James Joseph Sylvester to Barbara Leigh Bodichon

Scope and Content

Autograph letter, signed, 4pp. large 8vo, Maryland Club letterhead, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. United States of America.

'My dear Madame Bodichon, Your welcome letter did not reach me as early as it ought to have done according to its date -- as it only came to hand about a week ago. I do find American much more agreeable than when I last wrote to you and ought to feel grateful for the great advantages I enjoy here for uninterrupted study accompanied with more than ordinarily liberal pay -- and suppose that in the course of time I shall find people to whom I may be able to attach myself the same as in England. The idea of this University (at present in its babyhood) of being a nursery for study and research is being faithfully carried out -- Teaching in the common sense of the word although one of its functions is regarded as a secondary object -- and the Directors I shd say Trustees of the University are / / quite indifferent as to numbers -- My work lies exclusively with a few of the 'Fellows' and 'Post-graduates' i.e. young men who have already taken their degrees at other universities and is exactly what I like to make it as regards quantity quality and time & of giving lectures -- in fact it is impossible to imagine a more generous and appreciative mode of treatment by any institution of its professors than that which we experience here -- and in fact it has taken me some time to understand the spirit in which the studies of the place are being conducted and to realize the fact of the absence of all the usual conventions and trammels associated with the idea of a professorship in existing institutions -- I need not give a single lecture unless I pleased [sic] / / I have the whole story of the regeneration (?) of England since 1832 or say (?) 1830 clearly depicted in my mind as I was a constant reader of newspapers from my childhood upwards and therefore can enter into your feelings about reading Macaulay's Life with a knowledge of his fellow actors I am pleased to be remembered by your so amiable and refined neighbors, the Egertons and beg to be remembered most kindly to them -- in return -- I regret to be one of those upon whom Deronda fell rather flat. I always predicted that Gwendolen was to turn out good at last and told Mrs Lewes herself that I liked her from the first in spite of all her bad qualities. [Gwendolyn was the heroine of Daniel Deronda, George Eliot's novel about a Jewish hero.] I am glad to hear of Sara Marks's agreeable prospects at Girton -- Who do you conjecture was the undisclosed benefactress? I hope it was one of our own race -- / / I think you are probably right in your forecast of the amelioration likely to take place in the lot of women -- There are very strong indications of a change for the better in their condition being already in progress in this country -- I write this from a Club (the Maryland) which in its material arrangements is almost a compensation for the Athenaeum Club in London. The cooking much better than at that club. I find that now I know the ways of the people I can live here better and cheaper than I could in London. You do not say how your sister is -- please inform me when you write (as I hope you will do soon again) and give her and Dr Bodichon my kind regards -- I shall be so glad to see (DV) all my friends again in England next June. I doubt whether Gladstone could ever have been a judicious leader in troublous times -- With hearty thanks for your letter believe me Your ever truly -- JJ Sylvester.' [For Sarah Marks see Herstein, a Mid-Victorian Feminist, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (Yale University Press, 1985), pp.184-188. Marks (later known as Hertha Ayrton) was brilliant in mathematics and may have been the model for Mirah in Daniel Deronda. She entered Girton in Oct 1876.]