Lady Duff Gordon's Titanic Letter


Mar 20, 2000
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In response to a letter of encouragement from her friend and client Margot Asquith, wife of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, Lucy Duff Gordon penned the following note on 4 pages of personal stationary headed "22 Lennox Gardens London" and dated May 16, 1912:

________________________________________________

My Dear Margot,

What a welcome your kind letter was to us. After all the horror and confusion this last month has wrought, it is truly a wonderful relief to find ourselves among friends and family once more. At last to have Esme with me and the children whom I thought I might never see again.

We do all undervalue our daily existence. But when that is threatened how sweet are the mundane things of life! Here in the house, the dreadful back stairs I wanted to pull down now seem quite lovely and I am only too glad to be able to climb them again.

But O, Margot, the utter sorrow I feel for all the poor souls who cannot know the joy of a homecoming, whose dear ones are distracted with grief over their loss, is at times more than I can stand. The why of it all perplexes me so that I am not able quite to rest, which disturbs Cosmo exceedingly on my account as he is insistent that I should try and not think of it. And yet he thinks of it all the while and shuts himself up in the library for hours on end, dear man, worrying and looking a fright when he emerges, he is so downcast.

Our suffering is made all the more acute as you well know by the vicious reports which are making the rounds of the press and seem to be growing more outrageously vile by the day. Poor brave little Franks is here at my side, as ever, and her nearness is a comfort and a blessing. She will be with me tomorrow in the court.

I am very much pleased and touched to learn that you intend coming and showing your support for us. I feel an enormous dread of the moment we shall take the box but there is nothing for it as we must defend ourselves against the atrocious lies being printed and which have caused us the greatest distress.

Knowing you are to be there, dear one, will soothe my nerves somewhat I trust, and I am indeed thankful for your special words of encouragement at this most trying time.

Fondest love,

Lucy

________________________________________________

A transcript of this letter was made available to me by the late Earl of Halsbury, Lady Duff Gordon's grandson. As Lord Halsbury had always been very guarded with me on the subject of the Titanic, it was with some emotion on his part and mine that he handed this document to me on my last visit with him before his death from a massive stroke in January last year. There were no words exchanged though the tears welling in his eyes told me what he could not say.

I never asked Lord Halsbury how he came by this letter. I can only imagine that his grandmother had made a copy of it or that the Asquiths, whom he knew, had returned it to him at some later date.

I was feeling meloncholy today over the loss of my friend whose support and advice I sorely miss. I wanted to share this historic letter with my friends here on ET as both a token of my admiration of a very great man and a tribute to his remarkable grandmother ("Gar" he called her), whom he loved so much.

I have the intention of giving a copy of this transcript to the Titanic Historical Society.

Randy
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Indeed! Thanks so much for sharing that marvelous letter and your accompanying thoughts here, Randy. It's really quite remarkable! Bravo, sir.

Sincerely,
John Feeney
 
Oct 23, 2000
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My repects, Randy, about the loss of your friend Lord Halsbury a year ago this month.
Three cheers for your find, though. This letter is something that shakes all the cobwebs off of Lady Duff-Gordon's dusty image in the lore of the Titanic and reminds us all that she was a person just like any of us.
It also shows us that she wasn't unaffected by what she had endured (are we even SURE she said to Miss Francatelli "There's your beautiful nightdress gone." right after the grisly finale of the T.'s sinking?), and that neithier was Sir Cosmo.
Congrats once more, Randy! :)

Richard K.
 
Aug 29, 2000
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Randy, thanks for sharing- letters reveal so much don't they? I would love to collect letters of Titanic people someday and put together a volume- much like the book of private correspondence which was published after the deaths of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Smith letters would be a great addition in such a format- I have a few other postcards and survivor letters. The details so fascinating- just little glimpses of their everyday life so often missing in newspaper reporting.
 
Dec 31, 2000
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Thank you all so much for sharing the private writings of those who survived or the relatives of those who survived.

I can not fathom what I might of felt had I been in their situation, the depth of feeling that is expressed in the many letters and accounts that I have read over the years..

I agree, a book of letters should be done.. it would be a huge asset, to set right, what the press made wrong.

Beverly
 
C

Christine Geyer

Guest
Dear Randy,

Thank you very much for sharing this letter!! It was very touching to read, as well as the story of your friend. And it's a wonderful thing that such things are treasured through all this time and still reach us.

A collection of letters like this would make a great book, maybe completed with the stories of such remarkable friendships with the families of the survivors.

My thoughts are with you.

best regards
Christine
 
Mar 20, 2000
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My ET friends,

Thank all of you so much for your kind messages of appreciation about Lucy's letter. I am happy that others find it as special as I do.

When I began my research the farthest thing from my mind was that I would become as attached to the Duff Gordons' story as I have. It was also unthinkable that I would actually come to know their relatives and even count some of them as friends.

My book is finally being considered by a publisher of high reputation and preliminary word is positive so I'm kocking wood and crossing fingers all over the place.

Excerpts from Lucy's Titanic letter are included in the relevent chapter in my mss but I hope it can be published in its entirety in the kind of book of letters some of you are expressing interest in.

If this interest is any indication of how a great many others feel, then it should inspire two authors whom I understand are working on just such a volume.

I add my voice to the general call for a book of letters from or to Titanic survivors/victims and their loved ones as such a book would be of inestimable value to history - perhaps the most important book ever to deal with the subject of Titanic from the point of view of the people who sailed her.

Thanks again everybody.

Randy
 
Dec 13, 1999
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Randy,
Many thanks for sharing this fascinating letter with us all. It goes to show how the Duff-Gordons were maligned by the media and portrayed as unfeeling.

Geoff
 
Sep 20, 2000
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"If this interest is any indication of how a great many others feel, then it should inspire two authors whom I understand are working on just such a volume.

Hi, Randy:

I certainly hope it does -- such a compendium would be an incredible treasure! I don't know if those two authors are peeking in, but "YES INDEED!"

I felt the same way when Shelley posted those Captain Smith letters from Mystic. These personal communications add a whole 'nother dimension to the people involved, whom we all too often see as little more than cardboard cutouts in a diorama -- two-dimensional characters in a play, rather than fully "fleshed out" human beings.

(As a side note, does anyone know if -- outside of "Titanic Voices" -- *any* significant compilation of unabridged survivor reminiscences has been published? Naturally, I'm aware of the Hearings, and I've read that Paul Quinn's books contain significant *excerpts*, but are there any actual compendia in existence?)

Many thanks!
John Feeney
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Feb 9, 1999
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Randy -

Just echoing what the others have said - good stuff! There's nothing that engages us quite as much with the story of the Titanic as a personal, candid letter - the voice of the writer speaks to the reader without the filtering through the medium of anyone else's thoughts or interpretations. It's quite as powerful (if not more so) when reading the letters of those who didn't survive, and whose correspondence ends shortly before or after boarding the ship - a voice cut off in mid-sentence. There have been moments in reading the private correspondence of these individuals, however, when the material has been so personal as to make me feel an intruder - I know of some letters that most certainly were not meant for the public, written by a man who could have had no idea that his sole place in history would be as a victim of a notorious maritime disaster.

Good news, too, on the publication front :) Best of luck to you with this, and I hope to see that book on the shelves as soon as possible.

All the best,

Inger
 

Philip Hind

Editor
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Sep 1, 1996
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Thanks for this Randy, and thanks for the latest package - folks, there'll be more from the excellent Mr Bigham appearing on ET very soon!
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Thanks Inger & Phil,

Ing - I absolutely agree as to the effect of those letters from or to victims rather than survivors. I've read a few and always feel the immediacy of the disaster in a way that is impossible in another context. This is also true of some survivors' personal letters written soon after the disaster. Some are so riveting it is actually exhausting to read them, the words being so intense and the emotion so raw that the story is conveyed almost too vividly.

Phil - I am glad to be able to help. Now that the Lucile project is winding down, I'm doing some spare-time research on Titanic's other fashion gal Edith Russell and so far this is coming along well. Will share this with you in due course.

Randy
 

Norman Olsen

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Nov 20, 2000
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Randy, I definitely appreciate reading that letter and whole heartedly support a book on letters of those involved in the diasaster. I've been interested in ships and the sea since I was a kid, and especially RMS Titanic. My interest was mainly on the ships themselves until I looked closer a RMS Titanic and the impact it has had on society and each person involved even to this day. To learn about RMS Titanic is to also know the people and their families who were involved, including impact on relatives today in 2001. One can then get a valuable insight as to the human side of this tragedy and appreciate that much more what happened on the night of April 14-15, 1912. I would be definitely interested in your book and any other material that becomes available. Through these letters we may even get answers to many questions that we do not have now. The best in your endeavors. Norm
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Norm & all,

Thanks for your kind wishes.

For those of you who haven't read them already, here are a few excerpts from letters quoted in Meredith Etherington-Smith's "The 'It' Girls," the 1986 dual biography of Lucy Duff Gordon and her sister, novelist Elinor Glyn.

In a letter addressed to Lucy at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York, dated April 19, 1912, and headed "Our Narrative," Elinor confided her feelings of worry, concern, and hope:

"...I felt uneasy and did not like the idea of a maiden voyage for the ship...On Monday morning, I was choosing brocades (at Lucile's) when Maria (Elinor's maid)called me on the telephone and began like this - 'All the passengers are saved but there has been an accident to the Titanic.' My only thought was 'These greys don't match!" I suggested going to Blumenfeld (editor of the Daily Express) while Tivy (Lucy's son-in-law Lord Tiverton) went to read the tape at the club. Blumenfeld was ill but his sub, Mr. Wilson saw me and read the telegrams, but just those saying all was well...no mention of anyone being drowned. I felt much happier until I saw one telegram that he was trying to keep his hand over, which said the Titanic's wireless message was urgent...the end of the message was blurred and ended abruptly. I then felt the first horror, but underneath for some reason I had no depression or fear. I knew whoever else went down, you would be safe..."

Elinor, who like her sister was an ardent follower of the New Thought movement of the time, went on to relate in sometimes dotty language, that by the following morning on looking at the newspapers she

"...was staggered at the news in them saying the ship was sinking...the Express kept telephoning more and more grave news about women saved but men not ...there seemed to be an angel in the room who told us your great occult strength had pulled Cosmo through too..."

The mid-day editions of some London papers were listing the Duff Gordons as lost but Elinor kept faith that her sister and brother-in-law were alive:

"...I have never felt more calm and certain in my life, not a tremor shook me. We were certainly sustained by those beyond because every fact seemed to prove you were drowned ...then the Express rang to say your names had just arrived as saved -this was about one o'clock...the Lucile girls who had been crying and weeping and fainting all the morning were also wild with joy...we only feared for Miss Franks ... the angels were in the room all the time...Gran (Lucy's and Elinor's mother, Mrs. Kennedy) was perfectly calm. Just think of the change New Thought has wrought in her - she too had the angels' assurance you were perfectly safe..."

Lucy Duff Gordon's US attorney Bainbridge Colby (who had formed the Progressive Party with Roosevelt, served later as Secretary of State under Wilson, and is best remembered for signing into law the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote), was among the group of American friends meeting her and her husband at the pier in New York on Carpathia's landing April 18. In a letter to Lucy's family, Colby wrote

"...We had a period of great anxiety here until their names appeared on the list of survivors...I met the Carpathia on its arrival. It was a most solemn and tense moment when its gangplank was thrown ashore...Sir Cosmo and her Ladyship sauntered off in apparently excellent conditions of health and courage. Their baggage consisted of two lifebelts which they are preserving as momentos of their terrible experience..."

These letters are all in the possession of Lucy's descendents, namely a great-granddaughter and a great-great neice who is Elinor Glyn's literary executor. It is my hope that these letters and all the many others will find their way into a suitable archive in due course.

Randy
 

Jason D. Tiller

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Aug 20, 2000
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Hi Randy,

I just read the Lucile letter (catching up on earlier posts) and I found it very touching. I echo with what everybody else has posted. It goes to show how the media wrongly portrayed them. The excerpts that you posted above were also very moving.

I also agree that a book of letters should be done. That would be wonderful. Also, my condolances to you on the loss of your friend.

All the best with your book. I also hope to see it on the bookshelves soon.

Best regards,

Jason
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