Skip to main content

Early Letters of Edwin Arlington Robinson: First Series

ISSUE:  Winter 1937

Though Edwin Arlington Robinson and I were both in the Class of 1895 at Harvard, I never knew him as an undergraduate. He left college, indeed, at the end of his sophomore year. We met for the first time in the spring of 1898, when he was working, I believe, in some magazine office in Cambridge, and I was assisting in the English courses of Barrett Wendell. Robinson was tall and in a sensitive way handsome, with dark hair, flowing moustache, and fresh healthy color. His eyes gleamed and glowed behind his spectacles, alternately quiet with poetic penetration and dancing with humorous irony. In contrast with my other friends among the Harvard poets, especially with the romantic warmth of William Vaughn Moody and the delicate idealism of Philip Henry Savage, his personality seemed to me at first dry, almost prosaic. In my journal I find the entry for May 31, 1898:

Edwin Arlington Robinson spent the afternoon with me, and a curious chap he is: you have to wait hours for him to say anything; but he is interesting enough, nevertheless.

His laconic comments on persons and books had a repressed wit peculiar to him, giving the impression of a wisdom at once shrewd and magnanimous. “Robinson took a walk with me,” I note in my journal in February, 1899, “and then came to my room and ate eclairs. He was more articulate than I have ever seen him before; his conversation bore out more the impression his book gives. Talking about sleeping, he said: ‘Eight hours is all a man ought to lie stretched out.’”

The book here mentioned is “The Children of the Night,” published in 1897, of which my copy, dated May 81, 1898, bears on the flyleaf, in his microscopic but meticulous handwriting, “Edwin A. Robinson,” and a photograph portrait taken by his friend William E. Butler, to whose generous help he afterwards owed so much. He was already at work on “Captain Craig,” whom we used to call “the Pauper.”

Another journal entry is worth quoting to exemplify the realistic thrusts with which he would puncture the bubbles of our romantic fancies:

Phil [Philip Henry Savage] tells me that Nietzsche says: “Without superfluous time the mind cannot perceive.” This is very Thoreau-like.—[Next day]: Robinson adds: “The superfluous time put Nietzsche behind the bars, after all.”

For all his penetration there was about him a sort of helplessness in practical affairs that made him arouse pity as well as admiration. This had its physical symbol, for me, in his hands, those hands with the long fingers that seemed made not to grasp objects—saws or hammers, hardly even pens— but rather to rub his forehead when that queer half-scowl of perturbed thought visited it. In my journal I find myself noting in quite early days: “I am cudgeling my brains tonight to think of just the right niche for Robinson, poor fellow. He has so little prehensile power, so little knack at making people give him what he wants. Tonight he said, speaking of a friend of his: ‘He’s even more of a misfit than I am.’ Yet transcendentally he is richly endowed.”

What the rest of us perhaps did not understand in those days was that where he fitted worst of all was into any kind of conventional “job,” which always distressed and unsettled him so that he could not do his own work. This comes out in a letter of July, 1899, in which he rejoices in his recently won freedom from a clerical position in one of the college offices, and interprets in the light of it what he imagines to have been the tragic servitude to a secretaryship in the Boston Public Library of our ill-fated friend Philip Savage, who had died of appendicitis only a month before.

Cambridge, 14 July, 1899

Dear Mason: I am sorry to learn that you are not joyous in Dublin [N. H.]. If at the end of another week you find yourself still unreconciled to your ladder and haymow (I understand from Miss [Josephine Preston] Peabody that you have something of the kind) I hope you will do the wise thing and come back to Boston, which is, after all, about as good a place as a man can find. You cannot afford to martyrise yourself too much this summer or to give in to the rather bottomless notion that you must go somewhere in order to rest. Of course private matters may stand in the way, but if they do not—if you are tolerably sure of finding quiet on congenial ground—I think it will pay you to do so. I appreciate however that there are many and peculiar difficulties attending the man who has a piano for a gripsack.

At any rate, don’t become a “depression” to yourself. You can’t become one to your friends—to those who know you—but you may raise the devil with your own spiritual self-respect—which is very bad for the cerebro-spinal apparatus and a menace even to the vermiform appendix.

Do you know that I have wondered sometimes if Savage was not often the victim of what the world has a way of calling an excellent situation? Very likely this is fancy, but those infernal photographs of him tell me things that it makes me sick to think of. The octopus of superficial self-respect—as opposed to the other, which I grant may be carried too far—he refuses for some reason to take hold of me— is worse than anything that Hugo or Jules Verne ever dreamed of, and I cannot but feel half afraid that Savage lost himself in the black water with which this particular beast is said to bewilder his victims.

This is all very tragic, but I do not mean it to apply to you except as a warning for the next two months. I have a way of pounding my friends with clubs when I mean merely to touch them with my overgrown right hand and caution them not to lose all their time in a semi-hysterical attempt to improve it.

I have come to the conclusion (almost) that it will be impossible for me to undertake any kind of useful occupation during the coming year and I have racked my brains to find a way to get the time for myself. Now I think—largely through good luck—that I have done it. I am in ridiculously good spirits just now, sending the Pauper along at a rate that makes him red in the face, eating anything that comes along, drinking nothing unpermitted by the laws of Cambridge, and feeling every morning the joy of a liberated idiot for the thought that I am no longer a “necessity” in University 5. The beauty of it is that I look on the place with an almost pathetic affection. The pathos, however, is without longing and without qualms. Come to Cambridge and see me go to Provincetown.

Always sincerely yours, E. A. Robinson

Dear Mason: I should like very much to see you today, but I have to go somewhere into the outskirts of Greater Boston with a friend of mine who is doing a prosperous and legitimate business in the City. His wife has just had twins and he wants me to pass judgment on them and tell him if they are worth raising. . . .

I have just read Edelweiss, Bought it for fifteen cents and want my money back. It is a “strong study of human nature” but not so strong as that sky-rocket joke. Probably you had better read it, however, for the sake of three or four great strokes there are in it. The sentimental portions are intolerable—about half way between Werther and Laura Jean Libby.

Sincerely, E. A. Robinson

[Postmark: July 26, 1899]

1716 Cambridge Street 15 August, 1899

Dear Mason: I don’t like to doubt your veracity but no amount of declaring or swearing on your part will ever make me believe that you enjoyed the last part of Monday evening. I had one of my intolerable fits come over me and made an ass of myself. I do it as many as twenty-five or thirty times a month. If you forget it, all right; but don’t feel obliged to smooth it over. . . .

I enclose a joke from Life. [There are only two classes of people—those who dress for breakfast and those who dress for dinner.] I shall belong always to the first class. For more reasons than one. If you will bear this in mind it may explain a good many things.

I had sent Robinson a “poem” by my nephew, Gregory Mason, then ten years old, that ran something like this:

On a tree sat an owl,

And printed on his bowel

Were the letters which spelt “Towel.”

Also a bit of prose rhapsody on the solar system, in which occurred the salutation: “Good morning, Sun and Moon. How is Stars?”

1716 Cambridge Street 24 August, 1899

Dear Mason: I have a notion that your poetical nephew is going to be a great and good surgeon, with a saving taste for letters. There is something in his conception of the owl that wrote towel on his bowel that makes me confident of this. I cannot think, however, that any of these three efforts are equal to the one flash of pure genius, “How is Stars?”

I enclose a copy of Butler’s photograph which may interest you as a harmless freak. I have a look that might lead one to think that I had just been eating the lining out of my own coffin, but that is the fault of an uncomfortable feel somewhere in my spinal column. I was not properly adjusted for the interminable two minutes.

The book and the fore-paws have been removed.

I went to see Miss Peabody last evening and both she and her sister showed great patience and originality. As these are qualities of the first importance to people with artistic aspirations, I always have altruistic thrills when I feel that I may have been the means of developing them. I carried away The Pedagogues and have just read it, with a good deal of lazy satisfaction. . . . There seems to be nothing in the book to give one a clue as to the author’s ability to do serious work—nothing equal to Flandrau’s sketch of the instructor who came back to live with the boys. Mr. Pier might justly retort (or he might just retort—which perhaps would be better) that he was not doing that sort of thing. I should say the most striking thing in the book was the general suggestion of proportion and of an ability to send things along. . . .

Tuesday Afternoon

. . . The sun is out again now and everything is wet and shining, and there is a flavor of September in the atmosphere. September is everything to me that June was to Lowell, though I don’t ask nature to lay her warm, or rather cool, ears down to earth. Or was it Heaven that had ears?—I fear I have got it all mixed up—and no man has a right to quote unless he can quote straight. If “What is so rare” is one of your favorite passages, forgive me. I think it is pretty much like rot. . . .

[Postmark: Sept. 12, 1899]

In the Fall of 1899 Robinson left Cambridge and began his New York adventures. For the next few years he had his full share of the lot of the struggling poet, lost in the maelstrom of metropolitan noise, confusion, and indifference. His friends were few; he was unknown, and distressingly poor; only his invincible belief in his poetic mission kept him going through those sordid, dreary years. At first he took a room in Irving Place, but when I saw most of him, from 1902 on, he was living in a “hall bed-room” at the back of the third or fourth floor of a rooming house in West Twenty-Third Street. One had to grope up ill-lighted flights to reach his eyrie. Arrived there, one took the only chair while he draped his long legs along the bed. We used to pick up inexpensive meals at Child’s restaurants, or if we were in funds indulge in a steak or English chop at Cava-nagh’s. Admirable, all through this time, were his half serene, half humorous detachment from his surroundings, the long stride and quizzical smile with which he walked through all incongruities. Once I asked him if he did not think his sense of humor had lengthened his life. “I think,” he replied, “my life has lengthened my sense of humor.”

71 Irving Place 26 November, 1899

Dear Mason: . . . Last Week we had the Fourth Symphony of Brahms and it took hold of me like the jaws of something—something that never lets go. I heard it eight years ago in Boston but kept nothing of it but a big vague memory of the second movement. If I could hear it once a week for the next three months, I would pay the price of admission, even at the expense of apples. Speaking of apples, I have a permanent dago around the corner who sells me three big Northern Spies for five cents—the same as those I used to eat at home twenty years ago—before I ever questioned the unqualified greatness of Mr. Poe’s Raven— and I have occasional nostalgic disturbances after eating them. I have tried sometimes to look on apples as a thing that we should outgrow—like circus lemonade—but I have not yet been able to put down the old bucolic appetite for Spies, Belfleurs (they should be Bell-Flowers), Baldwins, and Seek-no-Farthers. I never cared such a devil of a lot for Kings and Greenings, but for the others I was always sore anhungered. As I analyse my feelings while eating them, I have to confess that my satisfaction is more than half sentiment. The Virgilian rusticus es in me will not be killed. And on the whole I am not altogether certain that I wish to kill it. I remember one rainy afternoon the deuce knows how long ago, when I went down to the orchard with a tin pail and an umbrella and got Gravensteins. When I got back I washed off the dried grass and the mud and had a solitary orgy by the fire. After I had eaten about ten I began to blow scales on the clarinet. I have not a doubt but that I ate an enormous supper that night and read the Raven with an unaccustomed force, and I may have added Lochiel’s Warning and the Cataract of Lodore. The clarinet blowing, however, never amounted to much, and later when I had a machine of my own I never succeeded in getting anywhere with it. I could do The Flying Trapeze and Abide With Me pretty well, but I could never do the march in the Prophet—not because I couldn’t finger it, but because I got tangled up in trying to read it. I couldn’t get time through my head. I am glad you have shaken off the Harvard work, you give me a feeling that you are coming out all right. When you need recreation you might arrange Humperdinck his music for the Xylophone.

Sincerely yours, E. A. Robinson

Dear Mason: There is something in what you say about fellows who sit on their tails, but I have convinced myself that I cannot do much while I have an occupation. While a man is “occupied” he is absorbing, I confess, but if he happens to be constructed as I am he will not do much in the way of production until he gets a vacation. With others, it works just the other way, and I do not say that they are not the lucky ones.—I have just been looking over my “toon” and have concluded that it is amusing enough to send along. If you play it with the required drone you will find that there are loads of latent genius in it. Only one man ever liked it, and he didn’t like music very well.

Sincerely yours, E. A. Robinson

William Vaughn Moody, first mentioned in the next letter, had arrived in Boston at the end of 1899 for one of his leaves of absence from Chicago University. His first poetic drama, “The Masque of Judgment,” was completed there in January, 1900, but not published until toward the end of the year. His “Ode in Time of Hesitation” appeared in the Atlantic Monthly for May.

4 January 1900 Dear Mason: . . . Give my regards—what are regards?—to Moody and tell him that he made a great mistake in not coming to New York for a few preliminary whiffs of Pan-American CO2 before adjusting his Pierian lights for six months of Boston ozone. I am looking in all directions for that book of his.

Have you read Stephen Phillips’ tragedy? From quotations I have seen, it seems to be a piece of rather magnificent rant. I should say that four acts of it might be something like Benedictine from a stein, but I have really no right to criticize it on so slight an acquaintance. The Spectator is booming it.

Paolo and Francesca is a mixture of the magnificent and the pitiful. Read it. The last act is very beautiful but curiously anachronistic. P. and F. never worried very much about “the intensities of the flesh” nor do I believe that the Paolo of history ever knew of such a thing as “palpitating cosmic passion bright.” I am sorry that Phillips ever discovered it, for it raises the devil with his play. It is almost as bad as his girls and soldiers.

[Postmark: Jan. 22, 1900]

The mention of “Bards” in the impromptu doggerel in the next letter refers no doubt to some mention in my postal card of Josephine Preston Peabody, nicknamed “the Bard” by Moody, Robinson, and me.

Dear Mason: Your confidential postal cards are always messengers of joy, and this last one is particularly reassuring. It tells me that your jokes are tuneful and that there are things in Boston to make you think of the vernal equinox. Here it is different, but even though cold retards

The patient shards* In my back-yards, And postal-cards (With my ‘regards’) Are not for Bards Who flee towards

James Everard’s on Twenty-Third Street for beer after improving and encouraging conversations with pleasant people who hope most assuredly,—still there is comfort in the knowledge that mercury must begin to climb to a Christian altitude before very long. How is Moody and his History of the World? And when am I to see one or both of you two resplendent gentlemen here in my pale blue box?

If Miss Peabody tells you that I am an untaught beast, you will tell her that I am by nature as kind hearted as a caterpillar, though I have a quaint way of smashing people’s heads when I wish merely to call their attention to things of interest. A great many men and women are fond of me on

*of June-bugs. B. A. R. account of my gentle phrasing; but as a critico-paternal altruist I am not half appreciated. Probably it is easy for me to advise others what to do for the reason that I stand so much in need of the same advice myself. My friends fail to see that I am conscious of this and the result is bad.

I thank you for your damnation of my sonnets. I have a notion that I can “fix” them.—Now I’ll go out and mail this and get some apples, which are said to be good for the brain.

Sincerely yours, E. A. Robinson

71 Irving Place 13 March, 1900.

71 Irving Place 18 April, 1900

Dear Mason: On the evening of the Eighteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred, I feel impelled to give you the dregs of my creative intelligence and to say that I am, as usual, a howling optimist. I am particularly optimistic just now because I am on the home stretch with the Pauper. It gags me to look at the twelve hundred odd lines that have come back from the machine, but I have a satisfying consciousness of having done something and that’s what makes me an optimist. By the time the thing has come back from six or seven publishers, I may be more rational, but for the present it pleases me to give myself a place among the possibilities. I am an economist, also, and I shall emigrate from this village in the near future. Whether I go to Winthrop (or some other blighted and equally God-forsaken town in Maine) or to Sexton’s River, Vermont (where a man can live on five dollars a week and see trees) or to the island of Tristan d’Acuna, where they live and multiply without the interference of money, I have not yet decided; but I shall go somewhere to finish the other book and, in the course of a year, do the greater part of another. Speaking of delectable islands makes me think that I have been twice this spring to hear Tristan und Isolde, which I maintain to be the only opera, as such, ever written. All the rest of them are abortions and monstrosities in one way or another—with the exception, perhaps, of Die Meistersinger, which I shall not hear until I apply to President Eliot for a large pension on the ground of Permanent Inability in the College Office. I am glad to know that Moody has written another poem, but I am sorry that he calls it an ode. That however, is his business, not mine. I am keeping an eye out for the next Atlantic, and am wondering what the deuce the thing is like; for I could no more get together a poem on the Philippines than I could write a description of the human brain. All I know about the human brain is that it seems to be indispensable and that it gets to be damnably tired; and this is more than I know about the right of our incomparable republic to make a game preserve of the Philippines. My knowledge of politics is meagre and my knowledge of Destiny is so small that it doesn’t count. I have to content myself with a jews harp and a bass-drum and let the other fellows blow the trumpets. I have a prophetic feeling that Moody has sounded a clear note—partly on account of your word “magnificent” and partly on account of a way the man has of making laddered music spring skyward from prophets’ pillows and other kinds of music do things in a way on which he seems to have the God-given bulge—so to speak. How are you feeling? (When a man says that, it is time for him to go to bed).

Sincerely, E. A. R.

May 7, 1900

Dear Mason: Last week, for sheer love of industry, I wrote four pages about Moody’s ode and sent them along to him. Now it is not criminal to write four pages about an ode, but surely it is unprofitable—not to say unkind—to do it before the ode has been read; and I am writing this to you that you may carry my confession to Moody and tell him that my letter was written after looking, or glancing, at his poem for something like two minutes and a half—which was time enough to show me that the thing was alive, but not enough to show me just how it was put together. Hence my remarks on’ his billiard process with American geography— remarks which I see now to be nonsense.—On reading the ode, I find it even bigger than my first glance at it led me to think. Your own adjective is quite safe.

This is what they call a balmy morning in spring. Even the hod-carriers are happy. I saw one sitting down at the corner of Seventeenth Street about ten minutes ago, and was on the point of classifying him as a poor devil when he began to sing and make circles with arms—to the obvious delight of his companions. I fancy that cuss might give me lessons in more things than one. T. B. Aldrich says “Nothing is as bad as it looks—except a Spanish stew.” Perhaps he is right. . . .


Dear Mason: I see this half sheet of inexcusable stationery on my table, and I proceed to decorate it with a small acknowledgment of your (beware of adjectives) letter just received. You are doing more moving than I did when I came here last October; and I congratulate you, even in the face of family troubles, that you are not propelled by the familiar and irrepressible Bed Bug. There is nothing in the world just like him, and I get such comfort from the thought that he is not with me in this house that I can wind my longest toes around the rods of my bed and make fun of insomnia. I am fortunate, however, in this respect: it is very seldom that I lie awake for more than two hours after I “disrobe and tumble in,” as my neighbor in Oxford Street expressed it, and that is too slight a matter to worry over. When I was a small boy I used to lie awake pretty much all the time, wondering if the shin-bones of all the rest of the world ached as mine did. I used to grow about an inch in seven minutes when I was a boy, and I suppose that fact accounts for my graceless elongation at the present time. If ever you have a boy who grows in this fashion, knock him kindly but effectively on his head and let the funeral be private. If you let him live, he will never amount to a damn. Probably he will be removed without your clubbing him (he is in most cases) but if he is not you should follow my directions. Remember too that there is always the appalling possibility of sonnets and Calm Limericks. This is a Calm Limerick:

There was a calm man in Sabattis Who shot at a skunk through a lattice. The skunk became dead. “I got him,” he said, “And now let me see where my hat is.”

Sabattis is a town in Maine. I have never been there, but I know it must be a calm place. Be sure you ask Moody to excuse my hasty scrawl concerning his ode.

Sincerely, E. A. R.

Dear Mason: While you are shamelessly pursuing literature on sybaritic brown paper, I am trying to do something with my Emerson and Erasmus Sonnets. I enclose a partly made thing for your august analysis, and I beg of you to get after it as hard as you can. If you ask me to fix it, you will make me your enemy for the rest of your life, but if you merely tell me that it is rot I shall keep on esteeming you as heretofore. I wrote it with a pencil only because I have a childish, half desperate notion that you may be able to read it in that form. I would write it on a slate if I had one.

Mr. Stedman is very much wound up by Moody’s ode. We talked about the man for nearly an hour the other evening and I was mighty glad to know that the greater part of the poem is to go into the Anthology which Mr. Stedman has been solidifying for the past three years—I say three, but it may be six. I believe my uncomfortable abstraction called Luke Havergal is also to be soused in anthological pickle—along with two or three others of the forlornly joyous breed.—The Pauper, or rather “Captain Craig”—for that is what I call him now he is typewritten—is temporarily off my hands. Two friends of mine have read him and they are still friends of mine. More than this I cannot say for the present.

18 May, 1900.

The reference is to Edmund Clarence Stedman’s “An American Anthology, 1787-1900.” It contains, of Robinson’s poems, “Luke Havergal,” “Ballade of Dead Friends,” “The Clerks,” “The Pity of the Leaves,” and “The House on the Hill.”

71 Irving Place 31 May, 1900

Dear Mason: Your seductive words about East Gloucester raise the temperature of this town at least ten degrees and make me correspondingly eager to get out of it, but I do not see my way to do that thing just now. I do not think it will be possible for me to join you and Moody at all this coming June, though you may be mighty sure that I should like to. . . .

I can tell you nothing yet about the book. I will let you know how it fares, but I can’t conscientiously advise you to get your expectations up. Incidentally, I have just finished an “Intermezzo” in thirty-two stanzas. Please do not be too damnably courteous in the matter of the “Emerson” Sonnet, I sent it to find out what parts or qualities in it you would take exceptions to, trusting that you knew me well enough not to be afraid of hurting my feelings. I used to have feelings, but I lost them long ago—or rather threw them away. I have found and proved that feelings and the praise of friends are the most demoralizing things a poor literary devil has to fight against. The damnation of friends I respect and heed—sometimes—but their praise I mix with a large quantity of salt. I do not mean by this that I think friends are chronically insincere, but that they are not in a position to give an unprejudiced opinion, and then there is always the question of feelings. So when I send you anything treat it as if I were John Smith or J. Jolly Jones and thereby increase my respect for you, which is already large. . . . I sent the “fixed” Sonnets to the Atlantic a week ago, but have not yet heard from them.

The enclosure was the sonnet now known as “The Sage,” which later appeared in the “Captain Craig” volume; but this pencil copy is entitled “Emerson,” and its first line reads: “Foreguarded and unfettered and serene.” Otherwise, save for slight changes in punctuation, it is like the printed version.

July 6, 1900 450 Manhattan Avenue

Dear Mason: As I have failed to convince the Scribners that the Pauper is a piece of conservative and wholly legitimate Art, I have concluded to send the thing to Small, May-nard and Company with a request that they keep it until I call for it. It is barely possible that they may care to take hold of it, though I am inclined to believe that I shall print it eventually at my own expense.

I suppose this move of mine will give you a chance to read the business if you care to; but I warn you now not to feel obliged to like it. Parts of it will jar your nervous system, I think; and I am inclined to fear that the second part, as a whole, will make you thirsty; but there may be other places that you will approve just as a rather conventional friend of mine has approved most unexpectedly of the second part just referred to. The chief difficulty in getting the book published lies, I think, in the improbability of any single reader’s caring for the whole of it. But anyhow, the thing is what it is and it is something like what I intended it to be—too much a matter of “atmosphere” I am afraid, but that will take care of itself if the work is good for anything.

On receiving the above letter I replied that by what I could judge of Small, Maynard and Company, they were hardly likely to bring out so unconventional a poem as “Captain Craig.” Robinson was evidently well aware of the difficulties ahead of him. He answerer:

Dear Mason: Your warning in regard to Flub-Dtib & Co. came too late to be acted on, but I don’t think you need worry any on this account. If M. is the fellow you describe I feel confident that three pages of Pauper will be quite enough to convince him, as it convinced The Scribners, that it has a savor. Paupers are likely to have savors, anyhow; and they are, as a natural consequence, difficult fellows to get placed in reputable houses. . . .

The “Old Maid” mentioned in the next letter is of course “Aunt Imogen,” published eventually in the “Captain Craig” volume.

450 Manhattan Avenue July 31, 1900 Dear Mason: I am in great trouble. I have Betts’s word for it that when he sees me snoozing in the morning, on my hospital cot, I look like the Dog in Diirer’s “Melancholy.” Now of all damned dogs that have ever been littered or sketched, Diirer’s is undoubtedly the least desirable as a prototype; and I am wondering therefore what is the best use for me to make of Betts. He is forty-seven years old and baldheaded; otherwise I should ring for an ambulance and say I did it. In the meantime I am wearing poetical petticoats and making a regular analysis of an Old Maid—120 odd lines of blank verse. I did it in the rough two years ago, when I had my eyrie over Brown’s dry goods store and smoked “Before the War” cigars. I had a good mill-pond to look out on and somehow conceived the notion of writing down this particular spinster. Maybe I thought she ought to have drowned herself; at any rate, the mill-pond had something to do with it. I have no mill-pond here, but I have five or six bottles of beer in the ice chest and a sweet sense of security. I know they are cooled through by this time. I know, also, a good deal about Heinz’s Baked Beans, with Tomato Sauce. I wish I knew as much about the unearned increment—provided I had it.—I see no good reason now why I cannot be with you for a few days about the first of September, but I have no moral right to do so before then. This is, of course, in reply to Mrs. Mason’s* second invitation. Betts has just come in with a cold half-dozen in addition to my own, so I’ll do nothing about the dog until tomorrow.

27 August 1900

Dear Mason: All I know about Chocorua is that someone of the Burroughs-Bolles-Miller ilk wrote a book about its tenants—which I had naturally supposed hitherto to be chiefly birds and bull frogs. Your letter, however, tells me that other things abide there, things of the human sort, which are much more interesting to an unobserving cuss like me. I am glad to know that you and the man of odes [Moody] are enjoying yourselves and I hope you may be able to keep the thing going as long as the water remains warm enough to “scald your tails” in. Your account of Mr. Bartlett makes me think that I should like much to meet him sometime.

My chief recreation is riding to Bronxville on Sundays and consuming Mr. Stedman’s tobacco. His doctor will not

*Mary L. Mason, at the time my sister-in-law, Mrs. Edward P. Mason, later my wife. D. G. M. allow him to consume it himself, therefore my work in that line is a kind of profitable charity. Sometimes we go to the back lot behind his house, where we sit on ant hills and talk about farming and what is Art. He likes me because I wrote a thing called The Clerks and because I represent so many distinct varieties of imperturbable asininity. I am always pretty much the same, and I fancy my influence is rather restful. The man is not at all well, but he keeps up a show of cheerfulness and really likes to have all sorti of damned things come to see him. He has a world of good stories to tell of New York forty years ago and he quotes one golden saying by R. H. Stoddard which all of us should paste in our hats. “The public,” says R. H. S., “will never know how much of your stuff you strike out.”

I have just received a letter from Miss Peabody in which she tells me that Moody has written a “rousing” poem on Gloucester Moors. If you think Moody has a stray copy of it in his jeans, and would be willing to spare it for a day or two, I wish you would tell him that I should like very much to be honored.

I send with this the “fixed” version of the sonnets [“Emerson,” afterwards called “The Sage,” and “Erasmus”] you saw last spring. Tell me what you don’t like and return them when you write next time.

The Mr. Bartlett whom Robinson refers to in this letter was Truman H. Bartlett, friendly host at his house in Cho-corua to all the young men with artistic aspirations. In a letter written during this visit of ours to him in August, 1900, Moody comes as near describing in a phrase his indescribably colorful and unconventional personality as anyone could: “I am staying with a Mr. Bartlett, ex-sculptor, art critic, and in spite of all a magnificent old goat and man of God.” Robinson himself later owed much to Bartlett’s generously open house at Chocorua and to his whole-hearted faith in the young poets, even those—perhaps especially those—still unappreciated by the public. . . .

71 Irving Place 11 September, 1900

Your remarks on Emerson set me all askew again. The line you like [“Previsioned of the madness and the mean”] has been so repeatedly damned for being unintelligible that I had come to the conclusion that it (or rather “mean”) would have to come out. When I wrote it, I thought I had done something large and I was quite puffed up; but when I began to be criticized for joining a noun with an irrelevant adjective, I began to wonder what the devil was the matter. Of course I meant mean as the opposite of the extreme (“mauness”) but you are about the only one out of six or seven who see it in that light. It is true that mean has two meanings (I beg your pardon) but it seems to me that the obvious gets in somewhere. I don’t know whether I shall keep the line or not. We have had a damnably salubrious summer here in New York, but I think the worst of it is over now. I may be with you for a while this fall, but I can’t say for certain. The last smash in my western real estate has left me guessing a little, and I am amusing myself by trying to transform a draggle-tailed poet into something practical. So you are likely to see almost anything pounce in on you before spring. I’m back in my old den.

Sincerely yours, E. A. R.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading