Letter from Charles S. Peirce to his mother Sarah Mills
(Paris, 17.11.1875)

Spanish translation & annotations


17 th 1875

Dearest mother,

I haven't heard from you since the monster letter I wrote from Geneva & now write not because I can write in a pleasant vein but because I am so anxious to hear that I am writing to everybody in the hopes of eliciting some response. Patterson has left me without any means of making up my accounts because he wont tell me wether they are to be expressed for payment in gold or in paper. Thus suppose I spend 5 francs and that five francs is $1 in gold and $1.17 in paper. I have got to express the amount in dollars, so much is vouchsafed me but whether I am to call it $1 or $1 17/100 is


what I cant find out. I went on to Washington for the purpose shortly before I sailed & Patterson then promised me to go to the Secretary the day after I left & make a certain application on the subject and let me know the result. I suppose he neglected to do so and I have been writing to him about it ever since. I suppose he is ashamed to tell the truth about it. He telegraphed me either that he would write or had written, about a month ago but I hear nothing although I have later letters. The result is that I have been continually expecting to receive this information very soon & have delayed putting my accounts into shape till I did hear & everything is in a frightful condition & I am almost crazed.


I am naturally as disgusted with my journey & in fact with life as it is possible to be. I came to do my duty but Patterson has so failed in his duty to me that I feel indifferent to doing my duty to him. I shall do it however. But I am very sorry I ever had anything to do with the Coast Survey. Still, I suppose anywhere else I should have found people equally untrustworthy.

Paris is a detestable place. Of all the cities I have been in it seems to me the vilest. When I think of sweet Geneva the thought seems to bring a little breath of fresh air. How people can like Paris, I dont understand. Unless they are content to see the grandeurs, & the art, & the theatres, without making any reflections, & to consider the French as they do the



actors on the stage & not really as fellow-creatures. Nothing can exceed my detestation of the French, unless it be my contempt for them. When the foreign geodesists were here as they were all very polite to me –Gen.l Baeyer, dear dear old man first, then Hirsch, of Neuchâtel, then Bruhns of Leipzig, the Gen.l Ibañez of Spain the President, then Ferrero of Italy, the Oppolzer of Vienna, I didn't observe that it was not so with the French. But now I see the difference strongly. As for Charles he seems to me to be in his dotage, a mere boy, & when I told him my father was acquainted with him, he said Oh yes, he has a beard, hasn't he? as though he only knew him by that, & it seemed to me he had no mind left to take any interest in anything else. Leverrier's rudeness was positively ingenious. But Yvon Villarceau who is generally disliked, I have taken a fancy


 to. He has lost his wife & is sad to such a degree that every tone, look, gesture expresses it, and as I am myself sad, that draws me to him & then he always talks sympathetically about my affairs & has introduced me to the library of the Institute. There is also another Frenchman but I have forgotten his name who has lately been to America & who was delighted with the Coast Survey.

But generally they are a vile set. The newspapers, the casual conversations one has with people in the cafés etc. oppress one dreadfully with the intense pigstye-ness of ideas here. What they call cynique. No believe in any human elevation because conscious of not having any one's self.

I am waiting now for the completion of an instrument & meantime I study French.


I can write pretty well but I stammer in talking, particularly in beginning conversation. Some people whom I meet seem to assume that I can't talk & then I can’t & other assume that I can & then I can but still I make innumerable mistakes in talking. I never think of anything I have said without perceiving that I have said it wrong. I pronounce tolerably. But it seems to me that everybody speaks better French than I. I mean English & Americans whom I hear speaking. It is astonishing how well some Englishmen speak, not merely perfectly gramatically but comme il faut as to what they say, which is extraordinary as they would certainly say totally different things in English. I enclose a rule of French grammar which I have invented in order to enable a person to remember when to use à and when de before an infinitive. I have found it extremely useful.

Also a Solitaire, of the 3-in-a-pile kind, which happened to me. Love to all. Your ever loving.

C. S. Peirce


Transcription by Max Fisch, revised by Sara Barrena (2013)
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 "Charles S. Peirce en Europa (1875-76): comunidad científica y correspondencia" (MCI: FFI2011-24340)

Fecha del documento: 4 de septiembre 2013
Última actualización: 26 de abril 2017

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