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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, September 3, 1941

Hôtel de Charlanne

La Bourboule


Your cable with the good news of Robert’s successful operationRobert Woods Bliss had a gall bladder infection and underwent an operation in Santa Barbara, California, on August 2, 1941. See “Robert W. Bliss in Hospital,” New York Times (August 2, 1941). was such a joy, precious Mildred. I hope you got mine in reply. Indeed, your cable meant much to me. It was the first piece of good news I’ve had for a long time. It made me feel that perhaps things in general were going to take a turn for the better. And since it came, I myself have felt life returning.

May I tell you about my woes? After we parted in Washington, I had two months of pretty trying and hectic negociations in N. Y., aiming at getting the Hunk standstill revived.The nature of Tyler’s negotiations on behalf of Hungary are unknown. And in addition to that, quite unexpectedly, there came up a law-suit brought against the Nt. Bk. of Hungary, whose Am. counsel asked me to give testimony. I felt I couldn’t refuse. Of course, the result was that I had to submit to examination by the counsel for the other side—a very intelligent and agile young Hebrew, and we had a battle royal that kept me on my toes for nearly a month. Well, we succeeded in getting the standstill revived, and the counsel for the Nt. Bk. was delighted with the result, of the other circus. So I left N.Y. well pleased with myself, but more tired than I knew.

No sooner had I reached the other side than things began going awry. Hunk balances in the U.S. were frozen.Hungary entered the Second World War in April 1941 as an ally of Germany, and participated in the invasions of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. The U.S. government froze Hungarian assets in the United States. Then came Paul Teleki’sPál Janos Ede Count Teleki de Szék (1879–1941), prime minister of Hungary from 1920 to 1921 and from 1939 to 1941, when he committed suicide as the Germans invaded Hungary. He also was an expert in geography, a university professor, and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. death, and all the attendant circumstances, which I needn’t tell you were an exceedingly heavy blow.

My plans on returning had been to meet Elisina in France on my way to Geneva, and then go to Pest. She had hoped to get the permit for that time, but was not able to do so. When I reached Geneva, the campaign in the Balkans had started;The Balkan Campaign began when the Italians invaded Greece, on October 28, 1940. Hitler ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia on March 27, 1941. On April 11, Hungary joined the invasion. no possibility of getting to the West. I went back to Lyon, hoping that Elisina would be able to get the permit, and waited about there for a month, in vain. Then went back to Geneva and pursued visas to cross Italy and get to Pest. Finally got the It. visas, and return, got as far as Venice only to find there was no means of proceeding, as the announced resuming of the air-line had been delayed. Started trying to get the German visa, to proceed by rail, hoping that in the meantime the air-line would start again. Then came the withdrawal of U.S. consulates—and I recrossed to Switzerland a few hours before the order was issued forbidding U.S. nationals to leave the country. That takes us to June 22.On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

By that time I was at a very low ebb, exhausted nervously and overcome by such a feeling of defeat as I’ve never experienced. When at last, early in July, Elisina got the permit and we were able to meet at Lyon, she had, I fear, the shock of her life when she saw me. She took me off to this place, an isolated hotel 1200 metres up in the Auvergne mountains, above La Bourboule. I had to go back to Geneva for a short time late in July, but returned here early in August and haven’t budged for the last month. At first I thought I’d never get off the ground again, but gradually things began to mend, and the news about Robert gave me a real send-off. I’m now feeling myself again. In 10 or 12 days I’m going to make my way back to Geneva, and Elisina is going down to Hyères, where a lot of troublesome business awaits her.

Auvergne often makes me think of our walks and talks a long time ago, when RoyatRoyat, a commune and thermal springs spa in the Puy-de-Dôme department in Auvergne. was a recent memory with you. I’ve been there, quite recently now, and gave the place your messages. This spot where we are now is perfect for my purposes. The air is splendid, and there are endless walks both in the forests and over high mountain pastures. We manage to get enough to eat, and a modest degree of comfort. The weather was foul for a long time, but is now glorious, sparkling pre-autumnal.

Now that I’ve spent much of the last five months in this land, I’m confirmed in the views about it I expressed to you when we last met. And, generally speaking, I don’t think there’s much to alter in my estimate, as to the future. Ah, what a delight it would be if we could have a few days together now! I’d have many things to tell you, and many questions to ask you. Elisina is well. She has succeeded in making the most satisfactory arrangements one could hope for with regard to Antigny. But she doesn’t want to be far away. She’s at present trying for still further facilities, which we have some hope of securing. This coming winter is no doubt going to be difficult, as to heating. As for food, one can still manage, not without difficulty. She asks me to give you and Robert her fondest love, and to tell you how she rejoices to think of him past that hurdle. Both she and I would be very happy to know how you are, Mildred dearest. Better go on addressing Geneva, until further notice.

I saw in the Coptic exhibition at BrooklynPaganism and Christianity in Egypt—Egyptian Art from the 1st to the 10th Century, Brooklyn Museum, January 23–March 9, 1941. This was the first exhibition devoted solely to Coptic art held in the United States. a wooden panel, carved with the Sacrifice of AbrahamBZ.1941.7. which I consider a marvel. In the catalogue it was called Xe cent. I think it rather XIIe. But its quality is amazing. Hayford agrees. I showed it to Jack Thacher, and he put it up to the D.O. board, who, I heard lately, have turned it down. I don’t know why. It belongs to Kevorkian.Hagop Kevorkian (1872–1962), a Turkish-Armenian archaeologist, collector, and dealer of Middle Eastern antiquities. I believe it might be had for about $3000, and I consider it would be a great acquisition at that price. Do think it over, you and Robert. See the photo of it, which Jack could show you if he hasn’t already. And I suggest that the very fact that the D.O. board has turned it down might be utilized as we utilized Marquet de Vasselot’s unfavorable verdict on the Three-figure ivory.BZ.1939.8. But don’t miss getting the panel. I’ve seen all the Coptic wooden sculpture at Cairo and Alexandria, and that panel reaches a level I’ve never seen reached elsewhere.

I’m on tenter-hooks now, haunted by the fear that war may shortly be moving towards the Bosporus, and destruction threatening Hagia Sophia.Hagia Sophia, anEarly Byzantine basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Built in 537, it served as the seat of the patriarch of Constantinople until 1453 and then as a mosque from 1453 until 1931. It was secularized and opened as a museum in 1935.

Bill’s news continues to be good. I beg for yours, My tenderest love, dearest Mildred, for you and big, big hugs to you and Robert.


R. T.

Associated Artworks: BZ.1939.8; BZ.1941.7