Siegfried Sassoon

Letters

This page contains letters that are associated with Siegfried Sassoon, either written by him or by his friends.

A letter written by Siegfried Sassoon in 1946

I have been very fortunate to acquire a letter (right) that Siegfried Sassoon wrote to Nancy Bridgeman, niece of the celebrated artist William Nicholson. The letter, which is dated 27.12.46, is on Heytesbury House headed notepaper and refers to the sale of a house in the village of Heytesbury where he lived. The letter is tipped into a First Edition copy of Memoirs of an Infantry Officer which I believe also belonged to Nancy. Sassoon has signed the letter with his trademark double ‘S’ monogram. The letter reads:

“Dear Mrs Bridgeman,

    I have just remembered (& ought to have done so yesterday) that a house in Heytesbury is likely to be for sale almost at once. It is moderate sized, quite nice, with a small but good garden. But it is in the village street, - a few yards back from it - & therefore made noisy by the traffic. Otherwise it is rather charming & old-fashioned.

    If you are desperate, I should say you would do well to try for it. I will find out from the owner how much they are likely to ask for it - (I imagine not less than 3 or 4 thousand). The lady who owns it is a friend of mine - a delightful old lady & the house & garden have been well looked after, though the interior would probably need some money spending on it, as they weren’t well off & there have been a lot of children there. But it may be too big for you, if you are alone - It has 4 or 5 bedrooms, I think - Anyhow let me know what you think of the idea.

                                                     Yours sincerely [monogram]

Your visit was a real refreshment - though I was rather tired in the head through the desperately hard work I’m doing at my Life of Meredith.”

Letter from Siegfried Sassoon

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer

A letter written in 1917 by Siegfried Sassoon’s friend, Robert Ross

Siegfried Sassoon first met the art expert and literary critic Robert Ross in June 1913, at a party given by Sir Edmund Gosse. Ross, eighteen years older than Sassoon, was a patron of emerging actors, poets and writers, but was better known as the lover of Oscar Wilde. After Wilde’s death, Ross was persecuted by Wilde’s long term lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, aided by T.W.H. Crosland (Crosland was instrumental in helping Sassoon’s career).

Ross liked to entertain his friends in the evening at his suite of rooms at Half Moon Street, near the Ritz. Ross’s rooms were single gentlemen’s apartments supervised by Miss Nellie Burton who had been maid to Ross’s mother. Nellie knew that her gentlemen were part of London’s homosexual network and jealously safeguarded their privacy. In 1916 Ross took Sassoon to meet Lady Ottoline Morrell at her mansion, Garsington, near Oxford. There he met many pacifists including Bertrand Russell who were to have a great effect on his thinking.

Letter Written by Robert Ross

H. W. Massingham’s book from the library of Siegfried Sassoon plus letter to Sassoon

H W Massingham Book and Letter

H.W. Massingham was the editor of the Nation, a leading British radical weekly newspaper, between 1907 and 1923. Massingham published a number of Sassoon’s poems in the paper during these years. Equally as  important, he was highly enough thought of by Sassoon to be asked his advice before Sassoon went ahead with his protest and was one of the people to whom Sassoon sent a copy of his original statement at the time.

This Book, ‘H.W.M. A Selection From the Writings of H. W. Massingham,’ which belonged to Sassoon, was published in 1925 by Jonathan Cape and edited by Massingham’s son, H. J. Massingham, (H.W.M. died in 1924). The letter, dated 16th February 1922, was sent to Sassoon by H.W. Massingham commenting on a poem Sassoon had submitted for publication, ‘Reynardism Revisited,’ and also stating, “I’ll take all you care to write.” (The book carries the Sassoon ownership monogram.)

A Letter from Siegfried Sassoon’s Biographer Sir Geoffrey Keynes to Doctor John Hewetson

Sir Geoffrey Keynes was Siegfried Sassoon’s bibliographer and he  maintained a passionate interest in English literature all his life, devoting a large amount of his time to literary scholarship and the science of bibliography. He was a leading authority on the literary and artistic work of William Blake and was instrumental in establishing Blake as a central figure in the history of English art and literature. He also produced biographies and bibliographies of English writers such as Sir Thomas Browne, John Evelyn, Siegfried Sassoon, John Donne and Jane Austen.

Letter from Geoffrey Keynes (front)

Sir Geoffrey Keynes published his autobiography, ‘The Gates of Memory’ in October 1981 when he was aged 94. He died the following year on 5th July 1982, aged 95.

The letter shown here was written by Keynes to Doctor John Hewetson, who seems to have been a student of Keynes during his medical training.

Letter from Geoffrey Keynes (back)

Five Letters Relating to Siegfried Sassoon’s Lover Stephen Tennant

In the mid 1920’s Siegfried Sassoon began a six year love affair with the British aristocrat and “Bright Young Thing,” Stephen Tennant, who lived at Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire. Tennant became extremely ill in 1930 suffering from tuberculosis, and Sassoon took it upon himself to look after him. The following five letters relate to this period when Sassoon was becoming exhausted trying to protect Tennant from unwanted visitors and at the same time having doubts about the treatment Tennant was receiving from his doctors.

Carbon copy of a letter to Doctor A.W. Snowden written by Stephen Tennant’s brother Lord Glenconner

Letter from Lord Glenconner Letter from Lord Glenconner
Letter from Lord Glenconner to Dr. A.W. Snowden, Broomyhurst, Linford, Ringwood, Hants, dated 24th July 1930:
 
Dear Dr. Snowden,
      My brother, the Hon. Stephen Tennant, is now at Wilsford Manor, Salisbury, Wiltshire, suffering from tuberculosis. Dr. Chandler, of 1, Park Square West, is in charge of the case, and he will be writing to you enclosing particulars of the past history.
 
      Dr. Chandler and I decided today that we would ask you to go over to Wilsford to institute a regime as nearly approaching to sanatorium conditions as is possible. My brother has a strong aversion to entering a sanatorium, and Dr. Chandler and I agreed that the best course is to reproduce the conditions of a sanatorium as nearly as possible in his own home.
 
      Dr. Chandler will tell you that my brother has suffered from tuberculosis in a lesser and greater degree for the past 6 years and, at the moment, that trouble has appeared for the first time in the right lung, probably due to an attack of influenza which he had at the end of May. Ever since the end of May he has been in bed looked after by a nurse, but I do not think he followed that strict regime and diet which is now obviously required.
 
      We shall also be glad to have your expert views on his condition.
 
      Dr. Kempke, of Salisbury, has been visiting my brother regularly as Dr. Chandler’s proxy, and we shall wish him to continue to do this. We felt, however, that, owing to your comparative proximity to Wilsford, it would be very desirable if you would pay this visit primarily with a view to giving those instructions and making arrangements with the nurse for the reproduction of sanatorium life.
 
      I should very much like to be at Wilsford when you pay your visit, but this may not be possible. Capt. Siegfried Sassoon, a close personal friend of my brothers, is, however, staying at Wilsford with him, and if I am not able to be present, I shall be glad if you will make all necessary arrangements through him. for the same reason I would be obliged if you would communicate with Capt. Sassoon, telling him of the day on which you intend to pay your visit.
 
      Yours sincerely.
 
Next to the line “We shall also be glad to have your expert views on his condition.” Sassoon has written in pencil “how kind!”

Letter from Doctor Chandler to Siegfried Sassoon

Letter from Doctor Chandler
Letter from Doctor Chandler

Letter from Doctor Chandler to Siegfried Sassoon dated 14th August 1930:

Dear Mr Sassoon,
 
      The X-Ray picture showed no extension at all, I am glad to say. Another one should be taken two or three weeks after the last, perhaps three weeks would be better.
      It is very kind of you to write as you do. The great way in which you can help is to persuade him to stick to a strict regime. I know full well how irksome it is and what a terrible hardship it is for a young man or woman to have their activities restricted in this way, but of all things, rest is the most important. His state is serious, but the very fact that he has had trouble and got better, shows that he has some natural resistance and that it is worth putting out every effort now to help nature to arrest the disease once more, and then we hope to go on to complete cure.
      It is exceedingly difficult to make the layman understand the importance of rest and the necessity of prolonged adherence to a restricted life, free from physical effort, but all experts are agreed that this is the most important thing in the cure for tuberculosis of the lungs. Then, of course, comes fresh air and good food, and after this medicinal remedies.
      I shall be very interested to see the next X-Ray picture, but there is no urgent hurry about it, in view of the last one showing no increase.
      A thing occurred the other day about which you may be pleased to hear. I was discussing appointments with my wife and mentioned that there was a chance of your coming along with Lord Glenconner, and the name, Sassoon was mentioned. My little girl, aged 10, overheard this and at once said “Is that the poet”, I said “Yes, which of his poems do you know”, and she at once quoted one. I think it must be particularly gratifying when one’s work becomes quoted by little children.
      With every kind wish to Stephen Tennant.
      Yours sincerely,

Draft of a letter written by Siegfried Sassoon to Doctor Chandler asking his opinion of Stephen Tennant’s health

Draft Letter by Siegfried Sassoon Draft Letter by Siegfried Sassoon

Transcript of the above (undated):

Side one:
Dear Dr C,
Many thanks for your letter. An X Ray photo will be taken on Aug. 20 (exactly 3 weeks after the previous one.) I fully understand what you say about the importance of rest & adherence to a restricted life. Except for two periods of a month, I have been with S. almost continuously for the past 17 months, & my main effort during that time has been to prevent him from overtaxing his very limited strength. (no easy task with a person of his temperament). I mention this in order that you may realise that his adherence to his routine is largely dependent on my being with him. Under these circumstances I feel justified in drawing your attention to my lack of confidence in Dr. Kempke & Dr. Armitage. Dr. Kempe’s reports to you between June 14 & July 17 (where the 1st X ray was taken) was misleading & several valuable weeks were wasted. He insisted that S. was going on well & he did not even ensure that the temperatures were obtained. (3 minute temperatures were being taken until Augut 1st since when the temperatures have been considerably higher.) I must therefore absolutely decline to cooperte with Dr. K. in future, (& I hope you will agree that my cooperation with the doctor who attends S. is essential). Dr. Armitage is, no doubt, a competent surgeon, but he does not claim to be a chest doctor, and does not inspire S. with the sense of authority which is so important.
 
Side two:
Dr. S’s visit was extremely beneficial in its psychological effect on Stephen. I suggested to Dr. Snowden (& also to Glenconner) that an experienced T.B. doctor ought to come here & decide by personal observation when S. may begin the carefully regulated exertion which will, I suppose, be the next step in his treatment. Dr. S. said that he would mention it to you. As you know expense need not be considered. Would it not be possible for you to appoint a doctor who needs a rest from hospital work, who could come & live near here & visit S. as often as his condition demanded in Amesbury. As I pointed out to Glenconner if this arrangement was made I could go away for a few days occasionally with an easy mind - which is at present impossible. I must also point out that present conditions are imposing a great strain on me, (and likely to continue to do so for many months). as far as I am concerned, this is an S.O.S. that I am sending you.

Letter from Doctor Chandler to Siegfried Sassoon

Letter from Doctor Chandler
Letter from Doctor Chandler

Letter from Doctor Chandler to Siegfried Sassoon dated 20th August 1930:

Dear Mr Sassoon,
      I will certainly try and find some doctor such as you mention, but you will realise that it is very difficult to get someone combining all the qualities necessary for this special purpose. I do know a very clever young doctor, who has the trouble himself. He is away now but is to come back to do a little work until towards the end of September, and then he is going off for several months holiday. Whether he would be willing to come down, I do not know. He has a wife and child, He is Jewish, highly intelligent, most interesting and a fluent writer of excellent English, and he has a great knowledge of psychology. But the adornment of his body is not commensurate with the equipment of his mind. Anyhow, I will think hard about the matter and keep my eyes widely opened.
      As regards yourself: I think it is absolutely essential that you get away for a time. If you crock up, both of you will suffer. You will say that this is platitudinous, nevertheless, it is essential to act on my advice.
      As regards Dr. Kempke: I have only met him once, and of course I cannot judge of his character and ability by one brief hour’s contact, but I have practice in judging men, and I know that you could go further and fare worse, and I think you will be making a mistake in throwing him over. I feel sure that he will loyally carry out all reasonable suggestions made by myself and Dr. Snowden. I wish I could talk to you face to face about this matter.
      Write to me again if I have left anything out, or if I can do any more, or if you have any other suggestions to make, but please do not act precipitously as regards Dr. Kempke.
      Kindest regards to Tennant, and all good wishes.
      Yours sincerely,

Letter to Stephen Tennant’s Aunt Anne from an unnamed Harley Street Doctor

Letter to Stephen Tennant's Aunt Anne
Letter dated 22nd September 1930:
 
Dear Mrs Tennant,
      Many thanks for your letter. Would it not be best for me to see the patient with his doctor at his own home, and then decide, after consultation with you all, what is best to be done for him, taking everything into consideration. It is part of my business to instill hope into those who have none.
      I had a letter from Miss Tuckwell asking me to give evidence before the Puerperal Fever Commission. I am very glad indeed to do so, and I am trying to arrange for Dr. Rowlette, who was a Bacteriologist to the Rotunda Hospital for years, to give evidence too. He can speak for a much larger number of cases than I have had, both in private practice and at the Rotunda Hospital where he instituted the method with great success.
      Yours very sincerely,

A letter written by Siegfried Sassoon in 1946

I have been fortunate to add a special book to my collection, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Limited Edition, (bottom right). This book came with a photograph of the front drive up to Heytesbury House, Sassoon’s home in Wiltshire, and a letter (top right), from Sassoon to a Mr. D. G. A. Low Esq, 7, Grosvenor Road, Orpington, Kent. The letter, on ‘Heytesbury House Wiltshire’ headed note paper reads as follows:

Dear Mr Low,

The house which you and your sister looked at is the one that belonged to ‘Captain Huxtable.’ (vide, Part 9, [section] 2 of the Fox hunting Man). Captain H. Also appears in the Weald of Youth and The Old Century under his real name of Ruxton. (You may remember him playing golf at Lamberhurst with Squire Morland).

Weirleigh is at the top of the hill on the main road from Paddock Wood to Matfield Green. My mother still lives there, but is nearly 90 & not equal to seeing visitors, so I fear you could do no more than peep over the gate, or make a stealthy inspection of the garden by the lower gate. (The gardener would be quite amiable if you happened to meet him, & you could say I had given you permission to walk round). The place is much the same as it used to be, except that the road used to be more like a bye-road & there was less traffic.

I am glad my books have been a pleasure to you & quite understand about your pilgrimage.

                     Yours sincerely
                                   Siegfried Sassoon.

Photograph and Letter

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man

Above: Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man Limited Edition. (Keynes A33b). Limited to 750 copies, (this number 539), each signed by Siegfried Sassoon.
A Letter From Edward Marsh
 

Letter

Letter and Biography

Marsh at Raymond Buildings

I recently acquired this short letter (left), which on the face of it has little connection with Siegfried Sassoon. However, the writer, Sir Edward (Eddie) Marsh, Arts Patron, poetry publisher and private secretary to Winston Churchill among others (right, at Raymond Buildings), who Sassoon first met in 1913, was enormously influential in furthering Sassoon’s career as a poet. The letter is written on Marsh's headed notepaper with his printed address 5, Raymond Buildings, Grays Inn, (London). While visiting Marsh at his flat in 1913 Sassoon declared that he wanted to move away from his family home ‘Weirleigh’ in Kent, where he lived an aimless life with his mother, and Marsh immediately suggested he move to London. He told Sassoon that there was a vacant flat in Raymond Buildings he could rent, and with initial surprise turning to excitement at the thought, Sassoon decided to do just that. In early May 1914 Sassoon moved into 1, Raymond Buildings, but had either of them thought too much about it they would have soon concluded that Sassoon could not afford to rent a London flat on the 400 a year income he was receiving (he had not yet inherited his aunt’s large fortune). By the end of July, after reality had set in, he had moved back to Weirleigh.

The letter begins “Jean dear,” who I think was Jean Untermeyer, the wife of Louis Untermeyer who wrote a glowing review of Sassoon’s poems published in Marsh’s book, ‘Georgian Poetry 1916-1917.’ Untermeyer also wrote positive reviews of Sassoon’s books, The Old Huntsman and Counter-Attack, and also arranged for Sassoon’s work to be published in America.

The P.S. at the bottom of the letter is the most interesting part: “I had a lovely Sunday at Redroofs, to celebrate my first weekend of freedom.” Redroofs, at Littlewick Green near Maidenhead, was the home of the composer and actor Ivor Novello, he lived there with his lover, the actor Robert Andrews. In October 1924 Sassoon began a relationship with Novello, ending in the following February. This was a bruising and painful affair, so much so that Sassoon destroyed his diary entries for this period. Marsh would also become infatuated with Novello which probably explains his ‘enjoyable’ visit to Redroofs. The house was a regular meeting place for homosexual men at that time. Marsh was probably homosexual although it is still not certain if he ever engaged in its physical aspects.

Marsh retired from the civil service in February 1937 and his biography states that he spent his first free weekend at Redroofs. This letter dated February 16th was without doubt written on that occasion in 1937. The only biography ever written about Marsh (centre), by his long term partner, Christopher Hassall, is as we might expect, quite ‘selective.’ Let’s be kind and say it requires updating. Hassall published the biography in 1959 so presumably had to be very careful about mentioning the sexual side of Marsh's story as homosexuality was still illegal then.

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