3 Love Letters of Frank Harris

Sex Life in England Illustrated (1936, the Falstaff Press) edited by Richard Deniston and based on a German book by Iwan Bloch, is a collection of moderately erotic bits and bobs of literature and art with a coating of academic respectability. As such it is an example of the kind of snob porn I have written about elsewhere, to the devotees of which Frank Harris is a sort of hero.

I have not seen the original 1903 German edition of Bloch's book but clearly Deniston introduced some fresh matter in his role as editor. For example, there is Harris's account of the San Remo orgies from My Life and Loves Volume 4, first printed in 1927. Another item added by Deniston, but of much more significance to anyone interested in Harris, are three letters written by him to an unidentified woman, printed in facsimile and not transcribed, which although undated are almost certain to have been written in the 1920s. In this context and given Harris's reputation one might expect them to be "dirty" letters but beyond a certain suggestiveness there is nothing salacious in them; they must have proved a great disappointment to anyone in search of titillation who made the considerable effort required to decipher Harris's scrawl. ("The writing of a tax-collector", according to Vincent O'Sullivan.)

Though the letters may not be very erotic they are interesting for the light they throw on Harris's way of wooing, in particular his grandiloquent style of flattery - which turns to petulance and self-pity when he is thwarted. When one considers that he must have been at least 66 years old at the time of writing it is all rather undignified, especially the somewhat comical request for a nude photo and his name-dropping mention of Matisse.

Letter #1

My dear Miss [blanked-out in facsimile] Many thanks for your friendly charming letter: the Dr. says I'm worse; but he's a fool: I'm nearly OK again: wd be quite all right if you were here with your lovely knees & limbs... - Alas no! I'm not yr Professor Smith: I loved him; whatever he had asked me, I wd have given with heart & eagerness. You did not even get the best out of me: but that was yr fault not mine. I was eager to give all I had & more - now why?

Can one ever find a reason for these intuitive sympathies? I don't think so.... I wanted to make you wiser than all other women so that you cd walk as a Queen among them, knowing Good & Evil that they did not know. Well, some little you accepted from me; but the rest, no! And so we half-men live... Shall we ever meet again? Who can tell, a Goddess rises sometimes from the sea - I shall hope. What will you get in Italy - little or nothing: why won't you come back to Nice on Sat[urday]y[?] say: you'll be alone & I [would be?] overjoyed to welcome you - Come!

If Italy gives[?] you little - Come! I can give you unforgettable hours - come. You wayward Witch & fairy - ever yours in admiration & heart-sympathy Frank Harris

Harris's correspondent had evidently written him a letter in which she compared their relationship to Harris's with Byron Smith, depicting Harris as the admired mentor: she presumably had read the first volume of My Life and Loves - one might guess Harris gave it to her as part of his attempted seduction. The subtext, that Harris's relationship to Smith was not a sexual one, accords with Harris's pained tone. The Goddess had not yet succumbed to his blandishments.

Letter #2

Dear, dear most dear.

As soon as I got your charming letter I wired you; it seemed to me to need the quickest response to prove to you how eager I was to meet the most wonderful being that has come to me in this time. So I wired asking you for the time of yr arrival in Marseilles & the hotel so that I may go there first and engage a room & so make you comfortable - then the thought came: will she be alone? So with fear in heart I asked. You are not afraid of me, I know and I want the ineffable privilege of giving you a good time... I don't know what you hope to see in Tunis or Algiers: Biskra to me is one of the great places of the Earth & I'd love to see Corsica with you. But let us meet at Marseilles & talk over things - Do you recall Browning's words:

"Soul of my soul, I shall meet you again
And with God be the rest!"

[From Prospice. It should read "... I shall clasp thee again..."]

I shall see you as you appeared to me at Nice all dripping with spray on the perfect wiry[?] limbs & divine laughing face - Venus Anadyomene only more lovely than ever the Goddess of Love cd have been!

I wonder is it possible in cold words to tell you the extraordinary, unimaginable influence you have on me. The worst of it is the passion of the body conceals the deeper tenderness of the soul: I know that perfect as is your face and figure, your soul is lovelier still; but I cannot kiss that or make it thrill & burn whereas the lovely limbs are there in their immortal perfection to be kissed & they respond in spite of yr self-control.

And it is by the flesh that we poor mortals rise to spiritual heights & realise an identity of soul, the sacred union of nature, the ineffable oneness of being. I often wonder whether this is not the essence of God himself, this desire to feel himself in another interpenetrated and absorbed - in a desire of goodness - pure and ineffable.

You see you lift me with yourself to heights undreamed of: I want to help you as you have helped me. Don't be afraid then; but write me freely as soul speaks to soul. I'll understand - oh water sprite! there you are before me in the hot sunshine glowing radiant & will be while this life lasts - perfection perfected! And yr body would be nothing were it not the vestment of yr spirit, the clothing of your brave, noble, kindly nature that wants to give and knows by divine instinct that it is more blessed to give than receive - I greet you, Sweet & beg you to write soon - the thought of seeing you, the hope of yr eyes light[?] & the music of yr voice - intoxicate me.

Ever your admiring lover Frank Harris

Between this and the first letter one assumes the two had the looked-for meeting in Nice; it is not clear to me whether this letter means that Frank had succeeded in opening the gates to Paradise and is keen to repeat the experience, or merely that he had been encouraged to believe (rightly or wrongly) that another encounter would bring about the desired result.

Letter #3

Part of letter #3 as transcribed

Dear, dear, you have misunderstood me cruelly! Put yourself in my place and think. I meet you here in Nice with one young man, handsome & kindly but not fit really to lace your boots. I am as nice to him as I can be thinking him your choice. Then you tell me you are coming to Marseilles & intend to go on through Africa at least to the desert. And you say that only the cost limits you. I jump at the chance to write you that I will meet you at Marseilles & formally conduct you through Africa that I know down to the Cape; you answered that you were going with another and had no need of me. On this I replied:- " Good, I accept the slap in the face" & you wrote instead of being a hero to you, I am merely a disappointed man! That's cruelly unfair! Suppose you showed a man extraordinary preference & he showed you that he preferred another very ordinary woman to you, & you wrote to him later proposing another meeting & he replied that he was going with still another woman - rather than you - what would you say: "Good! go with her. Goodbye" I have[?] no bitterness in the matter: I'm sorry - that's all.

There's a great Italian saying, dear: "amare e non essere amato è tempo perduto - to love and not be loved, is time lost."

I showed you absolute admiration for your physical beauty; then I noticed that yr mind was alert & eager & lastly[?] that your soul was tenderly affectionate & true & turned to all highest things & I dreamed as a man will that I cd be of use to you, could shorten your way up to the Highest & make a great & unique woman of you! You preferred not one man but two to me - what could I do but withdraw & say sorrowfully: "Goodbye, Sweet! I'm sorry I'm so low in your eyes." There's not another person in the world that I'd take through Africa this year!

And now I repeat again I have the deepest truest affection for you & a boundless admiration for your beauty. If you had said:- "Frank, I care for you & will let you touch me", I'd have been your slave & stormed Heaven for you; but to deny the little privante's[?] and give to A and B & probably C your confidence & affection, what am I to do?

If you ever want a friend & helper, think of me; I'd be proud to help you into the long road to fame & honor at any personal cost. Women want happiness; great souls want to grow: happiness is a mirage: I'd give it you if I could at any time but growth I can give & you don't want it - you dear I think the world of you in spite of your misunderstanding.

Your affectionate friend always Frank Harris. I kiss you on the mouth & all your lips!

P.S. I asked you for a photo of yourself nude - you might have given me that; but you didn't - you Beauty! with the loveliest lines in the world; breast & hips Hips that love's own hand did make! Sweetheart write soon & don't blame - love is not to be blamed.

How long are you going to be in Paris? Why don't you come down here for the cold weather. Matisse is here to help you and I - your Frank.

Frank has been spurned in favour of "A and B": furthermore, the mention of A's presence in Nice suggests that possibly Harris never was successful with this woman, that he could not move her from her inexplicable preference for younger, more handsome men. Without knowing anything of the lady in question, one gets the impression that his expressed view that her "soul was tenderly affectionate & true & turned to all highest things" was not entirely sincere. As to her identity, a reading of Nellie Harris's journal for the period might reveal it; she was often keenly and jealously aware of Frank's little gallivantings.

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