22. Cornwall and Wiltshire

Some time in the early autumn of 1930 Evelyn and Jack sailed to England. There are no surviving letters about their relating to their decision to return at this time:  it is possible that these were destroyed by Jack after her death.  After a short stay with Jack’s friend in Kent, they spent a few weeks in Falmouth, in Cornwall, before leaving for Salisbury in Wiltshire.  There are no letters from this period in Cornwall (most likely these were among those which were destroyed), but the letters from Salisbury evoke England with the same vividness as her early descriptions of Algeria and France.

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To Lola Ridge

c/o C F Thompson-Walker
Red Hill, Chislehurst, Kent
October 17, 1930

Sweet one:

I wonder whether or not you have returned from “Yaddo” and what great poetry has come out of your stay?  And how are you in health, my dear?

We leave for Falmouth in Cornwall tomorrow, darling, thank God!  Jack wrote his last line on July 20th and I mine on August 8th.  The frittering away of time and shrinking cash on travels and diplomatic errands puts fear into one.  Anyhow next week begins the building up.

The boat trip was ten days instead of eight, and part of it was very rough and left us ennuied of this world and squeamish.  I haven’t really got my bearings yet.  We had a week in London (last) and this week an ordeal at Bosham with the aunt, returning here last night, and tomorrow to Falmouth.  I’ll send our permanent address as soon as I get it.  Darling, I have 56 letters to write.  That leaves only dregs of expression for my dearest ones.  A note from Cyril says nothing and no letter from Phyllis or Jig.

London is all wet wool enveloping the spirit.  Only sometimes toward evening the lights burn in tearful drama on a chiaroscuro that excites one mystically, as though life in this cockney region where our hotel is were some great ceremonial of the people in a medieval church.  Barrows of fish glitter like salty carnage.  The cake shops drape sticky offerings.  The flower stand smells of violets and chrysanthemums acrid and flaunting.  Then the bold signs: Ladies Lavatory; Gentlemen’s Lavatory, Hot and Cold Water, out of the street and people scurrying in and out of tiled caves, seem as lively and peculiarly London as the fish barrow and the flower sellers.

There is misery everywhere.  Bedraggled dames of unfathomable age nodding over match boxes and pencils, drunks abandoned in doorways, sidewalk artists announcing their peculiarly stark observations on life in impermanent mediums of charcoal and chalk.

Jack and I frequent pubs, upstairs the pub dining room with flowered paper and great domestic-looking sideboards suggest French provincial hotels. Downstairs it is all beer and chatter, but up there family life reigns.  There is no place more sacred to the memory of Queen Victoria than a pub dinning [sic] room.  Choice of “veggies”!  That means cabbage or sprouts!  Twice since I came I have had spinach.  This was a triumph.  There are French restaurants where they speak of salad, but meals there are too expensive for us.  We have to stick to British standard and there are filling viands for 2 bob1.  But oh this queer, mystical unimaginativeness!  This thought that is thoughtless!  This instructive meditation on the past!  This solidarity that equals nature’s own.  I marvel at Jack’s comparative elasticity.  He’s done great things, really, in even half adapting himself to me.  What an over-subtle, the English.  A savage waste.  An Englishman’s self-deprecates.  That is the sign.

Love love love and hope of all the best for you my angel and anxiety for news of health and work.  I’m writing Davy.  Do you think Miss Ames really means to have us again next year?

Always and always,

1 Colloquial term for two shillings.

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To Maude Dunn

c/o Mrs M Sweet
7 Glenmore Road, Salisbury, Wiltshire
February 16, 1931

Dearest Mother:

At last we are in our new lodgings, as advertised before we left Falmouth and had several answers but this one the only endurable one.  Unfortunately we could not get into it until today which made five days in hotel and though we went to cheapest here our bill for room and board was forty dollars.  We had not enough money on hand to pay it, not having calculated on that but my advance came and saved us.  Wasn’t that luck?

Falmouth docks

Falmouth was so low and wet it made Jack ill, and while I am more used to low levels I found it enervating.  Salisbury is colder but we feel much peppier here so far.  Our rooms are very plain and there are inconveniences re bath etc, but we are buying our own coal so as to have good fires and it is apparently not going to be any dearer than Falmouth.  Also while at Falmouth we did have a sweet view of the harbour our rooms faced the street and we had no privacy.  Here we have no view but overlook a cute little garden and it is very quiet, though there is one child—two children, but one at school.

The hotel we stayed at which so nearly proved our undoing was The Old George, built in 1320.  It has housed Cromwell and Samuel Pepys and Dickens etc.  Salisbury is so stodgy that Falmouth in retrospect seems as gay as Paris; but it makes up for that by its archaeological interest.  The cathedral, while not so fine as Chartres, is very beautiful—built in the eleventh century, and with romantically ancient tombs.  There are many very old houses in town.  Lots of Tudor fronts and overhanging first stories.  Meandering through the streets are four small rivers which give a Holland like appearance to certain spots.  The cathedral close is a very fine green faced with Tudor and Queen Anne houses occupied by clergy.  The close had a fortification surrounding it.

But far more exciting than town or cathedral was the expedition to Stonehenge on Saturday.  We took a bus to Amesbury and walked the two miles to our destination.  Those Egyptian looking ruins, more like a crude Karnac or Phylae than anything English or even European, standing out against the desolation of Salisbury Plains (a slightly rolling plateau like that on which Madrid is built) gave me a real thrill. Of course they aren’t as large as a modern dwelling house of good size, but the individual measure of the stones raised by hand is as incredible as the pyramids.  Three hundred burial barrows have been excavated in the immediate surroundings, and crude implements, jewelry and funeral urns brought to light.  We saw some of the barrows but the things they contained are in the museum we have not yet visited.  I always thought Stonehenge was druidical but the guide says it is pre-druid, about four thousand years old.  They were sun worshipers at any rate and the great stunt is to see sunrise on midsummer’s day when it strikes the entrance stone before the temple and thus is the longest day of the year marked.  Under each of the small stones that made the outer circle lay a charred skeleton indicating propitiatory sacrifices made during the building.  The big stones—twenty-five or thirty foot each—were local, but smaller ones seem to have been brought from Wales—a job at the time.

The rest of Salisbury Plain2 is given over to army depots and airplane hangers and it is an exciting incongruity to see this other thing.

The country around here has fine aspects but on the whole is much less picturesque than Cornwall.  However, except for expense, I am very glad of the move.  It’s nice to have seen it and Jack can go up to London from here cheaply.

Just as would happen—the day I arrived my elbow went through my coat and I split my hat trying to pull it over my growing hair.  Then I tried to buy another hat and found none in town I could get on my head.


PS yes Lady Metcalfe is a relative tho not a close one.  Jack’s dad’s first cousin was the earl of pawsomething Kintaw (can’t spell it) and he has various other titles3 on that line.  Also his mother was Irish nobility on one side.  Speaking of that, I have discovered titled Dunns in London.  Never would have believed it as Mr J Gracey’s early teasing gave me a complex about the name.

Maude was translating a number of Brazilian classics into English, and it appears Harrison Smith was interested in publishing them.
2 Salisbury Plain was then and still is a major training area for the British army.
It does indeed appear that Jack had illustrious ancestry. One, Charles Theophilus Metcalfe, 1st Baron Metcalfe, had a distinguished career in colonial government in Canada and India in the 19th century.

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To Louise Morgan

[Salisbury, Wiltshire]
February 25 [1931]

  Jack will be seeing you in a little over two weeks.  I wish you could come stay with me while he’s up there.  Not that the attraction when I’m working constantly and must be very boring as society would be so great, but this place, so like a two dimensional landscape—worn tapestry with only a few bright threads supplied by the sky at sunset—it gives me a worse pipp than Cornwall.  It’s beautiful at times but too much like a bloody gawddamned grave.  There’s the cathedral, not for use—a huge monument to things all dead.  The town has that cemetery in its heart.  I can’t see any life in it.  We walked to Stonehenge there again real antiquity so much more rooted than aerodromes around.  I feel as if I’m not seeing this, but millions of dead eyes are using me to see it.  there are lovely sallow downs around us and four little quiet rivers, and we walked over to Old Sarum1 and saw the Roman city with the grass on it.  English people so nice but I could stay here twenty years and be swallowed in this vast, formal indifference and lose all hope.  I hate being like this—I mean not fully appreciating after vulgar, hideous screaming America.  but there is also warmhearted young America.  This country seems to me rotten with moral cowardice—and feeble with caution.  maybe its working much too long and hard.

Anyhow, I shall look back on it with certain aesthetic thrills but not wish to repeat them for a very long time, not until I feel very powerful myself—if I ever do.  London seems much more friendly because there is a slothful current from outside.  But here its all so stagnant, so gorgeously miasmic.

I’ll write again soon because I want to hear from you.  Blessings.  Love and much from us both.  Good luck.  Thanks for book.  Hope you get somebody replace Larry morrow.  How come he disappeared?  Ta-ta


PS Our digs are incredible.  Jack will tell you.  Landlady asked me if American accent came from the pilgrim fathers.

1 The ancient centre of modern Salisbury

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To Maude Dunn

[Fragments of an undated letter from Evelyn to her mother, probably written while she and Jack were living in Salisbury in 1931]

I went out to Winterslow Rectory1 and stayed two days.  There was so much sociability I couldn’t write.  Still it was a help.  England is the most dismal country on earth when you’re alone in it.  There have been two days of sun in the two weeks Jack has been gone.  I had a lovely room at the Rectory,.  It looked out on fields and had fine old fashioned furniture that suited the country surrounding.  Tall elms outside the window were inhabited by rooks that kept up such a din I thought more of them than my book.  The country had the grave, resigned look I haven referred to.  No bright colors, but a very subtle sobriety.  The church next door is fourteenth century.  The Rector and I don’t get on well; and I soon found myself arguing with everybody there—my great failing.  Of course they were all polite but I landed one bomb after another.  They are hidebound reactionaries—dyed in the wool Tories. First it was Gandhi I defended; then Einstein; then the Germans; then modern art, etc etc.

Modern image of Winterslow Rectory [geograph.co.uk]

Jack’s near relatives are only moderately well off.  The forty room house “goes with the living”.  All those things are bequests of the church for the use of incumbent.  At Winterslow are Jack’s Cousin Gertrude (the old lady who came through Santa Fe last summer from California) her husband, Cousin Edward, and her unmarried daughter, also Gertrude, besides the rector and his wife.  The two Gertrudes are very discontented as a country rectory seems to them gloomy after California where they lived nine years.  It is very stuffy and over proper, though pretty, the little church dating from thirteen hundred.

I am also suffering from a hurt to my operated innards again, so we are very topsy turvy.  Hope all better next Sunday and a better letter.  Very very much love.

hug and kiss, elsie

I’ll have to cut this short.  Never saw anything except the outer site of Old Sarum—a moat surrounded hill with the fragment of a church and a couple of towers on it.  The castle on the second hill we have never yet visited.  Hope we have time before we leave.

1 The home of Jack’s elderly relatives.

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To Lola Ridge

Salisbury, Wiltshire
March 4, 1931

I have an abscessed tooth which gives me for today a kind of germy passivity.  I feel as if I were lying on my back in hot grass looking at clouds that went by ever so slowly and thinking about you, as if it would be too much trouble to move for a cyclone.  I wouldn’t care.  But at the same time caring a lot about everything nice.

Salisbury is the greyest place I ever visited.  There’s no actual death here—but a dream that is much deadlier.  The country is all pale sad grass and sombre ploughed earth and very old too sturdy trees.  Nothing could move the trees, they are so rooted in the deathliness of the landscape.  There is the cathedral spire dominating the houses and it is exquisite, but it looks through the mist like somebody else’s dream, that of some poet who never knew of us or even guessed that we could be.  The sky is the only alive thing over these old houses, muffled in their thatch, and these little rivers that are so indifferent to the sea.  There are all sorts of heroic dramas every day between sunrise and sunset, between rain, snow, sleep and abrupt pallid sun.  Sometimes the downs across the railroad cut looked as if the soil in them was powdered coral, it shines so rosy though the yellowed grass under the sunset that is blue and rose.  The little rivers are sown into everything with threads of red.  Last night it snowed under a new moon—thin snow that showed the garden through.

But I don’t like England this year.  It’s too discouraging.  I feel so sharply having been cut away from this two hundred years ago and left with the crude earth of such an unenglish world.  And never can go back.

Workpeople in England look whipped, belly driven.  They lack the pride in economy of the French, and don’t seem to feel in their hearts that the have a right to anything better—so they have no right.  And the stupidly privileged, with their biological instincts so keep and their minds so mazed, and the thoroughly nice english who are liberal but have clammy hands, afraid of taking hold on anything for fear it mayn’t be nice.

Jack’s a dear but he isn’t well and his country seems to make him too sadly his own.  I don’t think he’s any happier over here.

Sometimes I absolutely hate this place.

Love you and davy, love and love.  Jack’s too.

Shall return US instant book done.  Money situation bad and shall be hard put to know what to do there.  Get my advance but that settles nothing and must see Jig.  He is so lonesome with the world he’s just discovering isn’t his as he thought, Loves his dad but his own generation surprises him by its unlikeness to himself.  He blames Denver for the world as I once Clarksville Tennessee.

love again, evelyn

PS shall let you know first minute I do when arriving NY. Jack goes to london for two weeks soon.  His book coming out—short stories only1.  Done in last several years.  Hope better money than last time.

Judas and Other Stories, published by Constable in 1931

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To Maude Dunn

Salisbury, Wiltshire
March 7, [1931]

Dearest Mother:

Just had your sweet letter and thank you for your compliments.  You make me feel uncomfy saying you want to imitate my example; but I think it is good in part in a purely practical sense, for you do let inferior people make you suffer a lot more than they ought, and as they can’t be altered or made any bigger in their outlook it would save you a great deal if you could will yourself into a certain amount of indifference to them.  I hope you will for our sake and for my own for it is painful to see you constantly upset by folk inferior to you.

What is really distressing is this problem of your moving next fall with the extreme difficulty of securing privacy in Clarksville. With all the drawbacks, it was a good idea on Donie’s1 part and I wish she would become inspired again, for my ignorance of people there makes me a shadow for an advisor.  It makes me fed up with myself that I haven’t a suggestion to make and have to leave it in your hands not giving you one helpful idea!

I am losing three precious days from work through a visitation from Jack’s friend, Philip Burton2, who was to have come down to Falmouth with his wife at Xmas but did not arrive.  His wife is now in South Africa.  Phil is a very nice person who used to write but had his career stopped by his financial difficulties.  We like seeing him but it is hard not to stew about losing time.  I console myself thinking it all for the best because I have had tonsillitis part of this week and no doubt a rest will improve matters next week.  It’s rather bad policy to get as wound up about work as we’ve been latterly, because you can’t do more than so much however great the will.  Nature just fails.

I wrote you how Stonehenge thrilled us.  And of the beauty of the Cathedral.  I also believe I spoke of Old Sarum which antedated the present Salisbury and was built in Roman times—a double moated town on an eminence of which nothing remains but a fragment of the church and the foundation of the castle and a tower or two.  But even that is enough to reconstruct a picture with; and I imagined very easily rude armies besieging it.  The outer moat has an earthen parapet about eighty or ninety feet—maybe a hundred—high—so it must have been a job to get into it against archer on the towers on the top.  When we were there on the other occasion, the castle had the gate locked so we only saw the outside; but this week we will take Phil over and try to get in so next time I can describe it more accurately.

Yesterday evening (first social do we have had since October) we went to see Jack’s relatives at the country parsonage five miles from here.  A nice old Georgian house with FORTY rooms.  Some of them are cold and unusable, but the central portion of the house has radiators as well as fireplaces and the rooms have huge windows triple glasses looking on big old fir trees and a garden.  The parson’s study has sixteenth century carvings on mantle and dado that are very interesting.  But he is a study—about six feet two and very good looking, with a lined Roman senator sort of face, he dresses like a clerical fashion plate and wears a monocle.  He is very suave and the last thing one thinks of as a preacher from the circuit riding fundamentalist point of view.

Am interrupted so no more now.  March check enclosed.  Dearest love, elsie

PS  My throat infection is trench mouth and not cold—hard to treat.

1 Donie DeBardeleben, a member of the extended Gracey family.
2 Philip Burton was an old friend of Jack’s with whom he had been living before he met Evelyn.

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To Maude Dunn

Salisbury, Wiltshire
March 10, 1931

Dearest Mother:

Sunday is my Jonah day as well as my letter day.  This week I have an abscessed tonsil and may have to go to the doctor to have it lanced.  So again my correspondents get the worst of it.  I shall at least answer your questions, my dear.

Delay about money was my bank’s misunderstanding.  They mailed it instead of cabled it but it came OK.

I cried with cold in London when I was first there with Cyril and again when I stayed with the Theises in the Temple about six years ago.  I didn’t happen to have a very heavy coat and hit a particularly damp and bitter spell.

Did I write you that my landlady asked me if I got my accent from the Pilgrim Fathers?

There were twenty one unsolved murders in England last year and eleven were attacks on women.  I really am nervous when I go out alone.  Two months ago a servant girl was found dead and horribly mutilated on Blackheath near London and about same time a middle aged woman in Lincolnshire and a girl was burned in her car and died when she was rescued though she told of attack by man beforehand up in Scotland and a woman was attacked in a railway carriage and decapitated.  None of this is anything compared to the wholesale murders in USA but they do affect the imagination.

I’ll ask Jack about the Salisbury plane [sic] battle.

It’s very sober around here—what with the town full of parsons and the landscape a monument of antiquity.  We have a lunatic asylum nearby and there is another at the other end of town.

Lots of love, elsie

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To Maude Dunn

Salisbury, Wiltshire
April 12, 1931

Dear mother:

Jack has been sick a bed, with, I think worry.  The combined effort of job and teaching in Montreal almost did him up.

I’ve had a bad time with me innards again, but that is getting run down from fatigue and worry and is improving.  I suppose I always will have such lapses.  Yes, I wish my tonsils were out, but you remember trench mouth as well as your advice discouraged me.

The streams around Salisbury are just natural water—four little rivers that break and join around several midget islands.

Old salisbury.PNG

I do need clothes altered and can’t seem to find a decent sewing woman in Salisbury.  And the ready-mades are a fright.  It’s getting warm and I can’t get out of a jersey and skirt.  Almost as bad as in Bezier.  I couldn’t buy anything there.  French winegrowers wives dress like mutes at a funeral.  Heaps love, elsie check enclosed

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To Maude Dunn

[Salisbury, Wiltshire]
May 3 [1931]

Dearest Mother:

Thank you for all your sweet letters.  Jack and I are still fagged and not too well but I think we are recuperating gradually. It isn’t that Jack needs to be in England specifically for the writing of his books, but to follow up contacts that will be valuable in making a success of its publication.  We could have stayed nearer London this winter if we hadn’t been fools and assumed that Jack was bound to get a Guggenheim.

I am very concerned about being nearer Jig,1 but of course will have to spend next winter wherever Jack finds a job.  Meanwhile I am consulting with Cyril re schools and all and the expense of having Jig stay with me somewhere either part of this summer or next winter.

It has been raining here for three solid weeks without four good days in all.  But I don’t think its much worse than Clarksville from what you say.

Perhaps we will have a few days free before we leave here.  I don’t know.  I would like to investigate that castle and write you about it.  Jack mailed you the views and you can get some idea of the place at its best.  The newer part is hideously commonplace but the old landmarks are very lovely.  Also the downs2 around delight me.  All green with crops, they are less subtle than they were last winter but very sort of virginal and untrodden upon.  Then the hawthorn is in leaf and will be out next month and there is a huge quantity of it.  The garden here is very seedy but forget-me-nots still survive and wall flowers are blooming profusely, as well as primroses.  Primroses are everywhere.  Boys on bicycles have primroses fixed on their handle bars.  The English express their whole sense of poetry in love of flowers.  The chestnuts are in leaf and bud, everything looks tender and lavish, if only only it were not so wet.  Swallows have arrived and thrill me as always with their scissor winged darts between earth and sky and the violent blue that flashes from their throats and under wings.

I wonder if Irene was fooled as I was at Madame Tussauds.  You remember I thought the dummy maid was alive when I was there with Cyril?  Of course these things are only replicas of the old stuff.  The place was destroyed by fire a few years ago and practically all of their valuables lost.  But I understand they reproduced them almost indistinguishably.  Haven’t had any more spiritualistic sittings yet.

Did you get delayed April check?  Time to send another and I want to be sure.  Maybe you acknowledged it and I have just forgotten as I can’t keep all your letters, but I don’t remember.

Dearest love,

PS  After June 1st, write me care Miss Abrams, 66 Perry Street, NYC, as I hope by then to have started to New York.

1 Jig was then aged 15 and living with his father in Denver, Colorado.
2 Salisbury is on the edge of the Wiltshire Downs, a chalk habitat characterised by rolling hills and sheep grazing.

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In June 1931, 20 months after their arrival in an autumnal England, Jack and Evelyn returned to New York where they were re-united with Jigg and with old friends.  It was, however, not to be an entirely happy period.