10 Autograph letters to members of the Bompas family.
GORDON-CUMMING Constance F. (1912.)
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Holograph ms. in ink. 35pp. 8vo. Light soiling. Various locations. 1894-
Constance Gordon-Cumming (1837-1924) was a Scottish writer and artist whose taste for travel was sparked by spending a year in India in 1868. "She was of a noble and wealthy Scottish family, so she had the means ... and with sound heath and few responsibilities ... she had the freedom" (Robinson). In addition to writing about her travels, she is believed to have painted over a thousand watercolors including some of the first of active volcanoes. Gordon-Cumming traveled widely and especially through Asia and the Pacific. Among other places, she visited Hawaii, Sydney, Fiji, Samoa, San Francisco, the Yosemite Valley, China and Japan. Her trips abroad were often alone and unaided and as such she was regarded by some, such as Vanity Fair, as one of the greatest of "our wonderful lady travellers", and derided by others as a "globe-trotteress". Indeed, even Robinson suggests that her travels "took on the air of rather far-flung social calls." However, this wasn't always the case. This group of letters from the latter stage of her life include excellent content concerning her charitable work for Reverend William H. Murray's school for the blind in Peking, China.
Some excerpts: "... Your most kind letter finds me at ... a very large & very fine Exhibition ... I grieve to say, the very worst we have ever held, in ... attendance, largely because the so called Christians are so acrimonious regarding the shades of opinion ... the great mass of people here are absolutely indifferent to Foreign ... It is said that not 1 in 10 ... attend any place of worship." "Before Christmas with its innumerable claims, is quite upon us. I am very anxious to secure the needed coin for the maintenance of the School for the Blind at Peking and the Blind Evangelists trained there. And so, as usual I look to you for the help ... It is now 30 years since I realized that I had to take up this particular task, of Collector and Chief ... no one else shows the smallest inclination to take it off my shoulders ... it is increasingly difficult to fill up the many blanks left by the passing away of so many of the most liberal helpers ..." "I do think it is very courageous of you to bid me welcome, after all the worry I gave you last time! Please Heaven that episode was unique! I am thankful to say we have all got through the Exhibition here ... How many of my kinsfolk have passed away since I was last there ... while in London I may be able to meet some of the Directors of the B. & F. Bible Soc. whom I may have a chance of interesting in my Peking work ..." "In the last week, I have had four meetings to tell [William Hill] Murray's Chinese stories to 4 sets of people ... north to Edinburgh, to take part in a big Missionary Loan Exhibition..." "And by the way, I now have with me some of those including a complete set of the Hawaiian volcanoes ...friends specially invited to hear about Mr. Murray's work for the blind in China ... the story ... brought in nothing to start the Female School in Peking ..." William Hill Murray (1843-1911) was a Scottish missionary in China. He invented the Numeral Type system through which blind and Illiterate Chinese learned to write. Constance Gordon-Cumming wrote a book about the school and its methods, published in 1899. Very good. C.f. Jane Robinson; Wayward Women (London, 1990) pp. 93-4.
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