18920715 See an image of this letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/2qz8-s681


No  1

S.S. “Trent”

In the Bay of Biscay oh!

Friday 15th July 1892


My dear Mother,

“Just before the battle” – I mean just starting forth on the deep “where the stormy winds do blow”, I wrote you a few lines on a blue card, in pencil, & enclosed same in a white envelope.

I had previously sent a waiter to look for paper, pen & ink; – he brought me an inkstand & a pen but said he could not procure paper, adding significantly that he was not going on with the ship, & that he had the greatest difficulty in finding the inkstand. I gave him 6d, dived into my own bag for the card & envelope, & found that the pen would not write, & the ink was a thick paste.


“Oh for a touch of that vanished coin

Or a word with the cove brought that quill”.


The frontage of The Criterion restaurant in Piccadilly Circus, 1898.
The frontage of The Criterion restaurant in 1898.

I enjoyed my evening in London. Edgar & I dined at a nice little restaurant – The Burlington – in Regent St.[1] From a corner window we watched the crowd of people below. We had an excellent dinner for 3/6 each, – much better than what I had at the Criterion for 4/6. The youngster had instructions to pay all, but I wd not let him.

Corney Grain’s entertainment is well worth a visit.[2] First we had a musical farce in one act. A young “photographic artist”, who considers himself insulted when called a photographer visits a tiny village & falls in love with the beadle’s daughter. The pompous beadle afterwards appears on the scene & scents mischief when the artist declares himself a “roving vagabond” & avows that it was his intention to “take the village pump”. The beadle (Corney Grain), fearing violence, beguiles the artist into the stocks by showing him the best seat from which to enjoy the view & inviting him to rest his legs on the board & make himself comfortable. The artist obligingly complies & the beadle shuts down the stocks on him & departs in triumph.

The beadle’s son, a “charity boy” under an old bequest in the village comes in & being laughed at on acct. of his charity dress, retaliates by puffing at the artist with a pea-shooter, but is finally bribed to set free the prisoner.

The artist plots vengeance & writes to inform the Beadle that one of the trustees of the charity will come next day to inspect the schools. The Beadle is alarmed for his son & daughter are the only scholars, & the regulations provide that the charity shall lapse unless there are at least three boys or three girls on the list.

But he has a happy thought – dresses up his wife (who is a fish wife by reputation) & son as girls in the charity uniform, making with his daughter, three pupils. The artist, disguised as an elderly trustee, enters, & an amusing examination ensues.

Finally the disguise is detected – general forgiveness & finale, – union of artist & beadle’s daughter – all photographed in a group.

Some of the songs are capital. The fish-wife’s “Will you buy?” with a pretty waltz-chorus, is very taking, but perhaps the best is the trio “Twinkle, twinkle, little Star”, sung before the Examiner by the two girl scholars prompted by the Beadle, in this way


Daughter: “Twinkle, twinkle little – “

Beadle (prompts): “Star”

Fishwife as Scholar (passes it on): “Star”

Daughter:                                                “Star””,

“How I wonder what you –  –   “

Beadle:                 “Are”

Fishw:                                   “Are”

Daughter:                                            “Are”

& son on.


The second part of the entertainment is Corney Grain’s musical sketch “My wife’s party”, – very funny & sarcastic; – a modern London crush & the people who go to it. The arrangements, the invitations, the arrivals, the people who make a habit of going to half a dozen parties in one evening. Recitation:


“We’re going on, we’re going on,

For ever & a day”.


Song. An English ballad in dialect “Mrs ‘Enry ‘Awkins”, – pronounced vulgar, but when turned into French or German – charming.

It was really one of the cleverest things I have heard for a long time – the translations – (first rate in themselves) sung with the little mannerisms of each country. He must be a first-rate linguist. Then a young lady’s song with mandolin accompaniment; – “all young ladies accompany themselves on the mandolin now-a-days.” – Skirt dance – so fashionable! Professional lions engaged from music- halls. A sentimental song in Italian.

The mob to get to the supper-room. The candid criticisms of the guests.

Altogether an evening’s wholesome fun, much to be recommended.

Next morning I was early at Waterloo Station, but did not recognize anyone. Two fellows said they had seen me before, – one at Pernambuco, one in Buenos Aires, but I have no recollection.


Sat’day    Fortunately the steamer sailed from the dock, so we had no tender. The morning was fine & the channel calm – as was also the Bay y’day; – today there is some wind from the S.W. with “a bit of a sea”, but just enough to make things lively & pleasant.

There are some 50-60 passengers. I have spoken to three or four who seem nice enough people, but I don’t feel like getting chummy with many of the rest. I have seen only two ladies so far, – not attractive in either appearance or manners. The voyage will be a very quiet one. So much the better. It will give me a chance of writing & doing some work.

I have read two magazines & two shilling shockers already, besides three weekly periodicals.

The “Idler” is a good six-pence worth.[3] The witty-chatty article by Jerome – “Novel notes” is excellent. Discussion in the Author’s club on the choice of a heroine. Is she to be good or bad? “Bad, said MacShaugnassy, good heroines are less interesting; no uncertainty about what they’ll do.” “Not altogether bad” said Jephson. “Bad, with good instincts, the good instincts well under control.”

Interesting dissertation on standard of goodness in different nations & at various times. MacShaugnassy puts his feet on the mantelpiece & tilts back his chair to an angle that causes the rest to rivet their attention on it with hopeful interest (!). Says fashionable virtue slumming, “so all our best heroines go slumming”. Tells story; – quiet village, – new curate, – bachelor, – private income, – all the unmarried ladies went for him, – he was heard to say wd not be attracted by beauty, but by Charity & kindliness to poor, – serious difficulty, – only one poor person in parish – cantankerous old fellow – eleven girls, three old maids, & a widow, wanted to be “good” to him, – fed him on jelly, portwine, chicken, oysters – got so fat couldn’t go through his own back door – made them buy his baccy & fetch his beer – they sub-scribed for harmonium – he didn’t want serious music – made them sing “Winked the other eye” with chorus & skirt-dance. Sudden Collapse – curate marries beautiful burlesque actress, & poor man goes to workhouse.

There are several other good articles, notably one by “The American Colonel” on Railroad Travelling, & some humorous notes at the end by the “Idlers”.

The Strand Magazine is also good value. Interview with G.A. Sala, full of anecdote.[4] History of Mont Blanc from first ascent in 1786 till today, with an account of some of the accidents that have taken place on it. Fable of American railway porter who dies from vexation because he meets one trunk which he is unable to smash; it is afterwards found the trunk was filled with sandwiches & buns from an English railway refreshment room.

I don’t think I shall have any whist. There are some fellows playing whist – of a kind – in the smoke-room, but they don’t know the elements. I played three games of chess – won two after hard fight, third was a draw.

The cake is still in the tin; will be produced after Lisbon.

The water is pleasantly warm already. I began with joy my salt-water tub on the first morning.


Lisbon   Monday morning 18th July

We passed Sat’day night in Vigo bay, – went ashore for an hour next morning. Sunday aft’noon we called at Leixoes, new harbour for Oporto with fine breakwater. Made only short stay there to pick up emigrants.

Just arrived at Lisbon. I shall go ashore after breakfast.

I hope some letters will come for me by mid-day mails. Perhaps I shall write from Las Palmas.

Best love to all





  1. This is Edgar Löwenthal (b 1872), JMcC’s first cousin (son of Julius’ brother Ferdinand Adolphus of 205 Adelaide Road). JMcC refers to him as “the youngster” - in fact 8 years younger than JMcC (b 1864).
  2. Richard Corney Grain (26th October 1844-16th March 1895), known by his stage name Corney Grain, was an entertainer and songwriter of the late Victorian era: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Corney_Grain
  3. The Idler was an illustrated monthly magazine published in Great Britain from 1892 to 1911. It was founded by the author Robert Barr, who brought in the humorist Jerome K. Jerome as co-editor, and its contributors included many of the leading writers and illustrators of the time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Idler_(1892%E2%80%931911)
  4. George Augustus Henry Fairfield Sala (November 1828–1895) was an author and journalist who wrote extensively for the Illustrated London News as G. A. S. and was most famous for his articles and leaders for The Daily Telegraph. He founded his own periodical, Sala's Journal, and the Savage Club. The former was unsuccessful but the latter still continues: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Augustus_Sala


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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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