Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, December 1, 1913
21, Quai de Bourbon, Paris.
December 1st 1913.Monday.
I have been waiting to write to you, first until my house left me the freedom of spirit that was necessary, and then until a piece of news which was very important to me could be given to you as a certain fact. I believe it will make you and Robert glad for our sakes. On Saturday last the divorce-papers were served on us; the case will of course be undefended, and so we hope that with as little fuss as possible and at nine o’clock on the first morning on which I may call myself legally a free woman, Royall and I will get married, and see the dearest wish of our hearts fulfilled. You are the first to whom I have written since the event of last Saturday. Wainwright, my solicitor, who is also Grant’s solicitor, will conduct the case for him. He wrote and asked me to tell him, very frankly, if I minded his doing so. He pointed out to me at the same time that he would be able, if he acted for Grant, to smooth over certain difficulties, and to diminish the extent of the “costs” which will of course be claimed against us. I replied that I looked upon it as a special benefaction to myself. That man is really as nice as he can be and the soul of honesty and sense.
I shall begin from the beginning since I wrote to you last.See letter of September 23, 1913. The déménagement“Move.” was a horrid affair. Five ruffians unvarnished as a plain truth could be, took possession of our belongings, and without ruth or mercy wrought their worst upon them. Every twenty minutes they went to get a drink; so that by twelve o’clock they were cheerful and discussive, more inclined to oratory than to deeds. At 3.30 they were so aimless both in words and deeds that I thought it wise to send for Fabian. He arrived at the Quai de Bourbon at the same time as the van. They unloaded it to the best of their habitual inability, for five mortal hours, including, of course, continued and prolonged libations at a small wine-shop placed, as they always are, conveniently near the house. I marveled to see the force of habit working on their sub-consciousness, as they continued to go up and down-stairs with the furniture and all brake off punctually every twenty minutes, to repair to “L’Ami Alexandra”—although sunk in a blissful trance. When tipping-time came, they all praised one another’s activity, and gave me extracts of family history which I disregarded.
At last, at 9.30, I was free to totter to my bed at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères and to go to sleep as soon as my aching bones would let me. The next few days were spent in wrangling with menuisiers, vitriers, tapissiers, frotteurs, electriciens, ébénistes, gaziers, plombiers and décorateurs.“Carpenters, glaziers, upholsterers, floor polishers, electricians, carpenters, gas fitters, plumbers, and decorators.” I returned to Genay with a poor opinion of the French nation, and a worse one of myself; and I was so done up that I had to spend 3 days and 3 nights in bed with a pain in my head, in the hope of restoring the wonted relation of my features to one another. I found Royall full of sympathy but agitatingly cheery and composed. There followed two weeks of peace, broken only by the efforts of those sinister concierges to ruffle the harmony of the household. Their last device was to come and announce tragically to PeterRoyall Tyler was called Peter by his friends. The Blisses, however, seem never to have addressed Tyler by this name. that someone had poisoned their hens, that four were dead already, and two more were on their deathbed. Peter was very calm, but he wrote to the proprietor of Genay, who replied most courteously concerning the sotte histoire,“Silly business.” and as we heard no more it is presumed that the post-mortem disclosed the fact that “natural causes” had been at work.
About the 18th of September we went for a walking-tour, a real one. We did 100 kilometres on foot in five days. We walked partly, and partly took the train, and oh Mildred we saw the dream-houseAntigny-le-Château. The Tylers would acquire this property in 1923. of our old age, defaced by the desecrating hand of a boorish peasant-proprietor, lovely and pitiful and crying to us to save it. I won’t tell you any more until you come; but know that there is the haven of our desires.
After the walking tour there was another spell of frenzy, the packing up at Genay and the disappointments and surprises of our installation here. We are settled at last, much in the spirit of Casabianca,Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca (1762–1798), a French naval officer and commander of the ship Orient, who in 1798, during the Battle of the Nile, remained aboard his ship and perished when it exploded. with tenacity and expedients to assist us to strike the becoming attitude. We have put Louis XIII and Louis XIV furniture in the drawing-room, to carry out the spirit of the place, as the house is 17th century. For a few days we had only 3 chairs and two tables in the room, and it seemed so still, so composed, that when the other chairs came we could not bear the sight and we went out for the day. Now reason has done her numbing work, and we are even eager to claim your approval! That will be the sanction and consecration of our labours, you dearest creature, whom we miss extraordinarily much.
I ought to tell you that the autumn at Genay was indescribably beautiful. The stillest, clearest skies; a riot of colour such as I have never seen in hotter and drier lands and crisp air with a heady sun. I ought to tell you, too, that Mrs. Wharton wrote and asked us to luncheon soon after our return. We went and all the clouds have been dispelled. She has become as vivid as she was nebulous and uncertain. I like her as much as you could wish, and I hope I admire her work as much as she could wish, or some at least of her work. She lent us one of her first books, “The Valley of Decision” which is a most remarkable piece of art.The Valley of Decision: a Novel (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1902) was Edith Wharton’s first full-length novel and was set in eighteenth-century Italy.
Berenson, by the way, who professes to admire Royall’s book very much, and to bestow much appreciation and kind feeling on Royall himself, wrote in October asking if we should be in Paris when he came, and wrote again announcing his coming. He dined with us, and he was at his best, quiet, and eager at once. I let him talk it out with Royall, and withdrew with Monsieur SalomonProbably William Salomon (1852–1919), a wealthy New York banker who purchased from Duveen Brothers paintings that had been authenticated by Bernard Berenson. See Meryle Secrest, Duveen: A Life in Art (New York: Knopf, 2004), 184–85. to a respectful distance. You will be interested to hear that he was very anxious to know what Brummer had in his shop, and that two days ago Royall found him taking round a lady at Demotte’s. This is for your private ear, as I know you will enjoy the joke.
The little Chinese ladies and the books came back, and we took to the Avenue Henri Moissan the piece of stuffSee letters of July 13, 1913; and July 22, 1913. from Genay and the booksSee letter of July 13, 1913. you so kindly lent us.
Most devotedly yours,