Helen Hunt Jackson 2-2-25c transcription
|Helen Hunt Jackson Papers, Part
2, Ms 0156, Box 2, Folder 25c, Moncure Conway to HHJ, 1868-1881.
Transcribed by Gloria Helmuth, 2003.
57 Notting hill Square W.
Here are your printed pieces at last - sent too late - but reluctantly now. What apology have I? After you went I was taken ill - the first time for years; then my baby was ill; next my wife's parents, he ordered from America for a change came - and is here visited by the Doctor. Thus many anxieties have settled down by the fireside, along with your pieces, and I could not give myself up to them for a long time. You must forgive me - especially as I had not been impressed with the importance of time in the matter. And now assuming that I am forgiven, especially when your children again surround you in pleasant Italy, I will straightway say my say. - And first about the pieces themselves. I have read them and reread the poems, seeking to read between the lines of them; laying my ear, Indian-like, close, to find if I could hear far-off footfalls of other days. Did I hear any? Now and then. I fancy - perhaps it is only fancy - that I know of burnt ships, at least; and the zone of Calms, I understand and see from the stormy equinox. How hard have I tried, reading these pieces, to conjure up again the lineaments of a beautiful past! Yes how hard - so much have I changed in these years, since you and I sat under the tanglewood. But the verses, I think I like most the Tribute to R.W.E., Mordecai, Burnt Ships, Last Words, Locust and Wild Honey, and the Coronation - and in this succession. I remember once walking with Emerson in the woods, when he repeated some lines. -
Who can tell
Shadowy hemlocks inarched with columnar oaks and chestnuts, &c & c
"By the way," he said, "who wrote those exquisite lines? I found them in your Cincinnati Dial." Their writer, as I told him was Myron Benton of Dutchers Co. N.Y. This Benton became afterward Thoreau's most intimate friend, & T's last letters were written to him. A few days ago I received a letter from Benton in which he said, "Have you seen any poems by H.H.? "They are very different from the conventional poetry, and have the ring of true poetry. I know only they are by a Mrs. Hunt." His little incidental compliment is worth much (as I think) and I send it to you while I remember it, knowing that Emerson's admiration of one of B's [word or two gone] make his tribute a pleasant moonbeam, at least, for you. For myself what I like in your poems is their high, unsentimental, vein, and the felicitous use of words. The thoughts in them are striking and true. There is no question of their superiority to the writings of other American poetesses. What is it I miss? I think it must be locusts and wild honey; - thought I am not quite sure I can express what I could further desire, and if truth were not so essential between us, shd not say so much. I find more than I like of tones I have heard before. I used to think I could hear Cotton Mather preaching in Theodore Parker's sermons. I hear German English & American idealism in your verses. I have been looking for some American poetry which should break our remorseless straight line of civilisation and development. Anglosaxon law and morality, have reach their climax in New England, like a shining rocket; is it not time it should burst and sow the sky with new colours? A celebration of polygamy, of Mephistopheles, Nakedness, Illegitimacy, Miscegenation, Fire-Worship, would be refreshing. There are things the Mayflower was not big enough to hold, which America must recover; and "the truth," as Emerson said in his late lecture, "can only be told in poetry." I wish you were a little wilder, and your brain had lodged in a squaw. Better themes than you choose for your verses I find in your letters about the strange creatures shown by the Academy of Sciences. Were I to write poetry I shd. write the epic of a primaeval swamp, and show all our ideas, laws &c reflected in it. There is a good poem in your admirable Turkish bath sketch and another in the Californian Skull. Walt Whitman is the half-clad John the Baptist of American Poetry; he has made spires of grass grow higher and finer than spires of churches. - Do you think I am arrogant? You dreamed I was your father, you say, and that explained all! Well, let me be a Daniel to your dream. It means that though I am no poet myself, I am quite equal to training one; and with your power of speech and sensitivity, I would (were I but by your side some years!) force through you to life many a ghost wandering on the infernal side after Styx when the heart of it belongs to Elysian.
Your wonder that in all these years I should have been a proof of the power of a marriage vow, is queer; it shows that after all you don't know how aged I am - and was before marriage. I don't mean that I had become blase' but my passional training was peculiar. During all my life up to 19 I was morbidly religious. A few years followed full of the outbursting of cloistered emotions - flame followed flash; and then Emerson touched me on the shoulder. Somehow I have never been able to fairly indulge an animal instinct or a sensuous passion, since he looked me in the eye. In earlier days I should have him tried as a witch. I move about among the enjoyers of life, as one spell-bound. I have studied beyond Emerson, caught sight even of one or two of his limits; but still this work of his eye is not undone. I hate morality, and am moral. I should like to raise the devil, and am Christian. Gradually that which is sown in a man conquers him. That man Paul knew something when he said - "His seed remaineth in him; he cannot sin." The seed that has once got in a man, draws to it the sap, the mud, the flint of him. Afterward he may try to train flowers near the root of that which has got the start, but they are speedily robbed of all life by the tyrant-bulb. Thus Fate took me as a boy - and (with short illusive interval of freedom) again a youth and man, - and bound me on her wheel. Consequently, instead of powering out of this paper any more ravings I shall in three minutes be writing the first lines of a discourse which will deny all the doctrines of this age, only to make people adhere to them more strictly!
Dear Helen, I wonder if ever you will know all the abyyses you tread near, - all the embers you stepped on - so long as you and I were together. Somehow I never think of you, but I feel an intimation that there must be another world, where we shall meet. Here and now what were the use of our corresponding ever? My voyage is by contract, and I must admit no warping magnet near the needle. Fate is perhaps not unnecessarily hard upon me; I have a few flowers thrown over the walls out of the Eden I cannot enter; but my way is appointed and fixed as any railway track in England. That you are happy, and have sunny outlooks, is to me a precious knowledge - I should have been happier had I know it years ago. Let us not endanger the "well-enough" of our relation, which by contrast with our parting is almost joyful. The time may come when more shall be possible; so I hope at any rate. At present I must close this wild letter by saying that neither heart nor brain of mine are equal to writing letters to you or receiving them from you. I know very well what I am saying in this. I can only trust that you will understand as I do; and I do not fear but that you will know how unbroken and unbreakable is my love for you.
My dear Helen,
If the fluid in which I write keeps its colour you will perceive that it is written in my heart's blood. Or you may recognize in it a trace of the great Chicago 'burn,' - for I am writing at Robt. Collyer's house, though I give the address at which I shall be up to the 24th. This ought to be a letter of felicitation I suppose, though I am so vexed at after all, not having seen Mr Jackson, that I won't write any congratulations, - not just now at any rate. No doubt this note will surprise you, as I have several times told you that I am losing the use of the odious invention called a pen. The real reason of my writing had as well be disclosed at once, as you will be sure to know that I have some special reason. Well, the reason is this. There is a family of Lewises here, and among them a Miss Scofield, - particular friends all of the late Celia Burleigh - who have given me an account of a friend of theirs, a teacher in N.Y. state, who they declare to have written three at least of the Saxe Holm's Stories, or nearly all of the three - the Draxy Miller, the Lady Who Kept her husband, & the Love Letter Story. They even read me a letter from the schoolteacher claiming these stories. Can you tell me about this? Are they not altogether yours? Write me about it, I shall not tell anything you do not wish. The Lewises are a family who have entertained me & I should like to tell them as much as is right. - And while you are about it write me lots of things about yourself & your husband.
Ever your friend
Monk [Moncure Conway]
My dear Helen,
So long ago came the little book, so tardily goes the visible response! It seems as if a year or two at least had elapsed since that little note, whispered - for notes can whisper - "Keep my secret", and during the time the secret has got abroad so far that a day or two ago I read in some paper that your home was decorated as I may say a la Philbrique. Now observe the following story. When it became determined by the Parcae that I must remain in London, and not go to Boston, I resolved to get something other than one of those big square brick boxes which are here called 'houses', a place which my wife & children might love, and especially where we might have trees and flowers. So after wandering about a month or so we found this old house, named of Hamlet, but not the Dane, - an old 'Jeweller to the Queen' who built it a hundred years ago. He was the most famous silversmith of his day, and became a millionaire; he had a daughter who possessed every advantage, but for whom old Hamlet coved title. Hence came on an engagement with a lord (impecunious) which made a sensation. Old Hamlet undertook to run the Princess Theatre, became bankrupt, and the daughter's marriage was broken off (noble lord not considering the contract fulfilled on his part.) The house then passed into other hands - was the scene of various romances - and at Michaelmas became mince. We have about 1 ½ acres, a dozen large elms, a garden of roses, all manner of flowers and fruits, lawns, and statues among the bowers (a Muse, a Vestal, Galileo, Esculapius.) What could be prettier? Well, we found moving hard; things had accumulated frightfully. Wife was very anxious to get my study ready so that my work might be interrupted as little as possible. She hired a large number of workmen who sat and lay around from day to day while my wife did most of the work, - hanging pictures, placing books, carpets, etc. At last I was astonished to find the work of removal accomplished, in some two weeks, instead of two months as I had expected. Nothing could exceed the beauty of all the arrangements.
Then came the cost, and the settlement. One afternoon I found my wife lying on the bed in the afternoon; - a thing I had never seen during the eighteen years of our married life. She arose as I came near, smiling faintly, and in another moment looked like death, and fell senseless on the floor.
It was the setting in of a terrible illness. For a week her pulse was so low that it could hardly be felt. It came out but too surely that from the time that I left her to go to America vitality began to ebb; it went on little by little, and took the form of a morbid apprehension - too vague to be conquered - that she would never see me again, but I would be lost at sea. This was the summing up of six months of apprehensive days & nights. She doesn't know that I know this.
Well, by aid of a good physician, feeding every hour or two, and nursing she rallied. I was her only nurse, and for two months read & wrote only by her side. Your book came at her first rallying and without reading I gave it to her. One day I found her crying and laughing over it; the tears were drawn by its pathos, the laughter that the first book I should have given her should be full of things so suggestive of the heaviness that hung over her. The physician had to say that a long invalidism was likely to ensue, and she already saw in herself a Mrs White and Mrs Carr combined with me chained to her bedside!
I took up the book in a rather worried frame of mind and read it; but was less worried when I saw that her tears passed away and the smiles increased. She became convalescent. Murky & chill England gave us a special dispensation in Oct. & Nov. and the usual bogs became Indian summer. The air was so balmy and the sunshine so genial that when day after day I led my thin, wasted invalid around the garden, the roses burst forth anew & the strawberries got out a second blossoming to greet us, so it has gone on, until last night. I took her to the theatre - her first evening out for four months - and today she is better than she has ever been before.
During these last weary months I have learned a good deal - enough to condone ever the hopeless subjection of Stephen White to his mother, and to regret you should have [burthened?] him with the dishonesty. For the rest, it seems to me that the story has surpassing excellencies along with a good deal that is morbid. The characters are unique, their interplay original, their environment picturesque; but I would have delighted more in the break between Stephen and Mercy if it had occurred on a more refined issue, somewhere along the shadowy frontier where 'right and wrong' seem to blend in such a way that the two can only be distinguished by the second sight of the finest spirits. The book seems to have been read a good deal over here and I am often asked to disclose the authorship; comments favorable and unfavorable have been made; nobody seems entirely to like the story, but all agree as to its power and originality. You will understand by what my sad occupation has been since it came that I have not been able to write anything for the press about it. My regular work has been overwhelming. I have long ago ceased to have any connection with the English press, finding so many serious tasks, to which I am committed, clamouring for me, - unfulfilled.
As I s-e-e- set here at my window listening to a hermit-thrush singing in an old gnarled elm out there, it seems so strange that destiny should have put so many [thens?] and miles between us, - and set you in a far home adorned with Indian blankets, and me in an ancient English house haunted with histories! The Christmas Holidays have begun, and I see my robust girl of eight and my beautiful boy of eleven playing in the rose garden. Eustace, my oldest (over seventeen!) now matriculated in the University of London, is in the next room studying law for his LLB to be striven for with the examiners in January. A noble - almost a perfect youth - he is, and I am adjourning to him much that I have only been able to dream of accomplishing. When our tasks are over we have our merry dinner at six; then comes 'the children's hour'; then reading together; then we play billiards (for my big study has a billiard table in it); and then sleep well, - and trust that the law of natural selection is shaping things better than we could shape them ourselves.
I have written, and have in press, a volume of 350-400 pp. & as entitled "Idols and Ideals." It deals with most of the great problems - God, Evolution, Immortality, etc. The most important serial Essay in it has just been printed separately here - 'Christianity' and I send it to you by this mail. The [bottom line on page did not copy], New York in the coming spring. You will see that I am deep in Theology. I am just now having a battle with the Christian Evidence Society of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is President. It has taken me in hand and done me the honour to arrange a series of lectures during the whole of Advent which they announce to be meant as the antidote to my heresies. The lectures are delivered on Sunday evenings at the nearest Church to my Chapel - St Luke's - and the last was given by Dr. Barker, the last Bampten Lecturer. They are crowding both of my chapels (which have not a seat to let left) and my committee, thinking that such attention from English prelates deserves consideration, thinks of passing a resolution of gratitude. The solemn egotism of this page will prove to you more than anything I could write that your old friend has indeed been transformed into a what-you-may-call-him, - say a Dryasdust. But still I am in hopes you and Mr Jackson will like my pamphlet on Christianity, and perhaps the other which I also send today.
Now I must go to the Devil. I am writing a book about him and he must have his due - the second half. (How odd that I should have given you the first!)
How thankful I would be if you could get time to write me a letter - especially such a one as would win a few more smiles to the face of her with whom by a fresh consecration under the shadow of Death, I am 'one and inseparable'. When you & your husband come this way - and I feel you will - you will receive a welcome which will show that "in all changes brighter things have [ith?]", - but also that I am unchangeably your friend
Moncure D. Conway
It has just occurred to me that if I can catch a mail which leaves in 10 minutes, from a point 9 minutes from here, you may get this Christmas card, and it may remind you of Bedford Park where dames are supposed to pass their days and night much in the way of the lady sketched. As a matter of fact we all have a jolly time here, - with plenty of worldliness, but not much other-worldliness, and there is not a guitar in the place.
Mrs. Botta wrote us, I think, that you were going to California. Ah, how I envy you! When shall we ever hear from you again? What are you engaged on now?
As always your
Moncure D. Conway.
Dear Helen -
A happy New Year to you!
Your flashing eye overtook my guilty spirit here last night, in the shape of a note of a querical kind. Why have I not answered your last? Simply because letters can not be written on sleeping-cars, or while one is lecturing in halls, or when he comes from a lecture half-dead with fatigue & loss of sleep, and with the invariable prospect of having to renew his journey at 4 or 5 o'ck a.m. I did think I should have been in the Chicago region earlier than I shall be, and when I am there I shall talk to the Lewises again about their gifted authoress (S.H.) in N.Y. But until I am there there is nothing more to say about that. Except, indeed, that I can not for the life of me see the reason for your adhering to secresy? Of course, I wasn't with you long enough to know your reasons for disowning so fair a child (A.. Drachsy for instance) but I suppose now it must be one l--e hiding another. But if you at the end of life (as you overwhelmingly remark) disclose your authorship I don't see why you hadn't better make a clean breast of it now. Perhaps you don't believe in immortality. If you do won't your rosy cloud grow moister and even clammy and your golden trump lose its charms when you look earthward and see somewhere the epitaph: -
"H. H. Poetess and Humbug. She said she wasn't Saxe Holm and she was."
Or perhaps it will begin with a "Here LIES." Now, I think that simply to save the young and old spinsters of New York from demoralisation & the irresistible temptation to appropriate unclaimed property you ought to allow your friends to come out with it, & soften over the denial as artistically as we can. We can quote the example of Walter Scott in denying Waverly, you know, & other instances. There is no doubt that the stories could only have been written by you. Drachsy M. is as fine a thing as even you ever did. The silver-haired oratress is a picture that can never fade out of any memory, & is worth all the woman's rights movements, & appeal, put together. But pray write to me, why your secresy.
As for going to Colorado Springs to lecture, my heart responds & is already there; but there is no chance whatever of my getting there in the flesh. I have already declined LaCrosse & St Paul's because they are too far for the time I have at my disposal. Mr. L.B. Harrison of Cin.ti has offered to take me on a tour of the far West - including California & the Yosemite, he paying all expenses, and I have had to decline. I must stand in my London pulpit again on April 2. My poor wife writes pathetic letters about her loneliness & would be heart-broken at any suggestion of an extension of my absence. She says she dreamed that I returned - entered the door & said I had had just two invitations to lecture & there were two persons at each lecture, and how sad she was when she awoke & found it was only a dream.
By the way I observed that you didn't enclose that promised photograph of yourself.
But now I must bid you goodby, though I hope to write again.
Ever your friend
maintained by Special Collections; last revised, 6-2003, jr