Both Robinson and I were friends of Philip Henry Savage, who died suddenly in his early thirties, June 4, 1899, without having had time to realize his high possibilities as a poet. He was a Harvard classmate and friend of William Vaughn Moody, who greatly admired his highly chiseled, gemlike verses. In September, 1900, I was editing his collected poems; and when I had the temerity to send E. A. R. a sincerely felt but bad sonnet I had written to our friend’s memory, he not unnaturally jumped to the conclusion that I was intending to preface it to the collection —and reacted with justifiable horror. Criticisms of his on verse are so few, and his letter of September 11 is so uncompromising and so amusing, that I shall pocket my vanity and print it, together with the octave of the sonnet, without which it would hardly be intelligible. Here is the octave (the sestet, wherein occurred the unfortunate references to “aroma” and “incense,” nothing would induce me to print):
To P. H. S. Under the river-pine at dusk we lay And watched the fagots throw their tossing light Into the darkness. . . . Then did you recite Their changes; how they burn with steady ray A little time, then fall to rose and gray, Crumble and pulsate, and are lost in night. “Like them,” you said, “our lives, a moment bright, Kindle and flicker, flare and fade away.”
I have read your sonnet [writes Robinson] and I have taken the liberty to return it with a few casual remarks written on the other side of the paper. My reason for returning it is that it has so much fragrance and aroma in the sestet. If you will change that part of it, I should like very much to have a copy to keep.
We watch a thing while it does a thing, but do we watch it doing it? This seems rather too colloquial somehow for elegiac verse,—but then, I may be hypercritical. “Then did you recite” etc., seems forced and commonplace—not the sort of thing that will go. It seems to me that you have a way of using some of your words without stopping to consider just what they mean—recite and ray, for example; but here again I may be wrong. “And are” etc., after such specific words as crumble and pulsate seems a bit thin and amateurish. I’m having a nice time.
I should say that the octave needs fertilizing and that the sestet needs rewriting. Your too obvious sincerity has led you to forget your sense of humor and I fear it has led you to do some pretty bad stuff. “I’ve found another way to show you present” sounds as if you might have worked a week over it and then had given in to an attack of what is sometimes called auto-hypnosis. I think you will have to take that out, and I know you will have to take out fragrance and aroma. I don’t much like the notion of having a fellow’s aroma hanging like an incense on the air, nor do I take kindly to any sort of olfactory figure when it is used to describe the memories we have of one who is dead. There is something almost brutal, if not caddish, in criticism like this; but I know so well that I am right—simply because I can judge the thing impartially and at a distance—that I do not hesitate to say what I think. You know that Tennyson sinks more than once into absolute drivelling in In Memoriam.
If I were to make a radical suggestion, it would be that you throw this sonnet away and express your feelings for Savage in a dozen or fifteen ordinary octosyllabic quatrains. Then you will have something more fitting, and—if you will pardon me for saying it—something that you can do much better than you can do sonnets. If you think of printing this sonnet, I can’t help hoping that you will change your mind. Of course there is no need of my telling you that I say this in a spirit of affectionate (and “quiet”) desperation. I know Sill’s lines about “hard well-meaning hands” and I know that I very often make an ass of myself in trying to be of use to my friends; but I have been flattered and bamboozled so much by hands of the other sort, that I’ve sworn henceforth either to be honest or to be silent. And I think silence, on the whole, to be worse than honesty. . . .
I sent Captain Craig to Maynard on the strength of what you said on the subject in New York. . . . I have not the ghost of a thought that Maynard will publish it, but I can’t get over a persistent feeling that the thing is artistic. I don’t think you will agree with me, however; nor do I think that you will care much for any of it—except, perhaps, the last two hundred lines; and I prefer to have you wait (for a century or so) until the book is between covers before you read even so much as that. The one thing that the Pauper [our name for Captain Craig] will not stand is a hasty examination. My only hope is that people will not read him rapidly; and for once in my life I think my hopes will be fulfilled.
I am glad to know that you have your book where you can handle it. If I had your ability to write decent English prose, I might be able to have a month in Cambridge this fall.
71 Irving Place 21 September, 1900
Dear Mason: It may not be in the best of taste for me to chase my friends with my own fertile suggestions in regard to what they should do, but my notion of your writing a memorial poem to Savage in four-line stanzas persists in holding itself before my mind’s eye as a good thing. Furthermore, I know you can do it; for you did that thing about the pond and the twilight and the grasshoppers. I regret that I was drawn to rain curses on the sonnet, and I regret that I cannot take back anything that I said. Of course I assume that you do not take my damnation very seriously. You ought to see some of my prose. I am annoying all the gray-headed editors in New York with it, and I’m having lots of fun. Moody’s Gloucester poem is better than his more splendiferous ode, I think. What else has he been doing? Arid what are you doing in the way of music?
Brahms never owned a piano—so they say. Always worked the manufacturers for them as an advertisement. Now if a cuss could only get a lyre with a thin horn (I think Moody is responsible for lyres with thin horns) in the same way it would be a grateful transaction—for then he wouldn’t have to write bad prose and get himself disliked by gray-headed editors—though of course he would lose the fun. As it is, things are balanced.
Have you read “Beauchamp’s Career” yet? It’s a part of everybody’s education. [Picture drawn in ink.] This is merely to show you how much I have changed. The rear elevation is not convincing, but I don’t know just what’s the matter with it.
I did not adopt Robinson’s suggestion of writing quatrains, but instead eventually dedicated to Savage’s memory my Elegy in Free Variation Form, for piano, opus 2.
71 Irving Place 25 October, 1900
Dear Mason: I am just getting over a bad sneezing spell and I think I will wreak myself, by way of recuperation, on your perennial good nature. You think I have lost myself in the matter of my sense of humor, but do you think you are altogether fair when you come to consider the subject matter of that sonnet of yours? You see I associated it at once with a front leaf in your edition of Savage’s poems; and there’s the cause of all my seriousness. If it had been an impersonal thing I should have gone for it in quite another spirit, and I feel pretty certain that I should not have been ambiguous—for in some ways it was truly damnable. I know how easy it is to be deceived in regard to one’s own work, and I am the only man on earth who knows how sorry I am now for some of the stuff in a small book for which I am responsible. I’ll confess that I dilated on the subject to an unnecessary extent, but I must add that I did it all for the good of your poetical soul and for the comfort of your friend’s ghost.
91 Palisade Avenue Yonkers, New York 15 December, 1900
Dear Mason: . . . I have just received a letter from Maynard, who tells me that he has had the Pauper so long that he does not feel like letting him go. . . .
I have not yet read Moody’s Masque for what is really in it, but I can see that it is a big thing. The mere fact that I can stand it at all is enough to convince me that it is a work of genius. An ordinary man would have made a hopeless mush of it, and I am inclined to think that there are several extraordinary fellows who would have done pretty much the same thing. When I get it back from my friend Betts I am going to read it for what it is, not for how it is put together.
91 Palisade Avenue Yonkers, 25 December, 1900
Dear Mason: Your letter came as a welcome visitor on a somewhat bogus Christmas, and I will add that it came just as I was about to write an acknowledgment of your book—which I am glad to own. I think your introduction is about what it should be, though I am inclined to question if you did not lay a little unnecessary stress now and then on Savage’s personal limitations. You give me the impression of having been perhaps too careful not to overpraise a dead friend, -and this leads me to fear that I may be too careful not to overpraise a living one. There are many good things among the poems and I am inclined to think that there are three or four at least that will take a permanent place; but I can’t make myself believe, no matter how hard I try, that the man would have been happy if he had lived. There was too much of him (to epitomize what you say) to be satisfied, and the poet part of him was not quite enough to have kept the rest in harness. You have done a good work, and I think now that you did the best thing in not trying to sift the verses out any more than was absolutely necessary. One of the godlike things about me is that I can change my mind as easily as I can change my trousers— perhaps a little more so, for my trousers always stick on my damned heels.
In regard to the long letter which you wrote but did not send, there is nothing for me to say except that if any suggestion of mine, or any safety valve of sympathy, can be of any worth to you, it is always ready. I have supposed that things were somewhat snarled with you, but of course I have not carried my supposition any farther than that. I appreciate your confidence in me, and I want you to know it; and at the same time I ask you to believe that I have always had a good deal of sympathy—more or less vague, but still of what I may call the solid sort with your ambitions to do what you were born to do and with your difficulties of which you say so little. Being such a cheerful abortion as I am in many ways, I suppose I can partly understand a few things that some other people cannot; and I have thought sometimes that my chief usefulness in the world lies in this faculty of mine to encourage a fellow now and then to shin up tall trees while I sit on the ground and tell him what an artist he is. Shinning—I hope the word is not strange to you—is the first of all the arts and I am beginning to fear that I have not done much of it. I can’t look back and feel honestly that I could have done more, but this feeling is rather a sorry poultice for the present and it isn’t altogether an elixir for the future; but as long as I can see that the few real things that I have done are things that nobody knows about except myself I am willing to give the future a chance. All this may seem irrelevant, but I am really trying to preach a sermon on the folly of measuring one’s success too much in the scale of external evidence. The Ass-Demon of Quantity raises the devil with most of us and makes us forget that the test of a man is his willingness to measure himself by what he has tried to do—which is truly what he has done. It is right here somewhere that those “other things” begin to be added on, and one wonders where the deuce they come from. Forgive me throwing all this antiquated hay in your crib, but don’t forget that I am keeping myself alive with the same crop. Remember, also, that I believe in the most modern of all oats, and that I am quite impervious to the trivial recriminations of little things like mixed metaphors. I began by watching another man go up a tree, and here I find myself a horse— which is well enough for Christmas in Yonkers. What you say of S[mall] M[aynard] & Co. doesn’t surprise me. I don’t pretend to like Maynard’s methods or to believe that he can keep himself afloat if he continues to follow them, but still I shall let him publish the Pauper for the same reason that I should let him remove the Old Man of the Sea from my neck. If you can read this you will be fortunate.
Sincerely yours, E. A. R.
91 Palisade Avenue 18 January, 1901
Dear Mason: You give me a good deal of pleasure when you tell me that you are out of whatever it was, and you may be sure of my sincere wishes that the thing may not come back.
That man Moody has really done a prodigious thing in his Masque. Contrary to my expectations and wishes I find it the best of all his poems, so far as I know, and most wonderfully put together. I don’t like his archaisms, and I am far from discovering what good they can do, or how they can do anything but stop the reader and irritate him; but there are not many of them, and in the light of the poem as a whole they are hardly worth considering. The man’s scholarship is still a little in his way, I think, but I am confident that he will shake himself clear of all his shackles in the course of a few years and make the welkin resound. I have been sure that this would come some time ever since I saw his early thing in the [Harvard] Monthly, and the Masque is correspondingly satisfying to my vanity. And I am looking forward to the new book with a good deal of interest and with a faint hope that it will not contain The Brute. The authoritative Finck has discovered that Wagner’s poetry is almost as great as his music—which seems to me to be the most stunning discovery that ever inaugurated any century.
Henry Theophilus Finck, referred to in this letter, was for many years music editor of the New York Evening Post. He was the author of “Romantic Love and Personal Beauty” and a host of other books, and was notorious as one of the most complacently captious critics of his day. He raved over Grieg, and would sometimes ostentatiously leave Carnegie Hall when Brahms was played. So positively proud of his prejudices was he that some wit said of him: “He does not think—he only Fincks.” 91 Palisade Avenue Yonkers, 3 February, 1901
Dear Mason: Without having an intelligent [word omitted] to any sort of preference in your business, I have one of my celebrated “feelings” that you are wise in turning your sonata into a trio. Of course there is no need of my telling you that I am looking forward to it and that I have nothing but admiration for the way in which you are striking out. With your divine gift of common sense, which you do not know how to appreciate, I fancy you will come out all right. You are always sure of a living no matter what comes—for you can always teach the young idea how not to split their infinitives and thereby make four or five hundred a year, or perhaps a thousand,—quite enough to keep you alive and cussing, which appears to be the whole duty of man. When you read this remember that the letter killeth and that my ideals are prodigious. I think there are more victims of good luck in the world than there [are] of the other kind, and I must confess that I find them rather uninteresting as a lot. Now and then there is a coruscating exception, like Moody, —but when a fellow is born with brains he is practically beyond help, and I suppose Moody will continue to be respectable to the end of his days. There is perhaps a danger in his tendency toward spontaneity and conscientious over-pro- I ductiveness, but I am rather inclined to think that he will ad-just himself and do the things that we are expecting him to I do. In this case he will do a good deal, and quite enough for one man.
I have just read another book by the responsive Finck, who tells what a nice time he had after a performance of Tristan. He was hungry when the thing let out, but the idea of eating was so gross and sacrilegious that he, went to his room and wept for several hours and went to bed on an empty stomach. Finck is a rare soul. You should read his book on Wagner, if you have not done so—but I believe I mentioned this when I wrote last time. He has, at any rate, the good sense not to be hypnotized by the Walkure and that is a good deal for a man with his unsatisfied nervous system. Read the Wagner book, anyhow, for it is really the most interesting thing ever printed—with one or two exceptions.
I shall have another book ready in a few months—very different from the Pauper—and I hope [you] will find “elemental groping” in it to keep you good natured. The title will be Isaac and Archibald and two-thirds of [it] will be taken up by four things in blank verse, of which I & A will be the longest. Those four things, thank heaven, are done, and the other things are in various stages of doing. After this comes another long one—2000 lines, which threatens to be poetical, but I don’t know when it will be written. Have you heard, or read, Verdi’s “Requiem”?
Sincerely yours, E. A. R.
February 27, 1901. Dear Mason: Bauer was considerate enough to play some things that I like—the big sonata which, someone has called the Appassionata—Apache Sonata I like better—and “some other things.” I still find Schumann’s Carnival rather unsatisfying, but I may grow up to it. Thank you for the tickets, and for Angels’ Wings [by Edward Carpenter], which has a good deal in it that is worth while.—You may or may not care to know that Chug thinks you are a Bon Zig. I am sure that you will find him worth while and one fellow in a thousand—not to say in ten. He needs two or three years to thicken the hair on his lip, and then he will be all right. He has the highest regard for Miss [Josephine Preston] Pea-body’s sagacity and charm. . . .
Sincerely yours, E. A. R.
“Chug” was our nickname for our then boyishly stout and rosy-cheeked friend Lawrence J. Henderson. He was in his early twenties, and a delightful companion, with his high-pitched voice as ready for scientific or philosophical theorizing as for “ragging,” his alert, questing intelligence, and his mixture of a sort of malicious Meredithian sense of intellectual comedy with broad fundamental good humor. He is now the distinguished biological chemist Professor Lawrence J. Henderson of Harvard, author of “The Fitness of the Environment,” “The Order of Nature,” etc.
29 East 22nd Street March 26, 1901 Dear Mason: I don’t want you to go anywhere with the idea of giving up anything, but I cannot help telling you that [Josiah] Royce’s advice seems to me to be the wisest you could receive just now. If you go to Paris you will have at least the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a definite move in the matter, and the probabilities are that you will not find the separation so hard to bear as you think now that it must be. And then again, the very question of test and probation, or whatever you choose to call it, comes to me now in the light of something like a duty. You will say to yourself that I am thinking only of you, perhaps, and I assure you that I do not forget that there is the other and that it is more on her account than on yours (you will not misunderstand me) that I hesitate at all in advising you to go away at once. The man can always get along somehow, and the woman knows it; and in this case, I doubt if there is any real question in her mind as to her own belief that she can do the same. It is easy, of course, for me to say all of this; but I cannot be quite honest and say anything else. When two people are sure of each other, as you are, perhaps it is not so much a question of what one of you can bear as it is of how the other is going to suffer while he is bearing it, and when it comes to a solution of this difficulty I suppose there is nothing better or less emotional to be said than that she must look on it as the price she has to pay for the right to believe in the possibility of a great happiness. As things are going I find it utterly impossible to disagree with Royce; and as I am sure that both of you agree with him I can only hope that you will be able to make the change without losing any of your courage or your faith. There is no reason why you should lose either; on the contrary, there is every reason why you should have new surroundings for a time and a better opportunity for new ideas. You know by this time that there is a good deal of the brute in the artist, and, you know, it is chiefly to him that I am appealing when I venture to remind you of the other side of the question at a time when you are not expecting this sort of treatment from a friend, What I am most afraid of in your case is that you are in danger of forgetting that even the more hellish of human complexities are not to be considered too bitterly in the beginning. We cannot measure anything until we have seen it through; and I am sure that she will be willing to make this trial if you are, and to do all she can for you and herself.
God knows it is a bad business at the best—bad, I mean, as we see things—but I believe that some definite measure like this that you are contemplating will end in making the whole thing clearer. If you will put away all thoughts of hopelessness and start out with thoughts of strength and faith, she will do the same. And this, as I see it, is all that either of you can do just now. As there is no immediate solution possible, you must have courage to do what you believe to be the wisest thing, no matter how hard it may seem at first. If you make up your mind to do it, you will soon find a kind of joy in the sheer intensity of the immediate sacrifice, and another in the consciousness that you have not only a moral but also an artistic ideal to live for. You must remember, even when it seems almost like selfishness to do so, that your art is to be the concrete expression of your life. If you are loyal to that, you cannot be disloyal to yourself; for all of your largest ideas have come from this new life, which you think just now to contain nothing but unhappiness. Refuse for once and all to measure anything by the moment and you will realize before long that the picture will take on new colors— and brighter ones. This again, is easy enough to say.
Personally, I shall be sorry to have you go—but of course there is no need of my telling you this. Thank you very much for the photograph, which is remarkably good. I am glad to have it.
I am sorry that I cannot be of more service to you—but you understand all that.
Always sincerely yours, E. A. R.
All this is horribly “preachy,” but I won’t try to improve matters by saying the same thing in a different way.
This beautiful letter, to which that of October 4, 1904, may be regarded as a pendant or foot-note, is remarkable not only for its revelation of Robinyon’s clairvoyant sympathy, but for its evidence that his poetic insight into spiritual truth could lead him to much the standpoint occupied by Royce’s equally sympathetic and more philosophic mind. Such phrases as “The more hellish of human complexities are not to be considered too bitterly in the beginning. We cannot measure anything until we have seen it through,” and “Refuse for once and all to measure anything by the moment and you will realize before long that the picture will take on new and brighter colors,” are positively Roycean in their profound spiritual understanding.
In April, 1901, sailed for Europe. I remember Robinson as occupying his tiny cubicle of a room in West Twenty-third Street when we took leave of each other, but he must have moved to it only shortly before that, as the next letter is the first one bearing that address.
450 West 23rd Street New York, May 30, 1901
Dear Mason: I see by this morning’s Herald that you have been having some rather sultry weather in Paris, and incidentally that fellows have been going crazy and killing themselves in various ways. I looked for your name among the victims, but as I failed to find it I came to the conclusion that you were still there looking for fame and for highballs. If there are no highballs in Paris, go to Berlin. Also go to Dresden and tell me what you think of Paderewski’s opera.
Moody’s book [“Poems,” May, 1901.] is altogether an astonishing product, as you know by this time. I can’t get up quite so much enthusiasm over the national poems as the majority of the critics do, but I find enough in the rest of the book, particularly in The Daguerreotype, to clear up any possible doubts I may have had in regard to the man’s having the big thing in him. I don’t think I have ever had any real doubts, for that matter, though I have tried sometimes on general principles to make myself believe that I have had them. The Masque of Judgment shut me up pretty effectually, and of course I appreciated the Ode even if I could not care so much for it as you did, and do. Give Moody ten years of tolerably decent existence, I think he ought to produce almost anything—that is if the academic atmosphere doesn’t spoil his feelings; and from what I know of the man I am hardly inclined to worry for him on that score. He is pretty big.
I can’t tell you anything in particular about myself, and this for the good reason that there is nothing new to be told except that Small, Maynard and Co. have gone back on me in the matter of my officer. Just now the thing is in the hands of a New York’ house, but I can’t tell you what they will do with it. All I know is they will not keep it for a year and then ship it back to me. . . .
Miss Peabody has finished her Marlowe affair and I am glad to be able to say that there is mighty good stuff in it. As she reads it, it appears to be a play as well as a poem, but I don’t know how much my opinion is worth when it comes to that side of it, I can speak for the poetry, however, and assure you that you will [be] interested in it as verse and as a study of human nature. I was unfortunate in not being able to see your sister [-in-law] when she was in town—being laid up then with a second attack of grippe. I started out once or twice while she was here, but my knees were so rickety and my whole organism was so flabby and inadequate that I crawled back into my hole and stayed there. I am sorry that things had to happen just as they did, for she is one of the few people I really care to see nowadays.
Sometime when you are at a complete loss for something to do, you might write me a letter and tell me something about yourself and your music. I suppose you are at it again by this time, and I trust the trio is framing itself to your satisfaction. If I was a musician I should compose a Funeral March to commemorate the Complete Collapse of Cerebral Tissue in the United States Supreme Court. Write pretty soon and be sure that you say nothing about the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the facility with which a person may go to Paris and live there on a Dollar and a half a week. I can read about these things in books when I get tired of the Soft Side and the Sacred Fount. Avoid the Sacred Fount.
Sincerely yours, E. A. R.
450 West 23rd Street July 7, 1901
Dear Mason: I trust that my silence was enough to assure you that I did not receive either of the notes you sent to 22nd Street. . . . I learned a few days ago through Miss Peabody that you had appeared in Cambridge. She said merely that you were there—giving no reasons whatever. Perhaps you did not give any to her.—I am sorry that your plans did not prove satisfactory, but perhaps it is just as well as it is. Anyhow, it is “as it is,” and I hope things will adjust themselves decently in the course of time.
It is very good of you to ask me to spend a part of the sweltering season with you, but I must say again that it will be utterly impossible for me to do so. Under different circumstances nothing would give me greater pleasure, and I say this in the hope that you will believe me. You are right in fancying that New York is not the ideal American summer resort, but there is an empty flat in Harlem again to which I am invited by a good fellow who really wants me to come, and as I see no reason or excuse for not accepting his invitation I shall in all probability go there this week. Sometime in the future I may be able to live and move and have the being of a civilized biped again, but the devil only knows when that time will come. In the meantime—though not for very long, naturally,—I continue to be a vagabond and to squeeze out a modicum of metrical stuff that may or may not be amusing to somebody when I am boxed up and stowed away. I don’t take this course from any silly notion of “art for art’s sake” but because I find no other. I am not quite so damned lazy as my friends think, either. I am simply incomplete and made up as far as I am made at all of what must have been left over after the manufacture of some sixteen or seventeen fellows who were more fortunate perhaps than I am. By this description, if by no other, I am a man of parts—some of them pretty little and none of them fastened together very well.
This is where Moody is big while I am small. He can do the world’s work for the admirable reason that he has a brain. There is a possibility of his growing up some day and writing like Shakespeare—or maybe like a new Ibsen without smoky spectacles. Up to this time he has been a little afraid of the light; but, as I told him myself, he will not show the world what is in him until he comes to Book Fourth or Book Fifth. He may have thought that I am presuming on my vagabondage when I said it, but that is no great matter.
. . . Chug was here through the heat last week and appeared to enjoy himself. . . . Chug is “all right” and he is still growing. . . .
Sincerely yours, E. A. R.
One can read between the lines of the last few letters that Robinson had now fallen into a condition of monotonous poverty for himself and ever postponed hopes for his work against which even his grim New England stoicism was not always proof. 1901 was, I think, the nadir of his fortunes, as it certainly was of mine. Yet even through that bitter time, it will be noted, his warm and wise appreciation of his few chosen friends never failed.
450 West 23rd Street, 26 September, 1901
Dear Mason: I have just moved back again to my old cell in Twenty-third Street and I find to my huge delight that the place has been painted pea-green—apparently in expectation of my return. Everything is so damnably clean that I don’t yet feel quite comfortable; and yet clean is hardly the word either, for there was never any dirt, per se, the room was merely out at the elbows. Now I have [gone] and glorified myself with a new writing table—which was a moral crime on my part—and I feel much better. I have had two small inspirations already, and I am likely to have another before dinner-time. Moral: go to John Wana-maker’s and buy a table—particularly if you can’t afford it. In that case it will be much more satisfactory. You see I have not forgot the lesson I learned when I spent two dollars of a final four for a couple of opera tickets—to the peanut gallery, of course. If I can keep on doing this sort of thing, there may be a chance for my success.
It is good to know that the A. P. has brains enough to send Moody’s book into a second edition. When I received your word to that effect I was tempted to write to him at once and beg him to take out “by God’s ring-finger stirred” —which is, with all respect to genius, really damnable. It is so bad, in fact, that only a genius could do it; and I am rather sorry now that I did not write, if only for the piety of the performance. From the twenty or so who have spoken to me of the book I have heard nothing but praise with a big P. All, however, make an exception of The Menagerie— not because they do not like it in itself but because it seems to be hopelessly out of place. I have a notion that I shall agree with them by and by, but the thing is so confoundedly clever that I hate to see it go. I still cling to my first belief that The Daguerreotype and The Departure reach the finest and highest quality of anything in the book.
There are a few faint possibilities coming up on my own horizon, but I do not say anything about them at present. C. C. has been turned down by five houses, but he is still on the march. His trousers are pretty badly frayed, and his general appearance seems to be more and more disreputable at each return; and perhaps that is all right. He is a sort of disreputable cuss, anyhow, as you know. My only backward criticism of Esther Waters is on the possible ground of too much “realism” in the way of unnecessary detail. It is a great book and one that ought to do a good work in the world. From the artist’s point of view I cannot place it along with Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, but it has a message without being a sermon and for that reason will live. Nearly all of Hardy will die, I think, though I dislike to think of the funeral of The Return of the Native. I should call Jude, with all its misery, his one book that is true.
I hope before long to know that you are in a better way to see a glimpse of some sort of light through your cypress trees. None of us can live always in a swamp, and for this reason I hope you will try to find some way out if you have to go to New Zealand. I think of going there myself.
Always sincerely yours, E. A. R.
At this point ends the early series of letters revealing E. A. R. during the hardest years of his struggle in poverty and obscurity. From this time on his fortunes began to mend. This was also the period, however, at which both he and I became gradually too absorbed in our own concerns, naturally divergent, to keep up the close youthful companionship. Yet whenever occasion arose we wrote each other with all the old friendliness of feeling. Thus there remain a few scattering letters. The first of these he wrote me at the time of my marriage, October 8, 1904.
Dear Mason: While your letter was in no way a surprise to me it gave me a great pleasure. Now that you have finally wrestled with your worst difficulties, and beaten them, I look for an “incipit vita nuova” expression on your countenance next time I see you. If ever two people deserved to be happy in this life, I know who they are.
I am glad to know that you think of me as a good friend through it all, but I am still at a loss to know what in the name of Jehosaphat and the Delectable Mountains I have ever done, or what I have even been able to suggest. Beyond the honor of your confidence, I have no part in the clearing up of one of the worst tangles that the gods and devils ever delighted themselves with.
It will give me great pleasure to dine with you next Thursday.
Always sincerely yours, E. A. R.
450 West 23d Street 4 October, 1904
68 West 83 Street November 11, 1915
Dear Mason: Several things have occurred of late, touchin’ and appertainin’ to your welfare, that have given me a great deal of satisfaction. First, and most important, I was glad to meet Mrs. D. G. M. the other evening at Carnegie Hall and to see her looking so well. She may not have been well, but she looked well, and that is all I have to go by. I was glad to learn from Hill [Edward Burlingame Hill, Professor of Music at Harvard] that your symphony is to be played this winter in Philadelphia, and to read in the paper that something or other of yours is to be played by the Philharmonic in New York. I hope it is the Symphony, for I wish very much to hear the thing. I still regret having had to miss your Quartette, but trust that I shall have a chance before long. I knew there was something else, also. Hill told me that you had written a Clarinet Sonata, —a piece of news that sounded to me both heroic and interesting—the clarinet being for me, after the fiddle family, the most satisfactory of all musical contrivances. I suppose I ought to except the piano, but that’s another breed of cats, as Matthew Arnold would have said if he had been writing about the Filipinos. The old fashioned hand-organ isn’t bad either, but its proper setting is a small town in the early spring just before sunset, and then it makes a fellow think of shooting himself out of sheer homesickness for a previous existence that he wouldn’t like if he got back into it. And of course he wouldn’t get back into it. All of which goes to show that we had better keep our eyes ahead of our noses and not allow ourselves to get too much excited over the setting sun.
I carried a bundle of new poetry into the Macmillans the other day, and I expect in the course of time to see it come out in the form of another unprofitable slender volume. Who in hell invented that word slender? If ever you find yourself walking up town as far as this you might ring my bell and tell me more about yourself. Or I may get down to see you one of these days, though I always think of you as either busy or done up—temporarily, of course.
Yours, E. A. R.
Robinson’s “Twilight Song,” the last poem in his Captain Craig volume, with its haunting refrain, “Through the shine, through the rain We have shared the day’s load,” had long seemed to me an ideal text for a chorus of mixed voices. At last I so set it, sent him a copy, and invited him to hear it sung at a concert of my compositions. His answer is the last letter I ever had from him.
257 West Newton Street Boston, May 14, 1934
Dear Mason: Many thanks for the chorus. I am sorry that it was impossible for me to hear it and of course your other things but I still expect to hear it sometime. I got a musical friend to go over it and was greatly pleased with what even such an unsatisfactory interpretation revealed. With a full chorus it must be very effective.
I hope you are all right by this time and that both of you will have a good summer. I expect to “do” another book. Apparently the habit is incurable, but there is never much left of me when the frost comes. And I wonder sometimes if anyone will read books in another hundred years. In the fall I’ll send you my nightmare poem [“Amaranth”] which the Macmillans have under way.
Yours as ever, E. A. R.
Robinson died in New York, April 6, 1935.
All rights reserved. No part of these letters may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from The Macmillan Company.