‘Veiling mists and disguising clouds’

[Author’s noteThis post concludes the series of excerpts from the Regina Shober Gray diary which began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Mrs. Gray’s[1] summer was winding down, and while autumn impended she could still write with exaltation of her summer visit to New Hampshire:

Plaisted House, Jefferson, N.H., Monday, 30 August 1880: Early this morning a heavy cloud – we should call it a fog-bank on the sea-shore – blotted out the world; but gradually out of it arose the great peaks – and it has lifted now – in a blaze of sun shine & beauty.

Last evening we had the most glorious sunset, with lurid red & pink clouds over head, on which was flung a blazing rainbow, all its colours transmuted into “something rich and rare” by the red Sunset glow. Low in the western sky, a sea of green – that inimitable tint, which comes only in sunset skies; then, bars & banks of gold and purple and crimson; then, deep indigo blue fading up into the paler sky where floated the ragged mass of fleecy cloud across whose red glory this rainbow, like a flaming sword, was flung! A glorious sight!

Tuesday, 31 August 1880: Tomorrow Morris [Gray][2] sails from San Francisco for Yokohama, Japan – a three weeks’ voyage. It has been hard for me to reconcile myself to this long absence of that dear boy or contemplate with any equanimity his sojourn among the semi-barbaric places & peoples he is so eager to visit – but I could not allow myself weakly to discourage his plans or fail in sympathy with them, and can easily realize how attractive it must all seem to his adventurous sex & years! May God be with him and bring him back in good time, in health & safety and broadened & strengthened too, by wider experience of life & men & manners, than he could ever have got perhaps, had he always remained among the cultured proprieties of Boston Society & its fastidious “Arbutons”![3]

Still, I cannot help many anxious uneasy thoughts about him – the more so, as he would not be burdened in his trunks with many things wh. seemed to me very needful for him. Men have such very insufficient ideas on the subject of travelling needs & possibilities.

Wednesday, 1 September 1880: It is a constant interest & study here, to watch the landscape effects of the flying lights and shadows – of the infinite variety of veiling mists and disguising clouds, which alter the apparent shapes & expression of these solid mountain masses with such Protean rapidity & fickleness. At sunset one evg., a great white cumulus lifted itself over the brim, and poured, close clinging, down the rugged gorge between Adams & Washington, like a cataract of snow flinging out spray-like streamers; while we looked the whole cloud flushed suddenly in the red glow of sunset and lo! a blaze as of volcanic fires veiled in Vesuvian lurid smoke.

We have been reading [William Dean] Howells’ “Undiscovered Country.”[4] A curious picture of a curious phase of belief & experience, told with the inimitable naturalness & charm of Howells’ style. I have been interested too in “Madelon Lemoine”[5] – a pretty story, sad, too, but with the sadness of all mortal life – a necessary part of the development, growth, & beauty of its characters. Its love affairs all end rightly!

A handsome young Mr. Dodd[6] has begun to read aloud “Uarda,”[7] one of the Egyptian novels which are considered such remarkable books. They certainly show great erudition and archaeological research – but we have not yet gone far enough to know how much the author will arouse an interest in the loves that were loved and the lovers who were embalmed nearly 2,000 years ago!!

It must be difficult to deal with modes of life, belief, character & manners so utterly remote from our own, without a certain stilted style which induces inevitably to unnatural effect – yet it is the same human heart & human needs, under the old Pharaohs, as now. The books remind one a little of Wm. Ware’s “Letters from Palmyra” & “Zenobia”[8] – books which we all admired greatly a generation ago.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] The diarist’s youngest son, Morris Gray (1856–1931), then on a round-the-world trip.

[3] A character in the novel A Chance Acquaintance (1873) by William Dean Howells (1837–1920). Soon after he is introduced, Mr. Arbuton is thus described: “… he had the habit of … protecting himself from the chances of life, and a conscience against encouraging people whom he might have to drop for reasons of society.”

[4] The Undiscovered Country (1880).

[5] Madelon Lemoine (1879) by Bertha Jane Leith-Adams (1837–1912).

[6] Perhaps one of the Dodd and Mead family of publishers.

[7] Uarda: A Romance of Ancient Egypt (1876) by Georg Ebers (1837–1898).

[8] Mrs. Gray has split Zenobia, or The Fall of Palmyra into two volumes. Originally published as Letters from Palmyra (1836–37), it was written by William Ware (1797–1852).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

6 thoughts on “‘Veiling mists and disguising clouds’

  1. What beautiful descriptions of the the sky! Like poetry in prose! Her diary also reminds us of how great it is to have literary themes and characters in common with people in our generation. Wouldn’t it be nice if we should continue to read that way in these days of other media dominance.Thank you for the post.

  2. What a wonderful writer she was–so descriptive–an artist in prose. I can see that green flash at sunset. And I laughed at her description of how little men need when they travel. Plus ca change….

  3. Thanks, Hilda, Lynne, and Virginia! I am sure there will be more excerpts from Mrs. Gray’s diary – she is so much fun to annotate; but I thought it was time to give readers a break from this approach to the diary. I do love her take on men as travelers, as well as her remarks on how difficult it can be to enter in to the thinking of earlier times – although she makes it easy in her diary!

    1. Your annotations have been very interesting. I’m sure readers don’t need a break from this fascinating diary. At least I see from her son’s dates that he made it back alive from his round-the-world journey.

  4. I have kept my own journal since 1976, but it reads more like the diary of a busy woman. Mrs. Gray’s diary reads like a travelogue. It would be wonderful to go where she went and record those sights in our modern eyes, but somehow I don’t think it would be so lovely.

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