BRACERS Record Detail for 18684

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Collection code
Recent acquisition no.
Document no.
Box no.
Rec. Acq. 69, Box No. 16
Source if not BR
Texas, U. of, HRC
Morrell, Ottoline
Form of letter
BR's address code (if sender)
Notes and topics

"It is a joy getting your letters, Dearest O., they bring me in touch with your world, and that is most delightful."

[Continues] "Later".

There is a transcription of this letter, document .007052-f6, pp. 582-3, record 93483.

The last part of this letter, beginning "Here is an idea for a book", is published in SLBR 2: #318, as the last third of a letter written on 1 August 1918. (Record 18683.)


Letter 61

BRACERS 18684. ALS. Texas. Auto. 2: 89–90
Previous Brixton letter, BRACERS 116691; next letter, BRACERS 19341
Edited by K. Blackwell, A. Bone, N. Griffin and S. Turcon

<Brixton Prison>1
Aug 8. ’18.

It is a joy getting your letters,2 Dearest O., they bring me in touch with your world, and that is most delightful. Thank you 1000 times for the snuff, which reached me safely* — it is a solace in the absence of my pipe! — I had a blow today in learning that after all I am not to be let out till Oct. 2.3 One gets very tired in here. But the leisure has been good for me — and it has been good to have a time for seeing the proportions of things. Provided I am left free after I come out, no harm will have been done. I want the fellowship proceeded with, unless people outside are definitely against it. I think G. Murray is better than my brother for dealing with Geddes,4 and I incline to letting G.M. manage the affair. Don’t you think so? If you agree, this view might be put to my brother. I never worry about it now, but it remains important.


* Do you remember the man in The Rape of the Lock,5 who was “Of amber snuff-box justly vain, And the nice conduct of a clouded cane.” He is my ideal. If, when I come out, you will give me a clouded cane, I will do my best to make its conduct nice. It shall never lie with canes that are unclouded.


Tell Miss Wrinch she ought to have had the whole typescript from Miss Kyle by now, and that she has my authority for speaking very severely to Miss Kyle. I am so glad you all like her. I fancy she has developed a good deal in the last few months. — I am very sorry to hear you have lost Philosophical Essays.6 I haven’t got it — no doubt you lent it, perhaps in time Millie7 will remember who to. It is out of print and I don’t possess a copy, or I would give you another. You didn’t lend it to me.

All you write about S.S.8 is interesting and poignant. I know so well the indignation he suffers from. I have lived in it for months, and on the edge of it for years. I think that one way of getting over it is to perceive that others might judge oneself in the same way, unjustly, but with just as good grounds. Those of us who are rich are just like the young women whose sex flourishes on the blood of soldiers. Every motor-tyre is made out of the blood of negroes under the lash,9 yet motorists are not all heartless villains. When we buy wax matches, we buy a painful and lingering death for those who make them.10 The clothes in which the Bishop of London goes to Purity Meetings are paid for by the rent of brothels. (Fact.)11 , a War is only the final flower of the capitalist system, but with an unusual proletariat. S.S. sees war, not peace, from the point of view of the proletariat. But this is only politics. The fundamental mistake lies in wrong expectations, leading to cynicism when they are not realized. Conventional morality teaches us to expect unselfishness in decent people. This is an error. Man is an animal, bent on securing food and propagating the species. One way of succeeding in these objects is to persuade others that one is after their welfare — but to be really after any welfare but one’s own and one’s children’s is unnatural. It occurs, like Sadism and Sodomy,12 but is equally against nature. A good social system is not to be secured by making people unselfish, but by making their own vital impulses fit in with other people’s.13 This is feasible. Our present system makes self-preservation only possible at the expense of others. The system is at fault; but it is a weakness to be disgusted with people because they aim at self-preservation. One’s idealism needs to be too robust for such weakness. It doesn’t do to forget or deny the animal in Man. The God in Man will not be visible, as a rule, while the animal is thwarted. Those who have produced Stoic philosophies have all had enough to eat and drink. The sum-total of the matter is that one’s idealism must be robust and must fit in with the facts of nature; and that what is horrible in the actual world is mainly due to a bad system. Spinoza, always, is right in all these things,14 to my mind.       (2nd sheet later)

When I come out, after about a month of holiday (partly at Garsn. I hope) I mean to settle down to a very regular life in London, with strict working hours. I don’t want to live in a “rush”, but inevitably when I am not working there will be endless people to see, and business to attend to, and all the times of mere enjoyment. Here, I write because I can’t talk, but when I am able to see you it will seem useless to write long letters, at least it will usually, I should think.

Did you ever get the proofs of Roads to Freedom,15 and did you like it as well as the bits I read at Garsn.? If you didn’t get it, do write to Miss Rinder for it. I should like to know what you think of it.

I am glad to see boys are no longer to be sent into the front till they are 19.16 It is the first beginning of any sort of amelioration. The burden and weight of horror is so fearful — anything like that lightens it a little. The destruction of youth is so ghastly. — It is kind of everybody at Garsn. to talk and feel about me as you say they do.17 Since I have been here I have felt very humble. I have realized how many people bear how much with little complaint and little outside help; and I have felt I make more than my share of fuss, and get more than my share of affection. But oh I do value affection. It is the thing one ultimately wants — much more than admiration. — Your letters are a great joy, Dearest O — thank you for them 1000 times. I know how dreadful it must have been seeing S.S. like that for so short a time. Goodbye — my love, now and always.


All you say about C.M.18 is most generous. It would be good if you got to like her — there would be no difficulty on her side I am convinced.b

Please send me this book or some other that will serve the same purpose, as soon as possible. I am short of serviceable books.19 , c


  • 1

    [document] The letter was edited from a digital scan of the initialled, handwritten original in the Morrell papers at the University of Texas at Austin. The letter consists of two sheets, the first written on both sides, the second not. A third sheet is apparently filed with the letter, but it belongs to Letter 57. The present letter was extracted in BR’s Autobiography, 2: 89–90.

  • 2

    your letters Ottoline’s most recent letter was dated 4 August 1918 (BRACERS 114753). It was in reply to receiving Mind the previous day, doubtless conveying Letter 57. Her previous letter was that of 30 July (BRACERS 114752).

  • 3

    not to be let out till Oct. 2 This was BR’s expected date of early release from Brixton. He was, in fact, let out earlier, on 14 September 1918.

  • 4

    I think G. Murray is better than my brother for dealing with Geddes I.e., in connection with the fellowship plan.

  • 5

    The Rape of the Lock Alexander Pope’s mock-heroic social satire (1712, 1714) was based on the umbrage taken by the poem’s Belinda and her family when a lock of her hair was cut and stolen by her suitor. The man BR refers to, Sir Plume, does not play a major role in the poem: he blusters, incoherently and ineffectually, in an attempt to have the lock returned. BR’s ironical admiration of him was apparently on the basis of his snuffbox and cane alone. The passage BR accurately quoted is Canto V, lines 123–4. He repeated it in On Education (London: Allen & Unwin, 1926), p. 21, commenting that the man’s education had been “ornamental in the narrowest sense”. Pope’s polished poetry was eminently quotable, but BR regarded him as “the perfect exemplar of all that the Romantic movement rebelled against” (HWP, p. 676). As for the container of BR’s snuff, it is not known how Ottoline may have smuggled it to him.

  • 6

    lost Philosophical Essays A volume of papers that Longmans, Green published for BR in 1910. It included “The Free Man’s Worship” (as it was then titled). BR still did not have the 1910 edition when his library was inventoried in 1967.

  • 7

    Millie Millie Ellis, Ottoline’s maid and housekeeper at Garsington.

  • 8

    All you write about S.S. Ottoline wrote about Sassoon on 4 August 1918 (BRACERS 114753). A British bullet had grazed him in the head while he was on patrol, 10 July, and, slow to heal, he was invalided home:
         “I saw SS on Thursday.… He is filled with a burning anger against the War people. The Triumphant happy Women who are delighting in their freedom — and their sex — at the expense of the men. Indignation obsesses him. His idial <sic> Temperament is outraged by all he sees around — and it is all fresh and horrible, coming back from the simple and fine life (in a way) out There. It shocks all the more — It makes life seem so utterly Trivial he says — I tried to say he must get rid of indignation — but it sounded so unsympathetic I felt. I tried to say there are a few people still existing who aren’t brutes, a few real people — and held you up! …
         “It was very upsetting seeing him for so short a time, and feeling one could do so little for him. He was very hurt by the Review <see Letter 38> — he felt it had such a Vindictive tone in it, but is very Nice about it. Only sorry for JMM. Do you remember what you wrote to C.A. about the Necessity of Living and the temptation of self-destruction. I sent him a copy of it — and he finds it a great comfort. He copied it out into a little book. <See Letter 18, note 1.> …
         “He has a great loathing of sex. It is an obsession.
         “He is very fine for he has impersonal Passion — I think you would feel that he had developed a good deal — far less self-centred.”

  • 9

    motor-tyre … blood of negroes under the lash BR was referring to the brutal exploitation of native labour working the rubber plantations of the Congo Free State, which from 1885 to 1908 was effectively the private fiefdom of Belgian King Leopold II. He later wrote that these abuses — exposed but not eradicated completely after a lengthy public campaign led by BR’s anti-war associate, E.D. Morel — “were probably the worst and most systematic atrocities in the long blood-stained annals of the oppression of negroes by white men” (“The Value of Free Thought” [1944] in Understanding History [New York: Philosophical Library, 1957], p. 94).

  • 10

    wax matches … who make them Friction-lit matches were a notable Victorian invention and the misery they caused to the people making them — often children, usually young girls — a long-standing Victorian atrocity. The problem was not with the wax, as BR seems to suggest, but with the white phosphorus which ignited the wax which, in turn, ignited the wooden match. Its fumes produced an excruciatingly painful and grotesquely disfiguring condition known as “phossy jaw” (phosphorus necrosis). The condition had been documented in parliamentary reports on child labour in the 1860s and, later, by William Booth and Annie Besant, but it reached national attention in 1888 when the London match girls formed a union and went on strike, in a major victory for trade unionism in Britain. The use of white phosphorus was banned internationally by a Berne Convention in 1906 and in Britain in 1910.

  • 11

    clothes … Bishop of London goes to Purity Meetings … rent of brothels (Fact.) Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram (1858–1946) was Bishop of London for 38 years after his appointment in 1901. He was a notoriously fervent champion of “social purity” legislation and campaigns. After the First World War he became chair of the London Council for the Promotion of Public Morality and the Church of England Temperance Society. What BR states as “Fact” possibly relates to the pre-Reformation history of the London diocese, when the Church’s substantial holdings of land in the capital included the notoriously licentious area of Covent Garden. Under Henry VIII, this property passed into the possession of BR’s distant forebear, the 4th Earl of Bedford. It seems more likely, however, that BR was confusing the London and Winchester dioceses. Medieval and early modern bishops of the former cathedral city also occupied a grand episcopal palace at Southwark and owned much adjacent land on the south bank of the Thames. Since the City of London’s jurisdiction did not extend to these parts of the county of Surrey, gambling and prostitution were rife and the Bishops of Winchester did indeed collect rental income from the brothel-keepers.

  • 12

    Sadism and Sodomy Although he rarely analyzed these subjects, there is evidence BR thought the basis of a man’s (sexual) sadism was “the added pleasure when the woman is unwilling, because it enhances his sense of power” (Letter 62). More generally, he held that we have an impulse to cruelty, sometimes extreme, and later instanced the Nazis. “Sodomy” he used as another synonym for homosexuality (Sassoon was “inverted”; and see note 10 to Letter 75), against which he was somewhat prejudiced, although he knew and respected a range of homosexual individuals. Just three years earlier BR had written Ottoline that “D.H. Lawrence has the same feeling against sodomy as I have; you had nearly made me believe there is no great harm in it, but I have reverted; and all the examples I know confirm me in thinking it sterilizing” (BRACERS 19036). On C.D. Broad (Letter 36), he told Ottoline: “As you might gather, he is homosexual, which makes men much more alive to the dreadfulness of war” (BRACERS 18323); Rinder and BR debated this in connection with the novel Despised and Rejected (BRACERS 79631 and Letter 102).

  • 13

    A good social system … impulses fit in with other people’s. This statement neatly puts BR’s ethical theory of compossibility into his political philosophy. He did so at much greater length in Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954). In Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916) and Political Ideals (1917) he had emphasized the importance of fostering what he called creative impulses, the satisfaction of which would not preclude their satisfaction by others.

  • 14

    Spinoza, always, is right in all these things Spinoza held that the drive to self-preservation was a paramount feature of human nature: “Each thing, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persevere in its being” (Ethics, Bk. III, Prop. 6, White–Stirling trans.). Yet self-preservation need not be narrowly selfish. As BR wrote later, “self-preservation alters in character when we realize that what is real and positive in us is what unites us to the whole, and not what preserves the appearance of separateness” (HWP, p. 573).

  • 15

    Did you ever get the proofs of Roads to Freedom Ottoline had probably not yet received these proofs. But in her letter to BR of 17 August 1918, she indicated that they had arrived and that she had already read Part I. She considered it to be “quite excellent” (BRACERS 114755). See note 14 to Letter 75.

  • 16

    boys are no longer to be sent into the front till they are 19 This assurance had been provided by Ian Macpherson, Under-Secretary for War, in a House of Commons debate on 7 August 1918. The crisis of military manpower in the spring had resulted in eighteen-year-olds not only being called up for training and held in reserve, but also in being sent into combat. This represented a departure from the established practice of no military service overseas before the age of nineteen (except for some young officers with prior experience in the Officer Training Corps). Macpherson announced that this “original regime” would be restored at the end of the month (“War Situation”, Parliamentary Debates [Commons], 5th ser., 109 [7 Aug. 1918]: 1,479).

  • 17

    kind of everybody at Garsn. to talk and feel about me as you say they do Ottoline had written in the letter BR was answering: “All here talk of you every few hours and all Love, adore and worship you! Quite true this is.”

  • 18

    All you say about C.M. On Colette, Ottoline had written in the earlier letter to which BR was replying: “I am so unspeakably happy you are satisfied Now about our relationship. Indeed I beg of you Not to think I have any <thrice underlined> unkind feelings about C.M. for I haven’t. I am sure if I knew her well I should find her very sympathetic and generous and Courageous — and full of fine Vitality” (30 July <1918>, BRACERS 114752). But for a very different response — Ottoline wishing to keep clear of both “Lady Connie” and Elizabeth Russell — see R. Gathorne-Hardy, ed., Ottoline at Garsington: Memoirs of Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1915–1918 (London: Faber and Faber, 1974), p. 253.

  • 19

    serviceable books Books (and journals) in which letters could be concealed in uncut pages.

Textual Notes
  • a

    (Fact.) Squeezed in at the end of the line.

  • b

    All you say about C.M. … convinced. Inserted in a miniscule hand after BR’s signature.

  • c

    Please send … books. Written sideways in the top margin of sheet 2.

Transcription Public Access
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Record created
Oct 29, 2014
Record last modified
Oct 12, 2022
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