13. Heartache

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

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

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

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

Beziers, France
October 15, 1924

Darling Lola:

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

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

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

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

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To Otto Theis

[Beziers, France]
January 25 [1925]

Dear Otto:

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

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

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

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

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

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To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
January 28 or 29 [1925]

Dear Louise—

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

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

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

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

[Beziers, France]
March 12 [1925]

Dear Louise:

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

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

–The Jenkins[1] have his kids.

–He has no money to support his kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Evelyn

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

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 16, 1925

Dearest Louise:

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

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

[1]  This letter has not been preserved.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 17 [1925]

Dearest Louise:

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

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

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 18, 1925

Dearest dear Louise:

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 19, 1925

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

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

Dearest Louise:

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


* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott



* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Beziers, France
March 26, 1925

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

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

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

* * * * *

To Owen Merton

Beziers, France
[March 29, 1925]



* * * * *

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