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Pethick-Lawrence Papers Pankhurst, Estelle Sylvia (1882–1960), political activist, writer, and artist Imagen Con objetos digitales
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Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

(Addis Ababa.)—Thanks Lady Pethick-Lawrence for an account of the celebra-tion of her mother (Emmeline Pankhurst)’s centenary. Suggests ideas for a suitable memorial (for Christabel?), and recalls the courageous actions of Princess Tsahai.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—Is glad he likes Rita, whose knowledge of languages, particularly those of her native Rumania, is very useful to Richard. Refers to her own prior interest in Rumanian literature.

(The date is that of the postmark.)

Letter from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Holloway Prison.—Refers to the restrictions placed on their correspondence. Is convinced that all with be well with them both, as they are accomplishing their purpose in life. Describes her surroundings and usual activities, and discusses her reading. Expresses confidence in his courage and judgement.

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Transcript

Holloway Prison
June 18th 1912.

Dearest. What a joy to write to you at last! A fortnight ago I should have written in spite of our agreement. But then it occurred to me that if you accepted my letter, it would mean that no news of the outside world or of your many friends would reach you. As for me—well you knew then and you know now how it is with me. And I knew then & I know now how it is with you—Well—infinitely well! For, the purpose to which we were born & for which we were mated is accomplished. The hour is come & we are delivered. Since I received my letter a fortnight ago, & especially since I saw my sisters last Saturday, I have had those definite tidings of you for which of course I was longing. Indeed my assurance born of knowledge of you, & faith in the universal sustaining Life of which we partake—& then the news of you that I have received from those who have seen you, are the last drop in my cup of content. It will not surprise you when I tell you that these past weeks have been a time of peace. Like the hermits of old, I often feel inclined to exclaim—

O beata solitudo!
O sola beatitudo!

My surroundings lend colour to the convent idea! My room on the ground floor is vaulted above & partitioned by an arch. There are four pointed windows that open top & bottom—in aspect quite ecclesiastic. They look out upon a bank of shrubs & an overshadowing tree, through the leaves of which, the morning sunlight shimmers & throws flickering shadows & lights on floor & wall. Behind them is a sunny path & a tiny garden. It is a little shut in, a little dark except on very bright days. But I feel close to “Mother Earth” & rejoice once more in that sense of union, so vital to the life of my senses. I hear the blackbirds & thrushes morning & night & can watch a very bold & fat robin lording it over the sparrows. At night I can hear the rain falling & trickling through the ground & I can see the brightening sky at dawn. And my earth hunger is appeased. The days pass quickly & are all too short for what I want to put into them. First thing in the morning come the newspaper—before breakfast. First a glance, then a good hour is spent over them. Four hours out of every day are spent in the sunshine. While I was with the others we played very vigorous games. Now my companion & I often take chairs out & she will read aloud some French Play while I work. Sylvia is designing a banner for us to embroider. We shall each have an embroidery frame & shall take them out of doors. My device is “May God defend us, as our Cause is just.” Hers that phrase of Milton’s “O Liberty, thou choicest Treasure.” It will be nice to have some substantial piece of work to remain as a witness & memorial of 1912. Every day I get some Italian done. I like Hugo’s Simplified System very much. I have 3 books. 1. Italian Grammar. 2. Key to Exercises. 3. Italian Reading Simplified. The pronunciation of every word is reproduced in English spelling & the accent noted which is very helpful. I don’t get through 5 books a week like you! But then I have a never-ending conversation going on with one of whom it may be said—“Age cannot wither her nor custom stale, Her infinite variety.” We are great pals & very happy in our intercourse. I am just now deep in a book which I shall pass on to you presently. “Sabatier’s Life of St Francis.” It will (I think) interest you. I read it 15 or 16 years ago. I think I have described to you how Hugh Price Hughes introduced the book & how the influence of it finally broke up his Sisterhood & sent the ardent minds out to seek new paths. Much of the old charm & force of the book comes back to me. It is written by a French mystic, with a flair for the poetry of religion—a mind that understands S. Francis & is in tune with it. Here is one little passage as a sample. Speaking of S. Clare & S. Francis he says: “When he doubted his mission & thought of fleeing to the heights of repose & solitary prayer it was she who showed him the ripening harvest, men going astray with no shepherd to lead them, & drew him once more again into the train of the Galilean, into the number of those who give their lives a ransom for many.” The two characters, in their relative strengths are very interesting. St Clara was the better fighter. She was not so easily taken in with fair words. It was she who withstood the Pope, years after S. Francis had allowed his ideal to be overshadowed. Strange to say, she brought Pope Gregory IX to submission by a sort of Hunger Strike. This is the story. He forbade the preaching Friars to go to her Convent at St Damian’s, without express permission from the Holy See. She forthwith dismissed from the Convent those Friars whose business it was to protect the Nuns & supply them with food. “Go” she said. “Since they deprive us of those who dispense to us spiritual bread, we will not have those who procure for us material bread.” The writer goes on to add “He who wrote that “the necks of kings & princes are bowed at the feet of the priests” was obliged to bow before this woman & raise his prohibition.” Now isn’t that interesting? Mr Healy who came to see us yesterday & promised to see you today is sending me a book about another very wonderful woman saint & mystic. All these things—the thought of those who lived these real intense lives in the past fascinate me deeply. One feels a close sense of union with these striving hearts. Thus with study, with reading, thinking, talking, with needle work & all the little interests & occupations of the hour, the night follows the morning, & the morning the night & time slips along like the swift current of a quiet river. I certainly have no wish to be out in a world where Manhood Suffrage stalks & raves!! Dearest, you must keep this letter as a curiosity. It represents a triumph of the human will. Some day I will tell you the story & we will laugh over it together. At first I felt more like crying! But I shall make you curious! It is a funny world, full of lights & shadows like my tree outside! You do not need that I should refer to any matters of importance. You see the newspapers just as I do, & you know all that you want to know of the world outside your own world. But the words of that song that you used to sing when I first knew you come back to me—“My heart & yours are full of light.” You remember the song? All of it? I do not for one moment forget the promise that I would not entertain any anxiety or fear on your behalf, nor do I forget your promise to the same effect. Courage & Judgment. You remember how we said once these two qualities must go together. I have absolute confidence in your judgment to do what is wisest & best & absolute confidence not only in your courage but in your strength to carry out what will & conscience suggest to you, with perfect serenity & calm resolution. We can have faith in each other because we draw from an inexhaustible Source of Life which is ever open to us. Above & beyond all we trust our destiny & the Hand that guides it. Will you—I wonder will you—read this long letter right through? Your letter that I brought with me here is always near at hand. I often read it. It is enough. That last moment at The Old Bailey! That too is enough. I think we two are the happiest & luckiest people in all the world. You will read between these lines (!!) all that I would say. Goodbye. We go through these next two weeks before we can exchange another letter—we go together.

Ever your loving Wife

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The letter is written on a printed form. The details entered by hand include, besides what is printed above, the prisoner’s number (15581) and name. A few slight alterations have been made to the punctuation of the original.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

West Dene, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex.—She was too upset to attend Lady Pethick-Lawrence’s cremation, but has written tributes for the press.

(Letter-head of the New Times and Ethiopia News. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as Editor.)

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

West Dene, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex.—She and Richard are moving to Ethiopia. Explains the reasons for the decision.

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Transcript

‘West Dene’, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex, England
May 1st.

Dear Fred,

I am going away to Ethiopia for a long time and shall have to say goodbye to you and everyone. Probably I shall never return.

Richard was asked to take a post at the University College of Addis Ababa. I thanked the Emperor but wrote that I could not spare Richard. That is a couple of years ago. Then I began to think it would be best for us both to go. I could be of more use to them there than here I think. This has been agreed. The Emperor is making all arrangements for us.

It means ending “New Times and Ethiopia News” which has completed twenty years, but I hope to run a monthly there and to write some books.

In many ways I am sad to go—to part with dear friends—and packing and disposing of house and goods is a terrible toil. But it seems best.

Perhaps I shall have an opportunity to see you to say goodbye before I go.

We expect to leave about June.

With love from Richard and from
Sylvia.

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Letter-head of the New Times and Ethiopia News. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as Editor. At the head Gladys Groom has written, ‘P-L. replied personally 5/5/56’.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—Thanks him for a copy of his speech at the memorial service (for Dame Christabel Pankhurst). Reflects on the suffrage movement and the the Pethick-Lawrences’ contributions to it.

(Letter-head of the Ethiopia Observer. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as Editor.)

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—Declines his offer of a second copy of Christabel’s book. Her father’s letters to her mother should be included in her memoir of him, but they are in the hands of someone outside the family.

Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

(3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex?)—Sends news of Richard’s health and development.

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Transcript

Boxing Day

Dearest Emmeline,

The spirit moves me to write to you to say that in spite of plenty of anxieties I feel a flood of happiness today. Raddie {1} and Richard are in the garden. It is warm and spring-like.

Richard has not had so much as a cold this winter! He is bright and well. Instead of having the doctor like last year he was able to make Christmas presents for his friends and dress the tree Mrs Brimley {1} brought him. He stitched over a pencil drawing on paper tacked to the ribbon to make me little calendar banners. Then we tore the paper away, and the red ribbon was left. He was greatly pleased.

He looks straight and tall. His brows are straight, and his thoughts are kind. He puts bread and cheese by the mousehold†, crumbs for the birds, milk for the cat. He brought his money box to me to buy a present for Daddy. He has his own ways and his own character. He does things one would never think of and says: “I have a good idea.” I gaze at him, amazed, and say to myself: where have you come from, little man? He is physically joyous as I never was—plunging into nearly cold water with a zest—not every day—but when he feels like it (other days prefers warm) {2}. He loves to “dance” and jump and climb.

It is a daily marvel this new person—like noone else—himself. One realises the miracle more when one knows one bore him. I look at his father—the boy is not him—not me—new entirely. How have you—so entirely—individual—sprung from us? I ask it to myself so often. This year when I heard the carol singers I thought so often of waiting for him at Hampstead. How wonderful it all was. How you came to make his happy arrival safe and all that one could desire. So I feel a great flood of gratitude and joy.

With love
Sylvia P.

What I feel so vividly of his being a new person is true of all the children I know, but it comes home so forcibly when every day one sees it in a close intimate way one felt generally before—not with this piercing astonishme[nt] {3}.

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{1} Reading uncertain.

{2} ‘other … warm’ interlined. Brackets supplied.

{3} A small piece of the paper has been torn away.

† Sic.

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