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Sylvia Llewelyn Davies to Dolly Ponsonby - 1898


Letter from Sylvia Llewelyn Davies to Dolly Ponsonby at the British Legation, Copenhagen, from the Sea Mill, Rustington, 8 August 1898.

[No original available]


Sea Mill,
Monday, Aug 8th. [1898]

Darling Dolly,
Brute that I am, & I get no better & never shall. Your dear letters were a great joy, please write many more of them & sometimes in the midst of Kings and Queens, think a little of the poor barrister's wife at Sea Mill with all the winds of heaven blowing her about and a great many noisy but beloved sons jumping on her. Oh, it makes such a difference not to have you, & not to see you, coming along looking such a delightful object with a large hat and little shoes! But Rustington is looking very dear and I have a great fondness for it. Mrs. Bailey isn't here this time, & we have what there is of the cottage to ourselves, which makes things more comfortable.
Well, my Gerald is engaged again to to a Miss Ethel Barrymore – a very charming American actress (a very little bit like you!) aged 18 — très chic with parted brown hair & a pretty figure & just about as tall as you are. We like her very much but as they are both so young, at any moment it might be broken off – Gerald is very much in love, & I wish they could be married at once. A long engagement is a very great mistake. When the beloved object has said yes, it ought to be a question only of days, think I; don't you think so? You did that didn't you!
Gerald is to be with Beerbohm Tree 3 years longer & to have 10, 12, & 15 guineas a week, & she is sure get something, so they could do quite well on that.
You will see dear Sir Hubert some time today & won’t you be glad – if possible he is nicer than ever & I am sorry he is gone. Your mother & Gwen are away for a few days I believe. Are any of Gwen’s friends coming down? I met dear Eustace Talbot at the Bob Cecils a little time ago & thought him quite charming – As the song goes “E's a man as you can trust,” & if I were Gwen I should take him for better or worse! Isn't Mrs Jack Talbot glad of the baby – you see she is older than you – but you must be glad when yours comes please. Of course it is nice to have a little time, just two & then you're such child! Think what a sweet it would be – How do you feel, I wonder, my Dolly, are you taking care of yourself & not overdoing it in your gay world with the British Legation at your feet!
Your friend George hurt his poor little finger badly yesterday – he got it pinched in a deck chair so hard that his dear little nail was wrenched off – He was very brave, but it was dreadful and I ached for him – I will send you a photograph of him quite soon – they are so good I think, but I haven't ordered any yet. They were not done in their fancy dress – perhaps I will take them once more – but it is quite an undertaking, as you can imagine.
Now dear Dolly I haven't any news – you know better than I how charming this little place is & how windy it is & how Sylvia goes in and out of the Mill cottage & looks after the 3 little boys with red caps, but when all is said and done Rustington can never be the same without you.
I began this letter a few days ago, so I think I might as well send it off to Copenhagen. Forgive it for being dull & send a line to me while I am here. Please remember me to Sir Hubert & Sir Arthur, and with very much love to you, dear thing,
I am,
your loving

Peter's comments:

In sending me this letter – the only one of S’s she seems to have kept [actually not so, e.g. her letter to Dolly P following Arthur's death] – Lady Ponsonby wrote:

"It conveys her so completely – at least to me. It recalls so visibly the Mill House, the sea, the wind and the little boys in red tam o’shanters. You were too young to remember it. It is too subtle to be conveyed in writing. But the calm and beauty of her, and her delicious whimsical sense of humour, sewing perhaps in a tiny cottage sitting-room with those rampageous boys tumbling about her – I shall never forget it.

It is of course only too doubtful whether any of the letters, etc., which compose this record can ever convey any picture of the persons concerned to readers who never saw them. Still, I cling to the thought that occasional descendants in the future, blessed or cursed with a sense of the past, may find them to some extent evocative.

A trivial enough, gossipy letter, this particular one; Dolly Parry had just married Arthur Ponsonby who I suppose was an attaché at Copenhagen. Ethel Barrymore, whose engagement to Gerald du M. was brief, survives as a small-part actress of some eminence in Hollywood. Nico saw her only the other day, giving a highly effective performance as an old lady in the latest American film.

Gwen Parry turned down Eustace (later Mr. Justice) Talbot – if he ever proposed to her – and in due course married Harry Plunket Green, the exquisite singer instead. Mrs Jack Talbot (Jack T. being Eustace’s brother) became the mother of Nico‘s closest friend, Evan Talbot; and of his younger brother Dick, who, (it may be said without indiscretion in a private document like this) made more than one proposal to her who for reasons best known to herself chose to marry me. I think I am right in saying that Mrs Jack T, whom I never met, often talked to Nico of Sylvia and Arthur. The baby Sylvia refers to in this letter was either Joan, now Mrs Eric Villiers, who was one of the closest friends of my Margaret and her twin sister Alison in their unmarried days – or perhaps more probably Anne, the oldest of that family and still unmarried.

The Bob Cecils: a fragment of a letter from Lord Robert Cecil, which will be found on one of the last pages of this volume, shows that he knew Arthur and Sylvia well enough to go down to Berkhamsted in the time of sadness, and to write to Sylvia in very moving terms after Arthur’s death. Otherwise I have no clue to the circumstances of their acquaintance; but this is another “link“: Bob Cecil being a cousin of my father-in-law’s, and uncle of David Cecil, who was very much a childhood companion of Margaret and Alison Hore-Ruthven, and who married Desmond McCarthy’s daughter, who is Crompton Ll. D’s godchild.

Dolly Ponsonby’s own baby, when it eventually came, was Elizabeth, who stayed the night at Egerton house with her parents in 1906, and to whose unfortunate end reference is made later.

I really can’t help it if this particular digression has a faintly snobbish ring.


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