18900403 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/1rwc-xk85


No 5  Buenos Ayres                      5th May 90

per “Bresil”


2nd May


My Dear Mother,

As the date becomes to our thinking more summerlike the weather here becomes colder, wetter, & more stormy. May in Buenos Ayres corresponds with November at home, & y’day, May-day, instead of being mild & bright was the first winter’s day we have had. Last night a severe storm broke the telegraph wires, so we are today without news from the outside world. The high wind further blew the water eastward out of the broad shallow River Plate, leaving many vessels stuck in the mud.

Talking about mud, – I never saw streets so vile as those of this town. They are mostly paved with “square sets” laid on an insufficient foundation, so that the heavy traffic soon breaks them into great heights & hollows. Water & drainage-works were going on all over the town (until the money ran short) & the streets were torn up in all directions. A part of these works remains incomplete in the shape of huge holes, with their adjoining banks of earth. Other holes were filled up, after the pipes had been laid, but the superfluous earth & stones have been left to take care of themselves. So when it rains lovely mud-lakes are formed which passing wheels distribute among the pedestrians with delightful impartiality.

Beside the tramlines there are ruts six to eight inches deep, & particularly pleasant is it if a cab, trying to keep on the metals, drops into the ruts just as you happen to pass. Last night I was besplashed in this way literally up to the eyes – in fact a small shovelful of mud stuck in my eyebrow (proves how adhesive Buenos Ayres mud can be when it likes!). I felt tempted to make “a few cursory observations” on cab wheels & ruts in general, & those ones in particular, but as I was just on the point of entering the premises of the “English Litterary Society” – I didn’t.


3rd May

For the small sum of two paper dollars I have the privileges of membership in this society for one month. It has comfortable reading & smoking-rooms in the centre of the town, & its long list of sucsribers comprises almost all the English Residents.[1] The leading English papers & periodicals are taken in & the library is well stocked. Once a week there is a meeting for lectures, or debates, & smoking concerts are given frequently.

A few evenings ago I went to see a French Comedy company here just now, of which the leading stars are Coquelin (ainé), from the Comédie Française, & Mme  Judic, both well-known in Paris, – the latter chiefly as a Comic Opera prima donna.[2]

They gave us first a pathetic pretty little piece “La Joie fait Peur”, & then a laughable, but very French, farce. The acting was very finished, but the theatre was not well filled; – the prices were too high & Buenos Ayres people are not so lavish with their “pesos” as they were last year.

In spite of the bad times a magnificent Italian Opera Company is due here in a fortnight, comprising Tamagno, Maurel, the “maestro” Mancinelli, & other notabilities. The prices are exorbitant & I am afraid the enterprise will not be very successful. Last year this Compy might have asked & obtained what prices they liked, “But, O the heavy change” which makes people more careful of their small change.

But there really is no small change here; the smallest coin, or rather bank-note, is 5 cents. The usual tram-fare is 8 cents & if you give the conductor a 10 cent note, he hands you a 2 cent postage-stamp by way of change!

The gold-premium is still the absorbing topic of conversation. It is now falling delightfully, – that is people are regaining confidence in the paper money of the country. About 3 weeks ago the premium was 215 today it was 124, & no doubt it will have jumped somewhere else by the time this reaches you. So long as such fluctuations are possible no business will be satisfactorily or legitimately conducted, for the paper is the national currency & how can a man know at what price to sell his goods when, in a few weeks’ time, the gold with which he has to pay for them may cost him 30% dearer or cheaper.


4th By end of next week I hope to see my way clearly & to be able to send a telegram to Dundee about my movements. I shall go up to Rosario for a week or so, then possibly across to Montevideo, & after that if things continue to improve as rapidly as they have done in the last 3 weeks, I may come back to Buenos Ayres to try to take a few orders.

I hope to have letters from your tomorrow.

Best love to all


  1. “English Litterary Society” and “sucsribers” are as written in the letters.
  2. Benoît-Constant Coquelin (b 23rd January 1841, d 27th January 1909), known as Coquelin aîné ("Coquelin the Elder"), was a French actor, "one of the greatest theatrical figures of the age" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beno%C3%AEt-Constant_Coquelin. “Mme Judic” was Anna Judic (real name Anne-Marie-Louise Damien), a French comedienne (b 18 July 1849, d 15th April 1911) -  https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Judic


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John McCaldin Loewenthal: Letters Home from a Victorian Commercial Traveller, 1889 - 1895 Copyright © 2022 by Michelle Fink, Robert Boyd, Sarah Watkinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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