BRACERS Record Detail for 19312

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Malleson, Constance
Malleson, Constance
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BR's address code (if sender)
Notes, topics or text

"Friday 21st It is unbelievable how constantly and with what yearning I think about Boismaison and all that it stands for."

This is the first extant letter from prison written directly to Colette in English. On the verso is another letter, document 200306a, record 19334.

Two typed transcriptions have been made of this letter: document .052417, record 99878; document 201120, record 115669. In both of these documents some code words, e.g. Boismaison, have been changed to real words, e.g. Ashford. One sentence was omitted from both transcriptions.


Letter 24
BRACERS 19312. AL. McMaster
Previous Brixton letter, BRACERS 48709; next letter, BRACERS  19313
Edited by K. Blackwell, A. Bone, N. Griffin and S. Turcon

<Brixton Prison>1
Friday 21st.a

It is unbelievable how constantly and with what yearning I think about Boismaison and all that it stands for. The old world is crumbling and cracking — I do not want the débris to fall upon me, I want to live — it is Boismaison and what it stands for that gives me courage to want to live, and that gives meb the belief that there is still important work I can do in the world. I realize that while the war continues there is nothing further for me to do as regards politics; I must stick to abstract philosophy while the war lasts. It is very hard to feel happiness — immense deep happiness — so near at hand, and not stretch out one’s hand to grasp it, but patience is important and I am trying hard to be patient, though it is very very difficult. I suffer at last from real fear — the fear of being kept shut up till the end of the war. I am ashamed of the fear. But I do believe it is right and rational to take such measures as I agreed on with C.A.2 in order to escape. I wish I knew whether they will be sufficient. If not, I have absolutely resolved on H.S.,3 , c like F.M.4 — I think of times — Boismaison, Le fidèle Caton,5 and others — constantly, constantly. I want those times again, terribly. I have complete trust now. I never feel troubled by any doubt as to the happiness waiting for me when I am free. It was 2nd Boismaison6 gave me that trust. All worries come from political causes — as far as personal things go there is not a cloud or a moment’s doubt, only intense longing. One third of the time is over.7 When I am free I will come anywhere, except to prohibited areas. Of course London would be infinitely the nicest, but you must do your utmost for jobs, and not bother too much about anything else.

I saw about Roy’s divorce.8 What is happening to him? Is he in England or will he be?d


  • 1

    [document] The letter was edited from the unsigned original in BR’s handwriting in the Malleson papers in the Russell Archives. The single sheet — with a letter on either side (see also Letter 28) — of laid paper, ruled on one side, was folded twice.

  • 2

    measures as I agreed on with C.A. BR may have been recalling how, shortly before his imprisonment, he and his friend Clifford Allen had spent the weekend of 30 March–1 April with the Eliots in Marlow, where they pondered whether BR might legitimately seek to avoid military service, not as a conscientious objector, but by asserting the national importance of his philosophical work. There were precedents: one of his former logic students, Henry Norton, had been granted an exemption on such grounds, as had the socialist intellectual G.D.H. Cole, who was engaged in research for the trade union movement. Moreover, a committee under the chairmanship of T.H.W. Pelham had been established by the Board of Trade in March 1916 for the express purpose of designating occupations of “national importance” and recommending to the tribunals that C.O.s be considered for these positions. Many “absolutists”, however, and most Quakers, regarded civilian employment on such terms — let alone non-combatant duties in the forces, or alternative service in a Home Office camp — as tantamount to accepting conscription. Although BR (e.g., in 88 in Papers 14) had defended this recourse for C.O.s, he was clearly perplexed by the associated political and moral dilemmas. As Allen recorded in his diary when they debated the appropriate course of action, BR wondered whether he could “claim A. E. <absolute exemption> in order to continue philosophical work without letting down A. E. as a means of fighting conscription” (30 March 1918; quoted in Papers 14: 395). In reaching the decision that he could do so, BR and Allen may have established a basis for what became, in Brixton, the fellowship plan. Although BR wrote of “measures”, no other measure has come to light. During the same visit to Marlow, T.S. Eliot told BR “he wouldn’t be a C.O.” (see Letter 78).

  • 3

    H.S. Hunger Strike.

  • 4

    like F.M. Francis Meynell described his hunger strike in detail in My Lives (London: Bodley Head, 1971), pp. 99–103. He was not in prison, however, but at Hounslow Barracks with other C.O.s from 29 January 1917 onwards. He collapsed after twelve days without food or water and was unconditionally discharged from the army after agreeing to take nourishment.

  • 5

    Le fidèle Caton The “Cat and Fiddle” pub in Derbyshire where Colette and BR vacationed twice, most recently in April, just before he went into prison. “Le fidèle Caton” is one of the etymologies given for the name of this pub. See S. Turcon, “Then and Now: Bertie and Colette’s Escapes to the Peak District and Welsh Borderlands”, Russell 34 (2014): 117–30.

  • 6

    2nd Boismaison The second time they went to Ashford, i.e., in March 1918, before BR entered prison.

  • 7

    One third of the time is over. BR had then been imprisoned for 53 days. To calculate that one third of his time was up, he must have projected being released in early October (2 October would have marked 155 days) and been cognizant of the general rule stated by Sir George Cave to Frank when the brothers hoped for an even earlier remission: “The Prison Commissioners, however, are able under the rules to grant remission up to one-sixth of the sentence to prisoners who earn it by good conduct and industry, and I have informed them that they would be justified, in view of the work which your brother has been doing during his imprisonment, in awarding him the full number of marks, that is to say, he will only be required to serve five months instead of six and will be due for release at the end of September” (5 Aug. 1918., BRACERS 57178). This was official confirmation of a release date slightly earlier than the date of 2 October to be found in the Home Office file minutes. An even earlier date was going to be considered by Cave (see Letter 52).

  • 8

    Roy’s divorce Sir Coleridge Arthur Fitzroy Kennard (1885–1948), close friend to Colette, diplomat and author, and known as “Roy” to his friends. He was divorced from his wife, Dorothy, Lady Kennard, on the grounds of his desertion and adultery. At the time of the divorce he held a diplomatic posting in Sweden. The following year he became chargé d’affaires in Helsinki. In her letter of 4 June 1918 (BRACERS 113134), Colette had asked BR if he had read the account of Roy’s divorce in The Times “some weeks ago”. The account was “Law Report, May 7. High Court of Justice”, The Times, 8 May 1918, p. 4.

Textual Notes
  • a

    [date] “June 1918” was added later in Colette’s hand.

  • b

    that gives me Inserted at the 2nd occurrence.

  • c

    H.S. The sentence was inserted.

  • d

    I saw about … be? These sentences are written sideways in the top margin of the letter.

Transcription Public Access
Record no.
Record created
May 26, 2014
Record last modified
Oct 03, 2022
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