November 10th to 13th, 1871
Again, a perfectly quiet day. It has been so windy that I did not stir out but spent the day in fixing up my room (one of my periodical spasms) and in reading medicine.
The General went yesterday with Kuroda to examine a government farm near here and came full of disgust at some wretched mongrels which all the Japs have been induced to buy as prime European stock.
This morning drove down to Yokohama to see the American minister and Admiral Rodgers, expecting to be absent several days, but this evening he telegraphed that he would be up tomorrow with the Admiral in the Colorado.
As I hate mortally to eat alone, I invited myself to dine with Jondon. Before dinner we (Page 130) walked down town to see the ruins of a great fire which occurred early this morning. It burnt a thousand houses. Approaching the burnt district, we first noticed the invocations to the fire god. These are large cards of pasteboard hung upon the ends of bamboo poles which are placed in the upper stones of houses when in danger, projecting into the street and which are moved from house to house before the advance of the raging element in hope that eventually the god may arrest the progress of the fire. The houses along the limit of the burnt district literally bristled with these invocations and no doubt to their efficacy many of the people attribute the stoppage of the fire. It is said by others, however, that the effective in its extinguishment was a foreign fire engine recently brought here for sale to the Govt. The Japs have many fire engines such as they are. In fact nearly every home has one, but although they are superior to those in use by our ancestors 200 years ago, they hardly compare with our modern ones. In the mercantile (Page 131) portion of Yedo each house consists of a front portion upon the street in which the family live and transact their business, and which is lightly built of the most combustible materials; and a warehouse in the rear with solid clay walls and shutters a foot thick which in such short heat as are generated by the burning of the shops are practically fireproof. These are used for the storage of goods and valuables, and in the burnt district we visited, could be seen standing tall and black among the ruins in every direction. Although the fire took place at two oclock to four oclock this morning, everyone had already begun to rebuild and some houses had their outside shell completed! Jondon assures me that he has seen buildings going up rapidly at one end of a burnt district while the fire was in progress at the other!
Nov. 11th. Evening
As the General did not state when he would arrive today, I rode down to Sinagawa this morning, thinking that I would watch for the coming of the Colorado, which drew (Page 132) so much water that she can only approach to within eight miles of the city of Yedo, and then go off to her in a boat. It was so hazy on the bay that I could not distinguish anything very far, so I took a boat and put off into the bay to watch for her arrival. After going about three miles I dimly saw a huge vessel about five miles down the bay and thought she bore the brave old flag. I headed for her and soon had my doubts removed by the salute she fired from her huge guns which was answered by a Japanese man of war lying near. It was a grand sight to see the spurt of flame and jets of curling smoke issuing from the sides of the two huge vessels and curling away over the smooth water of the bay from which the haze had by this time lifted completely. When I had arrived within a mile of the Colorado I saw the steam launch putting off from her for the city. The immense Colorado carries two small steam boats just as other vessels carry common boats on their decks. I thought the General and Admiral were probably on board and headed off the launch. As I was in a native boat the officers in the (Page 133) paid no attention to my hail till I got quite near, when I heard someone exclaim "Why, its Eldridge! Heave to!", and telling my guard, who was in the boat with me to return to Sinagawa and take the horses, I was soon on the launch surrounded by my warm friends, the officers of the Colorado. I learned that the General and Admiral would not come on shore for an hour and having arrived at the hotel hurried to Shiba to make preparations for them. They duly arrived and we spent the evening delightfully. The Admiral is charming. No airs, and an immense fund of information and stories. Admiral Rodgers, then Commodore, was in command of the expedition in which cousin James was surgeon, and gave me last night all the information possible as to his loss. The fleet consisted of three vessels, the Vincennes, which was the Commodores flag ship the (blank space) and the Porpoise, on which James was assistant surgeon. The fleet left Hong Kong, a rendezvous having been appointed at the Bonin Islands and a second one at the Lew Chewi. Shortly after they left (Page 134) a gale arose: not a severe one, however. The Admiral with his ship and the (blank space) stood away for the Bonin Islands and the Porpoise followed for a time. It had been left discretionary with the capt. of each vessel as to how he was to reach the rendezvous and it was consequently not to be expected that the Porpoise, being the smaller of the vessels, should closely follow the flagship. She did follow for half an hour, however, but then hove to, and the last Rodgers saw of her, she appeared to be standing off on another tack. The other vessels went on to the Bonin Islands, made a survey of them and then sailed to the Lew Chewi, expecting to find the Porpoise there. She was not there. They then supposed that she had put back to Hong Kong but a vessel coming from that port reported her not there. This was four months after she was last seen and there was the whole Pacific to search over. After consultation of the officers with a sad heart they gave her up. There was a hurricane just after they arrived at the Bonins, and Rodgers thinks that the Porpoise went down in it. (Page 135) Rodgers speaks in the highest terms of James whom he remembers well and says that the Porpoise, though an old and uncomfortable vessel, was live oak built and seaworthy. The Admiral and I sat up two hours after the General had gone to bed, talking of all sorts of things, and as he is now snoring peacefully in the next room, and as it is now one oclock I think I will follow his lead and crawl to bed.
Nov. 12th. Evening.
Went today with the Admiral and the General to visit some flower gardens about seven miles from the city. I was totally unprepared for such beauty as they exhibited. To be sure there were but few flowers in season, but what few there were were in such wonderful variety of color and form that one hardly missed the wide range of our collections. Camellias are just beginning to blossom, but the glory of the Japanese florists now are their chrysanthemums. These, you know, are close relatives of our China asters, but they have been so developed by cultivation here that they have become as large as peonies and more double than any rose. As for color, they are of all colors and combinations. They are generally (Page 136) cultivated in beds, but these gardens exhibited groups of life size figures of men and women (generally scenes from plays) of which while the heads and hands were of plaster and papier maché, the gorgeous robes they wore were of flowers, and these were not set pieces of cut flowers, but living plants, arranged so that their roots were bedded in the interior of the figures, while their blossoms and foliage formed the dress in which even delicate embroidery was admirably imitated. There were innumerable dwarf trees, too, in which these people excel. Little pines and cedars, as well as fruit trees, only six inches high, but looking as if centuries old, and many of them really thirty or forty years of age.
Poillon and Dunwoodie (West Pointers) arrived from Yokohama this evening as Chas. Longfellow, son of the poet. We dined, that is the three last mentioned and myself, with Jondon, and then went in the rain to a tea house to see some choice dancing.
Nov. 13th. Evening.
A quiet day. Read and studied. Mr DeLong (Page 137) came up from Yokohama today and will be with us tomorrow. Walked out with Poillon and Dunwoodie this evening, to an archery gallery, and shot for a while.
Return to Home Page