R. W. Benson journal  1905–1906
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Collection Scope and Content Note

This journal describing a train trip through the South and a winter spent in Florida was compiled by R. W. Benson from letters written to her daughter, Miss Clara Benson of Wellesley, Mass. Mrs. Benson might have copied her letters before sending them, but it seems more likely that she borrowed the letters at a later date in order to create a book recording her winter "dropped into a world of orange trees." Mrs. Benson also pasted in the postcards she sent to her daughter, as well as some wildflowers she had enclosed in one letter.

Seven of the cards are picture postcards of places Mrs. Benson visited. She took pains to place herself within the context of the scene depicted: "We circumnavigated the citadel. We walked where you see a man walking," she noted on the front of the postcard of the Tampa Bay Hotel. On two cards illustrating scenes from Havana, R. W. Benson made intriguing allusions to living in or taking an extended visit to Cuba in 1867. Two of the actual letters to Clara are included as well. There is a gap from January 27, the last copied letter, to April 8, the date of the next, and final letter, indicating that this journal does not represent the complete correspondence. Two calling cards, an envelope of pressed wildflowers, and a New Year's greeting are laid in the volume.

Mrs. Benson's letters do not progress in a linear fashion, but often return to and retell the same stories in quite different ways. Some events obviously upset her. When two ladies dawdled in the dressing-room on the train, she was in an "awful flurry" to dress herself and Lydia before the train reached Tampa. She also mulled over losing her pocket-book at the Hotel minutes before departing for Thonotosassa. More pleasant recollections were also repeated in her letters. She was enraptured by the young William Draper, "the 'saving grace' in our 'Old Folk's Concert,'" often mentioning his willingness to help and his broad shoulders.

Delight in the natural world fills her letters, from more traditional observations of the lovely view of the lake to curious descriptions of how the oranges looked "quite social in the nice top-sail breeze" one day and "sullen and belligerent" in the "glimmering sun" of a still day. She described twilight, "which as usual in southern climes is short," as "a mere wave of the hand." When writing about a walk among "frequent cypresses with their mourning moss trailing," she stopped her narrative of the walk to reflect that while "on the other trees the long trailing moss swaying in the wind seems quite a cheerful decoration, on the cypress it seems like mourning."

R. W. Benson also discussed the temperature in great detail, no doubt reveling in the balmy weather she was experiencing. She often mentioned what layers of underwear she had either removed or put on: "I prophesied we would soon discard all underwear, but when I had taken a sponge bath I found I wanted some underclothes, after all."

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