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Mildred Barnes Bliss to Royall Tyler, September 25, 1939

September 25, 1939

Bless you, my dear for the photographs!See letter of August 24, 1939 [2]. As you don’t like them you may not be pleased that we do! In fact, I am quite satisfied with them as I see the Philosopher and the Humorist and the Growler all gazing forth at me quite directly from out of the frame.

It is a very nasty ordeal to be photographed, and I am grateful to you, very, for I really wanted to have a good image—oddly enough—of the face I see most clearly—even at long range. And isn’t that a subtle compliment for you!

One hardly knows where to begin in discussing the overwhelming cataclysm that has torn the world open as a major earthquake and tidal wave can destroy a country in a few hours. It is so sinister, actually and potentially, that one is frightened to even attempt to appraise the consequences of each nefarious act. Certainly the world we know is already gone, and certainly the one that will replace it will take years to form, so that its pattern can be understood and be made easy to read for suffering humanity.

Of past errors let us not talk today.

If only one could have some reassurances that Allied strategy from now on will not be as unintelligent as in the past—if only one could feel sure that the Teuton will over-reach again—has, in fact, over-reached already, as he always has in the past—if only, too, we could be sure that the Soviet evolution “embourgeoise-ment”The proliferation in a society of values perceived as characteristic of the middle class. will have reached a point to make it safe for us before she is in a position to work her will upon a prostrate world!

As to America, the will of the people here is definitely against fighting—and all but small groups of people on the Atlantic seaboard and scattered handsful here and there who knew the last war and apprehend somewhat the meaning of this one—all the rest, I say, want neutrality.

Opinions are divided as to the best means to obtain neutrality, and also opinions are divided upon the relative importance to this country of the war and of international politics! Many a man would vote to support the President if he were a different President. Few realize that any President is unimportant in comparison with the future that a Nazi victory would bring to this country. Inter-dependence is only faintly understood.

At this distance it isn’t possible to be sure, but it seems to us that the chances are good for the lifting of the embargo and the passage of the “Cash-and-Carry”. I certainly hope so!

We shall write you later after returning to the Capitol and informing ourselves.

Meanwhile our own duty lies clearly ahead but difficult to attain. We must finish, pay for, and turn over the D.O. Institute, and we must work as usefully as possible for the Allies. This, for me, will naturally mean France. The Embassy will certainly find ways for us to be serviceable. Eventually, when the State Department is taking on volunteers, I suppose Robert’s offer will be accepted. I hope so, for that is where he should be and is the work for which he is best suited. Meanwhile the Officier de LiaisonLiaison officer. can be a very helpful factor, and I hope each of us can be helpful to both England and France.

Do you fear a German invasion of Switzerland? Or do you think it more likely they will go through Belgium again—or perhaps do both?

We are given disquieting reports regarding the morale, discipline, and up-to-dateness of the British Navy.

Certainly it is not necessary to have immediate troubles on one’s soil to be a prey to the grimmest forebodings; but when you have an invading army as well—God help you!

As for those poor, wretched Poles—one’s stomach turns at the mere thought of the butchery of that avalanche of steel on land and from the air. Yesterday I wrote to every Pole I know, hoping the Embassy will be able to forward the letters somewhere and that they might still be alive—neither massacred by the Germans nor decapitated by the Russians nor concentrated by the Rumanians [sic].

For the moment, let us think of happier times and revert to the pleasures of the eye.

Your comments on the CloistersThe Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art located in Fort Tryon Park in New York City. The museum opened in 1938 and exhibits art and architecture from medieval Europe. interested us.See letter of July 2, 1939. Some day, when the world seems to have disintegrated about my head, I shall go up there and look at them very attentively with your letter in my hand.

It is, of course, very characteristic of our compatriots that one more center had to be established with a lot of money wasted on it—but perhaps people will be saying that about Dumbarton Oaks some day—though that, I confess, won’t bother me, for I know what Dumbarton Oaks has to give—the work that it can do, can never be done in a big center—it must be small and quiet and unemphatic: a place for meditation and recueillement.“Contemplation.” We are getting on well in the Library—8,000 books ready for the transfer to the new quarters, the Boar huntBZ.1938.74.a&c. in place in the West Loggia,Originally, the west loggia connected the south pavilion—which housed the entrance foyer, study rooms, and library—with the north pavilion, which was the exhibition hall for the collection. the plastering of the Exhibition Room being begun this week, and the furniture being ordered for the study rooms and the stacks above stairs.

Poor Miss Segall,Berta Segall (1902–1976), a German art historian and museum curator. The Blisses employed Segall in 1939–40 to advise them on the new library and collection. She authored “The Dumbarton Oaks Collection,” published in the American Journal of Archaeology 45, no. 1 (January–March 1941): 7–17. cruelly hit by the war, will be installed in one of the study rooms, and Miss DowElizabeth Dow (later Elizabeth Dow Pritchett) (1911–2000), the project manager for the Census of Byzantine and Early Christian Objects in North American Collections, an undertaking begun at Dumbarton Oaks by Mildred Barnes Bliss in 1938. will take care of the textiles, and Miss BellingerLouisa Bellinger, a textile specialist and research assistant for the Textile Census component of the Census of Byzantine and Early Christian Objects in North American Collections, an undertaking begun at Dumbarton Oaks by Mildred Barnes Bliss in 1938. will probably work on the censusCensus of Byzantine and Early Christian Objects in North American Collections. and index.The Index of Christian Art, also known as the Princeton Index, a thematic and iconographic index of early Christian and medieval art objects. The Blisses acquired a second copy of the Index for Dumbarton Oaks from Princeton University in 1938.

The cases for the objects are being made, simple straightforward cases that, I think, even you can’t object to. The first ones are free standing without interior lighting—and then we shall see about the others.

It is such a far-reaching dream—so enthralling and so useful—if only we can see it through!

Kelek’s little bleatSee letter of March 31, 1939. makes me sorry for the poor old thing but hopeful that at last the mugBZ.1939.31. may come to D. O. on reasonable terms.

We are rather concerned that La Rancheraye won’t send the bronzesBZ.1939.14.1–25. and textile.BZ.1939.13. Why not on a Swedish, Dutch, American—or better still, Italian boat? We do want to get those over here as soon as may be for cataloguing, photographing, mounting, and studying. We look forward eagerly to seeing the Sotheby Manuscript.BZ.1939.12.

And now you are a grandfather for the second time.Matilda Eve Tyler (b. 1939). How very satisfactory of dear Betsy. She always seems to do the right thing in the right way at the right time—even to producing a girl when wanted. Robert will be seeing Bill, Magnus,Royall Tyler (b. 1936), the first child of Bettine Tyler and William Royall Tyler., was born in London. After earning a BA in Far Eastern Languages from Harvard University and a PhD in Japanese literature from Columbia University, he became a scholar and translator of Japanese literature. He presently lives in Australia in New South Wales. and MinimusMatilda Eve Tyler (b. 1939). on October 9th when he is in Cambridge for the Overseers Meeting.

Poor Bill seems to be shot to pieces about the war. He has the intelligence to realize all its implications, and his letters are touching, with such a depth of feeling, straight thinking, and sincerity. Thank God he is an American citizen! With all his University friends going off to the slaughter he will be very sad, and it is fortunate he has a new plaything in that baby.

We shall see as much of them as possible this winter. It is always a joy to have them, and whenever able, I am sure he will come down, and Betsy, too, once the baby is old enough.

Robert is right, I am convinced, to advise Bill to stick to his work until such a time as a need arises for just the particular qualifications which he has. It would be folly to waste him on work that someone else can do.

I haven’t had a chance before to congratulate you on your psycho-analytic talents. The page of Bangor history was a masterpiece of presentation. Bravo! It is too bad that the dour Maine strain becomes so active in the presence of officials.See postscript of letter of July 17, 1939.

Tell me, my dear, what condition Elisina is Elisina Tyler had suffered “apolplexy,” 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. and how this catastrophe is affecting her. She will, I suppose, be wanting to work as she did before, and when she finds she can’t it will go hard on her. I should very much like to know how she is. I often think of Antigny and its problems.

And now, good night. When, oh when shall we ever meet again? And what of poor Hungary? Have you been sent for, and do you think she is to be gobbled whole by the Germans? In fact, what is to stop them except the Soviets—and where will the last stand be made?—Nor in the Dardanelles, I pray. Hagia SophiaHagia Sophia, an Early Byzantine basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Built in 537, it served as the seat of thepatriarch of Constantinople until 1453 and then as a mosque from 1453 until 1931. It was secularized and opened as a museum in 1935. destroyed—!!!

Please, please write as often as you can. Tell us as much as anyone can know—and, above all, do you feel that the British and French know what they are about and can carry through?

If at any time any Allies come over to the United States for one reason or another and we can be useful in any way, mind you, give them letters and tell us what we can do.

At the mere thought of months and years ahead I feel rather like KundryA character in Richard Wagner’s opera, Parsifal. “Müde, Müde, Müde.”In act one of Richard Wagner’s opera, Parsifal, the character Kundry sings the line “Ich bin müde” (I am tired).

Why this delay in buying Italy? Or is it done? Djibouti? Suez shares? Corsica?Mildred Bliss is referring to the appeasement of Italy by making concessions. In April 1938, the United Kingdom and Italy had signed the Easter Pact, an agreement that ended the Mediterranean and Red Sea litigations between the two countries and that validated Italy’s territorial sphere of influence in Arabia, Ethiopia (Abyssinia), and Lake Tsana. A day after the the signing of the Easter Pact, Benito Mussolini and foreign minister Ciano issued demands for concessions in the Mediterranean by France, particularly regarding Corsica, Djibouti, Tunisia, and the French-run Suez Canal. See Reynolds M. Salemo, Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935–1940 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 82–83. Anything to prevent her air and submaries fr. helping Hitler.