The Early Letters (1902–1908): An Introduction
James N. Carder
"In fine, whatever I write comes to this. A young man—praise God he is still young at any rate—who is looking for something, what, he scarcely knows himself, and can’t find it."
Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, June 23, 1906
The early lettersThe correspondence between the Blisses (Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss) and the Tylers (Royall Tyler and Elisina Tyler) is mostly found in the Papers of Royall Tyler, 1902–1967 (HUGFP 38.6; hereafter cited as the Tyler Papers) at the Harvard University Archives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This material was a 1977 and 1979 gift of William Royall Tyler, the son of Royall Tyler and the former director of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C. Sometime before her death in January 1969, Mildred Barnes Bliss had given William Royall Tyler the correspondence she had received from his father and mother. In the 1970s, William Tyler and the historian Walter Muir Whitehill prepared an annotated typescript of this correspondence (hereafter cited as Typescript) that is also in the Tyler Papers. that Royall Tyler wrote to Mildred Barnes before her marriage to Robert Woods Bliss in 1908 provide a remarkable portrait of a young intellectual struggling to find a meaningful life in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. They also offer testament to his developing, deep friendship—if not love—for Mildred Barnes. Royall Tyler engaged Mildred Barnes’s mind with accounts of his intellectual pursuits—often with the aim of provoking her reaction—and this engagement, perhaps more than any other aspect of their early correspondence, proved to be an enduring quality of their life-long friendship. Over the short span of only six years, these letters also fully introduce the common interests that the Tylers and the Blisses came to share during their lives, notably art, collecting, history, literature and poetry, music, living abroad, languages, and politics. But fundamental differences between the two correspondents also become evident in these early letters. His dislike of the United States and his inability to complete a career-oriented course of study find disapproval with Mildred Barnes, who is simultaneously counseling her stepbrother, Robert Woods Bliss, in the ways of succeeding in the U.S. diplomatic service. Indeed, the counterpoint between the interests and experiences of her friend, Royall Tyler, and those of her future husband, Robert Woods Bliss, provided Mildred Barnes with a striking contrast of personality—a contrast over which she eventually would struggle. It is, therefore, unfortunate that no correspondence of this period remains from Mildred Barnes to Royall Tyler, even though it is clear that she wrote less frequently and, perhaps, with less substantial content. As Royall Tyler himself observed, “I, on the other hand, have written enough to you to form a large handsome volume, and I verily believe that those letters are the best stuff I have ever penned.”Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, October 29, 1906.
You can read the letters from the beginning by following the link at the end of this essay, or see the full list of letters by clicking on the plus sign next to The Early Letters (1902–1908) in the left-hand navigation menu.
The Correspondents before 1902
When Royall Tyler wrote his first letter to Mildred Barnes in September 1902, he was eighteen years old. He was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 2, 1884, to Ellen Frances Krebs Tyler and William Royall Tyler. His father graduated from Harvard College in 1874 and taught Greek and Latin at, and eventually became the principal of, Adams Academy in Quincy. Royall Tyler observed in his unpublished autobiographyUnless otherwise cited, the biographical and historical information about Royall Tyler and his family and friends found in this introduction comes from this Autobiography. that his intellectual father was content with his work, which paid an annual salary of $1,500, but that he was otherwise without ambition. His mother, a Christian Scientist who, through inheritance, received an annual income of $10,000, raised her son as a Christian Scientist and aspired that he attend Harvard and become a landscape gardener. Tyler remembered that the chief pleasure of his youth “was to roam the country-side, and that mostly by myself, for my aim was to observe birds, to discover old buildings, hunt for Indian arrow-heads or to board any sailing vessel that put in within reach. . . . Thus I early contracted [the] habit of independence or impatience of company that has stuck to me ever since.”Autobiography, 1:21–22. William Royall Tyler has written that his father and Mildred Barnes met as children when their mothers spent summers together at the beach in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.Typescript, Introduction, 1. There is no known confirmation of this fact, however, and Royall Tyler’s account of his summers at Mattapoisett, where he spent his “waking hours on the water or in it,” does not mention Mildred Barnes.Autobiography, 1:21.
Royall Tyler entered Milton Academy, near Boston, Massachusetts, in 1897, the year his father died of pneumonia. Almost immediately, his widowed mother traveled to Europe; Tyler joined her there in 1898, never again to live in the United States. He entered Harrow School in London, where he enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of his classes and teachers, particularly Reginald Bosworth Smith (1839–1908), a “scholar of Moslem literature, poet, [and] lover of nature,” who “made every moment enjoyable.”Autobiography, 2:6. Using the school library, Tyler continued the explorations he had begun earlier among his father’s books, discovering Edward FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam (1859),English writer Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883) is best known for his translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859). the works of Marco Polo Marco Polo (ca. 1254–1324), a merchant from the Venetian Republic, wrote Il Milione, which narrated his father's journey to meet the Kublai Khan and introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. and Sir John Mandeville,“Jehan de Mandeville,” translated as “Sir John Mandeville,” the name used by the compiler of a book of supposed travels, written in Anglo-Norman French and published between 1357 and 1371. and Coryats Crudities (1611)English traveler and writer Thomas Coryat (ca. 1577–1617) is best known for two volumes of writings on his travels in Europe and Asia. In 1608, he undertook a trip, mostly on foot, through Europe; he published his memoirs of his journey in a volume entitled Coryats Crudities: Hastily Gobled Up in Five Months Travels in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia Commonly Called the Grisons Country, Helvetia aliàs Switzerland, Some Parts of High Germany, and the Netherlands (London: Printed by W. Stansby for the author, 1611). (a special favorite) and relaxing with Robert Louis Stevenson’s An Island Voyage (1878) and Island Nights Entertainments (1893).Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer. An Island Voyage (1878) recounts his canoe trip on the canals of northern France and Belgium in 1876. Island Nights' Entertainments (1893; also known as South Sea Tales) is a collection of short stories based on his travels in the South Seas. Autobiography, 2:8.
In 1900, Royall Tyler’s mother, Ellen Frances Krebs Tyler, married a lawyer and former Boston mayor, Josiah Huntington Quincy, and took a house in Biarritz, France, where Tyler would spend his school holidays. Having never studied modern languages, it was at Biarritz that he began to learn French, picking up just enough, as he put it, “to permit me to begin enjoying MaupassantFrench writer Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893) is considered one of the fathers of the modern short story. and Loti,Pierre Loti (pseudonym of Julien Viaud) (1850–1923) was a French novelist and naval officer. and oddly enough Froissart,Jean Froissart (ca. 1337–ca. 1405) was an important chronicler of medieval France. The Chroniques de Jean Froissart, first published in 1523 and 1525, documents the chivalric revival of the fourteenth century in England and France as well as the history of the first half of the Hundred Years’ War. although many passages beat me. Of German, Italian and Spanish I knew not a word.”Autobiography, 2:24. It was also in Biarritz that Royall Tyler, as a teenage Christian Scientist, encountered Roman Catholicism at a high mass at Bayonne Cathedral. He recounted being inflamed by curiosity about the rite and buying a book on the subject in order to follow carefully the ceremony and to identify the various liturgical vestments. He said of the Catholic service, the “chant and especially the tone of the preface moved me to the depths of my being.”Autobiography, 2:31. And in language characteristic of his later exuberant writings to Mildred Barnes, he exclaimed, “I was overcome with gratitude to God for permitting such a spectacle to survive in this drab world. I hugged my discovery with particular fondness as having been all my own. No one had spoken to me of the Mass, nor had I read about it.”Autobiography, 2:31. His encounter with Catholicism would come to figure significantly in his first meeting with Mildred Barnes in 1902 as well as, more generally perhaps, in his life-long interest in religious (especially Byzantine) art, church furnishings, and vestments, and, most notably, in his “open and shameless” devotion to the Spanish Baroque, which, like Catholicism, he asserted to have discovered completely on his own.Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, February 20, 1906.
Mildred Barnes Bliss
Mildred Barnes was born in New York City on September 9, 1879. Her father, Demas Barnes, moved to New York in 1849 and invested in the patent medicine business, eventually owning twenty-five percent of the very profitable Centaur Company, which manufactured Fletcher’s Castoria.The Centaur Company, founded by Charles Henry Fletcher (1837–1922) in 1871, owned and marketed proprietary medicines, notably the stimulant laxative Fletcher’s Castoria and the ointment Centaur Liniment. In 1871, Demas Barnes and Joseph B. Rose acquired the rights to Centaur Liniment and entered into a business arrangement with Fletcher to manufacture this and other proprietary medicines. An amateur geologist, he had crossed the continent in a wagon to study the mineral resources of Colorado, Nevada, and California, eventually publishing a book on his experiences.Demas Barnes, From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Overland: A Series of Letters by Demas Barnes, Describing a Trip from New York, via Chicago, Atchison, the Great Plains, Denver, the Rocky Mountains, Central City, Colorado, Dakota, Pike’s Peak, Laramie Park, Bridger’s Pass, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nevada, Austin, Washoe, Virginia City, the Sierras and California, to San Francisco, Thence Home, by Acapulco, and the Isthmus of Panama (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1866). He also served as a Democratic congressman between 1867 and 1869. He had two daughters: Cora Fanny Barnes, by his first marriage to Mary Hyde; and Mildred Barnes, by his second marriage to Anna Dorinda Blaksley. When Demas Barnes was struck by a carriage and killed in 1888, his wealth passed to his wife and two daughters. Cora Fanny Barnes was the sole legatee of his stock in the Centaur Company, but she offered to share the dividends equally with her stepmother and later to split them in thirds when Mildred Barnes reached the age of eighteen in 1897.“Miss Barnes Killed By Fall on Birthday; Suicide the Police Say, but Coroner Feinberg Says 70-Foot Drop Was Accidental; Recently Recovered from a Nervous Breakdown, and Just Returned from an Auto Tour of New England,” New York Times, September 30, 1911. In 1894, Anna Dorinda Blaksley Barnes married William Henry Bliss, who had two teenage children, Annie Louise and Robert Woods Bliss.
Documentation of Mildred Barnes’s early life is unfortunately minimal.The bulk of primary correspondence and documents concerning Mildred Barnes Bliss (and Robert Woods Bliss) is found in the Papers of Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss, ca. 1860–1969 (HUGFP 76; hereafter cited as the Bliss Papers) at the Harvard University Archives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This material was a 1982 gift of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C. Unless otherwise cited, the biographical and historical information about the Blisses and their family and friends found in this introduction comes from the Bliss Papers. She studied the violin and piano, and she was proficient in written and spoken French by the age of twenty, an ability likely attained or polished when she attended Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut, and, reportedly, private schools in France.Dorothy McCardle, “A Red Rosette Emblems the Past For Mrs. Bliss, Helped Found the A.F.S.,” Washington Post and Times Herald, January 30, 1966. In the summer and fall of 1888 (after the death of her father), the nine-year-old Mildred Barnes traveled to Europe with her mother, visiting at least England and France. She regretted having to leave in a letter to her friend Alberta Sturges.Mildred Barnes to Alberta Sturges, October 1888, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 6. Mildred Barnes and her mother traveled in Europe in 1888 after the death of her father, Demas Barnes, possibly in part to escape the notoriety of a lawsuit brought against his estate by Cora Knapp, who claimed to have lived with Demas Barnes as his wife. See “Asking a Quarter of a Million,” New York Times, May 21, 1889; and “Cora Knapp’s Early Life; the Youth of the Woman who Claims to be Mrs. Barnes,” New York Times, March 3, 1890. When Mildred Barnes turned eighteen in 1897, she made at least one debut in Saint Louis, Missouri, along with her first cousin, Edith Collins,Edith Collins Kennerly (d. 1945) was Anna Barnes Bliss’s niece, the daughter of her sister, Sarah F. Blaksley Collins. Edith Collins married Claude Saugrin Kennerly, and they had a daughter, Dorinda Kennerly (1909–2003). at a reception hosted by her mother and sister. And before 1900, she had begun to collect prints,James N. Carder, American Art at Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010), 4–5. rare books, and textiles, including an important Opus Anglicanum fragment. According to Walter Muir Whitehill, the teenage Mildred Barnes was in correspondence with booksellers in Paris, Tours, Clermont-Ferrand, and Rome, seeking precise literary, bibliographical, and artistic information.Walter Muir Whitehill, Dumbarton Oaks: The History of a Georgetown House and Garden, 1800–1966 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967), 60.
In 1898, Mildred Barnes purchased a working farm in Sharon, Connecticut.Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1 and box 59. Her pleasure in the house is evidenced in a letter that she wrote to her stepfather, William Henry Bliss, in 1909, when she decided to sell the property: “But you cannot know what it costs my heart & my emotions are aquiver. Sharon has never been mere geography to me & I feel as if I were making a wig of my own hair to put on some other head.”Mildred Barnes to William Henry Bliss, January 10, 1909, Blissiana files, William Henry Bliss correspondence. She traveled to Europe with her mother, ending up in Rome sometime before April 1899 and sitting for an oil portrait by American painter Julian Story.
Robert Woods Bliss
Mildred Barnes also corresponded with her stepbrother, Robert Woods Bliss, during his years at Harvard College (1896–1900). Unfortunately, her letters to Bliss are not preserved, although she kept his letters to her. Robert Woods Bliss’s seeming indifference to scholastics is reflected not only in his grades—he received Ds in first-year Spanish and second-year French—but also in his letters to Mildred Barnes. He wrote her that he was “sick as can be of this continuous study, but it only lasts until Saturday; then our class play work begins in earnest.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, February 17, 1897, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1. In his senior year, he wrote: “My work this year, I am sorry to say, does not interest me much, which is a disappointment after the pleasure I have derived from my courses in my three past years. International Law and Paleontology are not so bad, but the others are stupid bores, I have dropped my course in the history of the Eastern Question and have taken up a course in modern Spanish. Beginning so late in the year and not having done any Spanish for three years I am considerably behind the class, and it is hard for me as I hate languages, yet I think it is the wisest thing to do as Spanish is bound to become, in fact already is, an important commercial language and knowledge of it is valuable.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, undated , Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1. During his college years, he took his greatest pleasure from his social clubs—Freshman Glee Club, Institute of 1770, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Delta Psi, Weld Boat Club, Hasty Pudding Club, and the Harvard Athletic Association—and, to his surprise, from a performance of the opera Roméo et Juliette that he attended in 1899: “It sounds queer, doesn’t it dear, to hear me going on enthusiastically over music, or any thing for that matter, I am such an indifferent, lazy duffer, but I did enjoy this more than words can say.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, April 10, 1899, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1. When he graduated in 1900, he had not yet been to Europe; his parents gave him funds for European travel as a graduation gift, but he decided to remain in the United States and buy a horse with the money.
Europe and the "Anniversary"
Mildred Barnes and her stepsister were in Paris in 1900, the same year that Royall Tyler spent Easter holiday with his mother and stepfather in Venice, where he memorably saw Byzantine art for the first time and tellingly compared it with his first encounter with the Catholic mass. He described the experience, writing:
Easter holidays 1900 took me to Italy with my mother and step-father, [and] I went to Venice for a fortnight, instead of returning to Harrow after visiting only Rome and Florence. . . . But in San Marco, at Venice, my eyes were opened to color by the earlier mosaics and the enamels of the Pala d’Oro and the Treasure: a revelation comparable with that I had experienced on encountering the liturgy. Domes, pendentives, marble wainscoting, porphyry columns, carved capitals, mosaic pavements and the light in which they bathed, suddenly made me feel that these things were for me. The days in Venice passed as in a dream. I learned that San Mark’s sumptuous raiment was loot from Constantinople, and remembered my friend Coryatt’s description of the porphyry Tetrarchs set in the outer wall of the Treasure-house.English traveler and writer Thomas Coryat (ca. 1577–1617) is principally remembered for two volumes of writings on his travels, often on foot, in Europe and Asia. In 1612, he travelled to Venice, Constantinople, and India. He spent six weeks in Venice, a description of which is in Coryats Crudities: Hastily Gobled Up in Five Months Travels in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia Commonly Called the Grisons Country, Helvetia aliàs Switzerland, Some Parts of High Germany, and the Netherlands (London: Printed by W. Stansby for the author, 1611). My experience in Venice opened the door leading to Byzantine art, the central point from which I later approached other domains. For the time being, the Byzantine vision alone held me.Autobiography, 2:35–36.
In 1902, after Royall Tyler’s graduation from Harrow School, he and his mother traveled in Europe, periodically meeting up with Mildred Barnes and Anna Dorinda Blaksley Barnes.Anna Barnes Bliss, Mildred Barnes, and Cora Barnes had sailed from New York City for London on May 26, 1902, aboard the Minnetonka. On June 9, near Dover, the steamer collided with a Runciman Line steamer and suffered a hole in the port bow. See “Liner in a Collision; Hole Knocked into the Port Bow of the Atlantic Steamer Minnetonka,” New York Times, June 10, 1902. They were probably together in London in mid-June, in Bayreuth in mid-August (for Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle), in Cortina in early September, and in Paris in early October (and possibly in other cities which were unrecorded). Tyler kept an occasional diary of this trip, in which he commented on the churches (“The German style of work [of the Cologne Cathedral] has not the fascination & delicacy of Byzantine masterpieces such as the Pala d’oro at Venice”)Diary, August 12, 1902. and the art collections (“There is an enormous collection [in Dresden] of the Italian school of the time of Tintoretto & Guido Reni for those who care for them”).Diary, August 22, 1902. He induced his mother to make another, longer visit to Venice and Ravenna, where he affirmed his previous positive impression of Byzantine art and architecture: “While classical art, western primitives and the Renaissance still eluded me, I turned eagerly to Byzantine color and form.”Autobiography, 2:36. He visited Torcello for the first time and observed: “The cathedral is one of the most interesting buildings I have ever seen. With the exception of the altar everything in it is fine Byzantine. There are some magnificent mosaics, & a very beautiful screen carved in stone with fascinating peacocks & other Byzantine animals on it. The pulpit is in the same style. . . . I could not spend as much time as I wished with these things.”Diary, September 12, 1902.
Upon meeting up with Mildred Barnes in 1902, Royall Tyler must have discussed with her their mutual fascination with Roman Catholicism and, perhaps, entertained with her the idea of joining the church.Later, in 1904, Mildred Barnes’s close friend, Grace Henop Tytus (d. 1928), wrote: “The other thing I must speak of is even closer, because it touches you, my dear one. I have thought & worried & ached over it all those days when I lay in bed & was too weak to write & could only pray—Mildred, for your own sake keep out of the Church of Rome—listen, learn, talk, discuss Catholicism all you wish, but if you value your sanity of purpose, leave it lie there. I’ve been all thro’ it, & I’m not speaking from bigotry or ignorance.” Grace Henop Tytus to Mildred Barnes, April 17, 1904, Blissiana files, Grace Tytus McLennan correspondence. Mildred Barnes urged that they undergo confession—either disingenuously as Catholics or as Protestants “seeking light” (the course ultimately chosen)—and that they pose questions to the priest, apparently in order to judge the Church’s honesty and sincerity as well as to be informed. The confession occurred on October 10, 1902, in Paris at the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which was chosen because it was not well known and, therefore, not likely to be visited by any of their acquaintances. Thereafter through 1908, the year of Mildred Barnes’s marriage to Robert Woods Bliss, Tyler would speak of this event as their “anniversary” and, when possible, would visit the church on that date. Tyler gave a full account of their experience in his diary, thus providing the narrative that is absent in the early letters. He wrote:
It was finally decided that my fair friend & I were to go to the confession as Protestants seeking light, not as Catholics. So this morning at 9:30 we presented ourselves at St.-Germain des Prés. I saw no gorgeous officials. So I marched boldly into the sacristy & demanded two confessors. A priest with a nice face said that he would confess me first & that I could send my sister afterwards. This was unpleasant, but there was nothing for it. So I followed. He took me into the chancel, behind the altar, he sat on a bench & I kneeled on a chair beside him. I began, & said that I was of a Protestant American family, & that in a time of considerable affliction, I had found no true consolation from the English Church. My confessor asked if I was of the High Church. . . . I said that I did [sic] and then proceeded with my confession. I took a case from real life. At the age of 10, my parents had made me sign a pledge that I would never drink. I had resisted the inherited craving for some time, but now found my strength gone, and that finally I had yielded. My confessor was sympathy itself. I was really ashamed of my deceit, as his words really were genuinely kind, and he believed what he said. He exhorted me to pray—especially to Our Lady, as the mother of Mercy. Then we passed to ground on which I felt easier, as I really did want to find out how much the Parisian Parish Priest knew about church politics in England. I said that I had been educated at Harrow, but I thought that I had better not mention Oxford, to avoid any complications. The priest picked up his ears at the name of Harrow, & said that he knew that the “grand monde anglais” was well disposed towards Roman Catholicism, especially the Church. I gathered from this that he had heard of the English Bishop who asked to be received into the Catholic Church, and was requested to stay in his own position, and to do what he could to introduce Roman doctrine. I said that I had noticed a movement in that direction (I was here interrupted & asked to speak lower) & that at such a time much could be done. After this I was dismissed with the assurance that my prayers would help me, & the hope that my conversion was only a matter of time. As I expected the Roman Church takes no account of the iniquity of parents who extort a pledge much as the one I mentioned.
My companion then went, and unburdened herself of a grievance. After that was settled the priest asked her several searching and interesting questions. He said that even if one did not become a Catholic, such an effort for help as we had made would count in our favour, and that much good could be done in the English Church in that direction. He took care not to mention such a thing as reconciliation to either of us, but contented himself with saying that after all the differences were slight. The one that he would put most stress upon was the sacred confession.
We left the church & took a long walk together, comparing notes. We came to this conclusion: “That the priest who had confessed us was in earnest. He also showed much tact in the gentle spirit that he used to receive our confessions, & that his knowledge of events in England was remarkable. Also that the breadth of view exposed when he admitted that much good could be done even without becoming a Catholic was greater than is usually found in a Protestant clergyman. Of course in this, one first stood for his Church, & therefore any utterances he might feel justified in making would be sure to receive the sanction of the Church in general, specially as they were made before a possible convert.”Diary, October 6, 7, and 10, 1902.
In the late fall of 1902, Royall Tyler entered New College, Oxford, living on an average allowance of £300 a year. Although he alluded in his letters to Mildred Barnes that he intended to become a writer, his plan by 1903 was to take a three-year honors degree at Oxford that would allow him to enter the English Diplomatic Service, for which he would also need to become a naturalized English citizen when he reached his majority age. Along with his course of study, his plan required him to attain proficiency in French, Spanish, and German (he later began, but quickly abandoned, lessons in Arabic). Although Tyler had reservations about his plan, he kept them to himself, as this career path was what his mother and stepfather wanted. He thus began to study Spanish in Biarritz when he was there on school holidays in 1903.
Between Easter and the first weeks of August 1903, Royall Tyler received no letters from Mildred Barnes. Before this hiatus, she apparently had accused him of being “anti-American,” which he found unjust. Her subsequent silence may be explained by the fact that she was unwell, a fact that is revealed in letters from Robert Woods Bliss to his stepsister from about this time. But the silence may just as likely be explained by the twenty-four-year-old Mildred Barnes’s uncertainty in her relationship with the expatriate Royall Tyler. In a letter to Barnes, Robert Woods Bliss inquired: “Are you still worried that you have remained a maiden while so many of your friends have give[n] into the condition of conjugal happiness?”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, February 2, 1903, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1. When Mildred Barnes wrote Tyler again in August, she apparently returned to the topic of his expatriate status, perhaps inquiring if and when he intended to return to the United States. He responded: “I am so glad you said what you think about my leaving America. I have thought about it a great deal, and am decided. I don’t believe in American moral breadth, and I don’t like Americans.” He attempted to soften his statements somewhat by adding, “And what would I do if my strong leaning which you envy were gone? I know it is very possibly a mistake, in that individuality is doomed anyway.”.
Royall Tyler in Spain
In the fall of 1903, Royall Tyler suffered an “interior crisis,” probably depression,Royall Tyler described this “interior crisis” to Mildred Barnes more fully in two letters of 1906, when he was again experiencing a similar depression. He wrote: “I hope and fear alternately that I am sickening for an interior crisis like the one I had three years ago in November. I am sure it would be good for me, but the process is sometimes very painful” ( ). “And not a thing can I recall but the general feeling of horrible misery with streaks of lightening running through it. Very like the experience when I left Oxford—that was the first big and fully realized one I ever had, and I have had none of importance since—till Seville.” ( .) and precipitously left Oxford in October—though intending to return—and spent two months in Spain. His trip to Spain provoked a profound sea change in his interests and aspirations as well as marked the beginning of a life-long love of Spanish people, language, religion, and art that he would eloquently communicate to Mildred Barnes. He went to the house of his mother’s friend, Mrs. Patrick Stuart-Menteath, at Ciboure, France, near Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Pyrenees. She made a profound impression on Tyler, who was taken with her intelligence and her mastery of French, Spanish, German, and Italian (in addition to her native English). He wrote that she admitted that her one weakness “was the lust of the eye.” He continued: “She loved painting and works of art, especially such as lurked in antiquity-dealers’ shops. Aita-Beita,Basque for “father’s house, mother’s house.” a rambling affair in which two old Basque houses run into one, was full of pictures, furniture, pottery, tapestry, of no great value except for a couple of paintings, but which bore interest to their owner’s range of interest, and aroused my curiosity in a way objects failed to do, where the atmosphere was less to my liking.”Autobiography, 2:29. Her husband, Patrick William, a geologist, was preparing for an expedition into the Pyrenees and invited Tyler to join him, although Tyler recounted this differently to Mildred Barnes, saying that it was he who invited Stuart-Menteath to join him on an adventure. After the expedition, Tyler traveled on his own to Burgos, Salamanca, Ávila, and Madrid before running out of money in late December and returning to Biarritz. .
Royall Tyler was ecstatic with this adventure. In addition to his engaging descriptions to Mildred Barnes, he reminisced in his autobiography that on this trip “romance crowed in on every side,” that “he panted for more Spain” and “sucked in Spain through every pore.”Autobiography, 3:8. His role model became Patrick Stuart-Menteath, whom he wished to emulate and “to know Europe as he knew it, writing for publication in several different languages.”Autobiography, 3:7–8. But more than that, Tyler became infatuated with the artistic and religious traditions of Spain. He wrote that “the middle-ages seemed nearer there than they did in other countries” and that Spain “was full of churches which I found enchanting as architecture, and which had never ceased to be living places of worship, each succeeding age depositing its heirlooms there.”Autobiography, 3:12–13. He became aware of art that had meant nothing to him when seen in museums but which he eagerly pursued in its Spanish setting. He observed: “This quickening of perception proceeded at such a rate that when I entered the Prado, I suddenly found myself delighting in Renaissance painting, to which I had remained blind in the galleries of Europe, and even in Italian churches.”Autobiography, 3:13. Tyler repeated this sentiment in a letter to Mildred Barnes, in which he singled out the paintings of Velázquez..
On January 16, 1904, Royall Tyler’s mother died of cancer at Biarritz. This event induced him to abandon Oxford—a decision which he claimed to Mildred Barnes had received his mother’s blessing before her death—and to continue pursuing admission into the English Diplomatic Service by improving his foreign language skills first at the Universidad de Salamanca and then in Germany. He followed this plan over the next two years, adding an intermediate stop in Paris in order to improve his French. In Spain, he became good friends with the writer, philosopher, and intellectual Miguel de Unamuno, the rector of the Universidad de Salamanca, and with Juan José de Lecanda, the prior of the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri at Alcalá de Henares. Tellingly, he wrote Mildred Barnes enthusiastically of Unamuno, saying: “What he puts most stress upon is the precious right of each individual to change his mind as often as he pleases—to contradict himself, and to live theories and ideas and thus test them.” During his travels in Spain, he acquired a fifteenth-century Flemish or Hispano-Flemish “primitive” painting of the Holy Family .In the 1970s, this painting was in the possession of the Tyler family according to Tyler’s son, William Royall Tyler. Tyler Papers, box 7, page 13. and two pairs of eighteenth-century Spanish earrings made of Brazilian rose diamonds. He moved to Paris in June 1904, occupying himself by “studying painting and jewelry and architecture and religious sculpture a good deal” and feeling almost “moved to write.” It was also in Paris that Tyler viewed a ground-breaking .exhibition of French late medieval “primitives” and began to attend art sales, including the sale of Prince Sapieha’s collection,See Catalogue des tableaux anciens des écoles allemande, espagnole, flamande, française, hollandaise et italienne . . . composant la collection de M. le Prince Sapieha et dont la vente aura lieu; Hôtel Drouot, salle no 6, le mercredi 15 juin 1904 (Paris, 1904). where his “mouth watered” and he saw a portrait by El Greco that he described as the most beautiful thing there.. This painting, which sold for £144, was identified as El Greco’s Constant Desballes in Auction Sale Prices 5, no. 32 (June 30, 1904): 66.
Predictably, Mildred Barnes was displeased with Royall Tyler’s decision to leave Oxford in October 1903. She must have told him as much in a letter written before January 5, 1904, as he responded: “I wish we could bury the hatchet and return to a status quo ante.” She also apparently wrote to .Robert Woods Bliss after January 16 of Tyler’s decision to permanently leave Oxford and study languages at the Universidad de Salamanca and in Germany. Bliss replied, perhaps echoing her sentiments:
About Royal [sic]:—your point of sticking to one university is well taken for I believe that going from one place to another for short stays might be fraught with results less beneficial than a steadily pursued course at one place would give. He is young enough to afford to finish his course at Oxford, or if he prefers take a degree from a German university. Then his languages will come easily enough afterwards; and besides languages are only a means of intercourse, per se, in diplomacy and can be cultivated quickly; study of them can come in each country as one is accredited to different capitals. . . . and I should be sorry to have Royal [sic], from your interests in him, not get the best start possible. Then I think whenever the opportunity offers he should go to America, see his country & learn of her greatness, her position, see her men how fine they are compared with other nations, how superior America is!Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, February 14, 1904, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1.
But the anticipation of an upcoming August visit from Royall Tyler at Sharon and an autumn trip to Europe may have caused Mildred Barnes to reconsider her dislike of an expatriate European life—and possibly one with Tyler. Replying to a letter he had received from Barnes, Robert Woods Bliss wrote her in July from Venice: “But what’s the matter with the U.S.? I can understand you not caring for New York, but I thought Sharon was to be for good & all.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, July 17, 1904, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1. In any event, while at Sharon, where he received an amber rosary from Barnes, Royall Tyler must have entertained “second thoughts” about going to Germany. But Mildred Barnes must have strongly encouraged him to go, as he would later thank her for being the force behind this decision. Royall Tyler and Mildred Barnes met again in London in September 1904, before Barnes visited Robert Woods Bliss in Venice, where he was U.S. consul, and before Royall Tyler left to study language in Kassel, Germany, where he would remain until June 1905.
The Bliss Love Affair
Mildred Barnes’s visit with her stepbrother in Venice was life altering. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, Robert Woods Bliss professed his love for her, and she offered hers to him in return, although with greater reservation, later employing the phrase “interested in one another.”Mildred Barnes to Robert Woods Bliss, November 12, 1904, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1. According to Robert Woods Bliss, their plan was to be married in two years, although they agreed to keep their love and engagement a secret for the time being. The somewhat uncertain nature of this love affair, however, is revealed in letters by Robert Woods Bliss, who wrote: “We like old things, but what is more old than that story of love? Yet when each one experiences it nothing is greater, more enveloping, more joyous. Do you feel so, dear Heart, or—has it not fully come? I believe it has tho’ for all that you would keep it from me.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, November 15, 1904, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1. Subsequent letters—where he addressed Mildred Barnes as “sweetheart” and enthused: “I love you I love you, pure and true, with my whole soul. Oh, it awes me to think that you care, really love me and will go with me through this life. I think of it and dream of it”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, November 21, 1904, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 1.—brought about her stinging rebuke. She requested that he not address her as “sweetheart,” or say that he loved her, and, more importantly, she called into question his abilities and, perhaps, suitability as a partner. In a frank and somewhat self-effacing letter, he wrote back:
I am sorry if I hurt your feelings, dear Heart, in a letter sent you not long ago and I shall try not to be so impulsive again, but I was stung and hurt deeply—really more grieved that you can realize—for your position and the abrupt way of putting it in your letter seemed to me wholly unreasonable.
But you have made one misjudgment, or at least so I believe, you have not given me credit for the amount of determination to succeed which I really have. But I frankly tell you—I shall never be great; I shall succeed in what I undertake, I shall mount steadily until someday an ambassadorship will be given me, but I shall not be the greatest ambassador of the U.S. The trouble is that I did not have the right start and now it is too late to learn or acquire certain elementary matters and habits. I am not a man with ten talents, but neither am I a man with one talent who will hide that one without an effort to double it. Whatever the number is in my possession, it will be twice its origin when the day of reckoning comes. I tell you this that there may [be] nothing which I feel hid from you; you are ambitious and want to hold a high place in the world, to which your intellectuality entitles you, so think over what I say. Only I intend that if you choose as I shall again ask you to do, you will never feel superior to me. I’ve got in me the making of a man considerably above the ordinary and I shall attain my chosen place, only it may not be as high as you wish. Will you be content with an ambassadorship? I do not expect any answer now.
You said to me in Venice that you could not do without my love but that you might do without me. I haven’t yet understood fully what you meant, but I think what I have just written has a bearing on that feeling of yours.
He concluded this revealing letter more cryptically: “There is one other thing of which I want to talk and which will be painful when broached, but it will have to be put off until we do not have to put our views on paper.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, January 2, 1905, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 2. This may well reference Mildred Barnes’s relationship with Royall Tyler; Robert Woods Bliss wrote in a subsequent letter: “I believe that as far as your heart is concerned you would marry me tomorrow, but unfortunately for you your head also sways you and so you put off, for reasons which you have not told me but which I think I know, what your heart would not turn from.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, January 28, 1905, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 2.
Royall Tyler spent the first half of 1905 in Kassel, Germany, learning the language. In his letters to Mildred Barnes, he complained about the people of Germany, even though he admired their literature, poetry, and Secessionist art and was especially attracted to the city of Berlin. Tyler’s criticisms of Germans and Germany followed a pattern typical of his early life in which he became disenchanted with his immediate environment and its inhabitants. He became dissatisfied especially with America (as seen in his ), but also with France (see ) and even with Spain (see ). In the case of Germany, he would later come to write: “I should have been amazed two years ago had anyone told me that one day I would nurture a feeling of love for Germany.”. Nevertheless, as soon as he felt fairly proficient in German he “bolted for the south,” visiting Ravenna and Venice, where he “lived in churches and museums.”Autobiography, 4:18. He then went to Spain and engaged in youthful adventures that were strongly reminiscent of those he had experienced on his first travels in 1904. Convinced by his friend Mrs. Patrick Stuart-Menteath (who had become for Tyler “a mother such as few men have had”Autobiography, 3:15.) that he was unable to write literate French, he returned to Paris in October 1905 and took an apartment at 55, rue de Verneuil, in early 1906. Tyler would reside in France for the remainder of his life.
Royall Tyler’s self-taught knowledge of art history and his remarkable connoisseurship had, up to this time, been developed through his travels, his reading, his collecting, and his visits to museums (which he disliked even while recognizing their utility). In 1906, he also began to frequent dealers (from the “junk-shop to the magnate of the Place Vendôme”), especially antiquities dealers and shops that represented contemporary artists. He wrote: “What I bought did not matter so much to me as just to be admitted, to see the wares coming in, to hear the gossip of the market. I ingratiated myself with a big dealer, here and there, writing his correspondence for him, letters in English, occasionally in Spanish or German, and translating replies, thus gaining glimpses into the works.” . By this means, Tyler not only learned something of the business but also saw objects, including medieval ivories, Limoges enamels, and sculptures as well as Near Eastern and Asian art, that were fresh on the market. He compared his instinctive love for antiquities to his childhood thrill “at the sight of a full-rigged sailing ship still holding her own in the days of steam.” , 4:25.Autobiography, 4:27. He was especially thrilled with the art of the little-known cultures which were then “bursting upon Paris,” in particular, early Islam, pre-Islamic Persia, and the Near East. He reminisced about these discoveries in his autobiography:
The pottery dug up at Fostat and Kabka, Rhages and Sultanabad with its astounding range of color and wealth of design and graphic representation, was to me a miraculous fulfillment of promises dimly apprehended in the presence of the arts of Spain. The splendor and technical perfection of Hispano-Moresque ceramics and textiles had seemed to hint at times when austerity was not yet, and the artist had been free to dwell upon what forms he pleased. And here came tangible proof from the other end of the Mediterranean, contributed by the centuries when medieval Near-Eastern art was in the making, and trends that later were to separate into Byzantine and Islamic were still interwoven. I breathed deep with the sense that something more than caprice was at work when early stirrings were released in me as a school-boy by things seen in San Marco, and at almost the same time by Mrs. Stuart-Menteath’s Spanish pottery, when the mudejar beast and hares adorning a certain turquoise-blue bowl in the Venetian treasure-house had spoken to me in equally seductive tones. Such discoveries as these kept me in a ferment.Autobiography, 4:29–30.
In his early life, Royall Tyler periodically entertained the idea of becoming an antiquities dealer or engaging as a middleman between dealer and collector in order to realize a profit. But he didn’t have sufficient capital for the former, and he soon realized that a middleman role would spoil his pleasure in collecting and that he “could only enjoy the marvels of the market” by keeping his independence on both sides: “I made it a rule, which once taken I never broke, not to accept anything, in any shape or form, from either dealer or amateur.”Autobiography, 4:32. His reward in this decision was an access to objects that were “jealously hidden away from the general view,”Autobiography, 4:32. some of which he would later introduce to the Blisses in order to inflame their passions as collectors and some of which (especially pieces not recognized at the time for what they were) he would acquire himself.
Unsettled Affairs, 1906–1907
Much of 1906 appears to have been an unsettled period in the lives of both Royall Tyler and Mildred Barnes. In February 1906, he wrote her that it was a long time since they had met “and there is much to be settled.” In the summer, he traveled to Spain to pursue Spanish Baroque art—intending “never to come back” .—but after learning that Mildred Barnes would spend October in Biltmore, North Carolina, he inquired whether he might join her there. Her reply, written sometime in August, not only discouraged the visit but may also have called into question the nature of their relationship, as her response was, in the words of Tyler, “rather an avalanche which descended upon the existing scheme of things and crushed it out of existence.” In light of her response, Tyler chose “not to try to put the old pieces together, but to begin a new one altogether,” describing how he “spent all the money I had hoped to use for the journey to America on antiquities” with the idea of going into business. At the conclusion of his letter, he thanked her for giving him the opportunity to become clear about himself, writing the phrase in German. . Sometime around October 10, Mildred Barnes sent Tyler her “ .anniversary tome,” in which she stated that she had gotten “her knock on the head.” Tyler declined to comment on part of her letter until they could meet, at which point they were “going to have a long and painful explication of what we mean by certain terms as [being] of unchanging value.” Other aspects that Tyler wanted to discuss in person were what was essentially “worthy and unworthy” and what was “moral.”.
Whatever the nature of Mildred Barnes’s letters to Royall Tyler in the second half of 1906, one possible explanation for her change in attitude toward Tyler may be a horoscope that she commissioned on July 23, 1906, for “a gentleman born May 20th, 1884” (the birth date of Royall Tyler). The written summary concluded:
In comparison of his chart with that of a lady born September 9th, 1879, while there is a temperamental harmony, many of the idealistic qualities of each having a nature in common, his Sun is in conjunction with her Mars, and this would eventually bring a conflict between their notions and ideas in which case I fear he would not be charitable enough to allow her the right of her opinions. . . . but if there be thoughts of marital alliance it would be better for each to forego the same, else there will be a later regret, too late to rectify the mistake.Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 45.
Mildred Barnes and Royall Tyler had previously engaged astrologists as well as palm and card readers, and it is somewhat difficult to gauge the degree of seriousness that they gave to these readings. Barnes had had her palm read in 1901 by her friend Alberta Sturges, and she kept notes on the reading throughout her life. Similarly, she had her horoscope written in 1904, and she made marginal notations such as “Mother?” next to the statement “likely to meet with much opposition from parents or relatives.”Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 45. Tyler had his fortune read from cards in London and was impressed with its accuracy.. Whatever the importance given to these excursions into the occult, the very fact that Mildred Barnes commissioned Tyler’s horoscope reflected the unsettled nature of their relationship. And the horoscope’s recommendation against marriage perhaps proved to be a momentous turning point in their relationship. , and
One outcome of the unsettled events of 1906 was Royall Tyler’s decision to prepare himself for a career in government by entering a two-year course of study at the École des Sciences Politiques in Paris. He also abandoned any plans for a career in the British Foreign Service as well as any interest in officially converting to Catholicism, the latter despite Mildred Barnes’s possible attempts to renew the process through a letter she sent to a certain Père Dufayet.Autobiography (3:31), he wrote: “True, I had become a Catholic before ever I met [Juan José de Lecanda] and offered no prize for the proselytiser.” Tyler explained his decision on the religious issue, saying: “conviction was always ready for me—at a price. The price is a sacrifice of my head. But in the last two years I have come to regard my head as of incalculable value.” . It is possible, however, that Tyler considered himself a Catholic. In his In May 1907, Mildred Barnes traveled with her .mother and stepsister to Europe to visit Robert Woods Bliss, who had left his post as second secretary of the U.S. legation in Saint Petersburg to become the secretary of the U.S. legation in Brussels. Barnes surprised Tyler with a cablegram announcing their arrival, and Barnes and Tyler must have met in Paris during the first week of June, at which time they made plans to travel through Spain at Easter in 1908. Mildred Barnes returned to the United States on June 9, certainly earlier than she had planned and possibly due to illness, although her mother stayed behind in France. A letter from her friend Mary Aldis, sent later in the year, alluded to medical problems and hospitalization: “I am so sorry you have to have so many days in a hospital but thankful you are not to be edited. I was a few years ago, and it’s bad. It hurt my stomach considerably and my feelings more.”Mary Reynolds Aldis to Mildred Barnes, November 28, 1908, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 6.
Meanwhile, having passed all of his first-year examinations, Royall Tyler traveled for much of the summer and fall, visiting England, Germany, and Spain—where he divided his days “equally between pictures and the Sessions of the Spanish Parliament”—before returning to classes at the .École des Sciences Politiques. While in Spain, he wrote Mildred Barnes detailed accounts of what he did and saw, in anticipation of their planned visit in the following spring. He concluded: “I think one must have a thorough knowledge of some one national art and history as a base for all operations.” His statement may signal that he had commenced the initial stage of his book, .Spain, a Study of Her Life and Arts, which he would write in 1908 and publish in 1909. According to Tyler, the collector Hugh Percy Lane introduced him to the London publisher Grant Richards, who asked him to write a book on Spain “meant for the visitor interested in art, architecture and history.”Autobiography, 5:1. Tyler may have entertained the idea of the book before this encounter, however. In any event, he returned to Spain over his Christmas recess, and then eagerly anticipated his three-week trip though Spain with Mildred Barnes at Easter., and .
Engagement and Wedding
Robert Woods Bliss planned a trip to the United States in November 1907 and wrote Mildred Barnes of his visit, telling her, “it is high time that you were married, and to a man who will take care of you and boss you a bit.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, August 12, 1907, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 2. He arrived in New York City aboard the St. Louis on November 2, 1907. They spent New Year’s Eve together in Washington, D.C., and it is possible that Bliss renewed his declaration of love and his marriage proposal to Barnes before returning to Brussels on January 4, 1908. Anna Barnes Bliss wrote her daughter that she had “had two beautiful letters from Robert, one written 3.30 am Saturday & the other aboard Krooland after he sailed. He is a very loving son, & devoted brother. I feel his best in all ways is coming & it will be much. Never brilliant, but strong, honest & manly.”Anna Barnes Bliss to Mildred Barnes, January 6, 1908, Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 3. Mildred Barnes sent Royall Tyler a telegram of an unknown subject sometime before January 12, but Tyler did not respond to it immediately, as he hoped to receive from her a letter “with an explanation or amplification of the telegram.” Without responding to the contents of the telegram, he simply wrote: “I thank you for sending it. I appreciated it.” They continued to finalize plans for their trip in Spain, and Mildred Barnes eventually sent both a telegram and a letter (which Tyler received before March 2) that announced her expected arrival at Gibraltar on April 7 with .Mary Aldis as part of her traveling party.
But Mildred Barnes and Robert Woods Bliss were wed in New York City on April 14, and Mildred Barnes did not arrive in Spain on April 7. It is somewhat difficult to chronicle and explain the sudden changes that occurred. A very sudden shift in plans is well demonstrated in the letters of Mildred Barnes’s good friend FitzRoy Carrington, who was in the habit of writing her poems that he enclosed in his letters and who sent her poems titled “Upon her going to Spain” on March 12, “Nine days only divide us from your departure” on March 16, and “On learning that [she] will make her home in Brussels” (alluding to Robert Woods Bliss’s posting there) on March 18.Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 11. The New York Times ran an engagement announcement on March 29, without mentioning a wedding date, and announced the wedding itself only on April 5.“An Interesting Engagement,” New York Times, March 29, 1908; and “Bliss-Barnes,” New York Times, April 5, 1908. On April 1, Mildred Barnes drafted suggestions for a lease agreement for the tenant house at her farm in Sharon, Connecticut.Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 59.
Earlier that year, in late February and early March, Mildred Barnes had gone to Boston with her mother in order to undergo three weeks of unspecified medical treatments. Meanwhile, Robert Woods Bliss returned home in mid-March to represent the United States at the “International Conference to consider the revision of the arms and ammunition regulations of the General Acts of Brussels of 7/2/1890” on April 8 in Washington, D.C. From her hotel in Boston, Mildred Barnes wrote her stepfather, William Henry Bliss, two undated but revealing letters that signaled her decision, virtually on the eve of her planned departure for Spain and her reunion with Royall Tyler, to accept the marriage proposal of Robert Woods Bliss. In the first letter, she wrote: “I think Robert will probably arrive Tues. on the [ocean liner Kronprinzessin] Cecilie. Of course I want to see him at once, & as Mother thinks it best for me to finish my 3’d week of treatments here, she has promised to come back here with him. Wish wisdom & gladness for me Dad—I want them & need them & I think they will come to me with yr. son.” She continued in her second letter: “Thank God I did come to wisdom, & when Robert’s arms closed around me last night, perfect content was in my soul. It has been a damnable wrestle between untried impulses & destructive reason. I cast out unrealities one by one & finally last Saturday saw clear. Once I knew I was ready, I was serene, & I feel to my death that Robert’s love for me & my trust in him, is to be my salvation. Dear man, you have been so near to me all these years that I want you to know that I realize my wrong headedness & that now, de profundis, I am glad.”Mildred Barnes to William Henry Bliss, undated , Blissiana files, William Henry Bliss correspondence. A telegram that Mildred Barnes sent to her stepfather on March 12 from Boston dates these letters to late February or, more likely, early March. Robert Woods Bliss wrote her from Washington, D.C.: “I know now what your loss to me would have been—it would have meant my burial alive. Often have I wondered what would be the effect upon me should you marry anyone but me, and at the thought my heart has given a great bound—as if its last gasp were to follow.”Robert Woods Bliss to Mildred Barnes, undated , Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 2.
The Blisses were married at noon on April 14, 1908, at Grace Church in New York City in a quiet ceremony attended by only immediate relatives and close friends. Anna Barnes Bliss gave her daughter in marriage, and there were no attendants. Despite the remarkably short period of time between her engagement and her marriage, Mildred Barnes Bliss managed to acquire a wedding dress of satin and antique lace that garnered special notice in a New York Times society article on Parisian wedding couture.Marie Weldon, “Great Popularity of the Long Cascaded Jabot—Some Oddities in the Latest Parisian Millinery; Miss Barnes’s Wedding Gown,” New York Times, April 18, 1908. She later wore the dress for photographs made in Paris sometime after she and Robert Woods Bliss returned to Brussels in early May.The photographs are stamped: Boissonnas et Capronier 12, rue de la Paix, Paris. Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.74p, box 9.
When and how Mildred Barnes Bliss informed Royall Tyler of her marriage is apparently undocumented. Sometime soon after her arrival in Europe, she invited him to Brussels to “plunge into Flemish things,” as Tyler put it in a (dated May 19, 1908), in which he apologized for not answering her earlier and explained that he could not come to Brussels because he needed to keep his “mind on Spanish.” Except for a trip to Spain, he did not intend to travel until his book was in the hands of his publisher. His last sentence in his letter, “Bog Wan is coming soon—when I can get a box to pack him in” (a reference to a promised wedding gift to the Blisses), suggests that there was either previous, unpreserved correspondence or perhaps a meeting in Paris. The Blisses and Royall Tyler did meet in Paris in July 1908, when the Blisses were there “to get a motor.” (Mildred Barnes Bliss wrote her stepfather that they “had a good visit with Royall & bought an auto!”Mildred Barnes Bliss to William Henry Bliss, July 31, 1908, Blissiana files, William Henry Bliss correspondence.) In his only other extant letter of 1908, which was written on October 26, Tyler returned to the tone and style of his earlier letters; he wrote simply: “You are right about the 10th, 1902, the church is wise and good and I believe that she will surprise friends and foes many a time again.” After a few paragraphs about modern Spain, its priesthood, and its art market—the sort of observations that had filled his letters in previous years—he concluded: “I like to think of Bog Wan in your hands.” Although Royall Tyler and Mildred Barnes Bliss were not able to meet at the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés for the “ .anniversary” on October 10, they had brought closure to this tradition and, perhaps, to their youthful relationship of the years 1902–1908. In the letter dated October 26, 1908, Tyler reported that his book about Spain was nearing completion. With the unusual circumstances surrounding its publication, his life would move in another direction, as the reveal.