A Portrait in Letters
To Mrs. James Pitman
18 COLEHERNE ROAD
April 7th, 1900
MY DEAREST MIMA,
Here I am, doing a shameful thing; I have just finished breakfast, and it is the hour for my daily wrestle with Greek, to be followed by the wrestle (of an even more discouraging nature) with literature, and I am calmly and brazenly neglecting all these duties for the pleasure of writing to you. Your letter came last night; how delightful it is to be able to visualize the shiftings in your room, and to see the place of the new Rivière, and to realize just what the rose and mauve of the anemones look like in front of it, and then the crocuses outside the window on that wonderful background of yours.
I do think that that view makes up for any of Edinburgh’s other deficiencies; for my own part I fancy that life in 18 Coleherne Road, London, is a good deal more of a bore than your life in Edinburgh. One is really lost, as far as any large outlook on people goes, except for the few who ferret one out, and I sometimes find myself sinking into a mood of most sulky discontent, — because I am not adapted to C. Road. How would you like to look out every morning on the dingy bow-windows, with their pink and green crockery, of the lodging-houses opposite? It does need a strong effort of will, backed by a dip into Maeterlinck, to enable one to feel less ‘grouchy’ at times. All this is not to imply that you have n’t just cause for discontent; I want you to realize that my sympathy is based on experience — and I do claim that it is an uglier experience than yours!!!
Well, dear Mima, you can have, too, the comfort (if it is one) of realizing that you are one of the bright places in that experience. You are one of the few people I have met, with whom I am absolutely comfortable. It is a curious thing, and does n’t depend a bit, as far as I can see, on agreement about this or that, or approval or disapproval, or even on taste; perhaps it is an intuitive understanding that is the basis, — but no, it can’t be, because there are some people that one understands thoroughly, likes, and yet is not comfortable with. So it must be, au fond, some moral quality. You can’t escape it; but I shan’t force on you an analysis of the moral qualities in you that attract me, — they are many of them negatives; you are not mean, or petty, or vulgar (!) — (it’s surprising, you know, how morally and mentally vulgar some very nice people are!) — you never jar on one, and you are an erect and fearless creature. There, madam!
Why don’t you go about in a bathchair in Edinburgh? I am sure you have strength enough, for on strength really depends the possibility of inaugurating new departures of this sort; and just as your wall-paper and Japanese prints were eagerly copied, so, no doubt, within a few months, one would see the inhabitants of Edinburgh perambulating the streets in bath-chairs too.
Oh dear, it is maddening to think of some women with no men to cross oceans for them! and the nicest ones are so bereft! I am always dubious about the charm of the much adored woman. I don’t believe that the really charming women are ever appreciated; — it’s logical too, for one must realize that the vast majority of people have no instinct for the best in anything, and a true appreciator is just as rare as the thing-to-be-appreciated. What does disappoint and depress me, though, is the fact that people from whom one expects true discernment seem so gullible, so easily taken in by the secondrate posing as the first-rate, don’t seem to hear, at all, all the false notes that the second-rate emit; in fact I do believe that ‘great people’ are the biggest frauds of all as far as practical appreciation is concerned. I could a tale unfold! — but no, I’ll not; not on paper at least, though you do exercise a dangerously expanding influence upon me, and I could placidly purl out to you remarks that I would hardly whisper to my pillow. No, I ‘take no stock’ in ‘great’ people at all.
We have a delightful plan for this summer; you know Mamma, nor the children neither, have n’t really been out of London since we came from Paris. Well, I have told you how lovely the country is in Sussex where the Everetts are, and near them live some friends, who have taken a farm-house, and will put us up for 15 shillings a head per week.
I wish you could come. Extremely simple fare, you know, but such enchanting country; not the dull field and hedge type, but woods, and hills, and deep lanes, and moors, and pinewoods, and such a heavenly park with deer and a ruined castle and beautiful slopes with groups of beeches. Perhaps, one year, you might come with us.
Much love to you dear from
To Mrs. James Pitman
10 CHEYNE COURT
Sunday, April 21st, 1901
It seems odd to read your letter telling of chilly air and snow-covered mountains when we are positively roasting; we three have just come home in a melting condition from a walk in Battersea Park, usually a lovely place, spring flowers, and trees all glittering buds or tufted with just opening leaves — delicious lake, and birds to look at, — but today crowded and hot.
Oh my dear, how, with every fibre of me, I agree with what you say about one’s hateful dependence on the material circumstances of life, — how I echo your ‘they loie’ of those who say one docs n’t depend on them; not only one’s happiness, one’s ‘holy, moral joys ’ (you are poking fun at me, Madam, but I echo you emphatically) depend on them, but, it seems to me — and this is to me the most terrible and perplexing thing in life — one’s very character, the very ’spiritual’ side of one that people have represented as so independent; as if the spiritual could react upon the material unless it existed, unless it had grown, — and it simply can’t grow or exist where the material environment is too antagonistic. This is to me the most haunting nightmare. It almost makes the selfish, sordid people seem right in their scramble for the material thing. For after they have beaten down others and climbed the ladder, they proceed, once the top is reached, and they at leisure for finer things, to blossom into ‘spiritual’ graces! — Heaven save the mark! — but does n’t one see it everywhere everywhere, in classes as well as in ir dividuals? And yet, firmly, though blindly, I stick to it that it is much better — much more beautiful, if one can only claim an æsthetic standard, — to be jumped on than to jump on others; this was what I felt on first reading Darwin when I was a very young person: first the indignation and disgust at the seething, scrambling, egotistic Nature the ‘survival of the fittest’ revealed, and then the terror of ever being part of it,—of ever ‘struggling’ oneself, except against it — as dear old Huxley says.
I feel as you do about ‘Resurrection’ — it holds one but it does n’t charm one; and I have always felt that the officials of society were as much its victims as the crushed masses; indeed all that talk of ‘la sainte humanité,’ ‘labour’ against capital, the working classes against the leisured classes, has always seemed to me invalidated by the fact that every worker would, if he could, be one of the capitalists he so hates, would, if he could, use his brother men for his own advancement; — that all ‘honest labour’ has for its ideal leisure and freedom and would, if it could, be as lazy and as luxurious as the ‘bloated’ upper ten thousand. It is ridiculous to take sides — they are all poor, pathetic creatures, and some of them have attained the greater comfort and ease that all the others are crawling and clawing towards — a sickening picture of human life altogether; and the reason I love the Christian ethics is because they say that it is better to die than to crawl and claw, that it is losing one’s life to save it so, and that to profit by the misery and labour of others is to be degraded. Oh! for a church that would say it and do it — and be ground to powder if necessary in the doing. But only an individual here and there — a Socrates, a Jesus, a Mazzini (what a muddle), acts on it — on these ethics that are perfectly expressed in Huxley’s ‘all ethical advance consists in opposing nature’ (‘nature’ meaning the selfish ‘struggle for life’).
Well, meanwhile one can only ‘warstle’ on in one’s own bewilderments and troubles and feel that as long as one has people to love in the world the ‘warstle’ is worth while. How discouraged one becomes, though, over oneself — the way one never seems to grow in self-control, charity and strength; I find myself snapping and snarling (and at those I love the most), feeling injured over trifles (though such injury is usually only a momentary thing — but one is ashamed of it) — saying harsh, cynical things about people I dislike, and really feeling savage against, people who in any way hurt the people I love, — this last I shall never get over, and, though it may be very unjust, I don’t feel that I want to.
To turn to other things, I have been reading a good many biographies lately, feeling like finding out more about all sorts of people, — especially reading their letters. It is a pity that biographies are almost always so badly written — so diffuse and so uninteresting, with no feeling for the essentials, the really characteristic things, and such insistence upon the unessentials, the happenings; but, inevitably I think, biographies must always be inadequate and unrevealing, — misleading even, for how few people can ever be really known as they are; it is, though, the part of a good biographer to give one a distinct impression of a distinct impression that he has received. . . .
I have been reading, too, Jane Austen’s letters and am really sorry that I have, for they have made me dislike her so much; all the hardness and lightness combined that one feels in her books — and that often make part of their charm — are intensified in these letters. Even allowing for the critical chatter that one allows oneself in writing to intimates, her criticisms are almost invariably acrid in their humour, sometimes really cruel; one can’t believe that she ever felt anything in life to be solemn, or sacred, or tragic; there is n’t a hint of tenderness in her; I am afraid that I shall always read her cheerful, stony little nature into her books after this. Another thing that is too amusing is to think that it is nowadays quite a commonplace for people to sigh over the departed feminine graces of modesty, bashfulness, gentleness, etc., and to cite Jane Austen’s women as types of them. Now not only in her letters but in her books I have always failed to feel any atmosphere of these graces. Her heroines are brisk, independent, often very pert young women, and in these letters of Jane’s herself the flavour is distinctly dashing, bold, even coarse; she cuts a joke on so-and-so’s having taken a new mistress, continually alludes to her flirtations, and shows a most absolute self-reliance and decision of character.
A day has passed since I began this letter, and the heat is still quite dreadful. Do write at once, dearest; if you realized what a great pleasure your letters were to me you would at once sit down in the frosted blue drawing-room and begin.
Your ever loving
To Mrs. James Pitman
c/o MRS. RICHARD GILDER
FAIR BROOKS FARM
TYRINGHAM, LEE, MASS.
Sunday, June 15th, 1902
MY OWN BELOVED DEAR,
Your letter and your pictures came while I was with Mrs. Chapin at Lenox. I can’t describe to you the rapture I felt at the sudden sense of your nearness in this strange setting. It’s impossible that you should miss me as I miss you; for one feels such lacks far more poignantly, I think, in an alien land, — when not only the person, but all their surroundings and background, become intensified in realization; so that I think of you and the white drawing-room, and winter Edinburgh afternoons, and Donnington Priory garden, and bits of London, all in one big lump of longing. . . .
I was for three weeks with Mrs. Chapin in Lenox and go back to her for July; it is a lovely place —and her house so dear and fresh and graceful. From the verandah one overlooks meadows and woods and a serene lake — and mountains all about. The real New England village is full of dignity and beauty. Broad streets, with a wide border of grass on either side, and great trees making all shadowy, and behind the trees the white of old colonial houses, with simple lines, and pillared porticos, and green blinds.
I sent you from N. Y. a very good reproduction of Cecilia’s drawing of me. Cecilia has the original simply framed in a narrow dull black frame — like the ones you always use — and it is wonderfully improved by framing. A few points seem to me different from the original — the eye in light is too dark contrasted with the patch of light on cheek-bone; but as a drawing I think it very exquisite, and hope you’ll think it worthy of a place among your Raeburn prints on the white drawingroom walls.
It is really strange in America to see how few unhappy marriages there are — indeed I ’ve not seen one; all a matter of the more normal and more truly civilized relations of the sexes here, I feel sure. Husbands after years of marriage as dependent upon their wives’ companionship, and as eager for it, as lovers. Worldliness has come so little into the idea of marriage as yet. One would hardly ever hear of a mother hoping for a son to marry money; indeed it would be against the feeling of the country for him to do it. Some of the couples I have seen really embody my ideal of married life. And it is because, on the whole, they only marry when they are, in the first place, really friends — congenial, sympathetic friends — and then, added to that, really in love. The thing is to have the conditions more civilized, rather than less so; to have the old barbarity of the intercourse between the sexes (the ignorant, helpless, undeveloped girl, and the man who wants a mother for his children and a pretty housekeeper) die out. But of course where the initial situation has been barbarous (founded on undevelopment and ignorance of life and of one another) tragedy is bound to follow if one or the other grows.
It’s queer, that though it is charming here — so many dear people, so much that is so sympathetic — I could never be happy living here. 1 wonder why; because in temperament and point of view I am far more American than English; and yet here I am supposed to be typically English!! I have been trying to define to myself various things that I feel about Americans (the best type, I mean). As a people they are given, I think, to drawing exaggerated inferences from unimportant facts. They see everything magnified, — so that after a time the atmosphere of unnecessary emphasis wearies one. They are always making big theories out of little things. Their children’s idiosyncrasies; little habits of thought of their friends; the meaning of a book or picture; — at once they are ready with an unnecessary amount of feeling for each occasion. And what is so fatiguing is that they expect you to be keyed up to the same pitch of vivid interest. They are too grand, sérieux, all the time; ask you, earnestly, what you think of this or that, when really you have n’t thought it worth while to think of it at all.
Goodbye, my own dearest,
Your ever loving
To William James
c/o MRS. EUGENE CROCKETT
Aug. 17 th, 1902
DEAR PROFESSOR JAMES,
I heard some time ago from Mamma you had sent your book to me in London. Thank you so much. I have already looked through it in the American edition, and loved it greatly. I hope that you are going to be very severe and snubbing for the mystics! I noticed, in my skim, several encouraging passages about Saint Theresa, etc. Mysticism (perhaps I am ignorantly unfair) always seems to me a sort of pâté de foie gras of the spirit; — its ecstasies, instead of being a losing of the Self, are, rather, a ludicrous and gigantic inflation of the Self — which seems lost because it is no longer in relation with anything real. Do I express at all what I mean, I wonder? — The only real things that we have any business to be in relation with, are other human beings, — and if we are in contact with a larger consciousness outside us, from which we draw sustainment and life, it should n’t be for the purpose of losing ourselves in it, but of becoming more ourselves, and helping other people to become more themselves. I am afraid I am in a dreadful ‘state of sin,’ since religion has never been for me a sense of wrongness with myself, and its solution. — The sense of wrongness that urges me to seek solution is the wrongness of things in general: the world and its conditions that are not in harmony with what I like! And the worst wrongness is the impermanence of the things one loves, — so that I am dreadfully sorry to see that you find immortality of ‘second-rate importance.’ It really is n’t egotism either, — because what fills me with most rage is the thought of the people I care about being merged into some horrid Whole, where no one will know any longer how much nicer they are than other people (!! — this is a pretty sentiment, is n’t it, but don’t take it too literally!) What I am trying to express is that it is differences that we love;—and differences don’t mean discord — do they? — necessarily? — don’t they mean charm — variety—life? — so that eternal differences would be the only guarantee of eternal love. — Now I am becoming very muddled — so I’ll stop — only I do wish — dear Mr. James — that you felt immortality to be of first-rate importance!
I hope that you and Mrs. James won’t fail to look me up the next time you are in London.
Please remember me to her.
Yours very sincerely
ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK
To Richard Cabot
c/o MRS. JAMES PITMAN
GILLINGSHILL, PITTENWEEM, FIFE
October 8th, 1908
Your letter is so dear and wise and interesting. I wish I were more of a worthy Eppie sort of a person to receive it. But I must n’t claim clevernesses and heroisms that I ’ve not got and so I must insist that my only link with Eppie (I’m afraid) is my love for her. At the same time I entirely — wholeheartedly — agree with you as to the barrenness of all criticism (addressed to a person) that is not founded in love. I suppose my difficulty in quite seeing with you comes in with the question of degrees of value. Some people are ’firstrate,’ others (excellent and estimable though they may be) are only second; others again really oppress one by narrowness, vulgarity or meanness and must, if one is sincere with oneself, be felt unflinchingly as third: if one flinches one loses the discriminating sense of those differences that are the salt of life. Now it’s quite true that if one were, unfortunately, brought into close personal contact with secondand third-rate people, the only kind and wise and right thing to do would be to try to get at what they mean to themselves, to get at the effort for good that must be somewhere at the core of their unpleasing qualities; but, even though one recognizes and admires that effort (expressed though it may be in ways obnoxious to our taste) that does n’t at all — and should n’t at all — abolish the distinction between first-rate people and third-rate people. To express that distinction with sincerity is criticism. My idea of criticism includes ’speaking the truth in love,’and yet that truth might be felt as very painful by the 3rd rate (if they understood it — which is n’t likely), for it must consist in putting things in their places; and no one really likes that! Of course any touch of disdain, or inhumanity, or hardness, warps criticism; but I do feel that in any conscious effort to love, an effort we instinctively dislike, lies a very definite danger of abolishing distinctions.
I must tell you a really funny thing: with almost all my friends I pass for a person so irritatingly an exponent of your ideas of tolerance and understanding that it often leads to discomfort. I won’t dislike the people they do — so entirely and finally; and it’s constantly: ‘How can you put up with her?’ ‘What do you find in him?’ — or, ‘Boor Nannie, she sees everybody couleur de rose’ — or, most painfully to me! — ‘Well, Nannie’s likes can hardly count for much, since she likes everybody!’ And it’s true, you know, in a way I do Tike’ almost everybody I come into any real contact with; but to imagine that to ‘see something in everybody is to destroy one’s sense of relative likeableness, was unimaginative, as you and I know. But do believe that, though I’m not much of an Eppie, I am nearer your idea of a critic than, I think, you’ve been able to see, or, rather, I able to make you sec. As a family we are all feeling rather limp, for we’ve had most horrid anxieties which, we feared, would drive us forth from our dear Chelsea nest to seek still cheaper quarters in the wilds of Battersea; but, thank goodness, the crash is, I trust, averted. But I still feel exceedingly tired. I like nothing so much as my work, but I do wish I were a person of leisure with an income beneath my feet. Life without an income can be excessively nasty.
Goodbye, dear Richard. Your letter was more than a great pleasure; it came at a very queer time and did something. You know how sometimes, when one has to face crises in life, one feels curiously inadequate — can’t get hold of what strength or faith one has; and, without something coming, from without, one would fare badly. Well, your letter came to me on a day of crisis and meant a great deal; more, perhaps, than I can yet know: — the ‘spirit’ made manifest just when I most needed it. Give my love to Ella.
Your affectionate friend
To Richard Cabot
INGLEWIDDEN, August 31st, 1910
I have been carrying your dear and charming letter about with me for a week or two until we got here, a spot that I associate with leisurely and happy letters to friends. It is almost like a second home with all the responsibilities left out. I am so glad that you liked my Franklin. I thought that if you ever read him he would be after your own heart; he is very near mine, and even yet I can’t read the bit about the nasturtiums on the fence in his boyish home — or the letter to Helen (that is good!) without crying.
How sweet and tactful and delightful of you, Richard, to say that you’d like me to write about Basil! The only difficulty is that, while I find it very easy to spin forth reams about the people I imagine, I find it very difficult to describe any one I know. My first impression of Basil I well remember: his queer, swarthy, forcible face, its sweetness and a sort of boyish fierceness, his intent eyes, his ugliness and his charm. I thought him at once one of the best and most significant people I’d ever met and I ’ve not changed my mind. He has been through a great deal; suffered a great deal; is full of a childlike capacity for admiration and delight; curiously untouched by the ordinary train de vie of towns and upto-date culture (in spite of a family thick in it), a sort of scholarly rusticity of outlook and an unspottedness from the world combined with such shrewdness of perception and directness of feeling that Alice dubbed him Basanos — the touchstone. In talking of things he cares for he might give an impression of dogmatic arrogance and there is in him a controlled violence of feeling; but in manner and speech he is rather stately and deliberate. Fanatic touches; can look very ill-tempered; is extremely sensitive and has the tenderest heart. He has beautiful teeth! a beaming, irradiated smile and a laugh like a very little boy — à gorge déployée. His father was French — domiciled in England — his mother is English. Basil is of the gypsy French type — the swarthy skin, black hair, jutting aquiline nose, wide lips; but in character (with amusing little variations) he is intensely English. I shall love having your book. I’m glad you can’t manage to pour your wine into Chestertonian bottles! His wine is often excellent — but I am tired of his bottles — and I think his measure is getting tricky — I really do.
ANNE DE SÉLINCOURT
Nannie, of course, but Anne goes better in writing the new combination!
To Stephen Tennant
Wednesday (October 5th, 1927)
DEAREST ‘SEA-MAIDEN’S SON,‘
My letter to your mother crossed yours to me; and this morning Alice sends me your delicious account of your enfolded condition in the American newspapers. Alice will tell you about our delicious time in Paris — marred only, for her, by failure to see all the old churches; but I am a feeble sightseer: ‘not a strong woman on churches’ — as my enchanting American relation, Aleck Sedgwick, remarked on his failure about birds: ‘I’m not a strong man on birds.’ And if one has already lived for five years in Paris I feel that one has outgrown sight-seeing! We went to four plays, three on successive nights: an unprecedented experience for me.
I adore ‘To the Lighthouse’ and had finally to write and tell her so; I’m afraid she felt me very school-girlish and sentimental, but she wrote back kindly. The process of having one’s heart broken by life, and yet of feeling it worth while, has never been so distilled into a book. Don’t you want to lie down at Mrs. Ramsay’s feet — and kiss them — and bathe them with your tears! I do. The sea-green shawl over the elk’s skull: — and how it reappears in the emptiness afterwards: — and the beach where Mrs. Ramsay sits: — and the marvellous description of Mr. Ramsay’s mental progress: — ‘if Q is Q — what is R?’ — the wit of it — all the marshalled analogies for his heroic effort,— it’s a matchless book, I think. Someone said it was ‘elusive.’ Only in the sense that one’s own heart-beats are; it’s so much deeper and nearer than the world we can describe.
It’s a dreadful story, that of K. Mansfield and J. M. M., I feel; and that brilliant metaphor horribly applies to this end of it. What a story she would have made of the boiling of her own bones! Yet there is something in J. M. M. that touches me; he sees truth — in flashes, and loves it; and his own horrible egotism keeps him from holding it.
D. H. Lawrence infuriates and revolts me so that I can hardly read him; but I’ve not tried ‘Mornings in Mexico.’ I think he has genius, and some of his poetry — the fruit and flower poetry— is beautiful; but his bleeding ‘complex’ is so apparent through all he writes, that one feels at once abashed for him, and disgusted for him. I could n’t describe exactly what I feel about this, or even mean by it; but I am sure that he has been humiliated, to his very core, by a woman, and that through all his writing there runs the frenzied effort, to assert himself and — if possible — abase his scorner. (I know nothing about him.)
My ‘Childhood in Brittany’ is a reprint, I ’ll send you a copy. I wrote it during the war — to amuse and distract Carmen’s old grandmother, for they are all her reminiscences — arranged and elicited by me; and I kept her in a piano to the day of her death, poor old darling, with part of the proceeds. It’s the thinnest little book; but it never intended to be anything else. Carmen is lovely — she was with us here for a fortnight and then crossed with Alice and me and lunched with us every day, as Prince Yousoupoff’s shop was just round the corner; she is very happy there, I feel, with all the sweet young archduchesses, and they are all, evidently, devoted to her and have learned from her all our special Far End howls! — (so spreads a good deed in a naughty world!)
Farewell, doare childe. Oh, and tell your mother that the rose Lady Love has been perfectly exquisite. Is she still happy with her shingle?
To Richard Cabot
May 28th, 1931
What a darling letter, Richard dear! and Basil carried out your instructions at once, with the finding that my nurse has made for the last 2 months, that heart is sound. My London doctor, 4 days before, had told me that I was like a motor-car; — machinery all right but magneto broken down; and that’s what it felt like: not an ‘attack,’ to my consciousness, but so much more ‘ more so’ than it had been, that it seemed only sensible to say goodbye. It was really, once I made the wrench, lovely, Richard. For 24 hours I felt serenely ready to go and pretty sure I was going, and it stayed all the while quite beautiful and I kept saying to myself when the sorrow came, ‘Father, into Thy hands,’ you know: — so when on the second night I woke at 3 and suddenly seemed to hear myself saying to myself, ‘You are going to live — after all,’ do you know, I was, in a strange way, dismayed! To have gone through it all, and then come back; and have to face everything again; and no strength to face it with; so that one is so afraid one may botch things: — yes: I was dismayed: because it can’t be a long way off; and can it ever be so perfect again?
That’s what puzzles me: if I sank so low, after a winter of complete rest, how shall I ever be strong again to live, in any sense worthy of the name? Everything becomes too difficult when one has no strength; the happiest life reveals its underlying elements of extreme tension; and it’s that tension alone of which one is aware when vitality fails, so that my mind, working, working in distress and questioning, seems to burn up all the strength I accumulate: a sort of vicious circle. So many things: — darling Mamma, unhappy when she died: — a Spirit of Love, yet creating this world which only exists through violation of the spirit of love, everything preying on everything: — the Keats insight, that ‘ is misery and will not let us rest’: you know: it goes on and on: and one is simply so tired: — so that the beauty gained from this experience is to know that I thought I was dying, and that it all became holy; one accepted it all for oneself, and was glad. Now I have no right to be writing this; only I wanted to thank you at once and explain how it really had been; quite the contrary from ‘awful,’— for me. But of course I’m glad to be here now, and Spring is simply heavenly.
So much love to you both
To Grace Zaring Stone
November 8th, 1932
DEAR MRS. STONE,
May I tell you how deeply I have enjoyed your ‘Bitter Tea’ — read thus belatedly? You, I see, since this is only your second book, are a young novelist, and I am such an old one that I feel this a sort of farewell salute, as my masts sink below the surface. — What a marvellous book you have written! — with that mingled richness and reticence that rests in a bloom of mystery and beauty on every creature you depict. I exercised a rare self-control in not allowing myself to forage excitedly forward as I read, and so was rewarded by the full over-whelming of your climax — almost too much for my weak frame; and never, never shall I forget that figure — ‘young, fugitive, afraid’ — in the lantern-light.
The racial problem — seen with such profundity and depicted with such grace — makes me think queerly of the blood tests they draw from me here; will my blood do its various sums properly? and will it rise towards the ideal angle soaring on the chart above its sulky curve? Shultz, so immeasurably Yen’s inferior as an individual, yet displaying that ‘indisputable diamond’ of his race, — the racial attainment as a whole in which the meanest component individual may partake, — so that his racial curve, in that marvellous moment of Yen’s humiliation, attained a point above any that the Chinese man could reach. — Tears rushed to my eyes at that — ‘What do you think I am?’ Shultz is a triumph. — And yet one wonders. — Might not we be abashed by such an instinctive, effortless attainment as that of poor little Mahli handing over the rings for the parents? I wonder if you could give me the pleasure of sending me a line and telling me who you are? — from where? — and how you have come to write, so quickly, like this?
With many thanks for a most moving experience.
‘ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK’
To Grace Zaring Stone
February 11th, 1933
DEAR MRS. STONE,
I can’t begin to tell you how ’mimsy’ your letter made me feel, — sad and joyous at the same time. I can’t help feeling that I am going very soon, and it’s so sad to leave such lovely things as the revelation of my own relation to you — through my books, and through my admiration; almost, if I may say it, my affection; for your letter makes you seem so near. We seem to have so many things in common and to dip from the same stream of experience. I left America when I was little more than a baby and England has always been home; but I think it always remains a different kind of home if one has those different roots, and I have always been aware of a nostalgic yearning, and of severance. But I went back once, in childhood, and again, 30 years ago, and at last, a wonderful trip with my husband, two years ago, to the lovely New England country. New England, the Berkshire hills and the North coast, is my nostalgia; but I wonder if I can’t match your young contact with the West in my memories of the little town in Southern Ohio where my mother was born — memories that I can’t revive in any of the arid, glaring novels of the modern ‘Middle West’ I read; it was a dear little place — all Emerson and Wordsworth and the Episcopal church! Then, I follow you in the wandering experience: we wandered, though no further than France; ten years there, counting the war years; and I have had no schooling: none at all; and I can’t help feeling — when I remember your historical grace and assurance in ‘Doña Elena’ — that your governesses were much more efficient than mine. My ignorance of the machinery of life has always been a terrible handicap to me. — And then I think, from what you say of our terrible ‘need to be loved,’ that you speak personally as well as racially. I’ve struggled with that problem since the early age when French determinism rose like a spectre before me. Have I solved it at all, I wonder? Sometimes I think glints and chinks have come. — I wonder who you read. Von Hügel at all? — only I can never be a Catholic.
No; I should never have imagined, not for a moment, that one of the Young could care for and remember my books. It was worth while having gone on to learn that; and ‘Adrienne’ and ‘The Old Countess’ are, I think, the two I would most want you to like. I love my own books — in many ways!! (though, on re-reading, their faults leap at one) and those two are among the most loved: — especially ‘Marthe Luderac,’ who haunted me so that at night I sometimes thought I should see her in my room. But I feel that in its essence your art is more mature than mine and grounded on a more iron acceptance. Though I am so very much older than you are, I feel that in some ways I am less ‘grown up.’
I live here, in a tiny house, in the depths of the country, and have, since my marriage 25 years ago. I am very happy in many ways, and want to go on living for many reasons, so that I feel like a child at bed-time begging for one hour more. I shall get it, if I can, I promise you.
ANNE DE SELINCOURT
To Mrs. J. C. Alsop
8 THE PRYORS
February 10th (I think), 1935
To organize my writing-board, and pen, and pad, seems impossible; so I scribble a few lines to say how I loved your dear letter and the feeling about little things — which I so share. I have my silver christening-mug on the table beside me now, filled with anemones — every shade of purple, Velasquez-pink, and freaked red and white; they are a joy, and the lovely white hyacinths in bowls that Basil’s nice funny friend brought to me; he must tell you about her, and her ring! — that he never noticed! I had a radiant glimpse of lovely Ba, fresh from her glaciers, and now everyone seems to be in bed with a cold, including B. — I fear the strain of my ‘unconscionable time a-dying’ is, in part, the reason for his break-down; but I am like the scorpion in the ring of flaming embers, Jay, and as the fire narrows about me, I seek every chink and crevice for escape. I can’t brush my teeth any longer! yet I have invented a longer tooth-pick that I can still use! Quite amusing to see how long I can circumvent the flames! And it is odd — the way in which the nightmare when it becomes a reality is easier to bear! I still enjoy ‘life’! — and the sense of loving people more and more. Dear Max, meanwhile, accompanies me indomitably!
While I write I am lending an ear to that clear good ‘Dick Shepherd’ conducting a service — more like Martin Harvey in ‘The Only Way’ than I should have thought possible: innocent artifice and pathos — a sort of sincere religious ‘patter.’ Goodnight, darling.
ANNE — B
To H. E. Conway
8 THE PRYORS
April 7th, 1935
I am so much touched by your letter and its thought of help still being possible for me.
Indeed I accept the fundamental Christian Science position — the power of spirit over matter — which is demonstrated by Lourdes and suggestion, as well as Christian Science. I can’t write, for my last means of communication is very weak — this poor right hand; but would like to tell you that over a year ago wonderful friends rose like guardian angels in my path — (hearing of me from J. D. Beresford, to whom I wrote after reading his ‘Camberwell Miracle ’) and since then Max Plowman has either written to me or been with me every day: it is too marvellous — such devotion — and that of his wife. His faith in my recovery is absolute, and so is my faith in him; but alas, so far we have had no reward: I get steadily worse and worse, till now my state is terrible indeed, ‘speechless and motionless’; so slow, too, like being devoured by an ant! How much better a swift craunch by a Tigress!
What a lovely winter you have had!
ANNE DE S.