Monday, December 31, 2007

Auld lang syne

Robert Burns to Mrs. Dunlop

ELLISLAND, 17th December 1788.

My dear honoured friend,

Yours, dated Edinburgh, which I have just read, makes me very unhappy. "Almost blind and wholly deaf" are melancholy news of human nature; but when told of a much-loved and honoured friend, they carry misery in the sound. Goodness on your part, and gratitude on mine, began a tie which has gradually entwisted itself among the dearest chords of my bosom, and I tremble at the omens of your late and present ailing habit and shattered health. You miscalculate matters widely, when you forbid my waiting on you, lest it should hurt my worldly concerns. My small scale of farming is exceedingly more simple and easy than what you have lately seen at Moreham Mains. But, be that as it may, the heart of the man and the fancy of the poet are the two grand considerations for which I live: if miry ridges and dirty dunghills are to engross the best part of the functions of my soul immortal, I had better been a rook or a magpie at once, and then I should not have been plagued with any ideas superior to breaking of clods and picking up grubs; not to mention barn-door cocks of mallards, creatures with which I could almost exchange lives at any time. If you continue so deaf, I am afraid a visit will be no great pleasure to either of us; but if I hear you are got so well again as to be able to relish conversation, look you to it, Madam, for I will make my threatenings good. I am to be at the New-year-day fair of Ayr, and, by all that is sacred in the world, friend, I will come and see you.
Your meeting, which you so well describe, with your old schoolfellow and friend, was truly interesting. Out upon the ways of the world! They spoil these "social offsprings of the heart." Two veterans of the "men of the world" would have met with little more heart-workings than two old hacks worn out on the road. Apropos, is not the Scotch phrase, "Auld lang syne," exceedingly expressive? There is an old song and tune which has often thrilled through my soul. You know I am an enthusiast in old Scotch song. I shall give you the verses on the other sheet, as I suppose Mr. Kerr will save you the postage.

Light be the turf on the breast of the Heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it than in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians! Now I am on my hobbyhorse, I cannot help inserting two other old stanzas, which please me mightily:—
Go fetch to me a pint o' wine, etc.
R. B.

-from The Letters of Robert Burns selected and arranged with an introduction by J. Logie Robertson.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Veriest Shades

Robert Burns to the Earl of Eglinton, Edinburgh.

January 1787.


As I have but slender pretensions to philosophy, I cannot rise to the exalted ideas of a citizen of the world, but have all those national prejudices, which I believe glow peculiarly strong in the breast of a Scotchman. There is scarcely anything to which I am so fully alive as the honour and welfare of my country; and as a poet, I have no higher enjoyment than singing her sons and daughters. Fate had cast my station in the veriest shades of life; but never did a heart pant more ardently than mine to be distinguished; though till very lately I looked in vain on every side for a ray of light. It is easy then to guess how much I was gratified with the countenance and approbation of one of my country's most illustrious sons, when Mr. Wauchope called on me yesterday on the part of your lordship. Your munificence, my lord, certainly deserves my very grateful acknowledgments; but your patronage is a bounty peculiarly suited to my feelings. I am not master enough of the etiquette of life to know, whether there be not some impropriety in troubling your lordship with my thanks, but my heart whispered me to do it. From the emotions of my inmost soul I do it. Selfish ingratitude I hope I am incapable of; and mercenary servility, I trust, I shall ever have so much honest pride as to detest.
R. B.
-from The Letters of Robert Burns selected and arranged with an introduction by J. Logie Robertson

Friday, December 28, 2007

W. H. Hudson and the Mystery of Mr. W. H.

[W. H. Hudson to Morley Roberts]

23 North Parade, Penzance,
December 28th, 1919.

Yes, quite legible this time--probably more so than I shall ever be. It shows what you can do when you have the mind. That judgment of Gissing is brief--and brilliant--you couldn't have said more in half a dozen columns. Gissing himself, I believe, would have appreciated it as a true--the truest estimate of his genius. I agree with Naomi about Chesterfield--she cannot admire him more than I do. His letters in a very old 17th century edition was one of the strange books in our collection on the pampas when I was a boy: it was one of the first serious books I read and I have not outlived my esteem for it, in spite of the quarrel we all have with him in reference to the Dr. Johnson business. As to Landor, anyone who loves literature must come in time to think very highly of him. He is very great--but, taking literature in the sense in which we consider, say, sport, clothing, cookery and so on, it is not the greatest. Read a scene in Shakespear, a chapter of Tolstoi, and then the best dialogue in Imaginary Conversations and you remark the vast difference--the hot passionate palpitating world we exist in and the beautiful motionless picture of life, beautifully framed, varnished, and hanging on the wall. For the rest--I'm inclined to hope Naomi will never be a Peacockian. I admire certain things--but they are always the things I admire, and, thank God, I'm not what you call catholic in my tastes. I've just finished the whole huge Butler biography and it has sent me back to his books. What a pity we didn't meet him when we were at Shoreham and he was coming there often, when Gogin was painting his portrait. For some reason the biographer Festing Jones, who diligently goes out of his way in his memoir to say every nasty thing about people--mainly those Butler disliked--says not a word about a quarrel between Butler and Gogin. It was, I believe, about a lady. . . . Just now I'm reading S. B.'s Sonnets of Shakespear, and whether his theory is true, or wholly true, or not, it is to my mind the best exposition I have seen and has cleared my mind of the confounded tantalizing mystery of the Sonnets and the Mr. W. H. one has come to detest before knowing anything about Butler's notion. Then too his Ulysses--but Lord, what a many-sided mind he had! Rain, rain, rain here every day and all day long, so tho' always unwell, I must stay indoors and do a little writing each day.

[W. H. Hudson]

[photo of Samuel Butler circa 1858 while an undergraduate at Cambridge and from the portrait by Charles Gogin 1896]

-from Men, Books and Birds by W. H. Hudson; with notes, some letters, and an introduction by Morley Roberts (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928) p.214-15.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Twain Meets His Future Wife

[Mark Twain to Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis]

224 F. Street, Washington,
January 8, 1868.


And so the old Major has been there, has he? I would like mighty well to see him. I was a sort of benefactor to him once. I helped to snatch him out when he was about to ride into a Mohammedan Mosque in that queer old Moorish town of Tangier, in Africa. If he had got in, the Moors would have knocked his venerable old head off, for his temerity.

I have just arrived from New York-been there ever since Christmas staying at the house of Dan Slote my Quaker City room-mate, and having a splendid time. Charley Langdon, Jack Van Nostrand, Dan and I, (all Quaker City night-hawks,) had a blow-out at Dan's' house and a lively talk over old times. We went through the Holy Land together, and I just laughed till my sides ached, at some of our reminiscences. It was the unholiest gang that ever cavorted through Palestine, but those are the best boys in the world. We needed Moulton badly. I started to make calls, New Year's Day, but I anchored for the day at the first house I came to--Charlie Langdon's sister was there (beautiful girl,) and Miss Alice Hooker, another beautiful girl, a niece of Henry Ward Beecher's. We sent the old folks home early, with instructions not to send the carriage till midnight, and then I just staid there and worried the life out of those girls. I am going to spend a few days with the Langdon's in Elmira, New York, as soon as I get time, and a few days at Mrs. Hooker's in Hartford, Conn., shortly.

Henry Ward Beecher sent for me last Sunday to come over and dine (he lives in Brooklyn, you know,) and I went. Harriet Beecher Stowe was there, and Mrs. and Miss Beecher, Mrs. Hooker and my old Quaker City favorite, Emma Beach.

We had a very gay time, if it was Sunday. I expect I told more lies than I have told before in a month.

I went back by invitation, after the evening service, and finished the blow-out, and then staid all night at Mr. Beach's. Henry Ward is a brick.

I found out at 10 o'clock, last night, that I was to lecture tomorrow evening and so you must be aware that I have been working like sin all night to get a lecture written. I have finished it, I call it "Frozen Truth." It is a little top-heavy, though, because there is more truth in the title than there is in the lecture.

But thunder, I mustn't sit here writing all day, with so much business before me.

Good by, and kind regards to all.

Yrs affy

[When in New York in January of 1868, Twain attended one of the Charles Dickens dramatic readings at Steinway Hall. He was a correspondent with the Alta California newspaper in San Francisco and he wrote this review of the evening. Twain, young , robust, and proud; Dickens, old, ailing, and proud. Both competing for the lecture limelight. See the previous letter posted here at Postman's Horn, December 26, from Dickens in New York. (Pepys)]

-from Mark Twain's Letters: 1867-1875 edited by Albert Bigelow Paine.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Show Must Go On

[Charles Dickens (on tour) to his Family]

Westminster Hotel, Irving Place,
New York City
Thursday, Dec. 26th, 1867.

I got your aunt's last letter at Boston yesterday, Christmas Day morning, when I was starting at eleven o'clock to come back to this place. I wanted it very much, for I had a frightful cold (English colds are nothing to those of this country), and was exceedingly depressed and miserable. Not that I had any reason but illness for being so, since the Bostonians had been quite astounding in their demonstrations. I never saw anything like them on Christmas Eve. But it is a bad country to be unwell and travelling in; you are one of say a hundred people in a heated car, with, a great stove in it, and all the little windows closed, and the hurrying and banging about are indescribable. The atmosphere is detestable, and the motion often all but intolerable. However, we got our dinner here at eight o'clock, and plucked up a little, and I made some hot gin punch to drink a merry Christmas to all at home in. But it must be confessed that we were both very dull. I have been in bed all day until two o'clock, and here I am now (at three o'clock) a little better. But I am not fit to read, and I must read to-night. After watching the general character pretty closely, I became quite sure that Dolby* was wrong on the length of the stay and the number of readings we had proposed in this place. I am quite certain that it is one of the national peculiarities that what they want must be difficult of attainment. I therefore a few days ago made a coup d'etat, and altered! the whole scheme. We shall go to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, also some New England towns between Boston and this place, away to the falls of Niagara, and off far west to Chicago and St. Louis, before coming back for ten farewell readings here, preceded by farewells at Boston, leaving Canada altogether. This will not prolong the list beyond eighty-four readings, the exact original number, and will, please God, work it all out in April. In my next, I daresay, I shall be able to send the exact list, so that you may know every day where we are. There has been a great storm here for a few days, and the streets, though wet, are becoming passable again. Dolby and Osgood are out in it to-day on a variety of business, and left in grave and solemn state. Scott and the gasman are stricken with dumb concern, not having received one single letter from home since they left. What their wives can have done with the letters they take it for granted they have written, is their stormy speculation at the door of my hall dressing-room every night.

If I do not send a letter to Katie by this mail, it will be because I shall probably be obliged to go across the water to Brooklyn to-morrow to see a church, in which it is proposed that I shall read! ! ! Horrible visions of being put in the pulpit already beset me. And whether the audience will be in pews is another consideration which greatly disturbs my mind. No paper ever comes out without a leader on Dolby, who of course reads them all, and never can understand why I don't, in which he is called all the bad names in (and not in) the language.

We always call him P. H. Dolby now, in consequence of one of these graceful specimens of literature describing him as the "pudding-headed."

I fear that when we travel he will have to be always before me, so that I may not see him six times in as many weeks. However, I shall have done a fourth of the whole this very next week!
Best love to your aunt, and the boys, and Katie, and Charley, and all true friends.

I managed to read last night, but it was as much as I could do. To-day I am so very unwell, that I have sent for a doctor; he has just been, and is in doubt whether I shall not have to stop reading for a while.
*George Dolby: Manager of Dickens' reading tours in England and America from 1866-1870. Wrote Charles Dickens as I Knew Him in 1885.

-from Letters of Charles Dickens edited by his sister-in-law and his eldest daughter (London: Chapman and Hall, 1880)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Peep at Pepys on Christmas Day

Thursday 25 December 1662

(Christmas Day). Up pretty early, leaving my wife not well in bed, and with my boy walked, it being a most brave cold and dry frosty morning, and had a pleasant walk to White Hall, where I intended to have received the Communion with the family, but I came a little too late. So I walked up into the house and spent my time looking over pictures, particularly the ships in King Henry the VIIIth’s Voyage to Bullen; marking the great difference between their build then and now. By and by down to the chappell again where Bishopp Morley preached upon the song of the Angels, “Glory to God on high, on earth peace, and good will towards men.” Methought he made but a poor sermon, but long, and reprehending the mistaken jollity of the Court for the true joy that shall and ought to be on these days, he particularized concerning their excess in plays and gaming, saying that he whose office it is to keep the gamesters in order and within bounds, serves but for a second rather in a duell, meaning the groom-porter. Upon which it was worth observing how far they are come from taking the reprehensions of a bishopp seriously, that they all laugh in the chappell when he reflected on their ill actions and courses. He did much press us to joy in these publique days of joy, and to hospitality. But one that stood by whispered in my ear that the Bishopp himself do not spend one groat to the poor himself. The sermon done, a good anthem followed, with vialls, and then the King came down to receive the Sacrament. But I staid not, but calling my boy from my Lord’s lodgings, and giving Sarah some good advice, by my Lord’s order, to be sober and look after the house, I walked home again with great pleasure, and there dined by my wife’s bed-side with great content, having a mess of brave plum-porridge and a roasted pullet for dinner, and I sent for a mince-pie abroad, my wife not being well to make any herself yet. After dinner sat talking a good while with her, her [pain] being become less, and then to see Sir W. Pen a little, and so to my office, practising arithmetique alone and making an end of last night’s book with great content till eleven at night, and so home to supper and to bed.

[from The Diary of Samuel Pepys]

Monday, December 24, 2007

Half a Widow

December 24, 1484.

To my right worshipful husband, John Paston,

ight worshipful husband, I recomment me unto you: please it you to weet that I sent your eldest son to my Lady Morley, to have knowledge of what sports were used in her house in Christmas next following after the decease of my lord her husband; and she said that there were none disguisings, nor harping, nor luting, nor singing, nor none loud disports; but playing at the tables, and chess, and cards; such disports she gave her folks leave to play and none other.

I pray you that ye will assure to you some man at Caister to keep your buttery, for the man that ye left with me will not take upon him to breve daily as ye commanded; he saith he hath not used to give a reckoning neither of bread nor ale till at the week's end, and he saith he wot well that he should not condeneth [give satisfaction], and therefore I suppose he shall not abide, and I trow ye shall be fain to purvey another man for and I trow ye shall be fain to purvey another man for Symond, for ye are never the nearer a wise man for him.

I am sorry that ye shall not at home be for Christmas.

I pray you that ye will come as soon as ye may; I shall think myself half a widow, because ye shall not be at home, &c. God have you in his keeping. Written on Christmas even.
By your servant and bedeswoman,
Margery Paston

The Paston Letters (1424-1505)

-from A Christmas Book: An Anthology for Moderns by D. B. Wyndham Lewis & G. C. Heseltine (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1928)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Letter in the Wind

[D. H. Lawrence to Katherine Mansfield]

c/o Mrs Clarke, Grosvenor Rd.,
Ripley, Nr Derby.
Friday, 27 Dec., 1918.

My Dear Katherine,

e got your parcel on Christmas morning. We had started off, and were on the brow of the hill, when the postman loomed round the corner, over the snow. It was all white and snowy and sunny, with a wind like an axe. I floated out my hanky for a flag over the snow, and Frieda dropped the tangerines in her anxiety to get the wheatsheaf unwrapped, and it was terribly cold and windy just on that edge. . . But my hanky fluttered very nice and lively. I wish you could have been there on the hill summit--the valley all white and hairy with trees below us, and grey with rocks--and just around us on our side the grey stone fences drawn in a network over the snow, all very clear in the sun. We ate the sweets, and slithered downhill, very steep and tottering. The children had the tangerines and the fan.

We read your letter in the wind, dropping down to Cromford. It made me feel weary, that we couldn't be all there, with rucksacks--I'd got mine on--setting off for somewhere good, over the snow. It is disappointing. And unless one decorates one's house for oneself alone, best leave it bare, for other people are all wan-eyed. I do so want to GET OUT--out of England--really, out of Europe. And I will get out. We must do it.

There was hardly any snow in the valley--all green, with the yew-berries still sprinkling the causeway. At Ambergate my sister had sent a motor-car for us--so we were at Ripley in time for turkey and Christmas pudding. My God, what masses of food here, turkey, large tongues, long wall of roast loin of pork, pork-pies, sausages, mince-pies, dark cakes covered with almonds, cheese-cakes, lemon-tarts, jellies, endless masses of food, with whiskey, gin, port wine, burgundy, muscatel. It seems incredible. We played charades--the old people of 67 playing away harder than the young ones--and lit the Christmas tree, and drank healths, and sang, and roared--Lord above. If only one hadn't all the while a sense that next week would be the same dreariness as before. What a good party we might have had, had we felt really free of the world.

We had a second turn-to-yesterday--and at half past eleven went roaring off in the dark wind to Dr Feroze's --he is a Parsee--and drank two more bottles of muscatel, and danced in his big empty room till we were staggered, and quite dazed. Tonight we are going back to Middleton--and I feel infuriated to think of the months ahead, when one waits paralysed for some sort of release. I feel caged, somehow--and I cannot find out how to earn enough to keep us--and it maddens me.

Still, it might be very much worse. One might be tied tight to a job, or to a sickness. I do wish you were better. But you sound stronger. I long to make plans--new plans. But not Europe: oh, God!

I pledge you 'the days to come.'
D. H. L.

--from The Letters of D. H. Lawrence edited by Aldous Huxley (London: William Heinemann, 1956.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Castle Watches

[D. H. Lawrence to Lady Cynthia Asquith]

Lerici, per Fiascherino,
Golfo della Spezia, Italy.

The Shortest Day.
21st December, 1913.
Dear Mrs. Asquith,

ou never answered my highly diverting and beautiful letter, only shed a tear over Frieda--which I call skimpy. So I refuse to write you a letter. I'd send you a visiting card if I'd got one, with "All Seasonable Greetings" written on it.

How is the winter treating you? If badly, you'd better come here and set up in a beautiful little tower over the Pine Wood and the Sea--for 140 francs a month.

We went to a castle the last week-end--ancient Italian Fortress, walls three yards thick. There it sits keeping an eye on the two rivers that come crawling insidiously out of the foggy Apennines, as if expecting them to pounce. But they don't--they only swallow each other and go with trailing skirts haughtily through the mountain doors to the sea. But the castle watches, whether or not. And it gives one the fidgets. And the artist gentleman painted in the manner of various definite gentleman artists--their ghosts haunted his canvases like the ghosts of old dead soldiers his castle hall. And the servants crouched in a corner of the great dark kitchen, making polenta cakes.

A merry Christmas--though you don't deserve it, for sending Frieda only a little bottle of tears and me not even a sugared almond. Also a merry Christmas to Don John, and to Mr. Asquith.

D. H. Lawrence

-from The Letters of D. H. Lawrence edited by Aldous Huxley (London: William Heinemann, 1956.) p. 171-72.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Church Greens

From The Spectator, [Richard Steele]
January the 14th, 1712.

Mr. Spectator,

I am a young woman, and have my fortune to make, for which reason I come constantly to church to hear divine service, and make conquests; but one great hindrance in this my design is, that our clerk, who was once a gardener, has this Christmas so over-decked the Church with greens, that he has quite spoil'd my prospect, insomuch that I have scarce seen the young Baronet I dress at these three weeks, though we have both been very constant at our devotions, and do not sit above three pews off. The Church, as it is now equipped, looks more like a green-house than a place of worship; the middle isle is a very pretty shady walk, and the pews look like so many arbours on each side of it. The pulpit itself has such clusters of ivy, holly, and rosemary about it, that a light fellow in our pew took occasion to say, that the congregation heard the word out of a bush, like Moses. Sir Anthony Love's pew in particular is so well hedg'd, that all my batteries have no effect. I am obliged to shoot at random among the boughs, without taking any manner of aim. Mr. Spectator, unless you will give orders for removing these greens, I shall grow a very aukward creature at Church, and soon have little else to do there but say my prayers. I am in haste,

Dear Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
Jenny Simper.

-from A Christmas Book: An Anthology for Moderns by D. B. Wyndham Lewis & G. C. Heseltine (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1928) p. 20-21.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Glimpse of a Carlyle Christmas (!)

Jane Welsh Carlyle To Mrs. Austin,

The Gill, Annan.
5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea:
Christmas Day, 1857.

My dear Mary,

I understood that your brother would write himself to-day, to announce the safe arrival of your box, the contents of which were exhibited to him in succession last night. When it came to the goose, carried in on my arms like a strange new kind of baby (with that belly-band about it!), he burst into such a laugh! 'That fellow I think has got his quietus' (he said). But now he has just come down, and is off for his ride, and when I asked 'had he written to Mary?' he exclaimed wildly that he had 'fifteen hours of the most awful work of correcting proofs ahead of him, that I who had nothing to do should have written to Mary!' With all the pleasure in life! had I known in time, instead of within just half an hour of post-time - from which is to be subtracted ten minutes for putting on my things and running to the post-office! But better a line than no letter at all till to-morrow - you thinking the while that those blessed birds may be coming to harm from being too long on the road!

No, my dear! one 'Chucka' is boiling at this moment for the master's dinner (I dine on anything at two o'clock; not being up to waiting for Mr. C.'s six or seven o'clock dinners). But I had one of the eggs to my breakfast, and it was the very best and biggest I ever ate in my life! There were only two broken, and not wasted even these; I lifted up the yolks, which lay quite round and whole, in a spoon (for puddings).

I wish I had begun in time, for I had plenty of things to say; but I must keep for this time to mere acknowledgment of your present - another day I may tell you the rest.

Yours ever affectionately,

-from Letters and Memories of Jane Welsh Carlyle / edited by James Anthony Froude (London: Longman's Green and Co., 1883) p. 342-43.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mince-Pie Mystery

[Fanny Kemble to H.]

1812 Rittenhouse Square,

Saturday, January 10, 1874.


y Christmas present to O— was three dozen of the finest wine I could procure here. The things I got for him in Dublin were so trifling, that I had quite a misgiving about offering them to him, though, when I mustered up courage to show him the old-fashioned seal I had had engraved with his monogram, and found that he liked it, I was very much pleased and relieved, for really people's presents to each other are on such a magnificent scale here that one hardly knows what to offer them. . . .

I had some very beautiful flowers given to me. M— sent me, in a magnificent china flower-pot of English fabric (a pale delicate green, with birds, butterflies, and flowers scattered all over it), a large Catalonia jasmine in full bloom. It was Mr. Butler's first gift to me before we were married; and on Christmas Day, M—, to whom I had given it years ago, and in whose gardener's care it has been ever since, sent it back to me in this beautiful vase, and covered with fragrant blossoms, a strange flowering again of former memories–of the tempo passato che non torna piu. . . .

The weather here now is perfectly lovely, mild and bright, only unnaturally warm for the time of year. I suppose we shall have the rest of our pinching cold (of which we had a bitter instalment while I was at Champlost in November) in the early spring, which I shall be sorry for. Dr. W— and S— and their boy dined with me on Christmas Day, and Ellen insisted on hanging green Christmas garlands round the dining-room, but was very unhappy because she could not find a handsome sprig of holly with bright berries to send up on the plum pudding, for the honor of England.

Mr. S—'s Christmas gift of a turkey does not seem so strange to me as to you. Our old friends, the Mayows, who were Norfolk people, invariably sent us at Christmas a huge turkey, for which kind of domestic fowl, as you probably know, that county is famous. My old and dear friend, William Donne, I know always sends a similar tribute to Arthur M— from his small Norfolk estate. Here, where I think the turkey is quite as much the national bird as the eagle, people are not unapt to send each other mince-pies of very large size and especially rich and delicate composition. M—, whose cook is famous for their manufacture, sent me one made like a huge tart, and one to Dr. W—, who is a great favorite of hers, and has a tenderness for that unwholesome Christmas dainty. I heard a ludicrous and touching story of an American diplomatic lady, who received at Christmas, while at her embassy abroad, a huge mince-pie from "home," all the way across the Atlantic. Her husband invited some of their compatriots (exiles like themselves) to dine with them and share this national dainty, but when it appeared on the table a considerable piece of it was missing. The gentleman looked surprised and not altogether pleased, when his wife, with a charming mixture of shame and simple naïveté (as she was described to me), exclaimed, "Oh, George, I couldn't help it; it was so like home!"
. . . God bless you, dearest friend.

-from Further Records, 1848-1883: A Series of Letters by Frances Anne Kemble (New York: Henry Holt, 1891).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Trifling Specimens

Susanna Moodie to the Editor of the Albion, New York

Upper Canada
February 14th, 1833.


The pleasure I derived from the perusal of several of the last numbers of your clever and interesting paper, has made me ambitious, of the honour of contributing to its pages; and if the assistance of a pen, deemed not unworthy of public notice in my native land, when held by Susanna Strickland, can in any way be acceptable to you, and your readers, it will afford me much pleasure to transmit to you, from time to time, a few small original poems.

I now enclose the first flight* of my muse on Canadian shores. But the chilly atmosphere, at present, is little favourable to the spirit of Poesy. The minds of the inhabitants being too much engrossed, in providing their families the necessaries of life, to pay much attention to the cultivation of literature. However mortifying to the vanity of an Author, this indifference may be, it would be unjust to censure my fellow settlers for suffering more urgent and important duties to render them deaf to the voice of the syren, whose wild flights and vagaries have charmed me from my youth upwards. The close confinement of a log cabin, and the cares of a family, though they engross much of my time, have not been able to chill those inspirations, which in my own beautiful and beloved land were a never failing source of amusement and delight. The little sympathy which such feelings can meet with, in a new colony, where every energy of the mind is employed to accumulate wealth, has made me anxious to seek a more liberal channel of communication with the public, and I know no one to whom I can better apply than to the Editor of a Journal, which finds its way into the study of every respectable family on this side of the Atlantic, and is not inferior in literary merit, to any publication of the same class in Great Britain.

Should the trifling specimens* enclosed meet with your approbation and be deemed worthy of insertion in the Albion, they are at your service.

I remain, Sir, Yours respectfully,
Susanna Moodie

*Song: The Strains We Hear in Foreign Lands and Sleigh Bells: A Canadian Song. These poems were published in the Albion in March of that year, though under the incorrect name of Agnes Strickland, her rather more well known sister back in England. A correction later followed. The poems were later published with many others, in her memoir, Roughing it in the Bush, or Life in Canada(1852).

--from Susanna Moodie: Letters of a Lifetime edited by Carl Ballstadt, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Michael Peterman. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993) p. 90.

Monday, December 17, 2007

prosaic hiatus

Arthur Conan Doyle to Mary Doyle

Morley's Hotel, London [1903]

I don't think you need have any fears about Sherlock. I am not conscious of any failing powers, and my work is not less conscientious than of old. I don't suppose any man has ever sacrificed so much money to preserve his ideal of art as I have done, witness my suppression of Girdlestone, my refusal to serialise "A Duet" and my refusal to republish in a book the "Round the Fire" series of stories. But I have done no short Sherlock Holmes Stories for seven or eight years, and I don't see why I should not have another go at them and earn three times as much money as I can by any other form of work. I have finished the first one--the plot by the way was given me by Jean*--and it is a rare good one. You will find that Holmes was never dead, and that he is now very much alive.
I have Touie** up to see her Doctor. I hope to have a good report from him this afternoon. This evening I will take her to the theatre. A little change brightens her up.
My health is wonderfully good. I have lost nine pounds in a fortnight and I am like an athlete in training. Yet I am not ascetic and I enjoy life. A few simple rules have revolutionised my health.

*Jean Leckie, friend and later second wife of Conan Doyle.

**His wife, Louisa Conan Doyle.

-from Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (New York: Penguin Press, 2007) p. 512.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

These Few Lines

[Sherlock Holmes to Dr. John Watson]

My Dear Watson,

I write these few lines through the courtesy of Mr. Moriarty, who awaits my convenience for the final discussion of those questions which lie between us. He has been giving me a sketch of the methods by which he avoided the English police and kept himself informed of our movements. They certainly confirm the very high opinion which I had formed of his abilities. I am pleased to think that I shall be able to free society from any further effects of his presence, though I fear that it is at a cost which will give pain to my friends, and especially, my dear Watson, to you. I have already explained to you, however, that my career had in any case reached its crisis, and that no possible conclusion to it could be more congenial to me than this. Indeed, if I may make a full confession to you, I was quite convinced that the letter from Meiringen was a hoax, and I allowed you to depart on that errand under the persuasion that some development of this sort would follow. Tell Inspector Patterson that the papers which he needs to convict the gang are in pigeonhole M., done up in a blue envelope and inscribed “Moriarty.” I made every disposition of my property before leaving England and handed it to my brother Mycroft. Pray give my greetings to Mrs. Watson, and believe me to be, my dear fellow,
Very sincerely yours,
Sherlock Holmes.
-from The Final Problem by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Loneliness Thickens

[Lafcadio Hearn to Ellwood Hendrick]

Tokyo, May 1897.

Dear E. H.,

I have been reading your last over and over again--because it is very pretty indeed, one of the very prettiest letters I ever read. There is altogether something so deliciously assured about it--so full of happy confidence, that I feel quite comfortable and jolly about you. . . notwithstanding the fact that I am tolerably sure you will be taken utterly away from me in the end. For this shall a man leave not only his friend, but his father and his mother,--saith the Sacred Book. You know that particular passage makes the Japanese mad,--but not quite so mad as the observation: "Unless a man shall hate his father and his mother," etc., which has knocked the wind out of much missionary enterprise.

I can't write much more about yourself, because I don't know anything yet. So I shall talk about Tokyo.

As you know, I have been somewhat idle--for a month at least. And the loneliness thickens. And certain gentlemen make it a rule to spit upon the ground with a loud noise when I pass by. I believe the trick is not confined to the Occident, having found Japanese skillful at it; but these be nevertheless manners of Heidelberg doctors! Nevertheless, it won't work.

But really the conditions are very queer. I felt instinctively before going to Tokyo, that I was going into a world of intrigue; but what a world I had no conception. The foreign element appears to live in a condition of perpetual panic. Everybody is infinitely afraid of everybody else, afraid to speak not only their minds, but to speak about anything except irrelevant matters, and then only in a certain formal tone sanctioned by custom. They huddle together sometimes at parties, and talk all together loudly about nothing,--like people in the expectation of a possible catastrophe, or like folks making a noise to drive away ghosts, or fear of ghosts. Somebody, quite accidentally, observes--or rather drops an observation about facts. Instantly there is a scattering away from that man as from dynamites. He is isolated for several weeks by common consent. Then he goes to work to reform a group of his own. Gradually he collects one--and rival groups are formed. But presently someone in another party or chat talks about something as it ought to be. Bangfizz--chaos and confusion. Then all the groups unite to isolate that wicked tongue. The man is dangerous--an intriguer--ha! And so on--ad lib.

This is panic, pure and simple, and the selfishness of panic. But there is some reason for it--considering the class of minds. We are all in Japan living over earthquakes. Nothing is stable. All Japanese officialdom is perpetually in flux,--nothing but the throne is even temporarily fixed; and the direction of the currents depends much upon force of intrigue. They shift, like currents in the sea, off a coast of tides. But the side currents penetrate everywhere, and clapotent all corners, and swirl round the writing-stool of the smallest clerk,--whose pen trembles with continual fear for his wife's and babies' rice. Being good or clever or generous or popular or the best man for the place counts for very little. Intrigue has nothing at all to do with qualities. Popularity in the biggest sense has, of course, some value, but only the value depending upon certain alternations of rhythm of outs-and-ins. That's all.

. . .And I--am as a flea in a washbowl. My best chance is to lie quiet and wait the coming of events. I hope to see Europe, with my boy, some day.

Well, this is only private history to amuse E. H. to make Western by contrast to Eastern life seem more beautiful to him.


-from Lafcadio Hearn: Letters from Tokyo translated and edited by M. Otani (Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1920) p. 46-54.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Lafcadio Caged

[Lafcadio Hearn to Ellwood Hendrick]

Tokyo, August, 1897.

Dear Hendrick,

. . . The other night I got into a little-known part of Tokyo,--a street all ablaze with lanterns about thirty feet high, painted with weird devices. And I was interested especially by the insect-sellers. I bought a number of cages full of night-singing insects, and am now trying to make a study of the subjects. The noise made by these creatures is very much more extraordinary than you could imagine; but the habit of keeping them is not merely due to a love of the noise itself. No: it is because these little orchestras give to city-dwellers the feeling of the delight of being in the country,--the sense of woods and hills and flowing water and starry nights and sweet air. Fireflies are caged for the same reason.

This is a refinement of sensation, is it not?--only a poetical people could have imagined the luxury of buying summer-voices to make for them the illusion of nature where there is only dust and mud. Notice also that singers are night-singers. It is no use to cage the cicadae: they remain silent in a cage, and die.

In this horrid Tokyo I feel like a cicada:--I am caged, and can't sing. Sometimes I wonder whether I shall ever be able to sing any more,--except at night?--like a bell-insect which has only one note.

What more and more impresses me every year is the degree to which the writer is a creature of circumstance. If he can make the circumstance, like a Kipling or a Stevenson, he can go on forever. Otherwise he is likely to exhaust every motive in short order, to the same extent that he depends on outer influence.

One thing you will have to do,--that is, to take extremely good care of yourself for somebody else's sake. Which redounds to my benefit; for I really don't know what I should do without that occasional wind of sympathy wherewith your letters refresh me. I keep telling my wife that it would be ever so much better to leave Tokyo, and dwell in the country, at a very much smaller salary, and have peace of mind. She says that nowhere could I have any peace of mind until I become a Buddha, and that with patience we can become independent. This is good; and my few Japanese friends tell me the same thing. But perhaps the influence from 40 Kilby Street, Boston, is the most powerful and saving of all.

An earthquake and several other things (I hate earthquakes) interrupted this letter. It is awfully dull, I know--forgive its flatness. . . . . .

Ever, dear H., your

-from Lafcadio Hearn: Letters from Tokyo translated and edited by M. Otani (Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1920) p. 76-80.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Undesired Tokens

[W. H. Hudson to Morley Roberts]

Xmas Day, 1900.

Dear Roberts,

Thanks for your letter: I envy you at having escaped from this unlovely place for these unlovely festivities.

I don't know how it is with you with regard to Xmas greetings--cards and all that--but in spite of all I have done to break free of these most irksome conventions I still find myself cursed with them. For years past I have made it a point to inform every person I knew that I do not send cards and have even broken off acquaintance with a good number of good people just to give myself more liberty. And yet here I am, with a shower of these undesired tokens falling upon me at every post. And having no tokens to send in return I must at least write, and for days past I have been occupied with useless letters about nothing, and wishing the people I write to were all at the devil. I don't mean you--you have sent me no card, thank God, or whoever it is that presides over this department.

I have a good many things out--articles, a book or two etc.--but with the exception of some very small things the stuff does not go, and so I must wait and wait before the blessed time comes when I too can shake off the mud of the metropolis and go away towards and past Hindhead and see and breathe again.

With kind regards to Mrs. Roberts,
Yours ever,
W. H. Hudson

Shall look in at the Club one day after your return. Have you got my room at the Royal Huts? Chort is a sweet village--Thursley too.

-from Men, Books and Birds by W. H. Hudson; with notes, some letters, and an introduction by Morley Roberts (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928) p.28-29.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Waiting for the tide

[Robert Louis Stevenson to Sidney Colvin]

H.M.S. 'Vulgarium,'

Off Havre de Grace,
This 22nd Day of August [1887].


he weather has been hitherto inimitable. Inimitable is the only word that I can apply to our fellow-voyagers, whom a categorist, possibly premature, has been already led to divide into two classes - the better sort consisting of the baser kind of Bagman, and the worser of undisguised Beasts of the Field. The berths are excellent, the pasture swallowable, the champagne of H. James (to recur to my favourite adjective) inimitable.

As for the Commodore, he slept awhile in the evening, tossed off a cup of Henry James with his plain meal, walked the deck till eight, among sands and floating lights and buoys and wrecked brigantines, came down (to his regret) a minute too soon to see Margate lit up, turned in about nine, slept, with some interruptions, but on the whole sweetly, until six, and has already walked a mile or so of deck, among a fleet of other steamers waiting for the tide, within view of Havre, and pleasantly entertained by passing fishing-boats, hovering sea-gulls, and Vulgarians pairing on deck with endearments of primitive simplicity. There, sir, can be viewed the sham quarrel, the sham desire for information, and every device of these two poor ancient sexes (who might, you might think, have learned in the course of the ages something new) down to the exchange of head- gear.

I am, sir, yours,
Bold Bob Boltspirit.

B. B. B. (alias the Commodore) will now turn to his proofs. Havre de Grace is a city of some show. It is for-ti-fied; and, so far as I can see, is a place of some trade. It is situ-ated in France, a country of Europe. You always complain there are no facts in my letters.

R. L. S.

-from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. vol 2.

Monday, December 10, 2007

They all say

[Robert Louis Stevenson to W.E. Henley]

Skerryvore, Bournemouth

August 1887.
Dear Lad,
I write to inform you that Mr. Stevenson's well-known work, VIRGINIBUS PUERISQUE, is about to be reprinted. At the same time a second volume called MEMORIES AND PORTRAITS will issue from the roaring loom. Its interest will be largely autobiographical, Mr. S. having sketched there the lineaments of many departed friends, and dwelt fondly, and with a m'istened eye, upon byegone pleasures. The two will be issued under the common title of FAMILIAR ESSAYS; but the volumes will be vended separately to those who are mean enough not to hawk at both.

The blood is at last stopped: only yesterday. I began to think I should not get away. However, I hope - I hope - remark the word - no boasting - I hope I may luff up a bit now. Dobell, whom I saw, gave as usual a good account of my lungs, and expressed himself, like his neighbours, hopefully about the trip. He says, my uncle says, Scott says, Brown says - they all say - You ought not to be in such a state of health; you should recover. Well, then, I mean to. My spirits are rising again after three months of black depression: I almost begin to feel as if I should care to live: I would, by God! And so I believe I shall.

Bulletin M'Gurder.
How has the Deacon gone?
-from the Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, vol. 2

Friday, December 7, 2007

la douceur des Ombres

[Joseph Conrad to Angele Zagorska]


My Dear Angele,*

I know that you do not forget my existence and I know also that this is not due to my merit, but to your goodness. Silence may be a sin, but it is not always a mortal one; there are circumstances when one may obtain pardon. Naturally, I think that my sins deserve forgiveness. Du reste tout le monde pense de meme, au point de vue personnel bien entendu. In all sincerity I may add in earnest that there is in me so much of the Englishman, the sailor and the adventurer, that I do not care to write--even to my nearest and dearest relatives--when things do not go well. This is the reason for my long silence. I do not want to count the months. I prefer to ask you to forget them. We have lived another year. Autant de gagne! Therefore we must wish one another happiness--ce bonheur dont personne ne connait le premier mot--and wish it sincerely with all our hearts; try to forget that man's wishes are seldom fulfilled.

I write here words of affection, words that vanish when once spoken--but the feeling remains. May the next year bring you health, peace and the realization of your dreams--without disenchantment. And if you think that this is not possible--I shall tell you that my wishes do reflect, if not the possibility, at least my feelings for you all.

My wife joins me in my wishes. She knows you all--comme les enfants connaissent les personnages de Contes de Fees, and like children eager for stories, she is always ready to listen, and I, (a real story-teller), am always ready to relate. In this way you live two lives. Over there, at Lublin, where life is hard, no doubt--and here in Stanford, Essex, on the banks of the Thames--under the spell of my words: for the one you have never seen, vous avez la douceur des Ombres et la splendeur de l'Inconnu!

I have worked during the whole year. I have finished two volumes. One came out a fortnight ago and the other is ready for the press. Voila. And while waiting I live in a state of uncertainty. I enjoy a good reputation but no popularity. And as to money I have none, either. Triste. But things are going better at present. That I shall some day attain material success there is no reason to doubt. But that requires time and meanwhile???

The worst is that my health is not good. Les nerfs, les nerfs! Uncertainty torments me. It is very foolish, no doubt--mais que voulez-vous l'homme est bete.

And this is how I battle with time. At my age ce n'est pas drole. I fear that "before the sun rises, the dew will have destroyed the eyesight". . . .**

*The original of this letter is in Polish.
** Polish proverb.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 216-17.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Brackets Within Brackets

[Joseph Conrad to R. B. Cunningham Graham]

6th Dec. 1897

My Dear Sir,
I am horribly ashamed of myself. I ought to have written last week to thank you for the Stevenson. My inadequate excuse is I've been strangely seedy--nothing very tangible, but for nearly a week I have thought not at all and eaten very little,--and didn't see the use of doing anything. This may seem to you an impertinent excuse but I assure you it is a very sad and fiendish,--well, indisposition, and too real for words. I throw myself on your mercy. I shook myself at the sight of your letter and now what between shame and pleasure I am able to sit here like a galvanized corpse to write this flat and miserable apology.

The Xmas at Sea is all that you said. I was glad of the book and still more of your thought. I was glad to know I haven't been seen,--and forgotten. Only,--parce que c'est vous! There are people from whom I would beg on my knees the favour of an eternal oblivion. Would I get it? Croyez-vous qu'on se retrouve, la-bas? To me "la-bas" appears sometimes as a big hole,--a kind of malefactors' cavern--very crowded (think how long mankind has been in the habit of dying!) with perspiring shades,--a moral perspiration of squeezed spirits exhaling the unspeakable meanness, the bareness, the lies, the rapacity, the cowardice of souls that on earth have been objects of barter and valued themselves at about two-and-six. But this is morbid,--and I sat down intending to produce a good impression! I take it all back and declare my belief in lilies, gold harps,--and brimstone, like my Podmore in the "Narcissus."

. . . No man can escape his fate! You shall come here and suffer hardships, boredom and despair. It is written! It is written! You,--as a matter of fact,--have written it yourself (at my instigation.--very rash of you) and I shall be inexorable like destiny and shall look upon your sufferings with the idiotic serenity of a benevolent Creator (I don't know that the ben: Crea: is serene:--but if he is (as they say) then he must be idiotic) looking at the precious mess he as made of his only job. This letter reminds me of something I used to know years ago: Algebra,--I think. Brackets within brackets and imbecility raised to the nth power.

I heard of the H. & S. play through G. B. S. in the S. R. More Algebra. Do you understand? I allude in this luminous way to Admiral Guinea. I haven't seen a play for years, but I have read this one. And that's all I can say about it. I have no notion of a play. No play grips me on the stage or off. Each of them seems to me an amazing freak of folly. They are all unbelievable and as disillusioning as a bang on the head. I greatly desire to write a play myself. It is my dark and secret ambition. And yet I can't conceive how a sane man can sit down deliberately to write a play and not go mad before he has done. The actors appear to me like a lot of wrong-headed lunatics pretending to be sane. Their malice is stitched with white threads. They are disguised and ugly. To look at them breeds in my melancholy soul thoughts of murder and suicide,--such is my anger and my loathing of their transparent pretences. There is a taint of subtle corruption in their blank voices, in their blinking eyes, in the grimacing faces, in the false light, in the false passion, in the words that have been learned by heart. But I love a marionette-show. Marionettes are beautiful,--especially those of the old kind with wires, thick as my little finger, coming out of the top of the head. Their impassibility in love, in crime, in mirth, in sorrow,--is heroic, superhuman, fascinating. Their rigid violence when they fall upon one another to embrace or to fight is simply a joy to behold. I never listen to the text mouthed somewhere out of sight by invisible men who are here to-day and rotten to-morrow. I love the marionettes that are without life, that come so near to being immortal!

Here's the end of paper. It is to-morrow already and high time for me to go to bed,--to dream, perchance to sleep. You must forgive the writer, the letter, the mistakes of spelling, the obscurity of the grammar,--the imbecility of the nth power. Forgive! Forgiveness has been invented to prevent massacres.

P. S. I haven't yet had St. Therese.* Expect it next week. I have looked lately again at the scenery article,--and am confirmed in my opinion that your wife has said what is really fundamental, essentially true in the matter, and said it charmingly. Sorry to hear of Hudson's illness. A lovable man, a most lovable man.

*Santa Teresa: Her Life and Times by Gabriela Cunninghame Graham (London: Black, 1897) 2 vols. [Gabriela de la Balmondiere, Chilean poet and wife to R. B. Cunninghame Graham.]

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 212-214.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Strangely Hopeless

[Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett]

5th Dec., 1897.

My Dear Garnett,

. . .I had Crane* here last Sunday. We talked and smoked half the night. He is strangely hopeless about himself. I like him. The two stories are excellent. Of course, "A Man and Some Others" is the best of the two but the boat** thing interested me more. His eye is very individual and his expression satisfies me artistically. He certainly is the impressionist and his temperament is curiously unique. His thought is concise, connected, never very deep--yet often startling. He is the only impressionist and only an impressionist. Why is he not immensely popular? With his strength, with his rapidity of action, with that amazing faculty of vision--why is he not? He has outline, he has colour, he has movement, with that he ought to go very far. But--will he? I sometimes think he won't. It is not an opinion--it is a feeling. I could not explain why he disappoints me--why my enthusiasm withers as soon as I close the book. While one reads, of course he is not to be questioned. He is the master of his reader to the very last line--then--apparently for no reason at all--he seems to let go his hold. It is as if he had gripped you with greased fingers. His grip is strong but while you feel the pressure on your flesh you slip out from his hand--much to your own surprise. This is my stupid impression and I give it to you in confidence. It just occurs to me that it is perhaps my own self that is slippery. I don't know. You would know. No matter.

My soul is like a stone within me. I am going through the awful experience of losing a friend. Hope*** comes every evening to console me but he has a hopeless task. Death is nothing--and I am used to its rapacity. But when life robs one of a man to whom one has pinned one's faith for twenty years the wrong seems too monstrous to be lived down. Yet it must. And I don't know why, how, wherefore. Besides there are circumstances which make the event a manifold torment. Some day I will tell you the tale. I can't write it now. But there is a psychological point in it. However this also does not matter.

* Joseph Conrad and Stephen Crane met, in London, for the first time, two months before.
** "The Open Boat."
*** His friend G. F. W. Hope.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Page, 1927) p. 211.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jamesian Struggles

[Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett]

13th Feb. 1897

Dear Garnett,

I had this morning a charming surprise in the shape of The Spoils of Poynton sent to me by Henry James, with a very characteristic and friendly inscription on the flyleaf.* I need not tell you how pleased I am. I have already read the book. It is as good as anything of his -- almost -- a story of love and wrong-headedness revolving around a household of artistic furniture. It's Henry James and nothing but Henry James. The delicacy and tenuity of the thing are amazing. It is like a great sheet of plate glass -- you don't know it's there till you run against it. Of course I do not mean to say it is anything as gross as plate glass. It is only as pellucid as clean plate glass. The only fault I find is its length. It's just a trifle too long. Personally I don't complain, as you may imagine, but I can imagine with pain the man in the street trying to read it! And my common humanity revolts at the image of his suffering. One could almost see the globular lobes of his brain painfully revolving and crushing, mangling the delicate thing. As to his exasperation, it is a thing impossible to imagine and too horrible to contemplate.

I send you some thirty pages of MS. ** I am heartily ashamed of them and am afraid that this instinct of shame is right. I feel more of a humbug than ever -- and yet I lay my shame bare to you because you wish it. My wife is this moment reading reverently James' book, and trying honestly to distinguish its head from its tail. Her reverence is not affected. It is a perfectly genuine sentiment inspired by me: but her interest is, I suspect, affected for the purpose of giving me pleasure. And she will read every line! 'Pon my word it's most touching and only women are capable of such delicately penetrating sacrifices. I do nothing but yawn and tear my hair.

J. Conrad

*The inscription was: 'To Joseph Conrad in dreadfully delayed but very grateful acknowledgement of an offering singularly generous and beautiful. Henry James. Feb. 11, 1897.'

**Very probably a part of his short story "Karain".

-from Joseph Conrad : life and letters, v.1 / ed. G. Jean-Aubry.
New York : Doubleday-Page, 1927.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Disgusting Inkpot

[Joseph Conrad to Family]

Stanford-le-Hope, Essex

To Charles and Angele Zagorska

My Dearest Charles and Angele,

This is the first Christmas I shall be able to spend with my wife. Now that I am no longer alone, on behalf of two of us -- so to speak -- I send you our sincerest wishes for your happiness, peace and successes great and small; for it is the latter which for most of us go to make up the joys of life. And we both send the same to our darling Aunt, whilst asking her -- at this time, when families are united at least in thought -- to remember us in her heart for she has known those whose memory is the guide of our lives.

I had the intention of coming home for the holiday -- home, that is to say, to you. It was a vague and uncertain plan, although a fervent wish. I did not tell you about it. I hardly dared myself think of it. Nevertheless, it is a cruel disappointment. There will be no holidays for me this year -- but I comfort myself with the thought that another year will follow and also other years -- and that dreams come true sometimes (not often). Meanwhile one must work, for we cannot live on praise, neither my wife nor myself. I used to write and to write ceaselessly, but now the sight of an inkpot and a penholder fill me with rage and disgust -- and yet I am still writing! Do not be angry with my long periods of silence. I will describe my state of mind to you; I do not wish to fill your ears with my lamentations. You can be sure that if I had something to be pleased with, I would hasten to manifest my joy to you. I boldly commend myself to your affection. I hope that this is not effrontery. I kiss the hands of cousin Angele, I embrace her and kiss my little cousins, after the fashion of a seaman, on both cheeks,

With all my heart I remain your devoted brother,

[ Joseph Conrad was born on December 3, 1857]

-from Joseph Conrad : life and letters, v.1 / ed. G. Jean-Aubry
New York : Doubleday-Page, 1927.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Contre Sainte-Beuve

Gustave Flaubert to George Sand

Croisset, 1866.

I a mysterious being, dear master, nonsense! I think that I am sickeningly platitudinous, and I am sometimes exceedingly bored with the bourgeois which I have under my skin. Sainte-Beuve, between ourselves, does not know me at all, no matter what he says. I even swear to you (by the smile of your grandchild) that I know few men less vicious than I am. I have dreamed much and have done very little. What deceives the superficial observer is the lack of harmony between my sentiments and my ideas. If you want my confession, I shall make it freely to you. The sense of the grotesque has restrained me from an inclination towards a disorderly life. I maintain that cynicism borders on chastity. We shall have much to say about it to each other (if your heart prompts you) the first time we see each other.

Here is the program that I propose to you. My house will be full and uncomfortable for a month. But towards the end of October or the beginning of November (after Bouilhet's play) nothing will prevent you, I hope, from returning here with me, not for a day, as you say, but for a week at least. You shall have "your little table and everything necessary for writing." Is it agreed?As for the fairy play, thanks for your kind offers of service. I shall get hold of the thing for you (it was done in collaboration with Bouilhet). But I think it is a trifle weak and I am torn between the desire of gaining a few piasters and the shame of showing such a piece of folly. I think that you are a little severe towards Brittany, not towards the Bretons who seem to me repulsive animals. A propos of Celtic archaeology, I published in L'Artiste in 1858, a rather good hoax on the shaking stones, but I have not the number here and I don't remember the month. I read, straight through, the 10 volumes of Histoire de ma vie, of which I knew about two thirds but only fragmentarily. What struck me most was the life in the convent. I have a quantity of observations to make to you which occurred to me.

-from The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters trans. by A. L. McKenzie; introduction by Stuart Sherman (London: Duckworth, 1922).