Skip to Content

Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, May 18, 1940

Geneva, 18.V.40

It was a bitter pill to have to cable you, last night, that I was putting off my trip, sine die.“Without assigning a day.” I’m sure you’ll agree, dearest Mildred , that I couldn’t well do otherwise. Let me explain.

In so far as this institution matters for the future, it is essential that it should not be scattered in a moment of crisis, but that at least a nucleus of it should be kept together, here at Geneva as long as circumstances allow, or elsewhere if it is impossible to stay here.

The Sec. Gen., Avenol,Joseph Louis Anne Avenol (1879–1952), a French diplomat who was second secretary general of the League of Nations between 1933 and 1940. wants me to form part of the nucleus. He left it to me to choose whether to go, as planned, to USA (sailing June 1) or to stay here.

In other circumstances, I should of course have sailed as planned. But with this battle raging, I quickly came to the conclusion that I should be unable to be of any use in the USA, as far as this shop is concerned, by turning up there with a lot of old stories, of remote interest compared with what would have happened since I left Europe. Needless to say, I’m not sanguine about being of use here, but I am convinced that any hope of being of use is conditional on staying here. I feel an obligation to do anything I can, at such a moment, for this outfit which has been my port of call for so many years. Perhaps I’m all the more aware of that obligation because I should so dearly love to take the trip, for personal reasons on which I needn’t enlarge now. As for hopes—well, there’s just one hope that engrosses all one’s hoping capacity just now. Until that hope has had its answer, my superstitious nature forbids me to do more than remember what I hoped, only 10 days ago.

Perhaps my cables about the EumoGeorge Eumorfopoulos. saleThe Eumorfopoulos Collections: Catalogue of the Collection of Persian Ceramics & Islamic Glass, Egyptian, Greek and Roman Antiquities, Choice Medieval & Renaissance Works of Art, Etc. (London: Kitchen & Barratt, 1940). struck you as ill-timed? Well, I couldn’t bear to risk seeing those things go without letting you know. Whether the sale will take place now, I don’t know—one remembers the Degas sale in ParisThe first part of the sale of art in Edgar Degas’s studio, the Vente Degas, took place at the Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, on May 7, 1918. during the great Hindenburg offensive in the spring of 1918.The Blisses acquired Degas’s painting, The Song Rehearsal (HC.P.1918.02.[O]) at the Vente Degas.

I felt I couldn’t fail to acquaint you with Eric’s wishes in the matter of those objects,Eric Maclagan’s interest in the Eumorfopoulos pieces is not detailed in the extant correspondence. and leave it to you to decide whether you wanted to comply. I’ll admit that I’d have felt more sympathy with his request if he had had the candour to tell us how much his Museum and the BMBritish Museum, London. are prepared to pay. As it is, if you were to stand down, the Museum’s limit might be passed by some other bidder, and you would have renounced the opportunity of getting the things—for the benefit of some person unknown—and to the prejudice of Eumo’sGeorge Eumorfopoulos. estate. I think Eric might have considered this aspect of the question before making his request.

Later—19 May. I’ve spoken just now to Elisina. She is at Antigny, and means to stay there. We spent two days together in Paris—the 15th and 16th—and I found her well, and stronger in every way. Danger is her element. That one knew, but it’s a great comfort to find that the trouble that started two years ago, and that is far from over now, hasn’t affected her capacity for standing up to the breeze, when it starts blowing.

You may imagine how it gripped my heart, that evening of the 16th,On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany had invaded Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, and Winston Churchill had become prime minister of the United Kingdom. On May 16, Churchill visited Paris and learned that the French war against the Germans was all but lost. to see the towers of Notre Dame outlined against a most lovely May sunset. Paris was very calm. No affolement.“Panic.” No rush at the stations. But full realisation. Isn’t it curious that our poor old St. AndréAlfred de St. André (d. 1940), a friend of the Blisses and Edith Wharton. should have passed out just before this thing broke? In a way, I’m glad he did go then, as go he had to. I know he’d have opted for sudden death, even a violent one, rather than an illness with relatives, friends, nurses, doctors. A tough little morsel, he was. The last evening of his life, we dined side by side at the Union.The Cercle de l'Union Interalliée, a social and dining club established in 1917 at 33, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. There were lots of people there, and several old friends of his. I went away rather early. He stayed until after all the rest had gone. The last one to leave offered to see him home, but St. A. didn’t want to go yet. They had a little discussion on the last things. St. A. said he couldn’t believe in the human personality’s survival of bodily death. His friend said “quelle surprise vous aurez, mon vieux, quand on se reverra dans I’au-delà.”“What a surprise you will have, my old friend, when we meet in the beyond.” At that, they parted—and an hour later St. A. had got his.

Fondest love, dearest Mildred.

R. T.

Poor old F. died—I think on 30 April. I saw him just about one month before. All our questions of course in suspense, for the time being.