DURHAM (EDITH) Two autograph letters signed, 1915; and a first edition of 'High Albania', 1909 (3)
Lot 63
£600 - 800
US$ 810 - 1,100

Lot Details
Two autograph letters signed, to Captain H.S. Spencer of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, written from France during the Great War, and expressing her frustration that he attempts to serve her country have been rebuffed: "Unless one is a millionaire or has a very strong backing it seems impossible to get anywhere that is interesting. Only war office nurses are allowed near the front & I have no English certificates & foreign experience doesn't count"; in the second letter, she gives reign to her unfettered longing for the East: "I'm thinking of trying Egypt - for the East is ever a-calling - and with luck one might get to C[onstantino]ple later. Dako's address when I last heard was Shtypëshkronija Vitosha, Sofia. It is a printing office for an Albanian journal. There is also Imprimerie Albanaise, Rue Tsar Simon, Sofia, which I believe keeps in touch with all the Albanians. But I doubt if letters arrive now. Bulgaria is playing a rotten game. Yes – you are right. It is appalling how the good men are being killed"; and concludes with sixteen lines of verse condemning the Kaiser ("What are these columns of smoke that rise / Wilhelm, Wilhelm / And sully the air & blacken the skies / Wilhelm, Wilhelm?"), 6 pages, minor wear at edges, 8vo, Hotel Thermes Romains, Amélie-les-Bains, France, 8 and 27 September 1915


  • 'THE EAST IS EVER A-CALLING': two fine letters by the woman who – in Aubrey Herbert's phrase – restored Albania to the memory of Europe. In these letters written from France in 1915, she complains that she has been offered only "hard & unintellectual work such as any charwoman or pot boy can do"; this notwithstanding her achievements in the years immediately preceding the war which suggest that she, and her country's cause, might have benefitted from the opportunities offered her male counterpart, T.E. Lawrence. This earlier career is summarized by Harry Hodgkinson: 'Following an illness, and dismayed at the prospect of remaining a home-bound spinster, Edith Durham began, when already nearly forty, to travel rough in the then hardly visited Balkans, and she described her experiences in a series of vivid and forthright books... she made a series of forays on horseback into the trackless tribal areas of northern Albania, and quickly became the champion of the mountaineers, whose lands were coveted by neighbouring nations. As a woman she evoked in her hosts a protective courtesy, mingled with astonishment. Unable to imagine anyone travelling for pleasure, or out of curiosity, they assumed that the king of England must have sent her to discover and redress their grievances... In Albania she was known as the queen of the mountaineers, and streets there have remained named after her through all changes of regime' (ODNB).

    INCLUDED IN THE LOT is the recipient's copy of her classic account of her travels, High Albania (1909), with his ownership inscription: "H. S. Spencer, Royal Irish Fusiliers". This identifies him as the notorious Wisconsin-born Captain Harold Sherwin Spencer, honorary Captain of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and one of the more appalling characters featured in Philip Hoare's study, Oscar Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century (1998). So extreme were his views that he was even kicked out of the British army. Chief among them was the belief that the Germans were blackmailing the British to 'propagate evils which all decent men thought had perished in Sodom and Lesbia'. For good measure he went on to write Democracy or Shylocracy: Shall the Jew Win?. He was also the subject of an exchange in the House of Commons, where the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs was asked (and denied) 'whether Captain Harold Sherwin Spencer was in 1913 entrusted with a mission in Albania; whether, on his return from the Balkans, he made special confidential Reports to the Foreign Office; whether later during this War he was sent on a special Serbian mission; whether he executed these and any other duties for the Foreign Office in such a way as to retain the complete confidence of the Foreign Office; and whether he is now being so employed?' (Hansard, HC Deb 05 June 1918, vol. 106, cc1557-8).

    No letter by Edith Durham is recorded as having been sold in ABPC. See illustration on preceding page.
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  1. Luke Batterham
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3879
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