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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, January 11, 1950

Villa Pierre LisseThe Villa Pierre Lisse (now better known as the Castel Pierre Lisse), a 1920s house adjacent to Sainte-Claire du Château, both of which Edith Wharton had acquired in 1927 and which Elisina Tyler inherited upon Wharton’s death, in 1937. Wharton’s butler, Alfred White, lived in the Villa Pierre Lisse until his death.

Hyères (Var)

11 Jan. 1950

I’ve been here now for a week, dearest Mildred, trying to recuperate after that most interesting and enjoyable but exhausting experience with the Clapp Mission,United Nations Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East. On August 23, 1949, the Palestine Conciliation Commission established the Economic Survey Mission on the subject of Palestinian refugees. The mission was headed by Gordon R. Clapp (1906–1963), an American authority on public administration and chairman of the Tennessee Valley Administration (1946–1954). which left me so tired, when the final reportThe Final Report (A/AC.25/6) of the United Nations Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East was issued on December 28, 1949. was handed in, that I couldn’t sit down with a book or a paper without immediately going to sleep. But there’s life in the old GrowlerMildred Barnes Bliss’s nickname for Royall Tyler. still. I’m already feeling much better, and longing to start work again. The weather is perfect, day after day of sun and crisp air.

Out there in the Near East, I longed for your presence many times, especially in Jerusalem, at the Mosque of Omar,The Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem. After the Siege of Jerusalem in 637, the Caliph Omar (579–644) traveled to Jerusalem to accept the surrender. The Mosque of Omar was built in its present design in 1193 in memory of this event. and at Damascus. Also at Cairo—but that’s another world. The astonishment of the trip was the Damascus Museum, which now contains the Doura Europos frescoes,The Dura-Europos frescoes, now generally dated to the third century CE, from the synagogue at Dura Europos, Syria, excavated in 1932. The frescoes are now displayed in the National Museum of Damascus. complete, the frescoes (very Byz) from the Vlllth Cent. Ommayad Palace of Kasr-el-Kheir,Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi, a castle in the Syrian desert that was built by the Umayyad caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in 728–29 CE to be used as a military and hunting outpost. a great sepulchral chamber full of sculpture from Palmyra, and quantities of other things of our period. And they are putting up, in the courtyard, the facade of the Kasr-el-Kheir palace, having pieced it together by an extraordinary feat of patience and ingenuity from a thousand fragments dug up on the spot and assembled by a young Schlumberger,Léon Gustave Schlumberger (1844–1929), a French historian and numismatist who specialized in the era of the crusades and the Byzantine Empire. a pupil of Seyrig,Henri Arnold Seyrig (1895–1973), a French archaeologist, numismatist, and historian. In 1929, he was appointed director general of antiquities of Syria and Lebanon. Seyrig created the French institute of archaeology in Beirut, which he headed for twenty years. of whom I saw a lot at Beyrouth.

The Byz. mosaicsThe mosaics (ca. 705–715) that decorate the Great Mosque at Damascus are attributed to Byzantine workmen and are found in the prayer hall, the inner side of the perimeter walls, and the court facades. in the court of the Great Mosque at DamascusThe Great Mosque of Damascus (the Umayyad Mosque) was built ca. 705–715. are as lovely as my dreams had pictured them. But they are not properly protected, especially from the pigeons which infest the place and, alighting all the time on the already uneven ledge formed by the coat of intonaco which carries the mosaic, cause tiny bits of the intonaco, with its tesserae, to fall. One can see by the colour of that ledge that the process is continuous. Of course, it’s very gradual—but little drops of water, little grains of sand—and if it goes on uninterfered with I’m afraid that not many years will pass before the damage done is appreciable enough to show on photographs.

This is just one instance, which happens to be a painful one, of the deterioration in the way things are looked after in Syria, now that the French Mandate is no more. I didn’t get to CP,Constantinople. but I heard terrifying things about what the present Turkish authorities are doing, digging round the buttresses of St. Sophia.Hagia Sophia, an early 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.

Two friends of mine may knock at your door before long. One, she to stay with Mrs. Suydam CuttingMary Pyne Cutting (d. 1983), wife of Charles Suydam Cutting, who, with his wife, was the first Westerner to enter the Forbidden City, in Lhasa, Tibet. in N.Y. for 3 weeks from mid-Feb, is Christabel (Lady) Aberconway,Christabel Mary Melville MacNaghten McLaren (1890–1974), the wife of Henry Duncan McLaren, 2nd Baron Aberconway. whom you may know already, as she is a friend of many friends in London: Eric Maclagan, Leigh Ashton,Sir Leigh Ashton (1897–1983), a British scholar of Chinese art and director of the Victoria and Albert Museum between 1945 and 1955. etc. She is very learned about textiles, and has some superb things herself, also very fine French Impressionist paintings. She’s a very old friend of mine, and I’m giving her a letter to you. If you were not in Washington when she comes, I hope Jack Thacher will be there, and will help her with some advice how to use her short time to best advantage in seeing things. I’m writing to Jack about her.

Another, who may turn up, is (Prince) Max Hohenlohe (-Langenburg).Prince Maximilian Egon zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg (1897–1968), an Austrian aristocrat who acquired Liechtenstein citizenship in 1922. Like Royall Tyler, the prince served as an informant to Allen Dulles during the Second World War. See Richard Harris Smith, OSS: The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), 196. I think you and Robert would find him entertaining. He started life an Austrian acquired Liechtenstein nationality after World War I, and is now Spanish, having married in Spain a ladyMaría Piedad de Iturbe, the daughter of a Spanish grandee. owning huge properties both in Spain and in Mexico. Max is very comfy, in fact. He has a shrewd eye, and knows Spain admirably well—as also his original Austria. He was, until World War II, the owner of the celebrated Bohemian estate and Castle of Rothenhaus.The Schloss Rothenhaus, located near the town of Görkau in Hungary, was rebuilt in 1766–1768.

Just room for a little story. In Tel Aviv, the Israeli Cabinet is discussing what would make the most suitable present for the millionth Jewish immigrant. One minister suggests a cheque, another a commemorative medal, another a symbolic work of art, etc. Weitzmann, in a dreamy voice, says, “Of course, what he’d like best would be an exit-permit.”

Much fond love, dearest Mildred, to you both.

R. T.

Associated People: Eric Maclagan; John Seymour Thacher