18900508 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/as23-gn59


No 6   Buenos Ayres    14th May 1890


8th May


My dear Mother,

My last letter went by the French Mail S. “Brésil” on the 5th.

Today came your few lines from Portrush, 6th April, a little more than a month on the way. By the same post I had a letter, dated 8th, from Dundee, in a post-script to which they mention that they have just had a wire announcing the arrival at Montevideo of the “Coleridge”.

It seems much more than a month since I arrived. I sincerely hope that in less than another month I shall have said farewell to Buenos Ayres.

I am very glad you went to Portrush & had a pleasant couple of days at Easter, favoured with bright weather. The fresh sea-breezes & the rest, though short, ought to do you & the Pater good. It is not strange that so many people take advantage of the cheap rates to spend a Friday till Monday holiday at Portrush.

I must leave the continuation of this letter till a more convenient season. Dinner has begun downstairs, & so has a band of 3 or 4 musicians who are playing Fra Diavolo most energetically,[1] in the open patio, to say nothing of a man in the next room who has just wound up for the sixth time consecutively a one-tuned musical box; – there it goes – “Air sung by Jenny Lind” I think my old musical primer called it – ;[2] the spring is not quite strong enough to roll off the whole air at one winding; – it begins “allegro vivace”, soon slacks to “allegro”, & gradually calms down to “andante” & all at once stops short in the middle of a bar; – most provoking, & I can’t help listening unconsciously & speculating “now it’s going to stop, – no -, well this time, – not yet -, next bar then, – once more – ah, there!” – Click – Click – Click – off it goes again. Well I’m off too –


After dinner. The number of itinerant musicians in Buenos Ayres is astounding. Every evening during dinner we are obliged to let the sound of music creep in our ears from the patio which is taken possession of by fiddlers, harpers, & guitarists. They seem to think that soups, fishes, & rosbif (à l’Anglaise) become the touches of sweet harmony.

In Thackeray’s Irish Sketch-book (which I read not long ago & found, on the whole, dull & uninteresting) there is an amusing reference to music during dinner. Thackeray objects to it because, among other reasons, if you have a musical ear you are obliged to eat in time. The soup is served very hot, – the band strikes up a galop or a quick march, & you burn your tongue painfully. Next comes the fish, already cold, & you eat it deliberately to a minuet while the butter congeals on the plate; – & so on.


11th May

An Agricultural Exhibition is now being held in the fine Park at Palermo, the best quarter of Buenos Ayres.[3] I took a walk through it the other day, but prize horses & oxen do not interest me. There was a large collection of wools from “estancias” or sheep ranches all over the country, & one section contained an exhibit of ramie from its natural state through all the stage of scutching, spinning, weaving & printing.[4] Some people think that this fibre has a great future.

Cheese & butter were well represented, & in the way of fruits there were some magnificent pears, peaches & apples. Tinned tongues & preserved meat were there on behalf of that important national industry, & a room full of huge hides to prove that “there is nothing like leather”. From Paraguay came a snake-skin measuring fully twenty feet long by two feet across (when laid flat). The original owner must have been a pleasant & playful creature to meet when wriggling through its native woods! There was grain of all kinds to show the fatness of the land, & one from the mines far back in the cordillera.

Altogether the Exhibition proved the immense resources of the country. With its fine climate & splendid waterways navigable for hundreds of miles, the Argentine Republic must have a great future.

The people are a mixture of all nationalities, Spaniards, Italians predominating, & the fusion ought ultimately to produce a fine race, if at first they seem rather a mongrel lot.


13th May

No wonder lawyers are in such bad repute all the world over; what an aggravating set they are to have anything to do with. I expected to finish an affair this afternoon about which endless consultations have been held; and there at the last moment up crops a legal quibble to cause further expense & loss of time. I dare say Spanish & Spanish American lawyers are not fair specimens of the profession generally, but in any case, the less one requires their assistance the better. I shall have a wholesome dislike for lawyers as long as I live, if I beat Methuselah’s record.

I have been exchanging a good many telegrams with Dundee during the last few days, which little amusement costs on the average some £3 a message. If people had always to economize their words as carefully as they are obliged to do when they cost 7/- or 8/- each there would be much less twaddle spoken & written.

The application of the Cable Company’s tariff in the House of Commons, for instance, would be more effective than any method of cloture yet proposed.

A few evenings ago I was fortunate enough to see Coquelin & Mme. Juvic in “Tartuffe”, a high-class treat. Afterwards Mme. Juvic sang some little “descriptive” songs inimitably. One was “Je suis chatouilleuse” which may be freely translated “Don’t tickle me, I pray.” The laughing chorus was so natural & so irresistibly infectious that the audience was fairly convulsed with laughter.


14th May

No more by this mail. I have ever so much to do today, & I shall have to do things in a hurry, which, it is perhaps scarcely necessary to assure you, I do not like.

Best love



  1. Fra Diavolo (or The Inn of Terracina) is a comic opera in three acts by the French composer Daniel Auber, from a libretto by Auber's regular collaborator Eugène Scribe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fra_Diavolo_(opera)
  2. Johanna Maria "Jenny" Lind (b 6th October 1820, d 2nd November 1887) was a Swedish opera singer, often called the "Swedish Nightingale": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenny_Lind
  3. Parque Tres de Febrero, popularly known as Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods), is an urban park of approximately 400 hectares (about 989 acres) located in the neighbourhood of Palermo in Buenos Aires: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parque_Tres_de_Febrero
  4. Ramie is one of the oldest fiber crops, having been used for at least 6,000 years, and is principally used for fabric production: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramie


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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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