Letter of Charles S. Peirce to his wife Melusina Fay
(Egean Sea, 5.09.1870)


Spanish translation & annotations



Egean Sea. Leaving Cavalla.
1870 Sep. 5. Evening. Monday

When I wrote the letter I dispatched yesterday from Dardanelles I had just heard the great news of the surrender of Mac Mahon & the capture of the Emperor. Today at Cavalla I learn that the republic has been proclaimed. I confess I believed the empress had the spirit to hold the reins of government a few days at least & I am disappointed in her. But is not this the final downfall of "Latin civilization"? It appears that the French are so corrupted that there does not remain to them even the virtues requisite to waging war. If that is so we may say that they have been the great nation of many centuries but that they never will be any more, but must quickly sink into insignificance & not even their geographical position can save them for no geographical position is central where no great people lives. Constantinople is an instance. Who are to be the great people of the future? I say a new race which is to grow up in America and descended from the North Germans & the English. The North Germans are great & it is surprising how allied they are in feeling to America.

After immerging from the Hellespont into the Mediterranean we took Andros on our left & then Samothrace on our right & passed up to Lagos where we arrived late last night. There my three fellow-passengers disembarked & today all day I have been alone in my glory until this evening a new companion has appeared who speaks Greek & Italian but not a word of French & it is quite useless to inquire about English or German. Ah but this sea is lovely. First you are to conceive that it is bluer than any other sea & the water clearer than that of any spring almost. Then it has a sleepy dreamy way of making its waves as totally unlike the Atlantic as the soft manners of the people of these climes is unlike that of the Englishman, the Irishman, the German, the Frenchman or the American. All is soft here. The sun is hot, much hotter than at Constantinople but he burns you in such a polite way you do not think of it. The sky is bright but not the blaze we frequently see at home which it is painful to look at but bright so that you cannot take your eyes off of it for wondering at its beauty. The air has a soft haziness in it & the colours

toned into harmony. We sail peacefully over a glassy sea and can never raise our eyes to look at the shore without new admiration. Jagged, bold, abrupt mountains form the shore whose brown sides give beautiful effects of shadow when you are near them & which in the distance are behind another bluer in the haze one than another but not less sharply outlined give another fairy-like effect. Perhaps they are finest just after sunset when the distant ones are beginning to fade into the sky & the near ones to grow black, & this perfectly smooth uninterrupted continous shadding off of the sky from orange at the horizon to blue at the zenith gives me for the first time a conception of the beauty of the Italian sunset which I suppose is the same thing. Or perhaps they are finest at night when the moon just now at its first quarter illuminates the now thicker haze & these weird silent mountains appear above it


over the smooth water. It is in short so fairy-land like that instead of lamenting that it has to last till Friday I wish almost I could be going to Volo for all eternity.

At two oclock today we arrived at Cavalla & lay there till past 7 this evening. It is the first real walled town that I have seen. I have seen towns that have been walled or of which portions of the walls remained. But in every case they had burst over the walls which were far within the city. But this little place is uniformly walled all round with a vertical battlemented wall. It just fills its walls, no more no less. These walls are doubtless of real use now. It was as picturesque a little sight as ever you saw seated down there in the sunlight at the base of the mountains. It is built so on a hill that I could examined plenty of houses from the vessel with my glass, and I did not think it worth while to go ashore, as this always has to be done in a boat & there may be difficulty owing to my not speaking Turkish or Greek. However lest there should be something quite worth seeing I did go ashore but didn’t see anything. I went through the bazar –of course a very common affair after


Constantinople, for this town has only 10,000 inhabitants- & went and had one more cup of Turkish coffee at a coffee house. Delicious it was too. To ask for a cup of coffee is about all I can say in Turkish & to be requested to sit down about all I can understand. At this coffee house were two Turks, perfectly unEuropeanized, playing a game of our Backgammon. Very likely it originated here. Nothing in a Turkish town is worth seeing but the bazar & the mosques & I was afraid I should get into difficulty if I tried them here where they are not used to tourists. There was a fine acqueduct in the Roman fashion but I thought probably not Roman all things considered about it. I declare I hate to part from that Turkish coffee. Now you do precisely as I tell you. Take some of the very best coffee, part mocha. Roast it well & while it is hot grind it very fine indeed to a very fine powder. Screw your coffeemill up to its tightest. All depend on this. Then inmediately warm it again if it’s cold & take about half a measure of this & half a measure of boiling water. Put it right on the fire & give it one boil. It must be on so short


a time that it does not get bitter. Then take it off pour it into a cup a little smaller than a claret glass (that cup on your bureau is just the thing) do not for the world clear it but wait an instant & the grounds will go to the bottom. Sip as soon as the top part is pretty clear & not gritty, without any sugar (because it ought not to be the least bitter) or else if the coffee is not good enough for that with just a little pot in in making it. Of course the botton of the cup will be all grounds & that you leave. Try it. French coffee is a perfect fool to it. Cavalla would be an excellent place to observe the eclipse if a better cannot be had. It would be an endurable place to be for a couple of weeks & the instruments could easily be got there & easily put up in a good place. What is also of importance, a telegraph connects it with points whose longitude is known. The inhabitants seemed to think me quite a curiosity this morning but I really don´t see why they should. I have much more to say I assure you & if these dullest days admit of being described at such length you may imagine what the rest of the time is when I can with difficulty get time to put pen to paper.


Tuesday morning

When I got up this morning it had been raining & was rather moist & misty & cloudy & there was to be seen Mount Olympus looking very grand and well as if it might be the home of the gods. Its base was hidden in mist. Its top hardly distinguished itself in colour from the light cloud that floated about it & it seemed almost doubtful wheter it belonged to earth or to heaven.

This afternoon we shall arrive at Saloniki there to lie till day after tomorrow & perhaps I shall take horse there & go to Larissa & through to Volo. If I find I can get through by Friday so as to catch this same boat at Volo I shall do so because though the journey is longer it would be a great saving of time, a whole fortnight perhaps & would also I believe be safer from robbers. Because my danger is that if I go to Volo & start from there to Larissa robbers in Greece will hear of the rich English lord & will come to meet me on my return. Whereas in starting from Saloniki I am well into Turkish territory & am travelling towards Greece myself as fast as possible all the time. If I find it will take more than three days to perform the journey from Saloniki to Volo I shall go to the latter point by steamer & then in a week return by the same steamer to Saloniki & there take the steamer of the Messageries Imperiales


for Athens or do whatever else I find best.

It rained quite hard for a little while this morning which is good because the malarious places are considered safe after the September rains set in.



Dear Amy- Please do not forget to keep account of all the postage you pay on these stupid accounts of my journey so that I may reimburse you. I enclose a thaler I happened to bring away with me. Please forward the other letters I enclose. I have but one envelope accesible. I also enclose the proof of a photograph not good enough to have printed.

Transcription by Sara Barrena (2008)
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 europea de C. S. Peirce: creatividad y cooperación científica (Universidad de Navarra 2007-09)

Fecha del documento: 2 de julio 2008
Última actualización: 14 de septiembre 2017
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