COCTEAU (JEAN) Four autograph letters signed, to Harold Nicolson, 1912
Lot 43
COCTEAU (JEAN) Four autograph letters signed, to Harold Nicolson, 1912
Sold for £2,375 (US$ 3,991) inc. premium
Lot Details
Four autograph letters signed, to Harold Nicolson, in French; an affectionate, amusing, high-spritied, series, written shortly after their first meeting in Paris, wherein Cocteau offers the young diplomat his views on: England (where "the puerile lives alongside the most opulent culture" [translation]), Oxford (which he imagines as "a great Greek orchard amongst whose books and pastures the chaste impudence of youth stretches itself out"), the French public and their expectations of him (requiring "salt tears to satisfy its unhealthy thirst"), the death of the young poet Henri Bouvelet, and the virtues of Nicolson's prose, which he compares to that of Walter Pater; Cocteau also assures Nicolson that his "charming English countenance has not faded in my memory" and expresses his regret that, once Nicolson has been posted to Constantinople, he is too far away to be able to help with his translation of A Midsummer Night's Dream; the letters also touch on Shelley, Keats, Wilde, etc., 13 pages, original envelopes (the first addressed to Nicolson in London, subsequently the British Embassy in Constantinople), in fine condition, 4to and 8vo, St-Jean-de-Luz and Paris, postmarrked September-December, 1912


  • Cocteau – actor, director, scenario writer, novelist, critic, art – and Harold Nicolson – diplomat, politician, author, diarist, and husband of Vita Sackville West – were introduced in Paris early in September 1912 by Pierre de Lacretelle; the beginning of their friendship being marked by the present series. Although remaining friends, they were to meet only at intervals in later years. Nicolson said of Cocteau that he was 'the wittiest person I have ever met, but otherwise he is rather dreadful. He is terrible to look at'; and was described by his biographer as retaining 'amused affection for Cocteau', being 'half impressed, half shocked by his outrageous opinions' and always reading his books with curiosity (James Lees-Milne, Harold Nicolson: A Biography, i, p. 124). These are qualities that Cocteau displays in the present letters: "Il me plait que votre lettre établisse une suite à notre rencontre – Sa venue sous le pâle azur de la côté basque flatte ensemble mon orgueil, ma tendresse et l'attente instinctive que j'en avais – Nos jeuns hommes de France perdent cet esprit de lieu sans quoi la jeunesse ne saurait devenir autre chose qu'un morne état individuel, gêné d'egoisme et d'attente – Ecrivez moi – Nul plaisir plus sensible que les lettres et surtout les lettres d'Angleterre. Votre île renferme encore une fraîche cohorte où le puéril voisine avec la plus opulente culture. J'imagine votre Oxford comme un grand verger grec où s'étale parmi les livres et les pâturages la chaste impudence de l'adolescence. Les Français ne me savent pas gré de mon effervescente paresse, ils me veulent actif – mais morne et connaissent le patrimoine de mes veines. Il faut à l"ogre quiet le public le sel des larmes pour étanche sa soif malsaine".
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