Those Red-Eyed Men


THE following letter from Mr. Emerson was written on receiving a criticism of William Ellery Channing’s earlier writings, sent him by a friend with a view to its being forwarded to The Atlantic Monthly, if found worthy of being submitted to the “ redeyed men ” for whom Mr. Emerson expresses so warm a sympathy. It has an especial interest for our readers at the present moment, as a new and enlarged edition of Mr. Channing’s poems is about to appear in Philadelphia.

As a bit of gentle sarcasm, and as a lesson on what even then was considered “ acceptable ” to weary readers of endless manuscripts, it could hardly be excelled. The Yankee wit and shrewdness, the generous encouragement and consideration given the efforts of a beginner which this letter shows are interestingly characteristic of Mr. Emerson’s kindly nature. But the criticism in question never saw the light !

CONCORD, 26 May, 1858.

DEAR FRIEND, — It is a piece of character, and, as every piece of character in writing is, a stroke of genius also, to praise Channing’s poems in this cordial way, and I read the manuscript with thankful sympathy. But you will print it. It is by no means character and genius that are good to print, but something quite different, — namely, tact, talent, sparkle, wit, humor, select anecdote, and Birmingham lacker, and I have kept the paper for many days, meaning to read it later and find whether it had the glass buttons required. On looking into it today I hesitate to send it to that sad Bench where two judges or three judges are believed to sit and read with red eyes every scrap of paper that is addressed to The Atlantic Monthly. I know that they read four hundred papers to admit ten, one time. I am not of their counsel, but some of their cruelties have transpired. Yet who but must pity those red-eyed men ?

I can easily believe that you have the materials of a good literary article. If I had the journal in which you have at any time set down detached thoughts on these poems it might easily furnish the needed details and variety of criticism. I am not even sure that this piece as it is will not presently appear presentable to me. Nothing can be acuter criticism than what you say of “ the art to say how little, not how much, belonging to this fatal poet.” Think a moment and tell me, if you can say another word as descriptive of his genius. The selections, too, all have good reason. But I must have a few more good points. “ So saith the Grand Mufti.”

Yours faithfully,