Algeria, again

In the summer of 1926  Evelyn and Jack were re-united with Cyril and Jig briefly before all four left Cassis for Cintra (near Lisbon in Portugal) where they spent the winter in a cheap hotel before returning to Algeria.  Evelyn’s letters return to vivid descriptions of the places they travelled through and stayed, and of the people who inhabited these places, including her typically judgmental descriptions of their behaviour and customs.

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To Otto Theis

[Cassis-sur-Mer, France]
June 11 [1926]

Dearest Otto:

My personal news (Strictly confidential, for which again I guess I go against John’s inclination to confess) is as follows:  Cyril took John to a first rate diagnostician in Marseilles yesterday.1  He (MD) coined the word physisthenique to apply to him as opposed to neurasthenic.  Says John’s vital energy is absolutely depleted and must have been so for some time.  My private opinion is that he suspects John of TB that I will not say so to John and heaven grant it is sensation.  Anyway, John is to stay out of doors all day, to write out of doors if he will write, to recline while writing, to go up on the terrace and assume as much nudity in the sun as propriety will allow, and to take two kinds of of injections of something which it would need Cyril to elucidate.  Also to weigh himself daily and to take his temperature morning and evening.  To exercise little.  Blood and urine are still at the laboratory and John goes in tomorrow to get the results.  I’m glad he has been.  All the time he was in Scilly his constant tendancy to extreme exhaustion worried me, especially as we had few pipps and there was no mental explanation (usually sufficient cause).  Cyril thought he might have TB too, but now hopes he hasn’t.  He ate little at Scilly, tho bucked up in London, but here eats less.

He is going to the air force mid July, doctor or no doctor, and it may do him good.  Anyhow he adores the airforce and psychology demands he doesn’t resign from it.  I think one reason he loves it is it is the only out of door life he has led in years and he feels better there.  He’ll be leaving about the 12th and be in London a day or so before going to camp, so he will see you.

Large quantities of the mush that embarrasses you here about to overflow the page so, with our most affectionate and largest love for Louise and yourself, I will quit before the page grows too dewy or syrupy for your perusal.


1Although it wasn’t diagnosed until later, John contracted a form of amoebic dysentery during an earlier trip to Africa, which plagued him to greater or lesser degree throughout his life.

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To David Lawson

Car-sickness, France
August 7, 1926

Very dear Davy:  I was happy to get your letter, even though it did not contain the best of news. .  I think about you both constantly, and it does me so MUCH good even to see your handwriting again and get a direct word that, if things ain’t much better, they ain’t much worse either.

We don’t think we are going to stay in France.  Our reasons are this–first John isn’t well and French food habits and climate don’t agree with him particularly.  Secondly, the fluctuation in the franc has made us lose about half of such money as we have gotten over here, as, by the time I write to America (or even John to England) when we happen to have notice that there is any money due us, by the time it gets here the franc, bought at the exchange of the original date, has again depreciated, the cost of living here has advanced, and the fifty or hundred dollars we started with arrives here, three weeks later, worth just half what it was.  We have managed to get along anyhow, but it is not a cheering experience to people who are being economical, and there is the prospect, if Poincare’s cabinet does not survive the extreme odds against it, that something more drastic and generally disastrous may occur.  The public feeling against English and Americans is very strong throughout France.  There was stone throwing and rioting in Paris (on a small scale) not long ago, a boatload of English tourists attempting a landing in Normandy were met with stones and had to pull out, and even here in Cassis, where there are numerous e.g. English and Americans, last week when the shops had up a sign in the street, Welcome to the Foreigners, some of the people tried to tear it down and were stopped by the police.  So it ain’t too pleasant.  All this feeling has been accumulating since I wrote you.  There are three factions here, Royalist, Communist, and Republican, and even the kids Jigeroo plays with have fights about it.  Very confidentially, but through fairly reliable sources, we have heard that the fall of Poincare’s cabinet is anticipated as the moment to start a rumpus, and we aren’t anxious to be here when it happens, though of course it may be only a tin pot affair that will soon blow over.  But even so.

Consequently, we are considering what are the few cheap places left in the world to live in.  North Africa is the cheapest, but politics here will affect there.  Austria and Italy are the only two places where exchange is cheap and Vienna is very very cold in the winter.  There remains Rome, which is raw but not so bad, and not so hard to get to from here, and would be very little less effort for Lola to reach if she comes over in a Fabro boat which stops at Naples.  From there it is four hours to Rome, but if we go there and Lola comes, we would go to Naples to meet her.

You must not be prejudiced against meeting John by last summer’s experience.  I think he’s a dear, but just judged for himself without regard to me, I think you two would like him.  He’s very reserved and very English, in a nice sense, and, if that helps you to be prepared for the best, as unlike Owen as two people could be.  He and Cyril get on grand. John wants to meet you all, and I wish sometime in the next year or so we could go to America.  But as usual—cash.

Dear Davy, again, my best and most love to you and to her.


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To Louise Morgan

Hotel Europa, Cintra, Portugal
October 15, 1926

Louise, old darling, what’s matter.  It’s been months since we’ve heard from you.  won’t you drop us a line and let us tell you how I got ill—I would—in Spain—our money almost but disappeared—arrived here to find a letter from Brandts in which, without explanation, they said publication of Migrations1 would be spring (when the contract reads fall this year, and of course it is too late for me to kick now) and I got ill again of mild flu precipitated by rage and have been in bed strafing.  And about how despite every known discomfort the landscape of Spain was worth suffering for once, less granite than Africa, but rick and forever looking earth near Fraga, which I think Balston mentioned, the finest tents and plateaus of red, orange, purple, rockless treeless soil I ever saw—the most enormousness.  And again, near Guadaloupe, plush look of clay hills in the finest barren purples, wine pinks, or bright gilt sallowness of trampled what.  How Spain is bigger and stiller, save for magpies, than any country but the desert.  The people all have a pride so envolved it must keep them from progress, for indifference they must feign in all but the passionate ceremonial of dancing or bull fighting and perhaps the feigning has become real—an arrogant torpor, shot with suspicion—their most fiery trait.  They are courteous exceeding, but not warmly, more to exhibit their superiority to the petty, than from any outgoing to a stranger.  I don’t want to go thru equal discomfort again, but glad we did it.

Portugal is in proportion to Spain on the scale of the map—nothing grand, not even Cintra—but a modest lovliness, grandeur in little, with minute crags and wild woods confined in the acreage of the former king’s domain.  His palace, in execrable taste, never the less is a miniaturise of Byronic gloom and dominance, standing on the tip top of a hill above us, and piercing the sky with a fretted tower.  Near it another Saracen ruin.  It is not as cheap as we hoped, dearer than France, but too dear getting here to move away again.  Cintra is smart, for the Portuguez, but the season is ending, the villas look shady and blind with closed shutters, and a pretentious casino displays yawning waiters and other employees staring in perpetual idleness thru a grand entrance up with nobody approaches.  I’ve forgotten all the Portuguez I ever knew.  It was unutterable folly to try this, considering money.


My civil war book I really think—hope, anyway—you’ll like.  It’s halted since Cassis but I’m starting again when we get settled.  The starch went out of me with Brandts letter, but is seeping back.  Wish you could come over and work with us.  We have a proposition from this hotel if we can’t find a house.  It is practically closed in the winter and man says he will give us five rooms and board all four of us for a hundred escudos a day, making about one hundred and fifty a month.  Of course there will be extras so we have to think.  And Jig has to have a school.  Still, if we do, think how easy—always have another room rented for you if you’d take the notion.  Food not wonderful but fair—his usual price thirty five escudos a day for a person is a little under two dollars a day, there are boats direct from England, no train fare, and we could meet you.  Don’t you want a change again?  We all work so you’d have to.  The isolation is fine for that.  It’s only when bits of bad luck seem to be the result of being off the business field that I wish we had money to break the isolation oftener—but I spent far more on me alone going to America last year than on all of us crossing Spain.


Mustn’t forget to add an impression of Guadaloupe where we stayed overnight—way up in hills a sudden very white little town houses built low with moorish arches over the street, and, in the early morning, a market conclave of peasants in the doorway of a very old grey and gigantic church attached to an elderly monastary.  The men uniformly in shirts of a sombre piercing blue, tight trousers, velvet braided waistcoats or jackets black sashes, and broad steeple crowned hats like the pilgrim fathers.  The women shawled.  It is a convent popular with fashionably religious Madrid that goes there to repent and retreat, but the obscure geography of its location leaves the peasants as authentically out of date as tho they weren’t perfectly picturesque.  We liked an overnight in Toledo, too—a perfect little medieval background to an El Greco painting.  And the Prado was a wonderful museum.  Madrid is like a raft, city complete up to the minute, yet old fashionedly stylist with many liveries and carriages and gardens and set things to do, it floats on a sea of what, among villages not much more substantial than the mud huts of the Arabs.  There is no colour of the literal sort in the northern Spanish town—the dwellings are of mud brick unplastered, the floors are earth or dirty brick, the people are vigerous with a kind of slovenly energy—but there was no gaiety in dress except in Fraga where, for some reason, alone, the women are as elegant as Velasqueth princesses in wide flowered skirts, tight neat bodices, and vivid demure shawls crossed like kerchiefs.  In Garonna we heard a fine Catalan band and saw the same dancing we encountered in that end of France.  It is Catalonia until Barcelona, but it was only after Zaragossa that we heard pure Castillian, very easy to recognize even when not understood.  Altogether, we feel we were fools, considering Jig needs an overcoat and I can’t get it and some other things, but can’t regret another folly which I hope has only temporary bad results.

Lots and lots of love to both of you—and think about a visit

1Migrations was published in 1927.

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To Louise Morgan

Cintra, Portugal
October 26 [1926]

Darling old kid:

Portugal is dear.  We shan’t stay long but are at present too poor to move.  Also busting with things to say to you and my eyes hurt.  Speaking of money troubles I wrote Brandts a stiff letter and got a cable yesterday saying that Bonis were giving me another hundred dollars advance and, forwarding an explanation of their behaviour.  Damn their souls.  However I was glad of the other hundreds.  Things are tight and at least having given me now three fifty they will bring it out.  But curse the delay which means a delay for Ideals too, and that the war book won’t be published until nineteen eighty.

My dear I wish you could drop in.  I’m disappointed for us that you won’t come down.  Are you quite sure you couldn’t at all?  Remember, it is dear compared to France—not dear in the English sense.  The Sitwells would go to the palace hotel.  We are in a small clean place in Cintra that charges thirty five escudos a day in the summer but, because Cintra is deserted in the winter gives us SIX rooms and board for a hundred escudos a day for the four of us.  No dearer than Cornwall.  The man hasn’t four people in his hotel.  We have too much meat to eat, but all quite decent, fair wine, very clean.  Jig is going to the Cintra College and taking Latin and literature in French and the rest in Portuguese which he can’t speak yet.

PS WILL YOU GIVE ME FIVE PENCE.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  Tomorrow is Jig’s birthday, I ordered him two annuals from The Amalgamated Press Faringdon House Fleet Street, and they have come and I still owe them five pence and to send off five pence will cost me three escudos.  Can you pay this for me for some future settlement.  Dare I write them that you will?  I’m gonna, please, so let me know if you don’t.  Its very near you so maybe not too stuff.  I haven’t any stamps and don’t know what else to do.  Each letter one favor asked huh.  Scuse, evelyn

PS Annuals sent to Mr Metcalfe—they were paid by cheque from John but it was 5d [5 pence] short.

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To David Lawson

Mme Metcalfe
Cintra, Portugal
[late 1926]

Dear ol’ Davy:

 I guess Glad will have told about our reckless attempt to see Spain in a week—for which we had nearly three what with break downs in the borrowed car and getting ill.  It was fun and no fun.  Spain provided a barrenness more gorgeous than any I ever imagined at times—at others sheer depressing monotony.  But there were high spots that top everything in visual experience.  It was autumn, so the rather uninteresting green had appropriately disappeared for a general tawnyness richer and more suitable to such harsh indifferent stretches.  The conservatism of the Spaniards struck me forcibly—I think their ritualistic pleasures—dance and bull fights—are a bit of a Freudian outlet for their violent repression.  Cautious and more so than the English—they make no mystic explanation of this.  They lack subtlety.  The English are so subtle emotionally—so disunited there with their deliberately commonsensical minds.  The French with such subtle machines and no emotional data worth looking for.  The Spaniards, in a birdseyes, tho I am not quite assuming myself an interpreter after one glance, are neither mystical at heart nor subtle of mind—but are primitives with their crudity congealed, and so somewhat concealed, by the formalism of the orient.  Catalonia is non Moorish Spain—and its music, the only escape from a cheap modernity, is barbaric—a voodoo challenge to sex.  Southerly Spaniards really are moors with an underlying thing more naïve and less refinedly brutal than the real north African product—I think.  I am wondering what Waldo’s book is like.  His title is good, only it is a virgin with something old maidish more than maidenly—a brute of an old maid, sensual, and with a skin like leather.  None of that goes does it with my other sense of a landscape as pure in color as snow is white.  Its enormousness was its most constant quality—and Spanish grandiosity is like a simplification by an inadequate mind of grandeur, too untouched for bombast.  Spaniards, en passant, seemed neither nervous like the French, nor emotional like the Italians, nor exalted by moral self mystification like the rest of us.  But sensual—Puritans in temper as I always thought the Arabs were—the constant quality of the puritan being a mental view of sensation which is the product of his inferior but persistent intellectualization of himself.  Well I won’t go on for days and weeks.  Portuguese are nearer slave bred negros than is any other race.  Their racial self respect has been vitiated.  They have the wistfulness of their lack of confidence.  Are gentle, treacherous, and easily influenced to generosity—I think.  But it is not as cheap as we had hoped and we can’t stay all winter,  Lisbon is very old and lovely.  Cintra is only fifty minutes away.  It is an anglicized summer resort abandoned in the winter.  We have rooms in a hotel which is empty so that for nothing he gave us empty bedrooms to work in.  The board is thirty five escudos a day, a small tax and a few extras.  It would come out at about fifty dollars a month. Elsa is in Swiss with her mother who is ill.  Cyril is here for a while,  Cintra is a Byronic relic of the old court of Portugal with fussy palaces and so on but a very charming miniature wildness, sea in the distance, trees, and constant milky fogs in the soft green of dripping evergreens.  There are lots of forests, somewhat artificial but very pretty.  It is chilly but no shakes on New York

Again LOVE.  Please let us know how you all are.  Please.  Cyril’s VERY best love too, evelyn

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To Otto Theis

Mme John Metcalfe1
Cottage Jean, rue de l’Oasis, Kouba, Algeria

January 16 [1927]

Dear Otto, will you believe I was just settling down to write to you and Louise a letter with no requests in it?  But you as only possible court of appeal in present distress is unfortunately suggested by everybody.  it is thus:  We have had a month of much endurance and some pleasure getting here (of which I will write Louise) but the advent of plague in Oran which stopped the boat sailings and sent us around the longest way thru Morocco has played hell in other ways.  Thomas Cook of Lisbon being a Portuguese Thomas Cook did not freight our luggage we now find until two weeks after we left Lisbon.  He also freighted it to Oran via Gibraltar.  So there sits the luggage containing all our reference books, and for me the entire guts historically of the Civil War novel.  I was very distressed by being obliged to leave Lisbon just when I had reached the most ticklish point in the first draft, for tho it is easy to rewrite from the first to polish it is most difficult to retrieve the rhythm of a whole when it is broken just as its momentum is gathering.  Because of Cyril’s show and John’s need to return to England, Algeria ends on April 15th.  I can unpack textbooks in a Paris hotel with Jig, and if Cyril can sell sufficient pictures to pay fair [sic] we are going to NY to consider a school or something for Jig who has had a very unsatisfactory year and is beginning to feel the peculiar isolation of his situation.   Imagine pipp, added to perhaps by the fact that we have with us only the clothes on our backs and no housekeeping linen, and that John lessly [sic] but also needs some of his books on Scilly for his next novel.

Kouba map
Modern map showing the location of Kouba, a suburb of Algiers

Well, I would have cabled you what I am gonna ask but that our check from America was in Paris and we have to wait until it is mailed to Paris and sent back before we collect, and tho we have found an apartment we can’t leave the hotel because we can’t pay our bill until the money comes.  So—I couldn’t cable and can’t send you any money until I have it.  Also I don’t know quite how horrible a thing I am asking of the editor of a magazine who has no time to shop.  Isn’t this like a mystery story with solution in the last chapter?  Bon.  LAST CHAPTER:  I can’t afford to rebuy all my books, nor do I feel I can afford to wait the six to nine weeks Cooks prophecy it may take to get belongings.  I thought it might be possible to replace the two most important ones if you would buy them with bill sent to me so I will return money soon as I get it.  They are Shotwell’s History of the American Civil War, in two volumes. And the second book most needed is one on American Negro Folk music.  I can’t alas remember the title, but it is not very satisfactory anyway, as what I want is the words to various old songs which I only remember in fragments, like Roll Jordan Roll, and Deep River, and Mary and Martha, etc, etc.  I’ll adapt myself to using any songs that happen to be in the book but what I mean to accent is that the reading matter accompanying is nonessential to me.  To look up such a book as this may be impossible, but if it is possible to send the office boy with a note to Foils and perhaps find such a thing at the same time as the history, it sure would be a blessing.  With that help I can write parts and leave out the sections about Lincoln until I have my books on Lincoln—I hope—by the end of February.

Alger is very warm compared to Cintra.  That is to say one wears wool undies and sweaters in the house and is comfortable.  In Cintra one did so and writhed just the same.  France is just a little better than Portugal, but my dream of Algerie as the cheapest place in the world dates back I am afraid, and is no longer appropriate.  Then there are all these here new taxes on foreignors which we may or may not escape.  I think I know how the Russian emigrants feel in America.  It’s a sensation very inhospitable to be taxed hard for living in a place, and the justice of the move doesn’t modify the impression.  Cyril is beastly unwell with a heavy cold he has had up and down since we left Cintra.  It worries me somewhat but I hope it will wear out here.  All of us were ill on our way here and in bed at various places and stages.  I’m glad Louise didn’t come to such a heaven for grippe as Cintra turned out.  The Portuguese are SCUM—SCUUUUUUUUUM.  The country is nice in a spring gardeny way.  I’ll write Louise of our I am afraid futile wish she could be with us to finish some more work.

My humble love.  I feel just like a drunkard that promised mother and then misbehaved again, for I did think I would NOT ask you to buy anything else for me.  From all of us godspeed, happy new year, and our devotions.  evelyn

1It may be that Evelyn felt it necessary to appear married to maintain appearances in a conservative Muslim country.

2Foyle’s Bookshop on the Charing Cross Road in London. Foyle’s was then the world’s biggest bookshop in both size and the number and range of titles stocked.

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To Louise Morgan

Kouba, Algeria
January 17 [1927]

Dear Louise:  I wish you were coming to Alger for their narration and lots of other things. I wish you could—sometime.  Especially as, after Cyril’s show, IF he makes enough, it is our intention to go to USA while Jack goes back to England for a bit.  We are losing too many contacts and Jig needs a school or something.  He is very lonesome this winter and not very happy.  In Portugal he did not make a single acquaintance.  I am very much worried about Cyril, who left Portugal with a bronchitis and has it still and just can I think pull himself about, though his grit and pride exceed many admissions of the fact.  Jack is a very very sweet and comprehending thing and I shall always be glad of my misdemeanors that gave me the opportunity of knowing him so well.

General view of Kouba c.1910

Tuesday:  Since beginning this Cyril has cajoled the bank into giving him money before it comes from Paris and we have occupied Cottage Jean.  Kouba is about six miles out but has a tram nearby.  Our suite is very swell in that it has a real bath room and johnny, almost an American bath room, tho the hot water heater requires a wood fire under it.  We have two bedrooms a kitchen a sala and sal a manger.  They are the first floor of a country home of one of the legal profession who is now in town.  Nobody but ourselves is in the house.  There is a terrace at our disposal and last night, feeling very tired and gloomy, I retired there to meditate and saw all Alger in very delicate emerald due on the black hills under clouds all startling from an invisible moon.  The ghost light expanded away from town and I could see all the scallops of beaches and surf quite plainly.  It really is a lovely location, but beastly inconvenient as the shops are miles off and nothing, not even milk, delivered, and we have no present prospect of a servant.  It took Jack until a quarter to twelve to do the marketing.  Also it is raining profusely daily, and we miss our belongings which, as I wrote Otto, are somewhere, presumably, between Gibraltar and heaven.

We had a mild month of it, honey.  The mysterious motor car in which we toured Europe I reveal to you privately as a used Renault of seven horse power which Cyril learned to run via Elsa’s brother when in Switzerland.  Such a vehicle has never been known to do even as much as a Ford and was the first manufactured that ever crossed from France to Portugal.  Cyril had it on a triptych which allowed him to keep it in Portugal three months, and before we left Cintra the time limit ended.  Since then feats of bluff have been in order.  First bluffing the officials at Vila Rial not to detain him on an expired license, and then—Well I will narrate in order.  Cooks told us Vila Rial was the best place to cross the border on.  We got there and found a large river and no bridge.  Were ferried over in a specially hired barge which consumed much of our wherewithal.  Cyril was ill with bronchitis and has been for a month.  Yesterday on arriving here he at last went to bed with thermogene iodine hot water bottles and all he has needed and hasn’t cotton.  He is there now and I hope he’ll stay some time.  At Sevilla I acquired the cold and not having his character and being blind with streaming eyes I laid down at once.  Saw Sevilla mostly from the window in the few days there.  It is a very cheery place despite colds, sunny, orange trees on the sidewalks, very new except for the vastly gloomy relic of the cathedral with a chaotic and occasionally impressive architecture and a very large bull ring also presumably dedicated to Christ.  We had intended to get a boat at Gib to Oran and from there to Alger, fairly short and inexpensive. At Sevilla received word that sailing was cancelled because of plague at Oran.  Could only get our money back promptly by applying at Gib.  We needed it so went on, via Jerez and some real sherry.  Andalusia in its extreme south is all sterility, sun, prickly pear corrals and brilliant sea.  Algiceras received our expiring bodies and John came down with tonsillitis.  We went to Gib Xmas Even and found the garrison thinking of merrie England and rum punch.  It was a fit place to nurture Mrs Bloom.  Sad English ladies with blond hair growing grey bought wild narcissus and berries to make things look like home tomorrow.  It must be a queer exile under that overweight of fortification with Spain seeping in.

We had to choose between traversing the north to Port Vendres in snow and an open car and trying Morocco.  No tryptichs issued for war zone.  But we tried it, going to Ceuta on Xmas and eating cold lunch for Jig’s plum pudding.  We landed safely but it took a long chat with commanding colonel or sumpin he was to get a letter to let us thru.  We were put under promise not to travel before nine or after five.  Soldiers looking statuesque and important on all the heights by road.  Bristley blockhouses—pickets in cocked hats and cloaks flapping dramatically in an icy wind.  Mountains all snow.  Tetuan is a motley hubbub of races.  From there to Alcazarquiver over a pontoon at Larache where this week there has been more ado with Rifs.  But once over the border we were in something more civilized than Spain. Good hotel at Kenitra where Jack was sick and we ran out of money and had to wait around until we could see the first of the month near and a wire possible.  Reached Fez New Year’s even and got our money there.  Saw all the French as drunk as the English at Xmas.  Had champagne gratis at the hotel and all got sick on it—it being gratis.  Saw wonderful walls and amethyst and jade gates (mosaics but fine) and an Araby Douglas Fairbanks never dreamed about.  After that Telemeen, en route went up mountains at dusk, motor lamps wouldn’t work, ran into clouds, night fell, couldn’t see where the cats cradle road went.  Had to get out and light matches to find mile stones.  Road leaped over precipices, but we didn’t.  Bumped into Tolemeen walls about eight pm with our nerves in ribbons.  Next day saw Cascades hanging in spun sugar over hundreds of feet of red and orange granite.  (And I forget desert around Guercif, camels again, mountains steely and snow dashed, nearer like a milky night).  Went to Mascarra where Jig was ill.  On to Orleanville which is like a dump yard inside a jail.  Reached Alger a week ago in a sleet storm that cracked the wind shield.  All dead tired, no clothes, no linen for housekeeping, no books for reference, more or less ill yet, and Cyril a good deal.  Conclusion that it was worth while but not for often.  Also that we are a good deal embarrassed for money.  But once having made the fool essay of Portugal we had to get out with the car.  Portugal is farther off than Mars.

My eyes won’t let me go on.  Cooking and house took too much of day.  But do write when you feel like it, if for letters one ever does.  Darlin, but for the hope you would I wouldn’t.  Jack is writing a very fine story—one of his best I think. All of us send our very, very, very much love and if you can deliver a kiss below the navel, please do it to J C.


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These next letters refer back to the years Cyril and Evelyn spent in Bermuda with the wealthy Garland-Hale family.  Even though Cyril went there to be their estate manager, a friendship developed between the Scotts and the Garland-Hales, who built a cottage (known as “The Scottage”) for their continued occupation:  this was later withdrawn.  In addition, Marie Tudor Garland pledged them an income of $50 a month each for the rest of their lives, to be paid on her behalf by her solicitor, Walter Nelles.

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To Louise Morgan

Kouba, Algeria
February 8 [1927]

Louise, old darling,  Well, a very heavy blow has just descended upon our solar plexus, and I want to quote to you and Otto, in moderate confidence of course,  the following letter received yesterday from Marie:

“Dear Evelyn:

“This is not an easy letter to write.  Chiefly because in the past you have misunderstood me and quarreled with me.

“I find that it is impossible for me to continue as a patron of the arts!  (Exclamation hers) I have come to the point where I am not only earning my own living, but am earning yours too.  I am telling you this because I think you may wish to earn your own.

“I am finding it increasingly hard since I gave half of what I had to Swinburne to make a living off an income dwindled to almost nothing.  Each year, to meet my obligations to you and to others, I have drawn upon my capital until that has almost disappeared. As I have a sense of humour I suddenly realized that I was trying to earn enough to take care of everyone but myself.

“I am in business, apart from everything else, and I may make good, but at present I am not making enough to go on with my annuities and I have to cut them out.  I wish to reduce yours to half this year and pay nothing next year.  This will give you a chance to look around and provide for yourself.

“I shall ask Walter to send you six hundred dollars this next year.  I think you know without my telling you how sorry I am to have to do this.

Your friend,
Marie T Garland”

Which leaves us where we were five years ago except that Cyril has a chronic pulse of about a hundred and thirty and we are in Africa instead of New York.

Cyril is in Bousaad so I can’t consult him yet.  The joke is that all the checks have gone to him for over three years but I guess she couldn’t forego a direct one at me knowing I was still getting my share.  Of course in winter I was with you I was able to hold off thanks to you and Franks, but Cyril did not use it all for him anyway and it was what he had kept out that he called mine that went on this unfortunately expensive journey from Portugal.  It has taken Jack all year to finish his novel so, tho he is working hard trying to get some short stories off to Peters, he has nothing ahead at present.  Africa is a fine place to spend a small income but a poor one to find a supplement for no income at all.  And even to get to Paris on fifty dollars a month doesn’t look optimistic.  If Migrations sells I may get a little from it next fall.  In the meantime—Well, here we am.  Of course I’ve got to get back to America tho just how ain’t very exact.  I’m going to collect all the good clippings I ever had of my work and try to put it up to somebody or other to give me another hand out for a few years.  Of course Cyril can’t support me as of yore (even not counting his own affairs and the sacrifice of great painting) with a heart at a hundred and thirty all the time and a bronchial tendency getting worse—tho I know him and expect him to be as prodigally inclined re me and Jig as he always was, bless him.  Nor do I see Jack, who is really very inexperienced in jobs and worldly things, very certain to contend successful with USA EVEN, which makes it a sickening thought, at the complete sacrifice of his imminent success.  Poor old Jig hears we are hard up and is a darling wanting to sell stamps and so on.  But I want him to be EDUCATED since obviously he is to receive no inheritance.  So its back where it was when Otto first knew us and Gladys took me to the general electric for a job I didn’t get.  of course if I get no help I’ll have to go to work, which seems sillier now than it did then after having got as the publication of seven books and the acceptance of eight (EVEN tho they ain’t sold miraculously).  I am still choking in the implacable fact—but there it is—and the funny thing is I have expected it in nightmares for four years at least.  And I still feel that it just couldn’t be true that I have to give up writing, and, maybe, from what I guess anyhow, Cyril painting too.  Of course the immediate problem is framing for Sug’s show, and the getting of all of us away from here and to America.  I have written asking Walter to try and get me the six hundred more of a lump instead of fifty per month, but he probably won’t.  We have just enough on hand to carry us thru the rest of time here with economy.  Cyril of course can sell the Renault but it was worth so little to start on it so won’t be no fortune.  Otto was right, they ain’t no quiet life for this crowd.

But something in my gizzard is so mad I don’t feel half as despairing as commonsense tells me I should.


* * * * *

To Marie Tudor Garland

Chez Mme. Kay Boyle
22 Boulevard du France, Monte-Carlo, Monaco1
February 19, 1927

Dear Marie:

I have just received your letter of December 5th which has been forwarded to me.

Of course I am terribly surprised since you said at Bermuda “I have done this so you needn’t ever have to worry again about your actual bread and butter”.  It simply never occurred to me after this that it was a contingent gift, otherwise I should never have come to Europe but should have made other plans.

I am very grateful for what I have received and am sorry to hear that your own resources have diminished.

During these years I have always hoped that some day we might come to a renewed understanding and friendship.

I shall get back to America as soon as I can, and try to make my belated plans for my future.

Again I thank you, and please know that I have always wished you happiness and good and always shall.

Very sincerely, [not signed]

1There is no evidence that Evelyn left Kouba to travel to Monaco at this time and this return address appears to be a way of concealing their whereabouts from Marie. Evelyn and Cyril had been giving Marie the Theis’ London address, and their dealings with her appear to have been via their lawyer, Walter Nelles.

* * * * *

 To Louise Morgan

Kouba, Algeria
March 8, 1927

Very dear ginklet:  It was pretty darling of you to get angry and of course nothing could please me more seeing as I was angry myself.  Of course it doesn’t look hopeful.  I’ve never heard you and Otto speak of feeling close to any wealthy cousins, and my pa, who might at least have left me a fiver, has repented his weak access of mobility, and has refused to answer any of the four letters I have written him since July last.

Cyril was up for three days to frame some pictures for a show going on here, and they were wonderful—such an ache of subtleties of a robust—but not “red blooded” kind as braced us up.  Jig and I will stay in Paris till Cyril’s show is over, when it is hoped there will be the sponduliks for everybody’s fare to NY.  Of course Sug is determined to pay it, and I don’t see how to help it, if he finds he can, for it would not help his spirits much to leave Jig and me decaying there.  No fear Marie will change her mind as regards me I think.  I’m not asking her sure, tho even that may seem funny after one has digested so much for so long heartily.  Of course I’m going back to NY with every intention to try and play the “game”, and of course very likely I shall not be at it long before I put my foot in it.  Ever since I was fifteen I’ve been fighting to develop one way, against discouragement, and in consequence I haven’t developed the other.  I’m not clever and never will be.  I don’t either exalt the fact or indulge in humility regarding it.  But it is so hard to keep agile in a worldly minded way and to remain expressive in a quite other way.  And mostly only the few and rare achieve it.  And mostly only the few and rare keep their defense active and acquisitive and their deepest guts intact though mute.

Still, I’m older and less impassioned about the matter than I was when I first came to New York.  All the time I was ill and isolated in Brazil I lived on the plane of trying to write the best that was in me, and on no other.  It was a jump from the almost mystical solitude of Cercadinho to the intrigues of Greenwich Village—particularly as the lack of manners misguided me to imagine them the reflection of leanings toward honesty.  And of course the enemies made then will be the hardest to ignore now, as they won’t ignore me, in the wrong way.

However, for self centeredness I guess that’s enough.  Jack is a fine kid, and everything that any really generous temperament can be when it has absolutely no practical experience of being responsible for any living thing but itself.  I mean he wants to help me, but the only thing commonsense and facts allow is that he help himself as fast as ever he can.  He will have to get a job when he arrives I’m afraid at once, tho there is Bossun1 and the aunts for a couple of weeks.  I’m praying very heartily he can land on something half time so that he can go on.

We have just had Ram a din2 and hope the Arabs are happy.  Mutton went up six francs more a kilo in consequence.  It is beginning to be spring here very flagrantly with white flowers and bees and things and all the roses out tho chilly since the stone floors and fireless rooms are built for twelve above.  Please have Otto write us when the news arrives.  We think about it every day.  I dream of receiving five kids by parcel post, losing them in a tram, and finding them again under a seat in a locker.  Thinking they must be suffocated, I put them out on the ground when all rose and talked.  So I cut the strings and out jumped four dogs and a cat.  The street being full of such animals, I consulted five tintype photos of little girls in aprons and recognized one as a spits, one a greyhound, one a spaniel, one a terrier, and one the cat. Gad bless yawl and your works, internal and on paper.

love from us, evelyn

PS  You know I have in a Bermuda trunk stored alas in Marie’s house for the letter announcing the life gift of that money, and for Jig thereafter.

This is most likely a reference to Bosham (pronounced “Bossum”) in Sussex, where John’s Aunt Mary lived.



Some time during the summer of 1927 Evelyn and Jigg returned to the United States.  No existing letters give any reason for her return at this point, and the next post will see her in lodgings in New York City.









Picking up the pieces

After the breakup with Merton, Evelyn and Cyril went their separate ways. There is no correspondence relating to Cyril’s return to North Africa, and  his later journey to Europe with Elsa Pfenniger, his Swiss mistress of whom Jigg was extremely fond.  In spite of this separation Cyril was willing to continue to support Evelyn financially, at least at first.

Shortly before this breakup, Evelyn and Jack Metcalfe had met at the home of mutual friends.  Jack recorded this meeting briefly in a diary entry which gave no clue as to the eventual importance of this meeting.  After the parting of the ways with Merton, she and Jack began living together–a\gain, there are no letters in the collection referring to the development of this relationship.

A few words about Jack, whose full name was William John Metcalfe.  He was born into a wealthy family in Heacham, Norfolk (Evelyn often claimed they were “minor nobility”) and was privately educated before studying at the University of London.  He wrote a number of works of science fiction (what might be called “fantasy” today) and was called to the Royal Navy Air Force during WW1.   After the war, he remained a reservist in the Royal Air Force, and supplemented his meagre royalties by teaching Latin and mathematics at a series of private schools.

We pick up the narrative with Evelyn staying in London with her good friends Otto Theis and Louise Morgan.  Again, none of the letters in the collection refer to the interval between the breakdown described by Gladys at the end of “Heartache” and this first letter.  Later, when she stayed in England with Jack for the first time, her letters reflect her bemusement at the British way of life.

* * * * *

To Maude Dunn

c/o Theis, London
September 17 [1925]

Dear Mother:

Again I have held off writing in the hope of having money to send but I must wait until next month again.  You see we have no fixed source of income of any kind, just depending on what sells and what doesn’t, so one month we have some money and the next we don’t.  I have been interested in all your letters and all the Clarksville news, but I get blue when I can’t send money and don’t feel it worth while for me to write.  I have had my tonsils out and that cost something, but it is a great relief.  I have been suspected of having TB and floroscoped and x-rayed and found a little doubtful but not a real case.  So it is a relief to know anyhow.  I’ve stayed in London in order to be doctored but it is much too like New York in expensiveness for a permanent residence and to make things cheaper Jigeroo and Cyril went back to Italy.  Cyril sends some pictures but exhibitions have to be about two years apart in order to accumulate work of the best quality and you have to live in between.  He is not at all strong any more.1  Of course I miss them terrifically.  London always seems like a city of the drowned after New York and the English are so impersonal and their desire to keep everything on a purely formal plane is almost an insanity.  Sport and politics have to take the place of everything personal, though of course underneath they are the most sentimental race on earth.  I don’t really like them or feel drawn to them.  In some ways even the French are much closer, though they lack a subtle kind of imagination and are too diagrammatic on a mental plane.

The weather here makes seven kinds of a day in one.  It is balmy spring at ten am, winter at twelve, a dreary rainy autumn at three and at six before the sun goes it may be spring again.  Not as disagreeable as it sounds really.  But oh the types, the stony blue-eyed wooden well bred usual men, so good looking and so uninteresting.  And the women with heavy chins, slab sided figures, lovely skins, and perfectly vacant personalities.  Naturally that isn’t all, but it is the average.  The shops are dreadful.  You don’t mind having no money for what you don’t want to buy.  Ready made clothes  [missing page(s)]

Jigeroo isn’t going to school now, but he has been to French, Italian and Arab schools, French spoken in the Arab school.  I don’t know where he will go this winter.  If I get rich ever I’ll put him in a boarding school in Switzerland.  He looks very much like me everybody says.  He is way above my shoulder, about to my chin, pretty solid, and has a fine color.  His eyes are not as blue as they were, and his teeth need straightening some.  Otherwise except for size he looks about as you remember him.  He speaks slowly and has a lazy walk except when he plays very hard.  His sense of humour is superb and he is chocked full of temperament.  His appreciation of pictures and books is five years in advance of his age.  In school he is no good at all, won’t concentrate and seems to think education a joke, partly because he is always changing schools and they are all different.  He draws astonishingly.  Almost everybody likes him and certainly he is a handsome kid, but I’ve got to get enough money to give him a more practical education so if he is ever up against it he won’t be at such a disadvantage.

Lots of love and hopes for your health, and do forgive the hard time about money.  We are still gamblers and paupers about that.  Only there are bound to be streaks of luck.


1Cyril was then 54 years old.

2Evelyn continued to use the name she was christened with when writing to her mother.

* * * * *

Cyril Kay Scott to Manager, Chatham and Phoenix National Bank

Hotel de France
Gafsa, Tunisia
December 1, 1925

Mr Stuart B Plant, Mgr
Chatham and Phoenix National Bank
14th St and 8th Ave, New York City

Dear Mr Plant:

Evelyn Scott is coming to New York for reasons of health, and will probably be in need of funds in addition to her own.  Will you therefore please transfer at any time any amount she may specify from my account to hers.  This letter is authorization for this operation which please repeat as often as she may desire.  In other words, I wish her to have the benefit of my account as well as her own in case need arises during her stay in New York.

Yours very truly
C Kay Scott

* * * * *

Again, there is no correspondence referring to the decision Jack and Evelyn made some time during that December to go to England rather than return to the United States.  Jack had family connections in England and the couple found themselves in the Scilly Isles, a popular holiday spot, living out of season in a boarding house.  (Apologies to my British readers if they find some of the explanations unnecessary.)

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

[c/o Mrs Clark, Palace Row, Tresco, Scilly Isles]
January 24 [1926]

Dear Otto:

I don’t want to wear you out with correspondence, but you were so good about the check and medicine and so on as you are about every damn thing you get axed when anybody gets in a hole, big or little.  I do think you are pretty gran’, Otto, and so do John1, and there ain’t no good way to tell you about it.  It must be the bloodiest nuisance in the world to have all the endless perpetual things on you, and this week there will be another, as by the beginning of next week I will want the check for five guineas (guineas,2 not pounds—and I will make him wait a bit longer for the next payment), and at the same time ten pounds more for myself as we pay board in advance.  Will you please send the money cash registered but not in 5 lb notes3 as one pound is all they can cash here.  If it gets here next Mon or even Wed will do.

I never saw such a tiny place that gave such impression of variety.  Down where we were today there was a waste looking flat, faintly blooming, with moss on the sandy earth.  It had the suggestion, where the sea was hidden, of a vast desolateness like the Campagna at Rome, and over toward the water long rolling hummocks were covered with a yellow grass, shining as blond hairs, dry but unseeded, and bristly-stiff, but growing thick as the fur of an animal.  When we climbed the summit of the last point of land, we could see a rocky nudity of beach exposed and on one upstanding boulder a very large gull, very still and alone, presiding over the reflections in the brackish puddles that the sea had left.

We made a detour around the governors bloody “abbey” which looks like the ancestral castle of a Long Island millionaire, and passed a large pond or small lake, according to your temperament from which a pair of wild ducks darted with their nasal cries.  And when we had got back on the more trodden road that would take us home it was nearly dark and what is called the Round Island Light, that John is very fond of and will put in a story, was making a pale ember in the ash of the [illeg].  Then all at once it swelled like a window into the lovliest rosiest depth of hell, and was the most beautiful red red red menace I have seen in a long time.

Well—here we are again.  The food is per usual and one grows used to it—though I do miss coffee of which I have not had a drop, and the missing of which makes me think much of you.  I would also appreciate one of Louise’s most divine salads as but for fresh meat and the oranges we have got ourselves we would sure have scurvy.

Well, I do wish this was a lesser run from London.  Mr A Burdett has not shown up yet—but I wish you could.  The great bird life in the spring and the feathered population now is limited (no personal reference meant).  But I have had great pleasure from the cormorants, who have necks as long as baby swans but not sinuous.  Their black feathers are usually so wet they seem like eels in a dripping fleshiness.  They swim with their bodies mainly submerged, and when they dive it is in the neat pointing attitude of a human swimmer, for they leap an inch or two out of the water, and spring with a half somersault on the fish they’ve sight.  They look so like pogy sly old men in wet bathing suits, but with a sinister agility.

Maybe birds won’t interest you, but the surf yesterday in the storm would have.  We were on the rolling moor that is at this end and on a pinnacle the wind almost took me off.  The harbours all around are full of small mountains like miniatures of Rio and on these a perfect fury of lashing vapour at a gigantic height.  Thank Pete we brought books tho work goes fine, but stops at noon, tho John does another batch of typing by the shades of night.  His book seems to me to be doing well.

Love to Louise Evelyn.  John sends love too.

1John Metcalfe, with whom Evelyn was then living.

2The guinea, a unit which is no longer used, was 21 shillings, or one pound one shilling.

3The unit of English currency, the pound, is written as “£”, but Evelyn is writing it as it sounds. The correct representation would have been “£5 notes”.

4This amount, four pounds 10 shillings, would be more correctly written “£4 10s”.


Tresco, Scilly Isles
Tresco, Scilly Isles

To Louise Morgan

[Tresco, Scilly Isles]
April 7 [1926]

Louise, darling, you can not hope to keep quantitive pace with my corresponding.  Until I get hold of a History of the Civil War to begin book two1 on, I have all my mornings for letters.  John is helping me correct spelling and punctuation in the afternoons.  He has laid off his novel for a bit and is beginning a short story which has a very spirited opening and promises to be both good and saleable.  We are still in the air about plans, for the air ministry had an Easter holiday and has not answered his inquiry about training camp.

Beloved, when you say have an idea, and especially about Staples2, I would not be right bright if I did not have a vision of Louise sweating on the floor of the living room and Miss Staples being guiltily nice and ineffectual and looking at a [dressmaking] pattern as if it came out of a menagerie.

As for having the specific things altered, I am afraid everything is past altering but the green dress Whitehead5 made, and that I am having let out here as it is a very simple matter.  The skirts are being ripped but they miss three or four inches in the belt and I don’t think the seams will do it and there is no more to do to them.  That leaves the green dress and the grey coat (which, by the way, has lost somewhat by having the buttons moved to their last extremity) to travel in, which would do except that it is going to be hot in may when we hit Marseille.  I have that old black crepe de chine of Phyllis Crawford’s3 which it may be can be ripped to make a skirt.  Do you think it would go with a green crepe de chine jumper?  I got some samples from Peter Jones4 and figured out the cost of a cape dress (they are very a la mode again)—short cape, plain skirt with one pleat in front, and tailored silk jumper—with, possibly, as it only takes three eighths of a yard and the pattern comes with the dress, a soft hat of same stuff as the skirt, and it came to a little over five pounds, figuring on Miss Whitehead’s possible price.  If I had the money here I might have tackled asking her, but I don’t know yet whether we can get thru month (I begin to see Otto’s troubles—John had another income tax, and had to gibe three pounds for a contribution for a grave stone for his uncle Reggie just departed).  Also another payment to Haire5, and we must have two hundred dollars clear just to reach Marseille.  John will get some and me some next month and we can do it, but five or six pounds on a dress is a plenty so I thought of writing to Miss Whitehead just before I leave and asking her if she could cut over black crepe de chine and make a blouse.  I’d rather give the work to poor old Staples, but if I did, at your house, you know as well as I do that you would but in and she would look on.

For the green dress I didn’t consider her, for, had it cost less and I gotten it,  I imagined she couldn’t tackle it-or feared that, even sending it to her house, you would somehow assume responsibility.  I don’t trust you in these ere matters.

Please don’t cry when you think of me, for I would feel comfortabler if you laughed.

I now and then have very vivid dreams of Owen and wake up in a state of sentimentality that, if painful in a way, is nice, for my subconscious doesn’t seem to have retained any bitter impressions and I always feel afterward that I pray really honestly that he is happier and not worried, and I hope thinking of me isn’t ugly to him.  If its now ugly, distorted with pain impressions, I don’t want more.  Goodness knows.  Nothing stands between us and kindly feelings except (for me) his tendency to be injust and even, latterly, monstrous in misinterpretations of Cyril.  This I understood at the time, but I hope peace of mind restored a point of view that would make me feel that old having to chose between Cyril and Owen even in friendship—tho of course nothing would ever deviate my comprehension of Cyril’s beauty.  However, Owen may be recovered in his mind, and if so blessings upon him with all my heart and no bunk.  I guess he hit my maternal instinct as no adult ever did.

I won’t be in Paris, honey.  John finds we can go through from Callais to Marseilles and that a couchette costs no more and less than the hotel in Paris, so we are planning to check luggage from London to Marseilles.  Thus, London leave 11 am, Callais, 2.15, leave 2.55 arrive Paris 7.30 (hour and a half wait in station but no change of cars), then arrive Marseilles next morning 9.30.  Fare for both of us comes to about 150 dollars, counting excess luggage, meals, etc.  I know I can buy in Marseilles, except that for the minute I won’t have money enough, as I have to take enough to live in there until I can get another check from America, which is about a month.  However, I’ll have another check from Sug first next month (Marie hundred) and if I have to will cable for it before leaving London.

Oh, well I could talk on all day.  I’ll spare you.  Thank you for the Butterick address, and I’m glad—or hope—it sounded so—that you are feeling a bit more chipper.  I want to hear any news from the kids.  Give Otto a hug, beloved, and for yourself all my lesbian outpourings which, by the way, John has by no means overcome.  John says to give you both a handsome lot of love from him.  We had a wonderful scrap last night, of the only kind we have had since we came, about the bedclothes, and me turning over in bed when John can’t sleep.  I wish I had had a dictaphone.  John accused me of “sighing” and keeping him awake.  It’s a species of tyranny that must proceed from his subconscious as he has never showed it except when half asleep.  Then he says I have all the sheet, when I have three eighths of an inch and so on. It is screamingly funny, and shows the subconscious of a bachelor I think with thirty four years of managing his own bedcovers.

I bobbed the daughter in law of my landlady and am now being solicited by a neighbour, it having gone abroad, John says that before I married him I worked in a beauty shop.

agin, love, evelyn

1Evelyn was at this time working on the book which would be published in 1929 as The Wave.

2Miss Staples appears to have been Louise’s seamstress. At that time it was not uncommon for women to have their clothes “run up” from patterns (including Butterick) by a seamstress.

3Miss Whitehead appears to be another seamstress.

4A fashionable London department store

5Dr Haire, Evelyn’s gynaecologist. She had had recurring problems ever since the birth of her son, perhaps compounded by the inept repairs performed in Brazil.

6Even though they did not marry until 1930, Evelyn and John posed as a married couple so they could live together without exciting comment.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

[Tresco, Scilly Isles]
April 19 [1926]

Dear Otto:

This besieging is not an attack but an apology.  John is so sensitive on the money question that he slurred our difficulties and I did not realize that when the board was payed this am we wouldn’t have anything to buy matches, cigarettes, or oil for the stove—which last is serious as we are both laid up more or less with flu.  So I’m writing this because I axed for money for the end of this week and now, want to let you know the boats are changed and to get it here Friday it must reach Penzance in time for a sailing at 9 Friday morning.  Otto, when I get to France I won’t devil you no long.  I wrote to the bank on the thirty-first about cabling that money.  Certainly looks as if they’d had time.  What do you think?  I gave them the Fleet Street address?1  Oh damn money, it do make the future look uncertain.   But I’m letting off steam to you, it can’t be done before John, as he already has a COMPLEX and wonders what Cyril will think of him, and so on.  I trust Cyril’s understanding but am by no means sure John and me and Jig, half time Jig, can subsist very comfortably on our twenty five a week.  However there’s always hope.  Otto its no longer a question of a grand gesture about this money, but that I owe you in plain cash just for electricity and gas and you’ve never said how much.  Sometimes when you think pisin (I don’t mean that) poison is so cheap and life is so dear you wonder why you do it.  But it is and you do, and if I try to “wish I was dead” I ain’t sure I mean it.

I hope my groans don’t hit you at a hard time.  If they do throw a brick at me.  I can’t mention money in any ordinary tone of voice.

Lots of love from both of us to yawl.  evelyn

1The address of The Outlook, where Otto worked

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Tresco, Scilly Isles
April 23, 1926

Beloved dear, I had such a vivid dream about you last night and yet I haven’t the faintest idea this morning what it was about—just the strong impression of you that held over until morning and made me feel like writing to you.  I sent a letter through Glad and hope you get it, but I don’t know that she has your address, so this through Ellen who, last letter, mentioned having heard from you.

I hope spring is there.  March gave here fallacious hints, and April has been one succession of hair and wind storms, of chill unimpassioned moodiness.  Scilly is such a Noah’s ark of a place, but with most of the animals left out.  Just a few human breeds in twos and twos in squat little stone cottages, neat like ships at seas, but as plainly adorned.  You’d be amused with the interior of the room we have to work in.  It is very tiny, very low ceilinged, and, like all Scilly houses, with a window not much bigger than a porthole.  The furniture (it is a dining room) is broad striped plush and ornate machine carved backs—three chairs, two arm chairs for head and foot of table, and a chaise lounge about big enough for one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs.  On the chaise lounge is a red sofa pillow covered with a Nottingham lace tidy.  The sideboard is red, imitation mahogany.  On it repose a cracked Sunday teaset of royal blue and gild, mended with liquid cement and non-usable; two “hand painted” bowls (non used) and a huge imitation cut glass bottled revolving silver-plated canister.  All the bottles except the mustard pot are empty but everyday it is put on the table for every meal, presumably, because it is so heavy, to keep the tablecloth from blowing off.  On one wall are three hunting prints, pink coats, hounds etc, one without a glass, and two with glasses cracked.  One the sideboard wall is another chromo of Highland Cattle in a Turneresque debauch of sunset and water.  On either side the sideboard hang two green plush mats triangular in shape framing small round mirrors.  Again, on the third wall, is an enlarged photograph of my landlady’s father-in-law and mother-in-law—an old lady like a mild and Christian monkey, a cocky obstinate looking little white haired man who obviously takes to himself full credit for his wife’s faithfulness.  There is, too, an enlarged and colored photo of the landlord and landlady—she, wearing a knit jersey and pince nez (all highly tinted) and he, with his moustache bright gold, standing beside her and looking a bit of a beau.  On the mantel shelf are three vases decorated with Watteau figures, all the vases as tall as funeral urns, with huge gilt urns, the one in the center mounted high above the others on a base of china that is like a tower.  Mingled with this adornment are crowds of adenoidal family photographs, some framed, some unframed, some passepartoured,1 and the mantel shelf has an embroidered linen lambrequin.  The highly polished brass fire set adds the last note.  Through the window, Tresco harbour looks like a pan full of blue water with some funny paper sailing boats on it.

By the time we leave we will have been here almost four months, so we know it well.

But the island sensation is growing strong.  An island must be tropical if it is anything.  This is often too much like an ocean liner in the North Atlantic.  Bermuda had twenty miles.  Tresco has three.

John and I are only waiting for enough cash to move.  I don’t want to crush Cyril with responsibilities, and I hope to Pete to get something soon from the advance on novel—if there is any.  And then—oh, it will be joy to see Sug and Jig again and Elsa, too—but especially Jig.  I think, I hope, John will like them and they him.  Now I still wish that you, dearest honey, were coming to spend the summer with us.  There’ll always be a place if you get enough just for fare.  I truly think you’d like John.  I don’t know anyone just the same type—a little like Cyril, a little like Martin, more callow than Cyril, and less hardened thru bitter experience than Martin.  But he has been good to me, Lola, very, very, very.

This is just little more than gossip.  I don’t know what I want to talk to you about, further than I want to talk.  I wish we could all see you.  Darling, your transparent alabaster red-hot furnace fire warms a lot of space over the chill Atlantic.  I wish I knew how to send warm back.  And I do long to see the poems.  If you can’t write please delegate somebody to tell me how you are, something about practical happenings, your health, and so on.

Love and love and love.  This year in general counts up a good number 1926 = 18 = 9.  Good year for your book.  I am trying to arrange to go to a spiritualist seance in London.  I’ll write you about it.


1Passepartout is a black paper tape which was used to bind the edges of pictures as a cheap alternative to framing

No letters survive which record the departure from the Scilly Isles, of the decisions that led to Evelyn and John ending up in Cassis-sur-Mer on the south coast of France not far from Marseille, or of their journey there. Nor is there any account of how it was that Jigg, who was then 12 years old, came to them from Tunisia, where he had been living with Cyril and Elsa.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[5 rue Victor Hugo, Cassis-sur-Mer, France]
[June 1926]

Beloved Lola:

John, Jig and myself are at Cassis, a village one hour from Marseille.  Cyril and Elsa are at l’Estaque, two hours away.

If you can get the fare, won’t you come stay with us.  Our flat has only two rooms, but we can get you another outside where you can have breakfast in bed and bigger meals with us—only walking a step so to speak.

It is warm, but there is the sea and calm, and we love you so—John and Elsa both want to know you so.  Jig sends his dearest love to you and Davy.  So do I.

Blessed, you could take a boat to Marseille, wireless us the day before you get in, and Cyril, John, Elsa, me and Jig all meet you easily at Marseille.  You need a change beloved as well as you need many other things.  The boat fare, second class, is about $145, but you must have fruit or something of your own.  In summer the journey is not rough.  You could see Gibraltar, Paloma, Naples en route as we did and we’d bring you right here.  If I get anything on my novel you won’t need any money here.  I doubt living with us won’t cost you with room, more than a dollar a day.  Please we all want it.  Evelyn 

entrance to Cassis harbour
The entrance to Cassis harbour

* * * * *

Not long after this Evelyn and Jack left Cassis for Portugal and then back to Algeria and Cyril.  All of this in next week’s installment.




Now, after Evelyn’s emotional anguish following the break up with Merton,  seems a good place to take stock.

The next selection of her letters will see her travelling around Europe, first with Cyril and Jig and then, after a year or two, to England with Jack Metcalfe.  This change of pace in her life offers me an opportunity to take stock of the story still to be told.

This story, is primarily, of her family relationships:  with her only son Jigg and, later, his wife Paula; with the married man she considered to be her “common-law” husband, Cyril; and with the man she did eventually marry, Jack Metcalfe.  The 2000+ letters in my collection cover much more than this aspect of her life.  She had lasting friendships full of mutual support with other women .  We have seen some of her correspondence with Lola Ridge, but these letters included much more mutual support for their writings.  Charlotte Wilder was another important figure in Evelyn’s life: the sister of the American author Thornton Wilder, she was often institutionalised with mental and physical ill health.  Charlotte was a poet to whom Evelyn gave unremitting support.  Kay Boyle and Emma Goldman were important in shaping Evelyn’s political views—and they hers.  Although I have collected some of this correspondence, I am only including that correspondence which directly refers to the central family story.

Evelyn’s continuing financial problems during this period and later were made worse by the increasing difficulty she had getting her books published.  Many letters to, and about, her publishers refer to this deteriorating relationship.  And so I am leaving much of this correspondence out of this account.

This is not to  say that these are not important parts of her story.  They are just not parts of the story of Evelyn and her immediate family.

NB:  For those who wish to follow other aspects of Evelyn’s life story, these are excellent accounts:

D A Callard:  Pretty Good for a Woman:  The enigmas of Evelyn Scott.  Jonathan Cape, 1985

Caroline Maun:  Mosaic of Fire:  The work of Lola Ridge, Evelyn Scott, Charlotte Wilder and Kay Boyle.  University of South Carolina Press, 2012

Dorothy Scura and Paul Jones (eds):  Evelyn Scott:  Recovering a lost modernist. University of Tennessee Press, 2001

Mary Wheeling White:  Fighting the Current:  The life and work of Evelyn Scott. Louisiana State University Press, 1998


In June 1925, Evelyn returned to the US on board SS Rousillon (the evidence for this is an envelope, without any letter, on ship’s stationery.). It appears she may have been accompanied by Merton, but the gaps in the correspondence make it difficult to establish who was with whom when. Once in the United States she stayed for varying periods with loyal friends, notably Lola Ridge and Gladys Grant.  There is no indication of what took her to Westport, Connecticut in July, unless it was that she found that lodgings there were cheaper than in Manhattan.  But what is clear is her inner turmoil after Owen’s departure from Collioure.

NB:  These letters are heavily edited.  They are often repetitive.  Portions refer to Evelyn’s previous relationships and how they compare to her relationship with Merton.  There are also lengthy, not entirely relevant, passages about her relationship with Cyril.  And, considering her reputation as a novelist, poet and essayist, there are numerous long confused passages of almost random references to her feelings about Owen and Cyril.

* * * * *
To Otto Theis

Banyuls-sur-Mer, France
June 8 [1925]

Dear Otto:

I have made a mess of my affairs again.  My private opinion is that Merton’s collapse is due as much and more to the artificialities that have hedged in his personal life as it was due to worries about money.  He simply can not be anything but spontaneous and obviously honest.

I am enclosing a letter to him1 which I want you to deliver simply because you will be able to judge whether or not he is in anything like a condition for serious discussion, which I can not judge at this distance.  I can’t take any of his friends into my confidence.  I want you to read the letter, however boring and annoying the process, for Merton knows that you are the only person with whom I have always been quite frank and it may be a relief to him to talk to you.  I shall write him that, as soon as he is well enough to be about, he will please go to see you to talk over some plans, and you can go somewhere to lunch or tea and have the letter presented.  If you don’t want to do this, Otto, it will be alright.  But I am asking it knowing I impose a difficult thing on you.  Judging by what happened to Merton physically, this is really a matter of life and death.  I think it best he should not have come back here with an emotional elan and have a shock.  It might produce the same result as before.  I think it would be better to get the edge of the shock over while he is among doctors and friends.  If you disagree please tell me.

If you will read the letter you will have something of an idea of how things stand.  I really love Merton very much, but I love Sug more I know or I could not dream of hurting Merton this much.  But I won’t discuss it for I am in an utter inward mess—almost as bad as four years ago—and worse because it’s all happened before with no solution.  Merton is as thoroughly sweet and genuine a person as ever lived and I have three years, nearly, of knowing him to test my opinion by.  He really as been a constant pleasure to me.

If you don’t want, when Merton is better, to deliver this letter, or if you prefer to mail it to him, alright, only please be sure he is better.  But if you will let him talk to you I think it might do him good.  He is really very self-respecting and self-responsible—not an artistic monster—and I don’t think he will impose on you very much.  He may regard this quite sensibly or he may want to rush down here, but anyway it will, it seems to me, be good that he has some forewarning of what Sug and I have discussed.


PS  An hour later:  perhaps it Isn’t fair to you as Sug’s friend to ask you to do this, so will you keep up on Merton’s health and mail him the letter when he is much better?  That needn’t envolve you.  I wish you’d read the letter though.  Merton will never be nasty to Sug and he might need a friend very much who was also our friend.

1This letter has not survived.

* * * * *
To Lola Ridge

[c/o Grant, 31, W 14th Street, NYC]
July 7 [1925]

Darling darling Lola:

I hope you are better.  I am just as obsessed as ever and will be until I hear from or at least of Owen. I don’t know how mad I am, but I must pretend to hope for the present to save myself from literal almost physiological insanity.1  My depression has been the secret fear of losing him.  His depression has probably been largely the spectacle of my depression.  The reason I have been afraid is that I recalled the kind of brutal insanity which possessed him after Ruth’s death2 and I was afraid that trouble would, as it has, drive him into the same state again.  If he has been afraid of my dying like Ruth, that is nonsense.  I shall be quite well with time and something to start with.  And if he is too ill to bear me as a practical responsibility I will handle myself, given his psychic cooperation in doing it.  don’t threaten him with disaster for Gods sake, yet make him see that which I know, that his own sensitivity can not survive sanely the present method.  I want to help him anyway on earth.  If he really hates me then of course the help must be for me to disappear for him.  I must find out. [Remainder of letter missing]

1Although the “insanity” referred to here is actually the pain Evelyn was experiencing from the break-up with Merton, this sentence is prescient. In about 10 years’ time, her letters would be showing signs of the paranoia and obsessions which took over her life and so badly affected the lives of those around her.

2Owen’s wife, Ruth Jenkins, had died of cancer.

* * * * *
To Owen Merton

[c/o Grant, 31 W 14th St, NYC]
July 10 [1925]

Dearest love:

Please remember nothing is changed.  I am going up to Ellen’s to Nantucket Saturday.  I hope you will feel like telling me how you are.  I feel so calm somehow and as if I knew this gesture was only a phase though I suppose you will do your best to convince me it is a fact, and it does hurt very much. Remember the problem of the kids2 is not solved by giving me up.  It remains IDENTICALLY the same, and the Jenkins arguments are all unconsciously warped about that.  I have a lot of plans up my sleeve to get money for you and whether you want me with the money or not I am going to pull ’em as hard as I can.  Remember I am ready to compromise with the Jenkins as soon as you want me.  They will be ready too if you ever do.  Dear don’t think my hopefulness a compulsion.  Tell me you don’t love me and you know I don’t want a coerced lover, but I don’t see why I must be subjected to ignorance of your condition, darling, need I be?  I am going to work like bloody hell to set you free to paint and then you can live in Douglaston and refuse to speak to me if you like.  I mean it.  You can.  And I bet you a dollar I succeed.   The Jenkins would come around too if you took the bull by the horns and married me and that is the only reason I have wanted you to.  I have learned by experience that the world sure can cock you up if you are outside the pale.  Well by marrying you get inside.  I wouldn’t try to keep you if you turned agin me, but I would be in such a position I couldn’t be kept from seeing you if you were ill etc.  I have always known this, and when I spoke of deception I really uttered timidly my terror of just exactly what has occurred and what could not occur if things were so convention could not exclude me.

The only difference I make in your life is that I am an obstacle to a natural desire to keep any woman out.  Giving me up because it is your duty sounds like insanity even to people who realize completely the problem of the children in its most tangible sense.  I simply couldn’t complicate it.  And you poopooed Elsa3 sharing the responsibility of the kids.  That is not foolish at all.

Bless you and let me kiss you forever because it is until death do us part for me.  I can’t give myself utterly and change.

Goodbye dearest Muttsie, but I hope you will write.

[This letter was never opened by Merton]

1Michael Theis, Louise and Otto’s son.

2Evelyn is referring to Owen’s two children and his dispute with the Jenkins about their upbringing.

3Cyril and Jigg were at this time living in Switzerland with Cyril’s latest lover, Elsa Pfenniger.

* * * * *
To Louise Morgan

c/o Grant, 31 W 14th St, NYC
July 11, 1925

Dearest Louise:

I have been very ill.  Owen is ill and in anguish of mind.  The Jenkins have landed on him with threats and reproaches and rubbing in of obligations and he has been told how the children cry for him, little John does.  The Jenkins have now set out to separate Owen and me and may succeed.  They won’t allow me to speak, write, or even indirectly communicate with him.  They won’t let me know of his health and God knows what they tell him of me, and I have no legal recourse.

I have been under drugs myself and am pretty ill.  If we had had money and had defied them it wouldn’t have happened.  I feel as if my world had smashed—but most a perfect agony of anxiety about him.  Forgive him you two he has a terrible lot.  I’ll have to tell Suggie, but must think out how to make it easiest for him about me.  I am pretty ill and bust for cash.  Evelyn

* * * * *

I considered carefully whether to include the next letter, from Evelyn to Merton via Otto, an anguished paean of guilt and passion of  some 4,300 words.  In the end I decided not to, and instead have concentrated on a sequence of shorter letters, the next one of which appears to have been written about the time Evelyn and Owen were together sailing to New York.


* * * * *
To Louise Morgan

[Westport, Connecticut]
July 17 [1925]

Dearest Louise:

I have been through hell since I saw you.  Owen was an angel all the way here, but as we neared New York he sank into the most morbid state I ever saw, looking at me in a kind of anguished way and repeating, Yes, you are beautiful.  Yes, I love you.  I love you very much, and so on, so irrelevantly and with so little joy in making love I had the horrors again.  I asked him if he was anticipating trouble with the Jenkins1 and he would not answer.  When we were on deck he used to look at me and walk away, and seemed trying to hide some horrible depression he didn’t dare express.  He wasn’t never away from my side for a moment.  I was seasick and he seemed to think I was going to die.  Just before we arrived he insisted on repacking all the bags, gave me in mine all the letters I have written him, and some letters he wrote to his mother when he was a boy that I had asked to see.  Then he put the ring I had given him in my bag too.  Valid excuses of precaution were given for all of this.

On the morning we left the boat he made me stay on board while he did my bags for me in the customs.  Mr Jenkins had come to meet him and was frankly mad because he was delayed by Owen’s attentions to me.  When I spoke to him he was rather rude.  That gave me a premonitory fear.  As Owen said remember we are going to be separated but we are very close and together.  And I said, yes, forever.

Then Owen said, Those steady eyes, as if he were trying to remember something, and about to break down.

I didn’t see him until the next day.  Hell had broken loose.  Little Tom crying all day when his father spoke of France, Mrs Jenkins telling him she had guessed this and he was sacrificing his children for a wicked woman.  Pa Jenkins had a bad something and would go off if he knew Owen had committed adultery, and so on.  In short it was me or the kids.  Take your bloody kids and go to hell—if he don’t stop you by interfering legally for your own good—or but that low down whore ruiner of homes in her place.  Owen went off his head in the interview I wrote you about.  With no money he couldn’t move and kids with their rejoicing over him had broken him down anyway.  He took the step he threatened in Beziers, for ever since I tried to commit suicide the conviction of the hopelessness of money has become a mania with him.  He left me, by telegram, not a word to say where he was.  Just—to Gladys—I don’t think Evelyn and I should meet again, schemes won’t work, please don’t write.

Then he disappeared.  The Jenkins put a block on communication and he concurred.  He couldn’t stick it otherwise.  Today Harold Jenkins sent me a note he had written by Owen in a wabbly hand saying, I am sorry you have been made to feel responsible for my affairs, for of course the break in my relation with Evelyn Scott was my own decision.  I did it to avert a worse calamity later as no possible plan could be made to work.  I have behaved inhumanly again but it was because there was no way out, etc.

Result of this experience I have been in bed two weeks taking the stuff they give to DT patients, and with the doctor threatening to put me in an asylum where I could be watched.  But I guess I’m coming thru.  I don’t know quite.  I love Owen just as much, and understand the terror that has been growing in his mind because it was what did make me take poison and made me so anguished in London—there really is no cure to the money and children with the Jenkins attitude of stop at nothing to kill me confronting us.  So I quit and start somewhere else for the present.  If Owen pulls out and wants me later and I ain’t took I am his because I never loved Sug more nor anybody else as much, and with money to relieve worry we had everything in common to make us happy and the happiest sex I ever knew.  But so it goes.

Owen is a good kid and I loved him because he was so naïve in being sweet as well as brutal—Otto will kick me—but they go together.  And I wouldn’t lose my own kids either, so that’s that.  Anyway looking back London seems like the garden of paradise.


Love and au revoir, I hope Evelyn

1Merton’s in-laws, who were looking after his two children.

* * * * *
To Otto Theis and Louise Morgan

c/o Grant, 7 East 14th Street, NYC
July 19 [1925]

My sweet old Louises and Ottos:

The course of true love certainly has been a hellish one in this case, and I am so obsessed and depressed and ill that I have to write about it or talk about it, and someone writing about it to you is most relief.

You see a three years struggle on my part to break with Sug before a world, a three years struggle on Owen’s part to subdue jealousy and just hang on to respond to whatever decision I made, and a three years struggle on the part of dearest Suggie to discover whether or not he must resign forever the hope he has held on to—well all that did what you saw physically.  But we would all have survived if there had been rest of external problems to allow us to recuperate.  When I tried to kill myself in Beziers1 I was in the frame of mind Owen is now—only I am afraid, this being his second despair, he has gone further than I did inwardly, and perhaps to an irrevocable point of rejecting me.

When Cyril and I went away [to Brazil] we just dodged all that end of it and had only a terrible practical problem to confront—till mother2 came.  But Owen, because of the children, his own weakened health, and a temperament really not gratified by ruthlessness, has had something that, at the moment, is much harder to confront.

Shall I be able to keep her or shan’t I, must have been in his mind as an undercurrent every moment since March.  His despairing attitude on the boat was of course anticipation of this break.  The Jenkins had simply made up their minds that he must stay on Long Island with them and of course the justice of their demand was ethically obvious.  Here we have kept the children in health and happiness while you were selfishly (and wickedly) living with the wife of another man.  She is ill from worry, you are ill.  She has sacrificed a fine man to her selfishness as you admit.  She has no thought of her own child and she demands that you have no thought of yours.  We are ready to nurse you back to health and provide for you and your children until you are well enough to earn for them yourself.  No use making any temporary resolutions.  Pop has bad health.  He may die in a few years.  Then where will you be.  You have the responsibility of the children anyway.  You can’t escape it.  You are not the kind of a man who could.  Tom is only happy with you.  He hates France.  He did not like Mrs Scott.  Mr Scott did not like Tom.  Yet you have proposed that Tom spend part of his time with Mr Scott and his new wife.  The only financial support you can possibly get is thru us and you will not get that unless you once and for all renounce that woman.  We will not reproach you and it will all be as if it had never been, but you and your children—and the woman too—will be saved from ruin.  In a few years you will forget all this and we want you to marry sensibly a healthy strong competent woman for your children who thinks of you and them and not herself.  (This last has probably  not yet been sprung on Owen but it is what Mrs Jenkins told Dr Mayer.3)

Take a sick sensitive man already half insane with worry and land upon him a primitive and cunning old lady in love with him (Mrs Jenkins) two children weeping because father may leave them again, and the implacable fact that you haven’t got a cent and you and the woman are ill, and see what happens.  It just did.

His present intention is to give up the struggle and stay on Long Island with the kids until he gets well.  My opinion is that no matter what his effort to accept Mrs Jenkins solution, he won’t be able to stand it, and will end by going off with Tom, maybe to be a day laborer, maybe to take Tom to England.  But he will still be bound to the Jenkins by John Paul4.

As a painter, Long Island will kill him, so my opinion is that, painting having always been his strongest motive in life, the things that overpower him now will not keep him there always for the suicide of his talents.

For Owen himself the Jenkins home, the Jenkins manner, the Jenkins imposition will destroy his self-respect and kill him.  If I am ever to see him again he has got to get away from them—with Tom.  If I am never to see him again and he is going on to paint pictures I think ought to be painted, he must be helped to leave America which is to him a place a hell and oppression because of what he has been thru here.  I am not going to pursue him, except from a distance, and not at all, once I am convinced by something other than despair, that he has a happier life in some other circumstance.  But I do want to help him—to help myself by regaining him, or to help myself by escaping from the hallucinations I have all the time of his face in suffering, and all he has confided in me of the effect of the Jenkins, America, and lack of money on his mind.

Please save Owen from the curse of America and money.  Maybe I love him too much and he is, without knowing it, frightened of the too naked and intense exposure of longing for him.  But I will keep absolutely out of it unless I am asked to come back.  I have simply shared his horror of what might happen—what has happened—until I share involuntarily every torture he is going through and will go through.  Please help him.


1Evelyn had taken an overdose of codeine linctus.

2A reference to Maude Dunn’s arrival in Brazil shortly after Jigg’s birth.

3Dr May Mayers, general practitioner specialising in public health working in NYC. She was a loyal friend and provided medical advice to Evelyn throughout her life.

4Owen’s younger son, who was living with the Jenkins on Long Island at this time.

* * * * *

There are many more letters in the same vein.  As the Jenkins forbade communication between Owen and Evelyn, she wrote to him care of Otto and/or Louise, sealing the letters in inner envelopes which were not opened until the 1980s.  Meanwhile, Evelyn was staying with, among other friends, Gladys Grant.

* * * * *
Owen Merton to Lola Ridge

[Long Island]
August 16, 1925

Dear Lola

When Evelyn has so much to forgive me will you please not be too hard on me for not opening letters from you or for not replying to them.  It is hopeless to try and explain why one feels one must do certain things to anyone else—and I have the worst conscience in the world anyway now, only may I say that in doing a great wrong—I am avoiding doing a much greater one.  I wish I could have seen you—only now that everything is changed I don’t feel I should see anyone.

I can’t say anything Lola, that is why I did not write to you before.

Yours truly,

 * * * * *
Gladys Grant to Otto Theis

31 West 14th Street, NYC
August 27, 1925

Dear Otto:

For Evelyn—and you and Louise, too—I’m so afraid!  If she gets another shock and goes to pieces as she did here, I don’t know how she is going to stand it.  At the same time it is terrifically hard on anyone and everyone around here.  She has no thought for or mercy for anyone else1.  Please don’t think by saying this that I mean it as harsh criticism.  Evelyn was in an abnormal state and could not be held responsible.  Also we could not blame her for anything in such a terrible situation.

I am not outlining the facts as you undoubtedly know them and I don’t want to be an alarmist.  At the same time Evelyn’s mind still harps on the one thing—Merton, Merton, money for Merton, letters to Merton, etc.  If that string breaks, I’m afraid she’ll break too.  And both Merton and she are so twisted up with resentments, complexes, emotional difficulties, in their relations with each other that I am in serious doubt if it can ever be patched up.  Intellectually Evelyn see this, too.  but she won’t and dare not realize it emotionally.  Tom, who is with Merton, is one difficulty, Cyril another.  Merton has come out with jealous resentment and hatred of him and God knows whether Merton can even stand Evelyn’s remaining Cyril’s friend.  This is understandable after the situation in southern France and Algeria which Ellen Kennan sketched to us.  Ellen has little in common with Merton but she said he bore almost more than any man could—responsibilities for all the practical things to the minutest details, constant encouragement and patient criticism for Cyril’s painting, acknowledged love of Evelyn but never daring to show affection and Evelyn sleeping in the room with Cyril every night, etc, etc.  Cyril accepting everything and doing nothing—(I can’t blame him either after what he has been through.  The whole thing was too awful for everybody.)  Of course this last is entirely confidential.  Even Evelyn doesn’t know I know it.

Evelyn is with John Crawford and Becky Edelson2 now.  She is there because they have an extra room and she simply can not stay alone.  She was with us, as you know, for the first two weeks.  That time was a nightmare for all of us.  Merton’s interview and abrupt leave taking—futile attempts to reach him by telephone—his brutal telegram to me for Evelyn—her complete hysteria complicated by her taking all the sleeping tablets in a bottle—(This was not a suicidal attempt.  I had given her a large dose and it had not taken effect at once, so when I was out of the room she took the rest.  The result was almost like a stroke.  She lost control of her limbs, her mouth, etc. Her legs, arms, everything gave way and she could talk only with guttural swollen syllables.)  Then literally she nearly went mad.  She tried to dress and go to Douglaston and had to be restrained by force.  She begged piteously for something to kill herself with.  Later, when strong, she beat her head on the piano and took the dull grape fruit knife to bed with her.  (Fortunately I had hidden all the other sharp knives.)  She had to be watched every minute and was quiet only when given dope at night (until about 4 AM or when planning some way to reach Merton).  The minutes she had started something, she wanted results and started something else.  She would not wait and her various plans marred each other.  She turned against her various friends and a few times grew suspicious that we were not mailing her letters, sending her telegrams, telephoning her messages, etc.  That worried me more than anything as I was afraid of persecution mania.3  The doctor, May Mayers, a friend of Dudley’s, was a marvel.  She held Evelyn’s confidence until just before we had to leave.  Then Evelyn turned against her, too.  But during the worst time the doctor was the one person who could calm her and reason with her.  And May was a wonder about coming whenever I grew desperate.  She even went out to Douglaston and spent three hours talking to Mrs Jenkins.  Lola, too, did everything in the world to help, and Martin Lewis4 went out to Douglaston although he disapproved of the whole thing.

All this happened in our one back room.  Evelyn’s bed was right there and she was crying or moaning most of the time.  It took time to get her quieted at night even when she was given medicine.  Then she woke about four and began crying or smoking.  The result was that Dudley nearly broke down, too.  He was worn out to start with and we were to start on vacation the Friday after Evelyn arrived.  It was utterly impossible to leave her, then, so he managed to put off his vacation one week.  But that finished him.  By Friday of the following week he got the worst attack of nervous indigestion I ever saw.  I had to send for the doctor for him and had two patients on my hands in the same room.  All this time I was supposed to be feeding Evelyn egg nogs, cooked cereals and cream, vegetables, etc—all on one gas burner and with practically no cooking experience!  You can imagine that I was ready for vacation, too.  (Fortunately I was extremely well to start with.)

I had made up my mind, selfishly and cruelly perhaps, that even if Evelyn had to go to a sanatorium, we had to get away!  It was literally a choice, for me, between sacrificing ourselves futilely for Evelyn, and saving Dudley’s health and perhaps our future.  Evelyn was better and realizing how hard it was for us.  She was beginning to get response to her telegrams.  Her father came up from Washington5 and she made him take her to a hotel—where however she didn’t stay.  Saturday morning we heard Evelyn was going to Lola’s who was in no fit state to nurse her.  Dudley got up, sick as he was, and went to interview Mr Dunn who promised to get Evelyn an apartment.  Then, in spite of everything and to our utter amazement, we actually found ourselves on the boat for New Bedford.  We went to Sconset on Nantucket Island where we stayed with a good friend.  Dudley was all in and I was nearly as bad.  It took us ten days or so to recover and I managed to persuade Dudley to take an extra week.  It is a marvellous place to rest and build up.  We came back much better to find Evelyn better, too.  She had her tonsils out and recovered marvellously.  Becky and John have taken good care of her and John actually succeeded in getting the first word through to Merton.  The rest, and probably this, you know or Evelyn will tell you.  I don’t know why I have bothered you with all these past troubles unless to justify myself to you.  I don’t want you to think that I ran off leaving Evelyn in the lurch too cruelly or that she and I have had any falling out.  We are better friends than ever, if possible.

Please forgive this letter and writing.

Very sincerely yours

1In his unpublished memoir, Confessions of an American Boy, Jig describes his mother as being “completely self-absorbed”. Although the break-up with Merton would have made this self-absorption understandable, her later letters repeatedly demonstrate this trait.

2Becky Edelson was then living with and later married John Crawford, the friend with whom Evelyn had been staying.

3Another hint of what was later to become more markedly paranoid.

4It has not been possible to identify Martin Lewis
5This may have been the last time Evelyn saw Seely; this meeting is later referred to repeatedly in her search for information about her father’s death and his will.

* * * * *
To Lola Ridge

c/o Theis, London, EC4
September 10 [1925]

Sweetest goodest dearest Lola dear, I hope by the time this gets to New York you will have gone up to visit Ellen.

Well, I have seen Owen and we have talked, and things are still suspended, though I see his side so plainly.  You see Martin and dear ol Davy and so on are unjust to him only through disbelieving in his inevitable naivete.  He is SO simple.  Quite cunning sometimes about plotting how he is going to keep himself from exposing his simplicity, but very very forever simple, because he can’t help it.  So the poor child states the case thus:

If Tom is to live with him, he and I, living together, would need to marry at once.  If we married at once there would be no help whatever either from Jenkins or people there.  If I were Owen’s wife he would not want Cyril to support me.  Therefore:  he, Owen, must put himself in a position of worldly power if we are ever to solve anything. evelyn

* * * * *
Owen Merton to Lola Ridge

[Long Island]
[September 1925]

My dear Lola,

I have wanted to write you a letter, but it is so bewilderingly difficult to know just how to say what I want to.  Even to say how grateful I am that you were so good to Evelyn when she was in New York, sounds something I should not say.  Only I do bless you for being, Lola—you are too good and fine, and made of the truest Spanish steel.  You see, I don’t feel I ought to explain—what I want to write to you now is, that I know what is the right thing to do, no matter how cruelly incomprehensible it appears to other people, and I know that when  the time comes to show what a real friendship for Evelyn means, that I shall be able to do it.  I don’t know whether there is any use in saying this, only I do want to say again how I appreciate what you are, and what you were at what cost—in July and August in New York.

I won’t say any more—I seem unable to say anything.  Can I send Davy my best wishes.

Yours very truly, Merton

* * * * *

After a brief visit to New York in 1925, Owen returned to Europe for the last time, accompanied by Tom. He built a house in Saint-Antonin, in southwestern France, and travelled and painted widely in southern France. He also played the piano in the Saint-Antonin cinema and was president of the local rugby club. He died in January 1931 of a brain tumour.








The following letters are focussed on the deteriorating relationship between Evelyn and Owen Merton.  It is likely that Owen’s precarious health was worsened by the stress of pursuing a physical relationship with Evelyn while Owen, Evelyn and Cyril were living in the same household.  In addition was the pressure put on him by his late wife’s parents, who lived on Long Island, to return and take responsibility for his children, Tom and John Paul.

The first time I saw these letters I had an almost visceral response to the desperation and heart-ache they convey.  I hope that you, too, can appreciate the vividness with which she expresses her confusion, desperation and pain.

There are no images in this post.  Evelyn’s pain is beyond depicting in images.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Beziers, France
October 15, 1924

Darling Lola:

Gladys[1] must have told you all our news, the wonderful hit Sug’s pictures made in Paris etc.  Several critics used the strongest terms of praise and in a discriminating way, for Parisians are at least mentally sensitive to the new experience if not themselves very richly creative. Sug wrote that the gallery has been crowded straight along and the show will be extended for a few days.  As we didn’t know any newspaper people we have been quite surprised at all the press attention too.  Merton thinks such a thing never happened at a first show before.

Well, back to Beziers which is like a little Toledo on a high hill, very beautiful from a plain and canals bordered by huge hundred year old cedars formally planted.  But OH what swinish people.  The dregs of French peasant winegrowing commercialism without any picturesque much less aesthetic elements.  Rich wine growers and wholesale grocery men.  Its a nasty place, even after Paris which I found absolutely vacant and formal over a commercialism less romantic and titanically grotesque and even more cruel than New York.  Notre Dame is a banal tradition, but the only beauty in the place is there in a however inferior gothic remnant.   Sug’s things are really beautiful enough to make you cry, Lola, the best, and Merton had evolved from that youngness and fresh virile color into an infinitely greater complexity of organization without losing the powerfulness of a youthful experience.  He will always be of a more lyric bent than Sug, but it is wonderful to note the fine point of divergence—Sug’s toward an exquisite mental balance evolved from hair-trigger emotion and full of emotion, and Merton always clinging to the emotional vision with the mental subtlest intimated but not stated in such exquisite fullness.  Well I’ve had fun out of seeing them.

Merton’s rather ill yet, in fact damn wobbly, but I think a year will see him his old self. [Remainder of letter missing]

[1] Gladys Grant, a life-long and loyal friend of Evelyn’s

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

[Beziers, France]
January 25 [1925]

Dear Otto:

Sug has been here for about three weeks but has gone away again and it may not be convenient for him to be here when Merton has to go to London, so I have almost about made up my mind to go to London too—probably leaving Jig with Sug where Sug expects to be.  In that case won’t I be so horribly disappointed if, after all the near chances, I don’t have a chance to see either of you at all.

For reasons which I could explain if I saw you two, I am going to America for six weeks when Merton goes[1], so maybe I’ll get you at that end anyway.  But this is the deadest of dead secrets.  Nobody but Gladys and perhaps Lola is to know I’m going to A until I get there and this is most practically important.  For a while it seemed impossible, but to get the fare for one person may not be an unattainable accomplishment.  I hate the thought of New York in which everybody—tho they ain’t—seems engaged in proving to anybody trying to do what I want to do that it can’t be done.  But it will be nice to see a few people again.  In twenty months I have talked—really talked—to one woman, Louise last summer—and one man beside Merton and Sug—Tom Cope last winter—and I’ll be getting as queer as the family I left behind if I don’t rub up on society a little however informally

But Jigeroo is developing more and more in sensitivity and responsiveness and I hope to Christ he doesn’t have a hard time.  I’ve often thought, supposing I do utterly fizzle for me, maybe I can give Jigeroo a background which would be some slight help twenty years from now in letting him get started as an artist.  After you’re dead you may be a great hit.  You never can tell.

            Love to you and Louise and thanks for the splendid review.  evelyn

[1] This would probably have been to see his in-laws and his children on Long Island.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
January 28 or 29 [1925]

Dear Louise—

The complications to be settled at this end are the following:  Sug, who is back in the Riviera again, may or may not have to be in Paris at the time Merton goes to London.  If Sug is at that rotten studio it is obviously no place for Jigeroo and I would have to stay over here somewhere with Jig until time to go to America (don’t tell anybody in USA that I am thinking of going there, please.)  If Sug is not going to be in Paris then he can take Jigeroo while I go to London.  In case Sug can’t keep Jig the whole time I might just possibly be able to come over for a short while which would do me lots of good.

You don’t know what a treat it will seem to see you.  I expect as a result to emerge into an entirely human condition again.  Last night I dreamed I was dying of some lingering illness and that ants were eating me up.  This was due to a remark made yesterday to the effect that the French people always moved like ants.  If I didn’t remember that last winter at about the same time the same conditions were produced I would regard this as a prophecy.  But spring is just going to be coming alive again.

 Lots of love and good luck and so much gratitude that I would sound mushy if I tried to state it.  Love to Otto.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

[Beziers, France]
March 12 [1925]

Dear Louise:

I am in trouble again, as Otto would expect, and this time I don’t see any cure.  Merton has left here in a condition that looked near insane and is bound more or less for London, but I don’t know whether he is desperately ill on route, has committed suicide, or has breathed a first sigh of relief in freedom

Our mutual problems have worried him unbearably.  They are these:

–The Jenkins[1] have his kids.

–He has no money to support his kids.

If the Jenkins learned of our relation even respectably as marriage they are so jealous of him and devoted to the memory of their daughter, they might likely prevent him from seeing his kids at all.

I  It is made harder in that he is fond of the Jenkinses, and they of him, he owes them money and they have been lavish in solicitude since he was ill.

II  If he was known to be married to me or living with me his aunt and uncle in London would withdraw the help they give such as financing his show etc. They may help substantially if he is tactful but he would have to pay them long visits and jolly them.

III  His health and emotions combine so that to give up painting for a job would finish him—at it alone would me to have him.

IV  I won’t live with anybody unless I can see and be with Sug frequently, leaving Sug free to form his own alliances but with the same proviso.  This is Sug’s wish as well as mine.  Constant difficulties in manners make this difficult.  Jig calling Sug father and me living with Merton make servants etc difficult to both Sug and Merton.

V If Merton gets his own kid with him and he broods all the time because the kid loves him and is away from him, the kid will get wise.  The kid incidentally showed a wild jealousy of me in Bermuda—Merton adores this kid.

V [sic]  My health is horrible and I am a physical coward beside.  I can’t be left entirely alone while Merton either goes to America to see his kids or to England to say with relatives.

VI  Merton has to provide for his kids and he can not do so thru his earnings.  Anything complicating diplomacy complicates this.

VII  Merton is unconsciously respectable and resents an equivocal relation. He adores Sug but is jealous of him—I don’t wonder.

VIII  My bad health and depressions are a strain on anybody.  Merton has worked hard taking care of me when he wasn’t well himself.

IX  Ill health hampers sex the original basis of our alliance.  I am getting fogged out and prematurely old.  I am an awful pessimist.  I am no worldly help.

Thus, Merton finally decided he wanted to quit.  Except for a completely insoluble sexual miss I would try hard to make all with Sug.  But we don’t get over the mess.  I want him to be free in that way.  He is less able than Merton to see after a semi-invalid.  I love Merton very much, only less than Sug, and as a sex mate he makes me very happy.  I’d give all but very beautiful demi-semi non sexual so called free relation with Sug to have Merton.  But I can’t kidnap him and if he doesn’t want me I gotta accept it.

But I am worried off my head about his health and state of mind.  Will you phone L Bennett[2] to see if Merton is there and pretend it is not on my account.  Then wire me if he is there or expected and if you can speak to him how his health.  I won’t bother or pressure but I shall be dotty if I don’t know he is alright.  I am here alone.  Oh Louise I will be so grateful.  I do love him very much—[illeg] will cure me—[illeg] that’s the awful nothing lasts with me.

Love Evelyn

[1]  The Jenkins were the parents of Owen’s late wife and since her death from cancer had objected to his having care of their elder son Thomas.  Tom was about the same age as Jigg and the boys were inseparable while the family were living in Bermuda; Tom had not been well-behaved towards Evelyn.

[2]  Dr Bennett, who had accompanied Merton to the US the previous summer.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 16, 1925

Dearest Louise:

Can you convey this letter[1] to Merton by hand?  Is that asking too much of you?  We did have such an awful explosion I can’t bear quitting or not quitting to finish in excitement.  I want to be calmer and more decent about it.  I will be so grateful to you if you can convey this letter.  I know where  Merton is because the postman was confused about the mail address and showed me a telegram Merton had sent him.  I would prefer it not to have Tom Bennett no that I made any further communication with Merton.

Probably you and Otto have a nausea of these perpetual seances, and I hope someday I can give you a kind of apologia por vita mia which will make them less revolting as a spectacle?  Sug is the greatest man that ever lived, and I love Merton very dearly, and I can’t change these two feelings.  Well you are a kind and beautiful and generous friend, and thank you dear dear Louise.

[1]  This letter has not been preserved.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 17 [1925]

Dearest Louise:

Thank you thank you thank you for your telegram.  I am still a little lightheaded with worry as I haven’t had any word as to what happened after the departure and I still can’t believe that my invariable messes prove me all wrong, but it is a pretty sickly feeling to have got to this again.  Poor Merton has about as hard a practical problem as could exist.  In the letter I sent you I told him to wait six months to settle it, if he emotionally wanted to.  But anyhow there is the chance.  Of course what is making fatigue now is simply not knowing whether Merton is ill or well or glad or sorry or how much in need of practical looking after.  I judge he ain’t dead or I’d have heard of it.  I’m amused at my own suc [sic], as last night I woke up with the absolute conviction that Merton was alright and everything would be adjusted, and then suddenly realized how when you are too tired to think any further your mechanism makes you believe what you want to believe.  But anyway if I am not running up too big a bill for telegrams, will you wire me again if ever you do have any news?  Or if you should actually see Merton too write me your opinion of how he is.  Maybe he is fine and anxiety wasted, but until you know you can’t keep your imagination quite under.  This is six days of silence.  The postman showed me a wire from Montpellier last Thursday in which Tom Bennett’s mail address was given, and yesterday I tried to follow that up by wiring to some friends Merton has who were at Montpellier and had expected to come over here on friday last, but didn’t show up so he must have stopped there to head them off, which looks as if he was all there on thursday last anyway.  I wired the friends that I had lost Merton’s mail address and could they supply it, a very diligent telegrams, signed Scott only, and they know who we are.  I also paid a reply, but no answer came so I guess they had left town.  they were only transients.  I also wired to Merton himself care of Francoise at Coullioure as he had intended going there to pack up his things, and asked him in wire to acknowledge the message, but there was no answer to that either.  I don’t dare wire anybody in Paris for fear of making a scandal.  So there is nothing to do but wait and see what happens.  I guess I am a pretty thorough idiot alright, trying to make life square with things nobody else can, and thinking all the time next year next year when everything is settled everybody will be happy again.

You are sick.  Ordinarily I would remember that first.  Dear Louise, I hope it wasn’t a real sick but only unwell or something.  You didn’t say.  Oh, I do hope you are alright.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 18, 1925

Dearest dear Louise:

Day before yesterday I wired Merton’s English friends to know if they had his address, said we had lost it and had important mail.  Yesterday noon an answer from Merton said, leaving for London address care Bennett.  So he had been in montpellier all the time I was reading the newspapers to see if any suicide or accident had happened to a foreignor.  Well the fact he did something awful is nothing in my life if the reasons for doing it were the obvious ones.  I have done too many awful things myself to judge without corroboration.  It all began when Merton first showed uncertainty about our future and his capacity to adapt himself to it.  He went to Cette to collect himself, and I would not have minded his going if he had not gone leaving me so many suggestions that his worries connected with me were too much for him.  When he came back without telling him I drank a whole bottle of codeine and took twenty-four heart depressing pills.  I had worked myself into a state that I thought I was killing Merton and Sug both.  I’m ashamed of having done it since it didn’t work and only gave me pains in the heart and Merton the worst scare he ever had in his life.  Then his assurances that things would work out right bucked me up again.  I guess he never got over the suicide scare and subconsciously turned against me from that moment, for almost ever since everything he has said about our future has been unhopeful and uncertain.  I guess he has been trying to break ever since and couldn’t bring himself to it.  Please don’t ever tell about the suicide thing because Sug doesn’t know of it and I never want him to.  it would only give him another trauma, and as far as I can tell about myself I never want to do any such again.  That the third real time in my life I ever did.  Once Otto knows.  Twice was three years ago in NY when Marie butted in.  And this time.  And I am heartily ashamed of things like that that go no further.

When Merton said he was going to break for good I went clean stark mad, not that I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was frantic to keep him, and I can’t do tricks to charm, so I took it out by saying I hated him (when I love him) that he was a fiend from hell or something equally polite (when he is a fuddled, oppressed, perplexed and in many ways lovely person) that I felt like murdering him (that was almost true) that I hoped he would go thru as much hell as he was causing me that moment (and as soon as he left if wrote to the Garland fund to see if I could get him any money and I haven’t an ounce of revenge in me overnight) and then I struck him (something I never even wanted to do to anybody but mother when she and Sug quarrelled, then sometime both) and in trying to keep me from hitting me in the face I mean me hitting him, he pushed me back with so much force that I fell on the floor (it just happened to be slick tiles) and my hip and back have been all over bruises.  After which he rushed out of the house like a lunatic and I heard trunks going out tho there is no train at that hour to Paris, but must have been one for Montpellier.  Jig was sent to call him as he left the house, and he came back and said I was “beautiful”—god knows why—and offered to kiss me goodbye—which I wouldn’t accept.

Well, that is the whole nasty story, except that I spent all night praying he would come back, and all the next night imagining the doorbell had rung and he was there, and got so superstitious that I looked in the Bible every day to see if it prophecied that he was coming back.

Louise nothing has ever altered my feeling for Sug, who is the most beautiful and noblest and strongest person I ever saw and a wonderful artist as well.  But I can’t help the sex sidetrack.  It is very complex.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 19, 1925

Dearest dear kid, the daily bulletin in which you can trace conditions of mind evoluting, but with a good deal of conscience for having made a sick wimmins telephone all over town, tend to be telegrams etc.  Dear Louise, please forgive it, but I simply didn’t know what else to do.

I guess I want now to win you over to my state of mind about Merton.  Please don’t blame him.  If it is true and it seems that he doesn’t love me that is hardly a matter for condemnation on any grounds but taste, and if he took a long time to find it out and did so inconveniently, I guess there is no propitious moment for doing exactly the opposite of what the other fellow wants you to.  As to the way it was done, taking into account that Merton never is clearheaded when he is confronted by a lot of unanswerable problems, and very few people are, with the other fact that I went wild at once he suggested that he felt he had to quit to save himself from assuming something he couldn’t carry thru—will those things combined, always accepting his temperament and not criticising it by an ideal, explain to me pretty thoroughly his taking the worst way to do it.  Any way would have seemed bad to me.

I still want him and I still offer the six months to find ways, but the answer to that is so simply does or doesn’t he want me and will pretty soon be answered I guess.  Naturally all my reason tells me it is in the negative, tho I hope differently.  We weren’t unhappy except during the last month when he was stirred up by the Jenkins about his kids and by the faint hope of money on this show.  Then every day there were arguments as to how this could be settled, and as the arguments never got anywhere it was like taking fifteen minutes a day for both of us to butt our heads against a stone wall as hard as we could.  The result was a bruised brain a piece and absolutely no capacity for anything but negative measures.

Yes, Sug, is here and as always as near perfect in understanding and exquisite in tolerance and a gently ironic benevolence as any human being could be.  It’s up to me to make my selection, which I still must in confessing I want Merton, but nothing can ever break down my love for Sug or mar his beautiful attitude toward me, and Merton never wanted that no matter how hard things were I know.  being calmer only makes me clearer in knowing how much I do want Merton and how very unlikely it is that he will care to resume anything he has made such a struggle to break from.

Merton was always very frank in saying he could not bring idealism into any relation without sex, and maybe my being ill just killed his feeling for me of which sex was a symbol.

As soon as I hear about him, Sug and I are going to Collioure for a few weeks as I am too disturbed to write any more and Beziers is hard on both of us.  Then sometime in April I will come up to London if I may, and gee I will be glad to see you both.   If you see Merton don’t fail to tell him please that there are no hard feelings or misjudgements of him no matter what he decides.  evelyn

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
19 [March 1925]—two hours after other letter

Dearest Louise:

Just had a beautiful wire from Merton from Paris where he had had my letters forwarded by T Bennett.  Oh, dear and patientest of friends, and I am so sorry I couldn’t help coming to you.  But please don’t misjudge or I might say judge Merton.  He is a dear and good person however mixed up.  I don’t by any means know whether anything can be done, but at least nothing is going to be nasty and ugly, and it oughtn’t to be where people really have loved and trusted each other.  Bless you and bless you and bless Otto and bless dear dear Sug, and won’t you tell Mutt when you see him I say bless him too with all my heart.  It’s so awful to take things out when it is circumstances that are hard and not ugliness in the people, so I guess right now I never loved more the people who are good to me, dear dear Sug, and you and Otto, and blessed confused and pained Mutt.


* * * * *

Owen Merton to Evelyn Scott



* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 26, 1925

Dear Louise dear, I wouldn’t blame you if all the hullabaloo made you dread another letter from me.  I still don’t know where I’m at except I know I love Merton and I believe he loves me, so I don’t know anything to do but wait around for everybody to feel better before thinking begins in earnest.  I get the worst willies over having punk health.  Don’t know how Lola has kept on with her handicaps.  Sick people too half dead anyway, and now I’ve got the gripp, and I wonder if you have anything there for Merton says it is as cold as Labrador.  We are going to Collioure middle of next week and it is now snowing at Perpignan.  I wanna live in new guinea, never been happy as to weather since we left Brazil.  Between being dead or cold rather be dead. How Scandinavia was ever settled god knows.  Breed more different from me than apes love hot places.

Well, dear honey, I hope by now you have seen Merton and I will be so thankful for your own private report on his health, state of mind, and what he thinks he thinks if anybody knows now.  He’s writing very calmingly but I don’t know at what expense to feelings.

          lots of love from me and Sug to both of you evelyn

* * * * *

To Owen Merton

Beziers, France
[March 29, 1925]



* * * * *

Next week, more letters conveying Evelyn’s heartbreak as she tries to persuade Owen Merton that their relationship need not end.  A truly heartrending sequence.










After an isolated winter in the fastness of the Algerian desert, the Scott household returned to France on the spring of 1924.  Evelyn’s letters give no clue to how they found themselves there but it was clear how difficult she had found it being so far from her dearest friends (Lola in New  York City and Otto in London) and it would have only been a matter of time before they found their way back to Europe or, more precisely, the Mediterranean coast of France.

This extract from the spreadsheet recording those letters in my collection indicates their various travels and, significantly, the times that Evelyn and Cyril separated.  The reasons for this become clear as these letters unfold.

letters 24 - 25

In the spring of 1924 Merton returned to London on his own, for reasons that are not specified but probably had to do with his attempts to have a gallery mount an exhibition of his paintings.

* * * * *

Cyril Kay Scott to Owen Merton

[Banyuls-sur-Mer, France]
[May 1924]

Dear Merton

Your note just received.

As the mails seem to be terribly slow, I am telegraphing you another 200 francs today.  I don’t like to send it in this lest you might need it before this arrives.

Evelyn is not writing because she is in bed with the stomach ache peculiar to ladies chaque quatre semaines.

I’m glad you’re finding something to paint and shall look forward eagerly to see the stuff you bring back.  I continue dutifully to cover Archer paper with water colors every day.  I’ll let you decide when you see them whether or not the material is wasted.

My Archer paper came so I’m all right for materials till we leave.  I got a letter from Marie yesterday (don’t tell Evelyn!) quite friendly and nice.

Don’t worry about anything here.  Everybody is well (except Evelyn’s unwell and that will be over by tomorrow).  My neuritis is better.  Jig is fine.  We’ve had rain twice—once all day.

Thanks awfully for the pipe—it’s a nice one and I like it.  Have a good time and do some ripping things and we’ll all be glad to see you when you get back,

Everyone sends love, Cyril

Mediterranean coast near Banyuls [Google Earth]

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Banyuls-sur-Mer, France]
[May 1924]


I just wrote Ellen privately that I thought sea voyages hard on new operations, and I’m not pleased to hear before you go that you felt them wobbly.  Thank goodness your letter was stamped Bermuda so you did arrive whole.

Now, angel, to say I was touched at your writing that note in bed in pain doesn’t express it, but you should be spanked.  I wish we were all prize fighters and then we’d lick the world.  But we will anyhow.

I am excited because Merton took the last cash he got and is off today to London on it to try to clinch the interest that has been stirred up there to try to clinch some sales.  He is one of the sweetest people alive and with the worry of poor Suggie’s side should have turned my face to the wall ere now without him.  Suggie is just himself, a marvel and lovely, but he certainly has gone through a hell of a lot of pain lately, and as soon as Merton gets back from London Sug will leave for Paris to see a specialist.  I’m divided between a desire to know the worst and a cowardly horror of the possible seriousness of the diagnosis.  I just try for the present not to consider possibilities.

I can’t write a letter today because I went to the hospital and had that miserable wart thing taken off my typing finger.  I had it last year and didn’t do anything and then putting vitriol on it made it worse so finally had to cut way under my nail and take five stitches on my finger and it makes me lame at typing.  But gee I’m glad to get of it.  Lord, this little operation reminds me most vividly of what you have just been through.  Oh, God damn it, there is too MUCH pain in the world.

Well, honey, so long as you ain’t here I’m glad you are where you are.  It’s prettier here in one way, but golly we want to see you.  This is a very decent little flat, funny and dingy and cheap French formality but has a view of the sea and nice gay painted fishing boats and on the roof a lovely terrace that is quite private with a view of piled up mountain and little villages.

When we left Bou-Saada we came back a new way on the train and for four hours saw gorgeous aloof snow mountains like the Alps and June fields of wheat and olives spread out in tired youngness of afternoon light, really wonderful.  Alger is beautiful land, but in much of it savagely poverty stricken.  Only along the coast the French have made it prosperous.  We all arrived ill and Merton again an angel of kindness.  If everybody was strong it would be a nice world.

I’ll write again when my finger gets more fluent.  Please let us know how you are as soon as you can.  I’m so glad you are seeing that nice place.  We all have occasional homesicks for the mermaid water.

Love and love and love and to Davy please when you write, Evelyn

PS  Banyuls is ten miles from Collioure where we were last year, is a larger town and cleaner but less picturesque.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan[1]

June 6 [1924]

Dear Louise:

Dr Bennett carried Mutt[2] to London to put him in a sanatorium and have him examined by a nerve specialist.   He’ll probably stay a month.  It is supposed to be a secret that he is there and Dr B has promised to tell no one and let no one come near him, but if you will telephone and ask how he is I’ll be much obliged.  Phone is Langham 1190.  He went off doped.

Dear Louise, you are sweet to have written so nice a letter in such a nasty place and to cheer me up about the awful end of your so-called rest, and I could hug you for what you say of Suggie, who I do think with all my heart is one of the greatest men that ever lived and a very great artist.  [Just as great an artist as a man, emphatically.] [3] I am convinced that it will some day be recognized, because the proof is so indestructible and beyond contention, but I love you for seeing it now when it hasn’t become a fashionable thing to see.  Warm genuine appreciation like yours is a great help, and Sug has had to stand alone in every way more than anybody ought to.

I am so all in I can scarcely write, In ashamed to say that before doctor B had got out of the house I collapsed and behaved like a regular Victorian.  I think I cried for eight hours at a stretch and would have graced the pages of Dickens, though I had the grace to do it in my own room.  Today I have my monthly visitor and am generally so low that a mere boo frightens me.

I wish you could have stayed to see the circus that was perpetrated the night you left and every night since, a wonderful little two by four show right under the window.  They had a caravan in which they carried a pig, five chicks, and a dwarf, and there was a poor tiberculor lady with a baby who did bareback riding in a lachrymose way, a plump and sprightly lady who was a tight rope walker, and a papa who could turn somersalts and juggle barrels on his feet.  The dwarf was the clown.  One joke was to select five small boys from the audience, offer to take their pictures, and pose them thus [series of stick figures drawn here].  First little boy is holding his nose.  Second boy has his head in the air very proud and his fingers in the armholes of his vest and is watching the sky.  Third little boy is pointing disdainfully.  Fourth little boy squats on his hams.  Says boy one, Mon Dieu, what a smell.  Says boy two, It wasn’t I.  Says boy three, there he is.  Boy four says nothing.  How is that for French rural wit to be exhibited at Collioure.

As for our part of the visit, we loved you and having you.  I wish it could have been for a long, long time [you are writing.]

Our love to Otto.  I’m going to write decently when I recuperate. Evelyn

[1]   Wife of Otto Theis

[2]    Evelyn’s pet name for Owen Merton

[3]    Passages in square brackets were later inserted by Evelyn in her spiky hand.


banyuls beach
The beach at Banyuls-sur-Mer   [Andre Guarne]

The following letters focus on the relationship between Evelyn and Owen Merton and, in the next chapter of this blog, its eventual end.  It is likely that Owen’s precarious health was worsened by the stress of pursuing a physical relationship with Evelyn while Owen, Evelyn and Cyril were living in the same household.  Evelyn’s letters have given very few hints as to the physical arrangements which allowed this relationship to continue, or to why Cyril tolerated it, if indeed he did.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

June 8 [1924]

Dear Otto:

I have made a mess of my affairs again.  My private opinion is that Merton’s collapse is due as much and more to the artificialities that have hedged in his personal life as it was due to worries about money.  He simply can not be anything but spontaneous and obviously honest.

I am enclosing a letter to him[1] which I want you to deliver simply because you will be able to judge whether or not he is in anything like a condition for serious discussion, which I can not judge at this distance.  I can’t take any of his friends into my confidence.  I want you to read the letter, however boring and annoying the process, for Merton knows that you are the only person with whom I have always been quite frank and it may be a relief to him to talk to you.  I shall write him that, as soon as he is well enough to be about, he will please go to see you to talk over some plans, and you can go somewhere to lunch or tea and have the letter presented.  If you don’t want to do this, Otto, it will be alright.  But I am asking it knowing I impose a difficult thing on you.  Judging by what happened to Merton physically, this is really a matter of life and death.  I think it best he should not have come back here with an emotional élan and have a shock.  It might produce the same result as before.  I think it would be better to get the edge of the shock over while he is among doctors and friends.  If you disagree please tell me.

I can trace a great deal of the depression and overkeying of last winter to incidents relative to myself and him.  I hadn’t considered enough what it was doing to Sug, but now I see the whole thing, in spite of Merton’s protests, is a physiological and psychological impossibility for Merton to.

If you will read the letter you will have something of an idea of how things stand.  I really love Merton very much, but I love Sug more I know or I could not dream of hurting Merton this much.  But I won’t discuss it for I am in an utter inward mess—almost as bad as four years ago—and worse because it’s all happened before with no solution.  Merton is as thoroughly sweet and genuine a person as ever lived and I have three years, nearly, of knowing him to test my opinion by.  He really has been a constant pleasure to me.  Sug, of course, remains the man with the most titanic pride, the greatest moral and mental strength, and the most infinite capacity for tenderness and self-immolation without bunk I ever saw, also the most wonderful theoretic foresight based on sensitive intuitions. But—My defect is that I had too much of an analytic bent to accept the usual self-deceptions, but nothing wherewith to conquer my most ordinary of human nature.  Anyway Merton will get over it.

If you don’t want, when Merton is better, to deliver this letter, or if you prefer to mail it to him, alright, only please be sure he is better.  But if you will let him talk to you I think it might do him good.  He is really very self-respecting and self-responsible—not an artistic monster—and I don’t think he will impose on you very much.  He may regard this quite sensibly or he may want to rush down here, but anyway it will, it seems to me, be good that he has some forewarning of what Sug and I have discussed.

Affectionately, evelyn

            Just say no flat if you want to keep entirely out and mail the letter back, but there won’t really be a mess.

PS  An hour later:  perhaps it isn’t fair to you as Sug’s friend to ask you to do this, so will you keep up on Merton s health and mail him the letter when he is much better?  That needn’t envolve you.  I wish you’d read the letter though.  Merton will never be nasty to Sug and he might need a friend very much who was also our friend.

[1]This letter has not survived

* * * * *

There is a gap in the collection between this letter from June 1924 and the next, when Evelyn writes again to Louise in October from Beziers, along the coast from Banyuls. She had visited Paris with Jigg, then 10 years old, while Cyril was setting up an exhibition of his watercolours.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

(Chez Madame Leclerc}
23 Place Emile Zola, Beziers, France
[October 1924]

Dear Louise:

This was what happened in Paris (of course).  Jig and I had only been there three days when Jig acquired one of his old bronchial colds.  The dampness of that place is simply poisonous to us.  He was sick for a couple of days, too sick to go anywhere and then I came down with the same germs and an attack of grippe that gave me fever and made me so ghastly if unimportantly ill that I imagined I’d have to go to a hospital or something to get out of the hotel.  As a matter of fact I was only really ill a little longer than Jigeroo, but as we had planned a week in Paris you can see how our time was chiefly occupied. I was so all-in and discouraged I didn’t budge except to go out and get my meals and two expeditions in those first two days when we went to the Louvre and to Les Invalides.  Then as the devil would have it, I hit town the same day as Roger Fry[1] and Sug was seeing a lot of him and not at our hotel either and we only saw Sug for dinner.  Then Merton came up to take me back—you’ll hardly believe me if I go on with this tale of woe, but its all true—(AND THIS IS A SECRET WHICH WOULD RUIN Merton IF KNOWN.  NOBODY HERE OR New York TO KNOW HE WENT TO Paris)—Merton came up after a week with his aunt and uncle seeing the Midi, took leave of them and came on the same route on another train, to go back down south with me because traveling distances makes me ill and I can’t risk them alone.  Well Merton is still in miserable health and aunt and uncle, who travel well when alone, are so afraid he will come at them for money that they travel cheapest when with him.  We was sightseeing on his feet and had to stand on several crowded train trips, did their errands, and missed some of his meals and his heart gave out, so he reached Paris sick too.  He had to lie down most of the time between packing and was really ill when he got on the train with me.  For cheapness in seeing France and with the idea of avoiding fatigue we came via Dijon, spent the night there, were misinformed about trains, and even at the station (which we went to with our lunch only started because the train left an hour earlier than time table said) had a practical joke played on us by some railway employees who told us our train was in and about to leave when it hadn’t even come (was a half hour late) so that as a result my trunk was left behind to be shipped petit vitesse by a hotel employee (it has all the clean clothes in it).  Aboard the train there wasn’t a seat in the second class (the PLM is a hellish rich man’s road, only one second class car in a long train) so we bought first class on the train (if we had bought first class before we left we could have caught a later express and saved half the journey).  All of us had colds and were fagged without lunch.  Arrived at Avignon at eight-thirty that night (trip one thirty to eight thirty) the town had three hundred pilgrims in it and no hotel room, so we all had to go in one room (something discretion disapproves) and the beds were impossible for two, so, Jig and Merton getting to sleep first, I spent the night coughing on a chaise lounge.  Well Avignon was charming to see and we sight-saw the whole day, but left at five that evening expecting to get a dining car dinner.  Diner was taken off and we bought ham sandwiches, after eating them had to wait a half hour at Cette where we might have had dinner anyway, and did try, but I was so tired it made me lose it.  Arrived at Beziers at nine and I was unwell and so sick I could hardly get to the hotel.  Spent the next day in bed and Merton rushing around to try and get some kind of servant to help out in this flat.  Yesterday I revived and here we are.  (It wasn’t time for me to be unwell either, moving did it, so not imprudence.)

You will understand I am in no state to judge of the beauties of Beziers, which Merton picked out because it was the only big town in a hot climate in which he was able to find a flat for three hundred francs a month.  Place Emile Zola is appropriately surrounded by wagon yards, wood yards and alcohol manufacturies.  In the space before our domicile Nick Carter’s youthful associates play bowls all day.  Otherwise the flat is a shrunken edition of Banyuls, very decently furnished in an impossible style, and has running water and a two burner gas stove.  This place is like a mixture of Spain and my own dear southland.  It is a big and rather ugly middle-sized city where bullfighting is the chief interest of the population.  The leading citizens look like retired planters and never seemed to wear clean collars, but there are a great many of them, a place de theatre, innumerable newly decorated movies, and lots of cafes.  Its amusing really, but I haven’t yet seen the wonderful subjects which Merton promises to disclose for painting.

Oh, dear Louise, I will write a nicer letter later.  I am not pippy but feel expressionless from having received too many impressions in quick fire when I was in no condition to register them.

Sug was lovelier an’ ever and I wish you had been able to come over.  Just now Merton has an extra hard row to hoe because of the trouble in getting back enough health to get any work done but it hasn’t hurt his sense of humour or his disposition, and I guess we are all going to be rich and famous yet.  Only damn mortal flesh.

I wish you would feel sometimes later that a trip to France was what you needed.  You’d like to see this funny

More and more love to you and Otto.  evelyn

[1]  British artist and influential critic and member of the Bloomsbury Group.  Evelyn later maintained that he had praised Cyril’s painting.


Beziers [Alamy stock photo]

To Lola Ridge

Beziers, France
October 15, 1924

Darling Lola:

Gladys must have told you all our news, the wonderful hit Sug’s pictures made in Paris etc.  Several critics used the strongest terms of praise and in a discriminating way, for Parisians are at least mentally sensitive to the new experience if not themselves very richly creative.  And Roger Fry is such a staunch believer in him that it does your heart good in a day when nobody in power ever seems to bet on anything but the safe thing.  Sug wrote that the gallery has been crowded straight along and the show will be extended for a few days.  As we didn’t know any newspaper people we have been quite surprised at all the press attention too.  Merton thinks such a thing never happened at a first show before.

This brings me to the bullfight I went to see.  This beastly town is half Spanish and has Spanish matadors and things.  I saw six bulls killed—there were two more to be—and four horses, and never saw anything so ghastly as the CROWD.  I think the Spanish are drunk of drama and the dramatic element in appreciation is aesthetically non-valid.  I think Spanish art and life goes to pot in drama—even El Greco is tainted—and in the mass it’s a mess.  Picasso’s real aesthetic sense is limited and utterly lost in the grand gesture though that gesture is concealed under the prose nicety of cubism—naturalism of the arts.  The ultra cubists are utter if sincere fakes.

Well, back to Beziers which is like a little Toledo on a high hill, very beautiful from a plain and canals bordered by huge hundred year old cedars formally planted.  But OH what swinish people.  The dregs of French peasant winegrowing commercialism without any picturesque much less aesthetic elements.  Rich wine growers and wholesale grocery men.  Its a nasty place, even after Paris which I found absolutely vacant and formal over a commercialism less romantic and titanically grotesque and even more cruel than New York.  Notre Dame is a banal tradition, but the only beauty in the place is there in a however inferior gothic remnant.  The only art I like is gothic art and Chinese classic and Egyptian.  We were too bust to see theatres and things, but I went a lot to the Louvre which is inhabited by American ladies’ sewing circles and culture clubs, and to the Luxembourg which is the rottenest piffling gallery I ever saw, except for one room with two Cezannes and a few impressionists.  And we saw the modern show in some board barracks uptown, and it was a mess of conflicting formulas—not three pictures that had any relation to immediate seeing.  The French have forgot that the living eye is the basis of the visual experience and are more literary than the Academicians, only Academic literaryness is at least sometimes amusing as anecdote and these things are charts.  Sug and Merton simply rose to the gods after such a sight.  Sug’s things are really beautiful enough to make your cry, Lola, the best, and Merton had evolved from that youngness and fresh virile color into an infinitely greater complexity of organization without losing the powerfulness of a youthful experience.  He will always be of a more lyric bent than Sug, but it is wonderful to note the fine point of divergence—Sug’s toward an exquisite mental balance evolved from hair-trigger emotion and full of emotion, and Merton always clinging to the emotional vision with the mental subtlest intimated but not stated in such exquisite fullness.  Well I’ve had fun out of seeing them.

Merton’s rather ill yet, in fact damn wobbly, but I think a year will see him his old self.  [Remainder of letter missing]

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

[Beziers, France]
January 28 or 29 [1925]

Dear Louise—

You sure are a brick, honey, to offer to put me up when it means, I can guess, considerable inconvenience NOT to me, as you suggest, but to yourself.  However, I am so grateful for the chance to be seeing you I can’t refuse it.  I could come for a little while anyway couldn’t I, and then if it didn’t seem fair to you to hang on for the whole time I must be there, Merton could help me find another place later?  Dear Louise, take into account however what it will mean to have your bathtub invaded—maybe just at the moment you want to use it—and a typewriter going three or four hours a day in the place you have to eat in.  Please do think well whether you could stand it or not, and be FRANK BEFOREHAND (tho frank after too) if it really, on serious consideration, seems too much for you.  For course I don’t give a damn how small the bedroom is so long as there is something to lie down in—even a bathtub, and that is absolutely true.  I don’t.  And bringing my table I think I will have a perfect place to write, provided I don’t feel it is playing hell with the household, in which case I won’t enjoy doing it.  I would drop writing for the time, but I simply have to get this first draft done in more or less of one stretch or it will be hell to resume it in the same key after months of changed focus.  For a second draft a delay is good.  So I would be writing a lot of the time—so much the better in one way as you needn’t have any fear of a bored idler demanding amusement.  Only will it get on your nerves?

The complications to be settled at this end are the following:  Sug, who is back in the Riviera again, may or may not have to be in Paris at the time Merton goes to London.  If Sug is at that rotten studio it is obviously no place for Jigeroo and I would have to stay over here somewhere with Jig until time to go to America (don’t tell anybody in USA that I am thinking of going there, please.)  If Sug is not going to be in Paris then he can take Jigeroo while I go to London.

In case Sug can’t keep Jig the whole time I might just possibly be able to come over for a short while which would do me lots of good.

NOTE:  If I come to your house for any time really you must be sure and let me know just exactly what one third of your housekeeping is and let me pay it sensibly.  This has already been talked over and agreed on if you remember so don’t do any lady tricks about it.

Now—your hint of spring air, fogs, and doves in old building gives me a thrill of anticipation.  I know I should love it.  I probably won’t be very diverting company and would prefer, if convenient, to be left out of the social activities you and Otto may be engaged in.  This, not from crankiness, but because, though I don’t think I will be an invalid that will need any attention beyond three meals a day, I really am going to arrive in an invalided state.  There is nothing the matter with me but winter and habits of worry, but I simply live so tired I can hardly wiggle, and I have acquired lately a very middle aged ailment in insomnia, for I stay awake about half of every night for some reason or other.  It doesn’t make me cross next day, honest, but it makes me darned disinclined to exert myself, and this feeling is emphasized by purely nervous heart fatigue and short breath that makes me behave when I have to climb a hill as if I weighed two hundred and eighty anyway.

Now is all this an alarming description of anybody you expect to have in your house?  I think a change of scene and an addition to the company will improve all those apparently physiological symptoms at once, but feel it my DUTY spelt thus, to let you know the worst before it happens.

           Lots of love and good luck and so much gratitude that I would sound mushy if I tried to state it.  Love to Otto.  Evelyn

* * * * *

Next week, Owen ends his relationship with Evelyn.  The heartbreaking correspondence vividly records Evelyn’s total devastation at this and the huge demands she made on her friends as she struggled to come to terms with its inevitability.






Bou Saada (2)

The first three months in the Algerian desert have been difficult for the Scott household as they adjusted to a new and completely foreign culture.  Evelyn’s letters reveal her desperation to see her friends as she pleads with them to visit, and the new year, 1924, begins with worries about money and poor health.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Bou-Saada, Algeria]
January 3 [1924]

Dear DEAR, your letter just five minutes ago, and I shall answer instanta because it happens to be a moment between laps of writing and I like to talk back as your letters come.  Thank God, the Garland fund seems to be some use.  Merton was saved from the pit of destruction and landscape gardening for the time being, though having to pay two life insurance policies and send monthly money to his kids has made it go almost as fast as yours.  The Jewish woman who cooks for us was in a state today with Pyorrhoea and all her teeth falling out and it gave me the hump about what a lack of money does to you.  We all need the dentist some and I swore by my pet gods that any money we ever have over living had to go to dentists first.  You do too, Lola.

I appreciate your writing that letter when your fingers—or FINGER—had been at it all day.  I’m afflicted with a wart on my best type finger—the one I had before I went away—which is like a hoof and hurts so I can’t use it.  When the weather gets warmer I’m going to have an operation.  It came from typing on that one finger to the exclusion of all others and ought to be photographed to advertise good methods for stenographers.

One thing is disappointing.  I do WISH you could come over here for two or three months.  If not now later when we are back in France and the weather warmer.  You wouldn’t be annoyed with company, Lola dear, for I work six hours every day and Sug and Merton are gone all morning and all afternoon until tea at four thirty.  We never see a soul and it would be practically the same in France.  We live very cheaply and five dollars a week would cover any possible expense for you here, really it would.

Well, I ain’t guv the idea up.  Maybe the woman book will be finished and the library superfluous before we get back.

Did I did you that Sug and I are writing a child’s story together?[1]  It is a commercial effort in a sense as we all have no call of inspiration to kids, but I think you will all rather like it.  It is laid in Algeria and I have put, with Sug’s help at translating data, a lot of native customs etc in it, we have an exciting plot and a fantastic element, all the ingredients which Jigeroo approved. it was read out to him for criticism.  Merton is doing some delightful simple drawings for it.

We all love you and if your liver incites you to blue letters why for gods sake write blue letters.  We want most of all to hear from you.  Bless you and your art, Lola, and may the New Year do more for it what it deserves.  Bless your insides and make them behave as they should.  Bless Davy’s health, jobs, and university sources.

And please God, let Lola come to France sometime.
Most, most affectionately from all of us,  Evelyn.

[1]     In The Endless Sands

 * * * * *

To Otto Theis

[February 1924]

Dear Otto:

Don’t attempt to keep up with me, I answer all your letters five minutes after receipt.

This has been a kind of “old home” week, reviving habits and associations of the past.  Merton has a lame back gotten while day labouring, and his back went wrong, and the illustrations for the kid book, because he has never done such before and didn’t know how to make magazine cover pretty faces, nearly drove him wild.  Then we went over money accounts and I discovered that I had used some of the money Merton was going to send his kids in keeping house here (we run the accounts joint), and that we were in his debt (when he ain’t got a cent) and that we didn’t have enough money to go to Paris as Sug had hoped, and Sug had the worst nervous collapse of a day I’ve seen him have in a year—and—we’re still alive and love each other—but Gosh everybody is tired. We all, even me, behave better than we used to, but then moments of weakness ain’t entirely overcome.

Sug is crazy for you to see some of his pictures and so am I.  I hope you will honestly find in Siren some of the things I do, and golly—I hope—you will even see a faint practical chance.

Bou Saada 4 (2)
Bou Saada: The house of Master Dinet [Alamy stock photo]
Sug has suffered a lot lately from severe pains in his bladder and scared me to death, but he recuperates so whenever he does a good picture that I’ve decided that he has no ills but mental ills.  However their consequence may be as dangerous as any other, and Sug’s longevity depends on whether he can put over something, either books or pictures this year.  He is nearly destroyed by taking money from Marie as well as afraid it will be cut off, and the only justification to his pride for doing it will be putting over this work.  As for his going back to work as he talks of at times, he simply couldn’t.  He wouldn’t last a week.  He is acutely neurotic and his heart is worse and worse.  He continues to exhibit demoniacal energy by spurts, and if he has any luck he may begin to live more calmly, otherwise not.  Merton’s being with us which began for me as a doubtful and perhaps selfish experiment, has been entirely justified I think even for Sug, for Merton is sincerely devoted to Sug and admiring of him and appreciative of his qualities and is a perfect angel at helping to remove from Sug’s shoulders practical burdens concerned with the details of living.

Seltzer[1], it seems, says that The Grey Riddle didn’t have enough “movement” or “story”, that it wasn’t interesting and was too much like my other books.  It has about as much story as The Narrow House, though more “movement”.  It is like my other books in being about only two people, with a few extras, a man and a woman, but they aren’t the same kind of man and woman, and the method is as different from the others as black from white.  In spite of my offer to supply asterisks for all definitely objectionable language, he says it is a “dangerous” book, but I think he has gone crazy on that score.  Children in Hell is about a triangle and The Grey Riddle, beyond some Freudian dream stuff, doesn’t contain a single impropriety.  What must have scared him was the method.

I’m a fiend to make money now.  Kid book first commercial job of my life, and we honestly think it is valuable that way.  Jigeroo loves it.  Merton’s pictures go with the book but he wants a flat price and not a high one, they are seven colored drawings and very good and atmospherey of this place, done from Algy models.  If this kid book goes Sug and I will write one every two years.

Letter as usual all about us, but one important item, wither we get as far north as Brittany or not you and Louise M and kids gotta come.

           LOTS OF LOVE evelyn

[1]   Thomas Seltzer, Evelyn’s publisher.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

February 24 [1924]

[page 1 missing] We agreed to pay half a gardeners wages to get our winter food supply out of this backyard and all we have had so far has been the violets a bowl of salad and a reddish or two.  And the old gardener, whose wages are two dollars a month, has every day another child die so he wants about two months in advance.  And to show he is worth it he picks me bouquets that are as compact and indestructible as indoor baseballs, and as sedate and defiantly surrounded by prickly foliage as a maiden Victorian with hairpins and frills.  If we could find the Arab secret of subsistence on nothing this place would be ideal for us.

But it isn’t ideal, and we don’t like Arab life a little bit.  It snowed today (Feb 24) though all the fruit trees are in bloom, peaches mostly, and only last week were warm and wonderful little shaggy powder puffs on stems in which blood seemed to run instead of sap, and bees and flies crawled and hummed, and the sky was like a blue rock and there were some little snow-foam of cloud right over the trees and it was like snow in the garden of Paradise.

You will wonder then why we don’t like Arab life.  It is because there is no intensity in it, even of machines, except the depressing intensity of sordid Arab religion?  Even if we can’t be rich I want to see somebody who is.  Never in Bou-Saada have we seen one woman in anything more regal than calico, never one child who wasn’t dirty and out at heels.  Occasionally a man is impressive by the height of his turban and the whiteness of his linen and the gorgeousness of silver embroidery on his velvet jacket.  But you know even he lives in a mud hovel and starves his wife.  We were almost swamped last month by trying on a little meagre charity, but it is another grain of sand in all the sand there is, and I don’t think the people are very unhappy anyway.  They don’t protest or want to.  And this stupid Koran which is going to take them all to heaven and such a dingy heaven anyway.  We think of Romanism as formulated, but that ritual gives much more than this deathly penance of learning parrot wise verse and lines verse and line and droning it morning and night.

Bou Saada 2 (2)
Bou Saada []
Today the administration is trying to make a hit with tourists and has arranged a falcon hunt. Lots of stodgy French and English from Alger down and have gone out thirteen kilometres to see the falcons loosed on some poor hares and pigeons.  There is also a dance of the Ouled Nails tonight and if I hadn’t got sick we would have gone. But I think the weather will cook that too as it is in a tent.  You see the Ouled Nails used to be almost like sexual priestesses but now they live in a licensed house of prostitution and are just a lot of mangy bitches as hard as nails and not much more lovely.  A funny thing is that the fact that they are femmes public has not modified certain religious modesties. A Mahomden may sleep with one of the ladies but he may not see her unclothed, nor any women than his wives.

Arabs have this awful puritan license, but it remains puritan for they condemn this world and the flesh and woman as a minister to the flesh.  See a ragged ragged old man, a man of fabulous rags, going by with a ragged dirty woman whose slippers are falling to pieces and held on with string, and she has her face as carefully veiled as if most of her anatomy wasn’t leaking through the rents and wears.  Wish people could see their own conventions in the light of others, but British etc come here, shake their heads, and go back to worship the Virgin Mary and attend balls with ladies nude, so to  speak, on the upper level.

Bou Saada 6 (1)
Bou Saada: Dancing  girls and women []
Yet Arabs aren’t a bit mystic.  Their God is sensual purely in the sense of external sensational non-subjective.  And their music so crass and terrible, their way of singing like brass—the brass city of Solomon in the story—a brazen external impenetrability.  Only difference from our puritans is that their contempt for this world is perfect and negative and not a living torturing effort at contempt.  And their next world has not such a poetic hell nor such a rapturous and complacent heaven.  Heaven you reach by hard work in reciting Koran and prayers, not passion, just rote.

They are so very mental and so naïve as well—but it is not emotional naivete, and their conventions have the perfection of fixity.  Their shoes which are the only pretty thing the women wear (the few women who wear shoes) of red leather have a touch of green thread a bit of silver embroidery very conventionalized and supplied with a restraint, a mental correctness, which would be westernly impossible to people twice as sophisticate.  The jewelry is fine in only a few cases, but mostly quite crude and heavy, of metalled five franc pieces and really made into jewelry as an easy way to preserve wealth among people who have no banks or closets or drawers or trunks to lock thinks in.  No furniture in their houses, in poor houses nothing at all but a pile of dry grass to sleep in, in rich houses a rug or two and maybe rugs on the wall, a taboret for coffee, brass trays to carry food in, no knives and forks.

Little girls have a nauseating and unpleasant precociousness and a total unintelligence, just a kind of suspicious cunning and no more concentration than rabbits.  They are never, in the country, educated at all, and as most boys learn only the Koran they are as bad.  Last week Merton walked out to a small oasis near here and was accompanied home by the son of the caid who was fifteen and had been married three years, and whom in spite of his distinguished lineage, begged old shoes old clothes penknives anything from Merton.  All children beg.  Even rich people’s children.  It is quite convention for a child to beg.

Our house is opposite the filthy jail and the overnight cell opens on the street twenty feet from my bedroom window.  So funny and so awful the continuous occupants.  First place every morning the French Jew police sergeant goes in to the CELL to pea [sic], there being no toilet in the police station, and comes out arranging his trousers with an entire complacency.  Stink ferocious.  Most Arab men object to being locked up (they are awful thieves and tricksters but have the self-esteem of red Indians, only the women crassly) and they pound and shake the door all night.  Twice recently raids on unlicensed brothels (Tom can tell you of one down on the motor road for he was pursued from there) have filled cells with ladies glittering with tinsel and tinkly with necklaces and bracelets.  When the door is opened I see inside dark shiny unrelated spots as if there were Christmas trees inside.  Then make out a fat woman having a drink of water out of a galvanized scrubbing bucket.  Some of the raided ladies insisted on their respectability and emerged to go to magistrate with their faces fully veiled.

Bou Saada 8
Bou Saada: Native dwelling []
Ellen also sent me her address so I imagined you wanted me to write to her, and the mood of response is certainly in me, yet I do make such a mess of new contacts that I feel somehow I ought not to take a risk that might spoil the possibility of a friendship when we meet.  You tell me exactly how you feel, but anyway please let her know that though I should be humanly flattered by a poem to me if it were banal.  I feel a very different and more profound appreciation when the poem is like this to stimulatingly harsh and yet lovely.  You see Lola I suppose if I have an ideal esthetically it is of the combination of the harsh consciousness, harsh because of its definition, emerging from the undefined and carrying with it a kind of intimation of its source that is even more unescapable than the definition.  Her work, to judge from one small specimen is less poignant less matured in consciousness than yours, but it has a good deal of your flavor—only don’t tell her that, for I don’t mean she imitates, only that one reason you like her is natural response and one reason I should undoubtedly like her (IF my judgement is right) is this identity of a quality in her with a quality in you which I consider precious.

CKS Sand Dune
“Sand Dune”: Cyril Kay Scott watercolour  [North Caroline Museum of Art]
Cyril and Merton and me and Jigeroo all love you so very much and so very much want you to be well and to finish the book but not to finish the book until you ARE well.  And our dearest love to Davy, please, and, and, and lots of things I don’t know how to write—


* * * * *

To Otto Theis

March 3, 1924

Dearest Otto;

Gee, you have had a siege from Bou-Saada.  I’ve written Otto about one problem a week, maybe two, for the last month.  And listen, Otto, for Pete’s sake don’t worry about having had to turn the article down.  The reason I haven’t written any since you first asked me last year, is that I knew only too well what would be the result.  You see I can’t write with emotional vividness unless I have an emotional reason for doing it.  When you write a book, you always have a mystic belief that somewhere somebody is going to “understand you”—in other words accept your particular affirmations and denials.  Well, what you write for a journal that has a definite policy you know this wonderful understanding can’t be your object and so you (meaning me) feel cold to start on.  I haven’t any dash at all.  When I try to limit my own explorative function I just diminish my work without being able to make the oratorical bridges in which bunk is scarcely perceptible as bunk in which is the talent of the real journalist.

Bou Saada 2 (1)
Bou Saada []
What I feel behind your letter and your constant lovely decency to us, is that you are a damn tired man—lots tireder than you admit—and that we do wish vacation times weren’t so far away.  I think what you say about the crowded house is truly a lovely compliment to a finely satisfactory relation, but I don’t care how much you and Louise love each other, London is London and winter and measles and flue are such, and I’m sure you are all in deadly need of a change.  The cottage in Kent will help I know, but you must take that vacation, and damn it we insist, with us.

This seems to have been contradicted by my last letter which I wrote as a climax of a months fret over money.  What we said, or I said, holds good as commonsense, except that it will be probably next to impossible to arrange steamer fares just so, off the bat, so we had as well settle down to leaving in the very late summer or the fall.  In the meantime we are quitting Bou-Saada on the seventh and our address until we get a house will be care Mme Catherine Ramone de l’Homme, Faubourg, Collioure, Pyrenees Orientales, France.

We hope to get a cheap place at Banyuls where there is fine swimming or if not there Arles or Amelie le Bain.  Well let you know at once when we do.

Merton will be in London in May and give us mutual news of each other.  Cyril may get as far as Paris but I am going to stay down south.

Of course as a person I think Cyril has the most titanic personality, the most instinctive profoundness of emotion, the most mental stretch of almost anybody living and it will be to me another proof that utter cynicism is the impossible unattainable answer to life if he does not find any sympathetic channel of expression anywhere.

Of course one of the reasons I was most upset by the news that Seltzer would send me a hundred dollars on March 1st (haven’t gotten it yet, by the way) was the news I had that Escapade was selling.  I’m afraid that the Seltzers are not deliberate crooks but just are in such a hole that I may get nothing at all out of my work.

Now if you and Louise will come to see us we will talk of something beside ourselves.  And we will find a cheap place for you to stay. And I think we will all have a nice time.

Don’t feel my heavy correspondence a burden.  We see nobody at all and it is a relief to talk and I do it on paper but with no idea that a busy man ought to respond in kind.

Now, Otto, I ain’t as dangerous as I seem .  Love to you all.  Jig is in ecstasies over the stamps and will write to you.  I sent an order for the money on the books, thank you just the same for your generosity, and you must tell me what lacked, if anything.

Good luck and blessings, Evelyn

 * * * * *

The next letter in the collection is written from Banyuls in May 1924, after the arrival there of the Scott household. And soon their lives begin to collapse, beginning with Merton being taken to hospital in London, seriously ill.




Bou Saada (1)

Last week I posted a small selection of Evelyn’s letters from Collioure, on the Mediterranean coast of France, near the Spanish border.  Cyril was painting the coast and the countryside surrounding the picturesque ancient town and Merton, his New Zealand friend and protégé, was developing his talent as a watercolourist.  This lasted throughout the summer of 1923, until the decision to move to the north coast of Algeria that autumn.

Bou Saada
Image from Google Earth, with Bou Saada marked by a dot in the centre of the image. Even now it is isolated–how much more so it would have been in 1923!

The following letters, full of vivid descriptive language, record a way of life that Evelyn finds  different and sometimes repugnant, but her evident disapproval does not affect the clarity of her language.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

Rue Coumes
Bou-Saada, Algeria
October 11, 1923

Dear Otto:

I haven’t heard from you in ages and I have the PIPP so I won’t write a long letter, but I want you to know our new address which is Rue Coumes, Bou-Saada, Algerie, via Alger.

We couldn’t get another house in Collioure, it turned very cold, and we came the twenty-four hours to Alger.  But Alger was so damp and expensive that we are trying out here, two hundred and fifty kilometres without a railway.  I suppose it is the fatigue of travel but right now I have the worst hump I ever had about a place.  There is nothing but sand and mud houses and dirty Arabs and women without faces and I don’t think it interesting or picturesque or anything is obviously is, but just dismal.  You feel squashed by the inertia of the landscape and the inertia of the people.  All the kids have sore eyes and flies on their faces like they were pastries in a window.  I don’t like it, and more not because I don’t think Cyril does and I know Merton doesn’t and we haven’t enough money to move again inside of six months.  In fact we had to take the only house there was here for six months.  But for Gods sake don’t come to Bou Saada except as a wealthy tourist who is going to motor back in two days.  This is an oasis and there is very little water but not enough to commit suicide in at that.  There are some date palms but they don’t excite you.

Lots and lots of love, Evelyn

PS Marie [Garland] took care to mail the snottiest review of Escapade and to write that she has inquired around it wasn’t selling.  Maybe that’s why I don’t like Bou Saada.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

October 19, 1923

You are a sweet thing to say what you do about me and writing and things and next to Cyril’s faith in me there’s nobody I want to live up to more than you, and I am certainly trying damned hard right now to do better than I ever have done, lots.  I naturally want Escapade to sell but am scared to trust it will.  You see I would like most awfully to get Sug a new suit, and lend Merton some money (he is in an awful fix and deserves a lot) and (A-las, human weakness again) send mother a little, and pay back one seventeenth of all the incredibly awful debts I owe.  Well there doesn’t seem much immediate chance of that.

I had no mail in three weeks and got it all forwarded today, so I have several letters to answer, but I had to say something to you first.  And I will write again more elaborately when we are really in routine.  I don’t care how many sins of correspondential omissions you are guilty of, I can’t keep from writing to you.


* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[October 1923]

My dearest dear Lola:

Well, honey.  We are all stuck out here in the middle of nowhere having come in quest of a cheap winter in dry climate.  Merton is in an awfully tight box financially and we are trying to invent some way to help him stick it through the year.  He has to send money to his kids and that makes it a tight pull.  Tom was up at Buzzards Bay but has been returned and that leaves two with Mrs Jenkins so we don’t know whether it will be too much for her or not.

I think after we are settled in a place that is liveable we may be able to do a lot of work here, though as a place to paint it presents, once you abandon the obvious picturesque, the most difficult and subtle problem I ever saw.  The general neutrality of the landscape makes it about as easy as discerning forms in a white sheet.  It is the kind of place that no Anglo Saxon wants to get close to.  It repels with its alien quality the most pronounced of which is dirt.  Just sand wastes, a few low sand hills, and mud houses so low and flat that they are submerged in the general indefiniteness.  Then the people all reduced to a more than conventional uniformity by clothes all white all flowing, or all once white for they are all dirty, the faceless women with their muslin window curtains held up so that only one eye is exposed.  I don’t feel capable of writing immediately about it yet, but I will later.  And so let us know how you are, and have so very much love from all of us, and lots of love to Davy.


Another Note for Lola

Dear Lola, dear.  I wrote you yesterday and feel inclined to add this note.  I went out with Cyril and Merton when they sketched today and some faithful nuisances in the way of Arab kids followed us about half a mile.  When I sat down a little distance from the men said Arab kids began to cluster around me and chant something that went like ah-ou-ou-aaaaa-ouy-a as loud as they could and to throw stones as close to me as they could without hitting me.  Then in French they said if I’d give them a cigarette they’d leave me alone, but I wasn’t going to offer bribes so, though I had anticipated the request for a cigarette and had intended to bestow one, I didn’t.  So the au-ooo-auuu stuff went on until Merton came over to rescue me.  They are little devils alright.

CKS desert wc
Photo of a watercolour by Cyril, presumably of landscape near Bou Saada

Yesterday afternoon we saw the dancing at the baptism again and the most charming little girl in a ragged Mother Hubbard who had unbelievably large eyes bewitchingly biased and painted green underneath.  She was only about eleven and with an unhealthy delicacy, a premature sex consciousness mixed with inevitable gaucherie.  She did the bird movements with her hands exquisitely and gave a dance du ventre which was to me not the mechanical sex it is supposed to be but a kind of saint vitus dance of the guts.  It reminds me of all the stomach aches I ever had.  The courtesy in these affairs is for the audience to supply one hundred franc bills to paste with spit on the forehead and turbans of musicians and dancers.  Then when the show is over the money is returned.  None of the ouled nahils[1] will dance until somebody has put at least two hundred francs in their bonnets.  As we weren’t used to it we watched this weeks board a bit nervously until the show was over, but it came back properly and we had only to buy three bottles of beer for the star performing ladies.


[1]     The Ouled Nail are a Berber tribe in the Sahara Atlas mountains with a distinctive dance tradition.  The dancers are heavily made up and their costumes are richly ornate.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[October 1923]

Beloved dear, too funny that the very morning I wrote to know what had happened to you, I got your letter.

My dear, I wish I had really been able to pass on more of my experience here.  For the first month I was simply paralyzed by strangeness.  I was never anywhere before that every single detail of existence was alien and I couldn’t identify myself with it.  Then we have all been and still are sick.  Sug, Jigeroo, and I were all ill at once and poor Merton got so many responsibilities on him that he had a general nervous blow up and can’t paint, but I feel somehow or other that it isn’t nearly as serious as it appears but only a kind of accumulated general panic from too much worry about practical things.

SCK City Scape
Cyril Kay Scott: “City Scape” [North Carolina Museum of Art]
It is cold here and the desert is twice bare with the falling of the leaves on the few trees of the oasis and the palms all getting papery and dull.  The poor Arabs are dirtier and more miserable looking than ever.  Such pathetic creatures, the women all braceleted and veiled in inappropriate accompaniment to the nakedness of poverty that they can’t conceal.  We live opposite the police station and last night a drunk or a lunatic was shut up there and spent the whole night quavering out something that sounded like ci-ci-moi, in a thick broken voice, pounding and kicking the door, and beginning this curious monotonous song of misery again with an occasional sobbing cry interspersed.  The cell they put him in is on the street and I have seen in the stone floor and no furnishing of any kind, but when I began to think how awful it was I had only to recall the home interiors here that are just a muddy darkness, a hearth, a pot, and a rag in a corner to lie on.  Only the children of marabouts or priests are rich.  There is a big monastery near here which owns many herds and houses etc.  The dream of an earthly heaven is gained at the expense of almost all the necessity which the dream promises to supply.  As for Arab women, the French schoolmistress says that an Arab boy of twelve will beat his own mother, and women have no authority over their own children after the age of two.


* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[ Autumn 1923]

Precious Lola:

Having unearthed your address from long hiding, I will enjoy a direct communication.  I sent you two letters already via Gladys[1].

Since you won’t tell me your news, here’s mine.  I have finished the new novel, The Grey Riddle[2] (name out of a quotation from the Boyg scene in Peer Gynt).  It is to the mind of Sug, Merton, and myself, not just better, but INCOMPARABLY better, than anything I ever wrote.  It owes the basis of its technique to Siren and I acknowledge that in the dedication (though as much as I want it to appear the fact Siren, its inspiration, has no publisher is TOO ironical).  The technique is more elaborate and conscious by indubitably evolved from that.  I tried to make the book like an Ibsen play, in that the drama of the present is the unfolding of the past.  But of course, being a novel, the unfolding is in peoples minds, in memories and the like.  I use parenthesis, dash, italics, capitals, and small type as I never found out how to use them before, and have combined all my usual addiction to objective detail subjectively perceived (or so attempted) with a much freer emotional expression than I ever dared out of shadow play.  I do HOPE you like it.  You gotta be godmother and  assist at the accouchement anyway.

It begins in France with France with two people struggling in the vacuum of alien surroundings, goes to New York and evolves their inward struggle in the factual struggle of material circumstance, and the last part, after the woman’s death, is in the man’s mind only.

Then Lola about Sug[3].  Well, the promise of fine things in the Bermuda stuff, has been justified and exceeded a dozen times.  His last work is exquisite, such a perfect harmonization of sensuous full emotional quality with delicate mental perception I ever saw.  I don’t believe any water color except Cezanne has ever been as good.  The only draw back is his very punk health lately.  In fact Bou-Saada has laid us all out with grippe and bronchitis almost continuous.  Merton is doing himself wonderful justice, with very exquisitely realized things, with the most sensitive minute perception which locates emotion in time and space and yet does not remove it from the artist’s subjective.  He is pretty worried about money, but we hope he can stick it out until he has given himself a real chance.

Jigeroo speaks French and goes to an Arab school.  He has been ill but happy otherwise.  So you see despite inwards this time as you said, darling, is a beautiful time.  If money and health permit we will justify it.  Our regret is that you and Davy aren’t here, and oh, again if we COULD get you here.

OM Bou Saada view1 (1)
Owen Merton: Undated desert landscape, possibly Bou Saada [Thomas Merton Society]
The Arabs are dirty and miserable looking, but there is a fine arid landscape of fleshly hills, a huddle of frail walls and of dead dry mud, a hurricane of dark palms against a sky that (when it condescends not to rain) is hard with light.  There is the wonderful sinister importance of the women all in red (all the married women of some tribes wear red) shrouded, holding with their palms fan-wise a screen of draperies across their faces.  They don’t wear veils as in Alger, but are even more concealed.  There are the cupolas of marabout tombs that are somehow more voluptuous than she ever imagined plaster, and float above the flat houses like tight bruised lily buds stained with brown and pink.  There is on market day always some man from the desert who seats himself in the dust of the Place and recites endless songs that have a slight half-moon rhythm which swings back and back on itself, the choruses accompanied by the holly agitation of the tambourine drum which he beats as if encouraging himself.  Then there are pipes always being played somehow, how querulous whistles, equally monotonous.  In the evening the muezzin on the roof of the mosque calls, cries out it seems, to Allah.  Men along street corners, removing their shoes, make that perfect complete gesture of abasement of which we have no counterpart, laying dust upon their foreheads and bending again three times to place their foreheads in the dust.  Then the brazen chanting of the Koran, little boys voices hurrying shrilly, men’s voices calling nasally above them.  On Thursdays we walk by the synagogue and the Jews in the light of many candles are chanting so differently with a soft vague intonation of breathed solemnity.

Bou Saada 4 (1)
Bou Saada: An Arab street []
However Mohamedism is horrible to a western mind.  Poverty accepted, slavery of women accepted, disease accepted, and death just the tossing of unconfined bodies into the scratched earth where the rain and the dogs go later to dig it up.

Later I shall maybe get something out of this beside the picturesque.  Just now it is the sense of alienation which is satisfying, for one can work with it.

WE LOVE YOU AND DAVY.  Please get well. Evelyn

[1]  Gladys Edgerton (later Grant) was a fellow poet and faithful friend of Evelyn’s.  They met in New York shortly after Evelyn’s return to the US.

[2]    Evelyn never published a book under this name:  it is probably The Golden Door, published in 1925 by Thomas Seltzer.

[3]   Evelyn’s pet name for Cyril, short for “Sugar”.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

December 31, 1923


Dear Otto:

Bou-Saada is a microcosm of society presented with a crudeness and simplicity that a child would get.  In looking at Arabs you see why and how people arrived at a respectable ideal, at the feeling that it was better to have some decent hypocrisy about yourself than to be simple and blatant in cruelty as the Arabs are.  They just never need to excuse themselves for doing what other races do under cover, and I find myself anglo-saxon enough to get the hump when I contemplate it.  Natural selection functions here without any Christian modification.  The biggest most brutal males get the best food and the warmest clothes and look like Jesus Christs of healthy stock, gods all mighty in their own minds without any sickness of the imagination to identify them with their inferiors.  They are probably very kind and condescending to the women who are pretty and submissive enough to deserve it, and throw all the best bones to the children that cry the last.  But a great many of the children cry most of the time.  Every evening you can hear all up and down the streets the little girls sent to ask alms of prosperous relatives.  They sit in the doorways sometimes for hours together wailing a stereotyped plea with a monotony and persistence that compliments the nerves of the people indoors who seem to pay no attention to it.  The men wear wool burnouses, but I have yet to see any but the Jewish women who have changed their red calico robes for anything more suitable to the winter climate.  It snowed here last week and barefooted girls without any undies (quite visibly) were running around in it.  Not that the men don’t suffer too in their degree for some of them are the most artistic collections of rags I ever saw, and there are dozens of the nomad variety camping around here in exposed tents with no covering but their skins and no firewood but what they can collect in a place forty kilometres from any woods.  The fact that we live opposite the police station doesn’t add to our cheerful impressions.  It is a French police station and the Arab policemen are too unimaginative to keep up with the New York variety, are really very nice men (honest)—I don’t think Arabs have any lust for creating suffering like the Spaniards do—but the collects of rags and dejection that are hauled in there every day make we want to make sententious remarks about the failure of a civilization being proven by the populousness of the jails, or something.  There’s only one cell (quite as comfortable as an Arab home) and quite unfurnished, and men women and children are all stuffed into the same darkness.  Just what this proximity does to divert them I don’t know, and it may be the kindest method, only sometimes there are crazy men and very crazy drunks who wouldn’t be attractive companions for the ladies even in the dark.

Algerian village by OM
Algerian Village: watercolour by Owen Merton [Thomas Merton Society]
Oh, gee, well anyway this is a roundabout way of saying that one winter in a Muhamadon town is enough for a while.  We want to go to the Grand Kahyble (can’t spell it) April and stay there through May as the scenery is very different from this, mountainous and luxuriant and the Khablye people are not Arabs but Burbers[1] (as maybe you know) and have different customs.  And then June to go back to France.  We’ll have to return to Port Vendre and Collioure to collect maroquette[2] if the poor thing isn’t dead and then we thought we would go to Brittany and stay two or three months.  Merton and Sug then, IF our money is any more than now, want to spend two weeks in Paris.  After that the problem of a warm cheap winter somewhere and we have thought of Corsica, the Belleryic islands,[3] or trying Sicily again, whichever lives up to our ideal of prices and weather, and our last spring of freedom we want to go to London for two weeks before we go home.

I wrote the first draft of the kid story[4] and handed it over to Cyril who is helping it out with the addition of a trick dog, helping me to kill a lion the way it should be killed, and translating a whole lot of stuff about Arabic customs to put them in the book correctly.  He has already put in thirty pages of notes so I shall insist on calling it a collaboration whether he wants to or not.  My part of it was the most rapid fire work I ever did, one hundred and seventy four pages in eight days.  But don’t let that prejudice you agin it, for I think it will be a very amusing little book when it is did, and Merton’s illustrations are excellent.  It is one of the many little boy lost stories, but this time the little boy lost collects an Arab girl and is, because of his ignorance of Arabic, tangled up in Arab weddings, Arab mosques, all kinds of Arab customs, walks off with a tame lion, and has two dreams in which camels and desert tribes in rebellion and drums and spahis are all mixed up.  The skeleton isn’t original.  I didn’t have it in me to break ground that way for kids, but I think the detail is for kids very fresh and exciting.  I don’t know what my arrangement with Seltzer is because my contract was left with Walter Nelles in New York, but I want to find out their attitude about Escapade, The Grey Riddle etc, and if I tactfully and businessly can, I should be grateful to use the introduction you could give me to your literary man.  Merton as the illustrator is much in favor of it.  I shall be quite set up if John Lane[5] takes on Escapade as I know he is more punkins than Duckworth, but I haven’t heard anything of it so I won’t hope too much.

In the Endless Sands

Otto, we do wish that your vacations came oftener and that you and Louise Morgan[6] could come here now.  If she isn’t well London weather is the worst that I can think of for her, and this place, though cold, is mostly so sunny, and really cheap when you get here.  It has the best hotel I ever saw in a small town, Hotel Petit Sahara, and when we were there was twenty-five francs apiece a day for all of us, a hundred francs for all, and very good food.  The bus ride from Alger here is hellish but only costs thirty-three francs each first class.  For a brief stay ANYWAY, even if you didn’t love Arabs, it is frightfully interesting—a beautiful oasis as far as palm trees go, wonderful desert and low hills around it, and every detail of native life as strange and picturesque as possible in more than obvious ways.  Oh, I do wish you could come.  If we had beds you could stay with us.  We have lots of room but no beds.

Lots and lots of love from all of us. Evelyn

[1]     Berbers, the nomadic people of the African desert

[2]     Evelyn had always liked animals and had kept a number of them in Brazil.  It appears she was still keeping pets in France, including a parrot, Maroquette.

[3]     Balearic

[4]  In the Endless Sands, written jointly with Cyril and based on Jigg’s account of the nine days he spent in the Algerian desert without being missed by his parents!  Jigg would tell his children about this episode but Evelyn never states that the book is based on Jigg’s disappearance.

[5]   British publisher.  He co-founded The Bodley Head and specialised in controversial works.

[6]   Otto’s wife

* * * * *

Next week will follow the Scotts and Merton through the remainder of their time in Algeria, ending with Merton’s sudden illness and the dramatic return to Europe.





In the summer of 1923 the relationship with the Garland-Hales had broken down to the extent that Evelyn, with Cyril and Jig and their new friend Owen Merton, left Bermuda to find warmth and painting opportunities in, they hoped, the cheap and warm climes of southern France. I have not been able to find any letters relating to their leaving Bermuda and their travel arrangements, and so the story resumes when the family are in Collioure, in the foothills of the Pyrenees near Marseille.


Collioure is a medieval fishing port, the harbour dominated by the church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges with its distinctive bell tower at the water’s edge. In the early 1920s the town nestled by this church and the Villa Tine, where the family lived, would have been in one of the narrow medieval streets surrounding the church. The soft Mediterranean light, the medieval architecture and the stark countryside were attractive to painters of the day, and in the 1920s the town was host to Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and André Derain, among others.

The letters that follow illustrate Evelyn’s ability to evoke, with few words, the colours and smells of her surroundings. Her opinion of those with whom she travelled with are also made explicit. We begin today’s collection with her description of their stopover in Naples, en route to France and written after their arrival in Collioure.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Villa Tine, Collioure, France
July 7, 1923

Precious Lola:

I want to make note of what has happened and I do it in letters to me friends.  Is that a cheap economy of invention?  I know you want to hear and I simply can’t write it twice.

We were docked at Naples at eight o’clock and I was too lazy to witness the approach.  What I saw when I came on deck was a hot hill of houses with the Castle of Saint Elmo resting rather bleakly on the top of it, and on the other side only a large dim outline of a Vesuvius which the fog had almost obliterated.  There was a great stir of people landing.  Out of about two hundred second class passengers all but fifteen got off here, and Italian ladies who had luxuriated in soiled matinees for the past fifteen days appeared suddenly in evening dress, the scent of garlic more piquant for the usual perfume of the bottle which accompanied it.  Merton had horrible recollections of Naples where he had sunstroke and was often robbed and he awakened in a high key of antagonism which later precipitated itself.

Ellen1 loves the Italians and you can imagine how that irritated him.  Especially when the ship began to be overrun with dark shoddily neat gentlemen who would take us all to Pompeii for the day almost for the pleasure of doing it.  Lola, never let any brave man mention in my presence again the materialism of my native land.  At least we do our thieving in the grand manner.  Naples had an atmosphere of meagre financial desperateness.  It isn’t the war at all, but these are people who are temperamentally incapable of industry and initiative who are caught in the struggle and can’t get out of it.  They are like women who have led easy lives, whose soft bodies can not compete and yet they must compete.  They must get money somehow in the domesticated wildness of alley cats where they exist.

We had no sooner set our feet on the glaring dock to which we were drawn up when more hungry creatures offered their services, their carriages, their bought advice with a kind of illicit hungriness.  We did get a carriage and Ellen, who speaks Italian well, was scheduled to pilot us.  We wanted first to see the meanest streets.  But driver took us wherever he would—many halts, Ellen rising converses with him volubly.  He is agreeable, he wants to take us the longest way—and after the greatest moral exertion we go where we want to and come out right.  Merton’s eyes ache.  He exhibits an evasive tensity.  When the driver asks him if he likes Naples he replies baldly that he hates its stinks.  The driver looks unabashed and yet abashed.  He is agreeable.  We must be pleased.  He is like a kindly whore who is accustomed to being beat, who steals a little from the gentleman’s pockets and is ashamed of it.

Such streets, Lola.  Palermo had the same narrowness, the same tortureness, but its filth was new and bright and unsubdued.  Old Naples was a decayed body—sharp and strong with people living in it as in maggoty meat—people that ran in and out of dark windowless holes that were meat stalls and butcher shops.  In every shop a shrine like a kind of ikon with an electric bulb glaring stodgily in front of it.  Such meat shops—harsh pieces of red flesh, dingy tiles, crusts of flies, and always always, visible in the shallow depths as we stared in from the carriage, the worn picture of the saint on the wall above the counter at the back.  Such cadaverous women, such anemic children, such an absence of any joy in light or life—nothing anywhere but a rich and crowded hideousness.  There were shrines on the outsides of houses too, shrines that were dingy and fly specked, and beneath them also burned and electric light.  The vegetables exposed were sold and old and there was charcoal dust.  Some of the streets like the ones I remember in Lisbon climbed endless stairs with the banners of laundered clothes rising tier on tier till they waved at last in the merciless light.  Palermo reminded me of Rio de Janeiro on a smaller scale.  It was young.  Naples was used as I never saw a city used before.  There was not a fresh face, not a fresh house front–nothing that had not come to the end of itself and sprouted again like a tree that is half felled but struggles yet to a little harsh growth.  The stinks I had anticipated I didn’t find in actuality.  It was a visual aroma that I mostly get—black olives, wine jugs, basket makers, chair weavers, cobblers, smithies, wood sellers, all crowded in one street—court yards that had the faint illumination of decay-and people, people in rooms the depth of a wall, people who were crowded helplessly into the street while those in Palermo willingly lived in it.

The fine gardens and drive along the sea are a slightly less impressive counterpart of Rio since the mountains behind the city are further back.  There the same bald elegance of expensive passions.  We went to a restaurant on the waters edge where we could look directly at Vesuvius which had emerged from its pseudo mystery and looked fine but rather obvious with houses clustering at its gradual feet.  Maybe I had seen it too often on the walls on Italian restaurants but it was so exactly what I had anticipated that its actuality did not affect me until that evening when the ship was going out.

The restaurant had a wide veranda and an empty unluxurious appearance but we were very well served with some breaded cutlets, salad, and a kind of short cake with cherries in the middle of it, black bitter cherries that had been steeped in wine so that their acridness was subtilized.  The wine was bad here and in Palermo it was excellent.  We disgraced ourselves by misunderstanding a charge for services and not leaving any tips.  Our vanity was darkened for the day when we discovered it.  By this time Merton and Ellen had already disagreed as to Italian charmingness.

I was reckless enough to ask to go to the toilet and a small boy who could speak English escorted me up a torturous spiral staircase above the bar and stood politely outside the Johnny door until I could be admitted.  He waved his hands gallantly toward it as the last occupant came out.  Such a toilet.  A darkness almost complete but animate with smells, a toilet more used than Naples herself and uncleansed by the rains of heaven, a toilet without a chain to pull and with every evidence that the chain had not been pulled that week.

We had another ride in a taxi out the sea way, another past some fine old palaces, and another through some rich and substantial looking squares and business streets.  There were huge arcades with rich shops, but the prices were very cheap.  How I would have loved to buy presents for all of us.  Silk was next to nothing.  The dust and heat were terrible.  The taxi drivers quarrelled with each other.  We were continually being spotted as tourists and asked to see Pompeii.  There were beggars on the streets.  By the water we were besieged with proffers of boats.  There is nothing in Naples that can not be bought.  Nothing that isn’t trying to see itself.

1Ellen Kennan was a friend of both Evelyn and Cyril; she had been Cyril’s lover during the early 1920s.  She was travelling with the Scotts to France.

To Otto Theis

Collioure, France
July 9, 1923

Beloved Otto:

I had your letter a couple of days ago. . .The second class of the Patria was horrible, we almost died of starch poisoning and the general literal putrefication of the grub.  Jig had croup and I had a bass cough and a sore chest, and the passengers, Italians going home and a few rotten Americans were the very worst.  No lounge only a smoking room very dirty with dirty people and indigestibable babies and gentlemen who could spit farther and louder—much louder—than a southern Colonel in a Bret Harte story.  No permanent deck spaces, herding on and off decks partially possessed by the first class.  We rented five steamer chairs and spent most of the time looking for them and removing them from Italians who had escaped the property sense except as it related to the belongings of other folks.

However we did have two whole days in brilliant sunshine running a moving picture distance from Moorish castles and Algerian villages on one side, and the slow fatigued landscape of burnt Spain opposite.  Also the Azores, very kind hills and funny zig zag cultivation like an infantile insanity.  Dutch windmills very calm in the midst of it.  Also a day at Palermo which is like Brazil, gaudy, ennuied, and ingenuous.  Sicilians seem to like bright irrelevant things, wonderful gay sweetmeats, marvelously naïve carts, a new looking city and very old alive hills burning above it.  A day in Naples where, thank God, most of the passengers got off, a rapacious Naples rich with filth, and dingier in its richness that I knew a Southern city could be.  Everybody wanted to sell something, services, information, taxi cabs, and Pompeii was hawked about like a Coney Island commodity.  It did look beautiful though when we were leaving it.  Sorrento and Capri were all brittle houses small and white in a kind of winey light, Vesuvius immensely still, and a very dramatic sunset where the sun stood over the water in a huge sphere that had detached itself from the sky and seemed to float.

Marseille was stupe, very bourgeois and middleaged, very commercially cosmopolitan in the population of the streets.  The lots of plane trees looked strong and composed and heartily green and there was a quiet color in flower markets and zouave soldiers, but I didn’t feel in it any France more subtle than the naturalists.1

We had a wild trip to Port Vendres with one parrot and twenty three pieces of small baggage and three unexpected changes of train en route.  Port Vendres is one street around a well in port and the ships from Algeria dock under the hotel windows.  The Pyrenees are heavy and close above the stodgy houses.  There were some sailing ships that on moonlight nights were a labyrinth of stiff frost white ropes against a deep space of dark-lit sky, strangely intimate and close to us.  They had sour smelling cargoes that were loaded, unloaded and mysteriously loaded again while we were there (the same black beans sold, docked, resold and returned to the hold to be taken to Barcelona) by strong looking girls and lean strong old women who swung sacks with a rhythmical easiness.  We couldn’t find a house to rent and as our money was being eaten up in the hotel we came over here to Collioure and took the only place available, still much dearer than we had meant to pay for it.

The Villa Tine is a miracle of perfection, an ugliness that is above reproach.  But it is comfortable, has a charming garden in front and back garden of orange and magnolia and is five minutes walk from a swimming place.  Also, if you don’t mind slight inconveniences, it has room enough to put you and Sophie up.  Ellen Kennan is here with us till about the end of the month and after that we will have a room free.

Collioure old town
Modern photo of Collioure old town

We have a sternly shy maid who cooks very bearably though she isn’t the miracle of efficiency tradition had led me to expect and doesn’t do much else.  Merton manages the housekeeping and I clean up.  If we weren’t always nervous about money we could settle down to a wonderful year.  Merton only has a few hundred dollars and a month was wasted before we even got here (eighteen days on ship, three in Marseille, one traveling, a week in Port Vendres, and two or three days of getting settled in this place).  He is a remarkable water colorist Otto.  He has wasted six years doing manual labor, gardening, digging, anything, until his wife died last year and left him with two kids, who, fortunately are with their grandparents for the time.  We hoped Marie would do something for him, but alas she has the bug that labor in the soil is holy and that he needs it to purify his art.  He is pretty blue about the prospect of having to go back.  When you come down I want you to see his stuff and I have wondered if you knew anyone in London who had any money and would be likely to be interested in it.  He had a show at the Daniels gallery just before we left but it netted him only about a hundred and fifty dollars and he only got as much more from a little private thing we arranged at Marie’s Washington Mews place.  Except him and Marie and Charlie Demuth there aren’t any and they are older men who have gotten a certain influence through Steiglitz while he as a foreigner is just breaking in.

 Escapade was held up because I had to make cuts.  This was sprung on me when it was in page proof.  I spent four days more or less with a fool lawyer-was told it was a borderline book, a plea for free love, and would be considered a menace to American institutions.  I was made to cut out all statements that I was proud of my relation to Cyril, that I didn’t want to marry, in fact every positive assertion of my belief in my own decency.  Also all physical statements about sex and maternity.  An unmarried mother, so the lawyer told me, can’t be allowed to nurse her child.  He said I made myself “too attractive in bed” (mind you I was convalescing from Jigeroo and had him in bed with me but I had to cut that out).  I was sick.  I never would have done it but that Cyril advised me to because the Seltzers have my other book and if I break this contract they can break that, because there are no other publishers left, because they had Cyril’s wonderful Siren though I doubt now if they will publish it.  I never remember being so sickly humiliated, so futile rebellious, so utterly robbed of the kind of pride that supports you against the world.  I left New York feeling as thoroughly licked as I ever did.  And yet I know the book wasn’t ruined.  It is the personal element in the demands for exclusion to which it nearly killed me to submit.  I am grateful of the space between me and Puritan hideousness and in my present mood have a long tired ennui of attempting to put other things.  Of course I shall get over it.  If only we can afford to stay here long enough.

The nightmare atmosphere culminated in watching a blackmail trial for prostitution in which the woman was convicted because she was really too scared to risk the fight that it made me want to put up when I listened to it.

Well, about Collioure.  It is on the Midi railway and is about an hour from Perpignan.  It is very filthy and very beautiful.  It is very near the Spanish border, about seventy-five miles from Barcelona.  The Pyrenees have a luxurious severity like the richness of ecclesiastical voluptuousness.  The bathing is good.  The town is without a WC (our house has one thank god) and there are amorous cats in the streets by the hundreds.  There is a fort full of Senegalese.  Matisse and some of the pointillists painted here.  It is worth seeing and we WANT to see you.  I don’t know how you would come from Paris but we took the Paris express at Marseilles, then changed at Contrast, at Cette, and at Narbonne.  Expresses stop at Port Vendres for the Algerian boats and you could go to Port Vendres and drive about a mile over here or else take a slow train that stops at Collioure.  Everybody knows the Villa Tine and already the Anglaise that live in it.

Love to you both.  Evelyn

1The group disembarked at Marseille and travelled by train to Collioure, stopping en route at Porte Vendre.

To Otto Theis

Collioure, France
August 15, 1923

Dearest Otto:

This is the poorest saddest little town but very stark and lovely too.  The heat has dried up half the grapes and the fires on the mountains have burnt the cork trees and it just is rich massive flowing lava-like sterility, burnt colors with thick dry shadows in the high hollows and moorish watch towers very bleak on the bleakest heights.  I hasn’t rained for two months.  To recover me from the fatugure of the book we went to Arles Sur Teche for three days.  The scenery is absolutely different though only an hour and a half away—mountains covered with greenery that looks young and full like spring and torrents of mountains water rushing to fountains in the streets.  All night in the quiet you hear the think cool rush of water going past.  The teche is like an Alpine torrent Sug says, white round boulders and cataracts.  But it is really a less individualized place than this.

Escapade is out but I’m not reading reviews of it until I finish my book.1  If it does sell it will be—oh, irony—for scandal’s sake anyway.  Wonderful to write with religious solemnity of the most actual thing that ever occurred to you and only repeat the success of a sunday headline in it.  I have had no copy yet but will mail you one when I do.  The astericks indicate omissions and I imagine look queer but I wanted it to be known that the book was mutilated.  Mr Seltzer2 is indicted by the grand jury on last summers charge.  I may be next.  God knows I don’t believe in freedom as hesitant here more than there Otto.  The French are a niggling lot of commercialists and the Americans at least do it in the grand manner.  There is nothing but solitude and a few friends.  Today is a fete day and Jigeroo has gone with two kids unknown to ride on the merry go round.  He is learning French anyway—much more than I am.  Merton keeps house and I simply don’t speak.  Sug is a wonderful and lovely person—the most I ever knew or ever will know—and Merton with a much more limited sweep as he knows himself is absolutely genuine and sensitive and kind thank heaven.  Life is complicated but compensating mostly.  Money of course still annoys.  With Escapade at three dollars I may make something.  Marie didn’t make the allowance permanent after all.

Our very very most love to you and do come here.  We have to get a new place before October but I think it will be in this district.  We would always have room for you.


1The Golden Door, published 1925

2Thomas Seltzer was a Russian émigré who became a successful translator and academic. In 1919 he founded the publishing house, Thomas Seltzer Inc, which not only published Escapade but also works by D H Lawrence. These works brought him to the attention of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and led to charges of publishing “unclean” books, which he fought vigorously: the legal battle resulted in his bankruptcy.

To Lola Ridge

[Collioure, France]
[September 1923]

Darling dear, I tried to write this yesterday when I was out painting with Merton and had to quit because it was giving me a pain to sit in a squidged up position on the hard earth.  I wish I could have stayed because I was looking at a funny caravan drawn up below us, a blue caravan with nice little Nottingham curtains very clean in the window and, now that they had unhitched their horse and settled down, two little canary bird cages hung on either side of the front door with little birds singing very at home on them.  Through the open door I saw inside a wonderful dresser with dishes hung in racks and three bunk beds one under the other covered with red spreads and lace coverlids, as clean and cute as anything.  A big woman with blond hair and a red face was watering the donkey that belonged to the outfit and another old woman very shriveled and hearty looking was making a fire.  If I had sat there longer I could have told you a whole story about them, but as it was I only learned that they came from Normandy.  I don’t know for why or what.

collioure harbour
Collioure harbour []
There was a fete here two weeks ago and the fishing boats were decorated with paper lanterns and the harbour very lovely in the vague night with floating flat-radiance of the candles.  We thought about Broadway and how this childish illumination in one key has such a naïve timidity while that other childish illumination is so wonderful bold and varied to such violence.  For some funny reason I never thought about America as America, a unit, a country with people in it, not people in a country, as I have since we came here.  I suppose I had no sense of America when I left New Orleans and this is really the first time I have felt absolutely removed from it since I felt New York for Bermuda was too close.  It is voluptuous like an old ladys memories.  I used to feel that way about Brazil but didn’t know it would come so quickly about this.  I don’t think I ever knew there was a racial America before.  Lower Broadway with a lost gull I once saw fling over it has become as symbolic as the mountains we saw along the African coast.  I suppose this is the first time I ever indulged romanticism about my native land.  Anyway the more I see of other countries, or this one other countries, the more magnificently awful my own country appears to be.  Not in any way that makes me want to go back.  I don’t want to go back for a long long time, not until I get all I can out of this distant appreciation.

Cyril and Merton have done marvels in paint.  Merton’s best work and Cyril away ahead of Bermuda as good as that was.  Merton says Cyril’s painting has a stark profundity and I think it a wonderfully exact phrase for it.  Yes, Lola, we are having a good life now, and when I feel physically well I am awfully happy (when Sug is well, for a times all three of us have been sick).  Merton has a weak back he got while day laboring and sometimes when he lifts too many things it upsets him.

What you write about Escapade cheers me, but I don’t want reviews and I think I am wise.  It, or they makes you want to hit back to decent yourself and I don’t want to be stirred by them while I am in the new book.  But I liked the little clipping and thought it a very sweet generosity from somebody I don’t know, and I will be obliged if you will keep any clippings that you get.

I have finished the first draft of the new novel and am half way through the second, or perhaps a third through.  It is certainly a culmination of all other experiments in technique I have made and I believe embraces a lot more.  I think I am at least learning how to use analytic and emotional qualities in a real synthesis.  I hope you think so.  don’t tell anybody (especially Waldo, ha, ha, secrecy).  I learned something from reading Sug’s Siren and instead of waiting for critics to find out indebtednesses I haven’t got am going to acknowledge it in my introduction.  I do think you will like the book.  It is about Merton and his wife (that is really confidential), and what I had of her character from reading old letters and talking it over with him.  I take them through their experience here and then in the United States.  After that I don’t know what.  I would like to write really of this place but that will come later when I am intimate with it.

The French people are the most quintessence of individualism.  The way they do stand back and allow murder and anything else and never interfere with it.  Superficially they are the rudest people, or rather fundamentally for it is their real indifference, I ever saw.  Might know a popular fallacy would be undone once you looked at it.  They butt through crowds, knock you over, never apologise, stare unmercifully at any woman they don’t know, and never do the least curtesy for anybody except purely formally for very definite effect.  On the other hand their leaving you alone has its advantages.  This town is miserably poor and now at the end of summer is haunted by devastated artists who are going to get one picture in the salon before they die or die at once of a starch diet.  Some wear Pilgrim Father hair and blue coats, some fence with their palettes, as Sug says, and some trudge to painting armed like Tartarin on his hunting expedition with a meek little wife and three daughters to assist.  You never saw so many awful pictures as are being painted in Collioure at the present moment.  We like it though and are in great distress because we have not yet found a house to move to when we give up this.  The town is so old and so crowded that there is not but one garden beside ours and ours is THE ONLY HOUSE THAT HAS ANY SORT OF A WC IN IT.  Every morning ladies going to market carrying on the left arm the china slop pail with the offering to the all consuming sea in it.  Gentlemen trouble themselves less and merely squat.  God help me, I shall return to America and light an ikon in the bathroom.  The smell of merde is on the breath of the sea and is almost everywhere that a female in a clean dress would like to sit.  (I didn’t put an h in it Lola, excuse my vulgarity.)

collioure 1927 martin hurliman print
Collioure c 1927 [Martin Hurliman print]
 Just the same I wish you could see now in the rain le Chateau2 with a wall like a mountain out of the sea and a fig tree dripping in a cranny of it quite high up.  The town is crooked streets that at night are dramatic and abrupt, very badly lit, and old woman in black resting in a crooked doorway, a black cat (there are lots of cats and lots of rats) slinking past her, and a man with a red sash around his waist carrying a sack of charcoal up up into the darkness where a blood and thunder cut throat ought to be hid for some better loot.  The Pyrenees really begin here and they are the saddest most austere mountains I ever saw, burnt colored and grassy bleak, with some rocky peaks far off, the peak of the Canigo which is really a very high mountain, just visible sometimes when there is no mist.  Over toward Argelesse it begins to flatten and there is that variegated landscape the French make because of cultivating so many things in such small space, vines and olives and little garden plots diminutive in a large plain with a ribbon of blue haze making it perpetually remote like a veiled picture with the sun on it.

Please write to me again and say how you and Davy are, and remember we love you both and THINK of you and TALK of you just about every single day, all three of us, and I do hope you are not ill now and are getting on with the book.  Remember anytime you want to be our household you are wanted above everybody and Lola it would be so wonderful if you can come over because living here though not as cheap as we had hoped is better than New York and easier on the nerves (provided you aren’t directly in the upset labor market here).  Very big hugs and kisses and love to you and to Davy, and darling I wish I had some pet deity to pray to that you would NOT be sick.  Let us know how the book gets on.


1Thomas Seltzer was a Russian émigré who became a successful translator and academic. In 1919 he founded the publishing house, Thomas Seltzer Inc, which not only published Escapade but also works by D H Lawrence. These works brought him to the attention of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and led to charges of publishing “unclean” books, which he fought vigorously: the legal battle resulted in bankruptcy.

2The town of Collioure nestles around a mound surmounted by a Crusader castle.

* * * * *

This is the last of the letters from Coullioure. A month later the family and Merton were in Algeria, where the story resumes next week.



After a year working at Buzzards Bay, the Scott family were invited to join the Garland-Hales at their estate in Bermuda, and Evelyn again takes up the tale:

            In 1921, the Hale-Garland couple went to Bermuda, and the three Scotts were soon asked to proceed there with travelling expenses paid.  And though Cyril Kay Scott’s duties were lighter in Bermuda than at Buzzard’s Bay, and his remuneration for these less, the first year in Bermuda could well have been termed a genuine success, as he received enough to rent a small cottage called Greysbank, and to keep his family fed, and in his free hours was not able to write and paint to the extent we had hoped for at Cercadinho, where his acute genre study in the novel, Blind Mice, was written on boards spread on improvised saw-horses, and mostly at night, after farm work, by the dim smoky flare of the sertao’s primitive oil lamp, a tin lamp without chimney described in Escapade.

In the summer of 1922, the three Scotts returned to New York City, briefly, but went back to Bermuda; and meanwhile, Mr Hale—an uncle of my daughter-in-law, Paula Pearson Scott—had evolved a plan for a cottage to be built on the property he owned called Ely’s Lodge, at his expense, to become, with fifteen acres of the ground on which it stood, his gift to Cyril Kay Scott and Evelyn Scott, a capital of fifty thousand dollars, which they would be unable to diminish in their lifetime, but would be the inheritance of their son Creighton Seely Scott—affectionately called Jigg by them, also—on their death, and which, while they lived, would yield them approximately a hundred dollars a month each, and so permit them to sustain independence as creative against all commercial attacks.

This excerpt from the letters spreadsheet helps clarify the chronology of what follows.  It is a record of the letters of which I have details and therefore will have gaps, but it demonstrates how Evelyn and Cyril travelled during the three years that followed their arrival in Bermuda.

letters 2

This combined generosity was to have made come true the dream of every author, writer and composer of integrity.  It was, in fact, put into effect to the extent of the building of the cottage of Bermuda’s native stone according to an architectural drawing by Cyril Kay Scott, who had practical architectural advice on some details; and of a letter sent to Cyril Kay Scott and Evelyn Scott by Marie Tudor Garland-Hale’s lawyers, Hale, Nelles and Shorr, saying that their client, Mrs Hale, was making over to us in permanence fifty thousand dollars on which they were to draw, during their lifetimes, the income its investment then netted of two hundred a month.

We were overcome with gratitude.  The cottage, named by Marie Tudor Garland Hale, The Scottage, was completed, and we moved in and found it charming, Ely’s land-locked harbour just beyond our windows, a private pool to bathe from, and our good friends as our nearest neighbours, owning the two estates on both sides of the highroad.  Creighton Seely Scott, also, was delighted by the sea at this door, and his friend, Thomas Merton,[1] for his daily playmate.

However, a rift had presented itself even before the hundred a month each had materialized; as, while in New York City, the summer before, Charles Garland had quoted his mother to me as having said that she expected to settle this money on us, but was doing so primarily because of Cyril Kay Scott, as I would have amounted to little without him, was “lazy” and “entirely selfish”.  In fact the description of me conveyed by Charles Garland as from his mother’s lips was very similar to that in the Cercadinho section of Cyril Kay Scott’s cut, edited, and in parts re-written by out outsider, Life Is Too Short; not then extant even in mss[2], and filled with absurd misstatements as to statements about our lives, characters and relations beginning with the Cercadinho section and continued to the end; and exemplified in a purported attributing to himself, by the author, of the author, of the dolls—two in fact and referred to in that book as published as one—I myself made for Creighton Seely Scott on the ranch, from rag, embroidering one crudely with features, and giving the largest—as large as the child himself then—“hair” of the sepoia that held in place the palm thatch on the ranch house roof—tiled just before the ranch was abandoned, half-paid for.  The dolls were brought back to the USA, and were left packed in one of the several crates we had to leave behind when we left Bermuda, with books, many personal records—books some of my childhood recovered for me by my mother.  Of an inexcusable treatment of Life Is Too Short I will say more in conclusion.

[1]Thomas Merton’s father, Owen, was Evelyn’s lover while they were in Bermuda and later in Southern Europe and North Africa: more on this in the next post.

[2]Cyril’s autobiography, published in 1944.  Evelyn took great exception to some of the statements in it about herself and her relationship with Cyril; there are many references to this in her letters in the late 1940s and after.

Elys Bridge
Contemporary image of Somerset Bridge

I here return to the Hale-Garland rupture, as, during our second year in Bermuda, Swinburne Hale and Marie Garland decided to part; and as I, after the disclosures of Charles Garland as to his mother’s view of me, had, in New York City before going back to Bermuda for the winter of 1922-23, insisted on seeing Marie Tudor Garland—as she soon became, again—with Cyril Kay Scott present, and telling her exactly what her son had said in quoting her to me.  I said I could no longer feel grateful for my share in her part of the benefits we had been about to receive, and I did not want assistance at the expense of self-respect.  Cyril Kay Scott assured her he was with me in my candour and that any self-respecting person would feel as I did.

Marie Tudor Garland wept.  She said she did, frankly, think Cyril Kay Scott a wonderful man.  She did not know, she said, whether she had been unjust to me or not.  But as to the money, which had just begun to be sent to us, it would continue ours, as she had given her “promise” and “never went back on her word”.

Cyril Kay Scott, when she had left the sublet apartment in Patchin Place in which this interview took place, reiterated to me that I was never to doubt his loyalty, but the situation being what it was, I should take the money already arranged for, and especially for Jigg’s sake, put aside  a justifiable hurt to pride.

In the second and last winter in Bermuda, 1922-23, we still saw both Marie Tudor Garland and Swinburne Hale; she as cordial as ever, on the surface to Cyril Kay Scott, but somewhat more formal with me; and Swinburne Hale the same to both of us.  They were then living apart, he in Ely’s Lodge, and she at Parapet.  When we left in either late April or early May, for New York City, we had our personal belongings crated, hoping to be able to have them freighted to us once we found an abiding place elsewhere that would allow us to rent The Scottage in due course when legalities relating to Bermuda law were sorted out, as the Hale-Garland divorce decree was imminent, and, for the time, had all but spoiled the idyllic atmosphere for work The Scottage represented.

To Lola Ridge

[Ely’s Lodge,  Somerset Bridge, Bermuda]
[late 1921]

Lola, Darling:  There isn’t a book shop in Bermuda!  The only place mildly like one is a store called The Tower where you can also buy toys, stationery, and a little hardware.  Bermuda consists of about one hundred diminutive islands.  The entire population is twenty-thousand and twelve thousand of these are blacks.  At least a quarter—maybe a third—of the remaining eight thousand are semi-literate Portuguez immigrants.  There is no system of free education, no divorce, no anything later than eighteen twenty.  The English here are the Governor a number of bone head military officials and the people who run the naval yard.  They are scandalized at mixed bathing, at women who smoke etc.  Art has just passed the chrome stage.  Among the tourists (and there is about two thousand a month during January February and March several hundred during other months) there are mostly rich Jew clothing store families and tired American business men who come to play golf.  The Bermuda public library has Edgeworth, Dickens, Scott, etc etc     Gladys[1] also departed and I told her to be sure and go to see you and not be afraid to show you some poetry. She is being annihilated by a kind mother and a hyper-bourgeois home and it would be a godsend if somebody could get her to run away from it.  Too much to hope I expect.

Say, dearest, I almost forgot, another lost soul we are sending to you.  A little man called Owen Merton[2], about thirty I should judge, a Scotch Welshman from New Zealand who has been for the last year living in Flushing where his wife recently died and left him two children.  He is very hard up, very naïve and genuine, as obscene as Bill Williams, and in all respects an interesting child with real if not stupendous talent.  He has been working fiendishly hard at water color and some of his things are very successful.  He is as poor as the rest of us and has been trying to eke it would with landscape gardening.  It would mean tremendous things to him to be reproduced in Broom as he has been snubbed by some of the people—Daniels Gallery etc.  he is bugs on Cezanne and says very illuminating things about him.  Admires Charles Demuth[3] very much.  Not all of Merton’s stuff would reproduce among modern stuff but a few would.  We want him to show them to you  I would give more than I have to be able to have a jaw with you and Davy.  Just think—a whole year saved up to talk about!  Love and love, Evelyn

[1]Gladys Edgerton (as she was then) was writing novels and poetry.  Evelyn was very strongly supportive of her efforts and used her influence wherever she could, unsuccessfully, to help Gladys get published.  In later years Gladys was a staunch friend of both Evelyn and of Jigg and his family.

[2] This first mention of Owen Merton does not give any hint of the importance of the relationship that will develop between him and Evelyn. Much will be made of this in the next post.

[3]American watercolourist who developed a style of painting known as “Precisionism”.

To Lola Ridge

 [Greysbank, Bermuda]
[January 1922]

Lola, darling:

Lola, we need you two just as much as you need Bermuda.  Cyril is a dear angel and has finished a novel full of beauty.  I have almost finished the SECOND novel[1] since the Narrow House.  So this is a workable place.  But toward mankind in general I have more and more an acidosis of the heart.  My experience of a little notoriety has been to intensify and perfect the Poe-esque conception of the blind hostility of the human race toward anything that disturbs it

I hope the sea trip here won’t make you give up any more of your self.  My dear, I know, despite jokes, what a terrible strain must be journeying to you.  But I see poems and poems everywhere that are made for your pen.  When the weather is good, Lola, the sea here is really unimaginable—the sunlight gets caught in the clear amber shallows in a strange kind of lace like gilded honeycomb—that’s how the light spots are reflected.  Further out a little green glass, then jade, then a violent glassy blue spotted with purple or a lighter streak like Verdi-green spotted with a green almost black.  It is just color rampant.  We have nothing to give you but that and ourselves, but I do think you’d like it for a while.  You can work.

Dearest, please write and tell me when you can come and more about you—more news.  Love to Davy  Evelyn

PS  You and Davy better reserve steamer room on a Royal Mail Boat ($70 round trip) now with understanding that you can transfer sailing if you are delayed.  Kisses to both

Dearest Lola, Please come.  don’t worry about details.  We see our way through by getting you here, you staying as long as you want to and getting you back.  And I think Davy could easily get work here.  I love you both but I’m a rotten correspondent.  I want to see you. We’ve a little good luck since and its half yours.  This is the Brazilian trip that fell through—you must come.  Please, Please, Please.  Love to you both, Cyril


To Lola Ridge

Greysbank, Bermuda
January 7, 1922

Dear precious Lola:

Your letter came an hour ago.  I must say AT ONCE how relieved I am.  Listen, sweetest, I hope by next boat to be able to send some definite information—or shall I say orders—as to how you and Davy are to come here.  I am going to get a man here to look up all the passages and tell me when boats sail where from and what we will need to put it over.  Anyhow, March is beastly enough after all for you to want to get away from it and while here it is cold and blustery now, it will be July weather by then.  The thermometer has been registering fifty which sounds mild but with a ceaseless sharp wind off the sea and no means whatever of heating it is much worse than one would think.  I’m saying this maybe to persuade myself that every cloud is silver lined but it does happen to be true.  Now whether you get to New York before I can get you here or not doesn’t matter.  You are to come here anyway.  If possible you and Davy both.  We want Davy terrifically,  I only put that if in because you are not to escape through Davy having a job he can’t leave—if such should be the case—this being something you owe to your health.  I can imagine what a comfort Davy has been to you.  Tell the dear boy that I would rather come to him in trouble than any other man than Cyril and from me nothing more intensive can be said

When I wrote you last we were all in a cottage with Swinburne’s parents who are here.  They are the sort of people who think that the Dictionary was delivered into the hands of Daniel Webster on Mount Ararat or something like that.  Modern art shocks them unless it is in French.  They think ladies don’t use rouge and have various other illusions about the human race.  The time spent there—three weeks in all—was hell.  Afterward we went with Marie and Swinburne into their house which was and still is on the build and overrun by workmen.  Swinburne has been ill—had a curious partial paralysis of the face, they were both very nervous and full of domestic complexes (so were we, I suppose) and inclined subconsciously to consider the fact that they were helping us as an excuse for superficial lacks of consideration.  I nearly blew up.  Hell again.

Well, now we are in a cottage which has five—six with kitchen—fair sized rooms in semi tropical style—that is whitewashed inside and out.  The floors are bare and unpainted and the modern plumbing is represented by a hole in the ground.  But it is-when the weather is warm—very comfortable with a sweet view of an inlet and a tiny far off perspective of seas sweeping a reef.  The yard too is graciously green with a red leaved hedge they call match-me-if-you-can and numerous hibiscus bushes.  It is as quiet as a deserted grave yard—except for Jigeroo (who has had the croup and still joins me in a consumptive chorus of hacks).  Cyril and I write most of the day and usually until about eleven at night and he is accomplishing more than he had time to in years.  I am already at page one hundred and two on novel number three, having done most of it at night when somehow the world lets you alone and there ceases to be even the pull of things.  Then in that abysmal midnight quiet which seems to be in you you can dive into a quiescent sub-conscious and pull up plums by the handful—psychological plums of the first order.     [remainder of letter missing]

To Lola Ridge and Davy Lawson

Greysbank, Bermuda
[January 1922]


Now you may wonder why, if Bermuda only produces Englishmen and bad colds, I am so hellbent that you two whom I most want to save from such things, should come here.  But this is January—the worst of all Bermuda months—the time when the ghost of New York in February is floating out even this far on the Atlantic.  In six weeks the natives inform us it will make good all the promises it gave us when we landed here in opal colored sunshine on waters that looked like a lake of Hudnuts toilet water mingled with best bluing.

         LOVE AND LOVE AND LOVE and thank you for your sweet sweet sin on my behalf.  Evelyn

swinburne hale
Swinburne Hale

To Otto Theis

[Greysbank, Bermuda]
January 27, 1922

Dear Otto:

We are still in the rented cottage, the foundation of our prospective home not yet being above ground.  Either we were mistaken or Swinburne has recanted for the house is not to be ours in any sense of gift.  We are to live in it only as long as we get on with our friends.  Sometimes things are rather strained with us.  Charity is an unsatisfactory solution of the financial problems of one’s life.

I will tell you tell you something to marvel over though.  Cyril is four fifths through with the manuscript of another novel[1] in which he uses an almost perfectly subjective method full of almost idyllic delicacy.  I haven’t read it consecutively but I think it will be the best thing he ever did.  He writes sometimes a dozen pages in a day.  Now Otto take note of this and know that it will never be too late to begin your novel.  He thought he was written out—that all the juice of creation was squeezed dry.

But you must have more than enough of these shop opinions.  Please write and tell us the details of your scene.  We will be interested in everything.

Lots and lots of love from all of us, dear Otto. Evelyn

[1]Siren, published in 1924

To Lola Ridge

 [Greysbank, Bermuda]
January 1922]

My precious dear, what a perfect hell you have been through.  I wish I could give for it something beside cuss words and indignation.  Merton wrote me of meeting you and how beautiful you were. We are expecting Swinburne on Monday and hope to find out what will happen to the property down here and consequently to us.  Bermuda has been very awful since Christmas in some respects.  I am ready to move but except to seeing you and two or three others I wish it were to some place other than New York.  I went to New York with such a romantic feeling of discovering and of course only discovered myself there and that mostly so inappropriate to the environment.  Wish we had money to take you and Davy to France.  God knows if we will get there.  Cyril and I have been thinking that rather than come to Bermuda again we should like Martinique or some other hotter queerer place.

Bermuda is in so many ways exquisite and it scarcely affects me any more.  Yesterday though I had a thrill out of it.  Mary and I canoed outside the islands and saw those wonderful birds again.  I think last year I told you of them—long tails of the full family.  They are as large as small hawks with a long forked tail and are snow white with red beaks and black dashed wings and black underscored eyes.  They fly low over the green water and their breasts are like translucent jade, while the thin edges of their wings pierced by the glare remain a fiery and immaculate white.  The tails are blood rose, like flesh held against a lamp.  They have the most beautiful swallow flight.  In front of us the waste water of a still Atlantic, no land, green and peacock water darkened with shadows, a hot blue sky smutted a little with clouds, and in this stillness that gull mew, far, high up, like the call of a Valkyrie on a mountain top, and those birds passing each other in the amazing stillness, passing and re-passing with the look of delicate and evil angels, strange eyes, black dashed wings, and jade bodies outlined as with a heavenly flame.  Oh, Lola, I wish you and the few other people with lovely insides could have looked at it.

We may be up any time.  We shall have to find some place cheap to live and somewhere to park Jigeroo.  I wrote Gladys that to begin with I would borrow her place.  She says you are working on your poems again.  Lola, you are one of the wonderful people of your time and you MUST write God damn it, I WISH that I was rich.

My love to Davy and to You.  I love you  Evelyn

To Otto Theis

[Greysbank, Bermuda]
[February 19, 1922]

Beloved Otto:  I feel like celebrating when your letters come.  Because you are so much yourself in such a self responsible way I find you suggest to me the same kind of equilibrium.  They have pulled me out of lots of incipient jimmies.  Besides that they are extremely interesting in the facts implied.  You have actually started me reading world news again and I enjoy the Outlook[1]every week it happens to come (convey same to advertising manager to be used when they have some real influence).  Imagine us in Bermuda reading the Outlook avidly, snapshot same.  Read in the Colonies as well as in London and the Provinces.

Merton maybe I described.  Anyway he is five feet seven and slight with a wirey muscular body because for the last five years he has done manual work in order to get enough money to paint periodically.  His face doesn’t look like anything much until there is emotion in it, and then his eyes which are brown and set under his brows are very warm and kind and alive.  He was smooth faced when he came here but is raising a browny blonde moustache which doesn’t grow evenly because he has a scar on his lip.  When he is estranged from his surroundings he looks like a lonesome monkey.  Sometimes he reminds me of Harry Lauder because he chews a pipe in a funny way and thrusts out his rather full under lip.  He was born in New Zealand and studied water color in London and Paris and lived Paris five years with his wife who died of cancer a year and a half ago.  She was an American girl and her family live in Douglastown Long Island.  He has two kids, boys, and one of them is here with us now.[2]  When he was a kid he went in for Tolstoy and it spoiled his paint.  He came to New York had no money and has been a gardener for some rich people who patronized him because they thought it was piquant to have an educated man in that capacity.  The wife of the household tried to flirt.  He adores Cyril in the most sincere way.  And he is himself the most honest to god sincere person I ever saw.  Cyril is quite fond of him.  He is so emotional that he may talk like a damned fool or he may get off remarks in painting which Cyril says are the most profound he ever heard.  He is easily bluffed and the world has put it all over him.  I haven’t any illusions about how long this idyllic situation will last and sometimes I want very much to laugh, it is so absurd, and in view of my disgust with Garland messing, so ironic.  But Cyril and I know an awful lot about each other and what ever happens to the other two I don’t think we are going to lose each other ever.

Goodbye till next encyclopedia from me.  Evelyn

[1]Otto had recently become editor of The Outlook, a popular weekly news magazine published in London which ran until 1928.

[2] This is the first mention of Merton’s son Tom, who was about the same age as Jigg.  The two boys were left to their own devices a good deal of the time;  Jigg later spoke of the period in Bermuda with Tom as the happiest time in his life.

Owen Merton
Owen Merton

To Lola Ridge

 Ely’s Lodge, Bermuda
[August 1922]

Beloved dear,

I was SO beastly disappointed not to see you and Davy again, but Lola if you WOULD have seen those last few days!  Thursday all day packing and shopping, Friday a whole afternoon at the dentists, more packing and shipping.  Friday night and I was so tired I could not go out.  I would have telephoned and asked you to come over but I had no phone.

I can’t write a decent letter yet a while, for we are camping out in Ely’s Lodge and in a frightful mess.  The hurricane carried off half of the fine cedars on the lawn and a part of the roof so that some of the inside must be done over and many of Marie’s lovely belongings are injured.  Our house had just been finished, but the leaky roof has damaged the walls and floors so that all the labor spent there has gone for nothing.  It may be three weeks before we can get into it.  I am trying to fight off the restless suggestion of upset surroundings and live out of doors in the brilliant peace, heat, blue water, and an atmosphere of indolence.

Cyril has brought a cold with him but he is mentally relaxing and I think we both love to come home to rest in each other after our periodic flirtations with chaos.  He is sculpturally perfect and at the same time so warm—finished and yet living, I tried to put in a poem.  Cool and warm, white, and warm at the same time.

And Jigeroo is maturing so I feel absolutely humble with pride in him.  The summer has improved him wonderfully.  I sort of feel all at once face to face with a grown-up mind, lacking the defense of facts but quite equal to any I can supply.

Well, as you will see my spirits, considering that I am unwell, are pale rose that may later mount to crimson—this certainly if you come to see us.

Love you.  Cyril and Jigeroo do too. Evelyn

Maude Thomas to Evelyn

[Clarksville, Tennessee]
March 26, 1923

Dear daughter:

Just a note to tell you that I asked J[1] if he would find out if Seely would help me, and relieve him of the job, but he declined to communicate with S, and said I could write to you to do so, as you were the only person who had any influence on him &c.  He spoke of my being “on the edge of the brink”, and other cheerful things.  I never felt more energetic than I do now, and am anxious to get work, or training for something to do, away from here, if I get out of this deadly atmosphere my health with improve, or my nerves, that’s where the trouble is.  But I can get no assistance from J.  It has been made plain that I am not wanted here, except that I have not been told so, and if it is humanly possible I want to leave before I am invited to.  I cannot blame J for wanting to free himself.  I know that I am a helpless sort of person, and have not taken responsibilities, but you may be sure I will learn to take care of myself, and not worry you if—I can get some financial help, but how can I accomplish any thing without a penny?  It tickled my sense of humour when I found I was so near dissolution.

I understand that Seely has built some apartments, in Washington, also his home, and that he has a life job with a fine salary, and that $30,000 worth of gems were found in the big safe in your grandfather’s house, which he gave to his wife, and the home place is for sale in Nov at $20,000.[2]

With love to you and dear Jigaroo, Mother

PS  Seely’s address is “Interstate Commerce Commission Statistical Department, Washington, DC”

I have been working hard on Portuguese translations, but am waiting on Nettos “O Sertao”, that was ordered from Brazil for me two months ago, and over, and still has not arrived, and later I may find that copyright laws prevent its being published  I thought of selecting one or two things from it to add to the five tales I have finished, and perhaps translating the whole book next.  Copyright, bars the outside translator, most awfully.  As far as I know it has never been translated in America, though Dr Isaac Goldberg has translated one of the tales in it, that The Four Seas Co published.

            J did you the honor to say that you had a “brilliant mind”.

[1]Julian Gracey, Maude’s cousin, with whom she was sent to live after the family returned from Brazil.

[2]After divorcing Maude, Seely married Melissa Whitehead, about whom much will be written in 1947. Later, after Seely died, Evelyn based her quest for her father’s will in part on this information.

In early 1923 Merton returned to the US and to Buzzards Bay to see his older son, Jean Paul, who had been staying with Merton’s in-laws on Long Island. He was conscious of being indebted to Cyril and was trying to find galleries which would exhibit, and sell, his paintings in order to repay this debt.

From Owen Merton

Owen Merton
Landscape Designs Color Schemes for Flower Gardens
57 Hillside Avenue
Flushing, L I

Bay End Farm, Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts
April 19. 1923

My dear Cyril—
From what Gladys said to me in a note I had yesterday I think Evelyn must have been pretty depressed.  I don’t know exactly why except that Swinburne’s visit must not have turned out well.  Look here—I wish I had better news of large sums of money, from here, but I am really doing as well with landscape painting as I had any reason to expect to, this spring—and I did very damned thing I could to try and arrange that sales of pictures will take place.  You know you can’t rush in somewhere, and simply say “give me 100 dollars for this”.  By the end of this month I shall have at least 500 dollars—and what I want to say is, “For Gods sake take it, and get away as soon as you want to.  I know you won’t either of you want to stay in New York.  If you could borrow a little of the money you could stay quietly in France until I am able to come, and I shall certainly get in some more.  I know damned well I can get 2000 dollars if I try hard enough.  I have never been licked yet at any special thing I set out to do, and I can certainly do this.

If my failure to get in a lot of money might away is responsible for some of Evelyn’s depression—cheer her up—because I have not done every damned thing I can yet—and I am really more vigorous and strong after this, than I have ever been after anything.

I want to come down and meet you, and I hope Tom[1] is not complicating things too much by his disobedience.  Damn it, Scott, I will fix things.  Don’t be disappointed with me, if things are not too hopeful on appearances so far.  They really are more hopeful than they seem to be.  Bon courage.

from Merton

[1]Owen’s elder son, who was near Jig’s age and was  living with the Scotts.  Tom and Jig were close playmates

Not long after this the Scott family, plus Owen Merton, decided that they would be better off in Europe.  Southern Europe offered not only a warm climate but the opportunity for Cyril and Owen to develop their painting styles in the landscapes afforded by the medieval towns along the Mediterranean coast.

And so the relationship between Evelyn and Merton developed.

NB:  Evelyn’s letters were often lengthy and were concerned with news of other friends as well as commentary on current artistic trends and accounts of her relationships with her publishers. Quoting these letters in full would be beyond the scope of this blog, and they have been heavily edited.  It is accepted good practice for editors to indicate excisions with diareses – [. . . ] – but the number of these would be distracting and I have therefore omitted them.