Edith Sitwell and John M. Cohen had not yet met each other personally when their correspondence began. In her first letter, Sitwell addresses him as "Mr.Cohen" and thanks him for a positive review he planned to give her work on the BBC in June, 1950 (May 26, 1950). Also in this first letter, Sitwell suggests that the two meet each other for the first time, along with Audrey Cohen and some others. As their correspondence continues, Sitwell's appreciation of Cohen's criticism of her work grows, at which point she sends him manuscripts of her latest works. Included are two undated manuscripts of "The Road to Thebes", both very early versions, and a detailed description of the poem in one of her letters (December 27, 1951). She also asks him to review her brother Osbert Sitwell's new book, Wrack of the Tide's End, for the Times Literary Supplement before one of its staff writers does so in a sloppy manner (December 12, 1951). It is at this point that Sitwell begins to address Cohen as "My Dear Jack," again showing the growth in her appreciation of him.
The two undated manuscripts of "The Road to Thebes" are thought to have been included in two letters sent by Sitwell to Cohen and appear to be very early workings of the poem. The first manuscript differs greatly from the published version of the poem and includes a page labelled "after" by Sitwell. The stanzas on this "after" page are found in the interior of the poem in the second manuscript's version and in the published version. The second manuscript is also different from the published version and is believed to have been written later than the first manuscript in the collection.
The related correspondence comprises a letter from Harman Grisewood, Controller of the Third Programme at the BBC, and social correspondence to either one or both of the Cohens. Grisewood's letter regretfully informs Cohen that there is not space in the Third Programme's schedule for a reading of Sitwell's poetry in the near future (July 4, 1950). The inclusion of this letter serves to give context to a letter of the same date written by Sitwell to Cohen regarding such a reading. The social correspondence includes invitations and cancellations of luncheon appointments and Sitwell's sympathies to Audrey Cohen during a bout of illness. The letters of sympathy exemplify a theme which runs throughout the collection, in which Sitwell complains of her own illness, fatigue and trouble with her hands. Despite these recurring physical problems in her later life, Sitwell manages to make several trips overseas to Italy, from which many of the letters are written, and to America.
It is Edith Sitwell's respect and admiration for Cohen's intellect and
abilities as a critic which are most notable in the Sitwell-Cohen Collection,
whether it be for his humorous comments about a mutual acqaintance, F. R.
Leavis (February 13, 1952), or a published essay on her work. Sitwell felt
that Cohen's insight into her poetry was special. This sentiment is best shown
in her first letter to Cohen, after seeing an essay about her poetry which he
intended to read on the BBC:
"I am indeed deeply grateful to you. It is a great moment on the life of a poet, when one's motives are understood with such completeness. This is one of those rare occasions."
* * * * * * *
Dame Edith Sitwell was born on September 7, 1887 at Renishaw in Scarborough, England. Her literary career spanned half a century beginning with the publication of Mother and Other Poems in 1915 and ending with The Queens and the Hive in 1962. Among her more famous works was Facade in 1923, which combined a variety of musical and poetic styles. She died on December 9, 1964. For further detail, see the Dictionary of National Biography (1961 - 1970) and the New York Times (December 10, 1964 issue).
John M. Cohen, born February 5, 1903, was best known as a critic and translator. He appears to have done literary reviews for the BBC, the Times Literary Supplement and The Observer. Among his writings were a translation of Don Quixote (1950) and the compilation of a number of anthologies. He now lives in England. For more information, see Who's Who 1988.
* * * * * * *
See also: THE SITWELL-COHEN COLLECTION
Number of Boxes: 1
Extent: .25 linear feet
Provenance: Acquired from Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co. of London, England, June 30, 1982
Date Span: May 26, 1950 - May 19, 1952
Processed by: Michael North
Date: July 18, 1988
Box 1 Folder 1
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "It would be impossible..."
Date: 26 May 1950
Description: ALS [2 pp] from ES to JMC thanking him for a positive review he planned to give her work on BBC radio in June, 1950. ES suggests they meet each other. Refers to The Canticle of the Rose and Arthur Waley's Chinese Poems.
Box 1 Folder 2
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "Thank you so much..."
Date: 7 Jun 1950
Description: ALS [2 pp] from ES to JMC thanking him for his letter and his review on the BBC. Suggests they meet each other and asks that AC, John Lehmann and Commander King-Bull(BBC) be invited. Refers to Arthur Waley and The Canticle of the Rose.
Box 1 Folder 3
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "I cannot tell you..."
Description: ALS [3 pp] from ES to JMC thanking him for his essay on her poetry (possibly one he read on BBC). Mentions fatigue after a recent performance of Facade. Refers to Molinaro's Love Ode.
Box 1 Folder 4
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen, Grisewood to J. M. Cohen
Date: 4 Jul 1950
Description: TLS [1 p] from H. Grisewood of BBC to JMC regretting that JMC cannot read Sitwell's poetry on BBC in the near future. ALS [2 pp] from ES to JMC thanking him for his suggestion that he read her poetry on BBC and for his advice on her writing. Mentions trip to U.S.
Box 1 Folder 5
Sitwell to Audrey Cohen: "I should have written..."
Date: 20 Jul 1950
Description: ALS [2 pp] from ES to AC thanking her for her and JMC's letters. Mentions fatigue and illness. Refers to visit to the American Consolate.
Box 1 Folder 6
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "When I saw you..."
Date: 12 Dec 1951
Description: Brief ALS from ES to JMC asking him to review Osbert Sitwell's Wracks at Tide's End before a staff writer at the Times Literary Supplement does so sloppily. She suggests he call Mr. Dickson or Mr. Mark at Macmillan Publishing Co. for an early copy.
Box 1 Folder 7
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "Thank you so much for..."
Date: 27 Dec 1951
Description: ALS [2 pp] from ES to JMC thanking him for saving OS's book from the Times Literary Supplement's sloppy reviewers. Refers to works of Graves, Keats and Sacheverell Sitwell's Selected Works. Discusses references to Aristotle in "The Road to Thebes", a manuscript of which was enclosed (now in folder 18).
Box 1 Folder 8
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "I really can never be..."
Date: 27 Jan 1952
Description: Brief ALS from ES to JMC thanking him for his help with the Times Literary Supplement and with one of her poems. (The poem mentioned is probably "The Road to Thebes", and the manuscript in folder 19 is thought to have been enclosed with this letter.)
Box 1 Folder 9
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "A thousand thanks..."
Date: 13 Feb 1952
Description: ALS [2 pp] from ES to JMC thanking him for his criticism of her work. Laughs at jokes about F. R. Leavis by JMC, OS and the Times Literary Supplement. Refers to OS's Penny Wise, Pound Foolish and Ronald Bottrall.
Box 1 Folder 10
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "I daren't imagine..."
Date: 24 Mar 1952
Description: ALS [2 pp] from ES to JMC thanking him for an anthology, referring to works by Gay, Benjamin and Nash; mentions OS's views on Benjamin. Refers to a visit to Renishaw by Evelyn Wiel, the death of a housekeeper and her own illness.
Box 1 Folder 11
Sitwell to J. M. and A. Cohen: "I had so hoped..."
Description: Brief ALS from ES to JMC and AC regretting that she cannot see them before she leaves for America. Mentions illness.
Box 1 Folder 12
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "To my great delight..."
Date: 16 Jun 1952
Description: ALS [2 pp] from ES to JMC thanking him for books he sent her, referring to Tales of Hoffman and Don Quixote, and for a review of her work written in The Observer. Refers to OS, illness and difficulty with her hands.
Box 1 Folder 13
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "I am more than grieved..."
Description: Brief ALS from ES to JMC extending her sympathies toward Audrey Cohen's illnes, which ES herself once had. Suggests that AC may have contracted the malady after a visit to the ill Wyndham Lewis.
Box 1 Folder 14
Sitwell to J. M. and A. Cohen: "Thank you..."
Description: Brief ALS from ES to JMC and AC thanking them for flowers and extending sympathies to AC, referring to her own illness in the past.
Box 1 Folder 15
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "Thank you so much..."
Description: Brief ALS from ES to JMC thanking him for his letter and confirming a lunch date with JMC and AC.
Box 1 Folder 16
Sitwell to J. M. Cohen: "Here is the poem..."
Description: Brief ALS from ES to JMC referring to a poem she is sending him (not included). Reference to a broadcast.
Box 1 Folder 17
Sitwell to J. M. and A. Cohen: "AM HORRIFIED..."
Date: 19 May 1952
Description: Brief telegram from ES to JMC and AC cancelling a lunch appointment.
Box 1 Folder 18
Sitwell AMsS of "The Road to Thebes" (1 of 2) [6 pp]
Description: AMsS [6 pp] of "The Road to Thebes" by ES, possibly enclosed in a letter to JMC December 27, 1951 (folder 7). Appears to be a very early draft of the poem, with many differences from the published version, including a page marked "after", containing stanzas later found in the interior of the poem.
Box 1 Folder 19
Sitwell AMsS of "The Road to Thebes" (2 of 2) [5 pp]
Description: AMsS [5 pp] of "The Road to Thebes" by ES, possibly enclosed in a letter to JMC January 27, 1952 (folder 8).
Appears to be an early draft, with differences from published version, but appears to be later than the manuscript in folder 18.
Aristotle 1: 7
BBC 1: 1
- 1: 4
- 1: 16
- 1: 2
Benjamin, Walter 1: 10
Bottrall, Robert 1: 9
Canticle of the Rose, The 1: 1
- 1: 2
Don Quixote 1: 12
Facade 1: 3
Gay, John 1: 10
Graves, Robert 1: 7
BBC 1: 4
Keats, John 1: 7
Leavis, F. R. 1: 9
Lehmann, John 1: 2
Lewis, Wyndham 1: 13
Macmillan Publishing Co. 1: 6
Molinaro del Chiaro, Luigi
Love Ode 1: 3
Nash, Ogden 1: 10
Road to Thebes, The 1: 7
- 1: 8
Autograph manuscript of 1: 18
- 1: 19
Sitwell, Osbert 1: 10
- 1: 12
Pound Foolish 1: 9
Wracks at Tide's End 1: 6
- 1: 7
Selected Works 1: 7
Tales of Hoffman 1: 12
The Observer 1: 12
Times Literary Supplement 1: 8
- 1: 7
- 1: 6
- 1: 9
Waley, Arthur 1: 2
Chinese Poems 1: 1
Wiel, Evelyn 1: 10