Personal Letters. Ii

To Mr. Vachel Lindsay

June 16, 1924
I am exceedingly obliged to you for your most interesting letter, supplying, as it does, so substantially the Todd background, which must be an essential feature of my portrait. Indeed, I am forced to rely upon such contributions and suggestions very largely, in default of the direct personal material, in the form of diaries or letters, which I have got to feel is almost indispensable in the work I am trying to do. Evidently in Mrs. Lincoln’s case I can get very little of this sort, but must depend upon secondary reports and records, in checking which such intelligent judgment as yours is of the utmost value. What would n’t I give for forty or fifty of Mrs. Lincoln’s own letters which I could have copied! As it is, I must make the most of the few that have been printed, by Herndon, or in Mrs. Keckley’s book, and elsewhere.
I get more and more fascinated with the subject, if I can only get the material to work it out. I must interweave that strange, subtle, puzzling, fascinating love of Lincoln with the strong, harsh, aggressive commonplace of Mary Todd. And the incessant interweaving of two strands so diverse, often so bitterly opposed, should make a web of inexhaustible complication and interest.
I need hardly say that I take entirely the view of Lincoln that you do. Those who try to attenuate his thoroughly popular origin and surroundings simply show that they underrate and fail to appreciate the genius which could dominate such surroundings and outshine them. The two supreme elements in him are his genius and his democracy, and those who underrate the one do not understand the other. And it was not only a theoretical democracy, but. a personal, as intensely so as Whitman’s. The parallel between him and Shakespeare in this respect is singular. No sooner do the semi-cultured get hold of Shakespeare than they begin to resent his popular origin, what they call his ignorance and lack of aristocratic surroundings, and immediately they assume that he cannot have written the plays. They utterly fail to grasp the fact that the supreme wonder and the characteristic feature of the plays is that they sprang from a spirit just so popularly educated, with all the irregularities and vagaries which such education brings with it, and also with the profoundly human touch which was Lincoln’s as it was Shakespeare’s.
Perhaps I may say that this common human element in Lincoln appeals essentially to me because, although I of course grew up in a sheltered and luxurious home, all my childhood was passed in a rural neighborhood, where I went to school and got a rough-andtumble contact with humanity which is one of the experiences I should be least willing to relinquish. Even now I confess that I take no pleasure in middle-class society, teas and formal gatherings, poetry clubs and literary societies. Humanity, to me, means the farmer and the street-car conductor and the mechanic, and I had far rather chat with these than with the banker or the clergyman. Which bit of autobiography you will perhaps think out of place; but I introduce it only to show you that I have no sympathy with the Todds of the world or those who would try to make Lincoln emanate from their source. That superb humanity is the only true basis for democracy. The reason democracy must be, as you say, a dream for many thousand years is because the mass of men — and women — try to escape from that humanity, and we must be patient until it gradually permeates the whole mass with something of Lincoln’s spirit. But indeed how endlessly fascinating he was! There is no end to the depths and reaches of speculation and query that arise in regard to him. I have been studying Daniel Webster lately — a great man, too, but how different! Have you happened to run across that magnificent death scene of Webster, as narrated in Curtis, where the old fellow gets his family together, dictates a formal statement of an elaborate theological creed, as pointless as the Nicene or (he Athanasian, then faints away from exhaustion, and, when he recovers, murmurs, ‘My friends, my friends, did I, did I, say anything unworthy of Daniel Webster?’ Isn’t that, priceless? Imagine Lincoln giving such an exhibition, and what he would have thought of it, and his vast, gentle laughter!
I am really awfully grateful to you, and if anything further occurs, do let me know. December 7, 1927
I was much interested in your letter, in your account of your past experiences in general, and especially of your visit here. In general, I confess that I prefer to meet my readers through my books, and am quite aware that I do not appear at my best in actual flesh-

To Mr. Edward Wagenknecht

February 19, 1025
I received a copy of the Circle and read your Geraldine Farrar study with much interest. I think you have brought out her personality with warmth and color and vigor. It all raises a lot of questions which I shall like to talk over with you when we meet, hereafter in a better world than this, if not here.
Music has been one of my supreme delights and resources from childhood. I early learned to play the piano, in a perfectly scratchy, superficial way, merely with the object of reading all sorts of music, from the lightest to Bach, though without any pretense at skill or execution. But in a rather solitary life this diversion has been one of the most exquisite, and incidentally I have become rather exceptionally familiar with all the music, at least all the older, that can be approached in this way. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, etc., have been an unfailing delight to me and always will be. But of vocal music I know nothing whatever, and I confess that it has never taken any great hold upon me.
In the first place, I have always resented the marriage of words and music. There always seems to me to be a sacrifice of one or the other; and when, as usual, it is a sacrifice of the words, I quarrel with it bitterly. Then the opera has always impressed me as an utterly bastard art-form, attempting to combine things that in themselves cannot be combined, and above all requiring a combination of gifts in the performer which it is the rarest thing in the world to come across. Yet of course all the time I recognize that there are in vocal music some of the richest and rarest possibilities of spiritual stimulus. I have myself from a very small child been extraordinarily influenced and overwhelmed by the singing of hymns, so that even when I was very young the assemblage of the family about the piano on Sunday evenings was agony to me, in the enormous suggestion of vague longings and terrors and despairs which I cannot express now any more than I could then. It is one of the curious symptoms of age and decay that this intense emotional disturbance, which as a child I used to resent and avoid, I nowadays often seek when I am most discouraged and depressed — I hardly know whether in solace or in augmentation of my spiritual distress. And when I am most wretchedly ill it is a sort of desperate comfort to get Mrs. Bradford to sing me the very lugubrious hymns that I should have shuddered at forty years ago, and, for that matter, still shudder at now. But life has become largely a matter of shuddering.
All which has arisen from my reading of your ‘Geraldine Farrar’ and my sense of loss in not having developed the possibilities of emotional ecstasy which I know that vocal music in one form or another has to bestow. We should not reject any such spiritual resource, but should sedulously and intelligently and covetously suck the sweet of them all. All the same, I revel in the little saying of Jaques in As You Like It: ‘I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs.’ Ah, how that Shakespeare says everything! His vocal music has stirred my whole soul for fifty years and will continue to do so, so long as I have any soul to stir.

To Mr. John B. Chapple

December 26, 1925
You ask me for a word on some special book, or on books and reading. In such a connection I never fail to put in a word for the persistent reading of the great standard, classical authors. It is wise, of course, to keep up with the movement of life about us, so far as we can, though in literature, as in everything else, the present acceleration is so enormous that no one can do more than make the most superficial dab at the surface. But to understand the present at all there is only one clue, the study of the past, and to get any meaning or profit from current literature the only way is to keep one’s steady hold on the great writers of an earlier day. If you have a command of foreign languages, read the great authors in those, though never, never in translation. At any rate, always give a certain proportion of your time and life, however small, to the great English authors. It is not enough to have read them: read them and keep on reading them. Shakespeare and Milton and Fielding and Sterne and Shelley and Byron are the best possible commentary on Shaw and Wells and Masefield and Lewis and Dreiser.
It is not for a moment pretended that the old authors are necessarily better. It is difficult in such connections to say what ‘better’ means. We read the classics, not only for themselves, but because they are the classics — that is, because they have helped make the modern world what it is, because others have read them and are reading them and will read them, and they make a substantial, enduring spiritual bond in a world which, from its terrible rapidity of centrifugal motion, tends to dissolve and shatter our spiritual unity altogether.
Above all, read Shakespeare, cling to him, and learn and remember how really fresh and new he is, how much counsel and comfort he has in the perplexities and problems even of the present day. Shakespeare does not solve problems; he throws sunshine on them, sunshine and love, shows us with a thousand touches the splendid unity worked by simple humanity in the face of life and death with all their insoluble mysteries. Take large doses of the present, as large as you wish, but mix a constant dose of Shakespeare with them; you will find that the present grows larger and richer and more fruitful by such treatment.

To Mr. Jay L. Bradley

February 8, 1926
Nearly fifty years ago I was a boy of fifteen, and determined, as you are, to be an author. Also, like you, I cared nothing for biography, but wished to be a poet, or a dramatist, or a novelist. Now, at sixty-two, I have a certain measure of success, though nothing of what I wished, and I have fifteen plays, eight novels, and vast quantities of poetry asleep in my drawer, which will probably never see daylight, though I think a good deal of them myself. So, if I can say a useful word to one who is taking up the same course, I am glad to do so.
To begin with, remember that words are your supreme instruments. Treat them with reverence, almost with idolatry, and make it the effort of your life to tease out of them all their secrets. Yet do not be fooled by them. Remember also that they are the most treacherous, deceiving things in the world, elusive, evasive, that they will get the mastery of you if they can, and, if they do, they will do their best to ruin you. Study them in all their forms with constant devotion. Now, while you are young, secure to yourself a reading command of at least three or four languages. Never mind the speaking. It is easier, and for your purpose far better, to read three languages than to speak one. But for the literary artist it is imperative to be at home in other languages besides his own. Especially French is indispensable.
As a novelist who has failed completely, my advice would be not to bother yourself with books that profess to teach you how to write fiction — that is, not to any great extent. They are mostly written by people who have made a hopeless failure themselves, or they would be producing great novels, not talking about them. Read the great masters of fiction, especially the French, who are the supreme artists. And above all, do not attach yourself to any one author. The true way to escape imitation is to read very widely, and to read what is really great and beautiful in all lines. Avoid cliques and schools and narrow watchwords. It is only the really beautiful that counts, and genius will produce real beauty without any formula and in defiance of all formulæ.
If you asked my general advice as to whether you should adopt a literary life, which you do not, I should earnestly dissuade you. In these days any honest way of earning a living is more respectable and more useful than literature. The world is utterly swamped with books, good books, great books. No one has time to read those now in existence that ought to be read, and to produce more is a mere superfluity. It is far better to be a doctor or a lawyer or a civil engineer or a good grocer or even a politician. Furthermore, the literary career is a life of misery. You are daily knocked with rejection and rebuff — at least, I have been so for forty years. The public misunderstands and scorns all your good work, and if you want to succeed and support yourself you have got to make concessions and compromises which you despise, while your high ideals are pretty sure to be left behind you in the desperate struggle. Voltaire had perhaps the greatest immediate success and triumph of any author who has ever lived. Yet Voltaire said that if he had a son who was determined to be an author, he would wring his neck out of pure kindness of heart.
All this discouragement will make no difference to you, however. It never does. It would have made no difference to me. And I will tell you that when I was talking with Robert Frost, a year or so ago, we agreed heartily that the one quality that counted more than any other in the literary career was perseverance, sticking to it in spite of everything. Ninety-nine people out of a hundred who stick never get anywhere, but the hundredth does — sometimes. You must remember that in this country alone there are probably to-day a hundred thousand boys of fifteen, and at least twice as many girls, who are determined as you are to be great authors, and to get the few prizes which can go only to some hundreds out of the lot. But if you overlook all that, and make a business of it, and do not let any difficulty or discouragement deter you, — oh, heaven, when I think of all I have had and how many, many times I have sworn that I would never touch a pen again, — you may be successful before you are thirty, or before you are sixty, or never. In any case, you have all my good wishes.

March 9, 1926
I am very glad you found my former letter helpful. I remember so well my hopes and aspirations and experiences at your age that if I can say anything that will be encouraging or comforting I am happy to do so.
After I had sent my letter I realized that I had said mainly the discouraging things. And I should have added that, with all that can be said against the literary career, I personally would not give up mine or have lived differently if I could. With all the rebuffs and disappointments and difficulties, there is an excitement, an exhilaration, about artistic production that nothing else on earth that I know of, unless it be a cavalry charge or the triumphant success of an actor or singer before a great audience, can compare with. And the author’s delight, though less immediate and compelling, is more enduring and feeds the imagination more than these others.
As I wrote you, I long ago gave up the hope of succeeding with plays or novels and made up my mind that I was not gifted for such success. Yet only three or four years ago I allowed myself to be tempted by the foolish lure of a prize contest into writing three plays in verse, and I have never known more delicious hours than I passed with that occupation. One seems to be rapt out of oneself. The music of the verses and the spontaneous life of the characters seem to take hold of one and pass through one, as if some higher power held the pen and guided it by inspiration, and all the common clogs of earthly existence are for the moment swept away. After which it is needless to say that none of my plays got the prize or will ever be heard of again. But no one can rob me of the remembered delight I had in writing them.

To Mrs. Willie Snow Ethridge

September 18, 1926
Mr. Orr has kindly conveyed to me your interesting letter and your wish that if I were on my way to Florida I might meet the members of your Writers’ Club. It would give me great pleasure to do this, were it possible. Alas, I fear I shall never again get far from home, and certainly never as far as Georgia: I can meet my Southern friends only in spirit, unless they arc sometimes making a pilgrimage in this direction.
You ask me for a few words about Biography. The first great secret, in my opinion, is to have an inexhaustible, universal interest in human nature and love for it in all its forms. One should not approach biography from the angle of any particular belief or theory to be supported or attacked. The study of the human soul appears to me too sacred a thing to be turned into a mere vehicle for polemics. One should love human beings as they are, all human beings; not love their faults or their weaknesses, but love their humanity, and that for the simple and always valid reason that we are human beings ourselves.
The second great principle is to my mind the broad and universal identity of human nature. There is an endless diversity of manifestation which gives the study of biography its unfailing and piquant interest; but underneath we all have the same passions, the same hopes, the same desires, the same despairs. If it were not so, we should never understand each other, and the writing of biographies would be a vain and profitless amusement. And on the strength of this underlying identity the biographer’s richest material lies in the thoughtful consideration of his own heart, for he will find there all the strength and all the weakness which he can ever discern in others. This study of himself must naturally be checked by constant observation of the world, but in it has lain, for me at least, the widest possibility of comprehension of general human nature. And surely the study of oneself and all the faults and failures there hidden is the best guide to what I consider the essential and prevailing virtues of a good biographer — gentleness, charity, tolerance, and above all infinite comprehension and sympathy.

As to the technique of the biographer’s work, might I suggest the study of my book, A Naturalist of Souls, published (new edition) last spring by the Houghton Mifflin Company? This book gives in the introduction a rather elaborate analysis of the special modification of biography, called Psychography, which I have endeavored to practise, and shows in a succession of chapters, not elsewhere printed, the development of my work during the last thirty years. Anyone who is at all seriously interested in what I have done or tried to do will find this book, taken altogether with the appendix to my Lee, the American, as profitable as anything that I can suggest.

To Mr. E. S. Moser

January 23, 1927
You remind me of President Eliot, who scolded me a few years ago because I said that, while I took a good deal of interest in God, I could not succeed very well in finding Him. Why, said Eliot, don’t you read the poets? I had read the poets pretty persistently for forty years, but they did n’t seem to help much. You certainly do not scold, but you very courteously wonder why I care so much about God anyway. Yet somehow I do: an old prejudice, perhaps.
I think you quite misunderstood me in regard to the use of reason, however. I did not mean to reject it, which would be too absurd, least of all to subject it to emotion. On the contrary, probably there are few persons who have been so hag-ridden by reason as I have during the whole of my rather unhappy existence. I recognize fully its importance, and its power, and its immense value. I only wished to emphasize its dangers, not the least of which is that it is so rarely disentangled from emotion. It is the blind and constant confusion of the two and the perpetual tendency of the acutest reasoners to mingle them that make the trouble.
I am glad that you were interested in the Darwin book and I think you may find my very different study of D. L. Moody the Evangelist, which will be published next fall, of almost equal interest, while I have just finished another more general book, which will probably be called ‘Life and I: An Autobiography of Humanity,’ which ought to prove more interesting still.
I think you have hit an important point in insisting that pessimism is largely physical in its origin. But then, so is optimism. And this very fact is the largest ground for a pessimistic argument that I know of. I will never admit that I am a pessimist in theory, any more than I am anything else. Philosophical systems require a temperament and a mental equipment that are wholly beyond my reach. But it is true that a long life of physical wretchedness with a constant tendency to neurotic disturbance does color my spiritual attitude and incline me more to see the darker side than I am perhaps aware. Up to these last three I have succeeded fairly well in keeping this tone out of my books, but perhaps it is the weakness of advancing senility that has disposed me to relax the reins a little in favor of a more personal revelation. In future I hope to return to my former practice and be beautifully objective.

To Mr. Robert P. Bridges

and-blood converse. Probably the same is true of most authors, and no doubt many an enthusiastic reader has at last, after repeated efforts, obtained a coveted interview with someone who has done a great deal for him spiritually, and has come away from it with a feeling of disappointment, perhaps even so great that it has actually blighted enjoyment of the author’s books and drawn an obscuring veil over the light that was so bright and so comforting before. I remember many, many years ago, when I was much younger than you are, getting an introduction to Matthew Arnold, whom I had read and adored for a number of years. Our talk amounted to nothing. He did not get me and I was disillusioned with him. When I finally left him, he patted my shoulder and remarked paternally, ‘ What is the age? ’ Matthew Arnold has never meant so much to me since.
So I may have shattered some of your illusions, but I hope not all. I know, however, that in conversation the tendency which I feel is fundamental in my books, and inclines to become more and more so, is even more obvious than in the books, and that is the tendency to question everything. I was born a questioner. Now the world in general likes those who furnish answers, not questions, and for that reason my books, though they find a certain number of readers of my own temperament, have not had and will hardly have any very general popularity. However, I myself have always found more comfort and satisfaction from those who are disposed to question than from the very numerous class of persons who are always ready with explosive and dogmatic answers. Perhaps you are like me in this respect. At any rate, questions help us to think, and I do not know that anyone can do us any greater service than that.

To Mr. Carl Sandburg

February 3, 1928
I have a nephew in Three Oaks, Michigan, Henry H. Cutler, who wrote me some months ago of meeting you at an outing of some sort. He said that he mentioned me and that you spoke of having an idea of writing to me sometime. Probably you have long ago forgotten both him and the idea, but I have had it in mind ever since that I would write you a line.
I have just now got to reading your Lincoln, which I should have done long ago. But I am very much absorbed with other work, and my time and my strength are more limited than I could wish. Just at present, however, I am undertaking the very foolish business of writing a book on Biography, and I did not see how I could well neglect such a monumental piece of work as yours, even if I had wished to do so.
Just before beginning the Lincoln, I had made the attempt to turn over the vast longitude of Carlyle’s Frederick. But at the end of the first two of the ten volumes I gave up in disgust. Long ago I made up my mind that I could never relish Carlyle. His manner of writing seems to me so forced, so labored, so pretentious, and in the Frederick he has overloaded his subject with such a vast obscuring weight of background, which hides and diminishes rather than illustrates the main subject, that I felt I could never go through with it in the world.
Then I turned to your book, and, oh, the blessed relief! It is partly, I suppose, in the nature of the subject itself. Frederick the Great is repellent to me in every possible way, and I felt all the time that Carlyle was forcing himself and forcing me into a simulated admiration for something he knew perfectly well not to be really admirable. But I never come into any sort of contact with Lincoln without being absolutely fascinated. There is something in that elusive, mysterious, impenetrable, yet intensely companionable personality that holds me like glue. I lived for years in close intimacy with the study of General Lee. I admired him, I revered him; but I never got close to him. You feel at every moment that Lincoln is as ready and as able to take you into his heart as Shakespeare was, as Christ was. The measure of your ability to enter there is simply the measure of your own limitations.
But it seems to me that all this charm of Lincoln gains immensely by the large, sinuous, spontaneous epic power of your narrative. You have a lot of background. Possibly some portions of it might be dispensed with. Yet I felt all the time, so much more than with the Carlyle, that every bit of the background was bearing on the principal figure, was soaked up in him, as it were, till he and the reader were saturated, drenched with it.
And then you have such an advantage in having grown up in the region in which Lincoln grew up, and you have kept so close to the people whom he knew and loved so well. Both in the Lincoln and in your poems you have all the spirit of this vast, dubious, struggling, restless, animal, triumphant America, which Lincoln knew or divined better than anyone, and died for.
I can appreciate it, because a wretched body and perhaps also a too indolent temperament have kept me all my life immured, cloistered, solitary, and have deprived me of all real, solid grip on the immediate life which I should like so much to interpret humanly, but cannot. What I do is all colored, vitiated, diluted by the pale shadow of books: you get your hand on life and keep it there.

To Mr. M. A. DeWolfe Howe

September 10, 1928
I must write a line at once to say how wholly, heartily, and enthusiastically I agree with every bit of [John Jay] Chapman’s verses, without any reservation whatsoever.
I have always loved the Catholic Church as a tradition. For several years I attended its services, and was long tempted to consider identifying myself with it. To me it is the only form of Christianity that really counts, or ever will.
But as it is to-day, and with my Puritan habits and legacy, I hate and dread it like the devil. If I were inside, I should adore, but so long as I am outside, I detest, as whole-heartedly as Chapman. I utterly disbelieve in its tolerance, which does not exist, and cannot. It would burn you and me at the stake to-morrow, if it could, to save our souls. The whole of South America is the living witness of what we shall be taking a step towards if we elect Al Smith.
If I had the courage of a rat, I should come out and say all these things in print, and that is where I most of all agree with Chapman about the degrading subjugation of Boston. The sole thing that keeps me from taking this stand is, as he said, fear, of the howl of vulgar abuse that would overwhelm anyone who ventured to criticize the Catholics even as mildly as one might dare with the Christian Scientists, or the Unitarians, who are fair game for everybody. If you see Chapman, tell him how grateful I am to him for saying what I feel. Boston has become a slave-city and I am often glad my daughter has got out of it.
What do you suppose would happen to me if you printed this letter, which perhaps is a little stronger than the circumstances really require? But Chapman’s poem really did my heart good.

To Mr. Carl Sandburg

April 23, 1929
It has been a rich and varied and really quite overwhelming spiritual experience to me to read the two volumes of poems that you were kind enough to send me. I have read some of them before, but not so much as I should have done.
What overcomes me in it all is the glory and abundance of life. As I tried to tell you when you were here, I am oppressed, weighed down with my own shortcoming in this respect. I have lived coddled, nursed, cherished in one tender corner, by one remote and isolated fireside. I thrill and throb when I am thrown into your gorgeous contact with men and things, in all their fertile and ever-flowering aspects.
But of course the mere sense of surface is comparatively little. I expected that in you and knew I should find it. I confess that what I did not expect to find quite so much, and what still further enchanted me, was the interpenetration of life everywhere by thought and imagination and spiritual urgency. The glittering and varied surface is set aglow and kept aglow by the ardor of the spirit within, the eager spirit, the questioning spirit, oftentimes the suffering and tormented, yet the spirit that recognizes at all times, if not the sufficiency, at any rate the splendid inspiration and cogency and compelling vitality of life.
On one side, and indeed on many sides, but on one side particularly I must some day talk further with you, and that is the matter of rhythm and metre. Your generation — for, alas, I must distinguish it from mine — seems to have reached an ampler attitude in that respect. I confess I still cling to old regular metres, cannot feel that their capacity of expression is exhausted, or that anything can quite take the place of the magic that Shakespeare and Shelley got out of their delicate symmetry of touch. Yet of course I fully recognize the sinuous splendor and the broad, far-reaching adaptability of such a medium as yours. Yes, I must have a talk with you about it.
The truth is, the metre is simply part of a deeper tendency, which is rootedly connected with what I said in the beginning about the vast reach and grasp upon life. More and more in these last years I have felt that what I myself needed was release, to shake off the cramping bonds of tradition and convention and education and say what I really thought and felt. That was what I always tried to do in such attempts as I have made at verse, and that is the glory of verse, that the splendor and inspiration of it help one to do just that thing, go free, escape from the hampering bonds of Philistine convention and be oneself. That I suppose is what, owing to the misery of my training and spiritual habits, I shall never fully achieve, and I shall have to die in the belief that if I had grown up like Lincoln I should really have developed some measure of genius. Perhaps it is better to have such a dream hidden about one somewhere, rather than to be fully convinced that a humdrum and prosaic mediocrity was all one was born as well as bred to.

To Mr. V. F. Calverton

July 31, 1930
I was much delighted with the wisdom and reasonableness of your discussion of Reality in the Monthly. Certainly few human beings can have known more about the thirty years’ battle with Reality than I did, and I think the elements of that contention are as vital in me to-day as they were thirty years ago. It is a splendid, fruitful process to go through, and spirits who have known it are the ones that have the power and the incentive for renovating the world. But your point that in the end what counts is not the blind and fruitless warfare, not the futile and evanescent scolding, but the creative acceptance of Reality as a fact and the persistent, unfaltering effort to do something about it and with it, is certainly the wise one to arrive at and the one that all the young and ardent and passionate spirits need to have dinned into them with ceaseless iteration.
For myself the — purely personal — tragedy is that I have never succeeded in getting beyond the attitude of understanding Reality without the faintest power or perhaps even disposition to endeavor to modify or ameliorate it. I cannot quarrel with Reality any longer, though heaven knows no one is better aware of its defects. I simply accept it as an overwhelming fact and confront it and probe it to its very subtlest depths, as far as I possibly can, with a limitless curiosity and a vague dilettante enjoyment. But as for any attempt to mend it or adjust it or improve it, I feel myself utterly unequal to the task. In all the thirty years of my literary activity, which has been considerable of its kind, I painfully feel that I have not advanced the cause of humanity one inch or done any conceivable thing to make the world in any way better. All I have done is to ask questions, and though asking questions has a certain clarifying value, it has also the forlorn defect that any fool can do it.
The intimate study that I have been making this past year of the men who have bitten into Reality with passionate vigor and earnestness, the Lenins, the Mussolinis, the Roosevelts, the Wilsons, the Fords, the Edisons, has dizzied and dazed me with the sense of what such creatures have and I have not.
They act. They make mistakes, they expose themselves to endless criticism, they tear down when they should build up and build up frail edifices that they themselves know well can never stand. But at least they act. They take Reality as it is, and mould it and twist it and show its endless possibilities, and set their impress on it somehow, for good or evil; and when they have done, Reality at least knows that they have existed and bears witness to their vital force.
Whereas to me action is a terror. I want to understand Reality, but perhaps after all we cannot understand it without actually dealing with it. When we try merely to visualize it, to portray, to delineate all its subtle elements and fleeting moments, we find that after all it has eluded us, and we are punished for our cowardice and fatal delinquency by finding that there is no reality in all this limitless universe except ourselves and that that is the most unreal entity of the whole lot.
So the real lesson is precisely what you preach, that we must neither wage a blind battle with reality nor indulge ourselves in the futile though endlessly amusing observation of it. We must make something of it, at the risk of making fools of ourselves if we attempt it and vain and futile shadows if we do not.

To Mr. Alfred C. Potter

November 14, 1931
I send the little manuscript volume by mail, though it makes me smile to think how I should have felt when I wrote it to know that anyone would ever consider it worth while to put it in the same collection with the Shelley manuscript which my dear old friend Silsbee gave to George Woodberry.
I see that you were elected lo the Historical Society and I to the Academy on the same day, both very august assemblies and both intolerably dull, though I don’t know that we shall do much to enliven them. I had far rather read an old play with you and Hooker over a glass of lemonade and whiskey than go to any of their meetings. By what Tony Lumpkin and Sir Walter would call ‘a concatenation accordingly,’ I am reminded of Channing [Professor Edward Channing], whose chair [at the American Academy of Arts and Letters] I am supposed to have, and I smile to think how disgusted he would have been. Did I tell you of my one encounter with him? I had read a little paper at the Historical Society on ‘Fiction as Historical Material.’ Channing and I happened to walk away together afterwards. He asked me if I ever took any of his courses when I was in college. I was obliged to say no, though without explaining that I never was in college. ‘Ah!’ he said, ‘that’s a pity. If you had, you might have been a historian.’ Everyone tells me the remark was characteristic. And now I sit in his chair! What a mad world it is.

(The End)