frankly frightened at the idea of getting the animosity of the Scientists that I withdrew the book lest they die of their fears. It is a great and comical triumph! It is given to but few scribblers to win such a funny victory as this. And consider the miracle of it: it was done with a pen, not with a boomerang. / Sincerely … [MTP].
May 4 Monday – In Riverdale, N.Y. Sam, still laid up, wrote to Brander Matthews.
I haven’t been out of my bed for 4 weeks, but—well, I have been reading, a good deal, & it occurs to me to ask you to sit down, some time or other when you have 8 or 9 months to spare, & jot me down a certain few literary particulars for my help & elevation. Your time need not be thrown away, for at your further leisure you can make Columbian lectures out of the results & do your students a good turn.
Are there in Sir Walter’s novels passages done in good English—English which is neither slovenly nor involved?
Are there passages whose English is not poor & thin & common-place, but is of a quality above that?
Are there passages which burn with real fire—not punk, foxfire, make-believe?
Has he heroes & heroines who are not cads & cadesses?
Has he personages whose acts & talk correspond with their characters as described by him?
Has he heroes & heroines whom the reader admires? admires, & knows why? admires, & is not ashamed of it?
Has he funny characters that are funny, & humorous passages that are humorous?
Does he ever chain the reader’s interest, & make him reluctant to lay the book down?
Are there pages where he ceases from posing, ceases from admiring the placid flood & flow of his dilutions, ceases from being artificial, & is for a time, long or short, recognizably sincere & in earnest?
Did he know how to write English, & didn’t do it because he didn’t want to?
Did he use the right word only when he couldn’t think of another one, or did he run so much to wrong words because he didn’t know the right one when he saw it?
Can you read him? and keep your respect for him? Of course a person could in his day—an era of sentimentality & sloppy romantics—but land! can a body do it to-day?
Brander, I lie here dying, slowly dying, under the blight of Sir Walter. I have read the first volume of Rob Roy, & as far as Chapter XIX of Guy Mannering, & I can no longer hold my head up nor take my nourishment. Lord, it’s all so juvenile! so artificial, so shoddy; & such wax figures & skeletons & spectres. Interest? Why, it is impossible to feel an interest in these bloodless shams, these milk-&-water humbugs. And oh, the poverty of invention! Not poverty in inventing situations, but poverty in furnishing reasons for them. Sir Walter usually gives himself away when he arranges for a situation—elaborates, & elaborates, & elaborates, till if you live to get to it you don’t believe in it when it happens.
I can’t find the rest of Rob Roy, I can’t stand any more Mannering—I do not know just what to do, but I will reflect, & not quit this great study rashly. He was great, in his day, & to his own proper audience; & so was God in Jewish times, for that matter, but why should either of them rank high now? And do they—honest, now, do they? Dam’d if I believe it.
My, I wish I could see you & Leigh Hunt! [MTB 1197-8]. Note: Leigh S.J. Hunt
Robert J. Collier wrote to Sam. “Through the Doubleday’s kind offices I was told that a talk about your books etc might not be inopportune. This was some two weeks ago….” Collier had been delayed in following up by illness. Could
Sam come down for lunch? “It would be a long-desired pleasure to meet you.” Or, Collier could come up to Riverdale [MTP]. Sam wrote on the env. “Answered May 5.”
Hilary Trent (pseud. of R.M. Manley) wrote again to Sam. She regretted his decision about using his letter as an advertisement facsimilie but would “abide by it.” Admiration was still intact [MTP]. Note: Sam’s reply is not extant.
May 5 Tuesday – In Riverdale, N.Y. Sam wrote to Susan Crane.
God is very good to us, when He can’t think up anything fresh. Jean is so much better this morning that Katy calls her almost well; I am so much better that I have suspended the tiresome poultices till afternoon;
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.