Ottoline MorrellLady Ottoline Violet Anne Morrell (nee Cavendish - Bentinck, half sister of the Duke of Portland) was an English aristocrat and  a society hostess, whose patronage was of great assistance to many artists and intellectuals including Siegfried Sassoon, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, T. S. Elliot, D. H. Lawrence, Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey to name just a few. Her county residence, Garsington, near Oxford was a retreat for a multitude of invited guests, many of whom would later become known as the ‘Bloomsbury Group.’

Siegfried Sassoon’s poem ‘To Victory’ was first published in ‘The Times’ on 15th January 1916, and Ottoline was so impressed that she traced Sassoon via the newspaper and through a mutual friend Sir Edmund Gosse, writing Sassoon a letter of admiration. In August another mutual friend, Robbie Ross, took Sassoon to Garsington to visit Ottoline. Ottoline saw this as a visit of “an angel,” longed for since their first exchange of letters about his poem, (Egremont, ‘Siegfried Sassoon,’ 2005, p.105).

Ottoline, born 1872, had married Philip Morrell who came from a family of solicitors. They had an ‘open’ marriage in which they both took a series of lovers but their marriage stayed firm to the end. Both of them had spoken out against the war in August 1914, Philip in the House of Commons where he sat as a Liberal MP. Shocked by the patriotic hysteria prevalent at the time, the Morrells made Garsington Manor a refuge for conscientious objectors. It was while staying at Garsington later in the war that Sassoon, who wanted to make a stand against the war, found himself amongst like-minded people such as Bertrand Russell who encouraged him to write his ‘Soldier’s Declaration.’ It was also at this time that Ottoline presented him with this book.

Siegfried and Ottoline would remain firm friends to the end, a frail Ottoline attending the Christening of Siegfried’s son George in November 1936, less than two years before her death. Ottoline had two children, twins, a boy named Hugh, and a girl named Julian. Hugh died of a brain haemorrhage two days after their birth. During their long friendship Siegfried and Ottoline had many mutual friends and the following collection of books that came from Ottoline’s library and which I have recently obtained, show a wonderful cross-section of associations through numerous personalities.

Little Eyolf

Little Eyolf - by Henrik Ibsen, published in 1897 by William Heinemann. Ottoline has written her name and date in ink on the top of the cover: “Ottoline C-Bentinck 1900.”

Little Eyolf Inscription

Youth of Parnassus

Youth of Parnassus pencil inscription

Youth of Parnassus Inscription

The Youth of Parnassus - by Logan Pearsall Smith, published in 1895 by Macmillan and Co. This book belonged to Philip Morrell and has his penciled inscription on the front endpaper (centre),  “Philip Morrell - 2nd November 1895 -” The book was also dedicated to Philip as can be seen in the other picture (right), and the author has added “In memory of the hours and quarrels we enjoyed in polishing these phrases. Logan Pearsall Smith, Nov 1st. 1895”

Pearsall Smith, an American from New Jersey and who became a British citizen in 1913, visited the Morrells on numerous occasions and his sister Alys, was Bertrand Russell’s first wife. He was a close friend of Desmond MacCarthy, British literary critic and journalist who was also a regular visitor to Garsington.

Garibaldi's Defence of the Roman Republic

Garibaldi’s Defence of the Roman Republic - by George Macaulay Trevelyan, published in 1907 by Longmans, Green & Co. Ottoline gave this book to Philip, adding the inscription in ink (right) “Philip Morrell from O 1907.”

It appears that there was a flood at Ottoline’s library at some time and one or two of these books has been affected by damp, as can be seen on the cover (left) and the spotting (right). Interestingly Siegfried’s library suffered in a similar way, and some of his books can be found affected by damp.

Garibaldi Inscription

The Diary and Letters of Madame Darblay

The Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay - by Muriel Masefield, published in 1931 by Routledge & Sons Ltd.

This book belonged to Philip and is inscribed on the front endpaper by the author, “P. Morrell from M. Masefield, August, 1939.”


Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass - by Walt Whitman, published by D. Appleton and Company, no date.

The book is inscribed “Ottoline Morrell 1922 Garsington.”

This book has also been damaged by damp, but the inscription is wonderful, confirming it belonged to Ottoline and was in the library at Garsington.

Leaves of Grass Inscription

The Lion

The Lion Label small

The Lion Inscription

The Lion Took Fright - by Louis Marlow, published in 1930 by Victor Gollancz. The book is inscribed “Louis Marlow - After a delightful afternoon. 7 Sep - 1933.” Found inside the book, probably used as a bookmark, is the label pictured (centre), for ‘ Bishop & Sons Depositories Ltd. High Street and Ebury Street, London SW1, and Richmond, Leatherhead, Edinburgh, Oxford and Clapham.’ On the reverse, in thick blue pencil is written “MORRELL.” Louis Marlow was another literary friend who spent time with the Morrells.


Shakespeare Inscription

Shakespeare Inscription

Shakespeare Inscription

William Shakespeare - A Critical Study - by George Brandes, published in 1899 by William Heinemann. This book carries Ottoline’s monogram “OM” and under that she has written “Begun 1927. Finished May 1928. (During Illness).” The book is full of passages that have been marked in pencil and other annotations. This book is truly fascinating.

In February 1928 Ottoline experienced a severe, stabbing headache, shortly afterwards she was holding a tea-party for her friends Aldous Huxley and T. S. Eliot among others, when one of the guests commented on a mark on her face. The following day a net of red lines spread over her cheeks and she covered them with powder. However, by the end of the week the pain was so bad that a surgeon was called, and she was sent straight to hospital where she was diagnosed as having cancer of the jaw. Her only chance of survival was to have her lower teeth extracted and part of her jawbone removed. By May the wound had healed, but the damage was great. Soon however her health and spirits improved, and as she had always liked wearing large hats with veils and scarves, she simply tied them a little higher than before. During her illness she read a book, that book is the one illustrated here.

The passages that Ottoline highlighted in this book typically illustrate the way she thought and her attitude to life. As we know, Ottoline was a pacifist and her opinion of mankind was coloured by this belief. Also her condition at this time must have engendered a serious degree of pessimism. The following highlighted passage which was discussing the worst wickedness of man (“utter turpitude”) illustrates this quite effectively:

Hence Shakespeare’s ‘verily I say unto you, this highest degree of wickedness is possible in the world. It is one of the two factors in life’s tragedy. Stupidity is the other. On these two foundations rests the great mass of all this world’s misery.’”

Understanding as we do, Ottoline’s love of all things literary and relating to art, artists, writers and intellectuals, it is not surprising that she should also highlight these passages as being important to her too, particulary as at this time she was not sure what the future would hold:

When Shakespeare came to reflect on what had constituted his chief gladness here on earth and made his melancholy life endurable to him, he found that his one lasting, if not too freely flowing, source of pleasure had been the friendship and appreciation of one or two noble and nobly-minded gentlemen.” Also:

“Humanity in general was to him not millions of individuals, but a few great entities amidst millions of non-entities. He saw more and more clearly that the existence of these few illustrious men was all that made life worth living, and the belief gave impetus to that hero-worship which had been characteristic of his early youth.” Indeed, Ottoline could have been writing her own obituary.

The Messenger

The Messenger - by John Morrison, published in 1934 by John Lane the Bodley Head. The book has two inscriptions on the front endpaper, one above the other. At the top it says:

“For Philip Morrell, from the author’s sister, a trifle apprehensively. May 1936.” Below this is a quote from a book called ‘Trivia.’

‘Trivia’ was written by Logan Pearsall Smith in 1902, a man who we have already heard of.



Rochester Inscription MacCarthy

Rochester Inscription Goodman

Rochester: Portrait of a Restoration Poet - by Vivian De Sola Pinto, published in 1935 by John Lane The Bodley Head. Vivian De Sola Pinto was Siegfried Sassoon’s second in command in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers during the First World War, and was the character ‘Velmore’ in the Sherston Trilogy. Sassoon introduced V. de S. Pinto to Ottoline on one of his many visits and it must have been there that Pinto met Desmond MacCarthy, literary critic and journalist, who was a friend of the Morrells. The book is inscribed on the front endpaper “To Mr Desmond MacCarthy from V. de S. Pinto 19-xi-’38.” How this book found its way into Ottoline’s library is not known, but on the next page can be found the name of its final owner, “Julian Goodman.” Julian was Ottoline’s daughter, whose first husband was Sir Victor Goodman.


Blindness - by Henry Green, published in 1926 by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. Ottoline’s daughter, Julian Goodman (nee Morrell), has written her name on the front endpaper to confirm ownership.

Henry Green, real name Henry Vincent Yorke, was an English author and Blindness was his first novel.

Blindness Inscription

The Amulet

Amulet Dedication

The Amulet: A Christian and Literary Remembrancer - Edited by S. C. Hall, published in 1832 by Frederick Westley and A. H. Davis, London. This book was a Christmas gift from Siegfried Sassoon to Philip Morrell. The inscription reads: “To P. Morrell accompanied by the most Christian & Literary sentiments of Cyprian Oyde. Dec. 25. 1922.” Sassoon mocks the book title and uses his Garsington nickname ‘Cyprian Oyde’ - ‘cyprianoid’ or carp-like - because he was always carping about small matters. This book was originally sold by Christies in their November 2006 auction of Lady Ottoline Morrell’s library.

Out of the Ark

Out of the Ark - by R. D. (Randall Davies), published in 1930 by Peter Davis. No inscriptions.


Tales From Boccaccio - by Joseph Jacobs, published in 1899 by George Allen, illustrated by John Byam Shaw. Sassoon was a close friend of Byam Shaw’s actor son, Glen, (briefly lovers), from 1924 until Sassoon’s death.

Ottoline Bentinck

I recently acquired this photo calling card which once belonged to Ottoline Bentinck as she was before she married. It is a lovely image of a young girl with a full and fascinating life ahead of her.

Photo Card

Gold and Ochre

Morgan Letter

Gold and Ochre by Evan Morgan, published in 1917 by Erskine McDonald Ltd. Evan Morgan joined the newly formed Welsh Guards as a Second Lieutenant in June 1915.  His army career became very unconventional and he spent more and more of it on sick leave. This allowed him more time for his art and poetry.  He was an occasional guest of the Morrell’s at Garsington Manor. He was very keen to be part of the literati of the day.

Morgan began to receive a series of odd postings and attachments. These included being a King’s messenger (Carrying diplomatic papers to Embassies), finding himself on the staff of disgraced French General Robert Nivelle in North Africa and then back to convalesce in Oxford after some malady.

This would be the chance for another opportunity to get an invite to Garsington Manor and a chance to rub shoulders with the in-crowd.  It was probably on one such trip that he met with Robert Graves who had been hospitalised after being wounded in France. 

At the beginning of 1917 Morgan was in Whitehall, working for William Bridgeman in the Ministry of Labour in Lloyd George’s coalition Government. He was also doing his best to ingratiate himself with Lloyd George and had an idea that he could be the War Cabinet’s adviser on literature.

Graves got in touch with Morgan to see if he could use his Cabinet contacts for Sassoon to be deemed medically unfit at the time of Sassoon’s protest.

The book is a collection of Morgan’s poems that he sent to Ottoline Morrell. The letter, dated September 12th, 1917, accompanied the book and is signed by Evan Morgan.

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