The finances of Jack Metcalfe’s property at 26 Belsize Crescent were the main reason for the poverty experienced by Evelyn and Jack in not only their day-to-day spending but in financing their return to the United States. This brief summary of the relevant aspects of British housing tenure will make these more intelligible to an American audience.
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of property ownership in England: “freehold”, where ownership is of the building and the land upon which it stands; and “leasehold”, where the owner has title to the building, but not the land: the land is leased from a landowner and on which an annual rent (ground rent) is paid. Leasehold has its origins in feudal land ownership: the 17th century saw reforms to this system, and the wealthy institutions of the time, the Crown, the Church of England and the colleges of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge acquired much of the land. The Church and the University Colleges in particular owned large tracts in London and as this land was developed into housing, the ground rents payable by the eventual owners (“leaseholders”) of these dwellings provided the landowners with significant income.
26 Belsize Crescent was a leasehold property, and the ground rent was payable to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England (the “Church Commissioners”). However, Jack not only owned the building but, as a landlord, had certain statutory responsibilities to his tenants, mainly keeping their flats in good repair. Further, because of the severe housing shortage during and after the war, the Rent Restrictions Act was brought in to protect the rights of tenants, including restrictions on the circumstances under which rents could be increased. Broadly, it was not possible under the Rent Restrictions Act for Jack to increase his tenants’ rents, even with rising costs and the need to pay for repairs to bomb damage.
When Jack bought the property with the intention of converting it into four flats and using the rental income from the flats on the three upper floors to subsidise their living expenses, he made a major error in installing gas central heating and hot water throughout the property. It was normal at that time for there to be individual coin-operated meters (“shilling meters”) in flats, calibrated to not only recover the cost of the gas used but also an element of profit for the landlord. Jack did not install these separate meters. At that time, central heating was an expensive novelty, and inclusive central heating and hot water in a rented flat almost unheard of: the tenants must have enjoyed this luxury at Jack;s expense. Because of the Rent Restrictions Act, he could not recoup the rising cost of this luxury by raising the rents.
Evelyn refers on a number of occasions to the threat of eviction from their home. Jack’s debts could have resulted in his being taken to court. If a court had found that he was liable to pay, and his creditors were not willing make any arrangement for payment over time, it is possible that the court could order the house be sold and the debts paid from the proceeds of the sale. This is not the same as being evicted, and although the Metcalfes could have stayed in their home until such time as a sale went through, the end result, of losing their home, would have been the same.
This story begins as the Evelyn Scott Fund has been opened, and Jack has secured a 6-month residency at the Huntington Hartford Foundation in Pacific Palisades, California.
To Margaret DeSilver
26 Belsize Crescent
June 8, 1952
My Dear Maggie,
Further to my last, I still see no exit from an indefinite impasse (I hope not too prolonged) until we can get just straight enough here, on this side, to flit. This has always, unfortunately, been an integral and unavoidable part of my attempted return to the States, and the necessitarian order (read backwardly as it were from effect to cause) is as follows:-
(i) To return I must get a fresh visa.
(ii) To get a fresh visa I must satisfy the consul more fully, he says, about “means”.
(iii) To satisfy him I must have the flat in what I should call (to you, not to him) a “minimum lettable” condition; and, also, pay off income tax and all non-postponable debts.1
Some debts I could, by guile, run away from temporarily and settle later, out of rent from the flat etc. Others I could not. For instance our move could not be carried out so nocturnally and stealthily that it would not be observed, for instance, by the builder who repaired the wall, and by another who has recently repaired part of the roof; and literal fisticuffs on the doorstep might ensue. The gas bill of £170, if I had not to wait for, possibly, a further six weeks or so for the crediting to my account of the Carnegie money could just be met by that; but by the time it is credited a further quarter’s gas bill will have come in. Tenants’ rents are absorbed by Rates (over £200 a year) and mortgage (also over £200) and by water rate, electricity, insurance, etc.
I plan to evade (temporarily) as much as I possibly can (while still presenting some sort of show to the consul) and make a get-away as soon as my visa is granted; and as soon as I can be in a position to give reasonable notice at the school (I can’t just run out on them because I must have a good testimonial; otherwise the chance of teaching jobs in US is killed). The consul, as preliminary to the further consideration of my application for a fresh visa, will no doubt want to know the amount which Evelyn has in the Fund;—but even if it were a million I should still have to make some sort of minimum and, as I say, guileful settlement here in order to make the first physical steps towards a move.
The minimum boat fare, I have found out, is £57 each for just the passage; but what the fare from New York to Pacific Palisades is I have yet to ascertain. One stipulation of the Huntingdon Hartford’s granting of the Fellowships was that we should each be medically examined; and this would be done in New York.
At the moment (and thanks entirely to the Rent Restrictions Act) we are completely hamstrung financially. I have tried for three years to sell the house and had no offer
I hope these difficulties may be surmounted. I feel that, so to speak, we are, thanks to your really noble help dear Maggie, three quarters of the way there;—but the remaining quarter of the way (actually the first quarter) has these problems, which, indeed, I am not exaggerating.
Very much love, from
* * * * *
To Margaret DeSilver
June 9, 1952
Please, oh, please read this with Jack’s letter of today, carefully as soon as you have it—there really are reasons!
Maggie darling: 1952 Now November 7 months since sent
Will you please believe that the factual letters like this in which explicitness is requested are not “nagger’s” letters and are implicitly as filled with the signs of gratitude as the letters we went before this which were just the registering of our emotional out-going!
We are not made of dough, putty, or india rubber; and we can’t at one and the same moment be kicked in the arse as author: and congratulated on our distinguished “pasts”. I couldn’t go west to Pacific Palisades with everything of greatest importance up in the air and accomplish anything whatever. To suggest it seems to be defeating every generosity to us.
The other thing about California is that I would rather—again—drop dead in my tracks where I am, than put six thousand miles between myself and every human I love most bar Jack himself, except temporarily. 1952 November—return East must be guaranteed or aim lost
Jig and Paula have moved to otilostrasse 22, Graefelfing bei Munich Jig and Pavla have no money to come here from Munich. I had hoped on their arrival some means would be found for allowing us to meet again here. But the few hundred miles between us here, will already—as far as boat fares go—be three thousand when we land in New York. And in California, unless one is fully guaranteed—job in the East, lectures for Jack, or any comparable method—the return fare to the East, one is likely—very likely my dear Mag and this really is a most serious problem—to repeat, in California, a marooning such as we have endured here, and with Jack’s house and his tenure on it such as it is, six thousand miles further off.
Any lacks in this letter please blame on the fact that the day the good news came I had to go to bed with an attack of combined “grippe” and bladder irritation. I had the last similar experience soon after I arrived in London in 1932. The aches and pains were so persistent that Jack’s medical uncle called in a consultant who specialized in such things. But he was a good doctor in my view as he just said go to bed and stay on a light diet for a while—and that was all. But that cost five pounds so I am now preferring to utilize the same advice, as that was twenty years ago and I never had any serious recurrence of any such complaint since.
We hope to arrive very well again and present NO problems in health or—with books—no serious problems in money.
Marion is trying to help again with second-hand clothes. Still have not had money to alter coat—sent 3 years ago—so just hope. What to do to make flat habitable is some problem. We also have to buy trunks—mine collapsed completely, and I also have not even a change-purse and need bag for Passports. And again shoes as these cannot be mended.
* * * * *
To Margaret DeSilver
[June 29, 1952]
[First two pages missing] I am bothered to know what to do know what can be done by way of finding us a roof should we arrive in the autumn when people are just returning to town. I would prefer to be anywhere we were most likely to see Jig and Pavla. But we will have to ask Pacific Palisades for a postponement it now seems, anyhow, and we don’t yet know when Jig and Pavla are likely to return home. Everything is still up in the air, so that decision at our end is slow, as we know it must be at yours.
Some of the details might be worked out on our arrival in New York were we sure of a roof for some weeks, and—first of all, of course—sure of enough money to cover the situation as it is by then. We can’t move from here, however, until the most essential things are done and the renting of the flat arranged-for. We would like American tenants if there are any. Because we hope to rent the flat vultures all trying to peck, as Jack says
But if you don’t lose interest in us Maggie darling we will keep our dander or pecker of what-you-will up and won’t succumb to discouragements that CAN be overcome. This business of not allowing us to earn anything by normal methods has to be stopped somehow or we can’t win. I do think we deserve to win out and with Jig and Pavla, and that the winning will be the victory of Margaret De Silver and her generous real heart and imagination is the truth.
Your really loving and grateful
Evelyn for Jack
* * * * *
To Margaret DeSilver
July 4, 1952
I hope you don’t blench at the sight of a letter from me! But everything has been left so vague and “in the air” as to the fund that we would appreciate any specific clarification. And though Jack calls you “Mrs Atlas” and we both know you can do just so much, I think it is necessary that you and fund contributors have the full complete truth, so that no one need be under any misapprehensions as to why we dont sail as soon as asked.
I mentioned a rotten despoilation of carpets by mould and fungi. These were good carpets intact, of better quality than can be bought now and in any case would cost a fortune to replace. But we thought that our troubles were ended when we removed these, and I sandpapered the unpainted boards, covered them with dryer and stained them. And has it not been that wainscot required mending we would have remained in ignorance of the catastrophic fact that was revealed when the boards—one or two at first, then others—were taken up. The two rooms attacked were devasted [sic] underneath. Although the flooring superficially appeared okay, this horrible white paddy stuff—it grew fungi here and there on top—had destroyed the undersides of half the boards in one room and all in the other; half the wainscot in one room and all in the other, and half a window-frame.2
It now eventuates that this same thing has attacked about ninety percent of all the houses in Hamstead, and is most commonly encountered in those with gardens. Apparently it was unknown before the war: and though I twice before heard the word “dry-rot” mentioned by workmen, no one elucidated it as a serious danger or said that this single type of mould produced it in this serious degree. The joints under the rotted boards, also, have rotten in part, and two articles of furniture and two pieces of baggage—all saved we hope and think by creosote treatments and dryer—also had slight touches of it. It really is shameful that the house-owners have not had public information and warnings on this subject. As there has been so much of it there should be brochures circulating telling people, and informing them of safeguards. As it spreads rapidly when neglected, had we known the danger-signals a few months ago we might possibly have saved most of the lumber, instead of a smallish part. The floor was wrongly constructed in the small room, as concrete was laid on most of it and the boards over that, and the circulation of air is death to this fungi and mould. And this has figures, also, in the room in which the lodger was, and where there should have been ventilation bricks underneath on the side where the mould started
This may make dull reading, Maggie my dear, but you will realize its practical import to us. Four pounds went on dryer and stain wasted by me, in my ignorance, on those rotten boards. As we had no money to do everything at once we had hoped to have a tenant in or arranged for before we were put to heavy expense. The common sense of the very excellent builder who is working here and is the most decent one we have met here in Hamstead has suggested the [air raid] shelter brick can be used to concrete the rotten portions of the other floor and so save money by combining the jobs. He is really scrupulous in this respect and we are grateful to him for actually concerning himself with this aspect of our situation. But when we will be able to get everything straight enough to leave the house we haven’t so far any idea. There are the debts Jack has mentioned to clear up and they will be more slowly paid off because of this.
Of course I suppose—considering the retrospects of hardships—we might have known it. A crisis was due as soon as we had any hope of renting at last and getting out and possibly home. I still say possibly—! Jack was almost in despair about it a few nights ago, but feels a little better now there is a very moderate estimate and the small pieces of luggage attacked seem likely to be saved. But it has been a hard blow.
He also has to go to the dentist’s to “celebrate” the Fourth of July, and this is like an ultra bit of cruelty in view of the number of problems pending. Of course we wish some of the fund money could be applied to this—but of course there must be enough to cover going home if it is to help us in our objective. But in any event, I feel you and Waldo and Lewis and Hal Smith or anyone who is helping should know we are stuck and why and won’t be able to leave until Jack has more money from some source.
All we can ever say is that our gratitude is genuine and profound.
Everyone who knows of the fund is full of praise for you. We will never be able to offer any return except as authors, and so to me the fund itself makes it the more essential that we find publishers and some method of continuing to write here. This is the sort of happier life we would like to have Jig and Pavla with Cyril and his present wife share—our being there helping them too.
Our love Evelyn for Jack too
* * * * *
From John Metcalfe’s diary:
July 17, 1952: Letter from Maggie to say $500 being sent.
* * * * *
To Margaret DeSilver
July 18, 1952
Maggie my dear:
I hope you have had some restorative rest from all worries already, because I cannot possibly avoid pressing you for help and even positive information as to the fund for me, and what we are to expect in regard to money and going home.
Tooth-pulling coincided!—Jack’s!—Do you wonder I say life for us is still hell! Waldo should be ashamed not to have acknowledged Jack’s letter about “Island in the Atlantic”!
Perhaps, because you have done so much already, you feel, at moments, the one way you can safeguard your peace of mind is to temporarily ignore everyone’s distress. But we are—also temporarily I hope—in worse chaos than ever before; income tax arrears are pressing Jack again rather frighteningly; the house down in the flat is still torn to bits by the removal of the floors and shelter and work left half-finished; we have, within a week or two at most, to write to the Huntington Hartford Foundation something definite as to when or whether we are to utilize their invitation and what to say about the request for postponing it; we can’t make any Consular moves about Jack’s re-entry permit and his re-application for it, until we know how much money will be available for me and so of possible use for both when we arrive until you and the contributors to the fund are willing to be candid. I suppose it isn’t much, but I really meant that we must know positively or it remains like waste as far as I go.
I hope you read my letter before this describing bloody fungi which attacked the floor boards in rooms that had insufficient ventilation in the under bricks, and been made worse by my dread of trespassers which has become such that I often keep windows shut when they would be better open, because I could almost scream at the recurrent sight of any Hamstead’s rotten, ratty, nuisance-making riff-raff.
This fungi causes dry-rot in wood and carpets. When the two good carpets and underfelts were attacked and thrown away, some wainscot attacked was torn out and the truth discovered. The removal of two floors necessitated rubble and to save money the builder tore down the shelter. This has left the reception hall open at last—seventeen by ten added to the house.
This 17 by 10 space, when you saw the place last year, was blocked. Now the entrance to the flat is airy and spacious and there is room for a dining table—we have an old second-hand bought for a guinea before the war, but no chairs—and one also has perspectives of the rooms and can see their arrangement on entering.
This would greatly assist rentals. But of course mid-way in work that showers the whole flat with cement dust—it began two weeks ago—something happened about arrangements to get it done rapidly, and it drags on yet. And we cannot yet pay for re-doing the walls which are damaged by the shelter’s removal, and were already damaged in the smaller room re-floored with cement and have been damaged decidedly by the work in the larger room cemented.
Our idea is to do what we can and see whether any renter would pay some in advance to complete the job and deduct it from the rent—but it would have to be slow as the rent must pay the gas heat.
WE WOULD NOT HAVE BEGUN THE RE-FLOORING BUT THAT fungii spreads quickly—we saw that on the carpets—and it was endangering the house. It has—as I wrote you—attacked ninety percent of Hamstead’s flats with gardens where ventilation was imperfect. Trespassers have compelled me to do precisely the opposite of what is normal to me; work with closed windows and artificial light. Jack likes artificial light but I never in a closed room in my life before.
If we had ever been able to buy sash curtains and replace at least some of the iron bars that were removed from the windows by Hamstead borough when the front gate went, on the basis of “free exits during bomb hits”, many of the dilapidations, including the fungii, might not have occurred: nuisances contributed more to this even than worry. I have written clearly before in my life when worried, but I cannot write where nuisances persist.
We will clear out the house somehow if we can just pay the most pressing bills and KNOW where we stand in respect to going home. Then—as Jack has said—send small sums here as we can to keep up maintenance until it can be sold and not just taken away at a total loss, as has heretofore been the case.
Poor darling Maggie I don’t want to ask more but WHAT are we to do?
Love and gratitude prevail—Cyril will agree yes, darling Maggie, I don’t want to ask more—but what in hell’s name are we to do? Our lives and the lives of Jig Pavla Denise Fredrick Mathew Julia are actually economically at stake. Evelyn
* * * * *
To Margaret DeSilver
July 18, 1952
I have just written the letter that I send with this, and the fund money is now announced. Your letter respecting it was in the afternoon mail. But on reflecting on the value of full, clear information on every situation and circumstances whenever it is possible to provide it, I have decided to send on the account of the work on the house which can now be concluded no doubt, and have re-emphasized the matter of the guarantees as to the job for Jack and some guarantees as to publishing us both which will make our livings certain before we sail. It must be both—it requires both more than ever in these days to make authorship a go practically when people are as serious as we are.
Yes we have to land as authors, even with the teaching job secured in advance. We can’t go on miscast in limbo.
You are superlatively fine about everything Maggie darling. If I can find any way to make very public our specific great indebtedness to our courageous, loyal, generous, perspicacious and most, most genuine friend, Margaret De Silver, I will certainly do so. Jack with me will enjoy doing so when we can.
Yes, positively some small hotel—private hotel—is, as you say, the best we could do for a temporary sojourn in NY to clear up some of the incomprehension as to the publishing situation, the mangling of that 1948 mss, and so on. The sooner we are able to go the better once the repair work goes far enough to guarantee decent rent, as when we get out the gas bill will be helped by rental and while we are here we are, so to speak, a liability to ourselves.
Marion Sheffield’s box of second-hands arrived today, too, and she, just as you and Anne did, has gone to considerable trouble. Everything is nicely cleaned and was beautifully packed and very sensibly chosen with a limited selection. The clothes are not very warm, but one or two may be with a coat the further money will I hope NOW allow me to have the coat suit sent nearly three years—or about three years ago altered. I think every one of our old friends who know anything whatever of our plight have been good and generous according to the extent of their resources; and we are really much moved by these things. I begin to wonder again how we can ever make it plain that we are touched and yet not embarrass everybody and ourselves. As I say, we have our books to offer if we are allowed to. It is cruel to deny us the one reason for being that we feel justifies us in accepting help—so for publishers we do “pray”.
Jack is feeling some better tonight after his day mostly in bed. But of course there are many uncertainties yet, and his books have got to be re-stressed somehow to same him and give him heart again to struggle there after his eight years of struggle and hardship and self-immolation here.
Your very loving and positively weepy with sentiment Evelyn for all of us
When the time comes to arrange for our passage we do so hope to avoid what I call dickerings and dockerings and just go—pronto in good spirits and ready to make any return we can to those who are being so good—you first.
* * * * *
To Margaret DeSilver
July 27, 1952
You will have got Evelyn’s last letter, – and this is to add my thanks to hers. I cannot tell you how grateful we are. I do tell you, – but feel the best way of showing gratitude for your year’s self-denying labour, and for your own personal generosity, is for us to make it all worth while, – to you and to us. I do intend to do this.
The money ($550, – not $500 as you had said in your letter) is here, and is now in my bank. Bless you a million times.
It may be difficult, from your end, to realise the causes of delay on ours, – but such delay as there may be is quite unavoidable. It results from the necessity of paying off a minimum of debts here (which I can now do) and from the necessity of getting the flat in a minimum lettable condition (which I can now also do), – and using the flat as an additional lever with the consul in applying for a fresh visa.
I take it, from your previous letter, that enough money (earmarked for transport) remains in the Fund to cover our boat and rail fares, – and also that it will be possible, once our sailing-date is fixed, for the boat-fares to be paid on our behalf as it were, to the shipping-company, by you at your end? – I suggest this, tentatively, because otherwise it would mean your sending another cheque to me here for the boat-fares. This would be all right, and of course you would have our promise to spend it on nothing but boat-fares, – but it struck me it would be more agreeable for you vis-à-vis the subscribers to the Fund, to be able to prove to them without question that the earmarked portion had been spent only upon transport.
Once again, dearest Maggie, – I just can’t tell you how we feel about your kindness. As I say, it’s now up to us to make it worth while.
Blessings be upon you!
* * * * *
That August, David Lawson, husband of Evelyn’s close friend Lola Ridge, wrote to Evelyn and observed that
I don’t know whether you appreciate the housing shortage that New York (and elsewhere) has been up against but it has been terrific and I have no suggestion at this time. As a land owner living off London tenants, I suppose you have lost the common touch and may have gotten away from the American way of democratic life. I wish you both success. Regards to both, Davy
The following is Evelyn’s response to these comments.
* * * * *
To David Lawson
August 26, 1952
Please read this—I think you cant have read all my letter even if all were received. That is why misunderstanding.
Who incited the libelling of me contained in your letter just arrived: I call it libel to say I “own” and “apartment house” in London—what you actually wrote—NOT because it would be anything wrong or wicket if I did, but because it is completely false; and whoever put such an idea into your head must have wished to obstruct Margaret De Silver’s fine generosity in attempting to interest people who remember our books—my own and Jack’s—in contributing to an Evelyn Scott fund to finance our travel back to the USA.
I don’t own a stick or stone in London. I WISH I did. London is full of European and some Oriental refugees who do own homes here; and why should not I, who am British by marriage only and an American citizen yet, but as a dual national have a British-born husband.
My dear old Davy, your comment on what you seem to take for granted as affluence, was the last thing I would ever have thought would be said to me by an old friend and to a friend who is still as loyal to Lola’s memory as you are, and who, as well, in not becoming immediately indignant, now, should prove she is personally still loyal to you, pending comprehension on your part when we meet again.
It is JACK’S house nominally. It is an old residence which he had made into flats with the last of his British Aunt Mary’s smallish bequest. There are three flats above and this flat in the basement which was very unsatisfactory to us because we both could not repair it, and because the large brick war-shelter shelter just torn down with a presentable flat resulting!
Would you call an old house such as Cyril Jig and myself lived in on Barrow Street in 1920 an “apartment house”? It is just the same size as to flats, though the ceilings are higher and some of the rooms are larger. It was converted or remodelled, as we say at home, just as that Barrow Street house and the one next it were after 1914-18. It is more conspicuous looking because it has a small garden front and back: the land on which it was built before 1914 being Church of England owned, and leased. It is potentially pleasanter both for this reason and because the land is on a hill near Hamstead Heath and in the top floors, which have always been let as I say, there are views over London in fine days.
When Jack invested the small sum he did in this house, he had to convert it into flats to make it pay; and when the refugee tenants were accepted there was no intimation to anyone that rent would be forced to remain as when rented while costs soared. It is an unjust ruling. As I say, I own nothing here or anywhere as yet but I naturally am with Jack whom I love as we both love Jig, in everything that concerns him; and the results of this concern us both. And the fact is that frozen occupancy in combination with the frozen rents, made it impossible to do the one thing we might have done to help to keep pace with costs: furnish the fats ourselves on time-payments and then Jack re-rent them for considerably more.
As Jack and myself computed between us an “average” of our earnings on published books at the time this house was being remodelled just before the war, we felt safe in respect to it, as the rentals were to have paid a far larger part of upkeep than was ever possible, after the war began. We thought if there were any drains on us at intervals these would not be large; and that we would be guaranteed living quarters suitable for writing on periodic visits to London, such as we had already made together. We expected to rent this flat for several years at a time; and that Jack, after having lost our Walberswick cottage—it was sold at a loss—reinvested here again was due to two factors: the small sum he first invested was British money and went further here, even before the war, than at home; The sum was too small to yield an income when invested. We were already thinking prudently of the future and we had been having a terrible time in New York and its environs trying to find any place we could live in and have quiet for our books. The original investment here was a few thousand and for that amount in New York or near New York we would have had to pay three or four times as much for a house this size. Jack wished to have a cottage without tenants, but that we had three times hunted for in Santa Fe, and in New York and Connecticut; and we never found anything worth buying that was not exorbitant.
He stumbled on 26 Belsize Crescent by chance. It was going cheap because largish old-fashioned single houses were then a drug on the market here. And he was truthfully assured that if he made four flats of the three stories and basement, he could count on tenants the moment the decorator stepped out. He borrowed to complete the conversion, paid the loan almost at once and took a mortgage out; and this twenty-year mortgage is now paid up for all but six years. Naturally we don’t want to be left with nothing to show for the worst years of our lives economically. There have been many occasions when London has been as cruel to myself and Jack and Cercadinho was to myself Cyril and Jig. We have barely kept afloat. We have been too poor to see anyone—or rather as soon as rumours of our acute poverty reached the outer world those cads who in large part comprise aforesaid world, began to leave us strictly alone. We have been almost without clothes, for long periods without teeth, and have had no smallest diversion of any sort—not even walks because clothes were lacking, the war Government confiscated the metal bars on our basement window and thieves entered here more than once.
It is labour extremism that makes the most mischief here. We believe in private ownership and especially in private property. And if you will please reflect my dear Davy, you will realize that most of your own and Lola’s friends must have shared this view as a number either owned homes then or since, and abhorred that trespassing of which we are victims, here, with an abhorrence as great as ours.
That we believed in private property should have been evident from our experiences in Brazil, where Cyril tried to acquire our fifteen-hundred acres permanently, though my illness made the hard life impossible for both us and Jig. Again there was the Scottage in Bermuda, which Swinburne Hale gave Cyril and me outright, but which the Garlands saw fit to take back because Swinburne’s health broke down before he died and Marie appears to have taken a ruthless view of everything and everybody he ever liked. Then there was Cyril’s house which he owned in Santa Fe and to which Phyllis contributed a little money and I also contributed thirteen-hundred as a future investment for Jig to whom I hoped it would be bequeathed. Then came Walberswick, and crises which obliged me to return home, and decided Jack he would sell it as we could not endure separation. And now there is 26 Belsize Crescent. So that we struggle for a home of our own that, also, may some day mean something to Jig and Pavla and our affection for them and their children, should not surprise anyone, or provoke bitter remarks. I have FOUR little grandchildren, Davy. Surely you do not condemn me, as Communists undoubtedly would, for hoping to do something to SAVE THEM from penury and that abominable slaver to State into which “Socialism”, applied in a dictator world, easily develops because of a fallacious implicit assumption that those who control States must be individually “better” than Capitalists!—which they are NOT. Socialism is absolute political power and we know it living through some isolated socialist measures are good.
You know we value your friendship, Davy, or I wouldn’t give pages to re-explaining about the house. Don’t insult us, for both our sakes.
* * * * *
To Charles Chaplin
September 23, 1952
Mr Charles Chaplin
1952—November. Jack telegraphed an offer of our flat to the Savoy the day after they landed. It was delivered within an hour and his secretary phoned at once to say “nuttin’ doin’” as to flats. Shabby remembering Cyril Evelyn Scott
Dear Mr Chaplin:
Your secretary, with a promptitude in every sense considerate, has just telephoned that the telegraphed offer of the flat myself and my husband are trying to rent speedily in order to complete arrangements to return home to the USA, was not apropos. However, I think some explanation as to why the appeal to you and Mrs Chaplin was made, is due; as I, also, requested your secretary to be good enough to say that should you hear of anyone who is an American and in need of a flat of fair dimensions, we will appreciate the mention of this one as availableI think she was probably—your nice secretary—somewhat taken aback when I said to her that the renting of this flat is essential to financing our return; as we have been financially stranded here ever since my husband—John Metcalfe, the British novelist and short story writer—was demobilized from “RAF” service in 1946. . I arrived here 1944 and have never relinquished American citizenship. But we have been doing our best to go home every year, and have encountered so much obstructionism of an “economic” sort, that our return has been cruelly postponed again and again, though I am American native of many generations and have an American son and John Metcalfe was a quota resident for 18 years.
You and Mrs Chaplin do not know me personally, but Mr Chaplin may recall his own impromptu appearance at the studio—the tiny studio on Fourteenth Street—of my first husband Mr Cyril Kay Scott, in the nineteen-twenties. It was a delightful experience as recounted to me and our son, Creighton by Mr Scott, from whom I am divorced, but who is esteemed by both myself and Mr Metcalfe. Waldo Frank, who is now, also generously trying to help us to re-establish ourselves again at home as authors—though we have been virtually banned since the war—had just told you of our Scott experiences in Brazil; and it was Mr Frank to whom I alluded to your secretary just now. [Typed letter ends here]
* * * * *
To Margaret DeSilver
October 19, 1952
Maggie my dear Maggie:
We don’t know whether we are on the verge of the real end of this damnable exile, or are in some Gethsemane of tragedy.
Jack is writing again the plea that must seem interminable for help from somewhere—anywhere—to provide the three hundred essential to making the flat rentable enough to allow us to go home to face and solve all the vital issues that have accumulated during thirteen years—our two brief sojourns since 1941 having been such as permitted of no solutions.
The crux of our lives, like Jig’s, Pavla’s, and Cyril’s is this matter of our resumed publication. Waldo should be able to be of genuine help in getting some action about books. But to read the mss of more than nine-hundred pages takes time, and the one reassurance I would like now is to know he has begun—the money to make the move home possible has to come soon, for all the reasons you are now so well aware of, bless you.
These have been pretty intolerable weeks—these last. They have added tantalization to our other miseries. I, today, re-cleaned the woodwork in the room first renovated, when the floors were removed and the shelter; suddenly realizing it has been three months since then, and my first cleaning in preparation for new occupants, had to be repeated.
It has been a question of not even the cash to buy a tin of paint; and of course trying to keep enough for the Consular fee ready. All the details I enumerated as yet necessary, as a preliminary to renting furnished, still are necessary. We look to some advance rent to finish everything, even with the three hundred dollars more achieved. But this should allow for asking what others do for furnished apartments in good condition, and will save the house until eventually it can be sold. The essentials have to be here to rent for enough to save the house.
I will exhaust you, Maggie darling—you know it all so well. We are trying not to despair. We WONT despair. But to have the solution of the problems of eight years anyhow almost ours, and then just sit waiting, is harrowing.
I feel we owe you something that not even a fortune, were it ours, could ever repay. But poor Jack is even eager to incur an obligation—in the form of a debt and promise to pay it, rather than just collapse as we are. I dont want him to incur any debt if there is any other way, however—more than the moral debts to you and our friends—because he works so hard and should have strains eased and not added to, if possible.
You know how we feel in loving Jig and Pavla and the four children and in being unshakable in affectionate friendship for Cyril. And that no letter further has yet arrived from Munich is anguish, at times. Do I feel bitter when there is prattle for the “American regard” for the “American mother”?—YES—what about this one, Evelyn Scott.
Love Maggie darling love
* * * * *
To Margaret DeSilver
December 14, 1952
I have GOT IT (visa), thank goodness! It is a great relief, as the hold-up on the medical side was worrying in several ways. But all’s well that. . .etc. It arrived by registered mail yesterday morning.
I then went at once to enquire re passages and fares, to the US Lines, Cook’s, etc. It appears that the earliest date on which there might be any accommodation within our financial compass would not be before mid-January and might be as late as early February. This is later than we wanted, but almost everything at a reasonable price is booked up till about then;—and of course I could not make even the first gesture about it till I had got my visa. rival at the Foundation. I shall be writing to him, of course, about this.
The tourist fare for a double cabin would be from £68 to £71 each (i.e. from $190.40 to $190.80 each, – a total of from $380.80 to $397.60 for the two of us). There might be something slightly cheaper obtainable by waiting longer, – but hotel or lodging expenses in England meanwhile would more than negative this gain, and it will pay us to get away as soon as possible after we move out of this flat around Jan 1st.
The rail fares from London to Southampton will add a bit more, say $10 for the two of us, and there will be at least some lodging expenses in England between the time this flat is let and the time we sail. Also some unavoidable renovation of baggage:—though I do not know how far such expenses could properly [be] regarded as “travel” or “transport” expenses to come out of the Fund. We should also have to spend a little (as little as possible!) on small tips on the boat, and I am not sure either how far these (say a further 5 to 10 dollars) are includable.
But altogether, if possible, we should like $430 (four hundred and thirty dollars) now from the Fund. If you could send this please the way you sent the last money so that it is immediately cashable I should be able to instruct Cook’s to clinch the earliest sailing (within the money-limit) that offers.
This $430, from the $1100, would leave $670. I see that the return fare (valid 6 months) from New York to Los Angeles (fairly near the Foundation) is $202.43. That is $404.86 for the two of us, apart from meals etc. So that (subtracted from $670) would leave (again if permissible) some $260 for meals on train, for a brief stay in New York en route (for E to enquire re her novel etc) and for paper, type-ribbon etc while at the Foundation.
Darling Maggie, I cannot tell you how we both feel to you about all this. As I said before, all we can do is to make it worth while. I can get a job I’m quite sure, and shall then of course repay the last $250 loan for a start. All these months the thing has persisted in appearing still too dreamlike (against reason!) but now that at last I really have my visa (my chief anxiety) I am really getting quite excited. Bless you and bless you! See you SOON now, I hope!
Much much love from
Jack. Evelyn adds her very much love with mine
* * * * *
Lt Commander and Mrs Saint-Pierre1
March 1, 1953
Dear Mr and Mrs Saint-Pierre:
I do not know where to put the blankets and linen until Mr Paget2 and yourselves have agreed on the inventory. I gather he will come here when you are moved in or just before, and until we had our nice evening conversation I had not realized it unlikely that you yourselves will need to use the blankets, so I am leaving all of them—two lots, the greater portion in good condition but a few patched—on the bed in the small room.
Should you wish to use any that require dry cleaning, please ask Match and Company if it will be okay with them to deduct the expense incurred from the future rent. Davis, the cleaner, just to the left of Belsize Circus, cleans very well and for a moderate price.
Three of the pillow tickings also look very dingy and can be cleaned by Davis for six shillings each. And this we would have had done but that with both of us under the weather we were using all the pillows until today.
Our cash shortage—temporary we hope—obliges me to leave this to you on the same basis, in the belief that it will be alright to charge up these comparatively small sums to rental to be deducted at the appropriate time. We are both very sorry to have to request anything that may seem a bother.
Three soiled pillowslips, one bath towel and two or three kitchen towels, as well, have not been washed, and perhaps you will be good enough to let Mr Marsh know that I have neither time to wash them nor any way of sending them to be laundered with no one in the flat yet.
These are the most troubling last-minute items. I really don’t know how it is managed as to linen when moves are in process and one has to use a little for the most make-shift final night.
Should you come in briefly during the next few days, please don’t be unduly perturbed if all the discards of the move—empty paint tins, discarded clothing, etc—have not every one been put in the dust bins. These are at the foot of the stairs you pass as you walk along the path to the door of this flat, but the trash collection is usually on Tuesdays and I daren’t fill the tins any more today as others as well as ourselves seem to have been throwing things away and some place has to be left until Tuesday, when I trust Mr Coleman, as a real favour, may come by and put the remainder of the debris in the bins. As a rule the space for trash is adequate, but there is now and again an overflow when anyone is moving in or out.
I don’t know whether “hints” on the housework will sound like those of the Suffolk landlady who awed me with superfluous “directions” years ago, but give you some anyhow to be followed or not as you incline.
Unless you already have experience with painted concrete floors, you will not know that the red-painted floors in two of the rooms and the toilet cannot be washed, but are easily freshened with “Cardinal Polish”, which can be bought at almost any hardware store, some groceries, and at the tobacconists adjacent to Meade’s green grocery to the left of the first turning at the bottom of Belsize Crescent. These shops can also be reached by going down the “snicket” behind the house and turning right at bottom.
When dust accumulates along the tops of wainscots it is better, I find, to brush it off with a small dry brush, as you then don’t have to be so careful about the tinted walls, or, for that matter, the wall paper. I use a damp cloth on the painted wainscots just occasionally, and in the first bed-room at the front just on the painted wood. The one drawback of “Cardinal Polish” is that when it gets on paint or walls it is hard to get off—ditto as to hands and clothes. But though it can be smeared when fresh, once it hardens—say an hour after it is used—it will not come off further as far as I know.
There is a good brush for cleaning radiators that was not put on the inventory, ad it was bought to re-paint them and by the time Mr Paget and I got to the kitchen cupboards I was too all-in to explain or say whether it should or shouldn’t be listed. But I now point it out because of the convenient shape and handle. It cost something but does not need to be replaced if it wears out. It is in the bottom left kitchen cupboard with the scouring brushes—also not new, and not itemized or mentioned. It doesn’t matter about these things except as they may help.
If the two oldest frying-pans in front kitchen cupboard are too much in the way and you wish to discard them, you are free to do so with the proviso that Match is informed either now or when you leave. I think the inventory is probably of mutual benefit but being still ill the day it was made I almost gave up.
There are some floor cloths—two—one unused and one used but still good and when in use these can be dried on the rod on the under-end of the kitchen table nearest the stove.
The furniture and the wooden floors have all been treated with o’cedar and this had been satisfactory to us as it keeps down dust. This naturally is for you to decide—I just hope to be helpful, for we are much indebted to you in respect to the storing of the pictures on the top shelf of the cupboard (or wherever you like).
There are a number of small photographs framed and unframed with these, and some small hooks. These did not go on the inventory because we had hoped to pack them and had no room when the baggage was filled. We do feel apologetic, and I suppose whenever you leave Match should know of the extra photographs and a few books having been put with the other things, though I DON’T MEAN re-do inventory.
The Gas Company’s phone is Hamstead 1133 for most calls, but on Sundays, holidays and other times of emergency the Gas Company can also be reached at Willesden 1272, their emergency phone.
The best of good wishes to you both again. We think we are fortunate in having found such nice tenants for the flat, and we do implore the gods to permit it to be a satisfactory habitat for yourselves and the dogs, too. Thank you again for allowing the personal articles to be stored in the cupboard.
1 The Saint Pierres rented the flat that had been occupied by Jack and Evelyn.
2 Mr Paget worked for Match and Company, the agents handling the letting of 26 Belsize Crescent.
* * * * *
This letter documents Jack and Evelyn’s final departure from Number 26. Not everything went according to plan. . . .