March 10th 1918
My dear Betty
I think if I had had no letter from you last mail I should have had to send an ultimatum or do something drastic. You see I keep a record of all letters I receive and write and I worked out that you should have heard from me early in your first term. It was clear that you had not contrived to answer during term, and it was clear as a logical conclusion that if you could not succeed in vac I should be likely to hear no more of you for ‘duration’. And I knew the last mail covered all the period of Christmas and New Year, so I counted on hearing. Luckily my hopes were duly fulfilled.
So I am no longer dependent upon the most vague and scrappy references to your general welfare in other people’s letters, which have up till now been all I had to go upon.
That you would like college life I never doubted at all, though you might have taken a bit longer to shake down to it comfortably than you appear to have done.
Of course it is a very different matter indeed from first going to school, because at any college you are permitted, if not expected, to have some sort of individuality, and at school you are very decidedly not expected, and generally not allowed, to show anything of the kind.
I suppose that really explains why so many people adopt exaggerated poses at the university; it is merely reaction after the compulsory self extinction of school. I imagine by the way that girls resemble men in this point, though I suppose war atmosphere is not good for artificial poses of any kind.
I don’t know incidentally what subjects you are reading. I presume you are after honours in something either history or English I suppose. Do you have to take lots of odd things in the early stages – something to set off against Smalls, Divvers etc at Oxford. I really know nothing of London exams; even the BSc which I ought to have got to know something about remains largely out of my ken, though I have striven to assist plenty of men to take it.
Stirring up my rusty memory I seem to recall something that calls itself the Inter: BSc so I imagine you are facing the prospect of an Inter: BA about this coming summer. If so may you be not less successful than I was with mods. I feel rather sorry you have not got a divvers, so that you might follow the family tradition of failing it. Not long ago I had occasion to recall that exam when I picked up a Greek testament of the padre’s. Having done the whole of St Matthew and St John texts I thought I would attempt to renew acquaintance with the same. So I opened to the beginning of a chapter at random and tried to see what I could make of it. Alas for my knowledge of the Greek language! I was utterly unable to discover – I couldn’t even form a guess – as to what the subject of the chapter was. So much for the use of cramming a very little hasty Greek for about a year.
It makes me sad to think that had Statuta at Decreta Universitatis Oxoniensis only been agreeable, I might in the time wasted on that subject, now utterly forgotten, have read as much of Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Cicero, Tacitus, Livy, Lucretius etc as to have turned my small but thorough grounding in Latin to quite a good reading knowledge of it, and at the same time have got an acquaintance with classical authors that would have been altogether delightful.
However I am not merely forgetting subjects of a purely intellectual interest while compelled by the bestial Prussian to waste valuable years in an existence which is stupid at best and unspeakable at its worst. I am rapidly forgetting what to me represents my bread and butter; and if the war does not end within the compass of a reasonable space I shall have to starve for a year or two while I endeavour to glean some of what I have lost.
In present conditions we are not specially busy as a rule, though the day is full enough at times. But it is very hard indeed to concentrate one’s ideas on anything else satisfactorily, because one is never fully free and off duty. There is no hour of day or night when something may not turn up to require my attention. Nights I confess are pretty well always clear these times except for the regular hours of night duty; but of course the sort of active service we have had for a long time now is scarcely worthy of the name.
During the day one is always getting little things that have to be seen to at once. But for this one might do a certain amount of solid reading, though even so there remains the difficulty of getting books. One does not want to be lumbered up with a lot of expensive solid books in case of sudden moves.
However with summer coming round again when one can count upon being left at peace because it is physically impossible to do much moving I thought I would attempt to do a bit of work. So I wrote to a big Bombay booksellers recently, and ordered a German science text-book (with full instructions as to preference) and a grammar and dictionary. Without a decent knowledge of that rotten language it is not possible to work up many subjects in the chemical line really completely; if ones knowledge is poor it is such a slow proceeding reading original papers that one is much tempted to cut them entirely.
Before the war I attained knowledge enough to be able to read occasionally a whole page of a physical chemistry text book with only about one or two references to the dictionary. So I propose to see if I can recover at least that degree of proficiency, and if possible get beyond it. It will be useful in whatever special line I may chance to get in the future. It remains to be seen how much I find I can really do with the temperature normally above 110°.
My experience last summer was that it is best to have plenty to do, so long as it does not involve walking about in the sun too much. Men who adopted the not uncommon method of lying in their beds half the day wearing one not very large towel and nothing more – except perhaps a wet handkerchief round their heads – and attempting to sleep didn’t really feel so fit as I did who always remained reasonably dressed, and was as a rule busy at something most of the day.
I was very pleased to hear both your account and Mela’s of your visit to her on the occasion of the WAAC dance. I suppose you had not met Bar before by the way. In that connection I hope you will be able before long to get down to Marlow as was arranged last term. I was disappointed that neither you nor May got there after all after each of you had made plans to do so. I have not seen a lot of Barbara, but I think she seemed a nice girl.
Mela speaks as if she had got things going more as she likes them now, but there is no doubt it was a hard job to start with. I am so glad you were able to go and appreciate her success for yourself. I don’t think she could have a job much better suited to her than the one she is doing now. As for the prejudice against the WAAC to start with, I don’t wonder it soon broke down when Mela got there. The officers couldn’t all be fools and blind.
You mention at the end of your letter that you have not written half of what you meant to. I am prepared to receive the other half any time so please dispatch it at your earliest convenience. Also anything else that has cropped up in the interval. Remember I left you a small school-girl sister, and you are changing at a horrible rate into a young woman, and I am missing entirely a great big important slice in your life. If I am not to be utterly out in the cold you must write and show me a little bit what you are like. Other people’s messages can only give externals. They are good so far as they go, especially as what they say is the sort of thing that might make you inclined to be pleased with yourself if I were so indiscreet as to pass them on! But only you yourself can keep me a bit in touch with what is happening to you inside.
Best love, my dear old girl.
Your affectionate brother
Cyril E Sladden
PS – I enclose (at my own risk if this letter gets lost or torpedoed) a 10s note, which is a more sensible thing at home than out here.
I want you to go to a music shop and spend half of it on some music, and the other half on some music too. The first lot to be something suitable to add to my piano library that I am giving Mela by degrees. I leave choice to you but something of a good composer is all I stipulate. This you are to post to Mela, if my letter gets to you in time, to reach her by May 5th. She may connect it with the pieces of music she has had on that date in the past.
As to the other half. I leave the choice of the other half entirely to you; it may be songs or piano music or a bit of both. You will keep the same till I ask for them; but mind you have them ready to give me when that time comes. It will not be the paper and print I shall want though, but the music itself.