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,
Barbara

Letter to A.D.R. – July 4, 1931

July 4, 1931

Dearest A.D.R.:

Your letter came just in time—I leave tomorrow morning early for the month, and Helen follows in a few days. The address will be: ℅ A. B. Meservey, 24 Occam Ridge, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Oh, I am so sorry that things are going so rottenly for you. There is no justice in Heaven or Earth, it seems. Really, I cried over your letter—as if that would help any! How I wish I could do something! My heart would tell you to pack up and go to B. R. at once. But there’s poor E. So I would compromise. I would go to him as soon as ever her need of you is abated a little. I don’t believe it’s a case of Money, A. D. R. … But then, of course I am probably all wrong. Only you mustn’t say that about not seeing him again. You mustn’t even contemplate such a thing. There is a limit to what the gods can do, you know.

There are three chapters of my book in existence now—pretty fairly good I think. Its title so far has been “Lost Island.” Does that sound intriguing? The few persons whom I have so far confided in have liked it—also have been enthusiastic over the outline of the story. I am having a good deal of fun wrestling with it.

I think it’s swell that The American Girl has been chasing you for material. That is about the highest compliment a writer can have, isn’t it? And you must find time to do the work. If I think of a rip-snorting Idea I’ll let you know. But maybe you already have plenty of Ideas. Apparently that is the easiest part! It seems to be with me.

There are no further developments on Helen’s book. I imagine it will be out next spring sometime. They are casting about right now for an illustration—a “tropical bird” preferably, as H. says. Whether it will work out I don’t know. Also, we are still revising the MS. One can revise till Doomsday, it seems. We probably will!

Alaska is a Hell of a long way off! No mail until October. But that’s something to anticipate. He is such a faithful soul. Two letters a week, and sometimes three, form the time he landed last fall till the schooner sailed this spring. He’ll come back. I have an idea that he’s unbreakable and eternal.

Oh, A. D. R., I don’t know what to say, but I’m sure you should come east. The bus costs only $55. Could you stand the bus? If it’s lack of ready cash, I could remedy that—yes, even I, incredible as it may seem. And oh, how I’d love to see you myself! Of course, there will not be that old California glamor—that subtle, fleeting thing that surrounded us before. It might be a little unreal. I haven’t carried over much of that atmosphere. But we could have cocoa and graham crackers even here, and I could whirl you around. How about next fall?

Next fall looks just a little dreary to me anyway. To be sure, I’l have that same job again, and probably it will be a bigger one. My employer has industrial ideals—that your job is your own property, so to speak. But oh, oh, in N. Y. the moths feed on the wings of your soul. This is probably an unhealthy attitude, I know. But I do think the world is rather horrid. Most of my dearest friends seem to be in deep trouble, and I can’t do anything about it.

Perhaps that’s why I cling for dear life to A. He, with no tools and no material, has nevertheless made something most beautiful and real out of life. I don’t know just how. But he is a rock and a shelter. I’ll never forget or forgive WF’s attitude toward him. That was mainly what caused the sharp and sudden break between him and me. It was unwarranted and ridiculous and mean. My respect for WF did its loudest blowing-up over that…. A. is a treasure.

Anyway, you come East this fall—or sooner. One can get to the point where one doesn’t know what to do and consequently does nothing, whereas an outsider, acquainted suddenly with the true situation, at once forms rather definite opinions. Of course, this outsider isn’t pretending to be God! But I know how easily one can let Money rule one—especially if Money is thought of at every step. Soon one ceases to take steps. I know!

If you will come, you know that you could stay here with us—we have plenty of space now, and anything we have is yours. Helen longs to see you, too. You would be quite close to B. R. and could run down to Washington often by bus. I feel sure that everyone concerned would be happier for it. You could rent the house; and if Phoebe couldn’t come too I know she would understand, and would be glad to carry on for a while. And oh, we would welcome you so! So do think of it seriously.

This is a nice, cool, comfortable apartment, with lots of light and plenty of good tables to work on. You could get a lot of writing done. We would all be writing together. Wouldn’t it be fun? Also, we live right near the Hudson River, which is really beautiful at night–dreamy, promising. There is a nice park—a public spoonery, to be sure, but still very nice. I think we could have a grand time.

This is the great 4th of July. It seems strange and incongruous somehow, to hear the snapping of toy pistols and firecrackers. Silly. It makes H. and me a little depressed. Seems so utterly futile.

One very nice thing did happen this week. The Chief wrote to me — at last. H. had been to Boston, and his boat was in. She went down to pay a friendly visit. The letter is more or less the result of that, but that fact doesn’t make it any less pleasing. It’s just the kind of letter that was needed to square that account. It has relieved me more that I imagined, and given me a freedom from that vague and horrid sense of guilt and discomfort. Until now there was still something pending—waiting to be settled. Not it’s all definitely fixed, somehow—the account has been cleared, and well cleared. Until now I had vague feelings of sadness on the subject, which have completely vanished now.

Now for the woods! I am looking forward to sunlight and trees — the Earth. Except for a curious and indefinable loneliness, which I have experienced a good deal of late without exactly knowing why—except for that, I think the next two months will be glorious. One does get lonely in the springtime somehow, when the wind is warm on your face and the grass is green.

I need you a great deal. I know we each have a lot to discuss and propound which we wouldn’t by mail. At any rate, mere quiet companionship would be very soul-satisfying.

Do give our love to the “fambly.” I am holding my thumbs for you, my dear, and I do want and hope and long for things to be better. I won’t say “pray,” because whatever small part of God I may once have believed in, I don’t believe in any more. But I believe in love.

Yours,
B.

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.

August 20, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

Norwich, Vermont
August 20, 1931

Dear A.D.R.:

I was glad to have heard from you at last. Of course, I realized that you couldn’t be writing letters; the only trouble being that I worry about you.

After reading your letter three or four times, I felt pretty sure that you were feeling better about B.R. You didn’t dare to say so in so many words, and I don’t blame you—but still, there it is, isn’t it? I was also awfully glad to realize, by your quotations from his letters, that he still has plenty of his own sense of humor, and that nothing can alter that.

As for you, you don’t have to worry about old ladies’ almshouses, or anything of that sort!

When I turned the page of your letter and read the “further happenings of this horrible summer,” I said to myself: “This is more than the limit. It can’t be true.” And I laughed a little, it seemed so utterly far-fetched, if you know what I mean. Well, what can I say? Ye Gods!

Thanks for the clippings. Yes, I sympathize very much with that poor chap who wanted to be let alone and to have a row-boat.

You want to know Things. I should say it was you who had the Things to relate. Helen says that she would write to you, only she can’t think of anything to say, because there is too much to say. She feels for you quite tremendously, I am sure of that. Her revision is all finished now, except for a few details. She is now working on a new prospect, a rather vague one as yet, in connection with radio broadcasting.

We haven’t gone back to New York yet. I may not for nearly two weeks yet. I haven’t gotten very brown, and I’ve worked pretty nearly all the time, but I’ve enjoyed myself a good deal. Somehow I can’t make this summer a parallel with the one of yours that you told me about. I am a bit depressed, and anyway the hermit-thrushes have stopped singing now. But the goldenrod is glorious. I console myself at times by indulging in long conversations with an ancient farmer who has friendly blue eyes and an immense white moustache behind which he smiles secretly.

The Harper article fizzled, because I couldn’t, if you know what I mean. The book may just possibly escape fizzling. I have nearly finished the sixth chapter now. That is about half of it, I should say, because they are long chapters—fifteen pages each. I still hold to my opinion that it’s a pretty good book.

I think it was grand that you got that Thanksgiving story off. I don’t know how you managed it, with all your sixteen worries, each one being plenty for one person at a time. I get thrown all off the track myself by reading in the newspaper some little item about the ice being bad up Point Barrow way.

The thing I have been gladdest of this summer, I think, is that I have been working on Farksoo again, after a long spell during which it rested in a drawer untouched.

I am lonesome as hell, and wish I could see you. It was partly for selfish reasons that I suggested that you come east this winter. The invitation still holds good, in fact, it always holds good. If I ever come to live out west, you’ll come to see me sometimes, won’t you? We can have cocoa and discuss the events of the world. I believe I shall come, someday.

I guess that’s about all. I feel miserable because I can’t do anything, for you or myself or the ice or anything. I think impotence is about the worst sort of curse. If ever there is anything I can do, you’ll let me know, won’t you? And if anything does happen that makes you change your mind about coming east, remember that we want you.

Anderson—God willing—will be back toward the end of September.

As ever,
B.

October 5, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

Oct. 5 [1931]

Dear Alice:

Your letter comes at the end of a day so atrociously busy and hustled that I simply cannot tap a key on the dratted machine; but I want to answer it right away, because I liked it so much; furthermore, since I don’t ever have air-mail envelopes on hand, it behooves me at least to be more or less prompt with my ordinary ones! Forgive the ___________ [line drawn in the shape of a shallow bell curve] effects: I am unspeakably tired, and my handwriting, as you know, doesn’t amount to much at the best of times.

First I want to mention Phoebe’s poem. I adored it. It is inexpressibly passionate and wistful, with a depth and a wildness to it—also, a preciseness of technique and structure (to be prosaic)—that convinces me that P.A.R. is rapidly growing up. What do you think?

I haven’t written a poem for __ years. I guess the fountain has gone rusty, and gotten choked up with stale moss. Pleasant thought, isn’t it? But at the best, I could never produce a poem like that of Phoebe’s. If I have any ability at all, it lies in prose, I think.

Your mother was a dear, brave soul. I like the little stanza you gave me. It was sad, because true. Almost everything that is true seems to be sad. There’s almost no magic in the world—in fact, even that “almost” is superfluous!

You might, sometime when you feel like it, give me a bit more out of B.R.’s letters. I do hope so much for him! His soul so gets the better of the world at every turn, that it seems as if his body must soar alongside, impelled upward, as it were.

About my job: it’s all right. We’re working now hellishly hard, because the Fall Conference is impending, and also because of a series of radio addresses on “Psychology Today” (drat psychology!) which we are getting under way.

The book progresseth slowly. You’ll see it, not too long from now.

I hadn’t thought about the farents for some time—bless their little wee souls!

I’m terribly, terribly glad that you feel me-ish at times. That helps more than you know, perhaps. How I would adore to see you! Well, one of these days….

Yours,
Barbara

P.S. No, he is not back.

October 19, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

150 Claremont Ave.
October 19 [1931]

Dear ADR:

Just a vibration from yours in New York, to let you know that I’m still quite alive, strange as it may seem.

I’ve been doing some thinking about Phoebe’s poem. Would you like me to try peddling it around a bit? Have you, for instance, sent it to Harper’s? I think it’s gorgeous, and she might make a small handful of pebbles out of it. It’s worth trying, I think; though I’ve never had any luck in that way myself.

The only development here in New York of any great interest is pertaining to Helen’s manuscript, which is trying hard to put itself across on the radio. I think it may. If it does———! Oh, but I’ll talk about that when it happens—and IF.

Another development there is that she’s put salt on the tail of a perfectly magnificent illustrator—a shy little man who has been down to the tropics himself, and knows, who has an adorable sense of humor, and who can play the ukulele and sing Tahitian songs in a simple sweet way which makes me weep—me! He’s caught, I think, better than anyone else could have done, the spirit of our trip—its gaiety, its colors. You wait till you see!

“Lost Island” cometh along. I’ve nine whole chapters now—considerably more than half, for they’re long chapters.

I’d love to hear from you—about you, and P. and E. and M., and B.R. Are they all still in trouble? Is everything still just as wrong as it has been, which is, I should say, as wrong as possible? I’ve thought of you much and deeply, ADR, thought I’ve been dour and uncommunicative. I’ve a great deal of personal faith in you. I’d feel that the world was even wronger than it is, if it kept on banging you over the head.

It seems that someone by the name of M.W. has gotten out a book—the story of a midwestern family, “The Kirbys.” Is it the M.W.? I thought her projected novel was a Maine coast story.

Best of luck and love to all of you.

Your Barbara.

P.S. Does this envelope suggest anything?

Dec. 22, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

150 Claremont Avenue
New York
December 22, 1931

Dear A.D.R.:

I’m not sending any cards, either, so that’s all right. Christmas doesn’t really exist this year, anyhow. Six to ten million human beings unemployed and suffering, and the weather messy and warm and rainy, and nobody with you whom you love—well, it just isn’t, that’s all. I’m damned if I’ll send any cards!

You ask for a pleasant chatty intimate sort of letter. You have me stumped, A.D.R. I don’t know where to begin. We don’t go for walks, much of any. One soon exhausts the possibilities of the neighborhood, you know. There isn’t any pleasant little hill…. Ouch! Idiot! Fool! Sabra is well enough, only I don’t see very much of her, and when I do see her usually neither she nor I are at our best. My best goes into the job, which isn’t where it should go; and her best goes into school, which she really loves. Besides, she’s rather outside my pale, you know (or is it pail? I hardly know).

I’m glad to hear the hopeful sound in your words when you mention B.R. Also it’s good to know that E. is writing. Painting? And how is the business-in-the-desert? Phoebe, I suppose, finds it difficult to see rhyme or reason. Well … don’t we all?

The book crawls along—crawls is just the word to describe its progress the last month or so. It’s about two people who found out the rhyme and reason for a little while, but had it snatched away again. It’s supposed to tear one’s heart, you know. If it doesn’t, a little, here and there, then it’s no good. Promise you’ll be torn, A.D.R? I may send you a copy of it before I show it to Messrs. Harper etc. I want to try to get a copy to E.A., you see, and perhaps I’ll ask him to send it to you, or you to him, or something like that.

He remains the best thing that I can see in life. (See???) It’s his steadiness and strength and complete trustworthiness that makes him stand out so, in a complicated and discouraged world. I won’t do any quotationing now, because I haven’t time, but sometime I will. In the meantime, oh, thank God I’ve got him!

I hear that H. is going to do something about your little serial in John Martin’s. I’ve glanced at it, and it really is adorable. Something ought to be doable about it, of course. I hope she’ll succeed. What are you writing now? Healthy things, always? Oh, well, I suppose we can’t afford to do the others until we make our fortunes first!

I want to see you, very much. Who knows? The world is fairly small, when all’s said and done, and I’ve an odd presentiment that I shan’t be sitting at this desk for more than a certain amount of time—another year, say. I don’t know what’s going to happen after that, but I just have a small, dim suspicion, that’s all. If the world has any justice (I never believed it had much), or a shred of happiness in it, or even the most erratic tendency to keep its promises—well, I shan’t, that’s all. And if that sounds vague and mysterious and so forth, it’s just because I don’t dare to do more than vaguely, dimly hint that things could take a sudden turn. (Sudden???) And if the world so much as suspected that I was in danger of telling you anything about its secret mechanisms, it would swoop down on me at once and cut off my head.

My love to all the fambly, and—no, I won’t say “Merry Christmas.” I don’t feel the faintest ray of that sort of sentiment, and there’s no use in cluttering up the air with it. But my greetings, anyway.

As for the poor Hoovers being crammed into art. Well, I don’t feel qualified to give many comments about that. However, perhaps this will give a clue. My new shorthand abbreviation for “article” is “art,” and oh, you, more than anyone in the world, will appreciate and see the irony of that! Especially with the dry, scientific, technical “arts” which are submitted to our little publication, the Personnel Journal!

Oh, yes, I do laugh now and then. In fact, I’m not honestly so gloomy as I sound. I’ve gotten into the habit, I think, of writing rather cynical letters lately. You will make due allowances. I probably say either more than I mean, or not as much.

Yours,
Barbara

March 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

Saturday
March 1932

Dear A.D.R.:

You really needn’t feel so ashamed of yourself in the matter of correspondence, since you surely didn’t owe me much of a letter, judging by my last two or three!

You are right when you surmise that I have been rushed and busy—more so than ever, since the beginning of 1932. My life is getting almost crowded, in fact. The job, of course, takes eight hours a day straight out, and everything else has to be jammed into the fringes. Since I can’t satisfy mind, soul, or body with the job, I have to jam into the fringes almost as much as another person would put into an entire day.

You want TALK. Well, I’ll try my best, and as there are a few more news items now than usual, maybe I can fill the bill a bit.

First, Helen’s book is getting to that thrilling point. She has received proof of the illustrations—great illustrations they are, looking like very clever woodcuts—and Macmillan has done a surprisingly good job of the reproductions. But since she will doubtless tell you all about this herself, maybe I’d better concentrate on other things.

The more important thing I have to contribute is that Lost Island creepeth onward, in spite of God and the Devil (represented by various personages, of course!). In fact, I’ve gotten to that delectable point where there remains only about a chapter and a half—or possibly two chapters and a half—to be written. That will complete the first draft. Then to sail into a good thorough revision, editing, chopping, piecing, cross-hatching, weaving, repairing, tearing, rending, boiling, steaming, and general subjection to energy. I think I can have it in Mr. Saxton’s hands—willing or unwilling hands—by June 1 at the latest. That’s what I’m aiming for, anyhow. And I still have faith in the old thing, which is quite a point, you know.

When all this energy is accomplished, I’m going to bat out about three copies, of which two will be passed around among a few individuals. You are going to be one of the fortunate (?) recipients. I shall want your criticism—I mean, if you are willing, and want to give it—rigorous and stern and unsparing. There will be four or five other people, who will probably all contradict each other. Then it will fall to my lot to Think It Over, and do some more pounding. Among these selected critics, I’m going to pick out at least two entirely impersonal ones. For instance, a Professor of English at Dartmouth whom I encountered last summer.

After that job is all completely finished, and the black spring binder reposes under Mr. Saxton’s nose, I’m going to sail into another job I have in mind—not such a lovely job, but an even more important one, because my entire existence rests upon it. It will the introductory material for another book—a book about an adventure I think I shall have this summer. Woods and mountains. A. D. R., I’m going to tell you about it, and you must rise to the occasion, because I’m terrifically excited over the whole thing.

I’ve gotten together a party of four congenial brave souls—of which I am one (I hope)—and we may add two more members. Then, starting about the middle of July, we’re going to Maine—Ktaadn—Thoreau’s country—and from there we’re going down the Appalachian trail, two thousand miles, Maine to Georgia, camping out, and carrying upon our sturdy backs the necessities of life. It will take between three and four months, and be the greatest release imaginable.

Well, I’ve even higher ambitions than that. I’m not just going to take money out of the bank, leaving a hole, to indulge my pleasure. I’m going to struggle to make the thing pay for itself, and the only way I know how to do that is to write about it. And as I said I’ve some ideas for the introductory materials which can be put into words before ever the adventure takes place. And that’s what I’m going to do after Lost Island is carefully finished. All four of us are very much together on this. We’re going to cooperate to the nth degree, and I think that among us all we’ll succeed. You couldn’t imagine a more congenial party. We are getting together this spring for house-parties at intervals, during which we paw over hundreds of maps, draw up provision lists, talk, laugh, anticipate, and in general have a grand time.

The party consists of an amiable lad with occasional unsuspected depths whom I met last summer when H. and I were living in the Vermont cabin; a pal of his, who has a remarkably good head on young shoulders; and a girl who is really a grand scout, with whom I get along quite beautifully. In fact, we all get along with each other beautifully. No friction anywhere, as far as we have been able to discover. There may be two others aded to the Grand Expedition, as I said; and we would like of course to have an elderly leader, than whom no finer could be imagined than Meservey of Hanover—only I’m afraid Meservey of Hanover is tied up.

Well, that’s the general idea. It may crash completely. Nothing is certain about it. But we’re all hoping, and pulling together. We’re all slightly rebels against civilization, and we want to go out into the woods and sweat honestly and shiver honestly and satisfy our souls by looking at mountains, smelling pine trees, and feeling the sky and the earth.

We went up to Bear Mountain this last week-end, for the Appalachian Trail strikes through there, and we explored ten or fifteen miles of that section of it. It gave us a tremendous thrill. I can’t tell you what it meant to our world-weary souls to have our feet on that narrow, bumpy, winding footpath that goes clear from Maine to Georgia, marked out by little silver monograms on the trees, which change to yellow-painted arrows over rocks and ledges. Over Easter we’re all gathering the clan again, for another expedition somewhere. These short trips help us to get personally adjusted and strengthen the congeniality still more. It also helps to give us an idea of what we need by way of food and clothes, and also puts us in training, more or less.

It will be a terrific trip, of course. There will be times when we’ll probably be cold and wet and uncomfortable and grumpy. But we’re ready for that—almost covet it in fact. Pitting one’s strength and personality against the wilds—the greatest sort of opportunity on earth…. Well, there it is. My room is plastered with trail maps even now!

All this time I haven’t so much as mentioned A., have I? Well, I’ve had him in the back of my mind—in reserve, so to speak. Luckily, the C. S. Holmes job holds. I guess he’ll be going north again next summer—the third time. There really isn’t anything else to do, with conditions as they are all over the world, especially along the waterfront. His life is odd and stern—verging on tragic, at times. He feels that now and then, and has down-spells, during which I am hard put to it to be cheerful and cheering. I am pretty sure, though, that next fall we shall actually be together, and discuss everything from moths to meteors, including money and mice and merriment and misery and—but that almost exhausts the m’s I can think of at this Moment. That discussion will doubtless decide a good many points about this universe and the nature thereof. Right now he is a little sad, and alternates between letters about the futility of life with humorous epistles about politics in Seattle and other things.

As for being eighteen—well, I don’t think there is anything especially momentous about that. It doesn’t thrill me a bit.

Your mention of spring makes my mouth water. There hasn’t been much around these parts. In fact, Bear Mountain was covered with snow last week-end, and there was driving mist and it was pretty dern cold. However, one can’t stop the seasons, so I have hopes.

I’m so glad to hear the good news about Elizabeth. What an ordeal—or rather, what a series of ordeals—she has plowed through. Phoebe is apparently still toeing the mark, with her nose much to the grindstone. Darn these grindstones—I mean, damn them. And so B. R. is actually going west in the summer—actually, this time? He west, A. north, I Appalachian Trail. Funny world, isn’t it?

You know, I’m ashamed of myself, but it took me several seconds of puzzle to figure out “Miller.” Then I remembered. Wonderful creature that he was! Supercilious, spruce, disdainful creature!

Thanks for letting me see the two pictures of you and P. in the desert. I return them herewith. They are sweet.

TALK? Will these pages do at all? If it’s egocentric talk you were looking for, I should think maybe this would be slight over-dose! On the other hand, you are so devoted and the lapse has been so long, that maybe it will be endurable this time. You know, I’m still hoping to see you sometime. I have a philosophy of life—one which has been evolving for many years, but which has suffered interruptions and repressions and smashes. Now it has taken root again—or, rather, I realize that its root are not dead, but just beginning to be powerful. If it grows and thrives and survives the vile climate of trouble and difficulty and set-back, it may take me to almost any part of the old earth where I want to go. What is this philosophy, you ask? Well, I’m testing it warily, leaning on it cautiously, exploring it tenderly, thinking about it profoundly; and if I come to the conclusion that it’s any good, I’ll tell you sometime. Not until it has proved itself a little, though. I’ve lost faith in a number of things—or, rather, I’ve withdrawn from them the crushing weight of my faith. My philosophy aims now to stand upright. Tree-like….

I expect the next year to decide a number of important points. Beginning this summer. I think this summer will tell me a good deal. Being in the woods, standing on mountain-peaks—time to meditate and dram and get a perspective on life. There is nothing more soul-cleansing than to stand on a mountain, when you are inclined to feel hopelessly sure that the world is 99 100ths mankind, and see that vast tracts of it are blankets of forest and trees, after all!  Mountains affect inward matters in the same way—reassure one about inward things in the same way as they do the visible things. So I expect to find out several things during the Appalachian Trail expedition—assuming and praying that it works.

Then, coming back from that to this—the complete contrast, the need for instantaneous adaption, and the fresh perspective on this—these things are also going to tell me a good deal. I mean, I shall be ready then to make certain decisions, about philosophy and about life.

Then I’ll remedy the inner workings of the universe!

My love to you and all the Russell clan.

Yours,
B.

May 23, 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

150 Claremont Avenue
New York
May 23, 1932

Dear A.D.R.:

There has been a terrific long gulf, hasn’t there? It is hard,when all’s said and done, to keep in touch with people who live thousands of miles away, no matter how much you love them. I do want ever so much to know the news—whether anything is wrong, or anything right, or whatever there is and has been.

Spring! That means leaves and fragrances and warm winds and—an Arctic-bound schooner.

The only really exciting piece of news is that this summer I and three very good genial friends are going to tramp down the Appalachian Trail, which runs over mountains clear from Maine to Georgia, a matter of twelve or fifteen hundred miles. Maybe I told you about that before, though. I can’t seem to remember—it’s all been so deathly long, anyhow.

Helen’s book comes out on June 7; mine is in second draft form at last, and I hope to thrust it bodily under Mr. Saxton’s nose sometime in June. It will be interesting to watch the reaction. It may turn straight up in the air—the nose, I mean.

I have decided that there are a good many big and fundamental things wrong with the world, and that nothing can be done about it; furthermore, that one must revolve quietly along with the world instead of trying vainly to buck it. If you compromise enough—to outward appearances, at least—and if you fully realize what a messy world it is, and are reconciled to certain facts, such as continual change and permanence in nothing—why, then you can have a surprisingly good time. That’s what I’ve discovered anyway. I’m having a better time of it these days than I’ve had for ages—almost approaching gaiety sometimes, in fact.

But I confess to being a bit worried about you and yours. Things seemed so rather shaky and precarious for you anyway—always have, in fact. Do let me know if there’s anything wrong. Not that I could do anything. I may be seeing you before the year is up. Quien sabe? It’s a mysterious life.

I’m going to Delaware Water Gap over this coming Memorial Day week-end—at least, I think I am. In which event I’ll convey your greetings to the general countryside. Oh, the beauty of that country in spring! How is spring you your way now?

My love to everyone, but specially to you.

Your Barbara

May 31, 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

150 Claremont Avenue
New York
May 31, 1932

Dear ADR:

I’m relieved about You, at least, through your last grand letter, although the news about B.R. is anything but good, certainly. I don’t know what to say about that, so I won’t say anything.

And there WAS some good news, wasn’t there? It sounds to me as if the little gods were smiling for a change on the desert. I’m quite thrilled over that. Also, it’s good—damn good—to hear that P. is nearly through. What happens after that? “And Life Goes On,” I suppose. Funny old life, isn’t it? A very devil of a complex circular affair.

The book—this time I mean mine—has suddenly sprung a disconsolate discovery. I find, much to my disgust and up-noseishness, that I shall have to write another chapter to round out the thing properly. My nose is still so much turned up that I can’t get after the chapter yet. Of all exasperating things to find out after you’ve written a book—to think it’s All Done, and then to see some untucked frazzles hanging out the tail end! However, that’s but a temporary set-back. I expect to have the whole thing done before I go away for the summer. In fact, I MUST. I’ll try to get a copy to you, and I want your opinion including all the hard slams you like.

As for the AT (Appalachian Trail) we considered taking along “a second-hand burro,” as one of the boys put it. But after all, there will not be any very long stretches of total wilderness, and we can easily carry enough on our own sturdy backs to eke out during those stretches. After all, the east coast—even its mountains—are pretty well civilized in spots—too much so, in fact. The best parts will be the extreme north and extreme south—that is, the Maine and New Hampshire woods, and the North Carolina country to Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia. We were discussing plans just this week-end, when three of the party got together “Beside and Open Fireplace,” to talk.

Yes, Anderson went north again. He is now first mate of the schooner, and rather happy about that, of course. He is doing awfully well, considering everything. I MAY see him next fall—but don’t you breathe a syllable about that, even to yourself! I’m keeping it a very strict secret from myself. If you know what I mean. I mean there are some things in this world that don’t happen if you so much as admit that they’re possible. Perhaps they sometimes happen if you keep your eyes tight shut and don’t think at all.

Oh, I was in the woods yesterday. I’m sure of it, because I’ve a sunburn. It was beautiful. Light green leaves with gold light breaking through them; wild geraniums, birds singing, a lake to swim in, grand companionship—the wild open spaces—but principally sunlight. I know from that taste of it that I couldn’t by any hook or crook stay here very much longer.

Next month I’m going to spend a short week-end in Hanover with some old friends—that will mean another taste of the out-of-doors. And it won’t be so very long after that before we’re off on the grand old trail! One of the boys sent me a couple of the AT trail markers the other day. I keep one of them on top of my office typewriter, where I can see it all the time. It cheers my soul.

Well, now I’ve got to turn to and tuck the shirt-tails of my story into its pants. Do you see what I mean?

GOOD luck to you—oh, Lord, good luck to everybody! God help us—not whelp us any more!

Yours for sunshine,
B.