[CHURCHILL, Winston S.] ASQUITH, Lady Cynthia (1887-1960). Autograph manuscript journals, 1914-1919, a sequence of ten volumes kept during and after the First World War, London, Stanway, Brighton and other places, 15 April 1915 - 9 November 1919, together with an unpublished "Account of my motor expedition in France", 25 October 1914, including a large number of unpublished passages, approximately 2,300 pages, 4to, annotations, underlinings, cancellations and page numberings in various hands in pencil, crayon and ballpoint ink, some passages cancelled for publication; bound in green, blue, and red morocco, or black moleskin (one), 235 x 190mm - 270 x 220 mm, paper labels (clasps forced open or removed causing damage to covers; covers of volume II detached; scuffed, worn and splitting in spines); with a commonplace book running up to 1946. Provenance: her son Simon Asquith (his signature to 4 volumes); Sotheby's, 22 July 1988, lot 302.
A MAJOR SOURCE FOR THE SOCIAL, POLITICAL AND INTELLECTUAL LIFE OF BRITAIN DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR
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 centre 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, self-absorbed 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 sombre 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 Montagu.
The diaries were published by her sons in 1968, covering the period 15 April 1915 - 28 September 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."