Letter to A.D.R., November 2, 1930

620 West 122nd Street
New York City
November 2, 1930

My Dear:

I heard from your own particular Mate just before your letter arrived, in which he remarked that he had been handing you a “raw deal”–that was how he expressed it. But if, as you say, he is to be happier and healthier because of the change, I don’t call it a “raw deal” at all. That’s just what you would want, isn’t it? I mean, let me quickly say, Under the Circumstances. Of course it is not, NOT as it should be to have a part of oneself drifting about on the other side of the continent from one, is it? But I should think that Washington would be immeasurably more pleasant to live in then Detroitmich, as we write it in shorthand. And Air Mail across is remarkably rapid, though, of course, not rapid enough.

Don’t allow your feelings to be too much mixed about my job. You see, I really am having quite a good time. Don’t imagine that it’s a desperate struggle, or anything of that sort. Taking letters in shorthand is still quite a glamorous proceeding to me; though the last few days I have been addressing fifteen hundred envelopes–invitations to the very formal banquet of the Annual Fall Conference! That is rather monotonous, but it is just part of it, you see; and I like the people I work with–we all get along admirably well–and none of them works very hard; so I couldn’t have landed in a better place for a first job. After November 7th, I think it will be full-time, at twenty-five a week, or thereabouts. That is a remarkably good wage for a person so inexperienced as I.

Helen has just triumphed over a very crooked deal that was going on in New Haven concerning the house. She found that she had gotten into a “nest of crooks,” so to speak, and by supreme courage and daring she managed to call their bluff, and we don’t think any radical harm has been done. She is going to give a little talk soon, about the trip. She seems to be quite cheerful, and is riding the waves in great style. I like to see a ship riding the waves.

The way you are, my dear Matey, and Phoebe, and the other member of the family in Detroit, and also the Deserters–of whom what news, by the way? I hope there will not only be cocoa when next I sail into port, but also Graham Crackers. I laugh still when I remember that colossal carton which Phoebe so thoughtfully purchased for my luncheon one day! Is it empty yet?… Last night Helen and I, with California resounding in eyes, nose, and mouth, bought and ate two large red-gold persimmons…. Not long, now, Matey–not long! I’ll be there!

I really think you are a thorough-going Traitor not to have been dumb enough to have been surprised; though, certainly, you would have been dumb, come to think of it. Don’t think that that “dramatic arrangement” was at all pre-thought-out. It just occurred to me that the announcement needed a page to itself. It occurred to me just as I got to it–not before; and so I just naturally took that page out of the typewriter. It wasn’t until afterwards that I slipped it back in to indicate that the letter didn’t jump off in mid-air right at that point.

The dropped stitches have been carefully retrieved; or, I’d better say, the torn sails have been carefully patched, with marline warranted to hold “till the cows come home.” (Funny, that that should be a nautical expression, but it is used by every sailor on earth when he’s speaking about tying knots!)

It would be hard to tell what a relief it is to me. I don’t any longer get to wondering whether the schooner is hemmed in by icebergs or getting battered by Arctic gales, or any such horridiferous thoughts. He, being a cautious soul, has decided to stay aboard a while longer, because there aren’t any jobs for sailors any more than there are for anyone else at present. The vessel is laid up in Seattle, and he and the mate are alone aboard. They take turns cooking and feeding the cat, and they work whenever the weather lets them. So I guess he’s lucky, and he is certainly quite right to stay where he is. It was, as he termed it, a “professional compliment” to be asked to stay on, alone of all the other men, anyway.

Seems to me this was a specially juicy lot of headlines. The New York Times and the Herald Tribune never indulge in such things, and I chuckle over these long and heartily. I can’t make any of them out, which certainly proves that the headliner is a “bright fella.” More power to him!

More power likewise to the “pot-boilers!”

God bless us, every one.

Yours,
BF.

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.

September 28, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

Sept. 28 [1931]
Mon. night

Dearest ADR:

Do let me tell you how sad I was to hear about your mother. It must have been terrible for you, when everything else in the world is wrong at the same time. Did she keep on writing that pleasant poetry of hers right through? A life-saver it was, for her, I should think.

Oh, I do crave so to hear some good news from you! Of course, it is good that you have been able to stand up so well under these catapultations, and keep on composing wholesome young men and healthy-minded virgins. It seems nothing short of miraculous. I think you’re a grand scout, and I’m behind you somewhere in the east, with all my strength.

Your husband’s words about Gabriel and the empty belt were glorious, even in their sadness. I love people like him and you. “Like,” I say. Well, there aren’t any, that’s about the size of it. But I love him and you.

Do give Phoebe and E. my love, too. I feel much for the trapped nymph. Being trapped by life, in her case school, is not good for one’s wings. I admire her. As for E., may what gods there be lend aid.

I should treasure a few lines from you sometime when you feel me-ish. But don’t hurry. I do understand.

Yours ever,
Barbara

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?

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.