Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, November 20, 1927
November 20th 1927Sunday.
It is needless to say how many times my thoughts have come to you and Robert, and how grieved I am to find that I have delayed so long before writing. I comforted myself with the idea that many people would send you news at first, and I would come on afterwards, and be perhaps none the less welcome!
I will answer at once what you say about Edith. I heard of Berry’s deathSee letter of October 24, 1927 . For Walter Berry’s death and its effect on Edith Wharton, see Shari Benstock, No Gifts from Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1994), 398–406. two or three days late, and I went up to Paris at once. I stayed a fortnight with Edith, and I was with her through everything. She says I was of great help to her, poor dear, and it is generous of her to say so, as I hoped so much to be able to give her proof of my devotion in her need. I cannot bear to think what it would have been for her to be alone at that time, as she would have been if I had not been there. Walter Berry left his young cousin CrosbyHarry Grew Crosby (1898–1929), an American poet and editor was an heir to one of the wealthiest banking families in New England and the nephew of the banker J. P. Morgan. He was Walter Berrys cousin. universal legatee, after his sister, who has the income of the property while she lives. He made several kind and thoughtful provisions, to Mr. Lopp,George Washington Lopp (1865–1955), an American resident of France since 1894. He served as the head of an American Ambulance unit during the First World War, and he was a professional dance master in Paris, where he introduced the cakewalk. for instance, to Nina de Polignac,Nina de Polignac (née Nina Floyd Crosby) (1881–1966), the wife of Marie Charles Jean Melchior, the Marquis de Polignac, and the cousin of Harry Crosby. who was also a very distant relative, and who finds herself now in easy circumstances on her own. He seems to have forgotten nobody who had a claim of affection or “convenance.” He left all his booksThe bequest of Walter Berry’s famous library apparently was not as clear-cut as Elisina Tyler reports. A fourth article to the codicil of Walter Berry’s will instructed: “All the rest of the books in my appartement [sic] (except those bequeathed by Articles First and Second above, and except those books which Edith Wharton may desire to take, as provided by Article Third above) I give and bequeath to my cousin, Harry Grew Crosby, of Boston, Mass.” Geoffrey Wolff, Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby (New York: Random House, 1976), 127. The subsequent wrangling over the library between Crosby and Wharton is chronicled by Shari Benstock, No Gifts from Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1994), 403. to Edith—I cannot tell you how happy I was about that. It was his life’s work, the best part of himself, and a very beautiful and valuable gift in itself. To Marthe HydeMarthe Hyde (1882–1944) (née Martha Leishman), the wife of James Hazen Hyde, whom she divorced in 1920 represented by Walter Berry. and Marie-Louise de SincayMarie-Louise St. Paul de Sincay, Comtesse de Beaucaire (née Marie Louise Logan) (d. 1969). he left a few pictures. He very thoughtfully arranged for the legacies to be transferred free of duties. The will was made last June, and in every respect it was the will of a perfectly balanced and strong mind. But in the “directions” to his heir, concerning the disposal of his body, he seemed to have forgotten the French law, which permits cremation, but does not allow ashes to be otherwise disposed of than in a “columbarium” or a cemetery. He had left directions to have his ashes scattered. This was impossible, and as a decision had to be taken, it was decided that by special permission, Edith should be allowed to be the “Depository” of the sealed stone casket, until his sister’sNathalie Boynton Alden (née Berry) (1884–1944). arrival. It would have been impossible, of course, for young Mr. Crosby to have kept the ashes in his flat. Crosby and Polignac accompanied the ashes out to St BricePavillon Colombe. on the afternoon of the funeral. Edith and I arranged a very touching and reverent little reposoir in a closed corridor at St Brice, and there the casket lay for a week and more,—for a fortnight,—after which it was taken to Versailles and buried in the Protestant Cemetery there.In his will, Walter Berry wrote: “At my death I direct that funeral services shall take place immediately (without waiting for the arrival of my sister from America) . . .; that directly thereafter my body be cremated, and that my so-called ‘ashes’ be not taken to America for burial, but shall be chucked out anywhere.” After ’s funeral, Harry Crosby wrote his mother: “Women are very difficult Mrs. Wharton asked for Cousin Walter’s ashes to scatter in her garden. Arrives Natalie wants ashes put out at Versailles Mrs. Wharton suggests American Church in Paris Nina Belleau Woods. Finally Natalie says Père Lachaise and here is where I step in and say NO.” Geoffrey Wolff, Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby (New York: Random House, 1976), 126 and 130.
Edith and Berry had been friends for over 40 years!Edith Wharton and Walter Berry met in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1883. Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 64. Of course she must miss him in a thousand ways, great and small, all day. But she is still like someone stunned into a sort of dreadful mechanical courage, and I very much fear that the burden of her loss will fall more heavily on her as time goes on.
Berry had a stroke about ten days before he died, and on the very day he was expected to lunch at St Brice. His man telephoned the news. Edith moved in at once to the Crillon, but neither she nor any one could go near him.Walter Berry was in number 53, Hôtel Crillon. Edith Wharton later wrote Mildred Barnes Bliss: “He thought I wd get the Drs. to prolong his life in the dreadful new ways they have.” to , October 19, 1927, Edith Wharton Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. He had given the most stringent and imperative orders to his valet, a few months before, that if he were taken ill again, no doctor, no nurse, and no friends, not even Edith, were to be admitted to his room. He lay there, taking neither food nor drink, entirely paralyzed save for his left hand, his mind plainly quite lucid. He answered questions, yes, and no, by simulating a nod or a shake with his hand. After a whole week had passed, the valet noticed that his eyes were fixed on the telephone. He asked him if he wished Mrs. Wharton to be sent for. The hand said “yes.” Edith was with him three or four times in the day, for a quarter of an hour at a time. She just spoke to him of years long gone by, of the time when they were both young, and of happy days they had spent together. When she saw him get tired or restless, she stole away, and slept a little. On the third day, in the morning early, life suddenly left him. She was not with him, but she came immediately after. She had a notice put up on the door, so that no friends were admitted to see him after he was dead. When I arrived, she took me into his room, where the coffin lay, with just a few flowers over it, and the flag of his country.
The funeral was given by the French Government. It was a very magnificent, a very dignified ceremony. The head of the State and of the Government were represented, General WeygandMaxime Weygand (1867–1965), a French military commander in the First World War. was one of the pall-bearers.
Edith was asked by the family to go with them, in church, to fetch the body, and to receive condolences after the ceremony, by the choir of the Cathedral. I saw to the placing of intimate friends; and everything was done in a spirit of utmost reverence and dignity. The church was quite full, the service perfectly conducted, and all the Catholics in the church were struck with the reverent beauty of the ceremony. BarthottThis Barthott (or possibly Barthlott) has not been identified. wished to make a speech, but he was asked not to.
Berry had several distant French cousins on his father’s side, nice quiet French people, and the CrosbysThe Crosbys included Walter Berry’s cousin and heir, Harry Grew Crosby (1898–1929), an American poet and editor. and Thayers,For a list of the Crosbys and Thayers who attended the funeral, see Caresse Crosby Papers, 1912–1970, box 32, folder 6: Berry, Walter Van Rensselaer funeral register, Morris Library Special Collections, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. who also stood and received people as they filed past. The servants of Berry’s household, and Edith's sat just behind the family; then seven pews were reserved for intimate friends; the rest of the church was filled by friends, and official representatives of various Associations.
Mrs. AldenNathalie Boynton Alden (née Berry) (1884–1944), Walter Berry’s sister. (Mrs. Boynton, remarried a year and a half ago) arrived on the Friday after the funeral. She seemed to me very frail and very white, but I think her husbandCharles Stuart Alden (1871–1929). is a support to her in her grief. She had plenty to do, letters to write, and so her time was filled up—with mechanical occupations.
Edith moved back to St Brice the day I arrived.
I suppose you have heard that poor Mrs. GayMatilda Gay (née Travers) (1856–1943), the wife of the painter Walter Gay and a friend of the Blisses, the Tylers, and Edith Wharton. broke her arm, as she was hurrying out of the house at Le BréauThe Château du Bréau, the country home near the village of Dammarie-les-Lys that Walter Gay and his wife Matilda first rented in 1905 and then acquired in 1907. towards the main road, where her head gardener was run over by a motor and killed. She has it out of plaster now, and hasn’t suffered too much. I fear the loss, and shock are both considerable things for them, as the man was a faithful and good servant.
Our news are not very great. PeterNickname for Royall Tyler. and Hayford had a most interesting journey to Bulgaria and to Constantinople in October.See letter of October 24, 1927 . They brought back many interesting discoveries and the O.L.P.“Old Lady Photographer.” See letter of May 7, 1927. might have displayed her graces genially, had she existed! I am posting you a “tirage à part”“Off-print.” of their article in Arethusa. and , “Deux mouvements dans l’art byzantin du Xe siècle,” Aréthuse 16 (July 1927), 1–8. Royall has been asked to write the article on “Byzantine Art” for the new edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.This was published in the 1929 fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He has also been asked to give his name for the Committee of the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition of Spanish Art.Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, Exhibition of Spanish Art, 1928. He is with Edith at HyèresSainte-Claire du Château. this very evening, and will go straight thence to Geneva for the meeting of the Council,The League of Nations Council was the executive body that directed the assembly’s business. It began with four permanent members (Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan) and four non-permanent members that were elected by the assembly for a three-year term. on the 29th and the following days.
Darling Bill is doing excellently at shooting,—he has won the school colours, and beaten his own record of 119/120 by doing 120/120—and he has gone in for the Shakespeare medal,In 1869, Lord Charles James Fox Russell founded at Harrow School an annual prize of a gold medal, called the Shakespeare Medal, for the encouragement of the study of Shakespeare. after having won the Shakespeare prizeThe head master of Harrow School’s fifth form prize for knowledge of Shakespeare. See letters of November 26, 1926, and December 4, 1926. and the St Helier prize for English LiteratureThe Prize for English Literature was established by Susan Jeune, Baroness St Helier (ca. 1845–1931). last year. He failed in Mathematics and Greek Grammar for his Certificate, and is presenting himself again next month. We shall all be here for Christmas. Royall will have to go to Paris for a Committee Meeting on Dec. 10th, and he will then run down to Ciboure to see Mrs. Stuart-Menteath, and come back here directly afterwards.
I am well, dearest Mildred, and busy getting a new gardener. We consume our ducks, chickens, honey, vegetables, milk and butter and eggs. Oh that you were both here to consume them too!
I will write again very soon on more general subjects. Meantime, fondest love and happiest Christmas wishes.