Athens: 6 December 1851.
Quarto (ca. 27x21 cm). 7 pp. On two bifoliums. Brown ink on bluish wove paper, addressed and with postal stamps on the last page of the second bifolium. Fold marks, last page of the second bifolium slightly soiled and with minor holes from ink neatly repaired, but overall a very good letter written in a legible hand.
An extensive interesting letter from a major Baltimore publisher and bookseller Joseph Cushing Jr. to his wife written during his travel to the Mediterranean and describing in great detail his stay in Athens, excursions to numerous ancient Greek temples and ruins, and day trips to the surrounding mountains. Cushing arrived to Greece from Constantinople, landing first at Syros Island, then proceeded to the port of Pieraus and thence to Athens. Due to several delays he had to cancel his original plan to visit Palestine afterwards, “not however without a struggle which my life will ever present of placing my foot on the holy soil where were transacted the opening series of our cherished religion. <…> Deciding against this trip (which 3 or 4 of our party will however make) we pass hence by Smyrna to Alexandria and to Cairo to see and perhaps ascend the enduring pyramids.”
Well acquainted with the history and architecture of ancient Greece, Cushing visited a number of famous landmarks of ancient Athens, starting with the Acropolis. “I was much more interested in these ruins than I supposed possible and found them more striking in appearance and preservation. Much of this is due to the labours of the Antiquarian Society, who by removing the old Turkish and Venetian fortifications have revealed much that was supposed to have been entirely lost…” Cushing talks about the restored temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaea, the Erechteum and “the magnificent Parthenon, the beau ideal of architecture, the proportions of which make you feel the justness of the opinion”.
He also visited “the prison where Socrates is said to have drunk the fatal hemlock” which consisted “of three chambers hollowed out of the solid limestone rock (of which all these hills are composed) in the side of a hill which faces the Areopagus where he was tried”; the “Bema” or pulpit “where Demosthenes and other orators went to address the people,” the hill of Areopagus and “as we imagined on the spot whence Paul addressed the Athenians <…> The hill itself has yet the levelled places upon it where probably stood the public altars. Much of the rock has fallen down over the portion where was the cave of the furies.”
The Temple of Theseus (Hephaestus) Cushing found “in the best state of preservation of any of the structures and at the same [it] is the oldest”, about the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates he noted that “though original [it was] all built up between the columns, by removing one of the sides. Lord Byron made a study of it.” “The most extensive temple here appears to have been that of Jupiter Olympus standing on the plain to the south east of the Acropolis and near the river Ilissus of which there yet remain 16 columns of the most beautiful Corinthian architecture. <…> This building was commenced more than 500 years before Christ which fact alone will afford you some idea of the <…> perfect character of these edifices which so long have withstood the corrosion of time and at length perished from the violence of a succeeding rage of men.” He also visited the “Stoa” or Porch of Hadrian “where once the Stoics taught”; the Tower of the Winds, the Gate of the Agora or Market Place, “the Stadium where so warmly contended the aspirants for the wreath of Victory in the Grecian games,” and “the Academic Groves and the very garden where Plato taught his disciples”.
The trips to the Athens vicinity included journeys to the port of Eleusis, and to the Mount Pentelicus, the latter was routed “over the beautiful plains of Attica for 10 miles and then up the mountain some 3 miles to its summit of 3500 feet elevation. From this lofty point, with advantage of brilliantly clear day, was enjoyed the view of nearly all of Attica with its famed mountains and also those of the Morea, <…> the plain of Marathon, so famous in the history of Greece with its beautiful bay, the island of Euboea or Negroponte <…> and the beautiful Aegean Sea to the south. <…> With all this jaunting of 25 miles a day on horseback, to me rather an unusual mode of locomotion, my health and muscles hold out remarkably well.”
Joseph Cushing Jr. Was “one of the best known Baltimore publishers and booksellers, and for many years partner in the firm of Cushings & Bailey <…> In 1829 [he] and his brother John became members of the firm with their father, under the firm-name of Cushing & Sons. In 1836 the brothers took entire charge of the business, the style of the firm being Cushing & Brother. In 1850 Mr. Joseph Cushing Jr., Mr. John Cushing and Mr. Lewis E. Bailey established the present house of Cushings & Bailey. <…> Mr. Cushing was an indefatigable worker, giving up his time and energies both to his business and to the community, in which he was held in great respect. He was a director of the same savings bank that his father was president of, and was also a director of the Merchants’ Bank of that city, and was a manager of the Peabody Institute, was well as of the Maryland Bible Society and Baltimore Dispensary…” (Obituary// The Publishers’ Weekly. No. 392-393. July 26, 1879).