Saturday, August 30, 2008

one whale a month

John Lothrop Motley to his Wife.

Brussels, March 2nd, 1858.

My Dear Mary,
I hardly know whether I have written to you within the last few days or not. My days and nights succeed each other and certify each other so monotonously that they seem to be all stuck together in one piece. It is like one long sentence without punctuation, like the interminable Spanish despatches which I am reading every day, and which run sometimes for fifty pages without a period or even a comma. I am at the Archives every day before ten, and generally till five, as Gachard, when he stops, invites me into his cabinet after the regular hour of closing, which is three. Then, la nuit tombante, I take a grim crepuscular walk round the shabby little boulevards, after which I go to the reading-room for an hour. At half-past seven I dine alone in the large salle a manger, lighted by one candle, with two waiters looking at me, so that I always feel like Warren in the farce which we saw at the Museum. After this I work till twelve or one o'clock, burning a good deal of midnight spermaceti, which, at the rate charged for it, comes, according to my calculation, to about one whale a month. Thus you see that I have always a pickaxe in hand, and am working my way pretty steadily into the bowels of the land. At the same time I do not see that I have anything amusing to communicate to you. I have a fine opportunity for cultivating my talent for silence, but that does not enable me to be very agreeable in conversation, even by letter. I am attacked by very frequent fits of the a quoi bon disease, and am constantly asking myself why I should condemn myself in this absurd way to travaux forces a perpetuite. Here I go trainant ma boule, and it does not do me any good, or anybody else. I am getting disgusted with the word "history," and yet I go boring on merely because it seems to be my destiny faute de mieux.

I went again to see Madame Metivie yesterday, and found her at home, together with the other one. Miss le Strange was there, too, with her father, and was delighted to hear of Lily and Mary, whom she recollects very well, and begged to be kindly remembered. She is quite a pretty, pleasing girl.
March 15th. I have pretty nearly finished in Brussels for the present. I have gone through nearly the whole of the Simancas correspondence, twelve hundred letters, many of them sixty pages in length, and after all they are rather a seccatura. I suppose I shall go to Paris by the end of the week.
Ever yours,
J. L. M,

-from The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley edited by George Williams Curtis 2nd edition (London: John Murray, 1889) vol. 1, pp. 215-16.

No comments: