Skip to main content

Letters to an American


ISSUE:  Spring 1940

Editor’s note: The letters that follow were written by Havelock Ellis to Louise Stevens Bryant, with whose permission they are published here. Dr. Bryant, who is an editor and writer in the field of psychology and health, and who was until 1935 executive to the National Committee on Maternal Health, acted as attorney-in-fact for Havelock Ellis in the negotiations for the second publication of “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” in this country. The “Studies” were first published by the F. A. Davis Company of Philadelphia, but in 1933 Dr. Ellis felt that a change of publishers was desirable. For a number of technical reasons the transfer to another publisher proved to be a difficult matter, but finally the publication rights of the seven volume work were taken over by Random House in 1935, although the new edition was not published until the following year. The old plates were used in the new edition, but the work was issued in four volumes with new bindings, and the previous order of the volumes was altered in the new set. A cumulative index for the new edition was compiled by Dr. Bryant, and Dr. Ellis prepared a new foreword.

Madame Francoise Lafitte-Cyon, to whom there are numerous references in the letters, is the translator, under the pen-name of Francoise Delisle, of numerous books from the French. During Dr. Ellis’s last years she was his constant companion, and toward the end, as he says in several letters, his nurse as well.

These letters have been selected from the correspondence between Dr. Ellis and Dr. Bryant in the years from 1935 to 1939. Letters I-XVI were addressed from 24, Holmdene Avenue, Heme Hill, London, S. E. 24, Letter XVII from “Haslemere,” a cottage in Sussex, and the remaining letters from Cherry Ground, Hintlesham, Ipswich, Suffolk. The last letter was written on April 20, 1939. Havelock Ellis died on July 8, 1939.

I

18 Nov. / 35

Dear Dr. Louise Bryant,

I have yours of 5 Nov. & am pleased to hear that all goes well with your arrangements for the Studies. . . .

I hope you will not have too much trouble with the Index. I do not think there are many errors in page numbers. I made all the Indices myself (as I have for many of my books) and did not deliberately make them in an uneven way. But they were made at intervals of years, so may well be uneven. . . .

My method of making an Index is to take large sheets of paper, about one for each letter of the alphabet, & mark them A. B. C. etc. fastening them together in alphabetical order. Then I insert the entry on the proper sheet at about what approximately will be its right place. So that at the end I merely have to copy the whole, correcting any little errors of order. That is the method which for me is simplest as I detest having a number of little cards to sort out. . . .

As I mentioned to you, in a slightly modified shape (& with due reference to Random House) the Foreword will appear under the title of “Psychology of Sex 1936” in the “American Mercury.” That should be helpful in advertising the new edition. . . .

Francoise Cyon joins in best greetings & good wishes.

Cordially

havelock ellis

II

29 Nov. / 35

Dear Dr. Bryant,

. . . As I mentioned, I sent the Foreword to Mr. Palmer for the “American Mercury,” adding a preliminary paragraph about the transfer of the “Studies” to Random House in an improved edition. I have just heard from Mr. i Palmer that he is publishing the article in January, but has omitted my preliminary paragraph about Random House I This is annoying, & it is too late for me to interfere, even by cable, as the article has now gone to press. However the ‘American Mercury” publication of the Foreword should be helpful, & perhaps Mr. Cerf could arrange for some announcement of the new edition in the “American Mercury.”

I expect also to get the Foreword printed next year without any omission, in the excellent Bombay Quarterly “Marriage Hygiene.” This, too, will be most helpful as the “Studies” have a large sale in India.

“Marriage Hygiene” is an admirable journal with first class articles on birth control, etc. . . . but—most unfortunately—the B. C. element holds it up at entrance to the States, and I don’t yet know what we can do about this. . . .

Cordially yours

III

14 Jan. / 36

My dear Dr. Bryant,

. . . I trust there is no serious risk of a legal assault on the new edition. This is a matter on which I have not been asked, & am not in a position, to give an opinion.

I hope the summary of my various activities, & the opinions of famous people, has not given you too much trouble. I have sent . . . the little IT. E. booklet recently issued by the Houghton Mifflin Co. But the most elaborate collection of opinions of more or less famous people is the substantial: Havelock Ellis, In Appreciation, privately compiled & printed by my good friend Joseph Ishill at his Oriole Press, Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. I do not seem to recall whether you know this finely produced & well illustrated volume. If not, I should be very pleased if you would ask Ishill to send you a copy (I think he may have a few left) and to charge it to me. It is a remarkable achievement—being entirely due to Ishill himself on the occasion of my seventieth birthday. . . .

Yours ever

havelock ellis

I have little time for reading, but Carrel’s most suggestive Man the Unknown I am slowly making my way through.

IV

7 Feb. / 36

My dear Dr. Bryant,

A line to thank you for your letter, & to hope that all now goes well with your health. . . . I see in the papers what severe weather you have been having.

Random House has sent me copies of their advertisement material. . . . I am rather disturbed. The F. A. Davis Co., with all their faults, were always very circumspect over sales, & even in the days of Comstock no trouble ever threatened. But . . . in this matter judges on your side seem as stupid & ignorant as on our side. The Manual [“The Psychology of Sex: A Manual for Students”] was written for a wide public & there are no case histories which are what the legal mind fastens on as “obscene.” The “Studies” were written for the medical profession. But we must hope for the best.*

Francoise Cyon is still not in very good health, & will soon be going away for a rest. . . .

havelock ellis

*I am the more anxious for this since my weekly article for the Hearst papers, which has been a helpful stand-by for several years, has now been brought to a sudden end by Mr. Hearst’s orders.

V

24 Feb. / 36

Dear Dr. Bryant,

. . . I am pleased, though not surprised, that you like the Ishill H. E. book. It appeals to me more than the other H. E. books, & is entirely Ishill’s own conception & execution in his leisure time as a printer. He is a poor man & does this private printing entirely out of love. . . . I am pleased that you mention both my wife’s essay & Franchise’s poems, as they are the two people in the volume who have known me best, & so are best able to speak. I can’t imagine how Ishill found so many other people! The [Walter] Tittle portrait is not liked by every one, & it is quite true it is too heavily printed. It was certainly, in its original form, a fine drawing. He lias also painted me, & I believe has the picture at his studio, 123 E. 77 St. Personally I like him much.

I wish you were not so far away. I never know how to say how grateful I am for all you have done in the matter of the “Studies.” If this is your “Nunc dimittis” to sexology work, I hope soon to hear that you are using your fine powers in some other pioneering field.

Franchise joins in affectionate greetings,

I have just been reading Ellen Glasgow’s enthusiastic tribute to Santayana’s “Last Puritan” [in The New York Herald Tribune Books, February 2, 1936], I fear I am a little antipathetic toward Santayana, who is so very sober & moderate & conventional. And I have gathered that he also views me a little antipathetically. But I think him—in spite of my personal reaction—a fine influence.

VI

3 March / 36

Dear Dr. Bryant,

The new edition of the “Studies” has now reached me & I find it most handsome & well produced. Indeed my only criticism would be that it is perhaps rather too brilliant for a work of this kind. I admire the energy Random House is putting forth on behalf of the work. . . . The [Morris L.] Ernst Foreword, also, while good in itself . . . would have been better if held in reserve or printed separately. . . .

Your cumulative Index, on the other hand, is a valuable addition, & a fine piece of work.

I trust that all will go well.

Francoise Cyon has just gone away to Aix-les-Bains for rest & treatment. . . . Meanwhile my sister is staying with me to take her place.

Yours ever

VII

19 March / 36

My dear Dr. Bryant,

. . . I am so pleased you mention you wish to acquire my “British Genius” &the one-volume “Impressions & Comments” (a very nicely produced volume). I am delighted to be able to send you both of them at once, as a very small sign of the gratitude I owe for all you have done on my behalf.

It is satisfactory to hear that the production (certainly quite beautiful) of the “Studies,” & the tone of the advertisements is approved. Over here it might be thought a little loud for a sober scientific work. But I trust all will go well. I never much care to see ordinary reviews & never join the press-cutting agencies. But I always like to see an interesting review good or bad, so I should be pleased if you have anything of interest you care to send. . . .

That [“0 world, thou choosest not the better part!” In “Poems,” 1923, Scribner’s] is a beautiful sonnet of San-tayana’s. I do not know his work well, but, somehow, although (or because!) his standpoint is not far from mine I do not find him sympathetic. He takes a median path. So do I. But his median is secured by avoiding extremes. Mine by combining them. It is a serious difference! But I do not feel hostile to him & never say anything against him. I consider him a good & valuable influence. As you say, he is not American. But still less is he typical Spanish. . . .

I am grieved to hear your report of Margaret Sanger’s serious illness. It is not long since I had a cheerful letter from her on the way to China, telling me that in spite of all the traveling & constant meetings her health had remained good. She was to leave Shanghai for home on the 24th of this month, & I sent her an air mail letter. . . .

havelock ellis

VIII

12 Apr. / 36 I

Dear Dr. Bryant,

Thank you for yours of 24 March. I am very pleased in- , deed to hear of the fine sales of the new “Studies” & the general good reports. Friends write of the “dignified” nature of the advertising & several excellent reviews have reached me. . . .

I have been trying to find early reviews (or references to them) of the “Studies,” but cannot put my hands on them.

. . There was, however, a good review of Vol. VI in the Lancet, the chief English medical journal, on 30 April, 1910, in which it was said that I “had given the dignity of scholarship to a very delicate & difficult subject.” I think it was earlier than this (but am not sure) that Crowley, a leading authority on sex, said, I think in a review in the Eugenics Review, that my work was comparable with Darwin’s. . . .

Interesting about the work of your friend Mabel Todd [author of “The Thinking Body,” New York, Paul Hoeber, 1937]. She seems to carry further much of what my friend Marguerite Agniel does. M. A. has few pupils, but she also is strong on kinesthetic lines, & began by healing herself. But you may know her beautiful book, “The Art of the Body.”

Yours ever

havelock ellis

IX

17 May/36

Dear Dr. Bryant,

I am grieved to hear of the sad time you are passing through. The pain of loved ones is hard to bear. Death in old age does not seem to me terrible. I don’t at all mind it for myself, & should not like to outlive my activities, & to have it said of me at the end (as I have often heard both my wife & Francoise Cyon say of people), “Oh, I thought he was dead long ago!”

You may like to know, however, that, at 77,1 am just beginning to be recognized by the medical fraternity in England as a respectable member, & no longer an obscene rebel. On Thursday the special & quite unsought honour was conferred on me of honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, the most venerable (1518) and respected center of British medicine. I was treated with the greatest kindness & consideration & put first. . . . I was placed on the right of the President . . . at the big though informal dinner that followed. . . .

Here, too, I can say “the world is gloriously beautiful now.” I am lying in the garden of my country cottage, & it is the loveliest month of the year after a too prolonged winter, flowers bursting open on every side, & my tulips especially superb.

Francoise is not here or would join in affectionate greetings.

P. s.

I must not overlook your request about Marguerite Agniel (she prefers not to sound the g. in her name; her father was of French Jewish origin; her mother of good old English family, the Flowers). Her two best books are both admirable (“The Art of the Body,” first published by a good Eng. lish publisher, later by Harcourt Brace, & “Your Figure,” published only a few weeks ago by Doubleday Doran). They are both full of beautiful illustrations, nearly all of herself. She has a wonderful art of posing, & they are largely nudes, though she is no longer young. Her idea is to combine dancing as an art with dancing as a physical exercise, & at the outset she, after beginning as an ordinary dancer, had cured herself of serious troubles by exercises she herself devised. She is an interesting personality. . . .

X

27 June / 36

Dear Dr. Bryant,

I had been meaning to write to you before (but pressing demands stood in the way) to express my sympathy, when you told me of your mother’s death. I appreciate all you say about the beautiful completion of a life cycle, & I am unable j myself to feel any horror of death, except when it occurs prematurely. What you say of heredity beyond one’s parents also appeals to me. My own parents were admirable I people & affectionate to their children, but I have long felt that in mind & temperament I am in many ways nearer to my father’s father & my mother’s mother, though I never knew either of them.

The “quandary” about being a godmother I have also encountered. My dear friend Faith Powys (who has lately lost her husband, to whom she was devoted, A. R. Powys, one of the famous brothers, though less known than the other three) was most anxious for me to be godfather of her little girl, not that she believed in it, but thought that in later life the baby might possibly regret the neglect. I eventually agreed, though with some discomfort. But we all of us,— parents & Sir J. Squire & Alys Gregory— regarded it as a mere ceremony.

. . . It is most satisfactory always to have such good reports of the “Studies” & such fine reviews. I expect soon I should be hearing something definite about the sales. . . .

With affectionate greetings in which Francoise Cyon joins.

Yours ever

HAVELOCK ELLIS

XI

12 July / 36

Dear Dr. Bryant,

I have been trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance (from the revised Vol. Ill of “Studies”) of the first part of Chidley’s “History.” I only vaguely recall the circumstances, as it is now many years since the revised edition was issued, & I cannot now find a copy of the first edition. But the first part of the “History” would certainly have appeared in the original Vol. III. I can recall, however, that, on some ground or another, Chidley objected to my selection of passages from his “Confessions,” so, to appease him, I omitted the “History” when revising. I should have been able to speak more definitely, but some months ago I presented to the Mitchell (Government) Library of New South Wales, the whole of my Chidley material, the complete MS. of the “Confessions” with all correspondence. . . .

Francoise Cyon joins in affectionate greetings.

XII

8 Sept. / 3G

My dear Dr. Bryant,

Your very welcome letter with the royalty check arrived this morning, though I am sorry you should have been troubled to forward. But it was most kind to send me the reassuring cable. Mr. Klopfer [of Random House] had written me in July that check would be sent 1st Aug. and that he would send an instalment earlier if I needed it. I replied that 1st Aug. would suit me perfectly and I would rely on that. So it was disturbing when nothing came.

However the final result is satisfactory, and I am, as ever, grateful for all that you have done in the matter. The reception of the new edition seems to have been everywhere splendid, though the medical journals rather cool. Several good reviews on this side & the “British Medical Journal” has just referred to this “epoch-making & pioneer” work.

Like you, I am rather puzzled over the . . . royalty on the first . . . sets, & am also away from my papers just now. I shall look it up. I haven’t too much faith even in the best publishers! . . .

Hoping that you are having a pleasant holiday & with affectionate greetings in which Francoise joins. Yours always

havelock ellis

I am having several articles in American journals just now—on Parents as Advisers in Sex in “Am. Mercury,” “What is Obscenity?” in Sept. “Esquire,” & “William Morris” in “New Republic” 2 Sept.

XIII

1 Feb. / 37

My dear Dr. Bryant,

I have for a long time past had it in mind to respond to your last interesting letter. But demands are always pouring in on me, & with limited hours of work, owing to a natural tendency to diminished energy with increasing years, I have never had such piles of unanswered letters. It took quite a long time just now to recover yours I . . .

There is no special news with me. I remain in fair health & always busy. Francoise is, I think, in better health on the whole, with care, though strains & anxieties, which can never be quite avoided, upset her. My only item of news is the worry of another bankrupt publisher! This time in London: John Lane the Bodley Head. And just at the moment when he was due to pay me a biggish check for my last book, “Question of our Day,” both for the English & American editions, as, without consulting me (for I was proposing to do it myself), they had arranged an American edition, cash down, with the Vanguard Press. But I cheerfully rely on Random House sales of the “Studies” to make up for the loss.* . . .

Affectionately yours,

*John Lane was, unfortunately, Random House’s agent for London sales of the “Studies.”

XIV

5 March / 37

My dear Dr. Bryant,

I do not seem to have had any news of you of late but I trust all goes well, & that the book is making good progress.

I have been getting through the winter in fair health; though with the natural decline of strength in increasing age, winter is a trying time. But there have been worries of various sorts, not only with bankrupt publishers but in the domestic field, as Franchise’s devoted housekeeper for 22 years past is dying in hospital with inoperable cancer of breast (which she had too long kept to herself), so that Francoise is much concerned & busy soothing her last days & the domestic arrangements at present upset. . . .

I always follow American affairs in the papers, & in spite of recent catastrophes I trust that things are moving in the right direction.

Francoise joins in affectionate greetings.

XV

6 Ap. / 37

My dear Dr. Bryant,

. . . So many of my friends lately have been meeting with trouble, & both Francoise Cyon & I have had annoyances of one kind & another, & domestic difficulties to deal with. I won’t go into them as I hope they are now settling down. And I hope to hear better news of your difficulties in your next, & that the health disturbance is over, with rest & getting well—& not “or something”! . . .

I shall resign myself to the loss of the Ray Long & Smith royalties. The Manual is doing quite well with Mr, Elias [of Emerson Books, Inc., who took over the “Manual” from the bankrupt Ray Long and Smith Company] who seems friendly & capable.

I am quite tolerably well & always much occupied. Our weather is now pleasant & spring-like. But we have had the wettest three months on record (that is for some 160 years). It has, however, meant a mild winter & for that I am thankful, & in this little island our floods don’t reach your catastrophic dimensions. . . .

Francoise Cyon, who is keeping fairly well, would join in affectionate greetings, & we hope your big book will soon be safely launched.

HAVELOCK ELLIS

P. S. I have just looked up the Random House agreement for Studies as set forth in letter to you of 25 July / 35.

I find that they seem to be correct in regard to royalty basis. . . . if the sales keep up to the present level I will not feel called upon to complain.

XVI

18 Nov. / 37

Dear Dr. Bryant,

I am pleased to hear good news of you, that you can look back with satisfaction on your holiday, & that your book, which I hope some day to look up, is finally out.

We returned only yesterday from a most beneficial holiday of three weeks in a fascinating & almost semi-tropical corner of Cornwall (Falmouth).

I have pleasure in sending you herewith the abridged & revised “Sex in Relation to Society,” [London, William Heinemann (Medical Books) Ltd., 1937] into which I have put much work. The last chapter, especially, is considerably changed.

I am disappointed that Random House will not (at all events at present) publish it. . . . But perhaps a little later you would speak to Mr. Cerf. Meanwhile, if a review of the book could be got out, it might be helpful.

Francoise Cyon joins in affectionate greetings.

Yours ever

XVII

9 Jan. / 38

My dear Dr. Bryant,

I am not sure if I responded to your good wishes of the season to myself & Francoise, though I had it in mind to do so. But we have both been ill, &, though Francoise is now recovered, I have still not got over the “suppressed flu” which I am supposed to have had & which was troublesomely complicated by my chronic throat affection, & by the inevitable downgrade tendency which I must expect at my age. So I lose grip over my affairs, & have to neglect much of my correspondence, trying to concentrate on necessary work—not that I have done any of late, though I was pleased to get out at last the revised “Sex in Relation to Society.”

I hope you safely received the copy of this book I sent you, and should be glad to know. I also sent a copy to my friend . . . in New York, and he writes that it has been retained by the Customs & sent to Washington for judgment! ! . . .

Ishill quietly pegs away at his little printing press & is now doing a private re-print of my little “Australian Idyll” —”Kanga Creek” which has never been published in U. S. A. I am not sure if you know it.

Just now I am resting quietly at “Haslemere,” and am pleased to recall your visit here. Since then new household plans have had to take shape. I can no longer afford to keep up two little houses & I no longer need to live in London. So this year I propose to give up both, and find another, small but convenient (“Haslemere” is not convenient), some 40 miles from London.

I trust that all is going well with yon and your plans, & Francoise joins in affectionate greetings.

XVIII

20 Aug. / 38

My dear Dr. Bryant,

. . . My silence has been due to my long & serious illness, & since then to the establishment of a new home & to a struggle with the big arrears of work & correspondence left over from my illness. It will take a long time to deal with them all & I am still invalidish & have to be careful. The removal from London & Sussex had been arranged before my illness & could not longer be postponed. So Francoise, in addition to being my skillful nurse, took on all the work & responsibilities of the double removal & settlement here. It has all turned out well & we are very pleased with the new home—not unlike the “Haslemere” place you know but with more conveniences, & better suited for my declining days. The Suffolk air, too, has always suited me, & Francoise says she has never felt better, though she still has much to do in getting the domestic arrangements in order.

A substantial check—at last!—from the bankrupt Ray Long & Smith trustees, has proved very helpful.—The sales of the “Studies” are not now what they were in the first year with Random House. I have just again suggested to them to issue an American edition of the revised & abridged “Sex in Relation to Society.”

I was sorry to hear of [Isaac] Goldberg’s death. I had not heard from him lately & was just about to write when your letter reached me. They do not say what he died of.

Freud reached London just when I had left it. I have had a pleasant letter from him, inviting me to come & see him. But I do not know when I can get to London & he is not himself well enough to go about.

Francoise joins in affectionate greetings.

havelock ellis

XIX

3 Dec. / 38

My dear Dr. Louise Bryant,

Your letters are always welcome & I do not like adding them to the huge pile of unanswered letters. Now that I am more or less of an invalid with little energy for either work or correspondence I have to limit myself to the really urgent or business affairs. Just now I have to concentrate on the troublesome problem of an English edition of my “Studies,” having given permission to Constable & the new Bodley Head firm to arrange it jointly if they can. . . .

At present I am in bed with a feverish attack & my doctor orders complete rest & forbids me to go outside my bedroom door. But I hope to be up again soon. Francoise, who sends her love, is more than fully occupied in nursing me k&organizing the house. . . .

Affectionately ever

HAVELOCK ELLIS

XX

20 Ap. / 39

My dear Dr. Bryant,

I trust that all goes well with you though I have not heard lately & have not written as I remain an invalid & all activities, physical & mental, much diminished, though I am pleasantly situated in my little Suffolk house & enjoy my large garden, for we have been having wonderful weather. But various troubles. Francoise, who is always my so devoted nurse & capable household organizer, has been laid up for many weeks with a severe attack of acute neuritis, though now slowly recovering. A daughter-in-law of hers & a sister of mine have taken it in turns to come to help. . . .

I hope your big literary scheme develops. Francoise joins in affectionate regards.

Yours ever

havelock ellis

I had wonderful tributes & cable messages etc. on my 80th birthday last month (Feb. rather), including some most generous presents from a group of wealthy American friends which have helped in enabling me to carry out further comforts in my home.

0 Comments

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Recommended Reading