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

Brixton Prison.—Looks forward to seeing her on Thursday, and reflects on the privilege of playing a part in the present struggle (the suffrage movement). Refers to his visitors and his activities, and discusses Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico.



Brixton Prison
19 March 1912


It is very good to know that I shall see you again on Thursday & in the meantime I have the confidence that you are well & content. I feel very deeply how great is our privelege† that we are able to play our part in this great struggle fraught with so much hope & blessing for the human race.

I had a visit from Rev Hugh Chapman this morning; he gave me a number of ideas which I prize; he is also going to send me a book by Lecky wh† he says he knows I shall like.

I have just finished reading Prescott’s “Conquest of Mexico”—what a wonderful story it is! Though all the tales of bloodshed & barbarity are rather horrid reading, it is wonderful to realise that Cortes landing in Mexico with a total army of about 400 or 500 men suceeded† in winning battle after battle & ultimately entering the capital itself without any reinforcements. And that his final conquest of the whole country was acheived† with only two or three times this number of Spaniards. He was opposed not only by the Indians but by his own countrymen & had disaffection to face inside his own ranks as well.

Brother Jack {1} came to see me yesterday & brought me a little book on Bergson’s philosophy; I have been wanting some time to read about this.

Tomorrow I am to have another visit from Mort.

Owing to the wet weather we have had to have a lot of our exercise inside lately, but the wing is large & there is a good deal of room for a walk; but this afternoon we have had a lovely walk in the sunshine outside. I keep pegging away with my Italian & hope really to have learnt a lot before I come out, I am also starting to get a more thorough grip of French.

With dear love

Ever Your own


One folded sheet. At the head is printed, ‘In replying to this letter, please write on the envelope:— Number 3408 Name F. P. Lawrence’, the name and number being filled in by hand. The word ‘Prison’ of the address and the first two digits of the year are also printed, and the letter is marked with the reference ‘C1/12’ and some initials. Strokes of letters omitted either deliberately or in haste have been supplied silently.

{1} John Herbert Greenhalgh.

† Sic.

Circular letter by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

In the train from Bombay to Madras.—Describes the journey to India, and identifies some fellow-passengers. Gives his impressions of Bombay, and refers to meetings with Mrs Naidu and other Indians.

(Mechanical copy of a typed original.)



In the train from Bombay to Madras.
November 8th, 1926.

Though my wife and I have only been three days in India, so many crowded impressions have already been thrust upon us that I feel I must write them down at once for our friends at home before they are blurred by later images.

I must begin however with the voyage out, for our Indian education commenced almost immediately we stepped on the boat at Marseilles. It was a particularly full and representative ship for it was the most favoured date of the year for the return to India of those who had been fortunate enough to spend the “hot weather” in cooler climes than Asia.

Shipboard life makes for rapid acquaintanceship, and our shipmates included judges of the High Court of Bombay & Calcutta, soldiers of all commissioned ranks, civil servants, forest officers, traders, manufacturers, and commercial travellers. A score of Indians on board included Sir C. Ghose a High Court judge of Calcutta, Sir T. Vijagaraghavacharga (!) of Delhi who came straight from representing India with success in Canada, and Sleem {1} the famous lawn tennis player.

Social relationships between English and Indians are very often a little halting but my wife and I early got on to an excellent footing with all sections (Indian and English). In fact every one was not only very kind and friendly but most anxious to impress upon us their own point of view on Indian problems. Sometimes we could not help being amused by the anxiety, shown particularly by our English friends, lest we should come to hasty conclusions and publish them broadcast on our return.

A little later on when my experience has been amplified I will attempt to reproduce for you some of the principal views expressed and perhaps venture some criticism of my own, but for the present I will content myself with saying that we both felt that had we been obliged to return home immediately our ship reached Bombay the voyage would by no means have been wasted.

Our first sight of India was at sunrise on Friday morning, November 5, and before we could sit down to an early breakfast on ship board we were greeted by an old acquaintance in the person of Mr. Sheldon Bunting, son of the late Sir Percy Bunting, editor of the Contemporary Review. He told us at once that he intended us to stay with him during our time in Bombay—a most welcome proposition. After spending all the morning with us assisting us with purchases and arrangements he took us away in his car to his flat at the top of a very high building on a hill, and we spent the afternoon on his verandah overlooking the city.

Bombay has grown enormously since I was here 29 years ago, and has many modern streets and substantial modern buildings. It has also been subjected to a scheme of reclaiming land from the sea which is being at present warmly discussed in England. Part of this scheme consisted in erecting a colossal number of workmen’s tenements. We passed by a small section of them—rows and rows and rows of gaunt concrete blocks. The tragedy of it is that scores of thousands of these flats were put up without first ascertaining either that the people would like them or that the rents would be within their compass. Neither has materialised, and they stand to-day, empty, ugly,—and a heavy financial loss to the community;— {2} as pitiable an example of misdirected energy as it would be possible to find.

The day we arrived in India was the Hindu Festival of New Year {3}, and our host took us a walk in the early evening amid jostling crowds through highly illuminated streets. Afterwards all night through, fireworks and detonating Chinese crackers rent the air reminding us that at home on the same day (November 5th) Guy Fawkes’ day was also being celebrated in somewhat the same manner.

Next morning I had a long talk with one of the principal Labour men in India, widely acknowledged to be of great character and sincerity. I put him several searching questions relating to the effect of wider self government upon the position of the Indian workers. I found that though he fully realised the danger of the capitalist point of view prevailing under self Government, he held that this was a risk in the stage that India had to pass through. Moreover he maintained that the idea that the present British rule really safeguarded the worker against the capitalist had little foundation in fact. He urged however that a wide franchise should be given when the time came not the narrow one proposed in the India Commonwealth Bill.

In the afternoon after a most interesting talk with Mr. Solomon, director of the Bombay School of Art {4}, we both went to tea with Mrs. Naidu who presided last year at the Indian National Congress. She had invited to meet us nearly all the leading politically-minded people (other than Swarajists) in Bombay. We had a most interesting talk with them hearing their point of view, learning why some of them had left the Swaraj party and realising afresh that practically all the differences that divide parties among Indians are matters of tactics and that on principles they all stand unanimous in their demand for Dominion Self Government.

On Sunday {5} we lunched with Mrs. Naidu and this time she had invited her Swarajist friends to meet us and we found many points of contact with our militant suffrage agitation. One of the men was wearing the plain homespun cotton cap and tunic made by a village woman; explaining to us the idea underlying Gandhi’s crusade for the restoration of home industries.

Returning to the home of our kind host for dinner we completed our arrangements and set off at 10 p.m. on our 33 hour journey to Madras.



{1} Mohammed Sleem.

{2} The semi-colon and dash are typed one on top of another.

{3} The festival celebrated on this day was in fact Diwali, the so-called ‘festival of lights’. The date of the Hindu New Year, which varies throughout India, occurs either in March or April.

{4} William Ewart Gladstone Solomon (1880-1965), Principal of the Government School of Art at Bombay from 1919. (The School is also called by the name of its founder, Jamsethji Ji-jabhai. According to Who Was Who, Gladstone Solomon did not become Director till 1929.)

{5} 7 November.

Circular letter by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

En route to Calcutta.—Outlines his and his wife’s activities during the last fortnight. Discusses in detail the political situation in Madras and the labour conditions there, and describes visits to Mysore and Madura.

(Mechanical copy of a typed original.)



En Route to Calcutta.
November 22, 1926.

It is only a month yesterday since we left England, and a fortnight ago in the train to Madras I was writing an account of our first experiences of India {1}.

I have rarely lived as strenuous fourteen days as those which I have just experienced. Thanks to the businesslike arrangements made by my friend Campbell I have seen almost everyone of any account in Madras—the Governor, all the non-elected members of the Madras Government, all but one of the elected Madras ministers, and all the principal members of the three political parties in Madras, “justisites”, “independents”, and “congressmen”; I have visited most of the factories of the city, I have addressed three trade union meetings and have discussed the labour position with the commissioner of Labour and with all the principal trade union officials; in addition I have travelled 300 miles west and spent 3 days in the State of Mysore seeing sights in the capital city Mysore and addressing two meetings in the adjacent city of Bangalor, and 300 miles south to Madura where we stayed with a landowner and spent two days visiting temples and investigating conditions in a neighbouring village.

Let me deal first with the political situation. We arrived in Madras on the day immediately following the election which had gone off quietly but not without considerable interest and excitement. We were told that quite a number of women had exercised the franchise, and that one woman had stood as a candidate in a rural constituency on the West Coast. Previous to the election the “Justice” members had formed the principal party in the Madras Legislative Council and therefore from them the Ministers had been selected. These ministers had charge of what are known as the “transferred” subjects, while the “reserved” subjects, according to the diarchy installed by the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, were controlled by the members of the Legislative Council appointed by and responsible to the Governor alone.

My first meeting was with the members of the “Congress” party who are the Swarajists in Madras. Their main plank is the utter inadequacy of the amount of self government provided by the existing constitution. The diarchy of the provincial governments and the very limited powers given to the elected representatives in the (federal) Government of India are alike condemned by them. They do not want a commission appointed in 1929 by Britain to consider what modifications of the constitution she will be graciously pleased to grant to India, but a round table conference of Indians and British to arrange the details of the change over to complete “Dominion” status. They have abandoned the “boycott” of the Council as implied in the “non-cooperation” of Gandhi, and the “walk-out of the Chamber” as ineffective political weapons and substituted obstruction based as far as they understand it on the tactics of Parnell. On local issues they deny that they are in any sense either a “capitalist” party or a Brahmin party, pointing to the fact that most of the Trade Union leaders hold prominent positions in their ranks, and many non-Brahmins were their candidates at the recent elections. They support a wide franchise but point out that an illiterate franchise provides grave opportunities for corruption.

The Justice party consider the diarchy a piece of rather badly constructed machinery which will need very considerable repairs if it is to be made to work. But they are quite averse to jumping from that into complete self-government either in the local or in the federal government. They regard the Swaraj and Congress parties of Indian† as essentially Brahmin, and fear that they would use any power given to them [to] rivet fetters of Brahmin tyranny upon India. They look upon themselves as champions of the non-Brahmins generally including the large section of outcast “untouchables” who are so terribly oppressed at the present time.

The Independents have not any one point of view and hold many divergent opinions, some approximating to the “Congress” and others to the “Justice” party.

The Mohammedans have a special franchise of their own for the Assembly and a specially appointed member of the Legislative Council of Madras. As traders they have not troubled much about the higher education which has been so much sought after by the Brahmins, and some of those whom I saw are fearful lest greater self government may mean in practice subordination of Mohammedan to Hindu which they would resent and resist perhaps even by violence.

The English in Madras hold many varying opinions and those in official positions are naturally chary of expressing very definite views as to the future. I think however there is a general consensus of opinion that there has been a genuine attempt made both by the British and by the Indian majority-party to work the constitution and that it has not proved at all easy. Some think that self government ought to have been confined first to taluk boards and district boards (rural district councils and county councils). Few however would think it possible to go back on the provincial self-government already conferred. The most advanced x† view that I heard was that (since people prefer self-government to good government) complete self-government should be bestowed in 1929 on the Madras Presidency, the Governor becoming entirely constitutional, all the subjects including law and order and finance being “transferred” to the control of the popularly-elected assembly, and the whole government to be in the hands of ministers to be selected, as in England, from the majority party. But, and those who took this view were emphatic on this point, this handing over the reins in Madras must be accompanied by a tightening instead of s† loosening of the reins in the Government of India as a whole, and further it must by no means be assumed that self governing powers similar to those proposed for Madras should be given to all the other component parts of British India.

I do not propose, at this stage, to express any view of my own, and I will therefore only add that the result of the elections in Madras presidency has been a considerable victory for the Congress party, who are now the largest single party and will perhaps constitute an absolute majority of the elected members (out of a Chamber of about 130, 30 or more are official or nominated). The woman in S. Canara just missed being elected. Whether the Congress party will accept office—as minister for the “transferred” subjects remains to be seen. Their originally avowed policy was the reverse and they have given pledges to the Indian National Congress itself to this effect. But it is thought that Congress itself this December may give them absolution from this promise and that that may not be too late for their final reply to the Governor.

I pass now to Labour conditions. It is essential in this connection to remember that town factory labour forms but a tiny part of the total labouring population of the country. This is of the greatest importance both in itself—in order that true proportion may be preserved in the mind—and also because the conditions of agricultural labour have necessarily a great effect upon wages and conditions in the factories. If the factory worker retains one foot on the land he has to that extent a refuge from unlimited oppression in the factory. If there is a horde of ill paid half-starved agricultural labourers at the factory gates that will make a successful strike very difficult.

I am glad to say that after considerable investigation I obtained substantial agreement as to facts from the employers’ and workmen’s sides. But here the satisfaction ends, for the conditions are certainly deplorable. In the cotton mills of Madras a skilled man working nine hours earns from less than a rupee a day or some R24 a month (8/- a week) up to about R36 (12/- a week) with a few at higher amounts. At the railway works the hours are 8 and the wages of about 50% of the skilled men vary from about R18 a month up to R24 (6/- to 8/- a week), another 30 or 40% getting 9/- to 12/- a week, with some at higher levels. The coolies (labourers) get R10, R12, and sometimes as much as R15 a month (3/6, 4/-, and 5/- a week).

Of course the Indian has far fewer expenses than the British worker having next to nothing to find for clothes and fuel, while rent will be from 4d to 1/- a week. Nevertheless at least R32 a month (11/- a week) is needed for bare subsistence for man wife and 3 children, while R72 a month (24/- a week) was given me by some of the workers as a real living wage for a family. Consequently existing wages do not in many cases provide even a subsistence level unless several other members of the famil[y] are also working.

One of the obnoxious features of Indian factory life is that wages often do not commence to be paid until full six weeks after a man starts work. In the meanwhile he often gets into the hands of the moneylender and can never extricate himself again. Other complaints are as to fines and victimisation, and the fact that while there are elected representatives of employers on the legislative councils there are no elected representatives of Labour, also the utterly disproportionate wages given to Europeans and Anglo Indians (children of mixed marriages) who probably start at R84 a month (28/- a week) and rise to far higher figures.

In fairness I should like to say that I found one of the British-owned cotton mills considerably superior to the Indian ones. Some attempts were being made at good housing, education of children of the operatives, and welfare work generally including the provision of well ventilated rooms for mid-day dinner. In the Indian mill I was shocked to see workmen eating their food squatting on the floor in the midst of the machinery.

Behind the town operative lies the ryot (peasant farmer), behind the ryot lies the landless agricultural labourer of whom perhaps 50% are outcasts. Taking one year with another the peasant with the help of his family may get an average monthly income of R10 (3/6 a week) and upwards, the landless may get R9, R12, or even R18 or R24 (3/6, 4/-, 6/-, 8/- a week) in busy times for his own labour alone but his wages will sink to R9 a month (3/- a week) or less or nothing when times are slack. Of course his wife and children may also be able to earn something and there may be something to be got out of a cottage industry or even a village industry. But the total family income may very likely not reach R100 a year (£7. 10. -) and of that pittance the money-lender and other harpies may secure a considerable part. I do not give these figures as in any way accurate but rather as a rough estimate from the general talks that I have had. Possibly I may have occasion to correct them later. In any case they relate only to Madras.

{2} In the early part of my letter I spoke of my visits to Mysore and Madura. My wife and I went to the former as guests of the native ruler, the Maharaja. This Indian State is governed exclusively by Indians and has recently received a constitution from him in which there are two properly elected Houses. Though the Maharaja is not obliged to accept their advice I gather that he usually does so except on certain questions which he reserves exclusively for himself. The State is acknowledged to be very well governed and has to its credit the construction by exclusively Indian design and labour of the second largest dam in the world.

In madura† we were entertained by Mr. Foulkes a friend of Mr. Campbell’s. We went inside two most interesting Hindu temples, one of them having an area of some 40 acres including a beautiful artificial lake. I climbed an intricate stairway to the top of one of the towers and overlooked the city. On our second visit it was festival night and the temple was illuminated. Great crowds of worshippers as well as sacred cows wandered everywhere at will except into the holy of holies.

Not far from Madura is the village of Usilempatti where the interesting experiment is being made of weaning the tribe of Kullahs from dacoity (robbery) by the simple expedients of giving them water and thus enabling them to earn their own living from their irrigated fields, & by giving their children education in an elementary school. It appears to be quite successful so far, showing once more that the roots of crime are poverty and ignorance.

This letter should reach you a few days before Christmas. Please accept from my wife and myself for your own circle and for all your friends our hearty good wishes for Christmas and the New Year.



{1} PETH 6/125.

{2} The last sheet, which begins here, is marked “Keep Carefully only Copy.” and there is a cross in the margin alongside the paragraph about the village of Usilempatti. At the foot of the preceding sheet is written, ‘Note last Page taken by FWPL to Edinburgh 22/2/45 EK.’

† Sic.

Circular letter by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Hotel Cecil, Agra.—Describes his and his wife’s second visit to Calcutta, and their journey thence to Peshawar, Landikotal, Lahore, Delhi, and Agra. Records Emmeline’s impressions of the Taj Mahal.

(Mechanical copy of a typed original.)



Hotel Cecil,
December 15, 1926.

The date at the top of this letter reminds me that a calendar month from to-day we are due to set sail for home. But although we have already travelled through India from West (Bombay) to East (Madras & Calcutta) and from South (Madura close to the tip) to the extreme North (in the frontier of Afghanistan) and are now due in the North centre our next journeyings will take us a long way further East (out of Bengal into Assam) before we turn finally westward and homeward.

My last letter described our sight of the Himalayan snows from Darjeeling. I have now to tell you of our journey over the Khyber Pass and of our visit to the historic monuments of India.

Before this however I must tell you that my second three days in Calcutta were packed as full of incident as the first. I spent a morning going over a jute mill, an afternoon meeting the liberal and other non-Swaraj politicians, and an evening dining with an Indian Judge and going on from there to an Indian theatre. Another night I dined with the Swarajists, all of the Directors of “Forward” newspaper being present together. I lunched with an interesting group of people and heard a vigorous case made out against the handling by the Bengal Government of the irrigation of the Province, I lunched another day with a group of the Council members of Bengal; and finally Emmeline and I spent a day in the little French town of Chandernagore and visited the home of Mr. Roy Chowdury one of the appointed Labour Members of the Bengal Legislative Assembly.

That night we started on a 60-hour journey to Peshawar. Many people detest train journeys here because of the heat and dust and monotony. We find them very pleasant and a considerable rest after the busy days in towns. Of course it is the “cold weather” period just now when the temperatures in the North of India correspond very much to the best September and October weather in England.

We passed through Allahabad at midday, and in the afternoon reached Cawnpore where Ameer’s [Footnote: ‘Our Indian servant.’] two little girls were brought by his brother down to the station to see him, Delhi at midnight, Amballa at 5 a.m., Lahore at one o’clock in the afternoon, Pindi at 9 p.m., crossed the Indus about 4 a.m., and finally arrived at Peshawar at 6 p.m. It was quite dark, rather cold, the hotel was almost asleep, and our van luggage had got left behind at Amballa.

But the sun very soon shone and at 10 o’clock we were bowling along in a motor car over the Khyber Pass. First some eight miles along a dusty plain to Jamrud. Then 17 miles up a twisty mountain road to Landikotal. It was Tuesday—one of the biweekly caravan days—and we passed and met the full complement of camels and their drivers. We counted enough to enable us to realise that there were about a thousand gping† each way. This is an astonishingly large number and some idea of it may be gathered from these two computations. If they were all tethered head to tail with about a camel’s length between them they would stretch in all (as they did in fact) about three miles. If they each carried on an average 4 cwt of burden (and many of them carried more), they would bear between them a cargo of 200 tons the equivalent of the load of one train!

It was fairly simple on the outward journey to get by them for the road bifurcates in places and while fast vehicular traffic goes one way, ox waggons and pack animals go another, and we got by most of them during these stretches. But coming back we came up with them at places where one of the roads was under repair and we were all in a lump together—two thousand camels and a motor car on one road—no easy task either for camel drivers or chauffeur.

Landikotal is the last cantonment of any size in British India and is the top of the pass. We were taken three miles further with an escort on the front seat, beside Ameer and the chauffeur, to Michnikandar. A bend in the road and the whole Afghan landscape bursts into view—the frontier itself three miles away and beyond, plains and mountains and plains and mountains, and ranges and ranges until at last 200 miles to the North are the snows which lie beyond Kabul which itself is 155 miles away!

We clambered to the top of a mound to get the panoramic view, just above us is the tower fort with 2 Indian soldiers silhouetted against the radiant blue sky. A picnic lunch and the return to Peshawar past endless camels.

Peshawar is always liable to be looted by tribal robbers and is now surrounded by barbed wire and illuminated at night. That these marauding tribes are driven on by hunger is shown by the facts that 1) during the construction of the railway up the pass when there was a livelihood to be got by anyone who chose to work, marauding ceased; the rail built it has begun again. 2) A dam brought water to one tribe, it is now law-abiding. Unfortunately the same remedy cannot be applied elsewhere in other tribal valleys for there is no water available, and the tribesmen cannot be induced to leave their inhospitable mountain valleys for better irrigated regions.

Our friends the Jardines, whom we had met on board ship and expected to find at Peshawar had unfortunately been moved 2 hours journey away and could not come in, but they sent word to friends of theirs, Captain and Mrs. Galbraith, who were perfectly charming to us, showing us the sights of the city, getting up a game of tennis, giving us dinner, and letting us understand what they felt of the situation. It made our stay in Peshawar a delightful one.

A night’s journey and half a day brought us back to Lahore, where Lajpat Rai (now reckoned an Indian moderate) had arranged a public lecture for me and later a private dinner party. I was introduced to Punjab politics where there are three sections:—Mahommeddans 54% Hindus 33% Sikhs 13% (my figures are from memory only). Lajpat Rai has triumphed here over his Swarajist opponents, but the future is uncertain.

Next day after seeing some Labour men and visiting a famous mosque we lunched with some board-ship English friends and then were entertained at a big garden party where most of the leading Indians of Lahore came to see us.

A night’s journey brought us to Delhi. Of the three days there Emmeline spent the first two in bed with a cold, and I the last in bed with a slight fever. As a result we were Cox and Box in sight seeing. First I saw the new Delhi (five miles away) and made the acquaintance of several members of the secretariat; then next day I was taken by the Grahams to a picnic in the grounds of the Hanz Khas, an ancient Hindu College and tomb. The third day Emmeline did a round of Delhi’s† ancient and modern including the newest Delhi and visited the famous fort. We agreed on this that we liked the old Delhis best.

Yesterday morning we came here to Agra and as soon as possible went to the Taj. It is nearly thirty years since I saw it first, and I have seen many other lovely things in between, but my view has not changed that of all human achievements in architecture it stands without a peer. As Emmeline sees it now for the first time I leave the description of it to her. She writes:—“No words, no pictures or models can give any idea of the beauty of the Taj Mahal. The first sight of it strikes one almost breathless, as would the appearance of some heavenly vision. As one approaches nearer, the wonderful effect deepens, for the Taj is not only perfect in its wholeness, but perfect in every detail. Under the blue dome of the Indian sky the shining vision stands, its white marble crystal-like dome gathering and shedding forth the light. The approach to it is by a long avenue of conventional cypresses, and a long stone and marble water garden; and on the further side of the Taj the river Jumna flows.

As you know the building is the commemoration of a beautiful and beloved woman, built by her royal lover and husband. It is the equivalent of a lovely statue, for all the architectural critics admit that this structure expresses in all its curves and lines the ideal beauty of womanhood. The building, the 4 minarets that guard it, and the very large terrace on which it is elevated are of shining white marble, spotless and flawless. Every square yard has been touched by the artist, beautiful carving in bas relief (of flowers) and wonderful carving, of screenwork (like Mushriabiah screenwork): passages from the Koran inlaid in black marble, and lovely floral design inlaid with gems and precious stones. Glowing colour in that crystal whiteness. Beautiful as are all the parts, it is the simplicity and purity of its wholeness that moves one most of all.

The king spent all his patrimony on its completion, and was taken prisoner by his son, who feared penury, and was held in prison for seven years. At the hour of his death, he was at his request, carried to a balcony where across the river he could gaze to the last on the shining dome. We stood on the same balcony and tried to imagine what his thoughts were then.

There are many beautiful buildings and monuments in Delhi and in Agra—but the Taj is supreme. It is to my mind the most beautiful form that the human imagination has ever achieved. There may be greater and grander structures, but nothing for sheer loveliness like it.”

We drove to-day 23 miles to Fatipur Sikri to see the great palace of Akbar, a wonderful work of carved redsandstone†, and the delicate marble tomb of the saint.

Then to-night we went again to the Taj in the moonlight and to-morrow we go there to see the rising sun.

After that we are away to Cawnpore, Sitapur, Benares and eastward through Calcutta to Gauhati in Assam for the Indian National Congress.



† Sic.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Résidence Générale de la République Française, Tunis.—Describes the Cabinet mission’s flight to Tunis and their accommodation there.



Résidence Générale de la République Française à Tunis
Tunis, le
20 March.

My own dear Love.

A gorgeous Bougainvillée tree in full bloom greeted me when I arrived in the upper courtyard of this house last night. It recalled many happy memories of travels you & I have had together about this time of year.

I have read your very dear letter {1} & shall be able to think of your movements day by day & send my thoughts to you & to all the friends tht† are coming to see you. Please give my love to one & all.

EMP & the girls {2} will have told you about our motor ride & about Hurn {3}. I think they went into the aeroplane & saw our comfortable quarters. We were finally in the air a little before noon & in half an hour were over the Cherbourg peninsular. Signs of devastation were just visible at a height of 7000 feet. At one o’clock a white table cloth was laid & soup & sandwiches appeared. I thought this was lunch & partook only to be told that lunch was served at 2! However it did me no harm.

2.30 we were over the French mountains & a thick coat of snow was visible. At 3.30 we saw the mouth of the Rhone & about 4.15 the coast of Sardinia. At 5 o’c we landed (most gently) on the airfield at Tunis & drove out here. The sun was setting & local time registered an hour later. The British Consul met us & escorted us here—a very fine villa reminiscent of Mena House {4}. It is only moderately warm. The others are going to have a leisurely walk, & a drive into Tunis this afternoon. We dine tonight with the French resident & are off on Friday morning before dawn.

We had a steak last night such as I have not seen since 1939 & tangerine oranges.

The others are waiting for me

Yours ever


{1} PETH 8/68, dated 18 March.

{2} i.e. Ethel Mary Pethick, Emmeline’s sister, and the Pethick-Lawrences’ secretaries, Esther E. Knowles and Gladys E. Groom.

{3} Hurn aerodrome, near Bournemouth.

{4} The Mena House Hotel, by the Pyramids at Giza.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—They are busy with interviews. Yesterday’s visitors included the ruler of Bhopal, and they are meeting Azad, Gandhi, and Jinnah today and tomorrow. Is dining with Jinnah tonight. He and Alexander may fly to Agra on Sunday to see the Taj.



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
April 3. 46

My dear.

We are in the thick of it. Yesterday we started interviews at 10 AM & finishing @ 5 went on to a social gathering of the Press (off the record) which lasted 1¾ hours of which for one hour I answered questions. This was followed by a dinner in our house for 3 prominent Moslem league supporters. The conversations lasted till 11.30 PM during which I had to break off to have ¾ hr talk with an emissary from Gandhi.

Today is not quite so busy, but I am to have Jinnah to dine tonight.

I am exceptionally well.

Among our visitors yesterday was the ruler of Bhopal {1}[,] who is the “Chancellor” of the Princes[,] who seemed to me a particularly efficient man. Today we are seeing Azad & Gandhi separately & tomorrow Jinnah.

Sunday {2} Alexander & I are thinking of flying over to Agra to see The Taj.

I have been so pleased to get your second letter written I think last Monday {3}. They take about a week to come. The other way viz the India Office takes about 4 days.

All my love to you & all


{1} Nawab Sir Hamidullah Khan.

{2} 7 April.

{3} 25 March. The letter is not extant.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—Reflects on the mission’s first fortnight, and sends greetings from friends. Alexander is better, but they have decided not to go to Agra. The mission still plan to go to Kashmir for Easter, but will not go to Simla.



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
April 7. 46

My own Darling

Another Sunday has come round—a fortnight since we arrived. Light, heat[,] colour, experience, endeavour, endless patience, endurance & my family motto “per ardua stabilis”. My body is a perfect “brick”. It has neverd† wavered in its allegiance & has played the game magnificently. My spirit has not flagged. Your noble words written before I left {1}, to the effect that in a measure you & I had already escaped from the wheel of life & death have come to me from time to time. Your love token bearing witness to our relationship to the central life is with me. It is of course much too early even to begin to think of the time when I shall be coming back. There are many rivers still to cross, many adventures still to undertake, many problems still to face. But these are all part of the great enterprise on which I have set out & which God-willing I have to carry through to a successful issue.

Of one thing I am convinced—tht the fact of my coming @ 74 years of age has of itself had a considerable effect on Indian opinion. I send you a most friendly leading article; naturally they are not all like tht. One paper in paticular† is fond of writing the most disagreeable things. I call it “Albert’s arsenic[”]. (Albert Alexander is infuriated by it). Of course there are endless photo-graphs & cartoons. One of me as a cook is perhaps the best likeness. The other pictures I send are not of me at all but I have not cut them off as they illustrate the cartoonists art.

I went to the Quaker’s† service again today & met Mrs Pandit who sent greeting to you, Mrs Naidu & her daughter, Miss Shepherd, & a great many others including Mrs Brailsford who is coming with her husband to dine with us tonight {2}.

The temperature went up to 104º yesterday & is probably about the same today but my bed-room is “air conditioned” & comparatively cool. It is there tht I am now writing. I am very particular about wearing my topi whenever I go out, but medical opinion appears to have undergone a complete revolution since we were here 20 years ago. They now say tht if you wear dark glasses when you go out you need nt worry much about anything else. They may be right but I am not taking any chances.

Alexander is over his little indisposition but we abandoned our trip to Agra & the Taj in consequence of it. We are still planning to spend a few days in Cashmir for Easter but have abandoned any idea of going to Simla & personally so far as tht is concerned I had much rather stay here. For one thing I think we shall get on more expeditiously with our work, & if we can finish it in time to be back before th end of May you know what tht will mean to me.

Abundance of fruit for breakfast is a great joy. Today we had some strawberries.

Lydia’s watch stands me in good stead please give her my love. I hope sister May will enjoy her visit to some one[,] I forget whom. All my love to her.

Darling your very own


There are a few characteristically abbreviated words, including ‘tht’ for ‘that’.

{1} See PETH 8/68. The ‘love token’ mentioned shortly afterwards is evidently the ‘keepsake’ mentioned in Lady Pethick-Lawrence’s letter.

{2} Evamaria Brailsford's husband, H. N. Brailsford, had been sent to India by Reynolds’s News to observe the provincial elections. See F. M. Leventhal, The Last Dissenter (1985), p. 286.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—(17th.) Reflects on the difficult month to come. Meliscent Shephard sends her love.—(18th.) Harold Large has appointed him one of his literary executors. Some changes in the Budget will affect them personally.



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
April 17—1946

My dear.

When I start off on my journey to Kashmir on Friday morning it will be just a month since I started off on my journey to London. Just as I began then with a short holiday in a new place so I am beginning again. Just as I then saw in front of me a hot & difficult month so now I see a still hotter & still more difficult task in the time ahead. I cannot in the least tell wht the future has in store for me; Sir Stafford Cripps says he feels assured tht somehow the hour is striking when India is to attain her new freedom. I have kissed the little love token tht you gave me before I went away & have commended myself to God for Him to fit my little piece of Himself into his great plan as he thinks best. I am exceedingly well in health.

I saw Miss Melicent Shepherd a few days ago & had a very pleasant talk to her. She asked me to remember her to you & sent you her love. She says she is Cornish & her name is really the same as the French “Melisande”. I shall keep this letter open until tomorrow as it will probably be about a week after you receive this before you receive another from me. I do hope you will have a lovely Easter time.

Thursday. I dined with Auckinleck† last night & a number of generals. One of them said he knew Harold Large {2} & had heard from him saying tht he & I were to be H L’s literary executors when he passed on.

All my love to my own blessed darling.

Ever your very own

You will note several changes in the budget which affect us. You & I & E M P are all entitled to cash part of post-war credits. Changes in Estate Duty are nil on your Estate.


There are a few characteristically abbreviated words, including ‘wht’ for ‘what’.

{1} i.e. Tunis.

{2} Not identified.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—Sends a loving greeting for the 26th. Reports briefly on the mission and the political situation. He has ordered an aeroplane for 10 June, but may not be able to leave then.



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
May 26. 46

Oh My Dear.

May 26 Sunday. Our May 26. I love you. You are my very darling. You are I am sure thinking of me as I am of you.

Our political barometer continues to go up & down. At the present moment after a severe depression it has appreciably risen.

Cripps is in hospital but is improving & hopes to be out in a few days & back at work a few days later. Alexander has gone off to the South on an Admiralty mission {1}. Jinnah is still at Simla & his Muslim League doesnt meet till June 3. The Congress have adjourned & departed.

So I & the Viceroy are left alone. I think there will be plenty to do & time to get some rest. I played Alexander at billiards last night[,] gave him 100 in 250 & beat him by 24.

I have told them to have an aeroplane standing by by June 10 but I am afraid tht† doesnt mean I shall get off by then. Still the time is coming when I shall have to say to the parties not “tht my patience is exhausted” but “time Gentlemen please”. It may be the only way to get them to decide anything. See the amusing extract from a pro-Congres† paper. And perhaps I shall add “We are going now forward with summoning the Constituent Assembly” & see what happens.

Darling once more
All my love

Please go on writing to me until I definitely start for home.


{1} He had gone to Ceylon to inspect the fleet. See Transfer of Power, vol. vii, no. 386.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—(30th.) Is conscious of his need for perseverance and patience. Affairs may reach a climax during the weekend of 8–11 June.—(31st.) Has had a delightful talk with Sudhir Ghosh.



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
May 30–31

My dear.

Your spiritual support means a great deal to me in these days when I have to call on all my spiritual reserves in order “neither to fail nor falter nor repent” {1}. I find it is not enough to have patience, I have also to have ungrudging goodwill to those who try my patience & at the back of all to retain tht reliance on the wise purpose of the Designer of all things. And so I pray tht courage, endurance & wisdom may continue to be vouchsafed to me, & tht all my works may be “begun continued & ended in Him” {2}.
I miss the counsel of Stafford Cripps terribly but he is now out of hospital & in a day or two I may be able to trouble him with some of the conundrums which confront me morning noon & night. For though I have faith in the Divine purpose & cling to it I never lose sight of the adage “God helps those who help themselves”.

It looks as if we might reach a climax in our affairs over the week-end June 8–11 but it may well be tht it is postponed. We have to get agreement on lots of things & a failure to get it on any once of them may mean a break down & a break up with consequences which humanly speaking are pretty serious. The hope is tht common sense may assert itself at alst, & I have by no means abandoned it.

The weather is rather trying, {3} with maxima between 100º & 108º & minima between 80º & 85º. Fortunately we have plenty of fruit & vegetables. I continue to sleep nearly the whole night through.

Albert Alexander is due back from his jaunt to Ceylon, tomorrow.

Friday. After writing the above I had a swim & went home. After a talk with Stafford who is much better Sudhir Ghosh came to see [me]—a young man of 29 who acts as “Mercury” to Gandhi. This time he did not bring me any message from G as he has himself been in hospital & Gandhi is away. But we had a delightful talk. I have seen him many times before & am very fond of him. I hope he will be one of India’s leading statesmen in years to come. He gave me great cheer & hope, and this morning I am feeling in very good spirits.

Ever your own loving Boy.


The abbreviation ‘tht’ for ‘that’ occurs a few times.

{1} A slight misquotation from Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, Act IV. The original line has ‘change’ in place of ‘fail’.

{2} The words ‘begun, continued, and ended in thee’ occur in the prayer beginning ‘Go before us, O Lord, in all our doings’ in the Book of Common Prayer, which is one of the prayers said at the beginning of each day in the House of Commons.

{3} Comma substituted for a full stop.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—Discusses her arrangements in connection with his return home. ‘A stupid little mistake of ours is causing us endless trouble and may even wreck the whole scheme.’



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
June 15. 46.

My dear.

I have just had two delightful & interesting letters from you written on June 7 & 12 {1}. Is it nt wonderful how quickly they come?

Of course I shall look forward intensely to your meeting me on arrival in London. When tht will be I still do nt at all know.

When I got your letter yesterday & wrote off to you in a hurry I had got the impression you meant to put off your trip to I W without waiting to learn my dates. But I gather from yours of 12th tht you have now got my explanatory letter & use your judgment with regard to I W along the lines I suggested. Of course I am quite confident you will make a wise decision & am only sorry my plans may make a change in yours necessary.

At the moment it seems scarcely likely tht I shall be home much if at all before the end of June, but I live in hope.

A stupid little mistake of ours in causing us endless trouble & may even wreck the whole scheme. You know how particularly annoying such things are. But even tht hasn’t got me down, & really when you come to think of it it is really rather wonderful tht we havent made more mis-takes, isn’t it?

The enclosed cartoon will amuse you. Show it to others. {2}

My dear I love you so very much.


I am hoping to play billiards tonight with Alexander.


This letter includes the abbreviated forms ‘tht’ for ‘that’ and ‘nt’ for ‘not’.
{1} PETH 8/78 and 8/81.
{2} Followed by ‘I am sending a duplicate to Esther.’, struck through.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—The mission’s statement has been published. Discusses the likely date of his return home. Has discussed his theory of the equilibrium of good and evil with an Indian Christian.



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
June 17. 46


With publication of our statement of yesterday the political barometer has risen somewhat but at any moment may go down again.

If, mirabile dictu, we were to get unqualified agreement by both parties we might be wending our way home by the time this letter reaches you & if so you will have been already told by the I B O. If you have not so heard you must take it either tht they are still haggling about it or tht one or other of the parties has turned either the long term or the short term scheme definitely down.

I hope tht in any case we may not have to stay here many days longer. But if necessary we may have to do so.

Poor Albert (Alexander), who incidentally has been slightly indisposed, especially wanted to be back on 23rd but his chance of doing so seems rather slender at the moment if he is to stay here to see the job through.
It is getting damp & sticky & the monsoon may break before we leave. The swimming pool is full of hot water & it is not easy to swim in it.

I went for a walk with Amrit Kaur this morning before breakfast. She talked shop most of the time but said at the end tht she didn’t see why I should not be able to get off home quite soon—which seemed to me encouraging both on public & private grounds.

I was pleased to know tht you seem to have entered on a period of better weather.

I met an Indian yesterday & talked to him about my idea of the equilibrium of good & evil. He said he had not heard it put like tht before. But he said he was a Christian. {1}

Dear love & kisses to my darling


The abbreviation ‘tht’ for ‘that’ occurs a few times.

{1} This paragraph is written in the left-hand margin; the succeeding words are in the right. It is unclear which was written first.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—The political barometer is low, but, whatever happens, he does not believe the mission’s work will have been in vain.



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
June 20. 46

My dear

Whatever happens (& the political barometer is standing pretty low at the moment) these people are not going to get me down. Neither am I going to admit tht the Mission has been a failure or tht our work has been in vain. If these people just wont take the opportunities we hold out to them with both hands they won’t & tht is an end to it. But the goodwill we have shown will live on & bear fruit even if they curse us by bell book & candle when the time comes for us to depart.

Of course while there is life there is hope and it is certainly not all over yet, but I write this letter so tht you may know how I am feeling if the worst comes to the worst, & in case it is demon-strably so when you get this letter.
Whichever way things go it is still quite uncertain when I am likely to start for home but I think it most improbable tht I shall be back before the end of June.

The heat is very oppressive—hot & humid—& the monsoon is expected to break shortly.

I do so hope you will have good weather & a lovely time in I o W. Please give my love to all there & remember me to the Perrimans {1}.

My darling I do love you so much & my heart aches to be with you again.

Ever your own


The abbreviation ‘tht’ for ‘that’ occurs a few times.

{1} Reading uncertain.

Letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi.—They are now leaving on Saturday. It may be that the failure of the mission will pave the way to future success.



Office of Cabinet Delegation, The Viceroy’s House, New Delhi
June 25. 46

My own very dearly Beloved.

You will have learnt tht we are starting on Saturday {1} & are due home on Tuesday evening. So I am chancing this one more letter. Your little boy is longing to be with you. He has nearly reached the limit of human endurance.

I cannot assess how far we have succeeded & how far we have failed. I am afraid that humanly speaking the failure (in spite of first appearances) greatly exceeds the success. But that may prove too pessimistic a forecast.
The great trouble in this unhappy country is suspicion & if anybody does not get all he wants he or his press rush into torrents of abuse & vilification which exceed all limits. And this in turn produces counterblasts of fury. And the still small voice of reason & moderation is unheard in the babble of conflicting clamour.

It may be that in the mercy of God what looks like failure may pave the road to success & tht a nation like an invitual† can rise on “stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things”—I dont think I have got the quotation right.

I have made some charming friends—in particular Ragagopalacharier†, who has written me a most affectionate letter to say good bye.

God bless my beloved.
Your own Boy.


The abbreviation ‘tht’ for ‘that’ occurs a few times.

{1} 29th.

† Sic.

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