[T. S. Eliot's widow Valerie Eliot, and British Library architect Sir Colin St John Wilson, to playwright Christopher Fry.] Six Typed Letters Signed (all 'Valerie') from Valerie Eliot, and Autograph Card Signed ('Sandy Wilson') from Wilson.

Author: 
Valerie Eliot (1926-2012), wife of T. S. Eliot [Thomas Stearns Eliot] (1888-1965) [Christopher Fry (1907-2005); Sir Colin St John Wilson (1922-2007, British Library architect; Jacob Epstein]
Publication details: 
Valerie Eliot's six letters all on letterheads of 3 Kensington Court Gardens, Kensington Court Place, London. Between 1 September 1994 and 30 July 1996. Wilson's card from the British Library, Euston, London. 11 May 1995.
£1,200.00
SKU: 21921

Valerie Eliot's six letters are intimate and energetic, two of them casting an entertaining sidelight on Sir Colin St John Wilson's efforts to acquire Jacob Epstein's bust of 'Tom' for the new British Library, with a case of 'sabotage' as Wilson takes her on a tour of its new premises at Euston. The collection is in good condition. All of Valerie Eliot's letters are addressed to 'Dearest Christopher', the last in autograph. ONE: 1 September 1994. 1p, 12mo. Regarding his recital of the first stanza of his poem 'Hathill Copse', which she has by heart, on 'a moving occasion', ending in the hope that she will be able to persuade him to 'record it on my tape when we next meet'. TWO: 4 May 1995. 2pp, 12mo. She has received his letter and it is 'always a pleasure to see your beautiful handwriting, even in a lost cause!' She continues: 'The wretched Colin St. John Wilson has pursued me for years over my Epstein bust, and he knows perfectly well that I have bequeathed it privately, but will not take no for an answer. Wilson is a Cambridge colleague of Wynne Godley, married to Epstein's daughter, who has been persuaded to make her statement. Neither Fabers nor I will lend our TSEs for copying because we have a real fear of damage. Mine was a wedding present from Tom, is very dear to me, and a great comfort. Jacob himself told us never to lend it after arriving in a rage one day because several of his sculptures, which had been returned from an exhibition, were harmed in some way. Tom and I were so impressed by his anger that we decided on the spot never to let anyone borrow either the Epstein (or Gerald Kelly's portrait).' She suggests that Wilson approach Merton College, or 'Lady (Marcelle) Quinton', who 'sculpts from photographs only, and her busts of Mrs. Thatcher and Harold Macmillan are in the Houses of Parliament.' She ends by urging him to 'please take care not to exhaust yourself by accepting too many invitations. From my experience with Tom, I know that people in their enthusiasm can drain as well as stimulate the speaker.' A long postscript concerns a meeting with 'the delightful Elizabeth Esteve-Coll' at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which she visited 'to see the designs for a special binding of Four Quartets, to be printed by Sebastian Carter of the Rampant Lions Press. She mentioned that you had shared a flask of whisky with her on some occasion when you were appearing together, and your gesture had touched her.' THREE: 1 August [1995]. 1p, 12mo. She thanks him for the 'delightful gift' of his poetry collection 'Occasionally', in which she 'recognised some old friends'. She suggests that the poem 'Gavrilo Prinzip' should be published in The Times, as it is 'so topical'. Accompanying the letter is what she calls 'a possible draft letter' to the editor of The Times, dated 1 August 1995, headed in manuscript 'COPY'. 1p, 8vo, quoting Fry's poem in full. FOUR: 25 October 1995. 1p, 12mo. He must have been 'extremely whacked' following the 'enjoyable evening', and she hopes he 'felt Phyl [his wife Phyllis] had been well served'. She has been 'taken aback to receive a glowing letter from Eileen MacKinlay' about Fry's kindness to her, and feels 'cross with her for imposing herself on you. I am afraid she has a great capacity for hero-worship, and was incidentally, at Oxford with Kathleen [i.e. the poet Kathleen Raine]'. She reports that the 'congregation of St. Stephen's [the church at which she and T. S. Eliot worshipped, and of which he was church warden] is ecstatic that you are willing to read some of Tom's poems to them on Wednesday November 29th'. She describes the programme, adding 'I shall of course be happy to meet the cost of your driver, petrol, whisky etc! Your presence will guarantee that it is a fitting tribute to Tom, and his Church will have a new roof.' FIVE: 21 November 1995. 1p, 12mo. At Fry's suggestion he actor Keith Michell has agreed to read at the event at St Stephen's, and 'Ted Hughes has also stepped in, so I am very proud of my trio'. She suggests that he might 'care to start the evening with a few words about your memories of Tom? The attached extract from an article by Clive Bell might amuse the audience.' She is 'arranging for an American called John Whiting, who has processed Tom's tapes etc. for me, to attend to the sound reproduction at the church – we are going to test it on Thursday – and he will record the tribute, and will play Tom reciting part V of Little Gidding, which I think will move people who have never heard him. It is haunting to me that his voice should be echoing again in the church where he served as a warden for twenty-five years.' SIX: 30 July 1996. 2pp, 12mo. She jokes that he is 'starting a new career as a photographer! Move over Snowdon! […] If we had had the wit we'd have taken the camera out of your hand and turned it on you.' She apologises for not 'having written before now to express our pleasure in the occasion'. She has 'felt like a performing seal', and is still exhausted, following a three-day 'colloquium' held by the Institute of United States Studies, details of which she gives. 'Tonight I am attending Murder in the Cathedral in Rumanian at the Almeida Theatre, and encolse a photograph of their production which may amuse you.' (A postcard carrying a theatrical photographic still from the production accompanies the letter.) She continues: 'I have made my peace with St. John Wilson who now accepts I cannot part with my Epstein. He has chosen a woman called Celia Scott to do a bust from photographs for the British Library. After lunch, he took me on a private view of the new library which was most impressive. At one stage when we were climbing up, I touched the handrail, and it came away. No harm was done, but I could see he was shocked, and he has since written to say that it was due to sabotage: someone had removed the grub-screws. The poor man has a lot to contend with.' She enjoyed the 'wild Irishness' of the actress Fiona Shaw, 'who has done a memorable recording of The Waste Land', when she sat opposite her during 'dinner in the rehearsal room' at the National Theatre, following 'a stunning performance of John Gabriel Borkman'. WILSON'S ACS: 11 May 1995. Signed 'Sandy Wilson'. On back of postcard of the 'Axonometric Plan of the New Building'. Reads: 'Dear Christopher: Thank you so much for your note about Valerie Eliot & the Epstein bust. It is just [last word underlined twice] what I wanted in order to get the Eliot project back on to the agenda. You have clearly done a good job on V. E. because at a funeral in Oxford on Saturday she met Sally Brown of the MSS. Dept at the British Library & said “Why don't you try to get a copy from the Merton bust?” !!! So fingers crossed . . . Many many thanks for for [sic] breaking the deadly spell at last.'