Wednesday, February 22, 2017

BIRTH | Feb. 22, Edna St Vincent Millay

Eugen Boissevain and Millay (1923-1949),
at sea.
Edna St Vincent Millay
Wrote poems that paid her way.
Though no longer so treasured today,
For mourners, her poems show the way.
Clerihew by JT Marlin.
On this day in 1892, the poet later known as Edna St. Vincent Millay was born "between the mountains and the sea" in Rockland, Maine. 

She was named Edna Vincent Millay by her mother, a nurse and not a poet.

Millay's name was originally three spondees (a plodding long-long meter). Edna was known as "Vincent" as a child, and enjoyed the excuse to be a tomboy. She was given the name because of St Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village. Millay added "St" to the middle name to make her name into two elegant dactyls (long-short-short) and a truncated spondee.

One of three daughters of a divorced mother, Millay learned from her mother independence and self-reliance. She began publishing poetry in high school. 

When Millay was 19, her mother saw a poetry contest in a magazine called The Lyric Year and encouraged Millay to enter. In 1912, the year she turned 20, her poem “Renascence” appeared in it. Her poem, "Renascence," came in fourth, but the second-prize winner offered her his $250 prize. Millay drew the attention of a benefactor, Caroline Dow, who made it possible for Millay to attend Vassar. She wore men's clothes, wrote and starred in a play called The Princess Marries the PageThe year she graduated, in 1917, her first volume of poetry, Renascence and Other Poems, appeared.

Millay headed to Greenwich Village after graduation, just in time for the Jazz Age. She said: "People fall in love with me and annoy me and distress me and flatter me and excite me." Millay lived a glamorous life as a writer and actress in Greenwich Village. She was one of the first women to write openly about her many lovers. She never, however, seems to have been tempted to leave the caring arms of her husband Eugen.

For a while she lived at 75½ Bedford Street, a house that is just eight feet wide, the narrowest house in New York City, known now as "The Millay House." 

Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (1923) for her book, The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. That year she married my mother's uncle Eugen Jan Boissevain, who decided to devote himself to looking after her because she was not well. He was previously married to Inez Milholland in a very different marriage although with both wives he announced in advance that he would forgive them in advance for any affairs they had. Inez died in 1916 and in the next seven years Eugen and his two Dutch brothers became wealthy from importing coffee from Java, then a Dutch colony. 

Eugen bought for Millay a big house in Austerlitz, New York that she called "Steepletop". They built a cabin where she could write and cultivated the gardens. Steepletop has a bathing pool (I have been there) and Millay and her husband enjoyed swimming in the nude. Once a bumblebee alighted on a private part of Eugen's anatomy and in characteristically quick-witted moment Millay quoted from the first line of the song in Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene 1.

She gave readings all over the country that her husband organized in a businesslike way, selling her books and charging fees. She is said to be only one of two people who made a living from her poetry in the 20th century (W. H. Auden was the other).

A passionate advocate of civil liberty, she wrote poems in support of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists condemned to death for robbery and murder. She was arrested and jailed for protesting their trial. In the 1930s, she wrote anti-totalitarian poetry for newspapers, as well as radio plays and speeches.

Millay died in 1950. Eugen had died the previous year from cancer, and she succumbed to the addictions (alcohol, morphine) that from time to time dominated her life. The Austerlitz postmistress found Millay lifeless at the foot of the stairway at Steepletop. 

A lovely memory of her father by Katherine Vaz calls on several quotations from Edna St. Vincent Millay to feed her melancholy mood. 

The memory is a couple of years old but was just posted on Jennifer Pastiloff's Manifest-Station blog.

Perhaps her most famous poem was the short one: "My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – / It gives a lovely light!" 

Here's another poem: 


We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold
We were very tired, we were very merry
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-
       covered head,
And bought a morning paper which neither of us
And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and
and we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

RIP | Ernst Gulian Boissevain (1924-2017)

February 21, 2017–Ernst Gulian Boissevain (1924-2017) has recently died, according to Charles Boissevain in Leidschendam. Here is basic information on Ernst, his father Gulian Boissevain and his grandfather Willem Boissevain. 

Ernst has written for the Boissevain Foundation about the life and four wives of his uncle Ernest William Boissevain.

His grandfather father Willem Boissevain was born on 07-07-1849 in Amsterdam, son of Eduard Constantin Boissevain and Emma (Burridge) Nicholls. Willem died on 12-06-1925 in Hilversum, at 75. Willem married twice:
(1) at the age of 21, on 13-04-1871 in London Cecilia Henrietta Nugent, aged 21. Cecilia was born on 22-10-1849 in Clonteen (Westmeath, Ireland), daughter of George Thomas John Nugent and Mary Josephine Thouret. Cecilia died on 11-01-1886 on Baarn, at the age of 36. 
(2) at the age of 39, on 16-05-1889 in Utrecht, Mathilde Margaretha Cornelia de Geer, aged 22. Mathilde was born on 24-03-1867 in Utrecht, daughter of Bathold Jacob Lintelo de Geer and Cornelia Anna Alexandrina Louisa van Asch van Wijck. Mathilde died on 02-03-1945 in Hilversum, at 77. 

His father Gulian Daniël Willem Boissevain, was born on 25-06-1891 in Baarn, son of Willem and his second wife Mathilde. His father's brother was Ernest William Boissevain, born on 05-02-1898 in Amsterdam. 

Ernst Gulian Boissevain was born on 10-03-1924 in Aerdenhout, son of Gulian Daniël Willem Boissevain and Emilie van Rossem. Ernst married, at the age of 38, on 26-10-1962 in Haarlem Johanna Clara Jacoba Laan, aged 23 years. The marriage was dissolved on 19-11-1986 in Apeldoorn. Johanna was born on 05-06-1939 in Bloemendaal, daughter of Kaymond Eugène Laan and Elizabeth Johanna Jacoba van der Lee. 

Children of Ernst and Johanna :
1 Johanna Maria Boissevain, born on 28-11-1963 in Aerdenhout 

2 Raymond Gulian Boissevain, born on 31-10-1965 in Aerdenhout 

RIP | Ernest William Boissevain (1898-1984), by E. G. Boissevain

Jean Tennyson – fourth wife of Ernest
Ernest William Boissevain (1898-1984).
Feb. 21, 2017–The article that follows appeared in the Boissevain Bulletin in 2008, written by Ernst Gulian Boissevain (1924-2017), nephew of Ernest William Boissevain. 

I was just informed of the death of the nephew, Ernst Gulian, and am re-posting this in his honor (with minor edits to improve the English and in one case the French). 

Page 109 of the Nederland’s Patriciaat (sometimes called "the Blue Book" of Holland), 1988 edition starts the intriguing biography of Ernest William Boissevain (NP p 109). 

He grew up with money, married four women, lived in high society and enjoyed several country manors. I, Ernst Boissevain (NP p 111), am probably one of the last remaining persons in our family to remember him. So... et voilà... here are a few stories about him and some photos from his own collection.

Think back to beginning of the 20th century. The table is set in the large house in Trompenburgerweg in Hilversum, the Netherlands, that once belonged to my grandfather. His twelve children are already in the dining room: the children from his first marriage and the oldest two, a son and daughter, of his second marriage are already seated. The other four are eating standing at the table. A brother-in-law to be and two nannies complement the party. 

Then the door opens and my grandfather and his wife make their grand entry. He is seated, reads a passage from the Bible and they all pray. Then the large soup tureen is brought in. When too much steam rises up from it, grandfather empties a large jug of water into it. At the far end of the table stands the youngest son, who was two years old in 1900. This story is about him.

He is a nice lad. He will have many friends among the boys, and even more girl friends. He goes to work for an American trust company in Paris where he meets an American woman who becomes my aunt Billy in 1927, when I was three. 

They visited in a beautiful car. We are allowed to come for a ride! Unfortunately the ride ends prematurely 500 meters down the road, as the car hits a tree. That had a lasting impression on me. That also goes for auntie Billy's kisses, the bright red legacies of which my father immediately wiped off at the nearest fountain.

After the stock market crash in 1929 the couple went to live in London, and their visits to Holland became decreasingly frequent. The next contact that I remember clearly was in 1939. I am with my parents somewhere on the west coast of France when unexpectedly uncle Ernst walks in the door. Unexpectedly,also, he has a new lady with him: Dorothy. He has big plans for a future with her. 

We return to the Netherlands, the war breaks out (September 1939) and suddenly uncle Ernst again stands before us. With Dorothy. Travel to France and England has become more difficult. They come to stay with us. But that is not on. 

My father is not prepared to house them until uncle Ernst phones his wife Billy and explains his situation. He reluctantly does so. At the top of the stairways I stand, a 14-year-old boy, listening in with red ears. 

After several days the pair disappears to London. Billy is uncooperative, orders meals at expensive restaurants and is angry. Finally a telegram arrives: "Am on my way to Cuba with Dorothy. Send money immediately. Ernest." It is the 9th of May, 1940 [the day before the surprise Nazi invasion of Holland]. 

Not until five years later [after the war is over] do we hear how this story ended. Aunt Billy took the next boat to Cuba and there they divorced. Uncle Ernst and Dorothy had some good years, but unfortunately she got a severe illness and they spent her last years in Canada, where she died. Dorothy painted and uncle Ernst learned from her how to paint. 

Back in New York, he managed to make a living painting portraits of members of New York's high society. He opened an art gallery there, as far as I know under our old name Bouissavy. And he marries a young student, a marriage that lasts four years. 

Then comes the grand finale, his fourth wife, Jean Tennyson. She had finished a thriving career as an opera singer, having sung in Europe in the Salzburg Festival and in many capitals and married a captain of industry who left her a fortune.

She reluctantly went to a party that uncle Ernst, also reluctantly, attended. They hit it off and for 25 years their marriage was a big feast. They bought an old run-down castle of the Antinori family South of Florence. It was renovated extremely well, partly in the original Renaissance style. The ballroom was refurbished for concerts and many famous musicians performed there. Arthur Rubinstein was a very dear friend of the family.

[Photo: Ernest William Boissevain at his castle in Italy.]

When I visited him, we drove up past the porter's lodge, between the rows of cypresses left and right. Above through an archway, a brief but hearty welcome and soon we were splashing away between the golden water fountains in the bathroom. In our guestroom hung an elite selection of paintings, museum pieces. Behind the walls of most of the rooms was a system of corridors for personnel, who could thus pick up our clothes and return them within a few hours after having been washed and ironed, without being seen.

Uncle Ernst gave us the grand tour. This started in the basement where around twenty of the lower staff - gardeners and caretakers of the vineyard among others - have their meals. Two steps above this was a table for Elisabeth, since forever auntie Jean's lady's-maid. Down below was also the kitchen. There was a fantastic cook, who baked a cake for every single meal. 

Our host and hostess tended to eat a miniscule piece of these cakes; the rest went to the staff... or so they thought. After a while uncle Ernst discovered that the cook had bought a shop in Florence where he sold slices of cake! Uncle Ernst flew into a rage which made the castle shake on its foundations. The cook looked bewildered and auntie Jean had rarely had such a good laugh.

[Photo: Aerial view of Villa Antinori delle Rose south of Florence (Italy).]

To vary the scenery, they had a few other assets.  

  • On Ischia island they owned a large piece of land with a residential area, a house for all the staff, a captain's cabin for uncle Ernst and a large studio for aunt Jean. She modeled there and among other things, on a commission for the United States, she made a bust of Golda Meir. 
  • There was a beautiful swimming pool which was enjoyed by Herbert von Karajan with his girlfriend, who bathed without a suit, which made uncle Ernst raise his eyebrows. [Photo: Jean Tennyson in her period of glory.] 
  • They had a house in Vermont and an apartment on Avenue George V in Paris.
  • Also, a seaworthy yacht, docked in Monaco and seldom used. 
Finally, an anecdote. When Polaroid introduced its camera with instant developed photos for the wider public, uncle Ernst decided to give one to auntie Jean for her birthday. At the end of that day he said that he would like to take a closer look at the camera and took it with him to his captain's cabin. The camera never came back. 

Six months later it was uncle Ernst's birthday. Auntie Jean sneaked into the cabin, took the camera, wrapped it up beautifully with nice paper and a bow. ‘Here: a present for you.’ Uncle Ernst, unabashed, wrapped up the camera again six months later and again gifted it back. This remained a standing joke for another year or so.

In 1982 it was time for them to slow down a little. They bought a flat at Lake Geneva and their Italian possessions were sold and auctioned off, along with the yacht. Even before the flat was fully equipped, uncle Ernst died, in 1984. Jean lived on until in 1991.

–Ernst Gulian Boissevain, Apeldoorn (the Netherlands). R.I.P. 2017.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

BLOG VIEWS | 30K–Top Posts in February 2017

Dank je wel.  (I am on Level 7 of Duolingo's free Dutch learning program. 😇 Never too late to figure out what my Dutch-born grandmother and mother were talking about 70 years ago.)

Thank you for reading!

This blog site was started in 2013 and has passed 30,000 page views.

Please post your comments or email your blogger at

Here are the most-read posts in February 2017:

INEZ | Fund-Raiser for Socialists, 1910-1922
Jan 19, 2017

RIP | Robert Lucas "Bob" Boissevain (1922-2017)
Feb 18, 2017

MILLAY | One of Top 5 Authors in 1936
Jan 28, 2017

NWP | Katharine Hepburn
Feb 3, 2017

INEZ | Washington March, 2013 – The Deltas
Mar 5, 2013

INEZ | What would she do today? Write to th...
Jan 23, 2017

AMSTERDAM | Herengracht + Keizersgracht (Updated O...
Apr 11, 2016

INEZ | Led the 1913 Parade on Horseback
Apr 20, 2013

MILHOLLAND | John E. and the NAACP
Nov 10, 2015

MILHOLLAND | Men's Leagues for Woman Suffrage,...
Jul 22, 2015

Saturday, February 18, 2017

RIP | Robert Lucas "Bob" Boissevain (1922-2017)

Bob Boissevain died on Valentine's Day, 2017, at 94 years of age. 

He turned 18 the month after the Nazis invaded Holland without warning after promising to allow Holland to remain neutral as it had in World War I.

He became the family's first onderduiker–what my Dutch-born mother called "under-diver", usually translated "person in hiding". He hid  in the house to avoid being taken to Germany to work in a factory or for the Wehrmacht.

His father Robert Lucas Boissevain Sr. and his mother Sonia van Tienhoven Boissevain took in four other onderduikers who were Jewish, making five in all. Sonia had rations for seven and fed twelve people, until her husband was arrested for his Resistance (Verzet) work in 1943 and taken to Westerbork. She then had rations for six and eleven to feed.

Bob Boissevain Sr. died in a Nazi concentration on the day of liberation in 1945. His wife Sonia meanwhile was called "General Eisenhower" by her four guests.

The parents received the Resistance Cross for their bravery. The entire family including the children received Yad Vashem awards for sheltering four Jews during the war. Four trees have been planted in Jerusalem in memory of the four who were given sanctuary.

(For followers of Inez Milholland Boissevain: Bob Boissevain Sr. was her nephew by marriage to Eugen Boissevain. Charles E. H. and Eugen were my grandmother's brothers.–JTM)

Here is a translation of the Dutch text in the death notice above:

Bob was transferred to the Yarden Uitvaartcentrum Kennemerland Zijlweg 183 in Haarlem, where an opportunity to bid farewell to him is on Wednesday, February 22, 2017 from 2:15 pm to 3:00 pm. The cremation ceremony will take place on Wednesday, February 22 at 4.15 pm in Crematorium Westerveld, Dune and Kruidbergerweg 2-6 in Driehuis, meeting at 4 pm. Afterwards, we will raise our glasses to Bob's memory in the coffee room of Westervelt.

Friday, February 3, 2017

NATIONAL WOMAN'S PARTY | Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn
I was educated today by Long Island Woman Suffrage, which has a monthly tribute to a suffragist. 

This month features Katharine Hepburn, née Katharine Houghton. Another outstanding suffragist from New York State.

I had no idea this great movie actress was such a suffragist. 

She joined the National Woman's Party at a young age.

Thanks to Antonia Petrash who maintains the LI Woman Suffrage site.