free people, rejoicing in their new privileges and using them with a moderation that found them worthy of the blessing. I came away from Italy with a full belief in its brightening future. We cross Mt. Ceris to Geneva about the middle of April, spent three weeks there very pleasantly and then commenced a little journey about Switzerland which should agreeable occupy the time till we could go among the mountains.

The month of May is not the season that most travellers see this country but it has a rare charm in the innumerable fruit trees which cover all the lower slopes. We have driven over many roads which wound thru continuous orchards. The white boughs often meeting over our heads, while the meadows below were enamelled with flowers of every hue. We were at Neuchstil, a little city peculiarly interesting to us as the early home of both Profs. Agassiz & Guyot; had a most interesting trip by diligence through the valley of the Munster to Basil. The railroad deprived most tourists of this enjoyment, but we remember it with keen interest. The road lies in a deep gorge of the [Turas?], through which rushes beside you a noisy mountain torrent, on either side the cliffs rise now in battlemented fronts and towers far above your head, and often seeming to close in front of you and leave you no way out. Then perhaps a turn of the road would bring you into a wide smiling valley, dotted with the picturesque Swiss Chalets and luxurious as Eden. From Basil to Zurich, "on the margin of fair Zurich's "waters," and a fair spot it is, the shores of its quiet lake almost one continuous sweep of pretty villages. But Lucerne, the lake of four cantons, stands out most vividly in our remembrance. Its beauty combines such rare attractions, each turn of its winding water excites new admiration, the giants Rigi and Pilatus standing guard on either side of the little city, and far away on the horizon rise the grand peaks of the Alps. It was early in the season for the ascent of the Rigi, and considerable snow still lingered near the summit but we accomplished it without any difficulty, enjoyed every moment of the ride on our trusty ponies and had both a sunset & sunrise on its summit. There is a very large House up there in which, in full summer time, they have often 300 people at once. The Panorama spread out before us of vallies, lakes, towns, villages exceeds any words to describe. The sun like a careful watchman took a parting glance at every little sheet of water, and his beams were flashed back as if from molten silver; while up Mt St. Gotrard pass a stern snow storm was raging, and the hoary veterans standing there in solemn dignity were tinged with those farewell hues that seem less of earth than Heaven!

The city from which I date is one I shall ever remember with peculiar interest. No other that we have seen equals it in the number and beauty of its public promenades and shaded walks. It stand on the high bluff over the Aar, rushing in a rapid torrent below, and commands an unbroken view of the Bernese Oberland. It is moreover so quaint and odd in its arcaded sheets, its numerous fountains, its grand old Cathedral, and sovereign in every spot, always the object of reverence, stands its armorial Bear! The legend says that its founder, near 700 years ago, went out on a hunt to decide in that way what name to give to his new city. Bruin came in his way, the animal lost his life but gained what many a mortal strives so to gain, a lasting renown? A grand figure of the beast stands on either side of the principal gate, none enter without his cognizance, and every where you meet his droll physiognomy. It peers at you even from the painted roof of the Cathedral, and has his place in its splendid stained window with Moses & the Apostles! Moreover two happy families of the living animal are supported and hospitably entertained at the expense of the city! Bar is his German name, hence comes Berne.

We return to Geneva early next week, and about the 15th of June go from Munich to [Chamouni?], and hope to spend about six weeks in mountain travelling, mostly on horseback, and with only such luggage as can be strapped on the back of the saddle. We hope the time thus passed will confirm the good Switzerland has already done Mr. Dana, and then we shall be glad and thankful to turn toward Paris & Havre. Our passages are engaged on the Adriatic, July 31st.

I shall tell you nothing whatever of the shady side of the story, the separation from our home and children. In now almost eight months we have had only good tidings from them, and that thought should hush all repining. They write me fully every week from New Haven, and Lanny at Hanover and Eddie at his Uncles have done their share in the correspondence. I dare not trust myself to dwell on the meeting, if God grant us a safe return!

I send this to Sarah Woolsey to forward, having no clue to your present quarters. Don't think me wholly selfish that my pages are so filled with one topic. My husband desires his kindest greeting to you and Mr. Hunt. I am anxious to learn if Rennie is yet promoted to Pantaloons!

Very truly your friend H.S.D. -

I don't at all deserve it, but I need not tell you how much pleasure it would give me to have a reply over here! Our address is care John Munroe & Cie Paris

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