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Asquith, Lady Cynthia.

MANUSCRIPT: Diaries of Lady Asquith.


Asquith, Lady Cynthia. Manuscript journals. 1914-1919.
10 vols., 8vo.; cloth boards, some with morocco spines; worn.
Together with:
Asquith, Lady Cynthia. Manuscript: "Account of my motor expedition in France." 1914.
Together with:
Asquith, Lady Cynthia. Manuscript commonplace book. "Account of my motor expedition in
France." Through 1956.
A compelling and detailed primary source for information about the social, political, and
intellectual life of England during the First World War this series of ten journals Asquith
maintained during and after World War I is together with a travelogue including much
unpublished material, and a commonplace book. Together, they number approximately 2300
pages, with annotations, underlining, cancellations, and page numbering in various hands in
pencil, crayon, and ball point ink.
Lady Cynthia Asquith, the daughter of the Earl and Countess of Wemyss and daughter-in-law of
H.H. Asquith (prime minister 1908-1916), was at the center of both cultural and political life
during the period of her diaries. She counted many writers and artists among her friends, notably
D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, Desmond McCarthy, Augustus John, Henry Tonks, Siegfried
Sassoon, Osbert Sitwell, Duff Cooper (who prompted her to begin her journal, and gave her the
first volume) and J.M. Barrie to whom she became secretary in 1918. Well educated, selfabsorbed
but also sociable, she proves an excellent observer. The diary mixes the apparently
frivolous round of aristocratic life, which continued in the Edwardian tradition even in the first
years of the war, with the increasingly somber reports of the war as it begins to take its toll upon
her immediate circle (the death of Basil Blackwood in July 1917 has a particularly deep effect, as
he had made a declaration of love to her in 1916).
Throughout the war D.H. Lawrence was probably her closest confidant: "I find [D.H. and Frieda
Lawrence] the most intoxicating company in the world. I never hoped to have such mental
pleasure with anyone. It is so wonderful to be such a perfect trois. [Lawrence] has the gift of
intimacy and such perceptiveness that he introduces one to oneself ... In his talk there is none of
the crudeness and occasional ugliness one finds in his book, but he has passionate resentment
against the frame and values of life. He can see nothing but fatuity in the war" (11 May 1915).
A fortnight later, "Winston came in rather late from the first Coalition Cabinet. He looks unhappy
- but is very dignified and un-bitter. I have never liked him so much... Winston said that if he
could do things over again he would do just the same with regard to appointing Fisher... Though
he may be unscrupulous and inclined to trample on susceptibilities of sailors, or whoever he may
have to deal with from eagerness [he] is absolutely devoid of any vindictiveness unlike the half
caste Fisher who really runs amok from malevolent spleen" (27 May 1915, after Churchill's
dismissal from the Admiralty). The conversation of Arthur Balfour, a frequent guest of her
mother's, is "wonderfully luminous and fair-minded" and he gives a "wonderfully lucid
exposition on artillery and the respective functions of shrapnel and high explosives." Lord Curzon
is heard "pontificating on the war-born necessity of some sort of polygamy."
At a Downing Street dinner "on so historical a night, the atmosphere was most electric. The P.M.
had sent in his resignation at 7.30 ... I sat next to P.M., he was too darling, rubicund, serene,
puffing a guinea cigar, a gift from Maud Cunard -- and talking of going to Honolulu. His
conversation was as irrelevant to his life as ever. [Lloyd] George has been a wily fox cad. It has
been a well managed plot" (6 December 1916). By contrast, towards the end of the war she
recounts a dinner with her parents and Arthur Balfour when a "very demented" letter from
Margot Asquith was read out urging Lady Wemyss to persuade Balfour to have 'Henry'
[Asquith] at the Peace Conference. "Mr Balfour was angrier than I have ever known him, really
raging and fuming because Margot wrote an illustration of the absurdity of [President] Wilson's
presence and Henry's absence ... [Balfour] maintained that Margot ought to be certified" (2
November 1918).
Lady Cynthia is a good retailer of society gossip - she records the tittle-tattle of the day on the
Duke and Duchess of Rutland's opposition to the marriage of Lady Diana Manners to Duff
Cooper, and from her vantage point within the Asquith family, observes the Prime Minister's well
documented friendship with Venetia Stanley and the latter's marriage in July 1915 to Edwin
The diaries were published by her sons in 1968, covering April 15, 1915 - September 28, 1918,
but with considerable omissions, particularly of dark or personal details (for example her
husband's symptoms of shell-shock on returning from the front), or of the more biting examples
of the wit of Cynthia and her circle. Her account of her visit to France in 1914 is apparently
completely unpublished, and contrasts vividly the varying conditions of hospitals from the
American hospital at the Lyce Pasteur, "a real Ritz Hotel amongst hospitals," to the horrifying
plight of the wounded at Boulogne, where 7,000 men were brought in three days, "lying thick on
the floors of the hospitals."
Provenance: By descent to her son Simon Asquith (his signature in four volumes).

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