An Instrumental Patron

By Dale Stinchcomb, Assistant Curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library

Even for a dance company as innovative as the Ballets Russes, the staging of “Les Noces” (“The Wedding”) in 1923 was a radical leap forward. Bronislava Nijinska’s raw evocation of a peasant wedding has been called feminist in its portrayal of a bride sacrificed to the forces of society and tradition. Avant-gardist Natalia Goncharova designed the austere décors. Add to the mix a controversial score by Igor Stravinsky for a battery of percussion, chorus, and four—yes, four—pianos, and you’ve got the makings of a modernist masterpiece.

Black and white photo of Serge Diaghilev, Boris Kochno, Bronislava Nijinska, Ernest Ansermet, and Igor Stravinsky sitting at an outdoor café in Monte Carlo.

From Left: Serge Diaghilev, Boris Kochno [in straw boater hat], Bronislava Nijinska, Ernest Ansermet, and Igor Stravinsky in Monte Carlo while rehearsing “Les Noces,” 1923. MS Thr 495 (185).

Scholars have generally assumed that the pianos were loaned by the French piano maker Pleyel, at whose workshop in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis Stravinsky kept his studio (see Drue Fergison, “Bringing Les Noces to the Stage” in The Ballets Russes and its World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999, 183). But a recently acquired letter by Stravinsky identifies Martine Marie Pol de Béhague, Comtesse de Béarn (1870–1939) as the owner of a most unusual piano played at the premiere.

A handwritten letter from Igor Stravinsky to Martine de Béhague in French, signed by the composer and written in Paris, 24 June 1923.

Letter from Igor Stravinsky to Martine de Béhague, Comtesse de Béarn, 24 June 1923. MS Thr 837.

No biography of the Countess de Béarn has been written, but she knew all too well about the restrictive nature of marriage, having wed a cavalry officer at age 19. The couple separated almost immediately, leaving her rich and single, and free to satisfy her voracious interest in art. She traveled widely aboard her yacht Le Nirvana, filling her hôtel in the rue Saint-Dominique with works by Titian, Leonardo, Rubens, and impressive collections of sculpture, textiles, porcelain, and antiquities. (A portion of her library was auctioned at Christie’s in November.) At her private theatre, the largest in the capital, she hosted Isadora Duncan and presided over first performances of compositions by Friedrich Gernsheim, Charles Marie Widor, and Gabriel Fauré.

Fittingly, hers was no ordinary piano. Stravinsky’s note, dated eleven days after the opening of “Noces,” thanks her for loaning a “magnifique double-Pleyel.” The double Pleyel, often referred to as a “grand double,” “duo-clave,” or “vis-à-vis,” has a full keyboard at either end and two separate ranks of strings on a shared soundboard. At a time when most well-to-do households could only muster one piano, the “grand double” was marketed to Parisians wanting two but for whom space, if not money, was scarce.

A Pleyel double grand piano that featurs a keyboard on each end of the instrument.

Pleyel double grand piano, 1928. Photo by Claude Germain. Source: Philharmonie de Paris.

Piano duets had been the usual formula for arrangements of orchestral works throughout the 19th century. Stravinsky himself created four-hand piano transcriptions of his earlier ballets “Le Sacre du Printemps” and “Pétrouchka,” intended for use in rehearsals and domestic settings. But for Stravinsky, who labored over the instrumentation of “Les Noces” on and off for close to a decade, “an orchestra of four pianos” was new territory.

It was also a tall order for a 20-minute ballet and the cramped pit of the Théâtre de la Gaîté Lyrique. Nijinska and Goncharova were forced to work around them. Goncharova’s early sketches, as well as her finished designs, show four pianos flanking the stage. We know the company rehearsed in Monaco and Paris with four grand pianos (Fergison 180), so the loan of two double grands for the premiere (the second presumably from Pleyel) was likely arranged after the four-week Monte Carlo season ended.

A set design drawn in pencil depics four pianos on stage, two on either side.

Set design by Natalia Goncharova for “Les Noces,” circa 1923. MS Thr 200.

Stravinsky undoubtedly recalled Martine de Béhague’s generous loan of her double Pleyel years later while composing his famous “Concerto for Two Pianos.” Testing music for two pianos on one was frustrating, so he asked Pleyel to build him a double model of his own. That instrument was used by Stravinsky and his son Soulima at the premiere in 1935.

Few double pianos were ever made, and even fewer survive. Of the 48 manufactured by Pleyel between 1897 and 1943, only seven remain, including Martine de Béhague’s. It surfaced intact in 2017 at an auction house in Southern France, ready to begin the next chapter in its storied life.

“The love of a ghost for a ghost”: T.S. Eliot on his letters to Emily Hale

By Leslie A. Morris, Gore Vidal Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, Houghton Library

On November 25, 1960, four years after Emily Hale told him she was giving his letters to her to Princeton, T.S. Eliot wrote a letter to his Executors with an accompanying document. Revised on September 30, 1963, the document was sealed and entrusted to his wife Valerie, who was instructed to give it to the librarian in charge of the Eliot Collection at Harvard, to be made public on the day his letters to Emily Hale were made public at Princeton University Library.

For 51 years, the letter has sat quietly on a shelf in the Houghton Library vault, but today the Library fulfills its promise to the poet. Below are images of that letter; the contents are also printed in full at the end of this post.

Letter titled DIRECTIONS TO MY EXECUTORS, signed by T.S. Eliot, which precedes the 3-page letter he wrote regarding his letters to Emily Hale.

© Estate of T.S. Eliot

Page 1 of T.S. Eliot's 3-page letter regarding the letters he wrote to Emily Hale. © Estate of T.S. Eliot

© Estate of T.S. Eliot

Page 2 of T.S. Eliot's 3-page letter regarding the letters he wrote to Emily Hale. © Estate of T.S. Eliot

© Estate of T.S. Eliot

Page 3 of T.S. Eliot's 3-page letter regarding the letters he wrote to Emily Hale. © Estate of T.S. Eliot

© Estate of T.S. Eliot

Eliot’s relationship with Harvard University is well-known. He was a student here (A.B. 1910; A.M 1911), Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry 1932-1933, and he returned for other occasions, such as his honorary doctorate in 1947. But his relationship with Houghton Library was focused by the Eliot Collection. The collection, assembled around the publications sent by Eliot to his mother Charlotte, was greatly augmented by his older brother Henry Ware Eliot Jr. (A.B. 1902) and, after Henry’s death in 1947, by Henry’s widow, Theresa Garrett Eliot.

From 1936, the collection was housed in the library of Eliot House, one of the undergraduate houses at Harvard but when the Navy took that over in WWII, the collection was transferred to Houghton Library, an arrangement made permanent in 1951. The poet supported this family effort, giving manuscript pages relating to Murder in the Cathedral, drafts of The Family Reunion, and some of his letters to his mother.

Houghton Library also had been collecting Eliot’s work, and William Jackson, its first Librarian, developed a close working relationship and friendship with the poet and his family. Once the Eliot Collection was within the walls of Houghton, Jackson agreed that—to protect the family’s privacy—no unpublished material would be made available to students or scholars without Eliot’s permission. As Eliot wrote to Jackson in 1954, “Letters one wrote years ago and which one has completely forgotten, can easily be misunderstood by such people, and I don’t see that private correspondence is any of their business.”

This agreement was renewed by Jackson’s successor, William Bond, when Valerie Eliot brought him the “confidential document” now published above, and the Library has continued to honor that promise made so long ago. Fortunately, the rapid pace of publication by the Eliot Estate has meant that fewer and fewer materials are restricted, and the Library looks forward to the day when all its substantial Eliot holdings are freely accessible.

This remarkable autobiographical document, along with the letters to Emily Hale at Princeton, sheds new light on Eliot’s relationship with three significant women in his life: Emily Hale, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, and Valerie Fletcher. As Eliot says at the end of this document, “May we all rest in peace.”

The reverse of the envelope in which Eliot's letter was contained; it reads "To be opened only in accordance with the attached conditions"; it is dated 19 November 1968 and signed by W.H. Bond and Valerie Eliot.© Estate of T.S. Eliot

© Estate of T.S. Eliot

Statement by T. S. Eliot on the opening of the Emily Hale letters at Princeton


regarding the envelope enclosed herewith.

Miss Emily Hale, of Massachusetts, has presented to the Library of Princeton University the letters which I wrote to her between 1932 and 1947 – possibly a few of them a little earlier; any written after the death of my first wife are so different in sentiment that she may not have included them. It has come to my ears that she has added, or is preparing to add, some sort of commentary of her own. It therefore seems to me necessary to place on record my own picture of the background of this correspondence, and my present attitude towards it.

I wish the statement by myself to be made public as soon as the letters to Miss Hale are made public. (I make clear a little further on what I mean by the term “make public”). This ought not to be until fifty years after my death. But a good deal of publicity is possible without publication (in print); and I feel no assurance that complete privacy will be preserved up to that date; and if the letters themselves, or any of them, or any excerpts or quotations from any of them, or Miss Hale’s “commentary”, are disclosed before that time, or if it transpires that any individual or individuals has or have been given access to any of the letters before that date, then I wish the enclosed statement to be made public at the same time.

In case the Princeton Library preserves my letters unopened (as it ought to do) until fifty years after my death, when my Executors will be dead also, I suggest that the sealed envelope enclosed herewith should be given by my wife to the Librarian in charge of the “Eliot Collection” of my work and of other matter to do with me at Harvard University. (This collection is at present housed in the Houghton Library of Harvard University). It should be given to him with strict injunctions that it should be opened and made public fifty years after my death, or when the collection of letters to Miss Hale at Princeton University is made public before that date. If the latter collection is made public in any of the ways indicated above, then the enclosed letter should be made public in the same way. If it came to the knowledge of the Harvard authority or authorities in charge of the “Eliot Collection” and of this sealed envelope, that any person or persons had had access to the letters in the Princeton Library, whether with a view to making use of them in any piece of written work or not, or to any of those letters or any part of any letter, I should wish this sealed envelope to be opened and its contents made public also.

25 November 1960.

T.S. Eliot

It is painful for me to have to write the following lines. I cannot conceive of writing my autobiography. It seems to me that those who can do so are those who have led purely public and exterior lives, or those who can successfully conceal from themselves what they prefer not to know about themselves – there may be a few persons who can write about themselves because they are truly blameless and innocent. In my experience, there is much for which one cannot find words even in the confessional; much which springs from weakness, irresolution and timidity, from petty self-centredness rather than from inclination towards evil or cruelty, from error rather than ill-nature. I shall be as brief as I can.

During the course of my correspondence with Emily Hale, between 1932 and 1947, I liked to think that my letters to her would be preserved and made public after we were dead – fifty years after. I was however, disagreeably surprised when she informed me that she was handing the letters over to Princeton University during our lifetime – actually in the year 1956. She took this step, it is true, before she knew that I was going to get married. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that her disposing of the letters in that way at that time threw some light upon the kind of interest which she took, or had come to take, in these letters. The Aspern Papers in reverse.

I fell in love with Emily Hale in 1912, when I was in the Harvard Graduate School. Before I left for Germany and England in 1914 I told her that I was in love with her. I have no reason to believe, from the way in which this declaration was received, that my feelings were returned, in any degree whatever. We exchanged a few letters, on a purely friendly basis, while I was up at Oxford during 1914-15.

To explain my sudden marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood would require a good many words, and yet the explanation would probably remain unintelligible. I was still, as I came to believe a year later, in love with Miss Hale. I cannot however make even that assertion with any confidence: it may have been merely my reaction against my misery with Vivienne and desire to revert to an earlier situation. I was very immature for my age, very timid, very inexperienced. And I had a gnawing doubt, which I could not altogether conceal from myself, about my choice of a profession – that of a university teacher of philosophy. I had had three years in the Harvard Graduate School, at my father’s expense, preparing to take my Doctorate in Philosophy: after which I should have found a post somewhere in a college or university. Yet my heart was not in this study, nor had I any confidence in my ability to distinguish myself in this profession. I must still have yearned to write poetry. For three years I had written only one fragment, which was bad (it is, alas, preserved at Harvard). Then in 1914 Conrad Aiken showed Prufrock to Ezra Pound. My meeting with Pound changed my life. He was enthusiastic about my poems, and gave me such praise and encouragement as I had long since ceased to hope for. I was happier in England, even in wartime, than I had been in America: Pound urged me to stay in England and encouraged me to write verse again. I think that all I wanted of Vivienne was a flirtation or a mild affair: I was too shy and unpractised to achieve either with anybody. I believe that I came to persuade myself that I was in love with her simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England. To her, the marriage brought no happiness: the last seven years of her life were spent in a mental home. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land. And it saved me from marrying Emily Hale.

Emily Hale would have killed the poet in me; Vivienne nearly was the death of me, but she kept the poet alive. In retrospect, the nightmare agony of my seventeen years with Vivienne seems to me preferable to the dull misery of the mediocre teacher of philosophy which would have been the alternative.

For years I was a divided man (just as, in a different way, I had been a divided man in the years 1911-1915). In 1932 I was appointed Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard for one year; and even Vivienne’s mother agreed that it was out of the question for Vivienne to go to America with me. I saw Emily Hale in California (where she was teaching in a girls’ college) early in 1933, and I saw her from time to time every summer, I think from 1934 on, as she always joined her aunt and uncle who took a house every summer at Chipping Campden.

Upon the death of Vivienne in the winter of 1947, I suddenly realised that I was not in love with Emily Hale. Gradually I came to see that I had been in love only with a memory, with the memory of the experience of having been in love with her in my youth. Had I met any woman I could have fallen in love with, during the years when Vivienne and I were together, this would no doubt have become evident to me. From 1947 on, I realised more and more how little Emily Hale and I had in common. I had already observed that she was not a lover of poetry, certainly that she was not much interested in my poetry; I had already been worried by what seemed to me evidence of insensitiveness and bad taste. It may be too harsh, to think that what she liked was my reputation rather than my work. She may have loved me according to her capacity for love; yet I think that her uncle’s opinion’s (her uncle by marriage, a dear old man, but wooly-minded) meant more to her than mine. (She was fond of her uncle John but did not get on very well with her Aunt Edith). I could never make her understand that it was improper for her, a Unitarian, to communicate in an Anglican church: the fact that it shocked me that she should do so made no impression upon her. I cannot help thinking that if she had truly loved me she would have respected my feelings if not my theology. She adopted a similar attitude with regard to the Christian and Catholic view of divorce.

I might mention at this point that I never at any time had any sexual relations with Emily Hale.

So long as Vivienne was alive I was able to deceive myself. To face the truth fully, about my feelings towards Emily Hale, after Vivienne’s death, was a shock from which I recovered only slowly. But I came to see that my love for Emily was the love of a ghost for a ghost, and that the letters I had been writing to her were the letters of an hallucinated man, a man vainly trying to pretend to himself that he was the same man that he had been in 1914.

It would have been a still greater mistake to have married Emily than it was to marry Vivienne Haigh-Wood. I can imagine the sort of man each should have married – different from each other, but also very different from me. It is only within the last few years that I have known what it was to love a woman who truly, selflessly and whole-heartedly loves me. I find it hard to believe that the equal of Valerie ever has been or will be again; I cannot believe that there has ever been a woman with whom I could have felt so completely at one as with Valerie. The world with my beloved wife Valerie has been a good world such as I have never known before. At the age of 68 the world was transformed for me, and I was transformed by Valerie.

May we all rest in peace.

T.S. Eliot

This was written on the 25th November 1960, but the last page has been slightly altered, and re-typed, on the 30th September 1963.

The letters to me from Emily Hale have been destroyed by a colleague at my request.

T.S. Eliot

© Estate of T.S. Eliot

A transcription of these documents is ​also available at ​Our thanks to the Estate of T.S. Eliot for their permission.

A Missionary Recipe to Celebrate Christmas

By Rana Issa, Department of English, American University of Beirut, and 2017–2018 Houghton Visiting Fellow

A plate of Seated King Marzipans on a blue plate next to a red candle.

Seated King Marzipans. All images by Mitch Nakaue.

I love the archive. Mostly, I love all the wonderful scraps of paper that do not have any direct bearing on the stories I like to tell. Scraps that encapsulate their own story and that may not fit into seamless narratives. Historians know how exhilarating it is to turn the oddball scrap into a story, no matter how small or irrelevant it may seem at first glance.

The following recipe is one I found scribbled as part of a letter that lies dormant in the Eli Smith papers (ABC 60) at Houghton Library. I was delighted once I knew what it was that I was reading—a recipe for spicy almond cookies that American missionary Jonas King served to Eli Smith in Athens when he came to visit on January 30, 1830.

King is well-known by historians who write about this period. The history books remember him as an impassioned missionary who altercated with the religious authorities in the countries he visited. Eli Smith was his successor in the Syria Mission. He was a translator of the Bible to Arabic, a dedicated missionary whose studiousness and near-native command of Arabic remains exemplary to this day.

The cookie recipe comes from King’s wife, who learned it from the local Greek servants at her house. The recipe demonstrates how quickly Mrs. King learned Greek, which she seems to have mastered better than her husband. The cookies were given to Smith for his travel provisions because they keep well in varied temperatures. Indeed, the older they become the tastier they are.

My intervention in the recipe makes it more palatable to modern tastes. It will be included in my Christmas preparations this year, and I hope to parcel it off into small gifts. Its name plays on the etymological hypothesis that suggests that the word “marzipan” is derived from the Arabic name for the royal throne, mawthabān.

Close-up of Seated King Marzipans.

Seated King Marzipans (the contemporary way)

Editor’s note: these confections are very highly spiced, probably more than most North American palates are accustomed. We advise kneading the spices (especially the cloves) into the marzipan paste gradually, tasting as you go. Keep in mind that the cookies will become milder several days after they’re made.


  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground cloves
  • 0.5 tbsp ground nutmeg
  • 2.5 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 2.5 tbsp rose water
  • Filo sheets


  • 3 tbsp rose water
  • 3 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 0.5 tsp ground cloves
  • 0.25 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 0.5 cups confectioner’s sugar, plus extra to sprinkle


  • Preheat the oven to 325o F (160o C).
  • To make the marzipan, toast the almond flour in a dry pan until it starts to slightly change color. Mix half the sugar and the rest of the ingredients in, knead well and continue adding sugar until used up.
  • Shape the marzipan into morsel-size balls, or sculpt into birds and stars. Make small parcels with filo pastry or cover the figures well.
  • Bake for about 10 minutes. They burn very easily. (Editor’s note: because the filo is not brushed with oil or butter, it will not turn dark golden-brown. Keep checking the parcels, especially the bottoms, to ensure the filo is dry and crisp and cooked through.) As they bake, prepare the syrup by mixing all the ingredients. Remove the marzipans from the oven and toss in the syrup to cover. Put on a plate and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

They are best eaten cold, and their full flavor comes 3 days after they are made. They keep well in an airtight container for a month or more before the almonds begin to taste stale.

Recipe makes 44 morsels.

Seated King Marzipans on a plate next to red candle and in front of Christmas tree branches.


Now in Print: Reconstructing the Personal Library of William James by Ermine Algaier

An image of the cover of Reconstructing the Personal Library of William James

Image: Rowman & Littlefield.

A hearty congratulations to 2017–2018 Houghton Visiting Fellow Ermine L. Algaier IV, Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Monmouth College in Illinois, who recently published his book, Reconstructing the Personal Library of William James: Markings and Marginalia from the Harvard Library Collection (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

Dr. Algaier provides a comprehensive account of all of the known titles from James’ library held by Harvard. In addition to a detailed annotated bibliography covering nearly 2,900 volumes, his book includes essays on the history of the collection, how it came to Harvard, and the methods of reconstructing the James library.

Houghton Library Visiting Fellowships provide financial and research support to researchers working on projects substantially related to Houghton collections. The deadline for the 2020–2021 fellowship is January 17, 2020. For more information and to apply, visit the Houghton Visiting Fellowship webpage.

A Boston High School Grad Dives into Library Work

By Vicki Denby, Manuscript-End Processor, Houghton Library

A student sits in front of a computer next to a library cart with photographs on it.

Richard Chen inputs descriptive data for Houghton’s Harvard Theatre Collection of theatrical portrait photographs, circa 1860-2010 (TCS 28).

This summer, Houghton Library partnered with the City of Cambridge to hire a paid intern from the Summer Youth Employment Program (or SYEP), which offers work to high school students in both Cambridge and Boston.

Richard Chen, from the class of 2019 at Josiah Quincy Upper School in Boston, put in full work weeks for the Manuscript section of the Technical Services department between July 8 and August 6.

Arriving with previous experience ranging from Write Boston to teacher’s aide to Harvard Model U. N., Boston, Richard was an extremely hard worker. Outside of work, he took advantage of the resources in Harvard’s Widener Library to complete courses toward a teaching license, which he pursued with great success. His willingness to follow through on both short and long-term projects helped make our collections available to researchers from around the world.

One of the first collections he worked on, applying identifying labels to folders, was the Maria St. Just collection of Tennessee Williams papers, 1947-1984. Richard was familiar with this author, and asked if he could share an image of a letter from the collection with one of his former high school teachers.

A typed letter by Tennessee Williams to Mary St. Just next to an envelope with a typed address and stamped with "special delivery."

Letter from Tennessee Williams to Mary St. Just, June 22, 1976. (MS Thr 1856; Box 1, folder 17).

Later, he assisted with labeling items in diverse collections such as correspondence from the Lyonel Feininger papers, 1883-1960, begun toward the end of his internship, to a wooden jigsaw puzzle (Circus block game, circa 1880) that had to be assembled so it could be housed appropriately.

Two handwritten letters by Lyonel Feininger, one white and one pink, with drawings.

Letters from Lyonel Feininger to his son, Laurence Feininger, 1949 (Lyonel Feininger papers, 1883-1960, MS Ger 146-146.3; Box 31).

Richard also worked on a container management project for two collections: the Woodberry Poetry Room collection of broadsides, circa 1914-1991 (MS Am 3190) and the Harvard Theatre Collection of playbills and programs from New York City theaters, circa 1800-1930 (TCS 65). He helped re-number shelf ranges in the stacks to conform with ArchivesSpace software, and input over 7000 authors and titles into software to make new ArchivesSpace-conforming labels for all boxed manuscript collections.

At college, Richard hopes to major in both history and English, with a minor in secondary education. He says, “My specific career goal is to become a high school history teacher. The Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL), which I am taking in the fall, will result in an initial licensure after student teaching in my senior year. I’m taking it early because I want to gain additional certifications like English or English as a Second Language (ESL) to allow me to stand out when I graduate.”

Block puzzle with two clowns boxing.

One of five jigsaw puzzles (MS Thr 1968) that Richard assembled.

Richard had a specific interest in working at a library this summer. It is a trend we are starting to see in collaborating with the various programs at Harvard that assist high school students. Though the internship is meant to give youth experience that will help them pursue any career, we are excited at the prospect of being able to also tailor internships to those interested in exploring the library environment as a place to work.