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Asquith, Raymond (1878-1916), scholar and army officer
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Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

(The British Hospital, Wimereux.)—Few cases stay in the hospital unless they are dying; operations continue all day and patients are passed on as quickly as possible. At the end of the day she was tired and demoralised. More patients have come in tonight, the gas cases being the most harrowing. Has received his letter. Discusses the composition of the new Cabinet and Montagu’s appointment (as Financial Secretary to the Treasury).

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Transcript

May 25th 1915

My darling I foresee that in a very short time I shall become a real war bore. Please, if I do, treat me as harshly as Raymond treated Katharine, its the only way to cure women with my complaint.

All yesterday was swelteringly hot, sun streaming in on all sides, tiny wards crammed with beds, and sterilizers and kettles bubbling ans steaming away. This is practically a clearing hospital, very few cases unless they are dying stay very long and through shortage of nurses and appliances one is able to do very little for them. Operations go on all day long, when we went to bed last night there were 16 men waiting to be done. They pour in at all moments are operated dressed and as soon as possible passed on to make room for fresh ones. Its really rather ghastly But you see it has a deteri[or]ating effect on one even in one day, God knows what I shall do after a month. I shall be too awful, Diana will never speak to me unless I’m very careful.

I was limp with heat and staggered into bed at about 9.30 last night. No sign of the Neumanns which was an improvement, tho’ I am bound to say they are both very kind and take trouble about one. The food is fouler than in the London Hospital. {1}

Today has been a fearful rush & I’ve only just finished at a quarter to 10, I started it well by getting up early and bathing before breakfast which was most delicious, and the only moment of the day when the heat hasnt been almost unbearable. In the afternoon even my love of blood was satisfied as I watch[ed] for about an hour a man have 4 different deep holes cut in him, till I turned green and to my intense shame was sent away. Tonight 60 new cases have come in, one or two gas ones. They are far the most harrowing to watch as they daily get worse, turn purple and blue and I suppose die quite soon. Its all very horrible.

I got your letter this evening, the first and only one I’ve had from anyone, but it was a very good beginning, I loved it. Please go on, I feel so isolated. I’ve just seen a paper with the new Cabinet in it, Pease I’m glad to see is out, but some of the others surprise and horrify me. McKenna & Simon! How will you like Reggie as your chief? I believe he’ll occasion you even more misery than George who at anyrate everyone knew was more than often wrong financially, but Reggie has a reputation which may be difficult to stand against. But I’m sure it will be all right. Dont be sad about it darling.

I’ve seen no one to day, tomorrow I hope to have some fun with Frances.

My hands are already quite dreadful, from acids & disinfectants, I shant dare see you for weeks after I come back, you will be so disgusted by me.

There is one real tragedy about this place & that is that it isnt possible to have a hot bath. Isnt that dreadfully squalid? I feel most ashamed of it, so you see the sea is ones only hope.

My darling I do mind my letters to you being so horrible. I want so to write you delicious ones so that you should go on thinking me a divine woman, and instead I produce these, which are calculated to make any sensitive man completely disillusioned. Dont tell me tho’ if you begin to think me ghastly, I’d rather find out by degrees, tho’ I shall mind dreadfully!

I may not write to you tomorrow, so dont curse me if I dont, I have very little time.

I wear my lovely pearls day and night and think a great deal of you.

I must go to bed.

Goodnight

Venetia

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Partly written in pencil (see below). Written at the British Hospital, Wimereux.

{1} The writing changes from pencil to ink here.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

In the train (from London to Alderley).—Is travelling with the Prime Minister, who is more cheerful now, but she does not think the party will be a success. Discusses Montagu’s behaviour and feelings towards her, and reflects on the prospects of their future together. Discusses arrangements for meeting.

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Transcript

April 30th 1915. In train {1}.

Darling I wish I felt the faintest inspiration, but this infernal train shakes so that I find it impossible to concentrate either my mind or my pen. Opposite me sits the P.M in a more cheerful frame of mind I think, but I’ve a feeling in my bones that this party isnt going to be a success, I feel I shall quarrel with Bongie, be odious to the P.M, & have to avoid Violets questions, if she bothers to ask them. Why were you so transparent? Diana & I settled last night that “if & when” we were ever engaged we would never, once it was announced, go out together, because one can so easily see how supremely ridiculous it makes people. I dont know what is the right attitude to adopt. What do you think? I saw Katharine this morning & she asked me if we’d had a good drive as she thought you were preparing to be rather crusty to me. So you were werent you, but we had great fun in spite of it. I think she was quite right to tell you that I was “queer”. I’m sure I am! & if we keep our minds fixed on that we shall be quite all right. But please darling dont be too ready at once to think that because I dont see you every day, & can contemplate going to Boulogne, that I dont any longer like you. I’ve told you over & over again that I’m no fun to be in love with, that my supply of emotion is a thin & meagre one, but such as it is, had in quantity & quality its yours.

And you mustnt always be examining it under a microscope or subjecting it to severe tests because it wont stand it!

We can have such fun together and are & I’m sure could be so really happy, & if that cant be made a good basis for marriage I dont know that I shall ever find a better. We’ve both I’m bound to say always put ourselves before the other in the most unprepossessing terms. You take every opportunity of telling me that nothing that I want will ever make you alter your mode of life, & I am always impressing on you the fact that I’m completely & cold bloodedly detached from all interest in my own life. It doesnt sound good on paper. And yet I’m simply longing for you to be here, & miss you horribly. Its again such a lovely day & we should have been so happy. I was an idiot not to make you come, & to risk you being cross with me because I talked too much to the P.M, & his thinking I was spending more time than I need with you.

Winston was much touched at yr letter, I’m glad you wrote. God how bored I feel, how glorious one’s life ought to be & how bloody it is. But I was happy yesterday thank you so much.

Lets have a Diana Raymond party on Friday {2}, arrange this with Diana, & I’ll dine with you Tuesday either alone or go to the Tree play {3}. But Friday we’ll have a buffy. I hope this isnt a horrible letter. I’m never sure.

Love
Venetia

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Letter-head of 8 Little College Street, Westminster, the home of Francis and Barbara McLaren, where Venetia had been staying.

{1} Venetia and the Prime Minister were travelling from London to Alderley for the weekend. Cf. H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley, p. 562.

{2} 7 May.

{3} The Right to Kill, a melodrama adapted from the French by Gilbert Cannan and Frances Keyzer, produced by Sir Herbert Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre on 4 May. Tree also took one of the leading parts. There appears to have only been one performance.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Admiralty, Whitehall.—This weekend has made it difficult for her to continue writing to the Prime Minister as though nothing had happened, but she is anxious to keep them (Montagu and Asquith) both happy. Refers to her plan to go to Serbia. Suggests arrangements for meeting.

(Dated Sunday.)

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Transcript

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire
Sunday.

My darling (you’ll think this I suppose merely a sign that I’m an accommodating woman & ready to comply in small things if it makes you happier) What can I say to you after this short time that you’ve been gone. That I want you back fearfully. Yes I do. And I havent in my time written this to Bongie, the P.M. Raymond and half a dozen others. I suppose it ought not to be necessary for me even to have to affirm this, but I cant help feeling that this idea is often cross-ing your mind, you’ve said it so often, & I’ve always laughed at it as a joke and not minded you thinking it, but I do now.

I know quite well that I want you back again, and I’m only afraid that this feeling will pass. Do you understand me at all. I also know that this Sunday has made it very difficult for me to go on writing to the P.M as tho’ nothing had happened. Darling what am I to do, obviously what I ought to do would be to try & carry on as I’ve been doing, you’ve both been fairly happy under that régime, and as there can be no hard and fast rule of right & wrong and as I feel none of that that people call duty towards themselves, that would be the simplest plan. But are you both happy and can I make you so if I’m not and should I be now?

Then again when to tell him. Just before Newcastle {1}, oh no not then, then just after something else will turn up & if I’m ready to tell him then you (who are far the fonder of him of us two) will have scruples, & so we shall go on till in a short time you’ll loathe me. Why cant I marry you & yet go on making him happy, but you’d neither of you think that fun & I suppose my suggesting it or thinking it possible shows to you how peculiar I am emotionally. I wish to God I’d got a really well defined idea of right & wrong, but nothing that one does to oneself seems wrong and thats how one gets into so infernal a tangle.

You cant help me no one can and if I go to Servia its only really shifting the whole responsibility & giving up.

My very dearest I want so much to see you, I’m rather frightened about what I feel, first lest it shouldnt last, & secondly lest yours shouldnt.

Write to me and say you are coming next Sunday. I want you fearfully.
I am so perplexed & wretched, I want so much to be happy and yet not to make anyone else unhappy. You made everything seem so simple, but now you are gone its as tangled as ever.

Go on loving me & above all make me love you. Perhaps Wednesday may see me in London, but I count on you Friday & we’ll have no nonsense about dinner with Sir E Grey.

Yes you shall you shall dine with him just the same.

Darling I think I love you.

Venetia

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{1} Asquith was to address a meeting of munitions workers at Newcastle on the 20th.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Admiralty, Whitehall.—(11th.) Reproaches him for being ‘bloody’ to her, but (12th) urges him to come and see her before dinner.

(Dated Sunday. The postscript was written the following morning.)

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Transcript

Admiralty, Whitehall
Sunday.

How can you be so bloody, & why? Is it merely horror at the old generation when compared with the young. Even Raymond wondered what was the matter.

This is I suppose almost worthy of Margot.

Anyhow one mustnt quarrel, but you were bloody to me.

Venetia

This was the vituperative Margot line I wrote you last night! I still repeat you were bloody, but do dine at Winstons & anyhow come & see me before dinner, anytime after 6.

Venetia

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Written in red pencil. The postscript is on a separate sheet.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire.—Thanks him for his present and refers to others she received. Sylvia’s baby has been ill, but is recovering. Asks about Montagu's stay at Easton Grey. The Prime Minister is coming on Tuesday, and she hopes Montagu will come some time too. The festivities are over, except the acting.

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Transcript

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire
Boxing day 1913

You have sent me the most lovely present. Its the nicest one I’ve got, it was too sweet of you to think of me, thank you ever and ever so much. I do really like it quite prodigiously, I’m most grateful to you. I’ve done very well all round, but the Asquith family I’ve pinched the most heavily as I’ve got presents from Margot, the P.M. Raymond, Violet, Cynthia and Katharine which is very good out of one family.

We’ve had rather a dismal Xmas so far as Sylvia’s new baby has been most fearfully ill and yesterday and the day before they thought she must die, however to day she is really better and tho’ very anxious still, they think she may live. Poor Sylvia has been most terribly unhappy about it.

I hope Easton Grey was fun, I had a very sweet letter from Margot just before she went, she seemed much better, so I hope you’ve had a happy time there.

The P.M. comes here Tuesday {1}, I hope you are coming too sometime.

We [have] been very busy with our Xmas festivities, Trees etc, but have now finished them off and have only the acting before us. Its quite enough tho’ and makes me despair.

In case I dont see you, tho’ I hope I shall, I shall now send you every possible wish for your success and happiness in 1914 and always.

Yrs
Venetia

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{1} 30th.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire.—The Government have been defeated (on the Banbury amendment), and Violet and Geoffrey have been reconciled. Describes her stay at the Wharf with the Asquiths. Has come to Alderley to rehearse the play and to hunt, before returning to the Wharf..

(Dated the 21st, a Thursday, but Thursday is referred to at one point as ‘yesterday’. The letter was probably begun on the 21st and continued the next day.)

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Transcript

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire
Nov 21st 1912

Thank you for a letter from Peshawar {1}. I am glad you are having such fun. Its hard for me not to fill several sheets of triumphant “I told you so” but I will resist. You didnt say how long you were going to stay there but long enough I expect to become as brave as a lion with all the corpses lying about. Since I wrote to you last everything has happened the Government defeated and Violet reconciled to Geoffrey. Reconciled is perhaps hardly the right word, but at any rate she is now slightly less hostile to him. She says that both he and Mr Illingworth are like men who have gone through some terrible mental experience, atheists having had a dramatic and sudden conversion, and Geoffrey is consequently gentle and muted. I havent seen him but I expect its true. The row in the House I missed. Wasnt it cruel. I had been there all the afternoon and heard the P.M. and Bonar (perky and smart and rude and vulgar as usual) and then Banbury the hero of the hour got up and it was 6.30 and I was going to the Club so I went home. I blame and blamed Bongie most bitterly for not letting me know when the row started and I should have been there in lots of time. But he is so unimaginative that just because he doesnt personally think rows exciting and deprecates my love of them, he would never dream of telling one if there was any thing on foot. I cant help being rather glad that it was Winston who was hit, as he wasnt hurt, as it has absolutely turned him from any Tory sympathy and he now swears that next to fighting the Germans the next thing he wants to do is to fight and beat the Tories. Besides I believe if it had been Excie he would have made some terrible remark in acknowledging the apology. The day after the row every one packed into the house, the Speakers Gallery was crammed for prayers, a ceremony I had never seen before, and then as you know nothing happened. It must have been agonising being away didnt you nearly embark at once for home. It would have been a bitter fulfillment of you† soothsayers prophecy.

Saturday {2} I motored down with the Prime to the Wharf. It was delicious seeing him again, I hadnt had any kind of talk with him since the end of the summer, he was in very good spirits I thought in spite of the crisis. He didnt as you can imagine talk much about it and our conversation ran in very well worn lines, the sort that he enjoys on those occasions and which irritate Margot so much by their great dreariness. I love every well know word of them and for me the familiarity is a large part of the charm. The Wharf I had never seen before and thought very nice tho’ as a solitary country place for a large gregarious family full of the most obvious drawbacks. Our party was only Margot, O.S. Raymond, Katharine, and Bluey, Violet was in Dublin {3}. We played lots of good steady family auction and I played a certain amount of chess with Raymond and the Prime with mixed but fairly satisfactory results. I dont get any better tho’ which is a bore. On Sunday we went to Fritwell (Simon’s house) I thought it very nice, it is a pity Margot didnt get that whilst she was about buying a house. We had a good Sicilian relevage at dinner and lots of the old questions. I do wish there was a chance of something of the kind again, I dont remember now if I enjoyed it so keenly at the moment, but it has certainly left the most delicious after impression. Its one of the things I have done which gives me the greatest fun to think about. Violet and I both agree as to this. I came here Thursday (yesterday) for rehearsals of the play and also to hunt which I did today and am doing tomorrow. After hunting I am going to the Wharf again, a party without Margot and the Prime. I’ve been quite alone here and have been reading the 2nd vol of Dizzy’s life which is quite amusing also a very good book of parodies by Max Beerbohm which I am going to send you. The only crab of them is that they are so like the originals that they almost cease to be funny. My pleasure in my own society is growing on me in an allarming† way, I dont know what to do about it.

I’ve taken to fencing, Katharine and I do it 3 times a week its such fun. I am trying to make Violet start too partly because I think she would like it and also because I think the Downing St garden would be such a good place to do it in in the summer.

We all miss you very much in London.

Tell me what kind of things you like hearing about I wander lost-ly and copiously amongst the mass of things I could write about, and probably eliminate just what you want to know.

My letters get longer and longer I swore this should be a short one.

Yrs
V

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{1} This has not survived.

{2} 16 November.

{3} She was staying with the Aberdeens at the Vice-Regal Lodge. See Lantern Slides, pp. 343¬–4.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire.—Sends news of the Asquiths, whom she saw in London, and other friends. Is going to learn fencing, and has been skating and hunting. Urges him to check the untruths spread by the Eye Witness and Belloc. Will return to London after the Pride of Cheshire’s wedding.

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Transcript

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire
Nov 6th 1912 Wednesday

Thank you for a letter (if you can call such a sparse communication one!) written just before reaching Bombay {1}. I got the impression that your journey had gone on being fairly dull all the time.

I spent most of last week in London, staying at Downing St. I saw not very much of the P.M. Do you remember saying how much he varied in his liking for me, and that sometimes he quite liked me and at others not at all, well this was one of the not at all times. He was horribly bored by my constant presence at breakfast, lunch and dinner (Oliver interrupts me to play chess, I hope I shall beat him). He seemed much better tho’ and said his shoulder didnt hurt him at all and he was playing golf regularly. I was very glad to see the old boy again, he is quite one of my favorite people. Margot was very funny, Violet said she had been rather complaining and crusty lately and still very much against Violet’s and my habit of seeing and liking to see our friends rather than our acquaintances. The first day I was there I was slightly crushed, or should have been if it had been anyone but Margot, by her saying to me when we were out together. “I cant tell you how sick I get of seeing your face, I can cry sometimes at the sight of you and Bluey and Bongie and Violet together.” Poor Margot I am very sorry for her as she certainly does have to see it pretty often. You will be a Godsend to her when you come back after 5 months absence, we shall almost be able to pretend that you are an acquaintance and be able to see you without bringing down on our heads this storm of abuse. Beyond this she was very nice to me. I have only once resented anything that Margot said to me and that only because I was in as nervy a condition as she was, which was when she told me I had on purpose poisoned Violet with veronal at Archerfield just after Archie died! It makes me laugh now, but I never felt more miserable than I did at the moment.

Violet was very anxious to have a months training at the London Hospital and go out and nurse the Bulgars, they are all the most violent Bulgophils. Her father as you can imagine was highly unsympathetic about this. They used to discuss it every morning at breakfast. She says all her friends except Edgar have shown the greatest lack of understanding and immagination† about her desire to do this and she is thinking of writing a play exposing them all. Conversation with her has become rather difficult as she is learning Italian from a certain Signor Rossi who comes twice a week. She knows far more, after 2 lessons than I did after 6 months Berlitz so dont ever again say that her brains arent in every way superlatively good. What ruins her conversation is that as soon as one is alone with her she starts conjugating “Essere” or “Avere” or repeating the days of the week. Perhaps this partly explains the immense progress. I saw hardly anyone in London except Geoffrey for one instant at the House, he is coming here tomorrow, also Violet, Raymond Katharine, Bluey, Hugh and Dudley Ward. Dadley† Ward I have not yet seen, I hear he is in wonderful spirits and looks 20 years younger and that he told you that women were the most unaccountable creatures. Bongie and Mikky were here over Sunday, Mikky was in his most sympathetic and inarticulate mood, he was able to exercise his sympathy on Huck who was very ill, and on me for minding about him. Bongie is learning french, whith which he makes slow progress, partly because his teacher gives him nothing but the most obscure and useless verbs, ones which I have spoken french for 20 years without using, to learn. I cant keep pace with this desire for education which is spreading from Downing St, but I am going to learn to fence as soon as I go to London next week, and on Monday I skated in Manchester and had a lesson. I hunted yesterday for the first time, I had forgotten how glorious it was, my only horse is lame tho’. I tell you this because you have always been very sympathetic and interested (or feigned it successfully) in my stable troubles.

As for the “Eye Witness” and Belloc I wish you would go for them and hound them out of existence. Not that it much matters what lies they tell, for not a soul believes them, but no one thinks it worth while to notice what they say, the result is a riot of untruth which goes on unchecked week after week.

Did you see that dear little Bluey got terribly laughed at when answering some of your questions for his clerical manner?

Whilst your letters get shorter & shorter mine seem to lengthen every time I write, we must try a more even distribution. Write a long account of what you are doing and I will cease to give you such minute accounts of what I have said and done.

I go to London Tuesday, after the Pride of Cheshires wedding {2} (I have managed to get the title Prize of Cheshire bestowed on me by the Prime, as you can well believe this gave rise to a lot of the kind of conversation which he enjoys and which Margot abhors) for 3 weeks.

I must stop.

Goodbye
Venetia

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{1} MONT II B1/55.

{2} Barbara Tomkinson married Captain Walter Thornton Hodgson at St Helen’s, Tarporley, on Tuesday, 12 November. See The Times, 13 Nov., p. 13.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Penrhôs, Holyhead.—Discusses the guests at Penrhôs, and describes an expedition to the Skerries. Suggests organising something delightful when they return to London. Violet has written from Naples.

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Transcript

Penrhôs, Holyhead
May 29th 1912

My dear Mr Montagu

Thank you for your letter, I hope that since you wrote {1} you’ve been having more fun and less lumbago and that the Alpine Chough has proved worth travelling all the way to Geneva to see. We’ve had a very delicious time here, its been quite lovely, and Raymond has been at his very best. Unfortunately he and Katharine leave tomorrow to go to Sawley, and their places are inadequately filled only by Hugh. Poor little Bongie owing to the strike has only had 2 days here and is now again in London, grinding out long telegrams to the P.M. He hopes to get back tomorrow. We made an expedition to the Skerries yesterday, so as to gratify Katharines curiosity as to the Nest of the Roseate Tern, but tho we saw quantities of ordinary terns, there was only one egg which we gound and not the vestige of a Roseate. They are too lovely, I think, and exactly what I imagine the Holy Ghost would look like. Raymond hustled us rather so we werent able to stay as long as we wanted. Next year if you arent again offended by the terms in which your invitation here is couched we will all go again, and you shall replace Raymond, as you would be a more appreciative tern watcher.

Conrad, alas, never came as he is ill again. This afternoon we’ve got an utterly bloody garden party which is blackening my whole outlook. We stay here till Tuesday {2} then London again. Dont arrange to go to your constituency over Sunday {3} and we’ll all do something delightful on Sunday. I daresay Violet will be back by then too. I’ve heard nothing from that party, except a post card yesterday from Naples from Violet but she doesnt mention whether she saw Le nôtre or not. They {4} seem to be having great fun. Do you still envy them. I’ve been so happy here that I dont any longer.

Have you been considering the fate of the Liberal Party and have you arrived at any very black and morbid conclusions.

I saw your friend Mr Peel at a ball the other night and was nearly introduced to him, do you think I should have got on well with him. Bongie thinks I shouldnt.

This is quite the dullest letter I have ever written, but will you take into account that my brain is thoroughly befogged by sun and air.

Yrs
Venetia

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Written in pencil.

{1} This letter does not survive.

{2} 4 June.

{3} 9 June.

{4} The yachting party.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

18 Mansfield Street, Portland Place, W.—Sympathises with his concern that he has misled the House, and encourages him to discuss important issues with her.

(Dated Tuesday. This is a reply to B1/32.)

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Transcript

18 Mansfield Street, Portland Place, W.
Tuesday

Thank you for your letter. I was afraid before you spoke to me about it that something was worrying you. I dont quite realise from what you said whether, apart from the fact that circumstances have forced you to misrepresent things to the House of Commons, you regard the step the Office intends to take as bad in itself, and worthy of attack and opposition from more reasonable people than Byles. But of course apart from any intrinsic merits or demerits, I quite see that you must be worried at having, even so unintentionally, misled the House, which you more or less represent, and played the game of the Office which, I gather from you, it is your desire to curb and restrain. But what you say about having lied in spirit is sim[p]ly not the case. In spirit you have been loyal throughout to the H of C, and if in the end you are beaten, you must know that it is only force of circumstances that has obliged you to go back on given pledges and assurances.

About the more personal part of your letter on which I can write with considerably more assurance and certainty, you must know that I always like you to talk to me about those more important and vital issues of your life, rather than permanently to stick to such questions as whether Cynthia is nicer than Katharine, and Cys cleverer than Raymond! And if, as you say, it made a difference to you to talk about it to anyone, I am glad that I should have been of some use.

I hope that today everything is going much better.

Yrs
Venetia Stanley

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Black-edged paper.