Sunday, September 30, 2007


NewYork - Jan. 16,1845.

Dear Griswold,-If you will permit me to call you so--Your letter occasioned me first pain and then pleasure:--pain because it gave me to see that I had lost, through my own folly, an honorable friend: --pleasure, because I saw in it a hope of reconciliation.

I have been aware, for several weeks, that my reasons for speaking of your book as I did (of yourself I have always spoken kindly) were based in the malignant slanders of a mischief-maker by profession. Still, as I supposed you irreparably offended, I could make no advances when we met at the Tribune office, although I longed to do so. I know of nothing which would give me more sincere pleasure than your accepting these apologies, and meeting me as a friend.

If you can do this and forget the past, let me know where I shall call on you--or come and see me at the Mirror Office, any morning about 10. We can then talk over the other matters, which, to me at least, are far less important than your good will.

Very truly yours
Edgar A Poe.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Manners (and the antipathy to cheese)

[Lord Chesterfield to his Son]

Letter I

Bath, October 9, 1746

Dear Boy:
Your distresses in your journey from Heidelberg to Schaffhausen, your lying upon straw, your black bread, and your broken'berline,' are proper seasonings for the greater fatigues and distresses which you must expect in the course of your travels; and, if one had a mind to moralize, one might call them the samples of the accidents, rubs, and difficulties, which every man meets with in his journey through life. In this journey, the understanding is the 'voiture' that must carry you through; and in proportion as that is stronger or weaker, more or less in repair, your journey will be better or worse; though at best you will now and then find some bad roads, and some bad inns. Take care, therefore, to keep that necessary 'voiture' in perfect good repair; examine, improve, and strengthen it every day: it is in the power, and ought to be the care, of every man to do it; he that neglects it, deserves to feel, and certainly will feel, the fatal effects of that negligence.

'A propos' of negligence:I must say something to you upon that subject. You know I have often told you, that my affection for you was not a weak, womanish one; and, far from blinding me, it makes me but more quick-sighted as to your faults; those it is not only my right, but my duty to tell you of; and it is your duty and your interest to correct them. In the strict scrutiny which I have made into you, I have (thank God) hitherto not discovered any vice of the heart, or any peculiar weakness of the head: but I have discovered laziness, inattention, and indifference; faults which are only pardonable in old men, who, in the decline of life, when health and spirits fail, have a kind of claim to that sort of tranquillity. But a young man should be ambitious to shine, and excel; alert, active, and indefatigable in the means of doing it; and, like Caesar, 'Nil actum reputans, si quid superesset agendum.' You seem to want that 'vivida vis animi,' which spurs and excites most young men to please, to shine, to excel. Without the desire and the pains necessary to be considerable, depend upon it, you never can be so; as, without the desire and attention necessary to please, you never can please. 'Nullum numen abest, si sit prudentia,' is unquestionably true, with regard to everything except poetry; and I am very sure that any man of common understanding may, by proper culture, care, attention, and labor, make himself whatever he pleases, except a good poet. Your destination is the great and busy world; your immediate object is the affairs, the interests, and the history, the constitutions, the customs, and the manners of the several parts of Europe. In this, any man of common sense may, by common application, be sure to excel. Ancient and modern history are, by attention, easily attainable. Geography and chronology the same, none of them requiring any uncommon share of genius or invention. Speaking and Writing, clearly, correctly, and with ease and grace, are certainly to be acquired, by reading the best authors withcare, and by attention to the best living models. These are the qualifications more particularly necessary for you, in your department,which you may be possessed of, if you please; and which, I tell you fairly, I shall be very angry at you, if you are not; because, as you have the means in your hands, it will be your own fault only. If care and application are necessary to the acquiring of those qualifications, without which you can never be considerable, nor make a figure in the world, they are not less necessary with regard to the lesser accomplishments, which are requisite to make you agreeable and pleasing in society. In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention: I therefore carry the necessity of attention down to the lowest things, even to dancing and dress. Custom has made dancing sometimes necessary for a young man; therefore mind it while you learn it that you may learn to do it well, and not be ridiculous, though in a ridiculous act. Dress is of the same nature; you must dress; therefore attend to it; not in order to rival or to excel a fop in it, but in order to avoid singularity, and consequently ridicule. Take great care always to be dressed like the reasonable people of your own age, in the place where you are; whose dress is never spoken of one way or another, as either too negligent or too much studied.

What is commonly called an absent man, is commonly either a very weak, or a very affected man; but be he which he will, he is, I am sure, a very disagreeable man in company. He fails in all the common offices of civility; he seems not to know those people to-day, whom yesterday he appeared to live in intimacy with. He takes no part in the general conversation; but, on the contrary, breaks into it from time to time,with some start of his own, as if he waked from a dream. This (as I said before) is a sure indication, either of a mind so weak that it is notable to bear above one object at a time; or so affected, that it would be supposed to be wholly engrossed by, and directed to, some very great and important objects. Sir Isaac Newton, Mr. Locke, and (it may be) five or six more, since the creation of the world, may have had a right to absence, from that intense thought which the things they were investigating required. But if a young man, and a man of the world, who has no such avocations to plead, will claim and exercise that right of absence in company, his pretended right should, in my mind, be turned into an involuntary absence, by his perpetual exclusion out of company. However frivolous a company may be, still, while you are among them, do not show them, by your inattention, that you think them so; but rather take their tone, and conform in some degree to their weakness, instead of manifesting your contempt for them. There is nothing that people bear more impatiently, or forgive less, than contempt; and an injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult. If, therefore, you would rather please than offend, rather be well than ill spoken of, rather be loved than hated; remember to have that constant attention about you which flatters every man's little vanity; and the want of which, by mortifying his pride, never fails to excite his resentment, or at least his ill will. For instance, most people (I might say all people) have their weaknesses; they have their aversions and their likings, to such or such things; so that, if you were to laugh at a man for his aversion to a cat, or cheese (which are common antipathies), or, by inattention and negligence, to let them come in his way, where you could prevent it, he would, in the first case, think himself insulted, and, in the second, slighted, and would remember both. Whereas your care to procure for him what he likes, and to remove from him what he hates, shows him that he is at least an object of your attention; flatters his vanity, and makes him possibly more your friend, than a more important service would have done. With regard to women, attentions still below these are necessary, and, by the custom of the world, in some measure due, according to the laws of good-breeding.

My long and frequent letters, which I send you, in great doubt of theirsuccess, put me in mind of certain papers, which you have very lately, and I formerly, sent up to kites, along the string, which we called messengers; some of them the wind used to blow away, others were torn by the string, and but few of them got up and stuck to the kite. But I will content myself now, as I did then, if some of my present messengers do but stick to you.


-from The Letters of Lord Chesterfield

Friday, September 28, 2007


[Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges]

8 Salisbury Street, Liverpool.

June 18, 1880.

Dearest Bridges,

I hear you are going to be married. Is this so? who is she?

The Academy had a notice of Wet Days. It blamed its cynical spirit but praised the nobility of the thought and quoted Courcy in instance. You are surprised that I found no fault with this same cynicism. It is over sour, I think; but your brother's dislikes seem to be much the same as mine and I do not mind hearing someone else say what I feel more strongly than I mean myself to say it

When you shall next call at Oak Hill I want you to hear my music to the Spring Odes, to which Grace has set accompaniments, which accompaniments I have not myself seen yet. I sorely wish I knew some harmony. And say whether you like them and they suit your meaning in the words. I have also a feeling air for 'I have loved flowers that fade', but that is not quite fixed yet, still less written out. I wish I could pursue music; for I have invented a new style, something standing to ordinary music as sprung rhythm to common rhythm: it employs quarter tones. I am trying to set an air in it to the sonnet 'Summer ends now.'

. . . . When you see Mr. Gosse ask him what were those works on Keats which he speaks of as having lately appeared, in a notice by him of a book by some lady on the same subject.

I will enclose a sonnet and a little lyric, the only things I have written in nine months.

Believe me your affectionate friend.
Gerard M. Hopkins S. J.

-from The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges edited with notes & an introduction by Claude Colleer Abbott (London: Oxford University Press, 1935) p. 102-03.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

W. H. Hudson Mixes Fact & Fiction

[W. H. Hudson to Morley Roberts]

40 St. Luke's Road, W.

April 21st, 1901.

My Dear M.

Thanks for your note. I am glad you are getting such splendid weather, and almost wish our rambles had been deferred a fortnight. But what is, is, and things happen just as they like and there's an end on't. Yesterday I had a day in Richmond Park and saw the Gt. crested grebes just arrived for the summer at the Pin Ponds. Also the herons breeding in Sidmouth Wood. If only to-morrow will be as fine! I am going for the day to Woburn Abbey, the Duchess of Bedford having invited me to go and see the beasts there. She thinks they will interest me--does any woman or man know what does or would interest me, I wonder? I have just lent your Fugitives to Mrs. Hubbard who is a great admirer of your books. That was a good paper of yours in yesterday's Literature. It is written out of a full mind and is all the more effective because of the quiet restrained style and the light way in which you smilingly touch upon the blunders of the realist and scientific fictionists who have not absorbed their knowledge. By the by you go wrong in the Fugitives tho' you don't say much about the feathered denizens of the grove. Gwen or some one hears a blackbird whistle one frosty day in winter. She must have heard a thrush: the blackbird never indulges in a song or whistle in winter, though he chuckles often enough when disturbed.

Where is Cowley--or is it a mere imaginary place? In half an hour the train got to Bletchley Station where Jim Carruthers* turned up, and carried off his jelly-fish of a woman. I get out to-morrow at Bletchely Station for Woburn Abbey, so I suppose Cowley is on the Euston line further away.

Hope to see you when you get back, and hope your fine weather will last.

Yours ever,

W. H. Hudson

*A character mentioned in the novel Fugitives by Morley Roberts.

-from Men, Books and Birds by W. H. Hudson with notes, some letters, and an introduction by Morley Roberts. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928) p. 29-30.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fuller on Carlyle

[Margaret Fuller to Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Paris, Dec., 1846.

. . . Accustomed to the infinite wit and exuberant richness of his [Carlyle's] writings, his talk is still an amazement and a splendor scarcely to be faced with steady eyes. He does not converse;---only harangues. It is the usual misfortune of such marked men,--happily not one invariable or inevitable,--that they cannot allow other minds room to breathe, and show themselves in their atmosphere, and thus miss the refreshment and instruction which the greatest never cease to need from the experience of the humblest. Carlyle allows no one a chance, but bears down all opposition, not only by his wit and onset of words, resistless in their sharpness as so many bayonets, but by actual physical superiority,--raising his voice, and rushing on his opponent with a torrent of sound. This is not in the least from unwillingness to allow freedom to others. On the contrary, no man would more enjoy a manly resistance to his thought. But it is the habit of a mind accustomed to follow out its own impulse, as the hawk its prey, and which knows not how to stop in the chase. Carlyle, indeed, is arrogant and overbearing; but in his arrogance there is no littleness,--no self-love. It is the heroic arrogance of some old Scandinavian conqueror;--it is his nature, and the untamable energy that has given him power to crush the dragons. . . . He sings, rather than talks. He pours upon you a kind of satirical, heroical, critical poem, with regular cadences, and generally, near the beginning hits upon some singular epithet, which serves as a refrain when his song is full, or with which, as with a knitting needle, he catches up the stitches, if he has chanced, now and then, to let fall a row. For the higher kinds of poetry he has no sense, and his talk on that subject is delightfully and gorgeously absurd. He sometimes stops a minute to laugh at himself, then begins anew with fresh vigor; for all the spirits he is driving before him seem to him as Fata Morgana, ugly masks, in fact, if he can but make them turn about; but he laughs that they seem to others such dainty Ariels. His talk, like his books, is full of pictures; his critical strokes masterly. Allow for his point of view, and his survey is admirable. He is a large subject. I cannot speak more or wiselier of him now,--the Siegfried of England,--great and powerful, if not quite invulnerable, and of a might rather to destroy evil, than legislate for good. . . .

-from The Friendly Craft: a Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom, Ph.D. (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 160-162.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Emerson Commends a Friend

[Ralph Waldo Emerson to Thomas and Jane Carlyle]

Concord, 31 July, 1846

My Dear Friend,

. . . I send this letter by Margaret Fuller, of whose approach I believe I wrote you some word. There is no foretelling how you visited and crowded English will like our few educated men or women, and in your learned populace my luminaries may easily be overlooked. But of all the travellers whom you have so kindly received from me, I think of none, since Alcott went to England, whom I so much desired that you should see and like, as this dear old friend of mine. For two years now I have scarcely seen her, as she has been at New York, engaged by Horace Greeley as a literary editor of his Tribune newspaper. This employment was made acceptable to her by good pay, great local and personal conveniences of all kinds, and unbounded confidence and respect from Greeley himself, and all other parties connected with this influential journal (of 30,000 subscriber, I believe). And Margaret Fuller's work as critic of all new books, critic of the drama, of music, and good arts in New York, has been honorable to her. Still this employment is not satisfactory to me. She is full of all nobleness, and with the generosity native to her mind and character appears to me an exotic in New England, a foreigner from some more sultry and expansive climate. She is, I suppose, the earliest reader and lover of Goethe in this Country, and nobody here knows him so well. Her love too of whatever is good in French, and specially in Italian genius, give her the best title to travel. In short, she is our citizen of the world by quite special diploma. And I am heartily glad that she has an opportunity of going abroad that pleases her.

Mr. Spring, a merchant of great moral merits, (and, as I am informed, an assiduous reader of your books,) has grown rich, and resolves to see the world with his wife and son, and has wisely invited Miss Fuller to show it to him. Now, in the first place, I wish you to see Margaret when you are in special good humor, and have an hour of boundless leisure. And I entreat Jane Carlyle to abet and exalt and secure this satisfaction to me. I need not, and yet perhaps I need say, that M. F. is the safest of all possible persons who ever took pen in hand. Prince Metternich's closet not closer or half so honorable. In the next place, I should be glad if you can easily manage to show her the faces of Tennyson and of Browning. She has a sort of right to them both, not only because she likes their poetry, but because she has made their merits widely known among our young people. And be it known to my friend Jane Carlyle, whom, if I cannot see, I delight to name, that her visitor is an immense favorite in the parlor, as well as in the library, in all good houses where she is known. And so I commend her to you.

Yours affectionately,
R. W. Emerson

-from The Friendly Craft: A Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 159-60.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Carlyle (Stern and Stout!)

[Thomas Carlyle to Coventry Patmore]

Gill,9 August, 1856.
My Dear Sir,

The public of readers, now that everybody has taken to read, and whosoever has twopence in his pocket to pay into a Circulating Library, whether he have any fraction of wit in his head or not, is sovereign Rhadamanthus of Books for the time being, has become more astonishing than ever! Probably there was such a Plebs before, entitled to hold up its thumb with vivat or pereat to the poor fencers in the Literary Ring. The only remedy is, not to mind them; to set one's face against them like a flint: for they cannot kill one, after all, tho' they think they do it: one has to say, "Dull, impious canaille, it was not for you that I wrote; not to please you that I was brandishing what weapons the gods gave me!" Patience, too, in this world, is a very necessary element of victory.
It is certain, if there is any perennial running Brook, were it the smallest rill coming from the eternal fountains, whole Atlantic Oceans of froth will not be able to cover it up for ever; said rill will, one day, be seen running under the light of the sun, said froth having altogether vanished no man knows whither. That is the law of Nature, in spite of all blusterings of any Plebs or Devil; and we must silently trust in that.
Unhappily the reviewer too is generally in the exact ratio of the readers, a dark blockhead with braggartism superadded; probably the supreme blockhead of blockheads, being a vocal one withal, and conscious of being wise. Him also we must leave to his fate: an inevitable phenomenon ("like people, like priest"), yet a transitory one, he too.

You need not doubt but I shall be ready, of my own accord, to recommend this Book by all opportunities for what I privately perceive it to be. I am considering also whether there is not some exceptional reviewer, whom I might endeavor to interest in it, with some hope of profit; shall perhaps hit on such a one by and by: unhappily my connexion with that guild of craftsmen is almost null (or less) this long while. You may depend upon it I will neglect no good occasion -- recommending perseverance in the mean time and at all times, and what the Scotch call "a stout heart to a steep hill," I remain always,

Yours very sincerely,
T. Carlyle

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Coventry's Angel

[Thomas Carlyle to Coventry Patmore]

Gill, Cummertrees, Annan, N.B.,
31 July, 1856.

My Dear Sir,

I have received your beautiful little Book, "The Angel in the House," Book II., some time ago; and reserved it for a good opportunity, which I saw ahead. I brought it with me into these parts, the only modern Book I took that trouble with; and last night I gave myself the pleasure of a deliberate perusal. Upon which, so favourable was the issue, I now give you the superfluous trouble of my verdict — prior to getting in the Solway for a little swim, the sound of which I also hear approaching.

Certainly it is a beautiful little Piece, this "Espousals"; nearly perfect in its kind; the execution and exception full of delicacy, truth, and graceful simplicity; high, ingenious, fine, — pure and wholesome as these breezes now blowing round me from the eternal sea. The delineation of the thing is managed with great art, thrift and success, by that light sketching of parts; of which, both in the choice of what is to be delineated, and in the fresh, airy, easy way of doing it, I much admire the genial felicity, the real skill. A charming simplicity attracts me everywhere: this is a great merit which I am used to in you. — Occasionally (oftenest in "the Sentences") you get into an antique Cowleian vein, what Johnson would call the "Metaphysical" a little; but this too, if well done, as it here is I like to see, — as a gymnastic exercise of wit, were it nothing more. Indeed, I have to own, the whole matter is an "ideal"; soars high above reality, and leaves the mud of fact (mud with whatever stepping stones may be discoverable therein) lying far under its feet. But this you will say is a merit, its poetic certificate — well, well. Few books are written with so much conscientious fidelity now-a-days, or indeed at any day; and very few with anything like the amount of general capability displayed here. I heartily return many thanks for my share of it.

I am here in a kind of "retreat" for four or three weeks, in the most silent country I could get, near my native Solway, and apart from all mankind, — really a kind of Catholic "retreat" minus the invocations to the Virgin, etc . . . I am about ten miles from my Birthplace, know all the mountain tops 50 miles round since my eyes first opened; and I do not want for objects of a sufficiently devotional nature, sad and otherwise. But the tide is in' or nearly so: time and tide will wait on no man!

Yours with many thanks and regards,
T. Carlyle
-from Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore / Basil Champneys (London: G. Bell & Sons)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Charles Anthon: Go-Between

[Charles Anthon to Edgar Allan Poe]

New York, Nov.2d 1844.

Dear Sir, -- I have called upon the Harpers, as you requested, and have cheerfully exerted with them what influence I possess, but without accomplishing anything of importance. They have complaints against you, grounded on certain movements of yours, when they acted as your publishers some years ago; and appear very little inclined at present to enter upon the matter which you have so much at heart. However, they have retained, for a second and more careful perusal, the letter which you sent to me, and have promised that, if they should see fit to come to terms with you, they will address a note to you forthwith. Of course, if you should not hear from them, their silence must be construed into a declining of your proposal. My own advice to you is, to call in person at their store, and talk over the matter with them. I am very sure that such a step on your part will remove many of the difficulties which at present obstruct your way.

You do me an injustice by supposing that I am a stranger to your productions. I subscribed to the "Messenger" solely because you were connected with it, and I have since that period read and, as a matter of course, admired very many of your other pieces. The Harpers also entertain, as I heard from their own lips, the highest opinion of your talents, but I remain very sincerely,

Your friend & wellwisher
Chas. Anthon.

P. S. The MSS., which you were kind enough to send, can be obtained by you at any time on calling at my residence. C. A.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Landor's Art (& a good word for poor Southey)

[Letter from W. S. Landor to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1856.]
My dear Sir,

Your English Traits have given me great pleasure; and they would have done so even if I had been treated by you with less favour. The short conversations we held at my Tuscan Villa were insufficient for an estimate of my character and opinions. A few of these, and only a few, of the least important, I may have modified since. Let me run briefly over them as I find them stated in your pages. Twenty-three years have not obliterated from my memory the traces of your visit, in company with that intelligent man and glorious sculptor, who was delegated to erect a statue in your capital to the tutelary genius of America. I share with him my enthusiastic love of ancient art; but I am no exclusive, as you seem to hint I am. In my hall at Fiesole there are two busts, if you remember, by two artists very unlike the ancients, and equally unlike each other; Donatello and Fiamingo; surveying them at a distance is the sorrowful countenance of Germanicus. Sculpture at the present day flourishes more than it ever did since the age of Pericles; and America is not cast into the shade by Europe. I do prefer Giovanni da Bologna to Michael Angelo, who indeed in his conceptions is sublime, but often incorrect, and sometimes extravagant, both in sculpture and painting. I confess I have no relish for his prodigious giblet pie in the Capella Sistina, known throughout the world as his Last Judgement. Grand in architecture, he was no ordinary poet, no lukewarm patriot. Deplorable, that the inheritor of his house and name is so vile a sycophant, that even the blast of Michael's trumpet could not rouse his abject soul.

I am an admirer of Pietro Perugino, and more than an admirer of Raffaelle; but I could never rank the Madonna della Seggiola among the higher of his works; I see no divinity in the child, and no such purity in the Virgin as he often expressed in her. I have given my opinion as freely on the Transfiguration. The cartoons are his noblest works: they place him as high as is Correggio in the Dome of Parma: nothing has been, or is likely to be, higher.

Among my cloud of pictures you did not observe a little Masaccio (one of his two easel-pictures) representing Saint Jerome. The idea of it is truer than Domenichino's.

The last of the Medici Grandukes, Giovanni Gaston, sent to the vicinity of Parma and Correggio an old Florentine, who was reputed to be an excellent judge of painting. He returned with several small pieces on canvas, which the painters at that time in Florence turned into ridicule, and which were immediately thrown into the Palazzo Vecchio. About a quarter of a century ago, the chambers of this Palazzo were cleared of their lumber, and I met in the Via degli Archibugieri a tailor who had two small canvases under his arms, and two others in his hands. He had given a few paoli for each; I offered him as many francesconi. He thought me a madman; an opinion which I also heard expressed as I sat under the shade of a vast old fig tree, while about twenty labourers were extirpating three or four acres of vines and olives, in order to make somewhat like a meadow before my windows. The words were "Matti sono tutti gli Inglesi, ma questo poi" . . . followed by a shrug and an aposiopesis. I acquired two more cerotti, as they had been called, painted by the same master; three I have at Bath, and three remain at my villa in Tuscany. Mr. George Wallis, who accompanied Soult in that marshal's Eclectic Review of the Spanish Galleries, pronounced them to be Correggios. What is remarkable, one is a landscape. It would indeed be strange if he, who painted better than any before or since, should have produced no greater number of works than are attributed to him by Mengs. I have seen several of which I entertain no doubt. Raffaelle is copied more easily; so perhaps is Titian, if not Giorgione. On this subject the least fallible authority is Morris More, who however could not save our National Gallery from devastation.

Curious as I was in collecting specimens of the earlier painters, I do not prefer them to the works either of their nearer successors or to those of the present day. My Domenichino, about which I doubted, has been authenticated by M. Cosveldt; my Raffaelle by M. Dennistoune, who was wrong only in believing it had been called a portrait of the painter. It is in fact the portrait of the only son of that Doni whose wife's is in the Tribuna at Florence. He died in boyhood; and the picture was long retained in his mother's family, the Strozzi, and thrown into a bedchamber of the domestics as a piece of robaccia and anticaglia.

We will now walk a little way out of the Gallery. Let me say, before we go farther, that I do not think "the Greek historians the only good ones." Davila, Machiavelli, Voltaire, Michelet, have afforded me much instruction and much delight. Gibbon is worthy of a name among the most enlightened and eloquent of the ancients. I find no fault in his language; on the contrary, I find the most exact propriety. The grave, and somewhat austere, becomes the historian of the Roman Republic; the grand, and somewhat gorgeous, finds its proper place in the palace of Byzantium. Am I indifferent to the merits of our own historians? indifferent to the merits of him who balanced with equal hand Wellington and Napoleon? No; I glory in my countryman and friend. Is it certain that I am indiscriminating in my judgement on Charron? Never have I compared him with Montaigne; but there is much of wisdom, and, what is remarkable in the earlier French authors, much of sincerity in him.

I am sorry to have "pestered you with Southey," and to have excited the inquiry, "Who is Southey?" I will answer the question. Southey is the poet who has written the most imaginative poem of any in our own times, English or Continental; such is The Curse of Kehama. Southey is the proseman who has written the purest prose; Southey is the critic the most cordial and the least invidious. Show me another, of any note, without captiousness, without arrogance, and without malignity.

Slow rises worth by poverty deprest.

But Southey raised it. . . .

[Walter Savage Landor]

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Boston Brahmin Honours Invitation, Twice

[Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes to Mr. Fields]

296 Beacon Street, February 11, 1862

My Dear Mr. Fields,

On Friday evening last I white-cravated myself, took a carriage, and found myself at your door at eight of the clock p. m.-

A cautious female responded to my ring, and opened the chained portal about as far as a clam opens his shell to see what is going on in Cambridge Street, where he is waiting for a customer.

Her first glance impressed her with the conviction that I was a burglar. The mild address with which I accosted her removed that impression, and I rose in the moral scale to the comparatively elevated position of what the unfeeling world calls a "sneak-thief."

By dint, however, of soft words, and that look of ingenuous simplicity by which I am so well known to you and all my friends, I coaxed her into the belief that I was nothing worse than a rejected contributor, an autograph collector, an author with a volume of poems to dispose of, or other disagreeable but not dangerous character.

She unfastened the chain, and I stood before her.

I calmed her fears, and she was calm and told me how you and Mrs. F. had gone to New York, and how she knew nothing of any literary debauch that was to come off under your roof, but would go and call another unprotected female who knew the past, present, and future, and could tell me why this was thus, that I had been lured from my fireside by the ignis fatuus of a deceptive invitation.

It was my turn to be afraid, alone in the house with two of the stronger sex; and I retired.

On reaching home, I read my note and found it was Friday the 16th, not the 9th, I was invited for. . . .
Dear Mr. Fields, I shall be very happy to come to your home on Friday evening, the 16th February, at eight o'clock, to meet yourself and Mrs. Fields, and hear Mr. James read his paper on Emerson. . . .
-from The Friendly Craft: a Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom, Ph.D. (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 323-324.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thurber's Daydreams

[James Thurber to Francis Brown]

West Cornwall, Connecticut
November 4, 1952

Mr. Francis Brown, Editor,
The New York Times Book Review
Times Square, New York 36, N. Y.

Dear Mr. Brown:

You astonish me by intimating that there is at least one book every year a writer wishes he had written. I cannot agree with this. In the first place, an average writer--take me--has a pretty narrow field and certainly enough humility not to include a translation of the Bible, a collection of great poetry, or "Sironia" in the wistful range of his aspirations. There have been times when I wished I could have written Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall," O'Hara's "Appointment in Samarra," Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," and a hundred pieces by E. B. White, but these are daydreams a man keeps to himself. I think the average writer wishes he had done his own most recent book better than he did. He rarely has the guts to look at earlier ones.

Perhaps I am circling around a solid major truth: no writer actually wished, honest to God, that he had written anybody else's book or books. Maybe it would be easier to put down one I'm glad I didn't write. I don't know.

Sincerely yours,
James Thurber

-from The Thurber Letters: the wit, wisdom, and surprising life of James Thurber edited by Harrison Kinney (New York: Simon & Schuster,2003). p. 571.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Margaret Invites Margaret to Dine

[Margaret Laurence to Margaret Atwood]


15 Oct 81
Dear Peggy--

As you probably recall, recently a group of Canadian writers (Alice Munro, Adele Wiseman, Bob Kroetsch, Gary Geddes, Pat Lane, Geoff Hancock, and a Quebec woman writer whose name I'm ashamed to say I can't remember) went on a visit to China. Among the writers they met was Ding Ling, who is China's most famous (and probably oldest) woman writer. Her career began in the 20s, and she has gone through periods of being a heroine of the revolution, then out of favour, and is now apparently the senior stateswoman of writers. Anyway, Adele had wanted to meet her for years, and this was finally realized. Ding Ling will be visiting Canada briefly in November, and Adele and I are organizing a reception for her at York University on Saturday the 28th of Nov. You and Graeme will be receiving invitations in due course. But a few of us (Adele, me Clara Thomas, Alice M., Gary Geddes) will be taking Ding Ling, her husband and a young writer (and translator) Richard Liu, out for a quiet dinner beforehand. We wondered if you and Graeme would care to join us for the dinner. We'd let you know the time and place a bit later. . . .
-from A Very Large Soul: Selected Letters from Margaret Laurence to Canadian Writers edited with a preface by J. A. Wainwright (Dunvegan, Ontario: Cormorant Books, 1995) p. 81.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Newmanist Breakfast

[Arthur Hugh Clough to J. P. Gell, Esq.]

Oxford: 1838

We have been up here just a month and a day, enjoying for the last week of it most glorious weather, greatly to the increase of hunting and boating, and to the decrease of reading. Among other incidents I have had the pleasure of twice meeting the heresiarch αυτοτατος, namely, John Henry Newman, once at a dinner-party, and once at a small and select breakfast. I was introduced, and had the honour of drinking wine with him; on the strength of all which of course, as is one’s bounden duty, I must turn Newmanist. As a first step in which process, I should rebuke you for the heresy of your last letter, dated (more shame to me) Nov. 22. I hoped very much you would come here after your degree was done, but if you continue to rest on Milton’s Christian Doctrines for one leg, and Calvin’s Institutes for the other, I recommend you to walk away on them as fast as you can from this seat and citadel of orthodoxy. It is difficult here even to obtain assent to Milton’s greatness as a poet; quite impossible, I should think, if you are unable to say that you ‘do not know anything about his prose writings.’ Also you must be ready to give up that ‘irreverent’ third book. Were it not for the happy notion that a man’s poetry is not at all affected by his opinions or indeed character and mind altogether, I fear the ‘Paradise Lost’ would be utterly unsaleable, except for waste paper, in the University. . . .

-from Poems and Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough with a Selection from his Letters and a Memoir edited by his wife (London-2 vols.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Baron" Accepts Luncheon Invitation

[Frederick Rolfe, "Baron Corvo" to Grant Richards, publisher]


xviiij Mar. 1901

Dear Sir:
I do not want to appear ungracious, nor do I ever eat lunch, and you know that to interrupt my work even for a couple of hours is a grave inconvenience; indeed, I actually have not been outside this house since the exsequies of the Divine Victoria: but I feel that something is due to you on account of the exasperation which you have endured from the idiomata of Slaughter*; and therefore, if you can meet me on friendly terms, remembering all the while that my mind is concentrated on the xvi not the xx century, and if you agree to consider our conversation as privileged and in no wise binding, I will be at Romano's between 1 and 2 on Tuesday or Wednesday next. . . .

Faithfully yours
Frederick Baron Corvo

*Edward J. Slaughter, who supposedly mismanaged Corvo's affairs.

-from The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography by A. J. A. Symons (London: Cassell, 1934) p. 120.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Invitation from a Princess

Princess Marie Taxis to Rilke in Paris

Paris, Hotel Liverpool,
Rue Castiglione

Friday 10. December 1909

Dear Herr Rielke, [sic]

Forgive me for sending you these lines without knowing you, though actually I can hardly say ‘without knowing you’ to a poet whose works I admire so much - besides, we have a mutual friend, Dr Rudolf Kassner, who has often spoken to me about you. So I would be very happy to make your acquaintance and am asking whether you could come to see me at the Hotel Liverpool on Monday at five. The Comtesse Mathiew de Noajilles will be there too and would also be happy to meet you. So please let me know whether you can come.
With best wishes
Yours sincerely

-from Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke and Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis / translated by Nora Wydenbruck (London: Hogarth, 1958).

Friday, September 14, 2007

Palmistry in Venice

[Evelyn Underhill to her future husband Herbert Stuart Moore]

Grand Hotel

May 1st [1905]

We've been pottering about seeing our pet things a second time, and digging out a few isolated pictures in different churches as to-morrow will be our last day in Venice. This afternoon was roastingly hot so we took a steamer to the Lido and lay out on the sands looking at the Adriatic--so blue, just the colour of turquoise: but it seemed very shadeless and dusty there after Venice, which has no dust, and heaps of shade in the narrow alleys and canals. We walked along to St. Niccolo di Lido, where my patron saint, St. Nicholas, is buried, quite forgotten now, poor dear, though he did such lots of nice miracles in the Middle Ages! His Church was locked so I couldn't go and pay my respects to his tomb.

By way of a complete change from Tintoretto and St. Marco, last night a very smart professional palmist arrived here and proceeded to give a most absurd lecture with limelight illustrations of characteristic paws, in the hotel drawing-room. I learnt from it several curious things, chiefly that my affections are more sensual than platonic, that I have no self-confidence, am inconstant, but literary, and that people who sleep with their thumbs tucked inside their clenched hands are by nature maniacs. I hope you don't do that. The lecturer pleasantly added, "All young infants clasp their thumbs in this manner." So nice for fond mothers.
[Evelyn Underhill]

-from The Letters of Evelyn Underhill edited with an introduction by Charles Williams (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1945) p. 54-55.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dunsany's Doings

[Lord Dunsany to Hazel Littefield]

Dunstall Priory
Shoreham, Kent

June 6th., 1957

Dear Hazel,
Thank you for your charming sonnet. I have repaid in wishes and intentions too sincere--I hope--to pave Hell, nineteen-twentieths of your hospitality and perhaps one twentieth in actual fact. I have been doing a bit of writing again. I wrote a tale on June 1, and another on June 2 and 3, and the next day my agent asked me for a preface of 3,000 words for a publisher who was in a hurry; so I wrote it that day, actually 3,050 words, and copied it yesterday and sent if off. People who talk of their work usually haven't been doing much lately; anyway I hadn't.

Still much in your debt
(& more so for the sonnet)

-from Lord Dunsany: King of Dreams, A Personal Portrait by Hazel Littlefield (New York: Exposition Press, 1959) p. 134.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nabokov's Compliments

To: Katharine A. White
[Editor, New Yorker Magazine]

ALS, I p. Bryn Mawr College
Cambridge Mass.


Dear Mrs. White:
Thanks for your charming letter. I do have a story for you--but it is still in my head; quite complete, however; ready to emerge; the pattern showing through the wingcases of the pupa. I shall write it as soon as I get rid of my novel, i.e. in a couple of months.

Rebecca West's account of the trial of J.* was admirable. So was Irwin Shaw** in the last issue. So was a very funny critique by Gibbs*** (mimicking a very good story by Thurber).

I think I shall come to N. Y. at the end of next week.

Very sincerely yours,
V. Nabokov

I (and my son) enjoyed hugely your husband's last book. I have admired his art ever since his red barn cast that blue shadow (in Harper's?)

* "A Reporter at Large: The Crown versus William Joyce" (29 Sept. 1945)
** "A Reporter at Large: Stuff of Dreams" (5 Jan. 1946)
*** Wolcott Gibbs, "Outline of Victoria" (15 Dec. 1945)

-from Vladimir Nabokov Selected Letters 1940-1977 edited by Dimitri Nabokov and Matthew J. Bruccoli (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1989) p.65.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sendak's Butterflies

To Maurice Sendak

September 28, 1959.

Dear Maurice:

I may have to leave, to go to the dentist, God help me, before you come by with the Krauss-Sendak drawings.*

So if I don't see you this is a hasty note to say we all (including Elsa [sic]) want to make the Minarik title Little Bear's Friend.** Hope this doesn't throw off any design you have worked out for the jacket. I really think it is more colorful and warmer than Little Bear and Emily and will help sell the book and that will be nice for everyone concerned. Yes?

Ruth is coming in with "stuff lightly pasted down" this afternoon. (This could mean me, come to think of it.........)
Ever thine,
[Ursula Nordstrom]

*Open House for Butterflies, by Ruth Krauss, ill. by Sendak (1960).

**Little Bear's Friend by Else Holmelund Minarik, ill. by Sendak (1960).

-from Dear Genius: the Letters of Ursula Nordstom collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (New York: HarperCollins, 1998) p. 121-22.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Salieri with Fortune's Crown; or, Beaumarchais' Accounts

[Beaumarchais to A. M. Salieri]

Paris, le 15 aout 1790.

C'est maintenant, mon cher Salieri, que je vous dois le compte de votre grand succes: Tarare n'a ete joue que le 3 de ce mois; l'Opera l'a remis avec un soin prodigiuex; le public l'a goute comme une oeuvre sublime de la part du musicien. Vous voila donc chez nous a la tete de votre etat! L'Opera, qui, depuis un an faisait cinq cents a six cents livres, a fait six mille cinq cent quarante livres le premier jour de Tarare, cinq mille quatre cents le second, etc. Les acteurs, revenus severement a mon principe, de regarder le chant comme accessoire du jeu, ont ete, pour la premiere fois, ranges parmi les plus grands talents du theatre; et le public criait: Voila de la musique! pas une note radotee; tout marche aux grands effets de l'action dramatique! Quel plaisir pour moi, mon ami, de voir que l'on vous rende enfin cette grande justice et que l'on vous nomme en chorus le digne successeur de Gluck! . . . .
-from Theatre complet, Lettres relatives a son theatre par Beaumarchais; edition etablie et annotee par Maurice Allem et Paul Courant (Paris: Gallimard, 1973) p. 695.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mozart's Style and Small Renown

[To the Archduke Franz, Vienna]

May 1790,

Your Royal Highness,

I make so bold as very respectfully to beg your Royal Highness to be so gracious as to speak to his Majesty the King touching my most humble petition to his Majesty. Prompted by a desire for fame, by a love of my work and by a conviction of my own talents, I venture to apply for the post of second kapellmeister, the more particularly that Salieri, the very able kapellmeister, has never devoted himself to the ecclesiastical style in music, whereas I have made myself completely familiar with this style from my youth up. Some small renown accorded me by the world for my performances on the piano-forte encourages me also to beg for the favour of being entrusted with the musical instruction of the Royal Family.

In the sure conviction that I have applied to the best possible intermediary, and to one who is particularly gracious to me, I feel the utmost confidence. . . .

[Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart]

-from Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart selected and edited by Hans Mersmann; translated by M. M. Bozman (New York: Dover, 1972) p. 248.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Mendelssohn and the Music Within

[Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy to Concertmeister Ferdinand David]

Berlin, July 30, 1838.

Dear David:
. . . I intend in a few days to begin to write out my symphony, and to complete it in a short time, probably while I am still here. I should also like to write a violin concerto for you next winter. One in E minor runs in my head, the beginning of which gives me no peace. My symphony shall certainly be as good as I can make it, but whether it will be popular and played on the barrel-organs, I cannot tell. I feel that in every fresh piece I succeed better in learning to write exactly what is in my heart, and, after all, that is the only right rule I know. If I am not adapted for popularity, I will not try to acquire it, nor seek after it; and if you think this wrong, then I ought rather to say I cannot seek after it, for really I cannot, but would not if I could. What proceeds from within, makes me glad in its outward workings also, and therefore it would be very gratifying to me were I able to fulfil the wish you and my friends express; but I can do nothing toward it or about it. So much in my path has fallen to my share without my having even once thought of it, and without any effort on my part, that perhaps it may be the case with this also; if not, I shall not grumble on the subject, but console myself by knowing that I did what I could, according to my best powers and my best judgment. I have your sympathy, and your delight in my works and also that of some valued friends. More could scarcely be desired. A thousand thanks, then, for your kind expressions and for all your friendship toward me.
[Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy]
-from The Master Classics: Letters (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1929) p. 180-81.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Youthful Huxley Ships Out

December 1846

[From Plymouth, to his mother]

You will be very glad to know that I am exceedingly comfortable here. My cabin has now got into tolerable order, and what with my books–which are, I am happy to say, not a few–my gay curtain and the spicy oilcloth which will be down on the floor, looks most respectable. Furthermore, although it is an unquestionably dull day I have sufficient light to write here, without the least trouble, to read, or even if necessary, to use my microscope. I went to see a friend of mine on board the Recruit the other day, and truly I hugged myself when I compared my position with his. The berth where he and seven others eat their daily bread is hardly bigger than my cabin, except in height–and, of course, he has to sleep in a hammock. My friend is rather an eccentric character, and, being missed in the ship, was discovered the other day reading in the maintop–the only place, as he said, sufficiently retired for study. And this is really no exaggeration. If I had no cabin I should take to drinking in a month.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Bret Harte in Devon

[Bret Harte to his Wife]

"The Molt," Salcombe, Kingsbridge,
Devonshire, Aug. 19, 1878.

My Dear Anna, . . . I wrote you from London a day or two ago. Since then I came down here to visit Froude (the historian), who has treated me with very particular kindness . . .

It is without exception, one of the most perfect country houses I ever beheld. Imagine, if you can, something between "Locksley Hall" and the "High Hall Garden," where Maud used to walk, and you have some idea of this graceful English home. I look from my windows down upon exquisite lawns and terraces all sloping towards the sea wall and then down upon the blue sea below. I walk out in the long high garden, past walls hanging with netted peaches and apricots, past terraces looking over the ruins of an old feudal castle, and I can scarcely believe I am not reading an English novel or that I am not myself a wandering ghost. To heighten the absurdity when I return to my room I am confronted by the inscription on the door, "Lord Devon" (for this is the property of the Earl of Devon, and I occupy his favorite room), and I seem to have died and to be resting under a gilded mausoleum that lies even more than the average tombstone does. Froude is a connection of the Earl's, and has hired the house for the summer.

He is a widower, with two daughters and a son. The eldest girl is not unlike a highly educated Boston girl, and the conversation sometimes reminds me of Boston. The youngest daughter, only ten years old, told her sister in reference to some conversation Froude and I had that "she feared" (this child) "that Mr. Bret Harte was inclined to be sceptical!" Doesn't this exceed any English story of the precocity of American children? The boy, scarcely fourteen, acts like a boy of eight (an American boy of eight) and talks like a man of thirty, as far as pure English and facility of expression goes. His manners are perfect, yet he is perfectly simple and boylike. The culture and breeding of some English children is really marvelous. But somehow--and here comes one of my "buts"--there's always a suggestion of some repression, some discipline that I don't like. Everybody is carefully trained to their station, and seldom bursts out beyond it. The respect always shown towards me is something fine--and depressing. I can easily feel how this deference to superiors is ingrained in all.

But Froude--dear old noble fellow--is splendid. I love him more than I ever did in America. He is great, broad, manly--democratic in the best sense of the word, scorning all sycophancy and meaness, accepting all that is around him, yet more proud of his literary profession than of his kinship with these people whom he quietly controls. There are only a few literary men like him here, but they are kings. I could not have had a better introduction to them than through Froude, who knows them all, who is Tennyson's best friend, and who is anxious to make my entree among them a success. I had forgotten that Canon Kingsley, whom you liked so much, is Froude's brother-in-law, until Froude reminded me of it. So it is like being among friends here.

So far I've avoided seeing any company here; but Froude and I walk and walk, and talk and talk . . . .
I'll write you from London. God bless you all.
Your affectionate

-from The Friendly Craft: A Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 247-49.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Melvillian Motto

[Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne]

June 29 1851

My dear Hawthorne ,

The clear air and open window invite me to write to you. For some time past I have been so busy with a thousand things that I have almost forgotten when I wrote you last, and whether I received an answer. This most persuasive season has now for weeks recalled me from certain crotchetty and over doleful chimearas, the like of which men like you and me and some others, forming a chain of God's posts round the world, must be content to encounter now and then, and fight them the best way we can. But come they will, -- for, in the boundless, trackless, but still glorious wild wilderness through which these outposts run, the Indians do sorely abound, as well as the insignificant but still stinging mosquitoes. Since you have been here, I have been building some shanties of houses (connected with the old one) and likewise some shanties of chapters and essays. I have been plowing and sowing and raising and painting and printing and praying, -- and now begin to come out upon a less bustling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farm house here.

Not entirely yet, though, am I without something to be urgent with. The "Whale" is only half through the press; for, wearied with the long delay of the printers, and disgusted with the heat and dust of the babylonish brick-kiln of New York, I came back to the country to feel the grass -- and end the book reclining on it, if I may. -- I am sure you will pardon this speaking all about myself, for if I say so much on that head, be sure all the rest of the world are thinking about themselves ten times as much. Let us speak, although we show all our faults and weaknesses, -- for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it, -- not in [a] set way and ostentatiously, though, but incidentally and without premeditation. -- But I am falling into my old foible -- preaching. I am busy, but shall not be very long. Come and spend a day here, if you can and want to; if not, stay in Lenox, and God give you long life. When I am quite free of my present engagements, I am going to treat myself to a ride and a visit to you. Have ready a bottle of brandy, because I always feel like drinking that heroic drink when we talk ontological heroics together. This is rather a crazy letter in some respects, I apprehend. If so, ascribe it to the intoxicating effects of the latter end of June operating upon a very susceptible and peradventure feeble temperament.

Shall I send you a fin of the Whale by way of a specimen mouthful? The tail is not yet cooked -- though the hell-fire in which the whole book is broiled might not unreasonably have cooked it all ere this. This is the book's motto (the secret one), -- Ego non baptiso te in nomine -- but make out the rest yourself.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Washington Irving Finds a Theme

[Washington Irving to his brother Peter Irving]

Abbotsford, Sept. 1, 1817.

My Dear Brother:

I have barely time to scrawl a line before the gossoon goes off with the letters to the neighboring post office . . . .

On Friday, in spite of sullen, gloomy weather, I mounted the top of the mail coach, and rattled off to Selkirk. It rained heavily in the course of the afternoon, and drove me inside. On Saturday morning early I took chaise for Melrose; and on the way stopped at the gate of Abbotsford, and sent in my letter of introduction, with a request to know whether it would be agreeable for Mr. Scott to receive a visit from me in the course of the day. The glorious old minstrel himself came limping to the gate, took me by the hand in a way that made me feel as if we were old friends; in a moment I was seated at his hospitable board among his charming little family, and here have I been ever since. I had intended certainly being back to Edinburgh to-day, (Monday,) but Mr. Scott wishes me to stay until Wednesday, that we may make excursions to Dryburgh Abbey, Yarrow, &c., as the weather has held up and the sun begins to shine. I cannot tell how truly I have enjoyed the hours I have passed here. They fly by too quick, yet each is loaded with story, incident, or song; and when I consider the world of ideas, images, and impressions that have been crowded upon my mind since I have been here, it seems incredible that I should only have been two days at Abbotsford. I have rambled about the hills with Scott; visited the haunts of Thomas the Rhymer, and other spots rendered classic by border tale and witching song, and have been in a kind of dream or delirium.

As to Scott, I cannot express my delight at his character and manners. He is a sterling golden-hearted old worthy, full of the joyousness of youth, with an imagination continually furnishing forth picture, and a charming simplicity of manner that puts you at ease with him in a moment. It has been a constant source of pleasure to me to remark his deportment towards his family, his neighbors, his domestics, his very dogs and cats; every thing that comes within his influence seems to catch a beam of that sunshine that plays round his heart; but I shall say more of him herafter, for he is a theme on which I love to dwell. . . .
Your affectionate brother,
W. I.

P. S. --This morning we ride to Dryburgh Abbey and see also the old Earl of Buchan--who, you know, is a queer one. . . .
-from The Friendly Craft: A Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 166-68.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Twain's Jumping Frog

To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:

San Francisco, Jan. 20, 1866.

My Dear Mother and Sister,--I do not know what to write; my life is so uneventful. I wish I was back there piloting up and down the river again. Verily, all is vanity and little worth--save piloting. To think that, after writing many an article a man might be excused for thinking tolerably good, those New York people should single out a villainous backwoods sketch to compliment me on! "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog"--a squib which would never have been written but to please Artemus Ward, and then it reached New York too late to appear in his book. But no matter. His book was a wretchedly poor one, generally speaking, and it could be no credit to either of us to appear between its covers.This paragraph is from the New York correspondence of the San Francisco Alta: (Clipping pasted in.)

"Mark Twain's story in the Saturday Press of November 18th, called 'Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,' has set all New York in a roar, and he may be said to have made his mark. I have been asked fifty times about it and its author, and the papers are copying it far and near. It is voted the best thing of the day. Cannot the Californian afford to keep Mark all to itself? It should not let him scintillate so widely without first being filtered through the California press."

The New York publishing house of Carleton & Co. gave the sketch to the Saturday Press when they found it was too late for the book. Though I am generally placed at the head of my breed of scribblers in this part of the country, the place properly belongs to Bret Harte, I think, though he denies it, along with the rest. He wants me to club alot of old sketches together with a lot of his, and publish a book. I wouldn't do it, only he agrees to take all the trouble. But I want to know whether we are going to make anything out of it, first. However, he has written to a New York publisher, and if we are offered a bargain that will pay for a month's labor we will go to work and prepare the volume for the press.

Yours aftly,

-from The Letters of Mark Twain edited by Albert Bigelow Paine (Volume 1)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Poe Seeks a Position

Edgar Allan Poe to William Gwynn, [Editor]

May 6, 1831.

Mr. W. Gwynn.

Dear Sir,
I am almost ashamed to ask any favour at your hands after my foolish conduct upon a former occasion -- but I trust to your good nature.

I am very anxious to remain and settle myself in Baltimore as Mr. Allan has married again and I no longer look upon Richmond as my place of residence.

This wish of mine has also met with his approbation.

I write to request your influence in obtaining some situation or employment in this city.
Salary would be a minor consideration, but I do not wish to be idle.

Perhaps (since I understand Neilson* has left you) you might be so kind as to employ me in your office in some capacity.

If so I will use every exertion to deserve your confidence.

Very Respectfully
yr Ob. St
Edgar A. Poe

I would have waited upon you personally but am confined to my room with a severe sprain in my knee.
*Neilson Poe, cousin.
-from Poe's Legendary Years by G. E. Woodberry (Atlantic Monthly-Vol. 54/Issue 326 - Dec. 1884, p. 824-825.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Landor on Karma, Coleridge & Presence

[Walter Savage Landor to Countess of Blessington]

Firenze, March 16th, 1835.

After a year or more, I receive your reminiscences of Byron.* Never, for the love of God, send any thing again by a Welshman—I mean, any thing lit­erary. Lord D—'s brother, like Lord D— himself, is a very good man, and if you had sent me a cheese, would have delivered it safely in due season. But a book is a thing that does not spoil so soon. Alas! how few are there who know the aches of expectancy, when we have long been looking up high for some suspended gift of bright imagination!

Thanks upon thanks for making me think Byron a better and a wiser man than I had thought him. Since this precious volume, I have been read­ing the English Opium-eater's Recollections of Coleridge, a genius of the highest order, even in poetry.

I was amused—when I was a youth I should have been shocked and dis­gusted—at his solution of Pythagoras's enigma on bears.

When I was at Oxford, I wrote my opinion on the origin of the religion of the Druids. It appeared to me that Pythagoras, who settled in Italy, and who had many followers in the Greek colony of the Phœnicians at Marseilles, had ingrafted on a barbarous and bloodthirsty religion the humane doctrine of the Metempsychosis.

It would have been vain to say, Do not murder: no people ever minded this doctrine; but he frightened the savages by saying, If you are cruel even to beasts and insects, the cruelty will fall upon yourselves: you shall be the same. In this disquisition, I gave exactly the same solution as (it appears) Coleridge gave. Our friend Parr was delighted with it, and beyond a doubt it remains among my letters, &c., sent to him. I did not allow any of these to be published by Dr. John Johnston, his biographer, who asked my permis­sion.

Infinite as are the pains I take in composing and correcting my 'Imag­inary Conversations' (having no right to make other people speak and think worse than they did), I may indulge all my natural idleness in regard to my­self.

Mr. Robinson, the soundest man that ever stepped through the trammels of law, gave me, a few days ago, the sorrowful information that another of our great writers had joined Coleridge. Poor Charles Lamb, what a tender, good, joyous heart had he! What playfulness! what purity of style and thought! His sister is yet living, much older than himself. One of her tales is, with the exception of the "Bride of Lammermoor", the most beautiful tale in prose composition in any language, ancient or modern. A young girl has lost her mother; the father marries again, and marries a friend of his former wife. The child is ill reconciled to it, but, being dressed in new clothes for the marriage, she runs up to her mother's chamber, filled with the idea how happy that dear mother would be at seeing her in all her glory—not reflect­ing, poor soul! that it was only by her mother's death that she appeared in it. How natural, how novel is all this! Did you ever imagine that a fresh source of the pathetic would burst forth before us in this trodden and harden­ed world? I never did, and when I found myself upon it, I pressed my tem­ples with both hands, and tears ran down to my elbows.

The Opium-eater calls Coleridge 'the largest and most spacious intellect, the subtlest and most comprehensive that has yet existed among men. Im­piety to Shakspeare! treason to Milton! I give up the rest, even Bacon. Certainly, since their day, we have seen nothing at all comparable to him. Byron and Scott were but as gun-flints to a granite mountain; Wordsworth has one angle of resemblance; Southey has written more, and all well, much admirably. Forster has said grand things about me; but I sit upon the earth with my heels under me, looking up devoutly to this last glorious ascension. Never ask me about the rest. If you do, I shall only answer, in the cries that you are very likely to hear at this moment from your window, 'Ground ivy! ground ivy! ground ivy!'

Can not you teach those about you to write somewhat more purely? I am very fastidious. Three days ago I was obliged to correct a friend of mine, a man of fashion, who so far forgot the graces as to say of a lady, 'I have not often been in her company. ' 'Say presence;' we are in the company of men, in the presence of angels and of women. . . .

W. S. L.

*Conversations With Lord Byron (1834).

-from The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington (New York: Harper ) vol. 2, p. 122-24.