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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, June 18, 1938


Here, dearest Mildred, are the points I have chiefly in mind about E. W.’s estate.In settling Edith Wharton’s estate, a dispute arose over her American will. Elisina Tyler contended that Wharton had intended to leave her some $140,000 from Wharton’s mother’s (Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones [1824–1901]) trust fund. The money was to be used to settle outstanding expenses and as an inheritance for William Royall Tyler. Wharton’s neice, Beatrix Farrand, contended that Wharton had intended to leave Elisina Tyler an amount of $5,000 with the remainder of the trust going to Farrand. Eventually, a compromise was reached and Elisina Tyler and Farrand received approximately half of the trust. See Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 654–55.

Elisina had an attack of apoplexyElisina Tyler had suffered “apoplexy,” probably a stroke, in May 1938. See also letters of June 28, 1938; July 2, 1938; July 10, 1938; July 13, 1938; and July 29, 1938.—the first of the sort she has ever had—about a month ago. I have had a full report from her doctor, who attributes the attack to overwork and anxiety during the last year. He says she will recover, provided she is protected from all anxiety for some months to come. But the facts of the position are known to her and can hardly fail to prey on her mind, especially pending a decision as to the sum which E. W. believed was hers to dispose of under the settlement made shortly after her mother’sLucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones (1824–1901). death. E. W. had intended this sum to go to Elisina, and then to Bill. The income from the whole amount to which this settlement applies would barely suffice for the current upkeep of the Hyères property, which E. W. left to Elisina, and would leave no margin for living expenses there or for repairs which might have to be made.

Now, in execution of E. W.’s wishes, expressed orally, Elisina, out of her own pocket, has paid 3 months wages to each of E. W.’s 20 servants and suitable gratuities to her nurses, has assisted several of E. W.’s poorer protégés, has provided E. W.’s former butlerProbably Alfred White, Edith Wharton’s butler since 1888. with the use, for life, of a comfortable apartment. She has paid out a large sum to meet bills which had accumulated during the last years of E. W.’s life. None of these charges on E. W.’s estate, or charges in execution of E. W.’s wishes, have been met by anyone else.

Elisina has had to pay succession dues on the Hyères property amounting to 50% of its assessed value. The property itself is unsalable at present. In order to preserve a possibility of selling it later, if and when things improve, this property has to be kept up, with its gardens, which, with taxation added, involves a heavy expense for an indefinite period. No large property has been sold in that vicinity in years.

In order to pay the bills, wages and gratuities and other expenses, plus the succession dues, Elisina has been obliged to mortgage the Hyères property for the largest sum she could borrow on it, and has also had to borrow from her bankers.

The prospect now is that unless the whole sum which was the object of the settlement above referred to goes to Elisina, the result of her having been appointed residuary legatee by c will be to involve Elisina in a financial loss, even allowing for what Elisina stands to get under the American residuary legateeship. Bill will stand to receive from his parents less than he would have received had E. W. not mentioned Elisina in her will.

In addition to this, Elisina’s health has suffered permanent injury from the strain, coming on top of  E. W.’s last illness during which Elisina never left her for one day, imposed by the settlement of the estate, especially the exhausting and long drawn out negociations for the sale of St. Brice, the proceeds of which house and grounds went wholly to the charityMaisons de convalescence franco-américaines, the organization administering rest houses and sanitoriums that Edith Wharton created in 1916. founded by E. W. during the war.

E. W.’s belief and wishes regarding the settlement above referred to are known to B. F. I can understand that her legal advisers should counsel her to take her stand on the legal interpretation placed upon the relevant passage in E. W.’s mother’sLucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones (1824–1901). will. In view of the facts, including the circumstance that B. F. receives the bulk of a fortune which E. W., though bound to leave it (except for the part affected by the settlement) within her family, was free to leave to other relatives than B. F. and in fact did leave exclusively to B. F., I should have thought that B. F. would be guided by considerations other than strictly legal ones and would see to it that full effect be given to E. W.’s wishes in regard to the relatively small part of the estate which E. W., on the strength of a settlement to which B. F.’s fatherJohn Cadwalader (1805–1879). was a party, believed to be hers to dispose of.

With fondest love, dear Mildred


R. T.

P. S. You may be startled by the statement that Elisina, unless she gets the whole amount to which the above-mentioned settlement applies, stands to be out of pocket in consequence of E. W.’s will. I should explain that the American residuary legateeship consists chiefly in house-mortgages, the values of which cannot be accurately estimated and which in any case will be difficult and costly to liquidate. The proceeds of the rest of the property included in the American residuary legateeship may not suffice to pay the case legacies which are a charge on the estate.

Associated Places: Hyères (France)