Sunday, 18 December 2011

More Adventures in NYS. Two Frederika Macdonald letters in Syracuse

Since my last article I have experienced more adventures, but hardly related to the subject of this blog. I have done quite some travelling, and have even been in two other states, for a conference about the Dutch at the Delaware. In that area Swedish settlers also tried to create a New Sweden. In the summer I went to the southeastern end of this state, the eastern end of Long Island, to visit Sue Lonoff, and had the pleasure of swimming there in the ocean. In October I was at the northwestern end of the state, the fantastic Niagara Falls.

I went there with a friend from Syracuse, situated halfway between Albany (the train stops at places like Amsterdam and Rome) and the Falls, where I was staying for a few days. This trip also allowed me to see two letters written by Frederika Macdonald, in 1913, to Marion Spielmann, which I knew were held in the collection of Syracuse University Library. Thus, on Friday morning 14th I was at its Special Collections Dept.; having announced my visit the box with the letters stood ready for me.
Frederika Macdonald wanted to publish Charlotte’s ‘love letters’ to M. Heger in her forthcoming book, The Secret of Charlotte Brontë, about her adventures at the Pensionnat. But she was under pressure from Clement Shorter, who claimed the copyright of the letters, as well as every Brontë manuscript, even those as yet undiscovered. In the background the notorious duo Wise and Symington may have played a role. Frederika being a woman, whose views on the letters differed to those of the chauvinistic Shorter, also didn't help. She turned to Spielmann for support.

The first letter is written from “The Limes – Newport – Isle of Wight 3 Dec 1913”. Macdonald refers to an earlier letter she wrote to Spielmann on 21 November, following the advice of the Principal Librarian of the British Museum, to whom Charlotte’s letters had been given some months earlier that year. She wonders if that letter had arrived, "…because I enclosed a letter from Mlle. Heger to me which I value extremely; & which I asked you to return to me - As I judged you to be a friend of the Heger family, I sent you this letter to convince you that I had their confidence & was myself entirely devoted to the rectification of false judgements passed upon both Mr & Mme Heger by un-critical devotees of Charlotte who have accepted Villette too literally - Mlle Heger's letter to me proved that I was recognized by her as a trustworthy witness; & for this reason only I sent it to you, with a stamped & addressed envelope, so that no trouble nor delay might occur in its being returned. Please let me know about this & if the letter is in your hands.”
By Sunday 7th she had received a “kind letter” from Spielmann, who wrote that he had not received her 21 November letter. She writes back to him on the same day. “I am afraid there is no use in my writing to the General Post Office,” she sighed. “I wish it had been anyone else's letters[to go missing]- let us say Mr. Clement Shorters! What a trouble he is to me at the present moment - you will see by the letters I'm enclosing from these dreadfully nervous publishers of mine, who you will see, are not satisfied with the Times and the Principle Librarian of the British Museum - & want me to do what I am convinced would be a mistake - that is to say recognize Mr Clement Shorter's claim [to copyright of all Charlotte's writings] -which if he meant to assert it should surely have been made against the publication in the Times? It appears to me clear that the Times gave the Letters by publication - to the public? & Dr. Heger gave them to the British Museum - for the use especially of historical & literary critics? I have the consent of both these authorities to the use of these letters as I am employing them by long quotations...Now will you be very kind & if I am right in my view of the case - write me a short note in this respect that I can send to these nervous publishers…”
It is not clear how the Library acquired the Macdonald letters. In 1970 the University established a new library, and these letters were found in the old collection. It is well possible, I was told, that they were acquired in the 50s or 60s by a director who was an avid collector. Two old catalog cards, typewritten, accompany the letters. As these are not cards of the old library these may well have been made by the book and manuscript dealer who sold the letters. It’s also likely to have been an English dealer. I remember such cards from a long time ago, when I had ordered books from England. Spielmann, at this time, was actually staying in Brussels, in the Carlton Hotel.
It is strange that the letters got separated from Spielmann’s large collection of Brontë related papers which are kept at the Parsonage Museum. I saw these papers in 1993, but my research priority then was the Pensionnat and the Quartier Isabelle. I remember however a number of holiday cards from Louise Heger, and of course the one letter in which Louise wrote to Spielmann that Frederika was ‘a dangerous machine to set in motion’, something which one should bear in mind when reading these two letters. It would be very interesting to have another look at these Spielmann Papers to see if they shed further light on matters addressed in the Syracuse letters.
The cards, aforementioned, do state that Frederika Macdonald died in 1923, something which in all of my twenty years of research I had never been able to find. It’s not conclusive evidence, but there’s also little reason to distrust it. In this respect too, these letters are an interesting contribution to our knowledge of the historiography of the Brontës and Brussels.

Macdonald did get her book published, with the letters, in the next year, 1914. In it she acknowledges Shorter's kind permission in letting her use the letters, without referring to all the trouble he had caused her.
Eric Ruijssenaars; with thanks to Brian Bracken for the transcriptions.

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