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Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, March 29, 1929 [1]

Sainte-Claire le Château
Hyères Var
March 29th 1929Friday.

Dearest Mildred,

Since your dear letter arrived I have been through so many changes of residence and preoccupation that the fortnight which has elapsed seems to me more like two months.

I had your letter in Budapest but very late because I had given orders that my mail was to be kept until communications between Paris and Budapest had become normal. In those unsophisticated countries east of the Adriatic they often resort to the simple means of suppressing an excess of mail which it is inconvenient to distribute. Budapest was cut off from the world for three or four days at a time owing to very heavy snow-falls, and a temperature of thirty degrees below zero (centigrade); the streets appeared like sunken tracks between two continuous mounds of snow about eight feet high.

After Budapest I went for the inside of a week to Berlin to stay with Count Aldrovandi.Luigi Aldrovandi Marescotti, Count of Viano (1876–1945), an Italian diplomat and ambassador to Germany between 1926 and 1929. I enjoyed it immensely. Berlin is much more agreeable now than before the war when you could not enjoy five minutes’ peace without expecting the Kaiser to come riding by, or some other members of his household, or great military men, or small military men riddling life with glitter and noise. The Germans have become gentle, kindly, welcoming, polite and attentive. So at least they seem to the casual visitor. I was told on good authority (though I disliked to hear it because of my particular views on the repercussions of the event), that the occupation of the RuhrThe Occupation of the Ruhr between 1923 and 1925 by troops from France and Belgium was a response to the failure of the German Weimar Republic under Chancellor Cuno to pay reparations in the aftermath of the First World War. had sobered them down to their very heels, so that they can never think of it without the reflection of their thoughts appearing on their face. The immediate object was achieved, even if the ulterior object was delayed; it is always good to know the truth.

I saw the ‘Embarquement pour Cythère’ of the Schloss.Jean-Antoine Watteau, The Embarkation for Cythera (“L’embarquement pour Cythère”), Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin, is a second variant version of a painting by Watteau of ca. 1718–1719 in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. The Blisses would later acquire what they believed to be a study for the Louvre painting, HC.P.1926.22.(O). It is one of the most beautiful paintings in the world. I dare say you had a chance of seeing it at a reception at the former court, and if so, I am sure you will agree with me.

I was taken round the section of the Kaiser Friederich MuseumNow the Bode Museum, Berlin. The museum originally was called the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum after Emperor Frederick III and was renamed in honor of its first curator, Wilhelm von Bode, in 1956. which especially interests me by Dr. SarreFriedrich Sarre (1865–1945), a German Orientalist, archaeologist, art historian, and collector of Islamic art. Between 1921 and 1931, Sarre was director of the Islamic department in the former Kaiser Friedrich Museum, now the Museum of Islamic Art, in Berlin. in person, and I spent a most enjoyable morning going over every detail under his guidance. I also had the good fortune to spend a long day with Von FalkeOtto von Falke (1862–1942), a German art historian who specialized in the decorative arts and who succeeded Wilhelm von Bode as general director of the Berlin State Museums in 1920. in the Schloss museum, more especially with the textiles that are put away for study and reference out of reach of the general public. It is astonishing, is it not, how a national preference seems to assert itself in the choice of the objects which are supposed to please the public taste and improve the public knowledge. For this reason, if for no other I do not see how the opinions of an untravelled museum director or curator can be anything but partial and misleading on any branch of art.

To revert to Budapest you would have been very happy if you could have heard with what regard and affection Royall is considered by the Hungarians. Now that his mission is coming to an end, they realize that he has been truly their friend, not only in discharging his official duties, but in his interpretation of them as a guide in his conduct of affairs.

The word ‘veneration’ was pronounced. It was a very great satisfaction to me, and, as you can imagine, I carried away a very sweet impression in my heart.

From Budapest, and from Berlin, the O.L.P.“Old Lady Photographer.” Elisina Tyler established an archive of photographs of Byzantine objects; the project was partly funded by contributions solicited by Mildred Barnes Bliss. See also letters of May 7, 1927; November 20, 1927; May 10, 1928; January 30, 1929; and March 11, 1929. has called into being a lovely crop of beautiful flowers (or seed pods). I am just about to pay a bill of 3.320 francs for the most illuminating photographs of textiles, carvings and ceramics. You have been wonderful in discovering L.Ps and O.L.Ps! I am glad the ‘Arethusa’ off-printHayford Peirce and Royall Tyler, “Deux mouvements dans l’art byzantin du Xe siècle,” Arethuse 16 (July 1927): 129–36. is such a good exhibit.

I had hardly been in Paris a few days, and found my home deserted by my precious Léontine, the permanent stand-by, (my cook), whose mother aged 84 had died two days before my return. Fortune helped me unexpectedly in finding a temporary treasure to replace her; but hardly had she shown me this favour when I had to hurry down here as our dear EdithEdith Wharton was seriously ill with a fever between January and April 1929. See R. W. B. Lewis, Edith Wharton: A Biography (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 490. was taken seriously ill.

She had been ailing for two months with little relapses of influenza, which kept on recurring, without any very felt cause. She had been working hard as she always does at this season to finish a new book.Edith Wharton, Hudson River Bracketed (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1929). The work first appeared serially in The Delineator. She tired herself by motoring to Cannes, and caught a chill on the way back. This chill developed some nasty microbes which poisoned her thoroughly, and suspended for three days every function of the body. She woke up one night and felt violently ill; fortunately nature asserted itself, and she was violently sick. Her heart collapsed after this. I knew nothing of all this until I heard that she had been ill and would like to see me. I telegraphed to say that I would come at once; but she was feeling better, and thought she would postpone my visit until she was able to get up. During the interval, unhappily, she was imprudent in the matter of her diet, and in attending to her ordinary affairs. This brought on a second heart attack, more dangerous than the first. She had a violent fever, and an infected throat, which proved to be full of pneumonia microbes. This immediate danger was removed, thanks to her extreme patience and courage in submitting to a very tiresome and painful treatment. But she was terribly weak. I only saw her for two minutes by the clock on the first day that I came here, and have arrived by very gradual degrees to visits of ten minutes at a time, three times a day, during the ten days that elapsed since my arrival.

No one else at all is allowed to see her. Unhappily she was not so well yesterday. I hope sincerely that it is moral depression at the slowness of her progress rather than anything organically wrong. The doctor assures me that her heart is sound although it is very weak. So weak indeed that he is obliged to give her stimulants until by natural means she regains some strength. She began to eat solid food two days ago. It may happen that the transition was too sudden. But she was so disgusted by the sight of weak tapioca pudding, and other wishy-washy substances, that the doctor risked it.

Fortunately I am able to relieve her of the preoccupation of her correspondence, most of her friends are my friends. She is not fretting at all about anything, except that she feels disheartened at her slow progress and feeling herself so weak. Her old housekeeper, Gross,Catherine Gross (“Grossie”) (d. 1933), who began working for Edith Wharton in 1884 and remained as her housekeeper until her death in 1933. sits with her quietly knitting, without speaking a word. No one comes to the house, so that perfect silence and quiet reign. The sun is very beautiful, and she gets her share of it in her quiet room, haunted by doves that flutter about her window sill. Everything is favourable for her recovery, and I pray for it with all my heart, as you can well believe.

She had intended to go to Egypt, Palestine and Syria with Daisy ChanlerMargaret “Daisy” Chanler née Terry (1862–1952), an American author and lifelong friend of Edith Wharton. and the Berensons. Of course this plan has fallen to the ground. Daisy Chanler left ten days ago. I do not know if the Berensons have gone after all, as I have had a telegram from them from Florence.The Berensons arrived in Beirut on April 3, 1929, and were joined four days later by Margaret Chanler and her traveling companion, Barbara Parrott. See Ernest Samuels and Jayne Samuels, Bernard Berenson, The Making of a Legend (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1987), 372.

Royall has been in Italy and Portugal with one of the Hambros,See letter of March 27, 1929. and is now in Paris. Bill has passed the preliminary examination into Oxford where he expects to go next October, if he can pass the examination for Balliol College,Balliol College was founded in 1263 as one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford. for which his name has been put down. He is expected home on April the 4th. He was to motor me to the South of France to spend a few days with Edith, and a fortnight at Gourdon with May Norris.May Norris (d. 1938), an American interior designer and friend of Edith Wharton. She owned the Château de Gourdon, near the French Riviera, between 1918 and 1938, which she opened to her American and British friends. See Allyson Hayward, Norah Lindsay: The Life and Art of a Garden Designer (London: Frances Lincoln, 2007), 200 and 270.

I shall not leave Edith until she is quite convalescent, so that it is possible that Bill will motor down here alone to join me, and I shall not see Royall until he comes back from England. He hopes to be back for June in Paris after his farewell visit to Hungary at the end of May.

I was so glad to hear of the comfort which your new family have given you, and how splendid MildredMildred Mordaunt Tytus (1904–1933), Mildred Barnes Bliss’s goddaughter and one of the two daughters of her good friend Grace Tytus McLennan (née Henop) (1875–1928). is. Did I not meet them in Geneva with Messrs. McLennan?After the death of Grace Tytus’s first husband, Robb de Peyster Tytus (1876–1913), whom she had married in 1903, she married John Stewart McLennan (1853–1939), a Canadian senator, newspaper owner, and historian, in 1915. Their one child, John Stewart McLennan Jr., was born in 1915. The McLennans subsequently were divorced. Grace Tytus’s other daughter, Victoria Tytus Coolidge (b. 1909), married Lawrence Coolidge (1905–1950) in 1932. Their children were Robert Tytus Coolidge (b. 1933), Lawrence Coolidge Jr. (b. 1936), and Nathaniel Silsbee Coolidge (b. 1939). Mildred, Victoria, and Robert were Mildred Barnes Bliss’s godchildren, and the Blisses were Victoria’s legal guardians until she reached her majority in 1930. I am sending your letter to Royall that he may answer parts of it for which he is best qualified.

I am so much grieved to hear, dearest Mildred, that your visit with your parents was fraught with sad perplexities.Mildred Barnes Bliss left for California to visit her parents in December 20, 1928. The reference to “sad perplexities” is unclear. But after the 1925 earthquake, William Henry Bliss moved from Casa Dorinda to a house on upper Santa Barbara Street, where he lived until his death in 1932. See David F. Myrick, The Days of the Great Estates, vol. 2, Montecito and Santa Barbara (Pasadena: Pentrex Media Group, 1991), 421. It would comfort me to hear about them as otherwise my anxious heart signifies the unknown trouble. When you write to Robert give him my very best love. Forgive my sending you a typewritten letter, I have so many letters to dictate in the course of a day, and I know that you will find it easier to go through a neat printed page than to read my neat cryptic hand.

I forgot to add that your Bourguignon is now head of the Shooting-Eight,The competition rifle shooting team. a monitor, and will be head of his house next term. C’est la gloire!“That’s fame!”

It was so very sweet of you to write to the children.Probably Geoffrey Herbert Grant Richards and Gioia Grant Richards Owtram. They wrote to tell me at once—

My very best love, now as ever,

Yours,
Elisina
.

 
Associated Artworks: HC.P.1926.22.(O)