18900817 See an image of the original letter, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/xnrr-2p51


No 17

Rio de Janeiro

17th August 1890


My dear Mother,

No home letters since I wrote you last week – they must have gone further north. I am making a longer stay here than I anticipated; Rio is a big place & the Brazilians are fearfully procrastinating: they never keep an appointment except by accident & they are still fonder than the Spaniards of “tomorrow”; the phrase most often used is “tenha paciencia” & really one requires an inexhaustible fund of the monumental virtue.

On Thursday I dined at the Gottos’ & afterwards drove with them to a dance given by friends of theirs, Mr & Mrs McKinnel, at a kind of private hotel in Botafogo – one of the outskirts of the town. The garden of the hotel was illuminated by Chinese lanterns, hung between the palm trees with pretty effect; the ballroom was decorated with fern & palm leaves & the English, American, & Brazilian flags. Mr McKinnel is English & Mrs is American – an excellent hostess, looking as if she were especially pleased to see each particular guest there.

There were some 50 or 60 people – not very many pretty faces; – one of the prettiest girls was a Miss Lee, daughter of the American minister (chargé d’affaires, not parson), very lively & original & not by any means conventional.[1]

Among the young married ladies Mrs Gotto was quite the nicest looking! There was a substantial cold supper, during which the fun ran high & all evening there were ices & other refreshments.

Altogether it was a very pleasant & successful evening.

I had a card for a dance at the German Club last night, but did not feel in the humour to go.

Some evenings ago I visited the Botanic Garden which is a few miles out of town. It is beautifully kept & is a most interesting place, even to me who know nothing whatever about botany. What strikes one most is the long avenues of regularly planted & equal sized palms like smooth polished columns. There are pretty fountains & a little stream running through clumps of bamboos whose clustered canes rising in solid circles curve outwards gracefully & symmetrically till they join overhead, forming intersecting vaults[2], & reminding one of the crypt of some old cathedral: Glasgow for instance which you would not admit that you enjoyed in spite of the violent fit of sneezing that obliged you reluctantly to leave its damp delightfulness.

Mr Ree is now almost himself again. He has taken off the bandages & he goes to town daily to look after his business. His face is still somewhat swollen on one side.[3]

I expect to leave Rio about the end of this week, & when you get this letter I shall be looking up the sailing lists to see what steamer will suit to carry me home.

I hope the fine weather has come meanwhile & that you have got rid of your cough & are feeling better, & that the Pater is all right.

Best love to all.



The Botanical Gardens of Rio de Janeiro. Palms are shown with Mt Corcovado rising in the background.
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens with Mt Corcovado in the background. From Glimpses of the World: A Portfolio of Photographs of the Works of God and Man, by John L. Stoddard (New York, 1899), p. 499. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015077530429


  1. The Gottos – Percy and the nice looking young Jane - were described in the previous letter. No trace of these McKinnels in Rio – although I think he may also have been an engineer. Sounds like Mrs McK was very effusive in her welcoming of the guests to her ball. Miss Lee was the daughter of James Fenner Lee, US chargé d'affaires (b 13th February 1827, d 23rd April 1892): https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1890/d15
  2. Marvelous description of the Botanical Gardens. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rio_de_Janeiro_Botanical_Garden
  3. Mr Ree, whose identity is uncertain, but is known to Jane and Julius, is amazingly recovering from his bilateral mandibular fractures.


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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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