Thanks to John Thompson for these letters

Josephine Elizabeth Butler

8 January 1852 - 30 December 1906


Neuchatel                  May 24          1895


My darling Josephine & Bob

         I want to tell you of a very beautiful day I had here and a beautiful vision. It was yesterday. The day called Ascension day, because people go to church to think and speak about when Jesus ascended up into heaven, and his disciples stood and watched him when he was going up to God. Well, all the people of Neuchatel took a holyday & drest themselves in gay colours & nearly all went to Church; so the town was very quiet when they were all in Church. I did not go to church but I climbed up a hill, not very high, & I was quite alone there and I sat down on a seat I found under a large chestnut tree. The sun was shining and there was the sweetest wind blowing, and on that wind came the scent of the lillies of the valley wich grow wild in all the woods here, like a white carpet; and on that wind too came sweet sounds; first of all the bells of the churches were ringing sweetly. But they do not ring loud & harsh. They are better bells than most of our church bells in England. They are made with silver in them. Sometimes they sound as if they were weeping; sometimes they sound as if they were saying softly “Come to prayer, come to prayer” and when the sound comes from far off across the lake it sounds very sweet and low. Presently all the bells stopped ringing and I heard now & then the far off sound of voices of people in the churches singing their pretty hymns. Some blackbirds in the trees were also singing, swelling out their little throats and chortling for joy.

All that is what I heard; & this is what I saw. I was on a hill above the little town of Neuchatel, and the town was down below, mostly hidden in trees. There further down was the Lake, so blue, so blue; blue like the sky above; and beyond the Lake far away, there was a long long line of beautiful mountains, with snow on them which shone like silver. I could just see Mont Blanc, the old grandfather of all the mountains, the biggest and broadest of them all. He looked like an old King, and he had a pure white tippet of glorified snow spread over his broad shoulders – snow so white as no painter in this world could ever paint it, so white that one could only think it was as white as the wings of the angels who stand in the presence of God, with God’s light falling on them. My eyes began to ache with looking at that glory; so I looked down at the flowers below my feet, and then I looked up thro’ the branches of the large chestnut tree which were above my head, and O’ such a lovely sight! I wished so for you two dear ones to see it. There were not many leaves on the chestnut tree, but there were thousands of pink chestnut flowers, great sweet fat flowers, some pale pink, some bright rose colour, and all these pink flowers shone in the sun and between them was the blue blue sky – so pure, so blue that it was like heaven, & so I looked up a long time till it made my neck ache, for it was so splendid – a  great ceiling over all of those grand pink flowers, and blue sky, pink and blue, pink and blue, mixed, like a number of beautiful jewels, pink & blue. I never saw anything so gay and beautiful so I sat and sat, and I felt as if this was a day and an hour which I must never forget, for God was so near & I felt that He was so full of Love – that His name is Love, and that it was his love which was shining in the snow & in the blue sky, & the flowers and grass; and His love which was speaking in the soft cool wind, & in the waving trees and in the songs of the innocent birds, and it was all still & quiet & I began to feel a kind of little fear, but it was not exactly fear. It was more as if some strange and beautiful thing was coming near me and then God made a vision pass before my eyes. I did not see it with my real eyes, but only with the eyes of my soul. But that vision was so clear and so wonderful that I can never never forget it till I die, nor after I die. I will tell you what that vision was. I saw a half circle of people round me, not very near, just a little way off. I did not hear them come. Their feet made no sound upon the grass, and they were silent, silent, and I looked , & it was your Daddy & Mummy and you Josephine and Bob, and Uncle George and Aunt Mia, & Uncle Charlie – all so distinct, & yet so soft and silent, and all of them looked as if they wanted something very much. They stood side by side and all held their hands clasped before them, as if they were asking for something, and then there came, soft & low & distinct, all their voices, like whispering, and they all said the same thing, over and over again; & what they said was “pray for us, pray for us” I heard all their voices, Bobby’s too, saying “pray for us, pray for us” and I tried to speak but I could not, and I shut my eyes, & prayed, & when I looked up again, all those dear people were disappearing. They melted softly into the air, among the trees, and their voices became more & more soft and dim and far off, still saying “pray for us, pray for us” and I felt for a minute as if my heart would break, because it was so full of love and pity, and I wanted so much to speak to Jesus about it.

At last I came down the hill again, & into the house; but ever since then I hear those voices in the wind. There is a fountain playing its gentle waters below my window, and all day it seems to say “pray for us” and when the wind breathes thro’ the trees , I hear the words “pray for us” & the birds sing the same words “pray for us”, & those words never leave off in my heart & in my ears.

And I have been thinking that God wants to teach me something about it; and it came to my heart to send a message to your dear Daddy & Mummy & Uncle George & Aunt Mia & Uncle Charlie, & it is this

“Dear Sons and Daughters, I saw you on Ascension Day; & I heard your voices, & I hear them still always saying ‘Pray for us’ and I want you to know that if I die, (because I must die sometime you know) you must not think I have stopped praying for you, because my body is dead. You asked me to pray for you, You stood below that lovely sky, with the glorified snow behind you, & the sweetest wind blowing over you, and you clasped your hands and you whispered clear & low, & over & over “Pray for us – pray for us”& it is to me a command from God. I do always pray for you.

But when I am gone out of this world you will know that I am still praying for you and that I will be nearer to you there than I am now, and that I will sympathise in all your sorrows and all your joys – and in those of your children.

So this is my Message in answer to the vision.

You can ask your Daddy to put by this letter,& Missy can read it – dear kind Missy – and perhaps some years afterwards it will be nice for you to read it again, & Uncle George can read it and the others.

         Ever your loving grannie



Finished at Lausanne May 30


I am going to write to you about some nice dogs I met with



Letter written to her grandson Bobby (A.S.G.Butler)
For her obituary click here.

Letter from Josephine Butler, nee Grey, to her sister Eliza Morrison. Josephine married George Butler in Corbridge Church on 8 January 1852. This is from a copy of Josephine’s letter in an unknown hand.


                                             St Leonards on Sea January 22 1852


My dearest Eliza

         I had resolved not to write to you till I got to my new home, as I thought I should have so little time, but I find I have half an hour today, so I will just write you a short letter that you may not think I love you less, because I have got so many interests. I thought of you (the only absent member of the family) on my wedding day, and wished so much I could see you. Some of them at home will have told you all about the wedding I suppose, and about the fun they had afterwards. I think there never was such a merry wedding. When we were at Edinburgh, & very quiet (George & I) it was such a pleasure to read Hatty’s long account of all they did, it made me quite excited. I wished so much to have been there. I should have liked to see all my sisters in their evening dresses, they looked so pretty I hear, especially Emmy[1] who seems to have been the Belle of the evening. Emily Butler  who is here now is constantly talking about them all and about what they did at Dilston. She seems quite in love with all the family and Tully & all of them are so fond of her. She seems to have made a deep impression on them. She is a clever girl and will be a darling sister to me – tho’ never all that Hatty is. It was dreadful leaving them all at home, but I have not had time to think much about the separation yet as I am now in a large family here, and constantly with one or other of them. I fancy I shall feel it more when we get home to Oxford, and George leaves me a great part of the day to go to his work but I don’t think I can ever feel very dull for I have so many pleasant things in prospect to do -  and then dear Hatty is coming to us soon. It is more a yearning after my dear Father and Mother that I feel than dulness. But I will look forward to seeing them again in the Easter vacation. I never saw dear Papa so upset as he was on the morning of my wedding day, he came into my room after I was dressed for church, he said he wanted to speak to me before I came down to go and he just came into the room and clasped me tight in his arms, and laid my head against his shoulder and tried to speak, but could not and burst into tears, I could feel his chest working, and the large tears rolled down his cheeks. I dared not speak either for fear of breaking down, and just threw my arms round his neck & then he hurried away. My darling Father, there is something about him wh. makes one love him with a more tender and romantic love than people usually feel towards a father. I can hardly yet think of that day, and the few days that preceded it, and all his loving expressions and his sad kind look, lest I should have to go upstairs for a little fit of crying – he does not in a general way let his feelings be much seen, and it is only on extraordinary occasions like this that his deep affection comes out. Dear Mother bore up beautifully, tho’ feeling as much. I always think a married daughter is not so much separated from her Mother as from her Father, for she holds constant intercourse with her by letter, and must often refer to a mother for instruction & sympathy in her married life, in a way which she had never done before, & which draws them more together.

         We are very quiet here – on account of the poor old Dean who has been very ill lately – he is a good deal better the last few days & looks so beautiful. I wish you could see him – I love him best, next to George, of this family – I never saw an old man like him, I often sit looking at him for a long time to-gether, that I may never foget his face. I should not think he will live very long, and I should like to impress that noble face on my memory[2] – we have nice long talks to-gether & I have quite got over my fear of him. I don’t know what it is about him that draws my heart so to him. He must be a wizard!! He is going blind, and cannot tell who you are unless you go near him – and then his bright look of recognition and pleasure and his “God bless you, dear” are so beautiful, he has a cataract coming on and cannot see to read now, but his eyes are so deep and expressive, and don’t look at all blind. I should fancy Milton had eyes like his – if you kew him dear Eliza you would not think me at all extravagant in what I say about him.

         On Wednesday eveming we went to a Ball given by Mrs Holland, a very beautiful and fashionable lady, wife of the Member for Hastings, it was given partly on our account. I suppose this is the kind of place that people come to for pleasure and health, and the arrival of a new person, & of course especially a Bride, is considered excuse enough for a little fresh agitation of gaiety. I danced very little, as I did not feel inclined for it, and preferred talking to some people whom they know well here and whose acquaintance it is worth forming – and I spent a good deal of the evening in looking at Mrs Holland and admiring her beauty and her perfectly easy and graceful manners and her rich dress.

          I was dressed in white lace with flounces, over white silk, white sash, pearl brooch and a very pretty wreath of white roses & orange flowers on my head, wh. I wore on my wedding day. My hair I always wear in long ringlets hanging round quite loose, sometimes I bind it up with a light rose coloured or blue tie which shows in some places and goes under my hair and hides in others, an affectation of casualness you know! It is a comfortable way of having it, for it gives me so littles trouble as it is getting to curl naturally. We leave here on Saturday and dine and stay over the next day at John Blacketts in London – what nice people the Blacketts seem to be. I am so glad we have become well acquainted with them – he is such a kind fellow – he is going to send his carriage to the London Bridge Station to meet us and take us about to shops and do some business before going to Eaton Place. We go to Oxford on Monday.

         I am sorry to leave here but quite contented to go anywhere with George, he is so nice and I love him ten times better than I did, now that I am his wife. I don’t think two people were ever better suited to each other and he is so kind to me, he seems as if he did not know how to be kind enough, he sends his very kind regards to you and William. I suppose Mr Neave is gone at last, he gave me a beautiful present and I had a kind farewell note from him, what a good little man he is. I hope they will send me some news out of the letters they have had from you at Dilston

          Believe me my dear dear sister

                           Yours very loving

                                    Josephine Butler





[1] Josephine’s younger sister, she was 16

[2] He died the following year