23. Back and forth

After a short stay with friends in New York, Evelyn and Jack returned to Yaddo, always a source of succour and intellectual stimulation.  But life was not good during this period and, apart from the spell at Yaddo, both Evelyn and Jack faced difficulties.

To Maude Dunn

66 Perry Street, NYC
Monday [June 22, 1931]

Darling Mother:

That racket business happens to half the foreigners that land.  When I landed two years ago I let Jack go on ahead in a taxi and came behind with remainder of luggage.  When I gave the porter a bill and asked him to change it he RAN OFF with the bill.  I suppose nothing is done because in the first place the real foreigners don’t know what to do and in the second people are afraid.  I thought of writing a letter to the Times and then got scared of revenge.  The police are too crooked to appeal to and most people would rather have a small sum stolen and let it go than go into court in a hopeless attempt to arrest.  There are no policemen near any of the piers, which makes it seem an absolutely put up job.

I talked to Ruth Whitfield1 and she says the same thing happens with business freight shipments.  They send their own men to hand stuff to ships or take stuff from the ship’s employees and the freight is grabbed by intermediaries who demand exorbitant fees for simply taking it out of the had of the ship people and putting it in the hands of the cartage people.  Nothing is too bad to be believed about petty graft in America.  Our big cities are simply criminal ruled.  Jack’s foreign accent makes him more liable of course as the great object of these games is to grab people who are new to America and not give them a chance to find out what’s what.  I wish you might have heard the way I heard a customs inspector speak to a woman with a German accent.  And then I overheard a nigger porter who actually had the Cunard label on his shirt talking to some foreign man as if he were dirt and ordering him about not giving him any say so as to the handling of his own baggage.  It’s no wonder new arrivals get a horrible idea of USA.

My dear, I don’t know whether Jig ever got your parcels or not.  I have been three months trying to find out if he got a cable I sent him to General Delivery in March.  Jig is in love2 and he seems as hard hit as I was with Tyler Miller and perfectly irresponsible for the time as regards anything else.  Remembering my own lapses of the past I can’t criticize but I certainly regret he has appeared so unappreciative.  Of course when I actually see him I can find out but I don’t believe I’ll ever get anything out of letters.

I forgot to say that Lady Alexandra Metcalfe did marry a distant cousin of Jack’s.  Her husband was aide to Prince of Wales for years.  Either his father or his grandfather was aide to Queen Victoria.  Aunt Mary has a picture of this cousin whatever his name was in the uniform as Queen Vic’s aide.  Jack is what is called “highly connected” but the hell of a lot of good it does us!  However, if he had money and ran where his cousins do I would not have met him.  It’s usually the poor branch of a family that turns out the most interesting people.

Love and love and love,

1Evelyn’s childhood friend from Clarksville.

2The object of his affections was Selma Hite, seven years his senior and his father’s secretary. They eloped shortly after this letter was written.


Yaddo rose garden
Modern view of the rose garden and fountain at Yaddo. [Mapio.net]

 To Otto Theis and Louise Morgan

Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York
September 14, 1931

Dear Peoples,

I trust the old address will find you.  How is life?  Bless you all three, and I hope the news is good.

Having failed to get any sort of possible job in this country, I am returning to England in November.  I hope to get a small sum from the Royal Lit Soc Fund,1 and to supplement this by occasional reviewing.   I must get cheap digs, somewhere, and, if I have rather more money than I now expect, join the Savile.2  Evelyn wants to see Jigaroo again, so she will go to Santa Fe for a few months and then come over to England and join me in London.  I imagine she’ll come over in Feb or March.

The news of Merton’s death has rather laid her out for the time being and I, of course, have had to pretend to be as surprised at it as she.  That is to say, I have not told her that I already knew of it from you, and it is rather important that she should not know that I did know of it all this time.  So will you please remember this in any letters to either of us?

This place, “Yaddo”, is excellent for work and I’ve written lots.  Evelyn’s book A Calendar of Sin, comes out with Cape-Smith in October over here.  We stay here at Yaddo till end of October, then go to New York for a week or two while I’m arranging my passage to England and my re-entry permit, etc, etc.  I fancy I’ll be in London in the latter half of November.

Well, much love to you all three, and I’m looking forward enormously to seeing lots of you in town.  Evelyn, if she knew I was writing, would of course send love hugs and kisses.

Yours ever,

The Royal Society of Literature describes itself as “the senior literary organisation in Britain”. Among other things, it awards grants to writers.
The Savile Club, one of London’s “gentlemen’s clubs”. Jack would have wanted to belong to a club: male members of his family would have joined clubs as a matter of course. The Savile Club was particularly favoured by literary figures and Jack would have seen membership as a valuable opportunity for networking.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

October 4, [1931]

My dear lovely little big guiding flame:  I wonder where you are.  I had your letter from Nice a week ago and three days ago Jack heard from Otto who said you had written him from Corsica.  Will you be back in Nice and will the Poste Restante be called on?  I won’t ask you what is going to happen next, but I suppose even you don’t know.  So I has as well turn to our news.  It sends rather like a railway guide.

Next Wed, Oct 7, Jack goes to NY for his sailing permit.  He will stay two days at Margaret De Silver’s1.  Then he returns here.  On the 12th, I go down to have a party at Lenore Marshall’s.  I don’t know whether the social strategy envolved will net anything or not but I feel I can’t refuse it.  That will be for two days, also, and I will come back to “Yaddo”.  On the 28th Yaddo closes and we return to NY, to stay with Margaret until Jack’s boat leaves and I am off for Santa Fe.  Unless Calendar of Sin sells—at five dollars—I will only be able to remain in Santa Fe a few weeks, but during that time Jig has got to come down to see me.  He is feeling, I’m afraid, a little neglected. His love affair is a lyric and thank god has absorbed emotions that might have indigested, but just the same he isn’t quite able to envisage financial pressure and he thinks I am staying away a mighty long time.  Then I shall return to NY job hunting or waiting for heaven to open and manna to descend from somewhere.  If ever there were people born not to hold jobs it’s you and me and yet you have done so.  So I would actually like to prove to myself I could, provided it was not, as it is often liable to be, a life commitment.

Yes, it’s rotten in one way to have Jack return to London; but it is his only hope if he is ever to get on.  Constancy to me has made a real failure of his prospects up to date and I learned from Merton what the threat to ones art can do to ones emotions.  So while it is a risk in the personal, sexual sense, everything is a risk and from the choice of evils this seems to be preferred.  I think we will survive it.  Other men exist in my horizon and maybe other women will appear on Jack’s.  Maybe they will occupy the whole space.  There’s no way of saying.  But we have got our deep affection and there is Jack’s British devotion to the established to match with my growing and ever growing fear of fresh beginnings.  Anyhow, it has to be gone through Saith and left to the gods.

Yaddo has been a heavenly interlude, how heavenly I realize afresh as the time for making ends meet again draws near.  There have been nice people here.  Mrs Ames has been very fine to us.  I feel such complex things in my gratitude for it that I would rather talk them than write them.

Did I write you that Merton died in June of a tumor on the brain?  It explains many things, Lola dear.  I was awfully broken up for a few days because when you love people completely once you love them always and this is not incompatible with resignation and a real preference for not being with them in the flesh any more.  He left Cyril forty pictures and Cyril is preparing a Denver show for them.  Poor Merton.  All the purity that fumbled and compromised in life remained true in his work and I wish he had lived to reap the reward I think someone will have from it.

Bless my lovely and may I hear more and the happiest of her soon.
With all the love of me and Jack, evelyn

Margaret DeSilver, a New York socialite, was a staunch friend, supporting both Evelyn and Jack in numerous ways through difficult times.

 * * * * *

Meanwhile, Cyril had left Santa Fe and gone to Denver where he had been  invited become the Director of the Denver Art Museum, now a major cultural institution. The Museum’s history dates back to 1893, when a group of artists founded the Denver Artist’s Club  to sponsor lectures and exhibitions. In 1916 the Artist’s Club was renamed the Denver Art Association.  It later became the Denver Art Museum and in 1932 the city of Denver gave some galleries in the museum in the just-finished City and County Building, and it was at this time that Cyril was invited to join as Director. It is not clear how much this invitation was based on his painting or how much on his achievements as a teacher of painting:  perhaps on both equally.  Selma Hite became his secretary when he took up the post.

Denver City and County bldg 1932
Denver City and County building 1932 [Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection]

To David Lawson

Denver, Colorado
January 19, 1932

Beloved Davy:

Well, Davy, my dear, the flu and all kept me abed until mid December, and I had just got my stride in work and settled to it when Jig, arriving for Xmas, told me (I asked him outright for it was stated in Santa Fe) that he and Selma had run away and gotten married last June.  This, for the present, is confidential with you and Lola (and I shall tell Gladys) though of course it will soon be out.  Jig had not told his father or me; but Selma had appendicitis soon after and wanted to see Jig, and she told the nuns, who told her aunt, and her aunt, of course, told the town.  And these infants believed they were keeping a secret.  Selma was twenty-three and Jig sixteen, so the marriage could be annulled if anything were to be gained by that.  We talked it over, and as Cyril was coming to Santa Fe in February, I decided to have the family conclave then when we could all be together.

Jig returned here after Xmas, but on Jan 7th first Selma then Jig long distanced and in quavering voices told me Cyril had been in bed a week with flu, had developed pneumonia and the doctor believed that his heart would not last out the ordeal.  I had just rented my house, paid in advance, and I would have come up here in a car and left my duds behind if there had been a car available; but the round trip is fifty dollars, so there was nothing for it but to pull up stakes.  I did and came here on the 10th.  Cyril has rallied a little, but the doctor still doesn’t guarantee a recovery and insists that Cyril must go to sea level as soon as he can travel to rest his heart (this is 5000 ft, Santa Fe 7100).

I hadn’t wanted to spring problems at this point but before knew of the illness I had written Cyril how important it was for him to get to Santa Fe as soon as possible for a serious discussion of Jig’s affairs.  So he immediately asked what I meant.  I then told him.  I have a feeling that Cyril’s illness last summer, which happened in June, combined with my failure to come to Santa Fe then, as I had promised (because of money and the “Yaddo” invitation) hastened the matrimonial Escapade.  Anyhow, Cyril has just weathered publicity given his divorce1 before this hundred per cent public, and nobody knows how the elopement and secret marriage of his young son and his secretary will be regarded by the mammas and papas whose sons got to the University of Denver.  There is a possibility, though I still hope not a probability, that the announcement may cost Cyril his job.  In his state, with Jig’s inexperience and ill-preparedness to make a living, and Selma (though I think she can hold down minor office jobs and she wants to work) everything is in the air; and of course anxiety as to Cyril’s recovery is the most serious problem.  He has gotten a good foothold here—just got 10,000 grant for the school from Carnegie institute, etc—and it will be rather too horrible if he gets knocked out by this.  It’s all ironical, as usual.  The family romanticism, always conflicting with the need to make a living.  Of course I hate seeing it happen because I judge from many opinions unaffected as mine might be by a maternal bias, that Jig has a very definite and extraordinary painter’s talent; and it is all he is interested in or shows a real aptitude for.  And how the hell can he, at seventeen, support a wife and make a career, or even support himself with a wife.  But there’s no use crying about it and one simply has to wait on fate.  As soon as Cyril is strong enough for company, we’ll make the announcement.  Selma is a sweet and attractive girl, though the degree of her practicality is I’m afraid, exampled in her marrying a kid of this age.  Aren’t we all brilliant that way!

The dearest love of all of us.  Jig was saying Sunday, my birthday, what a “grand chap” Davy was.  And please give all our devotion to Lola.

With heaps of love from

From Phyllis Crawford, his third wife.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Forest Hill, London
April 24 [1932]

[Now back in England], where I found Jack in poor shape as HE had spent most of his money to join the Savile Club on the advice of several as to the political value of doing so.  The I think rather foolish dear had made all HIS economies on food and such things and grown very lethargic and unable to work—done frighteningly little for the five months time he has been here.  I set in to cure this state of mind with beefsteak and fresh vegetables, and three days has made some improvement already.  Now I’m wondering if Jig is behaving himself, though, I am glad to say, Selma seems to have a valuable sense of practical values and I believe I can trust her to see he doesn’t mope and starve without reason.  And I trust somebody or other will be doing the same for Cyril.  I feel I’ve grown very hard-boiled and untemperamental compared with what I used to be.  But the people I care for most don’t seem scared enough of what they may do to themselves.

RMS Mauretania, then the largest ship in the world [www.curbsideclassic.com]
I wished for your sea legs.  The Mauritania had a gale and a rough sea every day but one and the air simply resounded with retchings.  I Didn’t become actively sick but fell into a poisoned lethargy, nearly having my teeth shaken out by the vibration.  It is the worst tourist.England looked pretty in a blurred dream of the usual rain (which has continued sporadically) and the flat out here isn’t bad.  Two fair sized rooms, a small kitchen and an antique bath.  It will be the first time I have done my own work in England and may be no economy as my sense of values when buying has not been developed on this side.  However the privacy is more grateful than the advantage of lodgings for the present.  It takes an hour and a quarter to get practically anywhere, so we haven’t yet investigated friends and relatives.  A trip to Bosham and Aunt Mary may come very soon.

Jig and Selma are, I think, at 127 East 34th, though I forgot to write it down and am sending my letter to them care of Margaret.  Would Davy, being good to us in so many ways already, be further good and let the kids have the blankets out of the trunk I left on his hands?  I forgot to tell them they could and fear they may have bought blankets already.

I love you, I love Davy, Jack loves you both.  Dear, dear, dear

PS  I’m keeping the Irish sweeps ticket preciously.  In the fantastic event of winning anything, Davy and me are going to divide it.  Why mightn’t a miracle like that happen now and then!

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Forest Hill, London
May 20, 1932

Lola, blessed, not answering your letter yet (came about an hour ago) but thank you for telling me the truth about your health.  If only I could put a magic kiss on each lung.    However, IF there were any guarantee that you could take care of yourself, I would still expect, after what I have witnessed in Santa Fe in the way of recoveries made by people apparently much TBer than you, my darling, miracles ahead.  That’s what gets my goat—all our goats of course—about impecuniousness.  And IF I possibly win anything with our gamble, you must not object to sharing it.  You understand surely that money come by that way, so to speak, costs nothing.  So you can have fun with it, without concern.  Oh, dear if it weren’t such a frail chance!

Thank you for having Jig and Selma.  I do think Jig is a real painter, though, as Cyril says, in the making yet.  Selma has a lot of good qualities and I certainly don’t complain about her as a daughter in law in most ways.  Anyhow, as long as she and Jig are OK by each other what the hell.

I’m writing soon and loving you all the time.  Jack too.  He’s pretty low mostly.  I think it’s money and lack of success.  Disappointing year over here.  Snobbery in England makes a hopeless case for the little known and impecunious.  He hurts himself so much some times it’s hard to stand.  But I have acquired wither fatalism or optimism I don’t know which and am confident about everybody as long as starvation and death are held off.

devotions of us, darling

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Forest Hill, London
June 19, 1932

Beloved dear:

Jack and I have just returned from four days at Bosham, with Aunt Mary, who, poor soul, seems to me to be really failing in health, and thus, by foreshadowing her actual demise, rebuking us somewhat for our hard-hearted thoughts.  Preliminary to each visit there I get in a state of rebellion and animosity against the hypocrisy of keeping my opinions and habits under my hat.  However, I realise, too, there would be no possibility of Aunt Mary’s comprehending even the least significant of one’s opinions.  Eighteen-eighty was her last date and is going to remain so, and any more said merely fuddles her poor old head and without registering anything more definite than fear.


She was very nice to us and the beauty of the weather, with a temperature of eighty, and the fields full of buttercups, obliterated to some extent my usual impression of life in a mausoleum.  Bosham always upsets digestion with too much starch and too frequent tea, but even that could be taken lightly because of the flowers.  Aunt Mary bestowed upon me a very old locket worn by her mother in memory of four dead daughters—all died in childhood.  One of them, Eveline, being confused with me.  Aunt Mary, instead of calling me Eve-lyn, in proper British style, invariably addressing me as E-ve-line.  The locket, which looks old and thin, contains a braided design of the intermingled locks of the four little girls:  In mo of Clara, Flora, Eveline, Rosa is graven on the back.  It was worn by Aunt Mary’s mother, one Charlotte Brindley, whose portrait, in a voluminous costume of wide stripes, with a phenomenal brooch and a cap with strings, hangs in the bedroom we occupy.

On the return journey we were advised at Chichester to take the wrong train and found ourselves en route to Brighton, instead of London, via Horsham.  As we had to wait at Brighton to re-establish ourselves on the correct route, we decided to skip a train and see the town where Jack used to live as a youth and where his mother died.  It was a gorgeous day, and the front with the elaborate parade and glinting glass and tin roofed pier and the plethora of humanity on the beaches, made the most colourful cockney England I have yet seen.  Under the arches of the parade terraces are numberless shops—souvenirs, fish, balloons, bars etc.  There is a miniature electric railway, covering the shore to a place called Black Rock, and we took a ride in it, and had a peep into numerous bathing huts where people were dressing or undressing or having tea.  At the station at which we descended a cockney adventurer with a banjo had set up his hat for pennies, and four girls, probably from factories in the White Chapel neighbourhood,1 Got out of the train and danced together in the street in a heavy but hilarious manner, joining in the chorus of the gentleman with the banjo.  It is the first time I ever saw Londoners dance in the street as the French do, though Jack says I would see it frequently if I had any habit of the East End.

We also saw a wonderful newly caught sea monster, very slashed about and bloody, exposed on a block of wood for the populace to guess what it was.  I couldn’t and am still wondering.  It was bulky like a porpoise but longer, with very little eyes set far back from its snout.  Would Davy know what it was?

Sweet dear, I have gone through life looking for people will pride, as the people I could best love; and I have met but four people—no five—with the pride that must be in a whole person.  You know who they are.  This is a lonesome world.  It is an ugly world, and I would be for any species of revolution which would not rob me of art.  Without art, I think all of us would wither and die.

Darling, darling, darling,

1 Whitechapel; a district in east London then characterised by numerous small workshops.  Brighton was a popular destination for days out.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

[Forest Hill, London]
August 7 [1932]

Darling kid:   I have been in bed ever since I got back, sweetie.  In Paris all my insides got on a rampage and I had systemic poisoning and inflammation of the bladder.  The French doctor scared me to death—it’s part of their business I think—and when I got back here still very low we had a specialist, one Mr Palmer out, and he charged five guineas damn him, but it was worth it to relieve our minds.  None of those dumb bunnies said what poisoned me, but I have made my own diagnosis from familiar symptoms and decided the trench mouth germs I have carried in my system ever since Algeria (as I gathered from Santa Fe diagnosis two years ago) had got all through me.  However palmer said whatever pisined me, got the upper hand of me because I was suffering from complete nervous exhaustion.  Exhaustion had produced a slight recurrence of prolapsis here and there.  I was to stay in bed two weeks and do nothing at all.

Scuse such a long dissertation of innards.  I think it’s ghastly you don’t have no holiday.

Very lovingly from us both,

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Forest Hill, London
September 10 [1932]

Sweet:  We have had a middling summer.  I was ill through most of July, with nervous breakdown from overwork, and with some sort of systemic poisoning, not diagnosed which affected my innards various ways.  Much better since.  I rewrote Eva Gay entirely—and some chapters were rewritten three to four times also—this summer.

Confidentially, I’m worried about Jig, who doesn’t seem to be happy; and waiting for further data before definitely deciding whether I should return to NY to look over his and Selma’s affairs in the capacity of a detached (if possible) advisor.  There have been rifts, though please never mention, for they may be made up by now, and I don’t want to anticipate.  I never had a chance to talk it all over with you fully, as I do most of my affairs.  It seemed to me a mistake on both sides, but a mistake I wouldn’t interfere with.  Selma’s role at twenty-four as the wife of a seventeen year old child as unlike her as possible, with no money and no future assured, and nothing much to flatter her where she need flattery or to secure her in life, demands a nobility of her I never could quite believe in.  However, I am saying nothing yet to anyone.  Jig would not like to have anyone suspect unless, of course, the time comes when things have to be said openly; and the present unhappiness may be transient.

I never hear from Cyril.  One note in answer to RSVP so for some Umbundu (Bantu) words for Eva Gay.  He is living with a young painter named Watson Bidwell1 and thru him I get occasional and not too good health reports.

Dear, dear Love.  And if you are still at Yaddo, all our affection and love to Elizabeth2, too; and to Eloise and John, who are among our fondest memories and our worst correspondents.

Jack’s and my devotions, dear one, and may your health be strong again as your art always will be.

1American painter who studied with Cyril at Denver and went on to become a teacher himself as well as a critic and curator.
2Elizabeth Ames, the Administrator at Yaddo

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

care Gilbert F Wright, Authors Agent
37 Museum Street, London WC 1
October 6, 1932

Lola, precious, I don’t write oftener because I keep waiting to have something nicer to write; and things don’t get better so I just send this to let you know I am thinking of you all the time anyhow.

Mrs Ames said you weren’t very well at Yaddo, and referred to your bronchial trouble; so I am afraid your dear and blessed chest is acting up again.  I wonder if you have gotten any work done, and ever so much else.

For you and Davy alone to know until more do, Jig and Selma have busted up and Jig is back in Denver.

Jack and I are leaving Forest Hill next week, and above is temporary address.  I expect to be back in NY in January, completely broke as usual.  The gods never willed a peaceful time to any of us, did they!

Anyhow, we love you and Davy, and it will always comfort us to know you are, and I shall always wish I had more than words with which to prove how much.

I think we will move to the seaside town of Lowestoft [Suffolk] which may be cheaper than London in the winter.

With love and love from us to you two,
always, evelyn

* * * * *

Not long after this letter, Evelyn and Jack were in Suffolk, on the English North Sea coast, and beginning what was the most settled period of their life to date.