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Mildred Barnes Bliss to Royall Tyler, November 11, 1931

M.V. “Northern Prince”,
At sea.
November 11th, 1931.Wednesday.

Here we are, dearest Royall, right on top of the Equator, and revelling in freedom from telephone and social exigencies and the possibility of sleeping twelve hours a night. For the first time in my life the South Sea Islands lure me and the unbroken horizon does not spell monotony. Not that it is pleasant to live with one’s own thoughts these days, but as long as the music has got to be faced it is comforting to be able to face it composedly.

Your letters these last three months have been even more than the usual delight which all your communications are to us, because despite the heavy sigh which pierced your last one you seem steadier than most, and I am eagerly awaiting your letter from Hungary telling me what you think is likely to happen there.

My cableSee telegram of October 26, 1931. will have conveyed to you our dismay over your accumulation of worries, getting off Volume IL’art byzantin. while the pound droppedSee letter of July 26, 1931. and the Hunks clamoured for you, on top of a real anxiety about Elisina.In September 1931, Elisina Tyler suffered a “spasme artériel which produced symptoms that admirably imitated those of a real stroke.” See letter of September 26, 1931. I am writing her a plea for news, praying it may be good, but she is so laconic about herself that I hope you will supplement it and tell me exactly how she is.

Quant à nous,“About us.” it was bad luck for Robert to have to leave Argentina the week before elections,The Argentine presidential election of 1931 was held on November 8. The conservative Concordance party’s nominees, Augustín Justo (1876–1943) and Julio Roca (1873–1942), won the election. but as, owing to the cumbersome system there, the votes will not be counted for some six weeks and it was impossible for him to remain that long, he explained his going to the F.O.Foreign Office. and everybody there and in the colony, as well as one’s acquaintances, were exceedingly nice and understanding, and did not give us the feeling that they thought we were leaving them in the lurch in what to them is “a great national crisis”Hipólito Yrigoyen (1852–1933) had been deposed in a coup d’état in September 1930, and José Félix Uriburu (1868–1932) was governing as provisional president.—a poor thing really, compared to the troubles of other nations, but vital to them, for whom politics is a sport, passion and in this case a crusading measure as well. Nothing could bring home to one more forcibly the truth of “A quelqu’un malheur est bon”“To someone, misfortune is good.” The saying is usually given as “à quelque chose malheur est bon,” often translated idiomatically as “every cloud has a silver lining” or “it is an ill wind that blows nobody good.” than the Argentines’ prayer for war in the Far East.China, in the middle of a civil war (1927–1950), faced the prospect of war with Japan, which came about in 1937. Argentina previously had profited economically from aid it gave Japan during the Russo-Japanese war (1904–1905). With the drop of the peso affairs have gone hard with them, and an unconstitutional government, however honest and firm with the use of the broom, keeps a country in a state of unhealthy restlessness.

The reason for our sudden departure was a cable from Annie Lou urging Robert to come without delay, his father having suffered an acute attack of his old infection, from which he has rallied, but apparently he is very much more relaxed and weaker than last year, and at 86, with the winter coming, one can’t postpone seeing the dear old man. Also a good deal of irksome machinery has to be provided for him, so that poor Robert is not looking forward to his talks with his sister or his visit to his father with much pleasure.

Mother too has been in a bad way, and I should have had to go to her in any case. For the moment she is in New York,Anna Barnes Bliss and William Henry Bliss had an apartment at 6 East Sixty Fifth Street, New York. but I hope to get her out to CaliforniaCasa Dorinda, Montecito, California. so as not to face my problems without Robert’s steering hand. Robert’s wish is to return to Buenos Aires with the least possible delay. March first is the date he looks to. He even mentioned flying back by hydroplane down the East coast, a nine-day journey of great interest and relatively small risk. Personally I prefer the sea to the air—call me coward if you like!

We shall get a few days in Washington seeing everybody and hearing all that we can possibly pick up, which I imagine will be far from satisfactory, as the President,Herbert Clark Hoover (1874–1964), the thirty-first president of the United States (1929–1933). the SecretaryHenry Lewis Stimson (1867–October 20, 1950), an American statesman, lawyer, and Republican Party politician and spokesman on foreign policy. He served as secretary of state between 1929 and 1933. and Mr. MellonAndrew William Mellon (1855–1937), an American banker, industrialist, philanthropist, art collector, and secretary of the Treasury between 1921 and 1932. are notoriously close-mouthed, and the rest is mostly gossip. But it will be a delight to see Beatrix Farrand and the garden,Beatrix Jones Farrand had begun working with Mildred Barnes Bliss on the design of the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in 1922. and Elizabeth and Ronnie Lindsay,Sir Ronald Charles Lindsay (1877–1945), a British civil servant and diplomat who was appointed minister to Turkey in 1925. He married his second wife, Elizabeth (1885–1954) (née Elizabeth Sherman Hoyt), in 1924. At the time of this letter, Ronald Lindsay was British ambassador to the United States (1929–1939). and I will write you whatever there is of interest.

We read with the greatest interest your analysis of the German Byzantinists,See letters of July 10, 1931, and August 12, 1931. which entirely conincides with one’s own reading of the national characteristics, and of course the German system could never produce a Guérin and his equipment is after all what one strives for and what modern education frequently does not produce. We hope an indulgent deity will forgive the smile with which we read of the results of the quartz lamp test.See letter of August 12, 1931. How very entertaining that Jerusalem and the United States should show the phosphorescent light. Congratulations to you on sticking to your guns.

We are telling GoldschmidtJulius Falk Goldschmidt (1882–1964), an owner of the jewelry and antiquities firm, J. and S. Goldschmidt, Frankfurt. at long last that the crossThe Blisses would eventually acquire this cross in 1937. See also letters of May 30, 1928, and September 12, 1928 [2]. cannot be ours, and take some comfort in your saying that the Stoclet portable mosaicPresumably the reference is to the miniature mosaic that Royall Tyler borrowed for the Paris Byzantine exhibition of 1931. See Exposition internationale d’art byzantin, 28 mai–9 juillet 1931 (Paris: Musée des arts décoratifs, 1931), 170, no. 638. See also Catalogue of Medieval Works of Art . . . from the Collection of the late Adolphe Stoclet, London, Tuesday, April 27, 1965 (London: Sotheby, 1965), 23. did not show up as well as you had expected. That and the serpentine discSerpentine medallion inscribed with the name of Emperor Nikephoros Botaneiates in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. See Helen C. Evans and William D. Wixom, eds., The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, AD 843–1261 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997), 176–77. Royall Tyler had offered the object to the Blisses five years earlier, but they never acted, and he instead negotiated its sale to his friend Eric Maclagan, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, as recounted in letters of July 21, 1926; November 26, 1926; and December 12, 1926. have stuck in our crop, and the more I looked at the slide of the latter the worse I felt about it.

Congratulations to Hayford on his “Forty Martyrs”, as well as on its price.

Not having anything to do I hardly dare beseech you to make another effort to send us photographs of the Stroganoff Sassanian plate, or of the Stora fragment of the 6th century silver bowl, but if they can be procured without your burning the midnight oil writing notes, we should be very much interested to see them.

And now to gloomier topics. We don’t pretend to have any financial vision, either of us, but it looks to us as if the British have been exceedingly intelligent in taking the pound off gold just when they did. It averted a crash, will increase their exports and, given the formation of the new Government, they will probably not go in for wholesale tariff (including food stuffs and staples), but will impose their economic stability in the most practical and praiseworthy manner. I still look to them, as I always have, to show common sense when their backs are to the wall, and this step seems to me to prove that we are still justified in considering them the immutable centre. Robert and I both agree with you that the debts, war, international and reparations, have got to be quashed, but by what devices these drastic measures may be accomplished I have not the imagination to guess. But two facts seem to me indisputable: one, that we should produce more than we consume, and the other that the League of NationsThe League of Nations,an international organization in Geneva whose principal missions were to maintain world peace, settle international disputes through negotiation and arbitration, and create stability within financial markets. should evolve into an international clearing-house for produce.

If the Oriental situation develops into a real war with the Soviets, and the Japanese appear to be getting the worst of it, I suppose other powers would, with or without the sanction of the League, step in and attempt to give the “coup de grace” to the Bolsheviks—or is that an optimist’s dream? I can’t help feeling that the British Conservative majority is too large to be safe, but even so it is better than the alternative, and the complexion of the present Government justifies one in supposing that they will not let Moscow get the whip hand of a first-class power.

No, we had not heard of the Quai d’Orsay-Budapest intrigue,See letter of September 26, 1931. which doesn’t sound too good to me. I hope for the sake of Central European stability they will do nothing of the kind, and certainly not while you are riding your very uncomfortable horse. It was characteristically quixotic of you to accept the job.In 1931, Royall Tyler had been appointed League of Nations financial advisor to the Hungarian government. A lesser man would have baulked, but if the lid can be kept down, you are the man to do it, and that in the long run will bring you genuine satisfaction, for to have kept any one piece quiet in this rapidly moving mosaic is to render real service.

What of Salter? I feel he must be in every country at once, but even his ubiquity will be put to the test. A warm hand-clasp to him when you meet. I should like to know where he is steering at the moment. And tell me, too, what Nick RooseveltNicholas Roosevelt (1893–1982), an American diplomat and journalist and friend of the Blisses. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Affairs, a writer for its journal Foreign Affairs, and a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune between 1921 and 1946. is able to accomplish.

I am glad you and Edith liked Danvila,Alfonso Danvila (1879–1945), a Spanish novelist and diplomat who served as his country’s ambassador to Argentina and France. who I hear is about to return to Buenos Aires. Welcome news for us, he is a good colleague, as well as an agreeable companion. Did you see EkstrandEric Einar Ekstrand (1880–1958), Swedish minister to Argentina who later worked in the Office of the Secretary General of the League of Nations. in Geneva? Mind you try to on your next visit there. I hear he has lost many kilos since taking on that uncomfortable job.

We shall see Jeremiah Smith in Boston if possible, and hope to be able to give you a better account of him. That is real tragedy,Jeremiah Smith Jr. was nearly blind. See letter of May 1, 1931. and your remarks about Koechlin perturb us greatly. I had no idea that delightful creature was in a bad way, but I suppose the road is shorter than one realized and that any strain makes itself felt. He would indeed leave a big gap for me too.

Thanks for the little picture of Kronstadt, and the appetizing account of the Anatolian carpets.See letter of August 31, 1931.

And now good-night. This is a very dull and heavy letter, but it has the merit of carrying you our so constant thoughts in far less time than they could have reached you from Buenos Aires. While in America the address is C/o Mr. Ellis Russell,Ellis Russell was Robert Woods Bliss’s New York secretary. 49 Wall Street, New York, and the cable address “Milrobert”, New York.

I am sending this to the Quai Bourbon, thinking it safer than a Hungarian hotel, which you might have changed. Robert laughed when he heard you were postponing the registration of a cable address until you knew whether you were to change your office, and murmured “How artistic of him! That has nothing to do with the price of butter!”. Just register the cable address, and when you change the mail one let them know.

One Werner HegemannWerner Hegemann (1881–1936), a German architect, city planner, and author who wrote criticisms about German culture (Das steinerne Berlin, 1930) and warned against the National Socialists. appeared in Buenos Aires bringing a letter from Wickham Steed.Henry Wickham Steed (1871–1956), a British journalist and historian who had been editor of The Times (1919–1922) and Review of Reviews (1923–1930). He was one of the first in England to express alarm about Adolf Hitler. Just what is he?

And now to the setting sun—which I hope is not a prophecy.


Associated Artworks: BZ.1932.1; BZ.1937.24; BZ.1947.24; BZ.1951.20