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AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT WILSON ON BEHALF OF AMERICAN LITERATURE
BY EDWIN BJÖRKMAN
MR. Pour entire career as student,
scholar, educator, and administrator constitutes a guaranty that you deem the spiritual development of a people no less important than its material welfare. It is also a guaranty of your ability to interpret the word "spiritual" in the broadest and most constructive sense. Thus I feel prompted to place before you a question that has been fermenting in my mind for a long time.
Will this nation, as a nation, never do anything for the encouragement or reward of its poets and men of letters?
The problem involved is a vexatious one, for many hold that such recognition ill bestowed is worse than none at all, and genius bears no infallible mark by which it may be known to everybody. Furthermore, genius is at once proud and shy, while unscrupulous mediocrity is ready to usurp its place. But no matter how great the difficulty may be, I am convinced that this question must be faced sooner or later, and that some effort must be made to solve the problems connected with it; for the soul of a nation is in its literature.
In pleading for your consideration of this matter, I am not unaware that from time to time a Lowell, a Hawthorne, a Howells has been sent to represent the nation abroad or assigned to some small government position at home. But in stances of this kind have been too few. They have mostly been traceable to the action of some person in power rather than to the nation itself. And they represent a form of acknowledgment that must be held equally unsatisfactory to the man appointed and to the service into which he is appointed.
Despite such crumbs, I insist that this nation, as a nation, has done nothing. Officially its poets do not exist, unless it
be as numbers connected with the enforcement of the copyright laws. The several States comprised within the Union have done as little. Even private generosity, ordinarily lavish, has remained singularly indifferent to the needs and claims of literature.
Financial support is not the only thing I have in mind now, although the granting of it to writers of promise represents one of the most important aspects of the question to which I am trying to draw your attention. I am thinking of any and every step that may be taken by this nation in recognition of the services rendered by its men of letters in general, and in particular by its creative, imaginative writers of prose and verse.
To my knowledge there is no other civilized country that has been guilty of such indifference or lack of foresight. Every Western nation except our own seems to have devised some way of acknowledging promise or proved merit in those building its national poetry. England knights them or places them on its civil list. France gives them the Legion of Honor or elects them to the Academy. My native Sweden has its Academy, too, as well as a system of literary stipends, not to mention the Nobel prize, for which the nation as such can take no credit. Little Norway, which relatively has done more for modern literature during the last fifty years than any other country in the world, has been making annual allowances of public money to struggling young writers since 1863.
I mention these facts not as examples of what must needs be done, but as illustrations of what may be done. I mention them not as ideal solutions of the problem at hand, but as evidence that other nations, wiser than our own, have at least endeavored to solve that problem.
Here there are neither academies nor pantheons, except "self-made" ones,
which, because of their origin, are lacking in the required prestige. There are no hereditary distinctions, no decorations of honor; and we do not want them. There is no laureateship, and no poet's dole to be given before or after achievement. There is not even a Westminster Abbey to which the nation might relegate the bones of its dead poets with some semblance of dignity.
It is easy to answer that a tomb remembered or a tomb forgot will make no difference to the man buried within it. But such is human nature that the mere hope of a final resting-place in some poets' corner becomes not only an incentive, but an actual reward, because the individual member feels himself a participant in the honor accruing to the profession in its entirety.
When a Peary reaches the north pole, Congress feels impelled to take special action for the reward of his deed. But it has apparently never occurred to anybody in Congress or out of it that the conquest of both poles means nothing to us in comparison with the everlasting possession of those delectable lands of fancy discovered by a Mark Twain.
It might almost be said that poetry is the one form of legitimate human activity that has obtained no official recognition for those pursuing it. At this point of my pleading your thought may turn to the Library of Congress. But that otherwise admirable institution does not hold the same relationship to the man of letters that the Department of Agriculture holds to the farmer, or the Department of Commerce and Labor to the merchant and the mechanic. It has been designed for the public, not for the poet, and even his accomplished work will count for little within its walls until he has passed far beyond the trials and triumphs of human life.
Neither in quantity nor in quality can the poetry so far produced by this nation be held commensurate to its greatness in other fields. A connection between this comparative backwardness and the absence of any conscious effort to foster a national poetry will, of course, be hard to prove. But I, for one, believe that such a connection exists. And I believe that we shall never raise our poetry to the level of our other achievements until we, as a nation, try to find some method of provid
ing money for the poet's purse and laurels for his brow.
I believe, too, that any official recognition of the services rendered to the nation by its singers and story-tellers and playwrights and essayists and critics will have additional value as a sign both to the nation itself and to the rest of the world that it has begun to turn in earnest from that preoccupation with material affairs which in the past has been named as one of its worst shortcomings. Whatever its detractors at home and abroad may say to the contrary, this nation is by no means lacking in idealism. lacking in idealism. It is, indeed, full of lofty dreams and pure ambitions. All it needs is to give this side of itself a chance. That it do so is the ultimate object of my present appeal.
I come to you, Mr. President, with no definite plan of action, with no panaceas of my own or other people's making, with no detailed demands or minutely formulated desires. I am purposely restricting myself to that one general, all-inclusive question, in order that the possible ineffectiveness of my own ideas may not furnish weapons for those who are hostile to the principle itself. There is no personal expectation or private ambition behind my question. I have simply learned by bitter experience what it means to strive for sincere artistic expression in a field where brass is commonly valued above gold. And I should like to see the road made a little less hard, and the goal a little more attractive, lest too many of those that come after lose their courage and let themselves be tempted by the incessant clangor of metal in the marketplace.
My eyes, with those of many others, have been following you from day to day. My faith has been growing steadily as I watched. I have gradually come to feel that in you the country has found that rarest of public servants: a wise man whose wisdom has not lamed his power of acting firmly and strongly. I know that you have studied human nature as it is, as it has been, and as it may become. I know that you understand us, both those who have been born here and those who have come from other countries in search of a keener air and brighter chances. I know that you discern clearly what can and what cannot be done. For
all these reasons I believe that you are the man to lead in this.
I am making this appeal on behalf of a profession which is dear to me for more reasons than that it is my own-the art of interpreting man to himself by means of the divine power that lies hidden in the word. I am making it on behalf of men and women who are striving against tremendous odds to give this nation a poetry equaling in worth and glory that of any other nation in the world. But I trust that you at least will perceive that, first
BY ROBERT BROWNING
THIS poem, which was put into type at the same time as the volume "Jocoseria" (1883), was not eventually published, but came to light, in its form as a rough-printed proof of what is known as galley-slip, among the poet's papers offered at the sale of the Browning collections in May, 1913. It shows many of the grotesque abridg.ments of Browning not at his best, and bears a certain relation to the last two stanzas of his well-known poem "Popularity," though it seems as applicable to modern tendencies as to those of the poet's own time. It seems almost as if the great poet were keenly appraising from beyond the grave our modern minor men.-The Editor.
and last and most of all, I am making this appeal on behalf of the nation itself.
Without the literature that radiates truth as well as beauty, that soul must wither.
The time has come, I feel, when this nation, for the saving of its own soul, must give serious and loving thought to its poets and men of letters. Some one whom the people trust must take the first step in the new direction: there is to-day probably no one whom they trust to a greater extent than you, and I can think of no other fitter for the task I suggest.
That lords assembled, most and least,
DREAMED there was once held a feast: "How! not content with loading crop,
THE INVASION OF REALITY
BY AMELIA JOSEPHINE BURR
Author of "At Bethlehem," etc.
PICTURE BY HARRY TOWNSEND
ME. DE VANNOZ closed her
Morgnon with a snap, and her eye
lids drooped with an obvious ballast of disapproval. To the uninitiated observer, Mme. de Vannoz might have seemed rash in assuming the seat of the scornful. At certain hours of the day she was accustomed to surrender her person to the hands of her maid with an unfeigned indifference as to the result. Nise, conventionally Parisian to the finger-tips, reproduced in this delightfully plastic material her ideal of a lady of the great world. To a Puritan eye, the result at first glance savored somewhat more of the half-world. Only at first glance, however; there was an austere quality about the woman herself, an almost disembodied impersonality, that nullified all the elaborate armor of coquetry. She was a writer of international reputation, a mind honored by the most brilliant minds of her acquaintance; not all the labors of Nise could make her a woman to be regarded by other women with suspicion and a touch of envy, by men with a smirk and a furtive interchange of glances. The girl at whom the lorgnon had been leveled was as natural of coloring as a flower, and would have. felt it as reprehensible to show a powdery nose as a shiny one. Nevertheless, Mme. de Vannoz, gazing at her, settled herself in the Siege Perilous with a judicial composure. She lifted her brows, puffing out a sharp breath like a reversed sniff-the kind of sound that challenges an answer. The answer came from the young man beside her. He, too, was looking at the girl, but with eyes very different from those of his companion.
"Please don't!" he remonstrated involuntarily. "You don't understand. That's only thoughtlessness."
Mme. de Vannoz looked at him, but not through the lorgnon; her eye in a state of nature had a whimsical twinkle.
"Why do you not ascribe it to the American manner, my child?" she inquired pleasantly, thereby checking an incipient mumble to that effect. She shook her head and smiled at his confusion, and he felt, as usual, much younger than he did in any other circumstances—younger even than before his mirror.
It seemed to Seymour that one could call it by no harsher name than thoughtlessness, the thing that the older woman disparaged. The girl was pretty, and more than pretty; her guileless intensity radiated life and love and joy. It seemed to him that her spontaneous little caresses. of hand and voice were as innocent in their exuberance as were the clinging tendrils of a vine. She sent them out freely, heedless of where they clung; it was the lavishness of her own nature spending itself in endearments upon the world at large. She walked now along the terrace, with her arm about the waist of another girl. One could see the ingenuous little squeeze with which she occasionally emphasized a word of her chatter. At the end of the terrace, toward the lake, a young man was kneeling, teaching a dog to shake hands. He held up a lump of sugar as an inducement to obedience. He called over his shoulder a laughing greeting to the two girls, the taller of whom was his bride. They stopped beside him, and, still enlaced, stooped to encourage the pupil; the little girl whom they were watching bent the closer of the two, her hand outstretched to fondle the dog's curly head. That brought the soft curve of her bosom very near the young man's shoulder; a strand of her wind-ruffled hair might have brushed his cheek. He dropped the sugar, and the dog eagerly appropriated it. It was at this point that Mme. de Vannoz closed her lorgnon.
"The dog had not given his paw," she said. "Do you know why he got the
sugar? Ah, yes, you know." Seymour bit his lip, aware with keen resentment of a rich suffusion about the ears. "It was last night, was it not?" she went on. "From my little garden one sees much. You were on the terrace-" She took his arm and drew him toward the nook by the lake; the other party had gone on into the hotel garden, the dog leaping and barking about them. Mme. de Vannoz Mme. de Vannoz paused at the stone balcony overhanging the water.
"Here," she said.
"You must n't blame her for that," he protested. "It was all my fault. She had no idea-"
"Thoughtless, in a word-your own. word," returned Mme. de Vannoz. "It may be. She is still very young, like yourself, and at first one does not think; one only feels. But one thing I tell you, my child: it is not well to be thoughtless with the husband of a friend.”
Seymour winced as if she had struck him; she drew away a little, and her hand fell from his arm.
"Do you think you love her?" she asked, and there was a hoarse tenderness in her voice like the lower notes of a cello. Behind her, far up the lake, the Dent du Midi rose inconceivably white against the darkening blue; despite the cynicism from which he had shrunk, despite the painted mask and the clinging draperies that betrayed an all-too-perfect corseting, she seemed to Seymour as aloof from human weakness and even from human feeling as those pinnacles of snow. Had she been always the unmoved analyst, he wondered; and for the first time in their acquaintance he thought of M. de Vannoz, and wondered what he had been like.
A sudden fierceness flamed through the careful art of her face. "Is your mother alive? No? And if she were, she could give you no help in this; she would be as innocent as you. See, my child, I understand that girl-me; she is what we call a flammeuse. She is the type that drives our boys to absinthe and cocottes; she lights the fire, but she never means to be burned in it. And seldom is; it is the others who suffer. The worst of it is, that if you ask her to marry you, she will do it, that one. I know. And not for love; do not cheat yourself. The flammeuse does not love; she drives a shrewd bargain; and she is always cold-cold at the heart."
"Stop!" cried Seymour. "You are cruel, and-you don't understand.”
The savage earnestness went out of her eyes, leaving the twinkle somewhat sadder, but more whimsical than ever.
'Do you think that you love her?" she repeated.
"I don't know-what else can it be?" he blurted boyishly.
"No, you would not know," said Mme. de Vannoz, slowly. "There is a sort of sacred imbecility that goes with innocence; because your head swims at a woman's touch, you think she is your mate, soul and body." Her shoulders contracted in a shrug that was half a shiver. "If you only knew! And yet I would not have you like some of my own kindred, who are imbeciles without the innocence."
"And I am only a clumsy old woman who treads upon the toes of your illusions," she said. “Forgive me; je vous aime-d' amitié, bien entendu, and I spoke as I would have spoken to a son of my own. Butone cannot save others from pain. I know that so well in my mind; but, see, I have not yet learned it with my heart. One can help only when the harm has been done. I have told that in so many stories -besides my own." She flung back her head with a short laugh. “And you are thinking only that I do not understand!" She turned away abruptly, and went toward the cottage, trailing her delicate embroideries along the path with a superb negligence. negligence. The shrubs of the miniature. garden hid her from him, and she had not looked back.
Seymour stood where she had left him, bewildered and disturbed. All day he had been obsessed by vague and whirling memories of the evening before; somehow the girl had been so near, so unconsciously alluring, that before he had known what was coming he had caught her in his arms, and his lips had found hers. It did not occur to him that the finding had been easy. Then she had freed herself, and run into the house, but not in anger, evidently, for all day her glances had been graciously forgiving and he flung the door of his mind violently shut in the face of the thought that there had been an invitation in her eyes. As he did so, he felt