Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, April 27, 1921
Château de GourdonBetween 1918 and 1938, the Château de Gourdon, near the French Riviera, was the property of May Norris (d. 1938), an American interior designer who opened her home to her American and British friends. She was a friend of Edith Wharton. See Allyson Hayward, Norah Lindsay: The Life and Art of a Garden Designer (London: Frances Lincoln, 2007), 200 and 270.
Par Le Bar
Ce 27 Avril 1921Wednesday.
My dearest Mildred,
I fear it is impossible for me to reach Paris in time to see you to say goodbye so I am sending you my love and best wishes in writing, and a good provision of affectionate remembrances for Robert, which I hope you will deliver to him.Beginning in 1920, Mildred Barnes Bliss returned to Paris each spring. The Washington Post (Society, June 27, 1920) reported that she was abroad. On August 13, 1920, she hosted a dinner at her apartment for Marshall Pétain to which Royall Tyler, Jules Cambon, Father Dufayet, Walter Berry, and others were invited. Royall Tyler described the evening to Elisina as “the best party I have ever seen in that house.” On August 18, Tyler and Bliss (“looking so pretty and sweet”) spent the evening with Edith Wharton at the Pavillon Colombe, and, according to Tyler, Mildred Barnes Bliss sailed for America on September 7. (Royall Tyler to Elisina Tyler, August 12, 13, 14, and 19, 1920, as transcribed by William Royall Tyler, “The Wharton mss., 1836–1975,” William Royall Tyler Files, box 9, Lilly Library Manuscript Collections, Indiana University, Bloomington). Mildred Barnes Bliss must have returned to Paris at least twice in 1921. Although in her letter of April 27, 1921, Elisina Tyler fears that she will not reach Paris in time to say goodbye to Mildred Barnes Bliss, the Blisses were reported to be in Washington already on April 4 hosting a luncheon at Dumbarton Oaks for Vice President and Mrs. Coolidge (The Washington Post, Society, April 4, 1921). Mildred Barnes Bliss was again in Paris in June, July, and August and probably had arrived by June 25, when Elisina Tyler received the Order of the French Legion of Honor. Mildred Barnes Bliss and Robert Woods Bliss also may have been honored at that ceremony. They had been named chevaliers of the French Legion of Honor on March 10, 1921. See James Howard Gore, American Legionnaires of France Supplement: A Directory of the Citizens of the United States on Whom France has Conferred her National Order The Legion of Honor (Washington, D.C.: W. F. Roberts, 1922), 36. On July 14, Edith Wharton wrote Elisina Tyler: “I’ve tried to keep an eye on Royall, but my rival Mildred interfered, & he’s off to Les Eyzies.” (“The Wharton mss., 1836–1975,” William Royall Tyler Files, box 3, Lilly Library Manuscript Collections, Indiana University, Bloomington).
Next time you come to Europe let me please see more of you, and I will try to be less preoccupied and a pleasanter companion than I should have been this time. You are such a “deep-down friend” as BabieElisina Tyler’s nickname for Gioia Grant Richards, her daughter. used to say, that I feel any divergence of view between us is a grief. So you must excuse me if I just say a few words which your remark to me about GiezstorJosé de Gieysztor (also Giezstor and Geystor). See also letters of June 9, 1916; March 10, 1922; and April 18, 1922. (—that I had given him too much of my thoughts, my time and my affection—) calls from me. Giezstor came to work for the OeuvresEdith Wharton’s wartime charities, of which Elisina Tyler was vice president, were known generally as the Oeuvres and included the Oeuvre des enfants des Flandres (the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee), which operated six large houses, two of which were also lace schools where lace making was taught to older girls according to the methods of the École Normale of Bruges. a few weeks before Gerard was killed.On September 12, 1916, Elisina Tyler’s son, Gerard Grant Richards, was killed by the collapse of a tunnel of sand in which he was playing on a beach in Cornwall. During those few weeks he showed devotion intelligence and a sense of responsibility which placed him at once outside the rank of the ordinary employé. His competence in book-keeping was such that a year later Mr. Lillie the head accountant of the American Red Cross sent me an unsolicited testimonial to the excellence and thoroughness of our systems of accounts. His job made it necessary for him to go the rounds, once a week, of the fourteen organisations within the general Title of “American Hostels,” and of the three Homes known as the American Convalescent Homes.For Edith Wharton’s American Hostels for Refugees (Accueil franco-américain aux réfugiés belges et français) and her American Convalescent Homes (Oeuvre des maisons américaines de convalescence), which established three principal homes in France for the families and children of refugees either suffering from or threatened by tuberculosis, see Alan Price, The End of the Age of Innocence: Edith Wharton and the First World War (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), passim. I had to go there in the ordinary business of supervision, and I took him with me. His nomination as Administrator very nearly coincided with the date of Gerard’s death. A fortnight after that terrible blow fell upon me I plunged back into my work. It was a great comfort to me not to be alone with my thoughts, a human presence by me enabled me to struggle with a grief that seemed too strong to bear.
Giezstor had a special quality of placidity and silence which coupled with his affection for me made me glad to have him by me when my work took me away from home. His own position, cut off from his people and his country, made it easy for me to mother him, and during the four years he spent with us I know that his life was just what one saw—normal, hardworking, and in a small way, successful.
He made no mystery of having been a thorough wastrel before the war, and I was all the more glad that he had lifted himself out of that condition. A year and a half ago he first fell thoroughly under the influence of a young woman whose record was far from reassuring. He had always spoken frankly to me about the people he associated with, and he hid nothing concerning her, just as he had hidden nothing concerning others. This one has simply led him by slow degrees to his ruin.
The physical change that took place in him would have been enough to convince me that in spite of inherited tendencies which showed in his face, his life, for the time I mentioned before, had been quite otherwise than it became a year ago. There were great qualities in Giezstor, and his self-indulgence has been his undoing once the barrier of self-restraint was broken. I suppose it was not likely that he could have struggled successfully to the end, but I hoped it and believed it, and founded my belief on four years’ experience. If I could have succeeded in confirming him in the better course, I should not have considered the time, thought and affection I had given him, too much, and even so I hope that sometime the memory of the belief and confidence he once deserved may help him someday to recover some measure of self-respect.
I am sure you understand me, darling Mildred, and the reason—the instinct, rather, that has prompted me to write to you thus. It is all rooted in my deep affection for you, in my great desire to lay my thoughts bare to you.
Your Bourguignon sends you a great big hug, and he would so much like to find you in Burgundy where we are going after we leave here.
My very best love, and do not forget that you are a very dear Mildred for me.