[Willem Jacob van Stockum]

Some letters 1934-1944

Transcribed and annotated by John Anthony Marlin, with assistance from Engelien de Booy and Chris Oakley. A little background information might be helpful here. Willem's father Bram became increasingly difficult, showing signs of mental illness, some of which seemed to have been passed on to Jan (Willem's younger brother). Willem's mother,  Olga, anxious to get the children away from their father, took them to Ireland about 1926 where they stayed in a cottage in the grounds of Sutton House in Howth, a suburb of Dublin. Sutton House was the family home of the Jamesons (of Whiskey fame) - the invitation having come from Andrew Jameson, with whom there was a family connection via the MacDonnells. Despite living in the grounds of a mansion, the van Stockums were very poor. The boys were schooled at St. Andrew's College and Hilda went to the Dublin Art School (it may well be that their rich relatives paid for the children's schooling). Willem won a sizarship to Trinity College, Dublin. In the first year he shared rooms with Ervin Ross ("Spike") Marlin. They became great friends. Even before meeting Hilda, Spike resolved that Willem's sister was the woman he was going to marry. This ambition was fulfilled and they were married on 27 June 1932 in Dublin. Their first child, Olga (named after her grandmother) was born on 12 November 1934. Brigid followed on 16 January 1936. Four others, including John Anthony, followed but are not alluded to here.

Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 28 September 1934

Dept. Applied Mathematics, University of Toronto

Lieve Hilda,

Arrived safely in Toronto. Robert and Anne [Boissevain, his uncle and aunt] are darlings and I enjoyed being with them tremendously. I fell in love with their houses, it is quite different now from when you where there – on the side beside the dining room, which used to be living room, they have knocked down the further wall and ceiling and built an enormous and beautifully light drawing room – with a large open fire, the most beautiful room in the house. I had a lovely two days there but went again on Monday morning. There were two girls staying with them, p.g.’s, typists of the giggling variety but quite nice. Owing to them Anne had two servants but just when I was there Anne couldn’t support the servants any more and on the Sunday she sacked them after (I suppose) a last straw. The girls (p.g.’s) had paid already for the next week (their last) and got their money back on the understanding that they would do some of the household work. The girls were naturally delighted at this generous gesture.

On Sunday we all went to a party where I met a girl called Peggy something, who is by way of being an artist. She seemed very nice and we got on grand together – I was slightly drunk at the time from a lot of cocktails and did what I suppose was rather a foolish thing – I told her about you and then she wanted to meet you so I gave her your address and when she gets back to New York she will call on you. Robert says she is very nice so perhaps you won’t mind. The reason we got on so well was that she had been to Ireland and knew the Hamiltons, Kirkwoods, Hones, etc., she had been staying with the Hones and probably knows Eric Hone too. So please be nice to her for perhaps she will be useful when I come at Xmas to go out with. I hope you won’t mind.

I went by bus from Robert and Anne to Buffalo and thence further by railway. At the last moment Robert insisted on paying my bus fare no matter how I protested. Nice of him, wasn’t it? Anne gave me two big kisses when I went away so I think she must have liked me. I quite agree with you about her, I think she is awfully nice and honest and straightforward. A very good person to be with when you want a rest cure – she gives you the feeling that you don’t need to say unnecessary things. The bus journey I quite liked, especially at night. I was sitting beside the driver and able to look unobstructed ahead – much more pleasant than trying to sleep. Synge was very nice and came to meet me at the station when I phoned him on arrival and immediately took me to the University to lunch (the journey was long, 10 am Monday until 12 am Tuesday). Then he showed me the Dept. App. Math. – a private house converted on the edge of the University Campus. I am definitely on the staff and have a room of my own with my name on. There are only four of us – Prof. Synge, Prof. Stevenson, Mr. Griffith and self – then there is also a typist. This department is still very young, it was only started about 4 years ago by Prof. Synge. Next Saturday I start by taking a class of 40 to discuss problems. I am a bit nervous at the prospect of facing unaided such a large assembly.

The Synges were nice to me and I stayed with them for two days. Mrs. Synge I like very much too, and the three children 4, 11, 13 are very nice to look at. I made great friends with little Isabel 4 years. She told all about her dolls and beasties and when I went away Prof. Synge found me covered from top to bottom with dolls and teddy bears and beds and perambulators, so that she was very upset when I had to go and extended a cordial invitation to come again soon! The evening before she vastly amused Prof. And Mrs. Synge by kissing my hand when she said good night. They both (the Synges) inquired after you and Spike and were very interested when I told them about your book. You mustn’t think your work on the Menu cards for the T.C.D. [Trinity College, Dublin] dinner was entirely wasted because I pointed out a resemblance between the teddy bear and Mr. Dowds and then Synge leaped out of his chair and went upstairs and brought back your menu-card, which had some loafing characters on it and pointed out one which really was the image of Dowds. They both evidently prized it.

Well, here is the end of the page, and in conclusion I want to thank you and Spike for your very great hospitality, which I hope some day to be able to return.

Your loving brother, Willem

Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 12 November 1934

Dearest Hilda,

What a surprise to be awakened this morning with the good news! Thousands of congratulations to all three of you. Only yesterday I got your letter containing no hint of the approach of the fruits of your hard work. I am dying to hear all about it – wasn’t it very sudden? Was Olga born in a taxi? Did you get to your hospital? I presume that I may take Spike’s “splendid” in the wire as literally true – the usual formula is “well” so I like to think of everything as having gone unusually well – but let me know about it, I am really rather glad it is a girl, you know – because I much rather have a little girl godchild than a little boy – though that would have been nice too. But you see a girl will be so much better if I am going to be a bachelor – no bachelor is complete without a pretty little girl godchild. I picture you lying quite radiantly happy in your enormous hospital and doing nothing but adoring your child, but I suppose you are pretty tired today.

Tomorrow when you get this you are really beginning to enjoy yourself. I hope you will soon be able to write as I am longing to hear your own story about everything, but do impress upon Spike to write to me quickly. Because you were in such a hurry Olga will be 5 weeks old when I see [it], her (sorry). It is funny to think that at this very moment probably Father, Mother, Jan and I are all writing to you at the same moment – but I shall beat them to it by a long chalk.

I read the review of your book [Day on Skates] in the New York Times today, it is quite good but they didn’t say nearly enough about it to my mind. It was good though that they published two of your pictures. Great news of the second printing – how many copies is a printing? You might be making quite a little extra sum out of it by next Xmas.

The Synges are very pleased with your book and Mrs. Synge told me that she and her elder daughters had great difficulty in getting it from Isabel who guarded it jealously and was most terribly proud of having a book, as they both wanted to read it they had to wait until Isabel had been taken to bed thereby justifying Edna’s [Edna St. Vincent Millay, aunt of Hilda and Willem, sister-in-law of Olga van Stockum] remarks in the preface.

By the way how is it about the confirmation? Or Baptism? Personally I don’t mind particularly and if it is absolutely impossible to get God’s permission to allow me to be godfather without the necessary and appropriate incantation I don’t mind pleasing the old gentleman, but I am afraid your religious sensibilities might be rather offended by the procedure as I could not regard the process with any reverence. So more for your own sake than mine do I advise you to get it wangled. Of course the baptism of an infant is quite a different thing and I won’t regard that with any undue levity. It is to my mind a very fitting and appreciate ceremony celebrating the new child’s emancipation from the womb and satisfies the very natural desire of the parents to have an occasion for resting from their labours and saying to the world: “Come and look, we have finished it at last and isn’t she lovely!”

However if it is absolutely necessary for me to be baptized can’t I be baptized a Roman Catholic? If I must do something I would like to do something original.

Thousands and thousands of congratulations, and awfully sorry I can’t write more, but am kilt with work. Love to Olga and Spike.

Ever yours little Willem

Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 29 November 1934

Lieve Hilda,

I have let a long time go by before writing to you again – the reason is that I am frightfully busy at the moment – I have to read a paper at the monthly seminar to the assembled mathematical staff on an “expanding universe” and so am fully occupied. I am most interested in my godchild and am longing to see it. I can hardly believe it yet it is so strange suddenly a new person appearing in the world and I am afraid I will not be completely convinced she really exists until I see her. I thought of sending you and her flowers, but I desisted because my main occupation in my spare time is calculating how I can manage to get to New York and back again at Xmas. I have had rather a nasty shock because my dentist has suddenly demanded cash payment, which I think is an incredible impertinence but apparently the custom in this country. He made 10 fillings! Fortunately he was not too expensive $3 a filling, but still as I had not expected to pay until after January when I get some more money from Dublin. This has just upset all my calculations. It is only a purely temporary embarrassment owing to a large number of simultaneous non-recurrent expenses $30 dentist $35 M.A. fees and a new suit and overcoat. However with a little care I think I will just manage it. About a present for little Olga: I have a brilliant idea. Ultimately I know I will sell my large gold medal, and this is an ideal occasion for doing so, because any sentimental value the medal will have, will be perpetuated in the present to little Olga! Just think how romantic for your child to think that her uncle when she was born being too poor to buy a proper present sold his most precious possession! With a little imagination on your part you would be able to make a quite touching story out of it. The medal I think would bring in enough to make quite a nice present too. I think I shall bring it down to New York and then we can all decide together what she would like best. Anyway I would have to see her first before I could choose an appropriate present.

I suppose you are back in your house by now? When I come are you going to put me in the little room? I shall have to do a little work so it would be rather nice to have a place where I could do so. We only get about 12 days off at Xmas, but I daresay I could get permission to take a little more if you would like to have me longer, but then you might not quite feel up to it.

Will you be able to go about at all and make merry, or will you be entirely occupied in being the devoted mother? By the way, will you buy for me to send to mother and Jan a little trifle for Xmas? I enclose two dollars for that, I can’t afford more. Use your own judgment but write to me what you are sending so that I can write about it.

Well, I haven’t any more time, so goodbye to all there. I will write soon again,

Love from Willem

Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 6 December 1934

Lieve Hilda,

Thank you so much for your last two letters, I roared about Spike and Tora! I am so sorry that you keep on being visited by them. However you are so Christian that probably you can bear it - ?

How is my godchild? For so I will insist on regarding her – baptism or no baptism. I quite see the point of Mr. Williams' remark and there is no more to be said, but little Olga will not be the loser as she will have an extra godfather even if the church objects. By the way, your last letter was obscure on one point – having said that mother wanted her to be called Theresa you went on to say that she would consequently be baptized Olga Emily Teresa? Why? Was this a mere misspelling such as not infrequently increase the sparkle of your letters or is there a meaning behind it all?

Please don’t be annoyed by my having written like that about you to Pic [Pic Gwynn, now married, was the daughter of the Provost of Trinity. There was a romantic connection between her and Willem at one point].

“He only did it to annoy because he knows it teases”.

Anyway don’t flatter yourself, I think you are ideal wife – dear, dear, when I think what Spike has to put up with! However no harsh words at this season and your wonderfully successful effort in increasing the family atones for much.

Expect me about the 19th or 20th. I shall be leaving again on the 4th or 5th not so very long but probably as much as you will be able to stand. We shall have a jolly good time and I suppose your house will be so delightful that we won’t want to have it at all. Especially if you have an open fire I shall be content to it by it all day minding the baby. I haven’t seen one since I left Dublin (fire, I mean not baby, saw too much of me this summer once). What is the weather like in N.Y.? Here it has been very wild.

Well, it is no use wasting too much time writing, as I shall be seeing you so soon. Longing to be with you all.

A kiss from Willem

Willem to David Grene, 18 January 1935

Dept. Applied Mathematics, University of Toronto

My Dear David,1

A thousand apologies for not having written for such a deuce of a time. Let me explain: hardly had Xmas passed and I got a bad cold and was forced to spend the rest of my stay in New York in and out of bed, playing hide and seek with my cold. I only got up when there was something special, e.g. going out in a blizzard on New Year’s Eve with Mrs. Skeffington [Mr. Skeffington ("Skeff") was another Trinity friend] to see the sights on Broadway or when there were visitors, etc., and slept the rest of the time, being in truth I think slightly run down, and consequently got very little opportunity to write. Having postponed my return for as long as I could, I rose from bed of sickness to face a 22 hour continuous bus journey up to Toronto and when I got here, somehow or other, was immediately confiscated by the matron who put me in the infirmary with tonsillitis. There I stayed for a week and am now on my feet again and as well as never before. To cheer me up however I received two letters from you during my stay in the infirmary and one of these contained your Xmas present for which many, many thanks. It was disgraceful of you to be so lavish but I appreciate your generosity2. Your list appealed very much to me, of course I had practically read all of [Aldous Huxley’s] Point Counter Point and hence took the opportunity of getting Beyond the Mexique Bay instead, which so far has proved most entertaining.

Then, secondly, Jude the Obscure. This is an excellent idea, having for so long struggled with a reluctance to read Hardy and having at length taken the plunge only to find my view confirmed by so esteemed a lover of English literature was exceedingly gratifying and worthwhile commemorating with a Xmas present. I daresay I will enjoy it and let you know by and by what I think of it. I was then faced with the choice between Sean O’Casey and Strachey and chose the latter. I had seen the book several times and heard a lot about it and was already anxious to read it but it had so far just eluded me. I have only just started it but the opening chapter is extremely interesting and promising. Well, my very hearty thanks, old man, it was damn decent of you. Now about me. I had been wondering what to send you and no suggestions seemed to come. As you had secured a lead in the field with books I wanted to keep off that and then postponed thinking that New York would be a much better place to look for inspiration than Toronto, but when I got there I seemed not to find it so easy either and then as a last strand I fell ill. So as a Xmas present which arrives in February is rather absurd I decided to postpone my present to your birthday and that gives me quite a lot of time to think, besides, to be quite honest being much more convenient financially as the New York expedition was quite expensive and all my surplus cash went not unnaturally to Hilda and Spike for presents3.

My stay in New York was at first very pleasant. We baptized the infant and had all the usual trappings of Xmas, a tree, and plum pudding and even an open hearth. We were all very cheerful because Spike had just got a 200 words telegram from the civil service offering him a job4. I think he is probably O.K. now for life. Hilda on the other hand was rather upset by it because it means moving just now that they have got their house in order, which is rather hard, besides moving is not so pleasant with a 7 weeks old infant. But Washington is very much to be preferred to New York as a residence in the winter at any rate.

I was interested in your description of Michael’s film, and I imagine that the over elaboration you speak of is a rather natural fault for an amateur to make, I can too imagine Michael incapacity to cut out ruthlessly what was superfluous, when each little gesture, each little arranger has taken much thought it must be hard to have the moral courage to cut efficiently. In Hollywood of course, the cutler is a personage entirely away from the influence of the director and I imagine it would be a good idea for Michael to get someone else to edit his material and act as “Continuity man”.

I was amused to hear of McConnell’s marriage, I wonder how Killiney5 will appeal to him. At any rate [Trinity] College loses nothing and that is something.

By the way, when in New York we resuscitated Orson Welles, who we found to be playing quite a prominent part in Cornell’s production of Romeo and Juliet in Broadway. We bearded him in his dressing room and he was with us at his expense. The poor fellow was going to be married on Xmas day so we saw no more of him. He told us most amusing experiences at getting Hilton E.[Edwards] and M. M. [Michael MacLiammoir] over last summer to America and “Producing” them. He is now 19 and was 16 when in Dublin!6 He showed us quite an amusing little booklet, which he had written and which was a textbook on how to produce Shakespeare. It was to come out this month and I will try and procure it for you. He illustrated it himself.

I saw Man of Aran in New York and was very much impressed. The photography was truly stupendous, and I have never before received so much aesthetic satisfaction from a film. The only defect of the firm was a slight exaggeration and (I think) some trick photography, which to my mind is a heinous offence in that genre of film. I am referring to the scenes of the boat in the storm towards the end of the picture – the boat always in comparatively calm water and huge waves breaking all round it. Perhaps you could find out for me? I would be interested.

By the way, have I recommended Peter Fleming’s Brazilian Adventure to you? I read it in Rome and was more amused at it than at any book I have read for some time. You have never referred to it. I almost sent it to you for Xmas.

Another author I want to introduce [?] you to is Jacob Wasserman, whose Manrizies Case I have just read. Besides being a gripping story, although very definitely the scene of action is the psychology of the characters, it contains an amazingly interesting account of a life-sentence of 20 years observed from within. He writes in German and you will no doubt eventually read him in his native tongue.

Secondly you must read The Road to Endor, I was fascinated by it, more incredible than spiritualism itself.

Well, now that I am back in my rut again, you will soon hear from me again.

Very best wishes from yours as ever, Willem

Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 26 January 1935

[First three paragraphs were in Dutch; translated by Engelien de Booy 2003]


Lieve Hilda,

Thank you for your second letter with the two letters from Mother. I would have written to you sooner, but I had just arrived home when I got again a very bad sore throat and the doctor said I should go to bed. I had a very pleasant week in the sickroom here in the residence, but I did not feel like writing.

I could not do it at all and when I had recovered there was a lot of work behind hand, and I had no time at all for writing letters.

How nice to hear Spike likes his work. I actually have been a bit afraid he would not have liked it at all. Sometimes this civil service work can be killing, but of course there are interesting jobs as well.

Sorry that I started in Dutch, but I forgot. Mother's letters are very interesting and to me Dr. Young sounds an excellent person, and might come in very useful if the heredity question ever crops up again. I think it is very funny about Derech, don’t you? Poor mother does seem to have a difficult time with Harrie7. It is funny Harrie talking about religious people ramming their opinions down other peoples’ throats. She must have become very different in the last year because I remember that in most arguments she and I used to have she was always on the side of the angels.

Professor Synge is writing to a friend in Princeton to try and get me a fellowship there next year. Here is hoping.

Thousand times forgiveness for having waited so long before answering and even overstepping your birthday. I seem to have had no time to write at all since I came back with an accumulation of work after my stay in the infirmary – nothing like a hospital – where did you get that idea? Of course I did not realize you were going to hear all about it from mother. I did not want you to get the impression I was at death’s door because you had been worrying about my going back on the bus, but I was forced to use it as an excuse to explain my not writing before to mother. Life is very complicated sometimes. Anyway I stand rebuked and apologize terribly. Thanks very much for all the letters you enclosed, they are most interesting. Funnily enough, when I was with Robert and Anne I was thinking what an ideal place it would be for Jan to stay for a bit. How nice of them to think of it themselves. It will be fun seeing him again. Is there any chance of mother coming over before the summer? I am awfully glad about your house and am longing to swoop down and visit you. Why doesn’t mother bring May over? I am sure she would come much more readily if she had someone to take her across the water. As I was about to tell you a couple of weeks ago I applied for a fellowship in Princeton but apparently from what I hear there is very little chance of getting one, all these things being very restricted since the crisis. So I don’t really know what to do next year.

Snow has come here at last and I have been skiing every weekend the last month it is quite good fun, though the hills are not very long. Thanks also for the enclosed letter from Pic though I fail to see anything “uitdagend” there in. However I think she is improving a lot. She hasn’t written to me for over a month now, which is I think a very good indication of the independence of mind she speaks of. It was nice hearing though that she is comfortably settled in London.

Well, well, I must say that these religious people are the devil to sympathize with. Here I have been wasting sympathy on mother over her difficulties with Harrie and now she turns round and says that perhaps it was her fault too. Really it is no use wasting sympathy on you people. Sooner or later you turn round and say it was all your own fault.

Well, my beloved sister, soon again, but now I must turn to the other 50 or so people I haven’t written to for two months. Love to Spike and Emily.

Uncle Willem

PS: Did I tell you I found a letter from Brigid on my return here? + a silk handkerchief!

Ta Ta.

Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 21 April 1935

Worthy sister,

Many thanks for all your letters and the latest news of mother, via Jan. My plans are daily growing in definition if not in ease of execution. I should very much like to cross over with you and assume the responsibilities of my godfathership in aiding you to transport the heavenly child with which the divine master has blessed the union of yourself to your dear husband across the limitless expanse of billowy waves, which, though sometimes with excessive turbulence yet anon smooth like a moonlit lake serves to separate this mighty continent of progress and democracy from the aged rocks which circumscribe the smiling fields and sombrous beauty of the windswept hills where our ancestors chose to live and their wives chose to wed.

But alas it behooves me not to neglect the sordid dross so repulsive to natures likes yours and mine, which are open to the greater and finer things and which imperiously claim the right to move unbending with fixed gauge on the shining light of life’s ambition and with philosophic calm survey serenely undismayed the mean little spiteful avaricious ways of this too-gross, too-material fleshy world, whose favours are all too unequally bestowed.

Cupidity, servility, vulgar ostentation and base deceit are the unworthy recipients of fate’s favour, whereas mere virtue bites the bitter dust of poverty and dark despair. Alack, I have but slender resources wherewith to support my proud indomitable spirit, and $90 is a goodly sum to pay to have one’s base material carcase transported to another land, and maybe not even enough, for though by all that’s just and fair $180 for the double service becomes $90 when that selfsame service is lent availed of once, yet such is the baseness and cupidity of trans-Atlantic shippers that they may well ask over and above the fair and equitable price.

Here, in this noblest dominion of Rex Britannia I can obtain albeit in a slow and somewhat decrepit craft of which wise men mutter in mute surprise, “Hay! Once again?” for the sum of sixty dollars, the promise of a bed and the fond expectation of arrival at some port of destination, which as said ship is carrying grain, sold by bulls to bears within the walls of the Stock-exchange while it is cleaning the Atlantic swell is left completely unspecified. If, on the other hand, I come to the rich Capitol of the great Republic to visit you before you go the added cost of the return by coach must be subtracted from the difference, which may then well become so small that it cannot be allowed to thwart our mutual happiness. It will no doubt take many loads of the mind of your husband if he knows that amid the hazards and dangers of the long voyage you contemplate you will have at your constant beck, and call (provided it is pm) a man whose God and nature have conspired to make singularly suitable for such duties.

There are really terrific advantages in crossing with someone you know well. We can invent a secret code so that we can rescue one another from boring conversations. If I, for instance, put up the SOS you can come and tell me that Emily has fallen overboard whereas if an old gentleman with whiskers is becoming too uncle-ish in his affection for a young mother traveling without her husband, I can come and suggest that Emily’s diapers might be changed. So on the whole I am definitely in favour of going together and you had better let me know as soon as possible the extent of the financial damage, and include me in your booking. I hear from Jan that he is coming to you the 15th. How are you going to manage when I swoop down on your household? Manifestly you can’t have us both. I haven’t seen Jan yet. I hoped to see him at Easter but I couldn’t afford it. It is about $20 from here and I just couldn’t do it. I have had a disappointment from Trinity. Apparently they are not renewing my scholarship and I was rather counting on it, hence my sudden imperiousness. I wonder now when to see him. Perhaps if I stayed somewhere in the YMCA or so in Washington when he was there would be best.

Thank Spike very much for his long letter, which I will answer very soon. My plans at the moment are to try and get a Ph.D. in Dublin as soon as possible and then try again in the States, apparently a Ph.D. is very necessary, so I don’t give up hope yet. Well, I must to bed before the cold gray light of down is upon me. Love to all.


Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 12 May 1935

Lieve Hilda,

I didn’t reply to your wire because I calculated that my letter ought to arrive about the time my letter did, in which it seems your query was answered about as well as it could be. I have since received another letter from you and hope you have not yet booked for me. On a German boat I find out here it is a ridiculous thing to go on different classes because you will not be allowed to see one another without all sorts of fan and page-boys conducting you this way and that. So it seems a ridiculous idea. I think it would be better if I were to see Jan at Oom [= Uncle] Robert’s after you have left and then leave from Montreal by C.P.R. or another even cheaper boat. This would cut out the expenses to Washington and back, as Oom Robert would only take me slightly out of the way from Montreal.

Mother of course did say she would be willing to pay the difference to have me go with you, but then she probably doesn’t realize that I will return completely empty of money during the summer, and unless I manage to extract some money from Trinity I probably won’t be able to support myself next year either. When would Jan be going back to Wadhams? I would not be able to have here before the 25th or 26th at the earliest in any case. If I am going by Montreal I will have to hurry to get hold of a cheap boat so please let me know as soon as possible whether you have actually booked for me and if so, whether you can still cancel it or whether you have decided to go third – you’d probably not like it at all and I think it is much better that you should go tourist – only I don’t think there is much point in going together unless we are in the same class. There is, in my case another reason for preferring to postpone my return, and that is my financial impecuniosity. The longer I can even things out over here the shorter will I be a drain on Mother. I daresay Oom Robert could put me up for a week or so and then I could take a cheap boat, which takes about 2 weeks and that would all be time gained.

However, if you are very keen on our going together and have already decided everything that is all right too. So let me know as soon as possible anyway what you think. I shall be sorry of course not to see your house in Washington, but then I feel sure I will somehow, later on. Thank you so much for your pictures of Em.

Well goodbye, love to Spike


Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 13 May 1935

Lieve Hilda,

I have just been talking to Synge and he thinks it might be a good thing for me to stay on during rime and do a little more work on my thesis. There is a small chance that some of it may be accepted by a sort of an obscure journal connected with the University as an expository article and that would be a very good thing for me. So I have decided to do that and will see Jan at Oom Robert’s the end of June when I leave. I have sent a wire this afternoon and do hope you have not committed yourself on my account. I am sorry to have been so vague about it all but it was very difficult to decide what to do. I hope you will have a pleasant journey and that Jan will enjoy his stay with you.

I haven’t time to write more now.

Goodbye to all, Willem

Willem to Ervin Ross Marlin, 10 December 1935

31 Hartington Place, Edinburgh

Dear Spike,

A very happy Xmas for you! I hope you will forgive me for giving you a book by Hilaire Belloc on history, for I believe that he is to a historian as a red rag to a bull. However I hope you will enjoy it as a light relief from more serious works. I personally always enjoy Belloc. He has such a charming and disarming contempt for any inconvenient fact, and, whether right or wrong, he is always amusing. His statement in his essay on Descartes that he invented the differential calculus is probably typical of many other statements he makes. As you probably know the differential calculus was invented by Newton nearly a hundred years later. It is however admittedly an inessential point relative to his argument. Hilaire Belloc is easier to criticize than to refute.

Everybody is pleased over here with Roosevelt’s victory. It is strongly hoped that he will start an all-American league of nations, which it is then thought could enter into reciprocal relations with the European league of nations thus indirectly involving America in European without America openly retracing her steps. But Roosevelt’s speech was here regarded as disappointingly vague, some more definite proposal was hoped for.

We are in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Until two days ago Mrs. Simpson’s name had not appeared in any English papers, and the vast public were entirely unaware of her existence, though of course there were many rumours in more informed circles. Now things have come to a head and Baldwin is to make a statement in the house tomorrow. The cabinet will resign, and the opposition [will] refuse to form a new Cabinet if he persists in his plans.

The feeling of the masses is, I think, quite apathetic. “Let the poor man marry whom he likes,” says my landlady and I think she is representative of her class. The king is a great favorite with the unemployed and the labour party etc., because they feel (rightly I think) that he is exerting pressure on the Cabinet to relieve the distressed areas. I personally believe he will be prevailed upon to desist from marrying her, but on the other hand if he does I do not think that… [Fragment ends]

Diary entry of Han de Booy, 26 January 1936

Willem van Stockum has been staying with us [for the funeral of his father Bram, Han's brother-in-law, who died on 29 December 1935]. He is a boy who esteems the English above every thing. He despises the Dutch. He thinks them uncouth, fat, ugly, bad-mannered, and so on. He agrees that an Englishman can be disappointing and a Dutchman can turn out better than expected. Meanwhile, he is smoking cigarettes all day: I guess 30 per day. They cost 2 cents each, so this is a yearly expense of 30 x 2 x 365= f219 [219 Guilders]. He could put this money to a better use than to spoil his health. Once asleep, he wakes up only if shaken with force. He sleeps thirteen hours or more a night. One is finding him tiresome. He is proud, dreamy, and not very active. On the other hand, he is sometimes witty and without doubt he is very good at mathematics. It will be a relief when he leaves [When this was written Willem had probably been staying with the de Booys since Bram’s funeral, i.e., for at least 3 weeks.]

Willem to Hilda van Stockum, 6 February 1936 [?]

31 Hartington Place, Edinburgh

Lieve Hilda,

To begin with the pleasant things, a thousand congratulations with the birth of Brigid8, and a very warm welcome to this second little niece. They are too young to understand yet what it means to have a nice kind uncle but I hope they will both have that in me as well as any others that may come along! You must have thought it strange to have heard nothing from me for so long, but I only heard about it a week later and it seemed too late to cable then. I didn’t hear from Aunt Hilda as I was in Amersfoort at the time, and only found out when I returned to The Hague.

I read your letters to mother and I think it is wonderful how well you seem to have understood everything and Mother’s feelings. I think you are right about Father, at least I try to think so. Poor Father, but I suppose I should not say so. “Het goot prachtig, er geschiel een wonder” was one of the last things he said to Tante [= Aunt] Dieu. Perhaps it was – he looked so beautiful and peaceful. De Degrofinis [?] brought its difficulties, which you know about, but everybody was so full of love and reverence for father that it did mother and me much good.

Tante Hessie came over and stayed some days in The Hague and told us lots of things I never knew, of Freddie’s hero-worship for father and father’s speech at Freddie’s funeral. It was so good to hear how father has been appreciated in his life. We have only known him in the time when none but us knew of him. Yes those days in The Hague in the Schenkhade where we had never been except with father and where every object, everything was full of associations were very “aangrypend”. And yet I am very thankful to have been allowed to have them because they mean that father will be more present in my thoughts and his standards and nobility of mind will be more constantly before me having been “gegrift” in my mind with tears. I am afraid I am so that had I been in Canada when it happened I would have felt nothing more than sadness.

Of all father’s qualities, the one I admire most perhaps is his courage in believing in his own goodness, and that is where I think mother helped him so much by believing in it too and always firmly counting on a noble reaction from him. That is perhaps the real necessity of marriage to help one another to develop the impulses towards great-mindedness, because you know, have you ever thought that it is really impossible to be good by oneself?

You remember the fable of the sage who was a perfect saint and who was married to a woman who was beastly to him always cursing and reviling him all of which he loved with the greatest of good temper never showing the least anger and always being sweet and nice to her. Then one day to the surprise of his disciples he suddenly lost his temper and cursed her too and beat her. Then they asked why this time he suddenly acted like that, and he replied: “Because I saw that the soul of this woman was going to pieces from anger and jealousy at my superiority so I tried to console her by showing that I too could lose my temper”.

Goodness exists really more in a relation between people than as an inherent quality. The real saint to my mind is not one who gives but one who encourages people to give, not one who showers good deeds on his fellow men but one who draws goodness out of them, not one who goes barefoot among the lepers to nurse them but one who goes amongst them and makes them feel that they too have something to give, that they too can be magnanimous and great, that they are not condemned all their life to receive in pity from the hands of others.

We all really want to be good and great but the real reason why we are not is that we have not the faith in ourselves. We are too convinced we are but miserably poor and weak creatures and we are afraid of living above our income in goodness. But if there is someone convinced of our nobility and we can believe in it ourselves then the rest is easy. Noblesse oblige, it is a curious psychological fact that, the ease with which we resist temptations to do things which go against the accepted standards of what is permissible to people who occupy a certain position such as doctors, lawyers, bombers, etc., because a doctor is convinced he is a doctor he respects and obeys the professional etiquette and the reason why he almost always succeeds in doing so is I think, that there is no doubt in his mind that he is a doctor, and he is merely living up in that respect to what is expected of him. One of the great misfortunes of our present civilization is the fact that we have no “honour” as mere citizens. Nothing is expected of us as human beings. We have first of all to be something so silly as officers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and then we invest ourselves with a certain amount of “honour” and each of these has its own “honour” just as well as its uniform, we dose the one with the other. But as individuals we have nothing. We are not expected to tell the truth, in fact very much the opposite. Never are any “standards” of any sort at all expected from anybody, and consequently you cannot be surprised if they have none. In this respect we are very much behind even savage commotion were each warrior is expected to do certain things and not to do other things.

However I am sorry to bore you with all this stale philosophy. I am sorry your book was returned by the Viking Press but I am glad you are determined to keep on with it, I am sure it will be a success eventually. The improvements or changes you suggest sound as if they would make it more acceptable perhaps to publishers.

I have been most amazed at your stories of your “coloured” maid. It is extraordinary how people will always try and take advantage of an arrangement made to quiet them. Never do it again. I hope Spike is safe in his job? I mean, when Old Roosevelt goes by the board in May9, he won’t be affected, will he? I am just reading Sinclair Lewis’s latest book It can’t happen here and I should be very interested to know what people are saying about it over there. Has Spike read it? Well, I must stop now. Give my love to Olga and Brigid, Nella and Spike.

Lots of love from your brother. Willem.

Willem to Miss Van Hall. 1936?

Dear Miss van Hall,

I beg to acknowledge receipt of your solicitors letter to my client Mr. W. J. Van Stockum dated some time in 1936, and which I received in the same year. Our firm has represented the interests of Mr. Van Stockum for many years and the letter would have received earlier attention had it not been for the almost stupendous task that faced us, when at our clients’ sudden demise, the liquidation of all his earthly concerns devolved upon our firm.

No doubt the nuisance of which you complain has ceased and I write this letter not so much in my legal position as head of this firm, but as an old friend and warm admirer of my unhappy client, and in the hope that when I have revealed to you the whole tragic story of his life, you will have the kindness and the generosity to refrain from an action of damages against his estate, which, I fear, is already sadly encumbered.

Mr. Van Stockum has born in the year 1910. No unusual symptoms manifested themselves in his early youth or adolescence. Dr. Schnozzlebaum, the famous Viennese psychologist has carefully examined all extant letters written by our client during this period and has found no evidence that the strange malady, which was later to prove his undoing, had already taken root. These letters are now preserved in Dr. Schnozzlebaum’s museum. I enclose a photographed copy of one of these, in an excellent state of preservation, written at the age of 8½ years, though according to an American school of psychology it belongs to a later period.

Page # 2 missing…

…some small gifts as a token of his respect. And this kindness could not have been prompted by any selfish motive, for there could be little hope of advantage to Mr. V an Stockum, in a friendship with poor Molly who is, alas, not too well connected. I know that on one occasion at least he so far went out of his way to oblige Molly as to invite her most cordially to spend part of her holidays in his beautiful bachelor flat. How well I remember dear Molly’s confusion and gratitude at such an unexpected stroke of civility on our clients’ part. She is a dear affectionate creature and nothing could have been more touching than her exclamations of sorrow and first learning of our clients’ subsequent misfortune. “Ah, woe is me, woe is me!” she cried, “I am now lost entirely,” and there was a ring of such genuine grief and compassion in her voice as would have convinced the most skeptical mind of her great esteem for our client.

So struck was I with this exhibition of Molly’s good breeding and taste that I could not refrain from renewing the offer of my great age, being now near on seventy, on her learning of my many bodily ailments requiring the tender care and solicitude of a wife, nothing would satisfy the dear girl but to be married in a registry office the very next day, that she might the sooner begin to ease my declining years.

Returning to the narrative, I will now relate some events in the life of my client, which I believe to have been the cause of his subsequent affliction, though it is only fair to state that Dr. Schozzlebaum and Dr. Schumpfsteim are unanimously agreed that the true cause his rather in a repression, which occurred when Mr. Van Stockum was 3½ years of age, the details of which I fear modesty forbids me mention here.

The story I am about to relate commences early in the year 1936, when Mr. Van Stockum was having an old college friend, Mr. David Grene, to stay in his flat. One night the sounds of heated argument were heard issuing from the flat. The prosecution never succeeded in quite clearly establishing which night, my clients’ immediate next- door neighbour being so unreliable as to swear that this was a nightly occurrence. I have it on Mr. Van Stockum’s own authority that the argument was about the immortality of the soul. However that may be, the disagreement between the erstwhile friends became so acute that my client, not wishing to be guilty of the inhospitality of curtailing Mr. Grene’s stay, decided to leave for the solitude of the Riviera or order to meditate in peace and quite on how best to convince Mr. Grene of the errors of his argument. His resolve once made was promptly executed, and he left that same night without having communicated his intentions to a single living soul. It is not irrelevant to state here, for a proper understanding of this incredible tale that Mr. Van Stockum invariably traveled incognito where abroad, his simple unaffected nature absolving the fuss and publicity consequent on his traveling under any but an assumed name.

Now by an extraordinary coincidence, the very moment that Mr. Van Stockum was hovering between health and sickness on the storm tossed channel steamer, his flat was burgled by a dangerous criminal. The burglar however had barely however had time to slip on his finger a gold ring belonging to Mr. Van Stockum, when surprised and no doubt alarmed by the brusque entrance of Mr. David Grene. The latter, with a presence of mind truly surprising in me whose views on the immortality of the soul were so in the extreme, unorthodox, grasped a loaded revolver from the shapely Louis Quinze table in the hall, where it always reposed, ready for just such an emergency as the present. A titanic struggle ensued, for though feeble in argument, Mr. Grene was fearless to the point of recklessness in the face of danger. Words fail me to describe this scene. Let it be sufficient to say that Mr. Grene succeeded in laying the vile intruder low with a shot of unerring precision between the eyes. The burglars’ body pitched forward and fell with a sickening thud on the piled carpet. In his elation about his well earned victory and narrow escape, Mr. Grene, characteristically, if somewhat carelessly, knocked over a tin of petrol and spilt the contents over the prostrate body of his victim. By some odd mischance the petrol caught fire, and when the police arrived on the scene, Mr. Grene was found with a smoking revolver in his hand standing over the charred unrecognizable remains of the burglar, still wearing Mr. Van Stockum’s initialed gold ring.

Mr. Grene was arrested and charged with the murder of his friend and host, needless to point out the strength of the circumstantial evidence contained in the previous bare recital.

For the next act in this tense human drama we change the scene to a hotel veranda on the sunny Riviera, where Mr. Van Stockun was reading the fourth leader in the twins, when his attention was caught by a paragraph relating the particulars of the dire predicament in which his friend found himself. With that quick grasp of the essentials of a situation for which he was admired by all, Mr. Van Stockum hardly needed a second perusal to convince himself that he and he only could support his friends plea of justifiable self defense. At whatever cost to himself and quite regardless of the trouble and expense involved he instantly decided to write a letter both to the judge and to defendant’s counsel, acquainting them with his whereabouts and protesting the absurdity of the charge. Not only did he resolve to write, he resolved to write that very day.

Nor during the many weeks and months that the trial endured (indeed it became quite a “cause célèbre,” the defending counsel pleading justifiable homicide and giving many illustrations of my clients’ infuriating habits of argument), not once during these months did the determination to write these letters weaken in my client. With tears of emotion streaming down his dear kind face, Mr. Van Stockum afterwards assured me that each morning he rose firmly resolved to write that very day and each night he laid himself to rest no less resolved to write the very next morning. So I said, months passed but not the adherence of my client to those high principles of duty, which bade him write.

How can I picture to you the grief and desolation of my client on learning that his friend had suffered a grave miscarriage of justice. How bitterly he resented the cruel fate which at one stroke deprived him of the opportunity to carry out his self less and praiseworthy action. Never shall I forget the sincere emotion and pity that so deeply lined Mr. Van Stockum’s face when first I saw him again on his return to England. Nor shall I easily forget how words failed all of us on that occasion and how only with a silent grasp of the hand could I convey to him how much we sympathized with, and admired him for his manly grief.

As I have already said, it is my conviction that the preceding strange tale of coincidence, surely not without a touch a pathos itself, was the cause of the tragedy, which I am now about to relate.

The first intimation that something was amiss with my client occurred some days after his return, when I was startled by the receipt of a long business letter from him. Now during the many years that I have been responsible for the business affairs of Mr. Van Stockum, I have never before received a letter from him. So careful was he of attention to detail, and so much did he take even the slightest matter to heart that nothing short of a personal interview would ever satisfy his conscientious nature. He much deprecated the modern habit of entrusting important matters to the carelessness of a government department, and I always had to admit the justice and validity of his argument. I fear however that the decadent habit of using the Post Office, implanted in my early youth, has remained ever since, and even Mr. Van Stockum’s magnificent example has never been able to cure me of this infirmity completely.

My fears for Mr. Van Stockum grew when the next day brought a small packet of letters in addition to several post cards and notes. When on the third day the mail from Mr. Van Stockum was brought into my office by a special messenger my anxiety grew to certainty. My client had fallen a prey to the dread disease of epistolastasis. I immediately procured the services of Dr. Schnozzlebaum the epistolasthetical psyco-analyst and Dr. Schnozzlebaum the epistolasthetical diagnostician. The nature of the disease can be explained in popular language by saying that it is a compulsive neurosis under the influence of which the subject is forced to commit to paper in epistolatory form every thought-process of the conscious mind. It is usually accompanied by the rapid decay of all inhibitory agents normally restraining the subject from such foolhardy action. Dr. Schnozzlebaum assured me that my client was the most acute case of this disease known to the history of the science, and when he offered to stay now and take charge personally of this case at only twice his normal retaining for I was most grateful in accepting his offer.

I cannot adequately convey to you, my dear Miss van Hall, how great was the misery and confusion, which the affliction of my unhappy client brought in its train, not only to himself, but to many of his friends and acquaintances as well.

There is for example the case of Miss Travers, who received a letter from one to whom it had long been her dearest wish to see herself invited in holy matrimony. The fateful letter however had the misfortune to arrive end of letter missing…………

Willem to Olga van Stockum, 7 June 1944

[Translated by Engelien de Booij; this was shortly before Willem took off on his last flight from his Yorkshire RAF station, bombing a bridge over the river next to Laval, France.]

Dear Mother, I am curious to know whether you have noted the date of my last letter. I cannot tell you how great the satisfaction was to be one of those who dropped the first bombs during the invasion. Officially we did not know it would start on June 5th, but the instructions we got, the mysterious doings, our route and what we could expect while in flight, made us fairly sure that this was The Day. We did our job in difficult circumstances, although there was not a very big opposition. ... I am free tonight and am glad of it, for the strain is great and we had not a moment's rest in the past days. Our kind of job needs hours of preparation, the operation itself takes 6 hours and after that debriefings, etc. Then a meal, to bed, sleep, and again preparations. Of course, we did not know beforehand it would be rather easy, and the nervous strain makes your breathing faster. Soon it will be worse, when the Germans get more information. But I would not want to miss this time for anything, and I am very thankful that I resisted the temptation to go to the other station, where Bierens de Haanals10 is, for then I would be now between two squadrons and perhaps have missed all this. My crew is perfect, calm, matter of fact, and one cannot find any signs of being nervous. I sometimes have the feeling I am the only one who is.... but perhaps they think the same thing of me. I have the feeling there is an enormous energy in everybody and even the B.B. (body building programs) are better and more imaginative. The whole station comes out to see us off when we take off, with their thumbs up and this is a pleasant feeling. I know how you and Hilda enter into my feeling now, and this is an invigorating feeling. [Note from Engelien - I cannot find the rest of this letter, unless the following fragment is the continuation, but this seems not very probable.] My roommate [at the air station in the UK – Yorkshire?] is a Belgian pilot aged 40 who doesn't speak English [or Dutch], and with whom I spend much of my time, which is very good for my French. If only you could hear all the fantastic stories people tell, more interesting than the most terrible spy thriller!! My friend came here a few months ago here after having been in the Belgian underground movement. Did I write you that I saw in London Aunt Mia [Tante Mies?] quite often? We sympathized with each other about our tastes in literature. We talked about Dostoyevsky and she told me that you had written such a wonderful article about him. How nice there are people who remember this. I would like to see it some time. I long to read it. Very, very much love from your son Willem

Father Gorman to Olga van Stockum, 1944 [1945?]

6001 Western Avenue, N.W. Washington 15, D.C.

Dear Mrs. van Stockum,

Thank you for your letter and for letting me see the Horn Book and the two articles of special interest. I greatly enjoyed the one about the family’s birthdays and the one by your son I was particularly pleased with. It may be that what he says has been said by others and as well, but I wouldn’t know, because I generally shy off such compositions, and for the reason that almost of them are badly wide the mark or are insincere or just propaganda and I have despaired of finding anything along the line that will not intensely annoy me or else bore me. Well, his letter is just perfect utter truth, sincerity, and common sense. It is a great tribute to his character that he should have composed it.

If they would only stop writing and publishing various insincerities that they imagine will help sell War Bonds or cut down absenteeism and give them the real creed of the kind of a soldier we are inspired to know is fighting. And what he said in pre Pearl Harbor days is just as good today. Perhaps some magazines today would prefer that the frequent reference to Poland be omitted and perhaps some region outside of the sphere of U.S.S.R. influence be substituted. There is a perfection to his letter in that he refuses to consider his battle as even sure to provide a better world afterwards. He anticipates the cynics by “perhaps we shall learn, and perhaps some things will be better organized.” What he sought he couldn’t fail to obtain and no cynic could stop him, to devote himself heroically and completely to the liberation of captives.

I am going to let sisters Francis Rose and Tarcisius read the Horn Book, ask them to return it to me, let Father Blaise read it. Then I shall return it to you. I think it would be better if you sent it or brought it to Monsignor directly. He would appreciate it more.

God bless you and comfort you and take good care of you all.

Sincerely yours in our Lord,

Father Gorman


1 Professor David Grene (1913-2002) was a close school and college friend. He was professor of classics at the University of Chicago from 1937 onwards.
2 Generosity seems a characteristic of the Trinity crowd of Willem’s era.
3 Hilda always marveled at Willem’s gift-giving generosity. This propensity to give was apparently not always financially easy.
4 Spike’s first job in Washington was with the Farm Credit Administration, where he shared an office with a Michael McMenamin who later became Provost of Columbia and even later Treasurer of the Buckley School. His wife, Joan McMenamin was Headmistress of Nightingale School for years. John and Alice Tepper Marlin went to Mr. McMenamin’s funeral. Spike went on to the Civil Service Commission, the Budget Bureau, the Office of Strategic Services, and the Budget Bureau again, where he represented the United States at the foundation of the U.N. in 1945. Spike went on to work for the U.N. for about 18 years (16 for the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, two as Senior Director of the Office of the High Commissioner of Refugees in Geneva). After the he worked for the International Recruitment area at the State Department for several years and finally in retirement founded the International Federation on Ageing in Washington. He died on December 12, 1994, 50 years after his great friend Willem was shot down over Laval, France, where he is buried.
5 On the East coast of Ireland south of Bray, which is 10 miles south of Dublin.
6 While in Dublin, Orson Welles was a friend of Spike and Hilda. He once came to dinner with them a week earlier than invited.
7 Harrie = Harriet Kirkwood, who was the daughter of Andrew Jameson. Her husband, Billy, was a famous polo player and served as a major in the British army.
8 This dates the letter as being late January or early February – February 6 is a guess.
9 FDR defied expectations and won.
10 A fellow mathematics graduate student from Edinburgh.