Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, April 12, 1910
April 12th 1910.Tuesday.
Your letter reached me here the other day, and I am preparing to answer you fully, point by point. As you will see, it is no light matter. I confess at once that I have been guilty of false modesty, and I will send you my book on Spain. It had a very enthusiastic reception in England, when it was published last July. In America, a New York publisherMitchell Kennerley (1878–1950), an American publisher and art dealer, who worked for various literary magazines and published several others. In 1916–1929 and 1937–1939, he was president of the Anderson Galleries. He founded the Lexington Avenue Bookshop in New York City and was involved in the Book Collectors Club of America. took it over and it appeared last autumn. I arranged for press notices to be sent to me, and what do you think? I have got one (1), from a Los Angeles paper.This press notice has not been identified. The press agencies have sent me several other notices—confusing me with my distant relative E. Royall TylerLike Royall Tyler, E. Royall Tyler was a Bostonian and a descendent of the American jurist and playwright Royall Tyler (1757–1826). He was a lyricist who published the song “Sweetheart of Thee” in 1901. Elizabeth Perkins, a friend of Mildred Barnes Bliss, had similarly confused the two men when, on February 11, 1906, she sent Barnes a clipping from the London Daily Mail “so you may keep an eye on the doings of your protégé.” The clipping read: “Mr. E. Royall Tyler had a number of friends to a musical ‘at home’ yesterday at the Villa des Marguerites at Cimiez. Miss Williams sang charmingly some of Mr. Tyler’s compositions. The visitors included Princess Marie de Boubon, Baroness Castel-Menardo, Major and Mrs. Pultneey, Miss Correja, Dr. J. Hartmann-Riera, Miss Hoffendahl, Dr. Hort, Miss Ware, Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Roberts, and numerous others.” Bliss Papers, HUGFP 38.1, box 33.—long accounts of his social successes at Nice with Grand Dukes. If I had only written a book on Noblemen I have Met I might have got some sort of notice from the American press. Your letter of October last of which you speak never reached me at all. I am sorry. You know my character. I am very bad and naughty, and very apt to imagine that people of whom I am fond will understand the tortuous workings of my mind and vanity without a word from me. You have been kind and wise with my weaknesses.
I now come to the thing which has been occupying my whole heart and mind for a long time past. About a year and a half ago, I met for the first time, and immediately fell in love with, Mrs. Grant Richards, wife of the man who published my book.See also letter of May 19, 1908. Dear Mildred, I know I can trust you to observe absolute secrecy about all that I am going to tell you. I rather fear that all you hear may give you pain, and that you may never take my own view of it; but if that must happen I cannot allow it to do so without my doing my best to show you how I understand my part in it all. The surface facts are these. Elisina, after a very unhappy married life, during which separation had several times been spoken of, told her husband last November that she was going to leave him and her 4 children and live with me. I offered to come to England to see Richards if he would consent to meet me: he refused and told off a friend of his to do so and tell me exactly what he proposed to do, if we persisted in our design. I came up from Arles in Provence and had an extraordinary interview with this envoy—a Manchester publisher—who left me with expressions of esteem and friendship. All this in a most appalling sort of Grand Hotel at Folkestone. Richards’ envoy went back to London convinced of my fixed purpose, and the next day Elisina came to me, Richards swearing that he would never divorce her, and never let her see the childrenGioia Grant Richards Owtram, Gerard Franklin Grant Richards, Charles (“Carlos”) Geoffrey Grant Richards (1902–1959), and Geoffrey Herbert Grant Richards (1906–1983). as long as she refused to come back to him. He was sure in his mind that a few months of me would disabuse her. We have now been together—in S. Italy, Sicily and this country—since the end of November, and we are exceedingly happy in spite of constant and almost unimaginable tumults that have never ceased to rage in England. We are absolutely and unshakably determined to stick it out, come what will.
You will probably be perplexed as to what sort of woman it is that can leave her children and break off short her life in such a manner. On this the matter turns, and the task of telling you what she is like and why she has acted in this way seems to me very great. If you knew her it would be different—and if I did not know you so well I should never try to make you understand. There are only a couple of people in the world to whom my attitude in this matter can be other than “If you don’t like it you can lump it.” Explanations are out of the question. But I can’t think of doing this with you—and I beg you to believe me that if you will hold your judgment until you know all, you will at any rate feel convinced of the inadequacy of the usual formulas in this case. Elisina is your age, a Florentine, born CtessaAlthough Elisina’s mother, Joséphine de Castelvecchio Palamidessi (1857–1932), was a countess, the title was not hereditary. Palamidessi de Castelvecchio. She is French on her mother’s side, but was brought up at the Convent of Sta Ana [sic] at Pisa,Chiesa e Convento di Sant’Anna, Pisa. The church and the convent were built in 1406 for the Benedictine order of nuns. The church was consecrated in 1426 and restored with the cloister by Girolamo Ammannati at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Between 1741 and 1747, it was completely reconstructed by the Pisan brothers and architects and painters Giuseppe and Francesco Melani. The convent opened a school for girls in 1809. See also letter of August 21, 1915. and later, in England. She was married very young, and her life has been unhappy in regard to her marriage, though full of joy in the things I myself care most for. I am absolutely and gloriously happy with her, and she with me. I don’t wish to give you the impression that she was determined to leave Richards in any event—but the situation in his house, always heavy and wearing to such a point that her health utterly broke down several times, had become impossible, and I believe in her right as a human being to choose between life and death. Three of the children are boys,Gerard Franklin Grant Richards, Charles (“Carlos”) Geoffrey Grant Richards (1902–1959), and Geoffrey Herbert Grant Richards (1906–1983). one already at a private school, another going next term, and the youngest 4. The girl is the oldest. Elisina, who knows Richards, as you may imagine, knows that the time will come, and not so very far off, when she may be able to keep the children in a more effective way than if she were still in Richards’ house, in the position of a servant without wages, which is the only one he can understand her taking. In the past and even the present, she has helped him in many ways, in his business particularly,See letter of August 8, 1911. but it has always resulted in his being jealous of any employment or idea which she might have, except by his generosity.
Mildred, you must believe that I am giving you a fair account. I spent three months in England last spring, and have seen with my own eyes what I am telling you—and, more, have heard from old friends of the Richards how things have gone in the past. Elisina is quite Richards’ equal intellectually, and has proved that she can find solutions to business imbroglios which were too much for him. She has worked hard for several years past, and she is no child, to be coaxed and scolded by turns. I know that she is as much of a man as a woman, and when she takes the law into her own hands and refuses to be bullied by her husband, I am proud of her. She also loves me, and I believe in her right to come to me, breaking a one-sided bargain in which she has always been treated as if she were a piece of property. If it were not for the children the thing would be simplicity itself. But there is a time when every turning has a heavy obstacle across it, and the only open road leads to destruction.
I have tried to tell you, as briefly as might be, of the great event that has come upon me. I am confident that we shall always be happy. I am full of desire to work, and Elisina understands and appreciates everything I aspire to. The “Englishwoman,”The Englishwoman was founded and edited by Elisina Grant Richards (later Elisina Tyler). The first number came out in February 1909. of which you say you saw two numbers, was her work entirely. She put it into working order and handed it over to a company last November, having worked herself to the bone as unpaid editor for a year.
On re-reading my letter, I find that I have painted Richards black. Personally I like him very much, and he and I have always been friends. It is only as a husband and a master that he is so tyrannical and arbitrary. He has a very strong character indeed, and in a way he is the most British individual I have ever met: once he has his teeth in anything, he will never let go. But, as you will understand, we are as determined as he, and I don’t believe that he can do otherwise than recognize the fact that we are and shall be together, and divorce. There are very few people whom I esteem more than I do Richards, and few whom I like as well. In the balance against my love for Elisina, all this doesn’t count. We shall probably settle in Paris next September and live there, for a couple of years at least.For Elisina Grant Richards and her relationship to her husband, Franklin Thomas Grant Richards, whom she married in 1898, see also Filson Young: The First Media Man (1876–1938).
Now that I have told you as well as I can of the most important event in my short career, I may thank you for the very amusing comments on Buenos Ayres and the Argentines.Robert Woods Bliss was secretary of the U.S. legation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, between 1909 and 1912. I don’t know many Argentineans—most of the S. Americans I have met come from the other side or from Venezuela and Colombia. They are a dirty, scurrilous, lazy lot, far inferior to the native Spaniard. I have spent the winter in Italy—S. Italy for the most part, and coming thence to Spain is like leaving hell for purgatory in Dante.Durante degli Alighieri, commonly known as Dante (1265–1321), an Italian poet of the medieval period. His Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia), an epic poem written between 1308 and 1321, is divided into three parts, the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, and describes Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. I have pondered gloomily so much on S. Italy that I have no heart to write to you about it. We travelled over it in every direction and saw, I think, everything of any artistic interest that remains, and the Norman Lombard churches of the Puglie are in a class by themselves and worth going to see. Trani, Barletta, Bari, Bitonto, Canosa di Puglia and several other places. But the people! The filth, misery, abandonment of personal dignity, despair, give one the nearest idea of Hell to be had in Europe—really the whole South is like the man in Dante’s Inferno, who makes an obscene gesture to the Almighty and says ‘Toglie Dio’!“It takes away God.” Dante, Inferno, III, 18. Coming to Spain afterwards is a pure joy. I beg you to divest your mind of prejudices about this country, and not to judge it by any standards that may prevail in Buenos Ayres. I assure you that the people here are cleaner than either the Italians or the French. The poorest houses in Seville are washed down with water every day, and the inhabitants are scrupulously clean in their persons. I have been, and have eaten in numbers of houses of the gypsies and other folks who live from hand to mouth, and they are as sweet as possible. The reason is that the Spaniards have more personal dignity than any nation I know. There are plenty of striking exceptions—but remember that I have spent about half of the last six years here, and that I have seen the inside workings of the Spanish mind. My opinions about the people have changed often: I think less well of them as artists and as philosophers or contemplative thinkers, but my admiration for them has greatly increased. They have their vices. They have no respect for the State and no broad patriotism; they are incapable of staying their hands from political spoiling; they have a redundant and wearying and rank and unfruitful imagination, but they are the finest gentlemen in Europe. It is true that it comes out only in their private capacity, and one has to get to know them first; but I find that they have more surface vices and more hidden virtues than other nations. The French are better to deal with and more profitable in most ways, more interesting, more alive—but, as I believe, treacherous as friends.
I have read Price Colliers’ bookPrice Collier, England and the English from an American Point of View (London: Duckworth & Co., 1909). and find it excellent. It might have been written by an Englishman, and is so wholly from an English point of view, that the title is false—in spite of many protestations to the contrary on the author’s part. Things are going rather fast in England, and I think the book would have read better ten years ago.
A friend of mine, a German painter, about the best of the SecessionThe Berlin Secession (Berliner Secession), an art association founded by Berlin artists in 1898 as an alternative to the conservative state-run Association of Berlin Artists. See letters of June 3, 1905; June 4, 1905; and September 1, 1905. at Berlin, Konrad von Kardorff,Konrad von Kardorff (1877–1945), a painter and member of the Berlin Secession. See letters of June 3, 1905; September 1, 1905; and January 12, 1908. has just married,Ina von Kardorff, née Bruhn (1880–1972). and writes that he is going to Buenos Ayres to try to paint some portraits. He is a charming person, son of the old leaderWilhelm von Kardorff (1828–1907), a Prussian politician and entrepreneur. See letters of June 3, 1905; and January 12, 1908. of the Conservative party in the Reichstag, who died 3 years ago. He is a second son and lives by his brush—which is hard in the case of so disinterested a person. I wrote to him to visit you on my part, as I’m sure you will like him and perhaps find him very interesting, as he has a brotherSiegfried von Kardorff (1873–1945), the district administrator of Lissa in the province of Posen (1908–1920) and a member of the conservative party in the Prussian parliament (1909–1918). See letter of January 12, 1908. high in Berlin bureaucracy and is very well informed.
I should like to see the recent acquisitions at the Metropolitan—but believe me as one who has mixed much with dealers in London and Paris, that there is more grafting at that place than in any 12 European museums, and that they buy numbers of wholly or partially faked things.See letter of August 26, 1910: "and I assure you that the Metropolitan Museum of New York is a nest of grafters such as the municipality of San Francisco itself can not rival." Now that Laffour [sic]William M. Laffan (1848–1909), a newspaper publisher, art collector, critic, and adviser and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was an authority on Chinese ceramics who catalogued the Morgan collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1907. He served as art adviser to J. P. Morgan and William T. Walters. See “W.M. Laffan Dead of Appendicitis; Owner of The Sun and Noted Art Collector Was Ill Only Four Days; End After Operation; A Strong Personality Who Kept in the Background of His Newspapers—His Eventful Career,” New York Times, November 20, 1909. is dead, perhaps the air may be let in a little. Some time ago I nearly accepted the offer of a dealer in Paris, to put me at the head of his place in New York, but I am glad I did not do it, as one needs the best of one’s time for the things that matter most, and cajoling New Yorkers into buying objects of art is not good enough as a central purpose in life. If I believed that one can coquet with money making for a few years to be able to work for work’s sake afterwards, I should have taken it.
Please write to me at 49 Quai de Bourbon and tell me what you can make of this letter. I am so sorry to hear of your sister’s illness,Cora (“Kora”) Barnes suffered a nervous breakdown and eventually committed suicide. See “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. On October 8, 1909, Mildred Barnes Bliss had written William Henry Bliss: “Meantime Sister had an acute attack of her various chronic ailments & has been quite ill. She is up now, but a pulp, & deplorably nervous. I feel sorry for her. She is not used to nerves & mental exaggerations & this break down is a trial to her.” And in a letter of January 1, 1910, Robert Woods Bliss wrote William Henry Bliss: “Mother does not realize what Mildred went through nor what a great sorrow Kora’s illness is to her, and to be kept without news of any kind, at this distance, except that the ‘doctors think the illness will be of long duration and that there are occasional attempts at personal violence,’ is more hard than you can well realize.” Blissiana files, William Henry Bliss correspondence. and hope she is better. For the present I hope you will say nothing about my affairs to anyone—but the time during which we agreed to be silent will be past in a month or two, and It is bound to come out.