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3-278 (Original)

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addressee,female author,male,Cross, John,32
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Plaint Text :
Private Written
Private Correspondence
Niall, 1998
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3-278.txt — 11 KB

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I wrote you a line last Monday by the California Steamer telling you of my arrival, and I will go on day by day since then. Not that there is much to say; but they are my impressions, such as they are.
I have been busy most mornings looking after business matters, which are more hopeful than I had anticipated. On Tuesday afternoon Robert Sellar took me over the Parliament Houses, the handsomest public building here. Only one front is yet finished, faced with a yellowish sandstone, and that is good enough; but the other front is in a most ghastly unfinished state - and it is the most important as it faces one of the principal streets, and the other looks more or less into space. They have a House of Commons & an Upper House, got up as much as possible after the English pattern, and a first rate Library. Altogether it is done in very good style - The House of Lords being a trifle gaudy and somewhat in a Gin Palace style of florid decoration. I daresay however in time when it is all finished that it will be a himposing hedifice.
The general impression left on one's mind by everything here is that their ideas are a good deal ahead of the capabilities of the place. In fact, it has to grow up to its institutions.
There is the same incongruity in the architecture as is noticed to exist in New York in a most entertaining article in a late 'Macmillan' - only more so : there are fewer palaces & more shanties. Very few of the shops or Houses in the principal streets are over two stories high, and very many only one storied wooden cottages. [87] Still, the Town Hall, Post Office, and many of the Bank Buildings are really handsome, if a little ambitious.
The streets are extremely broad, but have no trees like New York. All the drainage is done by open gutters some four or five feet broad, running down the sides of the streets, which remind me very much of New Orleans. In fact the whole place is a sort of cross between New Orleans, Chicago, & San Francisco. The Street this Club is in is Collins Street, which about answers to Broadway in New York: capital shops at the lower end - near the bay - and at the Upper end it is faced by the Treasury buildings, which are close to the Parliament Houses, which latter again are at the head of Bourke St to the South. The town is laid out rectangularly, with a very broad street such as this Collins Street, then a narrow street called Little Collins Street, & then a broad street again such as Bourke Street - and so on, alternating broad & narrow. The town covers a tremendous space of ground, and the good buildings are consequently very much detached from one another.
As far as I can make out no one lives in Melbourne, but as in Liverpool all the world goes to the suburbs. Doctors seem to me the only inhabitants for instance of the Upper part of Collins Street, which is I suppose the most desirable location in the town. And indeed one can't wonder at it, for the suburbs are very pretty and very comeatable. St Kilda for instance, which is within less than quarter of an hour of Collins Street by rail, is very much such a place as Bognor or any other small coast place - villas & the sea. Looking out from my window here in the Club, which is on the third story, I have a very pretty view of the surrounding country, for there is nothing between me & it but the houses on the opposite side of the street, and then the ground takes a dip; there is one further narrow street beyond and then one broad one, which latter is really a road with nothing on the other side but the country - so that as the dip is sufficient to let one see easily over the tops of the Houses, I have a really fine view when it is clear as far as the 'Dandenong Ranges', the name of some high hills 30 or 40 miles distant. It is rather a pretty rolling country, fairly wooded. Melbourne itself too is very rolling - Up & down hill, a good deal like Glasgow in that respect.
On Tuesday afternoon I went & presented my letter to Professor Irving (from Mr Jowett). He is a tall fine looking man with very deep set eyes which he looks down on the ground with in a shy sort of way; a very pleasant voice & manner; and knows a lot of William Sellar's friends. He has given up his chair at the University, and is now head Master of the Wesleyan School here & is very busy, so I only staid some ten or fifteen minutes with him, and have not seen him since. Next day I called on Professor Wilson, to whom Macmillan gave me a letter. He seems a clever little fellow, but he could not get through 'Romola', and his idea of a good novel is 'the Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly', so that we have not a bond of union in leeterature. He asked me to dine with him yesterday, but I was engaged to Mr Philip Russell, a cousin of George Russell & of course connected with the Elie.
Yesterday I called on Mr Yencken, and he asked me to dine also that evening, which I could not do; and I am going out to see Mrs Yencken on Monday. Tomorrow I am going to take an early dinner - it being the Sawbath - with a Mr Robert Simson, who is some connection of the Russells & had met Papa & Zibby at Elie years ago. [88] He is a vulgar sort of fellow, but good-natured & friendly, & I believe has a very pretty place in the suburbs. On Thursday night I dined with one of the young Hentys, who have done our business since McCulloch, Sellar & Co. ceased to act as our agents. They are decent respectable people, but slow to a degree. They had a very self-complacent Clergyman & his wife - a Mr & Mrs Vance, the former of whom told with a shudder how Jowett had examined him in Divinity at Oxford & seemed to consider the examination a joke - 'in fact, his very eyes twinkled'. I can easily believe it!
The party at Philip Russell's last night was entirely of men - Simson, Robert Sellar, two or three other members of this club, and a Mr Officer who I think is some relation of D. Wood's, in whose marriage all the Fife people here seem to be interested! It was a capital good dinner - excellent wines, some very fair whist after dinner, and altogether very first chop colonial I have no doubt. Lots of 'capital jokes' on local subjects; but not what you would call feverishly gay to an outsider - though one's reception was most cordial and kindly. I should think the sort of thing very much like a Glasgow dinner. It was better than the Henrys, for though Madame H. is quite a pretty woman she was werry colonial, and he though a good fellow is a considerable prig with an absolute want of humor but apt to let off small jokes & feeble puns.
The Hentys live at a suburb called Kew some five miles from town, and Russell beyond Robert Sellar at St Kilda, so you may imagine from the distances that Melbourne is not a very sociable place. They seem to be divided up into small local cliques, and are all apparently very churchy. I don't think, my lambs, that the society as far as I have seen of it would be attractive.
There is a clear distinct difference between a colony & a new country like America. It is evident in Canada: it is equally - perhaps more - evident here. All you can say about Americans & American society is that they are different from English - here inferior, there superior; but this & all Colonial places I have seen are simply inferior English or Scotch. There is a distinct want of individuality about them. It is very curious : I wonder whether they would improve by being left to themselves. Certainly as far as I have seen the Americans are infinitely ahead of the others. There is a go & an independence about them that one doesn't find here. If I were an emigrating laborer I should not have one second's doubt about choosing the United States for my future. As far as one can see, however, that class are pretty well off here. There are no painfully visible paupers. No doubt there is some distress, but it is of a mild character - in fact, a man has only to go up country to get all the beef & mutton he wants every day of his life. I have not yet seen a beggar.
Then they have a most excellent Free Library here. I saw no end of working men reading there - and the education is lying there for them. The University too is very cheap; and with Irving as master of the Wesleyan School, a first class education is within the reach of large numbers. Wilson took me all over the University. He lives there in very nice rooms. None of the undergraduates reside. It is like a Scotch University in that respect. A fine stone building with a quadrangle, which will be handsome enough when finished, but like the parliament Houses with a great deal still to be done to make it look sightly. [89]
In walking out to Russell's House yesterday R. Sellar & I went through the Botanical Gardens, which promise to be really very pretty. They are building a House for the Governor overlooking them, which is to cost £50,000. It's a pity they don't finish one thing before beginning another. The Yarra river runs through the gardens - a narrower stream than the Thames at Maidenhead, with plenty of skiffs & four oared wherries, not unlike dear Father Thames. The banks are well wooded, but not with pretty trees. The great tree here is the gum tree, which is an evergreen with pendulous leaves, but rather dreary.
19 APRIL 1872
I dined with the Simsons on Sunday & again on Monday, when they had a little party with some young ladies. Style bad English - not interesting. On Tuesday I dined with the Yenckens, who live at Windsor, some 4 miles from the city. They have a very nice house which Fred. Druce built for them when he was out here. They have six nice children - two young ladies, the boy who was at home last year and two smaller boys, & a young one of 3 years. The eldest of the girls has been ill and looks delicate; but they seem a very happy & united family. After dinner Mr Yencken & his eldest daughter played charmingly together on the piano. The girls seem to go out a good deal, & altogether look very happy. Mrs Yencken, whom I had not seen before, is very nice and asked most affectionately after Anna & Albert.
On Wednesday I went to a large public ball at the Town Hall, principally to see the room, which is really very handsome; the company very common. Last night I dined with the R. Sellars who had a little party - not very lively; & tonight I am going to a large ball at a Mr Francis', a political gentleman. So you see I am having 'quite a gay time'.
Tomorrow I start up country to visit our Stations. I shall be back before the mail comes in from England - & oh! how glad I shall be to get your blessed letters & to hear how all the honorable famille are getting on, & what new flights of genius Alky Palky is exhibiting. I am wearying now for the 22 May, when I hope to get on board the good steamer 'Baroda'. I long to be back with you all. I daresay the Spring will be very lovely with you now, & before you get this it will be well on to summer & the woods will be leafy again. God grant that you may all have kept well through it all, & that this will find you strong & well, without trouble or grief. My soul longs to be with you.