Letter to A.D.R., February 24, 1931

620 West 122nd Street
New York City
February 24, 1931

Dear A.D.R.:

I hardly dare to write to you at all now! Oh, I admit it, I admit it, my dear, it is simply horridiferous of me to have neglected no. 2001 so very long. I know–I don’t have to be told so, or mercilessly scolded, or kicked, or shaken!

Human nature, I’ve decided, is a very ornery sort of thing, when all’s said and done. In spite of my inward resolution to make no excuses for my long, dastardly silence, I am going to proceed at once to make some! To begin with, Helen has been down and out with the “flu.” She’s been up for some time now, but for several days the place was pandemonium, and there was no doing anything save just dragging along from one hour to the next. Everything seemed as wrong as possible. Even Anderson, the unfailing standby, was summoned up-sound with the owner of the ship, with the result that I didn’t have any word from him for over two weeks, which was uncomfortable. I learned afterwards that the two of them had been cutting down a tree for a new mast for the schooner. Still romance in the world, eh, what? I like the idea of cutting down trees for masts–in 1931! Seems too good to be true.

Even at the office, things were deadly, as the Director had to go out West to a big meeting, to deliver a couple of addresses, etc., and when he’s away there’s hardly anything to do down there; and if there’s anything I hate, it’s keeping up a semblance of having something to do when in reality I’m not. The time hangs awfully heavy at such times. Now, however, Helen is well, A. is back, the Director came back today; also a deluge of proof for the technical Journal came in in the morning’s mail, and my down-town desk is loaded!

I have other exciting news. The other week, in pursuing through the Shipping News, I came upon an item about my old schooner, the Frederick H.–that is, of course, the Norman D. It seems she had gone ashore off Mount Desert (Maine) in a gale o’ wind, and damaged her rudder. (Follett would know about Mount Desert.) Well, that set me thinking. I got to thinking about that “worthy mariner” (as Anderson calls him), Mate Bill, and how he was, and how Mrs. Mate Bill was, who wrote me once; and whether the schooner was badly knocked up, and whether Bill still remembered at all the little red-headed girl who kicked about the decks of the Frederick H. so long ago, when she was only about up to her own shoulder, or less!

So I typed off a letter to Mate Bill.

And in reply:

Port Greville
Feb. 12. 1931

Dear Barbara
we got your letter O K and was
glad to here form you again.
Bill is not home so he got me to
drope you a line Bill was in
Frederick last summer and this
summer to he left hur about 3
weeks befour she went ashore she
is in river now not hurt much. we
was tacking about you about a
week befour Bill got your letter
he was useing knife you give him
and sed I like to no ware Barbara
is now he though he would never
here form you again Bill sed he
would make you a boat like
Frederick and take it up to you
in summer.

if you think you could fine him
he would let you no Bill ofen
speek about that man that came
down in Frederick and would love
to see him I am send you some
snaps of Frederick H. now Barbara
I will Close for this time Please
write soon again form Mrs

       Bill working in woods about
16 mile form home he diden have
aney chance to write he in a
camp with about 28 men so you see
he would have no place to write
please excuse him


Real honest-to-God sterling people? Yes! And what difference does it make whether they can spell or not? Not a sand-small bit–though of course it’s preferable, I think, to have, as a steady correspondent, someone who can spell and punctuate and form good Anglo-Saxon sentences and paragraphs!

Well, I was overjoyed. So it seems I may be seeing Mate Bill this summer, “if I can fine him” that is, which I think I can do, even among the dingy, complicated, disgusting wharves of New York. If I do, there will be a story. And yet–I confess I have a vague fear when it comes to seeing Bill again. Bill remembers me as a little kid. I’ve put on so much stature, etc., I’m afraid he may be rather flabbergasted. However, I don’t see that I could have done anything about it; though I do think it would be nice to have some magic gift by which one could become twelve or thirteen years old at will. Don’t you?

Other news I have none, I guess. Helen’s manuscript is battling for dear life. There are three very powerful ropes out now, and any number of smaller fish-lines. Some of it is in the hands of St. Nicholas, which has so far reacted favorably. Helen, with the help of a new-found actress friend, is dramatizing it with radiostic ambitions, as perhaps I’ve told you. And then the Junior Literary Guild. One of the three ought to happen. I should think, anyway! If all of them happen–but that isn’t to be expected. But if any one of them happens, it will help the other two!

She herself is working like an Injun most of the time. I, on the other hand, ain’t working no more than I have ter!

Sometimes, still, I spend week-ends at that quiet, timid little house in Pelham, with the elderly poet and his elderly wife. I spent this last week-end on holiday with them, reading Sherlock Holmes and Sat. Eve. Post stories, and in general having a good relaxation. I also did some writing. I find it rather difficult to get all the writing done here that I might like to do. It’s rather thick at times!

Have you heard anything, or seen anything, or felt anything, of Follett? Or of The Other? I wonder, I wonder, what they can be doing, and how they are, etc. How’s that “menial job” which Follett said he had?

Your story, I regret to say, hasn’t sold yet. I’m going to take it down to Ethel Kelley next week-end, and read it aloud to her. She is a very precious friend of both Helen and me, you know; and is well up in literary things, and knows a lot about possible markets, etc., even if she has been flat on her back for three or four years.

The only other bit of news is that my German friend, the young and fair-haired second mate of my last steamer, the Marsodek, came for a “wisit” with me the other week or so. I came home from work and found him sitting at the table with Helen, laughing, and looking quite like himself. We had a very jolly time. He went out and bought two immense porterhouse steaks about three inches thick, and a dozen pastries with whipped cream in them. Lord-a-mercy! when these sailors get ashore! That’s one thing I like about A: he doesn’t force fanciful boxes of candy upon one at every corner. But the German mate was very entertaining, as usual: he spun yarns till nearly midnight. It seems his ship, the Marsodek, is laid up in Baltimore: he got transferred to another of the company’s ships, which just came into New York. He was shivering, however, and talked a great deal about California, and his favorite town, San Francisco.

The weather has been rather beastly, though not half so bad as I expected. It’s been alternately cold and warm, cold and warm, all winter long. There’s been real northerly spice in the air, and quite a lot of snow; and there have been some of those clear, cold, north N. E. (that stands for New England!) days that make one feel very virile and full of life and energy. These last three days, on the other hand, have been gloriously like spring itself.

In your last letter you commented with great, great enthusiasm, on N by E. Funny that our tastes in literature should clash, even a little, isn’t it? I can’t praise the book with the whole-hearted eagerness that you do. You say that Rockwell Kent is a Man and a Seaman. I don’t think he is quite either. There are some gorgeous bits in the book, and I love some of the pictures; but damn it! there’s too much Rockwell Kent at every turn! I have a feeling, also, that there’s affectation in the book–it doesn’t quite ring, to me, with the genuine wholesome sound that it ought to have. It can’t be said that I am prejudiced, either, because I started out with the feeling that I should certainly admire and love the book straight through. But it doesn’t seem to me the book that his earlier one, Wilderness, is. (Pardon this atrocious sentence!)

Another thing that doesn’t ring with me is the breaking up of the little party.

Another thing that’s out of place is the episode of the Greenland girl.

I’ll tell you, though, of one really gigantic piece of writing that has come to light. It’s in the February issue of Harper’s Magazine; and it’s William McFee’s article, “Engine Room Stuff.” Now on the whole I have had occasion to be hugely disappointed with McFee’s writing. But this one piece is epic, cosmic. It’s without doubt one of the best short pieces of writing I’ve read for a long time. It has, in fact, only one bad line in it–which one can skip when reading it aloud to friends, as I do. I suggest that you dig it up. It’s far more than worth the trouble.

My love to the fambly. I suppose B. R. is in Washington, now. Alas! These continental separations! Atrocious, aren’t they? If you will give me his address, I think I’ll write to him again shortly. How’s Phoebe? The House Beautiful covers are GRAND!

There are lots of things I should have said that I haven’t, I’m sure. Yet this is, at least, a starter, isn’t it? I hope you don’t feel too thoroughly exasperated with

Yours ever,

Letter to A.D.R. – June 1, 1931

150 Claremont Avenue, New York. Photo taken in March, 2012.


150 Claremont Avenue
New York
June 1, 1931

Dearest A.D.R.:

I am really almost afraid to write to you at all. I feel quite dastardly, and all that. But I’ve been endeavoring to do sixteen different major things at once, and you know what that is like. Furthermore, the scheme of the universe was just about as full as I could manage, and I had to keep going pretty tight to keep up with it at that. Now there is one extra corner. You can have it!

Your last letter was really a very grand one. Maybe it will help a little for you to know that I answered it twice, or started to, but the answers never got finished! Also I never received the headlines which you enclosed in it. They had a tragedy. You see, I opened the letter as I was on my way from the house to the subway station, and so they blew away! I chased them a little, but there was quite a wind, and they eluded me. Of course, knowing your habits, I should have been prepared.

The best thing that letter contained was your news about B. R., and yet YOU merely appended it in ink, as an after-thought! It is too grand to be true that someone is going to see somebody they want to see. I envy you and rejoice with you all at once.

We have some rather good developments of late. Helen’s book is TAKEN!!!!!!!!!! By Louise Seaman, of Macmillan. Furthermore, it seems that now it’s been accepted, and a generous advance offer made, certain other publishers in N. Y. are on its trail–which is flattering, you know. Well, the joke’s on them.

Now, I don’t want this to be mentioned. It’s a great secret, for the time being. You must share it only with Phoebe. Helen is very anxious to have it a surprise to W. F., and for that reason I think it would be better not to tell even the Deserters. Furthermore, the Contract isn’t actually signed, nor the Check received; but it’s as good as done, and I don’t think it can really go wrong now.

There is still more editorial work to be done on it. It was accepted on faith, so to speak. Helen has gorgeously revised the first four chapters, and the faith is that the rest of the book will be pulled up to the high standard of those four. That will be done this summer. The book will doubtless be out next spring.

Helen says she’s going to get that book serialized before it’s published, then accepted by the Junior Guild, then published, then radioized, and perhaps a few odd chapters accepted by Harper’s Magazine in payment of the Debt! Well, SOME of those things ought to come through!

Other things have happened. One sad one. A. has gone, of course–which leaves the corner in my time which I was speaking about before. I’m glad to have the corner, of course, and yet — It was more of a jolt than I had anticipated. I feel quite nebulous, not quite sure of whether I’m here.

Other things have happened. We’re moving, as you can see by the heading. Just an apartment round the corner, because this building is to be torn down, beginning tomorrow, supposedly. The new place is bigger and airier and sunnier and expensiver, with a grand view of the New Jersey hills, Grant’s Tomb, and the rear of the statue of Butterfield.

Other things have happened. I’m to have a two months’ vacation, and we’re moving up to Hanover to spend them in a little cabin in the woods, just across the river from our old and dear friends the Meserveys. Really in the woods. Wood-thrushes and crickets and pine trees. Oh, my God! And stars, and smells, and green grass. A little log cabin, all furnished, facing Mt. Ascutney, for $20.00 a month. Not too extravagant, eh what? I shall climb mountains and tear around. Just the worst two months here in the city. What luck! July and August.

Other things have happened. I’m writing a book. A good book. The one about wings. The first chapter is done, and the second is well under way. The plot is mapped out rather clearly–in my head. It begins rather dismally, but soon acquires some sun. There will be sea (naturally), and a romance (?), and a satisfactory amount of misery. The plot is exceedingly old and trite, but it’s going to be handled in a new way. It’s about a shipwreck, an island, and so on. But it doesn’t turn out very well. It leaves you a little poised in mid-air.

Well, I think that’s all that has happened, summed up in brief. I think you’d better move east next winter. It’s going to be a good winter. I’m to have the same job, “with added responsibilities and an increased stipend.” The last clause is particularly inducive, I think. “Increased stipend” has a pleasant ring, has it not? Someday I’ll buy an island yet! Or a boat. Or both.

As I said, it’s going to be a really good winter. Helen’s book will be on its exciting trip through the press, I shall be working up mine, plus a few articles for Harper (say I lightly!). We’ll have a little more breathing-space, too. Why, I shall even have a room all to myself, which I haven’t had for ever and ever so long. And how I shall work!

I was going to say a lot about your comments on college. But that is so long past that I’m quite out of the mood at present. I saw your points at the time, I believe; in fact, they were obvious points. But somehow I don’t believe it will happen. Everything can’t happen, you know. I’d rather cut it out than some of the other things. One has to choose. The point is, weed your garden, don’t you know?

What are you doing, and planning to do? Damn, damn, it’s a long time since I’ve seen you. Come east next winter. It looks as if I shouldn’t go west for some time yet. Got to stick at the wheel and weed my garden. But it’s really awful how all my best friends are thousands of miles away. It’s as if I had a cursed circle around me that my friends can’t get into. A geographical circle, I mean. The only real friend I have in New York is Ethel Kelley, and she’s too sick to see me at all most of the time. When I want her most, she’s invariably too sick. Also, she’s trying to write a book too, and giving all her spare energy to that. The only other person who is at all in reach is Norman D. of New Haven, who comes down to N. Y. once in a while on business. Otherwise, I’m damned alone, if you want to know.

But that doesn’t matter, and isn’t interesting anyway.

This style of writing of mine sounds rather curt in a letter, doesn’t it? It’s a new development. I think I rather like it. The novel is more or less written in that style. Some sentences which aren’t really sentences, you know; and no long, involved ones. W. F. wouldn’t approve of that, I suppose, he being the champeen sentence-twister and wordsmith of the generation! Incidentally, any news of him? And don’t forget! He’s not to know about Helen’s book.

Do you remember that beautifully involved sentence in the introductory sketch to The Scarlet Letter? It begins “In my native town of Salem….” and ends, halfway down the page, “there stands a spacious edifice of brick.” Words to that effect. In between those two clauses, which are the complete structure of the sentence, he describes the whole town of Salem, I should say, with dashes and comma-dashes and semicolons galore. Incidentally, it was my first reading of the book, just yesterday. I never could plough through Hawthorne before. I used to get snowed under before I could find out what it was all about. But I got such a tremendous kick out of that book that I had an attack of hysteria or sumthin very like it. The suspense is crushing, and the whole structure is built up magnificently. I didn’t know he wrote like that!

That’s all I’ve read for months. Except galley proof, of course. There’s always lots of galley proof to read, when a good eye is available. I read just about all the proof that comes into the office, and am getting quite famous for not passing up errors. Very uninteresting material, though, for the most part. Scientific and technical and deadly dull! Scientists can’t write a good English sentence, somehow.

Anyway, I still think Lord Jim is the greatest book in English, and a point above Nostromo. Tell W. F. that when you see him. Then he’ll know I still disagree with him!

I suppose California is getting hot. We’ve been fried and frizzled the last three days. Helen and I have been carting basketloads of books across the street to the other apartment, and we’re about done up. I think S. F. would be grand about now. But not so good as little old Hanover!

I hope you’ll condescend so far as to forgive the long silence and write me. I’ll try to make up for it; but my tryings never seem to amount to very much. Letter-writing is a delicate matter. It has all sorts of strange bumps and valleys. It’s a quicksand affair. But even quicksand serves to pave a river with.

Yours with love,