July 14, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

Norwich, Vermont
July 14, 1931

Dear Mate:

The Meserveys brought over your letter yesterday, and I was very glad to have it, even if it was a rather sad sort of letter. Although I still doubt whether the gods are “equal to anything,” I know they are equal to a hell of a lot, and I’ve been worrying about “you-all” a great deal. I’m awfully glad that E. is getting better. Doctors, I think, are generally pessimistic. They are rather interested in their infernal fees, and they are quite pleased when somebody springs a strange new disease or combination of diseases that nobody has ever heard of before.

I do hope Phoebe won’t crash up next. Or you. I don’t see how you manage to avoid it, with all the mental and physical stress you must be under. Of course, if one can keep from losing one’s head, that’s the main thing.

I suppose you are right about B. R., if he really is that way. I hadn’t thought of it in just that light before. Still, I think he’s wrong; but if that’s how he is he can’t help it of course. I wish, for the sake of all the R.’s, that he weren’t quite so much of a Stoic, or had quite so much of a hankering for self-dependency. Of course I know he wouldn’t want to be “hovered over and looked out for and taken care of and protected”—and he isn’t exceptional in that, because I don’t think any man who is a man wants that. It isn’t exactly a question of “hovering over,” in my mind. Of course a great many women can’t do anything but “hover” (that’s a wonderful word!), but you aren’t like that. I can’t rid myself of the feeling that you could do him more good than harm; but probably you know better. That’s just my feeling.

Anyway, I hope that the “psychological moment” comes soon, when he will be a little bit swayed by his feelings. I do want to see him swayed by his feelings. Everyone ought to be, once in a while. A. and I were discussing that in our sage transcontinental manner just before he left, and we came in perfect accord to the conclusion that you can’t build an intelligent life solely on a foundation of either Reason or Passion. It’s a question of blending them and getting the most out of each, and shedding the husks and putting them in the garbage can. And when A. and I come to a decision—well, it’s a Decision, that’s all!

Please don’t think I’m trying to tell you anything, because I’m not. But I’ve worried a great deal about you, and wanted to say some of the things I’ve felt. And one of the things I feel most strongly about is that separation is Dire. It seems that most of my life I’ve been parted from the people I’ve most wanted to be with. It’s a kind of doom that hangs over me. But it’s a dire kind of thing, that I oughtn’t to yield to. I think togetherness is the best way of fighting sadness and despair, just as cleanishness and good Ivory soap is one of the best ways of fighting drab poverty. I think even you once said that if people were together that was half the fight. I think that holds good. I mean, of course, if the people are congenial, and happy to be together. I merely assume that that holds true of the R.’s.

As you say, it is rather a “weary, futile world.” There isn’t very much to be said for it most of the time, A.D.R. It’s a disappointing Jinx. And the only way of beating it is just not to let it weigh you down. What I should like to do is to pack B. R. up in a crate, labelled conspicuously “FRAGILE. PERISHABLE. HANDLE WITH CARE.”, and address him to No. 2001 via Airmail. This might be utterly the wrong technique, I can’t pretend I’m right, but somehow I’d refuse to let the old Jinx cheat you out of everything. It’s bad enough as is, without all these damned infernal separations.

It’s strange that I should be given a physical endurance, at least, that is nigh unending, and yet that I can’t come out and scrub pots and pans and do the cooking, or tend the store in the desert and help Phoebe out. I’d be very good at that sort of thing. I’m getting quite Practical. But I have my own little circus, and have to run it. It’s only a one-ring one, but it’s all I can handle, as sometimes the elephants are rather unruly, and come near squashing me against the wall.

This summer won’t grant much of a respite, but it is a grand change. I do ninety-five per cent of all the work that is to be done, which is considerable of a job in a camp. But I don’t mind that. What I do mind is an article I’m still trying to write for Harper’s. I’ve decided that that is going to be done this summer, whether or not I get much ahead of “Lost Island” (which I probably shan’t). But “Lost Island” is pretty well started, and I don’t think it will miscarry now. Three long chapters, and the story well under way. The next thing really is this Harper article, and it’s going to be done.

This little cabin really is very enchanting. It’s up in a pasture, on a hill, with sumac in front, and hemlock and woods stretching indefinitely behind. The hermit-thrushes sing nearly all the time, and are quite tame. The field is white with daisies, and alive with big orange butterflies. The steeplebush is soon coming out. There is a huge patch of rhubarb down below the cabin a little way, so we have a continual supply of super-excellent rhubarb sauce. The hemlocks make a grand harp to the wind. And it’s good to be wearing old black pants again. They have shiny streaks on them which is varnish remover from the Marsodak; they have spots of engine-room oil on them; they have a streak or two of whitewash from A.’s large brush aboard the Vigilant—in fact, quite an atmosphere.

There’s nothing like these northern woods and hills and wild flowers, anyway. We have the cabin full of wild flowers, just ordinary ones, like daisies and buttercups and meadowsweet and Queen Anne’s lace; but they have a delicate and subtle Something about them which isn’t to be equalled in a Fifth Avenue florist’s window. And I am also peacefully reading “Coniston” for the first time.

So you saw W.F.—well, well. If he gets much sourer, A.D.R., he’ll turn into curds, and have to be combined with a good deal of baking soda and made into gingerbread…. I made a perfect one last night, with some milk that was terribly sour, so sour I had no faith in it whatsoever, since it was solid—but the gingerbread was superb, which just goes to show that you can’t daunt a gingerbread.

I believe that W.F. has become the prince and king of all Fools. I think that probably the reason he and M. turned against A. and were so utterly mean to me about him was that they were somewhat afraid of him because he was upright and honest and aloof and didn’t approve of them. He’s ten times the man W.F. is, and maybe W.F. sensed that—you sometimes do—and naturally would resent it.

Anyway, A.D.R., don’t you lose your sense of humor, whatever happens. If you have that, you can keep your head above water—just. Sometimes it’s by a hair’s-breadth, but still it’s above water. Without it one may as well lay down and die. That you still have plenty of yours is evidenced by the last headline you sent me. I can’t make anything out of it at all. It does sound somewhat vacationy, though I can’t define the reason for it. What masterpieces that headline fella does pull off!

I certainly don’t think there is much to be said for this so-called civilization. It’s barbarous, that’s what it is. The primitivest of the primitive were never capable of such outrages as this Jinx civilization. That’s one of the things “Lost Island” is about—sort of a fling, a kick, a dig at the world. Not a nasty one, just a grieved one. I wish we were back to the cave days. Even nowadays there are some tribes that are happy. Look at the Polynesians, for instance. Naturally we can’t be happy in their surroundings, but that’s not the fault of the surroundings. It’s our fault—and civilization’s. Damn, damn!

But lest you think I’m becoming very despondent myself of late, let me assure you that this is my normal state of mind, when I allow it to come to the surface. That is, I always am grieved at the world. But I usually don’t allow it to come to the surface. I sink it. And I do love listening to those hermit-thrushes. They are divine. And there are a few beings whom I love a great deal, and who make most of what there is of Good in life. But I don’t believe in God. God got discouraged and gave up long ago, and I don’t blame him, I’m sure!

A.D.R., I do with all my heart hope things will come somewhere near right for you soon. If you would come east this winter, even if you still felt that you should keep away from B.R., we’d adore to have you. Why don’t you come anyway? And then if the “psychological moment” arrived, you’d be that much closer. I think that’s a good idea. I think we could find a certain amount of peace, and might really get a lot of masterpieces done. I feel all energy at the very thought. And cocoa is an inspiring drink. You see, friends have to stick together in the face of the Jinx.

Yours with love,
B.

Hermit thrush singing in Maine, by Garth McElroy.

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