Letter from Charles S. Peirce to his mother Sarah Mills
(Le Hâvre, 02.11.1877)

Spanish translation & annotations


Le Hâvre, 2 noviembre 1877

My dearest mother,

I write this to say that I sail for America tomorrow morning in the Herder, so if I am lost at sea you will know what has become of me. For the same reason I will add a few details about my journey. I wrote you a long & interesting letter from Leipzig but in doing so I was belated for my train & missed it. I stuffed my letter in my bag & in Berlin an inkstand was upset & the letter reduced to absolute illegibility.

During the voyage to Europe, we were only 5 first class passengers. Two ladies both alone & 3 gentlemen alone. One of the gentlemen was sick all the way. The other devoted himself to the

ladies & I consequently had the smoking room all to myself & made it my study. We had charming weather; & I wrote the best part of my second paper "How to make our ideas clear" & as my own are always far from that at sea, I fear the style is somewhat giddy. I found the eating extremely good, & I think that alone reason enough for taking the Hamburg boat. The boat was slow & I think it was Monday night when we landed in Plymouth. I took a special train to London arriving in the morning. The town seemed uglier than ever. I went to see the publisher of the XIX Century, who combines the business of Banker & Publisher. I didn't like him much, though he tried to be civil. I don't think my articles will appear there. I bought Father his travelling rug which is a very nice one, but I was cheated in the price. I bought it in the city, thinking to do better there & I afterward found that at the West end I could have had a better & handsomer one for less money. Still I can certify to its being extremely comfortable & am quite willing to retain it. It cost 3 pounds. I also replaced the nail brush which that mother of mine pilfered.




Where she learned such ways I don't know; certainly not from me. I also bought ½ dozen stockings & had a 100 cards printed from my plate. I left the same evening for Dover-Ostende-Bruxelles where I arrived the next morning. I spent the day in looking at the town which I had never seen. It happened to be the Independence Day of Belgium & there was a great to do. In the evening I went to the theatre & saw a very amusing play & after the theatre I took the train for Stuttgart. I arrived there the next afternoon, having seen from the car windows a little of the Rhine scenery which I had never seen before. I had no idea what Hotel to go to in Stuttgart, but I chanced to go to the right one the Hotel Marquard, one of the best in Europe. I did not get cleaned & dressed till the table d’hote dinner was nearly over, so I determined to find a retired corner & not seek my friends till after dinner. However Oppolzer caught sight of me at the other table & he & several others came over & spoke to me & welcomed me. I was received most warmly. Old General Baeyer embraced me & I thought Miss Baeyer was almost on the point of doing so. I was not at all expected & it appears that they had been saying what a pity


they had not sent a formal invitation in time, so that my sudden appearance had quite a supernatural effect, as Miss Baeyer said. I found they all were at the same Hotel so that it was very agreeable. They had already had one day's sitting but that was only a formal one. As for the views which I wished to enforce, they had a complete triumph, and the extreme importance of the matter was acknowledged by everybody, so that I was quite the hero of the moment. I addressed the meeting 4 times and also made an after dinner speech & toasted Mr. Zech whom I particularly detest. The French were particularly polite to me this time & Mr. Faye came into my room the night before his departure & said in a significant way that if he accepted the observatory I was to understand that all its resources were at my disposal for any experiments I desired.

I will endeavor to describe a little some of the members of the association. The president of the Standing Committee is General Ibañez of Madrid. He has a great deal of merit as a geodesist but is more a man of the world than a man of science. His manners are dignified & perfect, & he always knows what to do & still more what not to do. But the real King of European Geodesy, before whom all the others tremble, whom they never oppose openly, but grumble about him in whispers, is General Baeyer. He is now 83 years old. Since I last saw him


he has learned French, which he now speaks very well. Every night he would learn a list of 50 words by heart. He is very proud of his new acquirement. He is a lieutenant-General in the German Army but I don't think he has ever been engaged in military operations. He was a friend of Bessel. His manners are very warm with nothing to remind one that he is an "Excellency". He is soft & genial, & his great delight are tide-gauges. Miss Baeyer says "Mareographs are papa's pendulums." With all that, it is ill for him who finds himself opposed to Gen’l Baeyer in opinion as he has a tremendous will & always has his way. He is very fond of me & seems to have a good opinion of me.

Miss Baeyer, who is in the thirties, is fat and not pretty. She is extremely intelligent and has what the Berlinese call Berlin wit, which is adapted to the perceptions of Germans.

The association has two Secretaries Hirsch & Bruhns. Hirsch reminds me very much of Hilgard; he has the same caliber, the same general cleverness, he talks English, French, & German equally well, he is equally adroit, he is to the same degree a gentleman, & he pursues science with the same motive. He pooh-poohed my flexure researches at first because he wanted to please Plantamour, and


expressed himself very strongly. Finding that no go, he frankly admitted himself to have been in the wrong, & said that my research made an epoch in the history of the subject. He now wants to make it appear that I have omitted to consider the flexure of the pier. I did omit to measure it in Berlin, but I have always recognized that element, which however is of small importance generally. Hirsch supports whoever is strong & fights the weak.

Bruhns is the opposition secretary. He intrigues to overthrow Baeyer, Ibañez, Hirsch, etc. and to set up Bauerfeind & himself. His efforts in this direction have all the habilité of donkey imitating a lap-dog.

Plantamour is a charming man. He is seventy odd. He is very rich, but he has a perfect passion for work, & is never content when he is not at work. He is very discontented with the government of Geneva since the revolution because his friends have lost their influence & he thinks the place has gone to the dogs although we in America would think it a model of good government. His ideas in the management of his property are extremely conservative; he has a great distrust of large profits. He is very generous, I don’t doubt. His manners are


light and charming. He was a pupil of Bessel.

Colonel Ferrero is an Italian deputy, and a very clever man. He is a mathematician & has just published an interesting work on Least Squares. He is young & handsome & wears a magnificent uniform. He rebelled against Baeyer in regard to a small point in the calculation of triangulation, and even went so far in his hardihood as to say that the different surveys were responsible to the opinion of the scientific world and need not submit to the will of any individual. Needless to say that he was completely overwhelmed by the forces of Baeyer. He is deeply in love with a lady whose ancestry figure in the Inferno of Dante & received from her daily a letter & generally also a telegram. These he would generally come to read to me & to discuss. He is very amiable and also extremely clever. He is rather fond of talking & does not avoid a subject because it is personal to himself. He calls attention to the brilliancy of his demonstrations etc.

Professor Sadebeck is not a man of importance. He is frowsy to the extreme every square inch of his visible person is covered


with black hair & no hair grows in the direction of any other in its neighborhood. He has enormous hands & feet & bows & scrapes a great deal. If you don't catch the meaning of what he says in German, he says it immediately in French, which is the most amazing ever heard. One night at a grand dinner we had, Ferrero who was sitting next me announced to me his intention as soon as some longwinded German had finished a speech he was making of toasting the ladies. "I have the sense of opportuneness in a high degree," he said, "and I feel that now is the time." While he was saying this, the longwinded one had finished & Mr. Sadebeck had begun to speak & we perceived that it was he who had had equally the sense of opportuneness of a toast to the ladies, which he was delivering with many a quotation from Schiller etc. to the delight of the company & of his fiancée who was seated next him & whom he had already kissed, I believe, just before the toast.

M. Henri St. Claire Deville is not a member of the Association but he was present for a particular reason. He is a very distinguished



chemist. He has found out how to produce heat enough to melt platinum & has revolutionized its manufacture. He has also invented an alloy of Iridium and Platinum which has some valuable properties. Now the International Commission of Weights & Measures, decided to make the new metres for all the countries of this alloy. The French branch of the committee undertook to make the bars. Now the French & Germans were always quarrelling like cats and dogs, which was in considerable degree owing to the fact that Leverrier was on the commission. The Germans proposed that the French should submit the metal of which they proposed to make the bars to the general commission who would say whether it was pure enough. This the French highly resented and would do no such thing & went on & made the bars. But M. Deville who was a member said the metal was not pure enough & should be purified. The French accordingly expelled him from the commission. The matter has since been decided against the French as the bars have all changed


colour. But before this when the dispute was at its height, General Baeyer decided to have a metre made expressly for the Geodetical Association & put the construction of it entirely into the hands of Deville, who is therefore going ahead on a plan entirely his own. So he was present to report progress & explain what he is doing. Deville is a very little man, with a bullet head closely cropped, excessively lively & jocose. Being rather out of his element in Sttutgart he began poking fun at mathematics. You mathematicians, he said, cover a great deal of paper with mysterious symbols with long snakes∫ sometimes two or three together & when one asks what it all means one is very apt to find that it is something which natural good sense would have discovered without all these snakes. At this heresy Hirsch exclaimed & seemed to be concerned lest Deville should make a fool of himself. He asked me what I said to it. Why, said I, I think there is a good deal of sense in it. Kirchhof's mechanics


about which you have just been speaking with admiration is an example of pushing the love for analytical methods to the point of preferring them even when the same result is much more easily reached, otherwise. So Hirsch shortly after had occasion to leave the table & Deville says "I shocked our good Secretary by disparaging that which he respects the most, that is to say that which he comprehends the least."

I have a great mind to burn up this letter & not send it, for I see that in attempting to describe all these people, I have only mentioned their weaknesses, which are the most salient points often. However I let it go with a caution not to let it get generally seen.

Stuttgart is a pretty and gay little town; its streets are very clean & its architecture very picturesque. The annual fête of Cannstatt took place while I was there & there was a fête champetre etc.


All went but me. I was too busy with my writing. The Stuttgarters didn't take the business of the meeting au sérieux; it seemed to me that they thought nothing really serious except etiquette, which is here more than German.

From Stuttgart, I went to Leipzig where I endeavored unsuccessfully to get my articles inserted in a review. The book will be translated & I must content myself with that.

From Leipzig to Berlin. Plantamour had arrived before me & was making his experiments. I compared my standard again with the Prussian pendulum standard & found a slight change since 1875 of 1/12000 of an inch. Not much, but something.

Berlin I found much the same. They are constructing, however, a magnificent observatory in Pottsdam which I went out to see with Förster and Plantamour. It is an immense affair. Each observer has a separate house.


My time is running out & I must finish. From Berlin to Paris. Here I arranged to have my articles appear in the Revue Philosophique, and the book will appear in French, also. This arrangement pleases me much. I also had several long sessions with the Brunners & saw a number of instruments they had. I also visited the observatory & made some rough notes on the old pendulum apparatus of the Biot & Arago. I also spent a day with Deville in his laboratory & saw his way of doing what I am doing by comparing the metre with the wave-length. I also attended the annual meeting of the Five Academies of the Institute where Breguet exhibited the telephone. The new palace for the exhibition is very grandiose & fine. I redid the Louvre Luxembourg Versailles; went to several theatres but


saw nothing worth mention except the Opera comique the Cloches de Corneville which is pretty & splendidly acted.

Yesterday, being All Saints, I took the train & went to Rouen where I remained till night & then came here. I admired the Rouen churches & heard part of the service in the Cathedral. The organ is grand & was superbly played. The sermon was also very impressive. A cardinal was present in his red robes & cap. In the evening the boulevard was lined with booths with all sort of things. Theatres at which the actors in costume came out in costume to invite the people in & attract them by grimaces dancing music etc. All sorts of places for various games, small things to sell, etc. There was such a crowd that it was difficult to get along at all. Very amusing.

I have seen nothing of this town but the aquarium. I hope to see you & Father in New York very soon. Tough I have endeavored to economize all I could, I have spent more money than I ought. I won't come again unless they give as much subsistence as European governments give.





Transcription by Sara Barrena (2016)
Una de las ventajas de los textos en formato electrónico respecto de los textos impresos es que pueden corregirse con gran facilidad mediante la colaboración activa de los lectores que adviertan erratas, errores o simplemente mejores transcripciones. En este sentido agradeceríamos que se enviaran todas las sugerencias y correcciones a sbarrena@unav.es
Proyecto de investigación "La correspondencia del tercer viaje europeo de Charles S. Peirce (septiembre-noviembre 1877)" (PIUNA 2016-2018)

Fecha del documento: 9 de noviembre 2016
Última actualización: 17 de agosto 2017
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