Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, August 5, 1937

Pavillon Colombe

St. Brice-sous-Forêt (S&O)

August 5th 1937

Dearest Mildred

Your letter to Edith of July 21st has just arrived, and I am writing to answer it, as Edith is not well enough to attend to her correspondence—or even, I regret to say, to read her letters. Her eyes have been troubling her very much for the last three weeks, and the weakening of her sight was accompanied by a new factor, the increased loss of memory, and confusion in ideas, which comes and goes, but alas, is definitely a recurrent condition. She is unaware of it: and even with regard to her sight she is remarkably patient and hopeful. The doctors expressed the position thus: “C’est un état d’équilibre instable, qu’un rien peut déranger, et qu’un accident pourrait dans l’organisme déclencher soit une paralysie partielle, soit une sycope finale.”“It is a state of unequal equilibrium, that nothing can disturb, and an accident could trigger the body into either partial paralysis, or a final loss of consciousness.” But they added that the present state might continue for a long time, weeks, months; so plans are made normally for Edith to be carried to Hyères when autumn advances.

Here she is happy, interested in her flowers, in a few visitors who come for brief visits, one at a time to see here, on appointed days. She has not a care or a preoccupation, and all one can do for her is to keep the atmosphere round her even, restful and in a horizon limited to immediate interests and pleasures. Another reason for not encouraging visitors, except really intimate and devoted friends, is the fact that sometimes her speech is confused, and those who might come without being moved by real, all-understanding affection, must be kept at a distance.

I need hardly tell you how distressing it is to see this shadowy Edith moving about with the semblance of the other Edith, in this lovely little world of her creation. One must remember with deep gratitude that she does not suffer at all, physically or morally. She has often expressed to me her contentment and sense of ease, saying that she can’t believe it will last, as she has never been so free of burdens since she was a girl. When she used to say, What should I have done if you hadn’t been here? I used to reply, “There is no such thing, so don’t talk about it.” And now the doubt that I may go has been laid to rest. Fortunately for me, the Bourguignon and Betsy and little RoyallRoyall Tyler (b. 1936), the first child of Bettine Tyler and William Royall Tyler, was born in London. After earning a BA in Far Eastern Languages from Harvard University and a PhD in Japanese literature from Columbia University, he became a scholar and translator of Japanese literature. He presently lives in Australia in New South Wales. are happily and safely within reach, and Royall’s generosity and goodness give him the understanding of the position which makes us see eye to eye as to the necessity of helping Edith in the only way open to us both.

While Edith was so very weak, during June, her faculties were unimpaired. The sudden change came over her on July 12th, when her sight almost failed her at the same time. There are moments when she talks normally, though never on general principles, only on incidents, or about people. She has grown thinner, and her face looks very worn sometimes. But the wonderful vitality she possesses, sends up a flicker still, and saves her from physical shipwreck.

I know that this must be very painful reading, but I think you and dear Robert wish to know and to share, as far as it is possible, Edith’s time of trial. There is nothing we can do except to be at hand always, and to protect her in every way.

William and Betsy flew over to see her last weekend. Of course they spent very little time in her company.

Royall is at Antigny with St. André.Alfred de Saint-André. R. W. B. Lewis, in Edith Wharton: A Biography (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 196–97, mentions Alfred de Saint-André as a frequent guest of Wharton and describes him as “a man of no visible achievements” but “a great gourmet and a connoisseur of out-of-the-way restaurants.” See also Anne Foata, “Edith Wharton and the Faubourg Saint-Germain: The Diary of the Abbé Mugnier,” Twentieth Century Literature 43, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 399. Saint-André was also a correspondent of the Blisses. See Bliss Papers, HUGFP 76.8, box 36. I hope to be able to go down there for 4 days which are a real necessity, on the 22nd, when White,Alfred White, Edith Wharton’s butler since 1888. Edith’s faithful old butler, will come up after a cure he is doing at Aix. But of course all depends on circumstances.

Beatrix is here, and leaves after tomorrow for America. Yesterday afternoon I went to the BréauChâteau du Bréau, the château near the village of Dammarie-les-Lys that Matilda and Walter Gay purchased furnished in 1907. to see dear Mrs. Gay.Matilda E. Travers Gay (1855–1943), wife of Walter Gay. She looks frail and shaken, but she is still full of self-possession, and very courageous. Mrs. CostaMrs. Costa has not been identified. spends every week-end with her. Two of Walter Gay’s nieces are coming to be with her for a fortnight. Several friends, including Mr. GallatinAlbert Eugene Gallatin (1881–1952), an American artist and art collector. and Geoffrey Dodge, have been with her for visits. The Bréau looks very lovely, but every familiar thing seemed to be crying out for Walter Gay’s presence. One realizes clearly now what a precious and rare quality he possessed.

My very best love to you both—

Always devotedly yours

Elisina