WONDERFUL TLS OF VIRGINIA WOOLF TO LOGAN PEARSALL SMITH — ”COME AND LAUGH AT ME AND MY WORK AND MY FRIENDS TO MY FACE, AND I’LL DO THE SAME TO YOU. NO DOUBT WE SHALL BOTH PROFIT.”
WOOLF, VIRGINIA. (1882-1941). British novelist, essayist and critic. Typed Letter Signed, “Virginia Woolf”, on her imprinted 52 Tavistock Square, W.C.1. Telephone: Museum 2621 stationery, with four-line postscript entirely in her hand. Three full pages, two quarto, one octavo. Bloomsbury, November 6, 1932. To Logan Pearsall Smith. Left blank margin of the quarto leaf has been cut away [as seen] and has, minor repairs, else fine condition. The octavo signature bearing leaf, is in extremely fine condition. It is the content and the length of this letter that makes it so captivating. Woolf writes:
“Dear Logan, Do not be alarmed, to quote your own words, by the thought that I am proffering an olive branch. And excuse the typewriter, but my hand is getting too illegible for prolonged use. Confined to my sofa at the moment-how apposite to your reference to a heart specialist was! I have been pondering your letter, certain aspects of which interested me greatly; so that I can’t resist writing, though I fear longwindedly, but then I’m rather knocked up. I agree with you that one can admire a set or group and at the same time indulge a malicious desire to laugh at it. Am I not just as guilty as you are? Only of course I laugh at Chelsea whereas you laugh at Bloomsbury. And I feel great admiration and respect for Chelsea as you do for Bloomsbury—indeed I can’t see any reason for you to prefer Bloomsbury, as you intimate that is ironical. And I too have always thought and I have often said (to quote you again) to the great annoyance of people like Lady Desborough and Mrs. Keppel who (you know what great ladies are) sometimes sneer at Chelsea, that in my opinion it is full of delightful people and brilliant gatherings. How could it not be? I need only mention, besides yourself, Desmond, Maurice Baring, Ethel Sands, Bob and Hilda Trevelyan, Mr. Connolly, Mrs. Hammersly, and then theres [sic] Sibyl Colefax round the corner. How can you, even out of politeness, put us in Bloomsbury above you? (I’m sure you don’t). It’s only your fun. But much though I admire Chelsea, I freely admit that I have mocked at you all because mockery is ‘my favourite pastime,’ just as it is yours. And I may have made up a story or two about you into the bargain. Up to this point then there is not much difference between us. Now comes the interesting distinction. I have known Chelsea for many years. For many years they have asked me to tea and dinner and I have asked them to tea and dinner. And then I discovered that they were laughing at me and my friends behind my back; and they discovered that I was laughing at them and their friends behind their backs. So I gave up asking them; and I gave up accepting their invitations. This is not due to having a good heart, it is simply that such intercourse seemed to me dull, barren, fruitless, uninteresting. Now what I find so interesting is that you, who are, as far as I can make out, in the same case as I am, will yet take the trouble to write to me and say ‘perhaps we are enemies?…I seem to recollect that I received but a frosty answer the last time I suggested coming to see you. Or was it perhaps no answer at all?’—you will write like this implying—but again, in dealing with so ironical a mind how careful one must be not to exaggerate—still such words do seem to me to imply that you would actually like to come and see me. Yes, I turn to your first letter, and there you say in so many words ‘I often regret that I never see you’. Now is this true, or is it ironical? And how can you like seeing me, if you laugh at me and my friends behind my back? Those are some of the questions that I ponder as I lie here. And, thus pondering, it seems to me possible that you are right—at least to this extent. That is, why should not Chelsea and Bloomsbury meet and laugh at each other to their faces and quite genuinely enjoy themselves? It seems to me worth trying. Then again, you say ‘critics resent criticism, and mockers being mocked’. But do they, if it’s done face to face? Surely both sides might benefit greatly if it were done in that way. I am ashamed to see that I have written all this without making, or quoting, a single aphorism. And how delightful your little galaxy of them from—is it Fulke Greville?—at the end of your letter! I have racked my brains to share one to end with; but am relieved to have it on your authority that ‘no woman (except George Eliot) was ever mistress of this delicate art’. So be it. I will leave aphorisms to your sex. With regard to the pin prick—with this little pinprick to send my letter to quote you again—my how be it that either through age or heart I have become almost impervious to pin-pricks. If you can’t (this is only going to be a very small sheet) you will have to prick a good deal harder. And I promise, if you will come and see me, that I’ll rummage in my dressing table for a few pins of my own. I’m sure you don’t intend to claim pin-pricking as an exclusively masculine art. There, to quote you once more, we must leave it. Come and laugh at me and my work and my friends to my face, and I’ll do the same to you. No doubt we shall both profit. I am not allowed at present to do much entertaining, but in two or three weeks I shall be delighted to see you on the terms stated, I fear rather diffusely, above. Yours very sincerely, Virginia Woolf. I’m reading this over. True that the molehill has become a mountain—but then the molehill was raised by you.”
An American writer who moved permanently to England in 1888, Logan Pearsall Smith authored such works as On Reading Shakespeare, Reperusals and Re-collections and Milton and His Modern Critics. Smith was fond of aphorisms, as Woolf references in this letter, and wrote an article titled “English Aphorisms” for the September 1928 volume of Dial Magazine. Woolf was also a regular contributor to the popular publication, as were many prominent authors and artists of the time. As this letter reveals, Woolf and Smith had been engaged for some time in a tongue-in-cheek debate concerning the rivalry between Chelsea and Bloomsbury. This glimpse of Woolf’s witticisms gives a taste of the playful game of one-upmanship taking place between the two contemporaries.