[Axel Munthe] Eight Typed Letters Signed from Axel Munthe, author of 'The Story of San Michele', written in a charming and entertaining style to his young friend 'Miss Judith' - Judith Masefield, daughter of the English poet laureate John Masefield.

Author: 
Axel Munthe [Axel Martin Fredrik Munthe] (1857-1949), Swedish physician and author of 'The Story of San Michele'] [Judith Masefield (1904-1988), daughter of the Poet Laureate, John Masefield]
Publication details: 
Written from Italy and London in 1930 and (perhaps) 1931.
£600.00
SKU: 23567

'The Story of San Michele' is one of the most popular works of the twentieth century, and this delightful correspondence bears ample testimony to the extraordinary allure of its author. The eight letters are entirely legible, in fair condition on aged paper. They total 3pp. in folio, and 8pp in 4to. The sequence is tentative, none of the letters giving the year. The numerous errors, in large part due to Munthe's growing blindness, are largely unnoticed in the following transcripts. Letter One (2 pp, 4to). 'Rome Villa Svezia Via Aldrovandi 27 Feb 8 [1930]'. Writing under the mistaken impression that Judith Masefield is a child (this letter is signed 'Your new old friend | Axel Munthe', and four others are signed 'Your old friend'), he begins by thanking her for her letter of appreciation of 'The Story of San Michele', published the previous year. 'Dear Miss judith | I was so pleased to receive your nice letter and so glad to hear you say that you liked the book. Of course I well know that I owe it all to the birds and the dogs and perhaps also the monkeys, but it makes me conceited anyhow to receive such a letter as yours. I wonder how old you are, the younger the better. You cannot be very old or you could not write such a sweet letter, all full of spring, I can almost hear a bird sing under my window.' He accepts with pleasure her offer of a flute, asking her to bring it when she visits him that spring (the pair did not in fact meet until his visit to London later in the year). In return he offers her 'a pair of my tortoise babies, their [sic] is a large family of yjem [sic] in Materita[.] Alas my last monkey is no more there to receive you, he died last summer after having given me the hell of a time for many happy years'. He is 'getting more and more blind' and 'can no longer read or write', but hopes to 'still be able to see your young face when you come with the spring.' As for her 'kind father' (the poet John Masefield), Munthe has been 'flattered' by his letter: 'he is a great writer and I am only a worn out doctor with a public chiefly consisting in apothecaries'. He asks her to seek out her father's opinion of a passage denounced by an 'english parson' as 'blasphemous': 'if your father and you say that the parson is right I will omit it in the next edition'. He asks her to pat her 'arab foal' for him: 'I once had one myself, he had beautiful blue eyes'. He concludes by urging her to '[t]ry not to grow older than you are'. The letter can be dated from the following reference to Queen Victoria of Sweden (1862-1930), to whom Munthe had acted as personal physician since 1893, and whose lover he had been: 'If you read in the papers that the Queen of Sweden has died, it means that you will fond [sic] me in my old tower on God[']s own island. If not, you will find me here for I have to stand by the sinking ship. I have been her doctor for more tha[n] [t]hirty years. I tell you t[h]is to make you realize how terribly old I am but I mean to play on your flute anyhow. I love music more than anything.' Letter Two (2 pp, folio). 'Villa Svezia sunday [1930]'. Written shortly after the death of Queen Victoria, as he states 'My patient is dead and I am nearly so after weeks of vigil and anxities [sic].' '[Y]our announcement incidentally that you are not but a fullgrown lady, made me completely speechless. - I who had offered ypu [sic] some tortoise babies to play with and almost patted your cheek in my silly letter. Your parents may say what they like but I maintain anyhow that there was still much of the grace of childhood in your letter, and no doubt the flute did the rest to allure me into the belief that you were a child, you even had a narrow escape from my calling you Dear Judith.' That all my chances are gone I well realize, you are far too old for me. Still I much look forward to see you here'. He discusses her forthcoming Italian visit, and hopes that he will have a few lessons from her on the recorder she has 'sent to Capri'. 'If you pass Berensons villa in Settignano step in and greet him from me and say you are a friend of mine since your childhood. He knows more about primitive italian art than any living man and his house is full of beautiful things'. He also suggests Judith call on another friend, Lady Sybil Lubbock, the 'owner of the most beautiful villa in Fiesole, Villa medici'. He concludes: 'What a long letter I have written to you, I who hardly ever write but a few lines and always reluctantly'. Letter Three (1 p, folio). 'June 8'. With four pin-holes (not affecting the legibility of the text). Munthe begins: 'I have just been executing a humble but well meant serenada to you on your flute to the high delight of the dogs, my only audience in the old tower. Even the birds outside my window seem to take a certain interest in my efforts to sing your praise and try to forget that you are anyhow incidentally 25.' He is leaving for London the following week 'to try to get a little sleep - I sleep better there than anywhere else'. He will look for a secretary while there: 'Do you know of a kind and patient woman who can come and read to me at least while I am there? Not too intelligent and boisterous or she would soon be bored by keeping company with me.' Such is the success of the 'Story of San Michele', that he has brought from Rome 'a whole drawer of unread letters from unknown readers of my book. [...] I cannot make out what all this fuss is about, the lett[ers] are in hundreds, Why do all thezse [sic] kind people write to me?' He asks her to 'Congratulate your own country for its new Poet Laureat [Masefield was elected on the death of Robert Bridges in 1930] and listen to how I play to you the third act of Tristan or the sailors little song that begins the first act equally well suited. For your flute and much appreciated by the dogs around me, tomorrow I will play to you Schubert[']s Serenade one of the immortal songs that he alone could have written'. Letter Four (1 p, 4to). 'Anacapri Bay of Naples tuesday [1930]'. He cannot read the notebook she has sent him, as his 'remaining eye is so sensitive to light that I have hardly been out of the sombre old tower since my return'. He sent John Masefield 'a copy of [t]he war book Murray has insisted to reprint much against my wish ['Red Cross and Iron Cross' (1916), reprinted with a new preface in 1930]. 'San Michele' is 'going stronger than ever'. He has 'given up a[l]l hope of the right secretary' and intends to do nothing until he visits England in the spring. He hopes that she will come and have tea with him in his 'little flat [i]n London': 'there is also a garden for you to walk about in with your long swinging step'. He offers her a copy of his 'Memories and Vagaries', which Murray is reprinting (it appeared in 1930), having 'forced me to desist from my veto. [...] it is a bad translation from [t]he swedish original written before you were born. It was Cunningham Graham who made me comsent [sic] to the reprint he has got it on the brain somehow. Now goodbye and do not forget me yet'. The following five letters are sent from London. Letter Five (1 p, 4to). 'July 16 [1930]'. He is touched that she 'can still snatch time to remember an old fossil like me'. He would dearly like to see her father John Masefield, and to see Oxford 'once more before it gets dark', but at present he is 'too wretched to go anywhere'. He asks if she is going away: 'no english people remain long in one place it seems to me'. At John Murray's request he has written a preface to the twelfth edition of 'San Michele': 'had you been here I would have asked you to write it, I am sure you could have done it much better than I'. The sixteen year-old grandson of 'old pacciale who dragged my new sails down to the grotta' is with Munthe in London. 'I am still hunting for a secretary.' Letter Six (2 pp, 4to). '73 harrington [G]ardens S W 7 aug 10 [1930]'. He thanks her for coming up to see him and has found her 'an exceptionally sweet child and an exceptionally sweet youg girl of 25, a very rare combination'. He thanks her father 'for thinking of my financial position as an amateur author', but he has 'already signed the american contract without knowing a word of its content'. He is sure Murrays 'will act towards me as gentlemen', and John Murray's partner Lord Gorrell is 'a great lover of the book'. Coming from J's lips the new preface 'sounded better to my ears than I had expected and I abandoned the idea of reducing it to half size'. He is still anxious to know if John Masefield 'approves of my having given way to Murrays insistance to reprint the little War book after having opposed it for many years. It comes out beg of Sept [...] I mean to return to my old tower about the 20th and God knows if I shall ever return to England again'. Asks if Judith knows Andrea, daughter (in fact the step-daughter) of Lady Una Troubridge, whose husband 'the late admiral T' Munthe knew. Lady Troubridge has written to Munthe 'with some hesitation', suggesting that he engage Andrea as a secretary. He discusses the girl, whom he finds 'a rather lively looking girl of only 19 but an exceptionally good reader', and asks Judith to make investigations about her. 'Her mother friend with whom she is living since years, Miss Ratcliffe Hall is certainly known to yiyr father by name. [...] some of the Oxford girls seem to have ample time to enjoy themselves and some of them even to have done nothing else.' Letter Seven (1 p, 4to). '73 [h]arrington Gardens S W 7 Aug 26'. He is sorry to be leaving London 'with no chance of se[e]ing y[o]ur kind, young face'. He has failed in his quest for a secretary, 'and no wonder for i ask for much and have littel to offer in return Few people have any strength left to help anotyer man to carry his cross. They all wish to go to italy but that is not enough for me'. He will have to 'give up reading books and try to make the best of it. I have besides never been a great book reader'. He has, to his 'horror', seen 'a reproduction in print of my noble features in several book shops, God knows how they have got hold of it it is from a pastell made long ago by my friend Countess [F]eo Gleichen when i was still looking out upon the world with two eyes.' He asks her not to forget that she is 'coming to Capri in the spring, I am sure you will like my dogs and the old tower'. He is glad that Masefield 'approved of the preface, it is the last thing I shall ever write, at least ever print'. Letter Eight (1 p, 4to). '41 Courtfield Road, S. W. 7. tel Flaxman 7223' [written in 1931?]. He asks her to 'come and share my luncheon here one day' when she is in town. He is staying at 'the old flat' and will remain for one or two months. 'I have hardly seen anybody and I go nowhere since I landed here. I am having the hell of a time, all my remaining fourteen teeth pulled out two or three at the time and still unable to eat but slops with this horrible instrument of torture in my sore mouth, it had to be done on account of my wretched eye'. He asks her to give his love 'to your father from his admirer' and to 'come when you can'.