Best wishes from Trotsky : the February 2018 Slavonic item of the month

Among the February 1918-related exhibits soon to be added to the University Library’s Revolution exhibition is a letter from Leon Trotsky.  The letter came to the Library as part of the papers of the Conservative politician, Sir Samuel John Gurney Hoare (1880-1959), second Baronet, and first and last Viscount Templewood.  Hoare was in Russia as an intelligence officer in 1916, and his interest in the country continued long after his departure.  Quite how this letter, which is dated 27 February 1918 and refers to the work of the agent Bruce Lockhart, came to be amongst Hoare’s papers is only one of its mysteries.

Templewood II:2(27)

Bruce Lockhart described his adventures in Russia in his book Memoirs of a British agent.  He was sent “as head of a special mission to establish unofficial relations with the Bolsheviks .. My instructions were of the vaguest.”  Against the backdrop of the disintegrating old Russian Empire and the ongoing Great War, the talks between the Bolsheviks and the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk were of deep concern to the Entente Powers, and Lockhart had the unofficial brief of following developments and trying to influence an acceptable outcome.

Not long after he arrived in Petrograd, still then the Russian capital, the British Embassy and others evacuated the city.  Lockhart decided to stay on and he chose two men to stay and assist him.  He had the approval of the Soviet powers to remain, and so we see in the letter Trotsky, as the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, writing essentially a pass in which he requests that assistance is rendered to three members of the English Mission – Lokart (Lockhart), Giks (Hicks), and Garstin.  Trotsky then added a handwritten note that these men’s personal provisions should not be requisitioned.

Described in the Templewood papers’ otherwise extremely careful and detailed catalogue (which can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room) simply as a “Russian document”, the letter was an exciting discovery for me when preparing the Revolution exhibition.  As can be seen, the letter was at some point torn into quarters and then put back together with now very brittle tape.  In addition to a few UL additions, we can see that there are some English instructions in pencil which appear to be suggesting edits to the letter.  One of these is at the top, circling the information at the top of the page and suggesting that someone should “centre [it] here”.

This suggested alteration made no sense to me – the letter had been written and used and was now an artefact, so why would its layout be under discussion?  Lockhart’s memoirs seem to answer the query.  This very letter is reproduced in every edition of Memoirs of a Russian agent and, in its the reproduction, the data in question are moved to the centre (see below, beside its English translation).  Quite why the publisher or editor etc wanted the letter to be reproduced in a more justified style is beyond me, but it seems clear that this desire is what saw the note added.  It is interesting also to see that they were also slightly inventive in their treatment of the UL ownership stamp.

Lockhart’s memoirs were published to enormous success.  On the verso of our 1932 copy, we find details which reveal that the book had to be reprinted no fewer that three times within two months of initial publication.  At the point when Trotsky wrote his letter, Lockhart’s adventures in Russia were only just beginning.  The memoirs make an exciting read, if very much of their time, and borrowable copies can be found in the UL at: 456.c.93.297 (published 1932), 456.c.97.19 (1974), 545:18.c.201.25 (2011).

Some further research amongst the Templewood papers may well explain quite easily how the letter came to be with them.  For my part, I am extremely grateful that this fragile source from such an extraordinary time is in our collections.

Mel Bach


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