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,
elsie

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,
John

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

[Yaddo]
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
evelyn

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.

Mauretania
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
evelyn

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
evelyn

* * * * *

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.

Bosham

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,
evelyn

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,
evelyn

* * * * *

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.
evelyn

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.

 

21. A writers’ retreat and the Wild West

There are no letters in any of the collections I visited covering the period between April 1929, when Evelyn was living in Greenwich Village with Jack, and July of that year.  It is not known whether they  have been lost or destroyed; so we know little of the events that took Evelyn to Yaddo, just outside Saratoga Springs, New York, for the first time.

Yaddo post card.PNG

Yaddo was first opened as an artists’ colony in 1926. The house belonged to Spencer Trask, a venture capitalist, and his writer wife Katrina. The couple wished to give something to society and, after the deaths of their four children, it was Katrina Trask’s wish to create a haven where artists could work and flourish. It still flourishes, albeit in a slightly different form, today.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of Yaddo to both Evelyn and Jack.  It provided them with generous board and accommodation at a very reasonable price but, more importantly, the other guests were a cross-section of American intellectual life.  They included artists, writers and critics and Evelyn found their company supportive and stimulating.  Yaddo’s executive director, Elizabeth Ames, provided Evelyn and Jack with much-needed artistic support and financial succour on several occasions.

* * * * *

To Maude Dunn

“Yaddo”, Saratoga Springs, New York
July 2, 1929

Yes, dearest mother, you are very beautiful in your patience about money.  If I could ever get through with doctors and dentists I would be enormously nearer being of proper help to you.  I shall have to go again in Santa Fe for I have infected philopean1 tubes and it takes a long time to treat.  Also there is proud flesh growing outside where the stitches came out and that will sometime have to be cut off.  Still I think I am better as we made a very difficult journey up here in a terribly crowded train, stood most of the way.  I had to help carry baggage, and still seem to have no very bad effects.  I knock on wood however.  I couldn’t have done that before the operation.

In a money sense our trip up here was unfortunate.  We just made it.  The round trip for us both was ten dollars each.  That was bad enough.  But breaking up Perry Street we had to take so many things with us, typewriters etc, and had to have porters.  We also missed the bus from Yaddo and had to take a taxi there.  That made five dollars extra just for luggage.  But as I told you this place once arrived is extraordinary.  It was left by some people named Trask to be used as a summer home for people doing work in arts and sciences, and of course the board is nominal and doesn’t half pay the expense.  You have to be recommended by the trustees and there is always a long waiting list.  And you can only come once.  I hope Jack can stay on after I go.

It is a beautiful estate of five hundred and seventy acres.  Part is public gardens, the rest meadows and farm.  The main building is a kind of imitation of a baronial hall, very much on the grand scale.  The reception rooms are tapestries, paintings, a fountain, impressive draperies, old Italian furniture.  For our seven a week each, the cheapest imaginable board, Jack and I were escorted to a huge double bedroom with a view of miles of lush country and the Green Mountains of Vermont like blue clouds that never move behind.  We have a private bath.  I am writing in a room as big as Perry Street and mine for work while I am here.  Jack has a studio of a rustic type about a quarter of a mile from the house.  There are fifteen artists as guests, some for a fortnight, some for all summer.  We were asked for long but account of Jig could not accept.  Breakfast is served on trays in bedrooms.  Lunch is optional—upstairs or down.  Tea downstairs.  Dinner downstairs.  Plenty of servants all very quiet and English trained.  The hostess is a Mrs Ames2 whom I like very much.  No dressing to match surroundings, fortunately, as most guests are supposed to be poor.

Dearest love and more soon as able.  I hope for better news on money later.
elsie

Fallopian.  Evelyn continued to suffer from gynaecological problems arising from Jig’s birth.

Elizabeth Ames, the administrator at Yaddo, was very supportive of Evelyn and Jack in a number of ways over the years.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

care Mrs Cyril Kay-Scott1
415 San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico2
July 3 [1929]

Otto, dear:

Your letter written while Louise was in Paris was a treat to friendship.  I didn’t answer it the same day as I felt like doing, only because I can not write perfunctorily to my dearest beloveds. Now we are up at “Yaddo” there is breath.

Otto, this “Yaddo” place is to all intents and present purposes paradise.  Lola is here for one thing, but there are permanent reasons as well.  The estate is five hundred and seventy acres.  Jack and I have a huge double room which makes you feel should hold levees.  We have a private bath and a studio each.  All this costs seven dollars a week.  And I can only stay a fortnight, having decided to make a bee line to Santa Fe while the money was good.  It is a test of maternal feeling that I can.  From an acre of window, I now look down a terrace lacking powdered hair and peacocks, to a fountain that would delight a proper marquise, and then to meadows of hay, and then to hills lavish as they only grow in America, and then to the Green Mountains of Vermont—chalk blue and stern and invitingly aloof.  Rain clouds are swelling dark on the sky.  The pine trees converse in aromatic threats.  The bird songs pepp up and die away like the freshest of small musical water.  The bees behave as bees should.  It is so still my typewriter sounds like a blasting machine.  We have breakfast in bed. What, what more can you ask.  And none of the people so far are unpleasant.

After the 15th I go to Santa Fe.  Hope Jack can stay here until his book is done.  I have 22 letters to write.  Literally.  Love and love and love, evelyn

Note that Cyril had already “divorced” Evelyn. It is hard to know whether she was not aware of this at the time of writing, or if she was in denial over the “divorce”

Despite the Santa Fe return address, this letter was written from Yaddo.

* * * * *

To David Lawson

Santa Fe, New Mexico
July 28 [1929]

Davy, dear:

I called you up Thursday morning several times, but nothing doing.  Did you leave early after all I wonder.  From what Jack said from Yaddo you didn’t seem to be there yet.

Davy, also it would very much help if you wrote the thing about Cyril’s work.  It still helps with the prospectus of the school, anything like that, and will be much appreciated.

I feel the altitude here.  It makes my head ache a lot, but they say you get used to it.  If I can get in shape physically, I shall enjoy every minute—first in work, and second in looking at an old land of the gods which somehow got into this western world.  Burnt and bitter and lovely and colossal—the half desert with its little green flows to plateaus dead of everything but more vivid than life.  The Indians are suspiciously affable—rather broken winged birds, but they still belong in their clothes that mingle their civilization with Mexico.  Mary G is here on visit and asked us to her hotel to see Indian dance.  Sun dance—great fat man leading had sun made of eagle feather around a white plaque, wonderful bonnet—not much else.  Stamping and hopping very agile, while chorus chanted monotonously and drum thumped.  Then Eagle Dance by two men who wore huge wings, and headdresses and tail feathers.  It was very fine in a plastic way.

Haven’t written a line yet and so MUCH mail.  I won’t write often and I suppose you never.  Yet I do so long to hear how Lola and that magnificent poem go and how you are and the gamble of the examination.  won’t you sometime tell me?

Very deepest love to you and her, Davy dear,
evelyn

If you ever can vacation here—gee.  I think you’d love it, Davy.  And Lola would make the world ring with what she saw.  Gee, gee.

Santa fe
Modern view of 411 San Francisco Street [Google Earth street view]
To Lola Ridge

Santa Fe, New Mexico
late July 1929]

Lola, lovely and dear:

I was sorry to hear through Jack1 that you had been having more hard times, my precious. 

Sweet, I don’t see how you could bear the trip unless it were done gradually like a pilgrim’s journey, but Lord you would love this country.  Half of it hangs in the sky.  The rest is hot colossal nudity—burned in all the warm tones of flesh, but aloof, aloof—old and still in the west with which it seems to unrelated.  Of course there are more intimate aspects, when the pines dress whole hillsides in crisp dark petticoats—but the old and angry and the burning yellow is the best.

Until we got to the Kansas prairies all was America as I have known it too well.  You have seen them doubtless, so know how that more rugged sea of the earth seemed to hurl itself on the train, more capaciously than any waters.  I went to bed in the lake of grass and grain on Thursday and at three am Friday morning looked thru my window and felt that the tide has suddenly been arrested.  That great rocks had been startled out of the night to meet us.  That was Colorado which I didn’t half see.  It wasn’t till reaching Lamy at ten and being met by Cyril and Phyllis (Phyllis is far finer than any of us conceived, Lola.  She is a beautiful, staunch person, humanly clear and sound straight thru) and Jig, that I began to realize yet another world—mountains blazing with white cloud wreaths, and a solemnity of no pioneer remembrance merely, but of the only eternal our senses can approach.

The Indians I don’t hope to “understand”.  But I felt their sulky pride of children under the affability of broken spirit.  It is as if inside they had retreated from man like the land—gone inward to die, not quite beautifully, but with unimpaired dignity, but with something alive and hatefully protected against the rest of us.

Jig is a delight.  Sends his love to you.  Cyril wants to have a permanent school here.  El Paso was hell.2  To that end if I can I shall help buy a plot of ground and a three room adobe house for a beginning (don’t tell).  It is what I can do if at all for Jig who feels free and happy here and released from the east, no place for youth.  Nobody has any luxuries and Cyril can’t paint, but it is being alive and somehow sanely and more comfortingly.

Cyril is recognised as distinguished as a teacher and there is hope, but it takes capital and a long time.

Bless my dear and her work.  Give my love to Davy.  Cyril sends his to you two.
evelyn

Jack was at Yaddo, with Lola, while Evelyn was in Santa Fe with Cyril and Jig.
Cyril had opened his first school of art in El Paso the previous year.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Santa Fe, New Mexico]
August 11 [1929]

Darling one: I am in a panic.  My mother has written that relatives are turning her out and that my cousin Elizabeth, past insulter of all I love, who lives in Tarrytown, has my address and is coming out here to get the low down on me and find means of sending mother to me.  It makes me feel suicidal, but in a nightmare way, as the literal result of mother’s descent on me is too awful to be believed in, so that truly I don’t believe in it.  I have written post haste to Sophie about an old ladies home—the kind to which you pay an entrance fee and are recommended socially.  Of course I believe that mother would have to be taken to it in a straight jacket.  Mother says the Graceys simply do not believe that I can’t afford to keep her—my trips to Europe and all that.  Mother is in agonies herself.  She affects me as a rabbit!

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

Santa Fe, New Mexico
September 5 [1929]

Dearest Otto:

Well, Cyril has given up El Paso as too much of a hell hole of mediocrity for a life residence, and the school is being reorganized up here.  I think it is going to make a smashing hit.  All the big bugs on the new board, and town giving studio.  But it is, very privately, the usual strain to get through the preparations financially.  There will be nothing coming in until the new school is actually under way, and they are buying a house and a bit of property and there is the removal of all the property portable from El Paso.  It’s the first home Jig has ever had except the Bermuda fake.  And thank god for once in my life I’m being able to do at least a ninetieth as much for them as they have for me (q.t.).

Cyril has worked on it a long time but now has the town by the ears and the artists here quite frankly are unanimously for him and his teaching and work.  All the good ones are on his board, including John Sloan and so on.  So I think it ought to go.  Of course he won’t be able to paint for another couple of years, but I still pray he’ll get the chance for that in the end.

Jig is the joy of me life.  I enclose a notice of the hanging of his picture in the school exhibition at the museum.  He has the goods as an artist, but has a poverty complex from watching his parents sweat.

Darling old Jack has spent a productive, but I hope to some degree lonely summer at Yaddo, and has finished his book.  He is now dickering with publishers in NY, and expects to come down here the middle of the month where, as living is cheaper than in NY, we hope to stay until January.

Love from everybody here to you all, and from me from the ‘eart, always, old dears, evelyn

PS Otto don’t tell but I have put my eyes out on a nursery story.1 Hate it.  Never do another.  Began it before knew The Wave would go.  Isn’t quite done yet.  Hell hell hell to write, don’t dare let anybody know I did it, nom de plume.

Evelyn is referring to Blue Rum, which was published in 1930 under the pseudonym Ernest Souza.

* * * * *

To Maude Dunn

[Santa Fe, New Mexico]
[November 7, 1929]

Dear Vava,1

I do hope you do not feel sore but I have been living cowboy fashion for the last week and one cannot write letters twenty miles from nowhere.

The cowboys sure are a tough lot.  They ride all day (I rode 50 miles bareback), sleep in snow, get up with the sun, and shoot and cook their breakfast in the freezing cold.

After having roped (lassoed) the horses, an hour is spent in resting and packing, and then off again.

I froze my feet and both ears the day before yesterday.  I have acquired a good bird dog by the name of Sadie, whose only lucid thought is food.

I sure appreciate the cufflinks, and will wear them with my cowboy shirts.

Much love from;
Jig

Jigg’s childhood name for his grandmother

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

586½ Camino del Monte Sol, [Santa Fe, New Mexico]
December 27 [1929]

Sweet, sweet, sweet:

To think I have left your letters unanswered over two weeks.  To think I sent you no message for Xmas—or Davy—and not even one to Cyril, Jig or Jack.   I was ill for all of three weeks after I got here, and am still unwell, but this is not important, being no more than altitude and a state of mind. I am so full of disgust for Santa Fe I cannot express myself even in profanity.  No use going into it, but the divorce between Phyllis and Cyril, my return here without Jack, Jig’s love affair with a girl older than himself1, and the fate of the Art School have unleashed that almost impersonal malice of a small town, and I have been through many of the same things I did when Cyril and I first separated.  Current assertions:  I came here last time to break up Cyril’s home.  I succeeded.  I am back because I am in love with him.  (If I try to defend Cyril against the most scurrilous falsehoods that is the answer.  You see his leaving here for Denver infuriated those who had profited by the Art School boom here.)  I have left Jack to become the mistress of Don Clark2.  Cyril only went to Denver because he had played fast and loose with art school funds.  (There weren’t any.)  And the whole rigmaroles about Jig and Selma.  Oh, to have some real escape into this country whose vastness at present seems to exist only to emphasize the picayune nature of humans.  I look at the very mountains as if they had betrayed me by being gorgeous and aloof.  My weakness is such a profound aloneness among my kind that when I am literally living alone I lack the fibre to bear it.  If I have one human who is mine, to whom I can turn for re-affirmation of everything of which the crowd is unmindful I can be as contemptuous of crowds as the pride of my mind would have.  But this has happened to me before, and when there is not a human being to turn to for complete trust it seems beyond me to keep going at all.

From your nostalgic and loving,
evelyn

Camino del sol
Modern view of Camino del Monte Sol [Google Earth street view]

Selma Hite, then Cyril’s secretary, was 7 years older than Jig. They eloped the following June and moved to Greenwich Village, where Selma later ran off with a man her own age. Evelyn and Cyril managed to get the marriage annulled.
American reviewer for New York Times and previously a lecturer at University of California

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Santa Fe, New Mexico]
[early 1930]

I feel sort of emotional today over decision I am making, if lawyer can get me out, to lose what I paid on the mud Mexican cottage and give up the idea of living in Santa Fe.  It isn’t the Phyllis Cyril problem, as so many people thought it would be, but another nest of complexes uncovered all relating to small towns and N Orleans.  I have an obsession to the effect that I am being looked askance at morally and that people are trying to cut me.  It’s quite horrible to have this infantile throw back come on like an attack of measles.  I couldn’t understand myself until, after much analysis, I harkened back to New Orleans, my mother’s idea of being cut after my father got broke and my grandmother got crazier.  Only cure for morbid reflex is, apparently, to accept the invitations and go in for social life—and that spoils writing.  Didn’t you ever hear of anything so nearly batty!  Living remotely superior, and suddenly here I feel as if people were being deliberately nasty to me, when my intellect tells me that is impossible.  However, I have just about decided that I can not settle down in a small southern town.  It only hurts because of spoiling nice plans for Jig.

And it does look so pretty here!  love and love, evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Santa Fe, New Mexico]
[February 1930]

Beautiful love;

What I feel pretty awful is that I have run through my own prosperous year and have nothing to show for it.  Misfortunes seem to be with Cyril forever as far as money goes and as it is I let the piece of property go and—was a fool, I don’t know—lost outright what I had put into it.  Because to have gone on would have meant borrowing at eight to ten per cent from money lenders who had to be pain in the year.  So that idea of making Jiggy’s future safe is certainly a fluke.  Cyril still has three thousand dollars to get paid up on his part, and seems pretty sure to have no income at all here during the winter months, as the attendance at art school is for summer only.  I don’t want this to go beyond you and Davy and Glad, however, as bluff as usual is still the thing.  But what actually scares me is the idea of leaving here and leaving Jig with them when they may be reduced to ten dollars in the world as they were last week.  And then if they don’t pay up on the house they lose the whole thing, which is several thousand of investment already.  Cyril’s too old1 to ever get back into any business, and if this don’t work I don’t know what will.  Makes me sort of sore that the people who profess to like him and admire him (a la Stieglitz,2 for gods sake never mention that!) never have made any effort to sell his work.

The mother thing is another crisis.  No Home will admit her in any state but Tennessee and that is the one place she hates to go, and as I slumped from sending her a hundred a month for a little while down to twenty-five and the relatives had to take on things again, they are again after me.  They write that I have sold a hundred thousand copies of my book and must be rich.  That makes me angry, but at the same time it is sentimental vanity still and I ought to be more honest about the home arrangement and brutal.  I suppose it’s loving Jig so makes this mother stuff get me so much.

Santa fe courthouse.PNG

But in between such tiresome consequences occasional time to remember what really important, eh!  Such as the white fog of perpetual snow in the pines on the mountains—the spirit look of fresh snow-falls when I look out the kitchen door at night and see a silken back yard and silver and silver drifting faintly down.  I really love snow now.  Then I can think of “wash his pale hands in the milk of the light” and things like that.  Also that acceptance to the scheme of life which is mostly hell brings some sort of immediate unwordable compensation which adds a dimension to living—only I only achieve it sporadically—it seems nearer a perfect surmounting of all the limitations of literal action when you realize it.

Blessings and love forever.  evelyn

Cyril was 59 at the time.
The influential American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was said to have praised Cyril’s paintings

* * * * *

Marraige cert.PNG

On March 17, 1930, Evelyn and Jack got married in Tierra Amarillo, New Mexico, about 90 miles north of Santa Fe. There are no letters extant referring to the decision to do so, nor to their choice of that town (although Evelyn says later in  a letter dated November 23, 1953 that they chose such a remote place to avoid any chance of being pursued by the sensationalist press). Nor do any of the letters refer to the fact of their being formally married:  however, as they had been posing as married for some time, they may not have felt the need to emphasize their new status.

* * * * *

To David Lawson

Santa Fe, New Mexico
July 23, 1930

Darling Davy:

Have tonsillitis today and pretty sick.  Wanted to answer you properly but things just keep on coming up.  So glad Lola lovely dear is off to Yaddo.  I await the next miracle from her typewriter.  I hope she’s better and that you are easing up a little, Davy.

Thank you about Cyril and art school.  It has done very well this summer.

Davy darling, I am just too sick to write—tho not serious—just same old thing.  Book troubles me because I must leave here and can’t seem to finish.  However have come thru before so maybe will now.  I’ll be in NY around sept 1st.  Jack and I aim to go to England few weeks thereafter as not enough money to finish book here but might string it out with cheap English living.

Cyril’s love and mine and Phyllis’s regards, and Jig has always thought a heap of you.

my love dear Davy as always,
evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

449½ Hudson Street, NYC
August 5, 1930

Dearest Lola,

What do you mean, I should like to know, by signing yourself my “friend if I want you”?!  Don’t talk so!  You should know I want you as a friend!

Poor Evelyn was thinking of packing up to leave Santa Fe when she fell ill,- bad tonsillitis and also a broken tooth-bridge. So that means delay.  She hopes to have the bridge fixed and be well enough to travel by about the 14th or 15th of this month,- and will first go to Clarksville for this awful family pow-wow about her mother.  I am hoping to be able to meet her when she arrives at Clarksville and see her through the unpleasant business.  Golly, how glad I’ll be when we’re together again.  I have been missing her terribly, Lola, so badly, finally, that I get too restless to settle down to good work.  But it won’t be long now I hope.

Drop me a line whenever you can, and good luck, dear Lola, with health and work.

Very much love, and kisses from
Jack.

PS Please remember me affectionately to Mrs Ames.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis and Louise Morgan

Care Mrs M T Dunn
739 Madison Street, Clarksville, Tennessee
But reply to:  care F Sommers, The Attic Shop, 449½ Hudson Street, New York City

August 24, 1930

Dear Peoples,

Here we both are in Clarksville savouring the dilapidated South in company of our mother and mother-in-law respectively.  A hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and much much coffee is found useful, and sustains us through the day.  However, all good things must come to an end eventually and we are probably leaving here this week.  Then about 3 weeks in N York and then England.  We shall probably be in London for a few days round about end of September or early October.  Oh what fun to see you people again!  Blessings to you, and hugs and kisses from us both.

Jack (“John”)
and Evelyn

* * * * *

This letter marks the end of Evelyn’s time in New Mexico, although she did continue in contact with Cyril. Some time in the early autumn (and again, letters relating to their decision to travel are missing) Evelyn and Jack sailed to England and to the start of a new chapter in  their lives.

* * * * *

 

Continue reading “21. A writers’ retreat and the Wild West”