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Title: The Letters of Ambrose Bierce - With a Memoir by George Sterling
Author: Bierce, Ambrose, 1842-1914?
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Letters of Ambrose Bierce - With a Memoir by George Sterling" ***

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  Transcriber's Note:

  The two introductory sections, "The Introduction," and
  "A Memoir of Ambrose Bierce," were originally printed
  in italics with non-italicized text used for emphasis.
  This convention has been reversed for ease of reading the

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
  Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation in the original
  document have been preserved.

  The Letters of Ambrose Bierce


  Letters of Ambrose Bierce





In reproducing these letters we have followed as nearly as possible
the original manuscripts. This inevitably has caused a certain lack of
uniformity throughout the volume, as in the case of the names of
magazines and newspapers, which are sometimes italicized and sometimes
in quotation marks.--THE EDITOR.


  The Introduction


"The question that starts to the lips of ninety-nine readers out of a
hundred," says Arnold Bennett, in a review in the London _NEW AGE_ in
1909, "even the best informed, will assuredly be: 'Who is Ambrose
Bierce?' I scarcely know, but I will say that among what I may term
'underground reputations' that of Ambrose Bierce is perhaps the most
striking example. You may wander for years through literary circles
and never meet anybody who has heard of Ambrose Bierce, and then you
may hear some erudite student whisper in an awed voice: 'Ambrose
Bierce is the greatest living prose writer.' I have heard such an
opinion expressed."

Bierce himself shows his recognition of the "underground" quality of
his reputation in a letter to George Sterling: "How many times, and
during a period of how many years must one's unexplainable obscurity
be pointed out to constitute fame? Not knowing, I am almost disposed
to consider myself the most famous of authors. I have pretty nearly
ceased to be 'discovered,' but my notoriety as an obscurian may be
said to be worldwide and everlasting."

Anything which would throw light on such a figure, at once obscure
and famous, is valuable. These letters of Ambrose Bierce, here printed
for the first time, are therefore of unusual interest. They are the
informal literary work--the term is used advisedly--of a man esteemed
great by a small but acutely critical group, read enthusiastically by
a somewhat larger number to whom critical examination of what they
read seldom occurs, and ignored by the vast majority of readers; a man
at once more hated and more adored than any on the Pacific Coast; a
man not ten years off the scene yet already become a tradition and a
legend; whose life, no less than his death, held elements of mystery,
baffling contradictions, problems for puzzled conjecture, motives and
meanings not vouchsafed to outsiders.

Were Ambrose Bierce as well known as he deserves to be, the
introduction to these letters could be slight; we should not have to
stop to inquire who he was and what he did. As it is, we must.

Ambrose Bierce, the son of Marcus Aurelius and Laura (Sherwood)
Bierce, born in Meiggs County, Ohio, June 24, 1842, was at the
outbreak of the Civil War a youth without formal education, but with a
mind already trained. "My father was a poor farmer," he once said to a
friend, "and could give me no general education, but he had a good
library, and to his books I owe all that I have." He promptly
volunteered in 1861 and served throughout the war. Twice, at the risk
of his life, he rescued wounded companions from the battlefield, and
at Kenesaw Mountain was himself severely wounded in the head. He was
brevetted Major for distinguished services; but in after life never
permitted the title to be used in addressing him. There is a story
that when the war was over he tossed up a coin to determine what
should be his career. Whatever the determining auguries, he came at
once to San Francisco to join his favorite brother Albert--there were
ten brothers and sisters to choose from--and for a short time worked
with him in the Mint; he soon began writing paragraphs for the
weeklies, particularly the _ARGONAUT_ and the _NEWS LETTER_.

"I was a slovenly writer in those days," he observes in a letter forty
years later, "though enough better than my neighbors to have attracted
my own attention. My knowledge of English was imperfect 'a whole lot.'
Indeed, my intellectual status (whatever it may be, and God knows it's
enough to make me blush) was of slow growth--as was my moral. I mean,
I had not literary sincerity." Apparently, attention other than his
own was attracted, for he was presently editing the _NEWS LETTER_.

In 1872 he went to London and for four years was on the staff of
_FUN_. In London Bierce found congenial and stimulating associates.
The great man of his circle was George Augustus Sala, "one of the most
skilful, finished journalists ever known," a keen satiric wit, and the
author of a ballad of which it is said that Swift might have been
proud. Another notable figure was Tom Hood the younger, mordantly
humorous. The satiric style in journalism was popular then; and
"personal" journals were so personal that one "Jimmy" Davis, editor of
the _CUCKOO_ and the _BAT_ successively, found it healthful to remain
some years in exile in France. Bierce contributed to several of these
and to _FIGARO_, the editor of which was James Mortimer. To this
gentleman Bierce owed what he designated as the distinction of being
"probably the only American journalist who was ever employed by an
Empress in so congenial a pursuit as the pursuit of another
journalist." This other journalist was M. Henri Rochefort, communard,
formerly editor of _LA LANTERNE_ in Paris, in which he had made
incessant war upon the Empire and all its personnel, particularly the
Empress. When, an exile, Rochefort announced his intention of renewing
_LA LANTERNE_ in London, the exiled Empress circumvented him by
secretly copyrighting the title, _THE LANTERN_, and proceeding to
publish a periodical under that name with the purpose of undermining
his influence. Two numbers were enough; M. Rochefort fled to Belgium.
Bierce said that in "the field of chromatic journalism" it was the
finest thing that ever came from a press, but of the literary
excellence of the twelve pages he felt less qualified for judgment as
he had written every line.

This was in 1874. Two years earlier, under his journalistic pseudonym
of "Dod Grile," he had published his first books--two small volumes,
largely made up of his articles in the San Francisco _NEWS LETTER_,
called _The Fiend's Delight_, and _Nuggets And Dust Panned Out In
California_. Now, he used the same pseudonym on the title-page of a
third volume, _Cobwebs from an Empty Skull_. The _Cobwebs_ were
selections from his work in _FUN_--satirical tales and fables, often
inspired by weird old woodcuts given him by the editors with the
request that he write something to fit. His journalistic associates
praised these volumes liberally, and a more distinguished admirer was
Gladstone, who, discovering the _Cobwebs_ in a second-hand bookshop,
voiced his delight in their cleverness, and by his praise gave a
certain currency to Bierce's name among the London elect. But despite
so distinguished a sponsor, the books remained generally unknown.

Congenial tasks and association with the brilliant journalists of the
day did not prevent Bierce from being undeniably hard up at times. In
1876 he returned to San Francisco, where he remained for twenty-one
years, save for a brief but eventful career as general manager of a
mining company near Deadwood, South Dakota. All this time he got his
living by writing special articles--for the _WASP_, a weekly whose
general temper may be accurately surmised from its name, and,
beginning in 1886, for the _EXAMINER_, in which he conducted every
Sunday on the editorial page a department to which he gave the title
he had used for a similar column in _THE LANTERN_--_Prattle_. A partial
explanation of a mode of feeling and a choice of themes which Bierce
developed more and more, ultimately to the practical exclusion of all
others, is to be found in the particular phase through which
California journalism was just then passing.

In the evolution of the comic spirit the lowest stage, that of delight
in inflicting pain on others, is clearly manifest in savages, small
boys, and early American journalism. It was exhibited in all parts of
America--Mark Twain gives a vivid example in his _Journalistic Wild
Oats_ of what it was in Tennessee--but with particular intensity in
San Francisco. As a community, San Francisco exalted personal courage,
directness of encounter, straight and effective shooting. The social
group was so small and so homogeneous that any news of importance
would be well known before it could be reported, set up in type,
printed, and circulated. It was isolated by so great distances from
the rest of the world that for years no pretense was made of
furnishing adequate news from the outside. So the newspapers came to
rely on other sorts of interest. They were pamphlets for the
dissemination of the opinions of the groups controlling them, and
weapons for doing battle, if need be, for those opinions. And there
was abundant occasion: municipal affairs were corrupt, courts weak or
venal, or both. Editors and readers enjoyed a good fight; they also
wanted humorous entertainment; they happily combined the two. In the
creative dawn of 1847 when the foundations of the journalistic earth
were laid and those two morning stars, the _CALIFORNIAN_ of Monterey
and the _CALIFORNIA STAR_ of San Francisco, sang together, we find the
editors attacking the community generally, and each other
particularly, with the utmost ferocity, laying about them right and
left with verbal broad-axes, crow-bars, and such other weapons as
might be immediately at hand. The _CALIFORNIA STAR'S_ introduction to
the public of what would, in our less direct day, be known as its
"esteemed contemporary" is typical:

   "We have received two late numbers of the _CALIFORNIAN_, a dim,
   dirty little paper printed in Monterey on the worn-out materials
   of one of the old California _WAR PRESSES_. It is published and
   edited by Walter Colton and Robert Semple, the one a _WHINING
   SYCOPHANT_, and the other an _OVER-GROWN LICK-SPITTLE_. At the
   top of one of the papers we find the words 'please exchange.'
   This would be considered in almost any other country a bare-faced
   attempt to swindle us. We should consider it so now were it not
   for the peculiar situation of our country which induces us to do
   a great deal for others in order for them to do us a little
   good.... We have concluded to give our paper to them this year,
   so as to afford them some insight into the manner in which a
   Republican newspaper should be conducted. They appear now to be
   awfully verdant."

Down through the seventies and eighties the tradition persisted,
newspapers being bought and read, as a historian of journalism
asserts, not so much for news as to see who was getting "lambasted"
that day. It is not strange, then, that journals of redoubtable
pugnacity were popular, or that editors favored writers who were
likely to excel in the gladiatorial style. It is significant that
public praise first came to Bierce through his articles in the caustic
_NEWS LETTER_, widely read on the Pacific Coast during the seventies.
Once launched in this line, he became locally famous for his fierce
and witty articles in the _ARGONAUNT_ and the _WASP_, and for many
years his column _Prattle_ in the _EXAMINER_ was, in the words of Mr.
Bailey Millard, "the most wickedly clever, the most audaciously
personal, and the most eagerly devoured column of _causerie_ that ever
was printed in this country."

In 1896 Bierce was sent to Washington to fight, through the Hearst
newspapers, the "refunding bill" which Collis P. Huntington was trying
to get passed, releasing his Central Pacific Railroad from its
obligations to the government. A year later he went again to
Washington, where he remained during the rest of his journalistic
career, as correspondent for the New York _AMERICAN_, conducting also
for some years a department in the _COSMOPOLITAN_.

Much of Bierce's best work was done in those years in San Francisco.
Through the columns of the _WASP_ and the _EXAMINER_ his wit played
free; he wielded an extraordinary influence; his trenchant criticism
made and unmade reputations--literary and otherwise. But this to
Bierce was mostly "journalism, a thing so low that it cannot be
mentioned in the same breath with literature." His real interest lay
elsewhere. Throughout the early eighties he devoted himself to writing
stories; all were rejected by the magazine editors to whom he offered
them. When finally in 1890 he gathered these stories together into
book form and offered them to the leading publishers of the country,
they too, would have none of them. "These men," writes Mr. Bailey
Millard, "admitted the purity of his diction and the magic of his
haunting power, but the stories were regarded as revolting."

At last, in 1891, his first book of stories, _Tales of Soldiers and
Civilians_, saw the reluctant light of day. It had this for foreword:

   "Denied existence by the chief publishing houses of the country,
   this book owes itself to Mr. E. L. G. Steele, merchant, of this
   city, [San Francisco]. In attesting Mr. Steele's faith in his
   judgment and his friend, it will serve its author's main and best

There is Biercean pugnacity in these words; the author flings down the
gauntlet with a confident gesture. But it cannot be said that anything
much happened to discomfit the publishing houses of little faith.
Apparently, Bierce had thought to appeal past the dull and unjust
verdict of such lower courts to the higher tribunal of the critics and
possibly an elect group of general readers who might be expected to
recognize and welcome something rare. But judgment was scarcely
reversed. Only a few critics were discerning, and the book had no
vogue. When _The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter_ was published by F.
J. Schulte and Company, Chicago, the next year, and _Can Such Things
Be_ by The Cassell Publishing Company, the year following, a few
enthusiastic critics could find no words strong enough to describe
Bierce's vivid imagination, his uncanny divination of atavistic
terrors in man's consciousness, his chiseled perfection of style; but
the critics who disapproved had even more trouble in finding words
strong enough for their purposes and, as before, there was no general

For the next twenty years Ambrose Bierce was a prolific writer but,
whatever the reason, no further volumes of stories from his pen were
presented to the world. _Black Beetles in Amber_, a collection of
satiric verse, had appeared the same year as _The Monk and the
Hangman's Daughter_; then for seven years, with the exception of a
republication by G. P. Putnam's Sons of _Tales of Soldiers and
Civilians_ under the title, _In the Midst of Life_, no books by
Bierce. In 1899 appeared _Fantastic Fables_; in 1903 _Shapes of Clay_,
more satiric verse; in 1906 _The Cynic's Word Book_, a dictionary of
wicked epigrams; in 1909 _Write it Right_, a blacklist of literary
faults, and _The Shadow on the Dial_, a collection of essays covering,
to quote from the preface of S. O. Howes, "a wide range of subjects,
embracing among other things, government, dreams, writers of dialect
and dogs"--Mr. Howes might have heightened his crescendo by adding
"emancipated woman"; and finally--1909 to 1912--_The Collected Works
of Ambrose Bierce_, containing all his work previously published in
book form, save the two last mentioned, and much more besides, all
collected and edited by Bierce himself.

On October 2, 1913, Ambrose Bierce, having settled his business
affairs, left Washington for a trip through the southern states,
declaring in letters his purpose of going into Mexico and later on to
South America. The fullest account of his trip and his plans is
afforded by a newspaper clipping he sent his niece in a letter dated
November 6, 1913; through the commonplaceness of the reportorial
vocabulary shines out the vivid personality that was making its final

   "Traveling over the same ground that he had covered with General
   Hazen's brigade during the Civil War, Ambrose Bierce, famed
   writer and noted critic, has arrived in New Orleans. Not that
   this city was one of the places figuring in his campaigns, for he
   was here after and not during the war. He has come to New Orleans
   in a haphazard, fancy-free way, making a trip toward Mexico. The
   places that he has visited on the way down have become famous in
   song and story--places where the greatest battles were fought,
   where the moon shone at night on the burial corps, and where in
   day the sun shone bright on polished bayonets and the smoke
   drifted upward from the cannon mouths.

   "For Mr. Bierce was at Chickamauga; he was at Shiloh; at
   Murfreesboro; Kenesaw Mountain, Franklin and Nashville. And then
   when wounded during the Atlanta campaign he was invalided home.
   He 'has never amounted to much since then,' he said Saturday. But
   his stories of the great struggle, living as deathless
   characterizations of the bloody episodes, stand for what he 'has
   amounted to since then.'

   "Perhaps it was in mourning for the dead over whose battlefields
   he has been wending his way toward New Orleans that Mr. Bierce
   was dressed in black. From head to foot he was attired in this
   color, except where the white cuffs and collar and shirt front
   showed through. He even carried a walking cane, black as ebony
   and unrelieved by gold or silver. But his eyes, blue and piercing
   as when they strove to see through the smoke at Chickamauga,
   retained all the fire of the indomitable fighter.

   "'I'm on my way to Mexico, because I like the game,' he said, 'I
   like the fighting; I want to see it. And then I don't think
   Americans are as oppressed there as they say they are, and I want
   to get at the true facts of the case. Of course, I'm not going
   into the country if I find it unsafe for Americans to be there,
   but I want to take a trip diagonally across from northeast to
   southwest by horseback, and then take ship for South America, go
   over the Andes and across that continent, if possible, and come
   back to America again.

   "'There is no family that I have to take care of; I've retired
   from writing and I'm going to take a rest. No, my trip isn't for
   local color. I've retired just the same as a merchant or business
   man retires. I'm leaving the field for the younger authors.'

   "An inquisitive question was interjected as to whether Mr. Bierce
   had acquired a competency only from his writings, but he did not
   take offense.

   "'My wants are few, and modest,' he said, 'and my royalties give
   me quite enough to live on. There isn't much that I need, and I
   spend my time in quiet travel. For the last five years I haven't
   done any writing. Don't you think that after a man has worked as
   long as I have that he deserves a rest? But perhaps after I have
   rested I might work some more--I can't tell, there are so many
   things--' and the straightforward blue eyes took on a faraway
   look, 'there are so many things that might happen between now and
   when I come back. My trip might take several years, and I'm an
   old man now.'

   "Except for the thick, snow-white hair no one would think him
   old. His hands are steady, and he stands up straight and
   tall--perhaps six feet."

In December of that same year the last letter he is known to have
written was received by his daughter. It is dated from Chihuahua, and
mentions casually that he has attached himself unofficially to a
division of Villa's army, and speaks of a prospective advance on
Ojinaga. No further word has ever come from or of Ambrose Bierce.
Whether illness overtook him, then an old man of seventy-one, and
death suddenly, or whether, preferring to go foaming over a precipice
rather than to straggle out in sandy deltas, he deliberately went
where he knew death was, no one can say. His last letters, dauntless,
grave, tender, do not say, though they suggest much. "You must try to
forgive my obstinacy in not 'perishing' where I am," he wrote as he
left Washington. "I want to be where something worth while is going
on, or where nothing whatever is going on." "Good-bye--if you hear of
my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please
know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats
old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in
Mexico--ah, that is euthanasia!" Whatever end Ambrose Bierce found in
Mexico, the lines of George Sterling well express what must have been
his attitude in meeting it:

     "Dream you he was afraid to live?
       Dream you he was afraid to die?
       Or that, a suppliant of the sky,
     He begged the gods to keep or give?
     Not thus the shadow-maker stood,
       Whose scrutiny dissolved so well
       Our thin mirage of Heaven or Hell--
     The doubtful evil, dubious good....

     "If now his name be with the dead,
       And where the gaunt agaves flow'r,
       The vulture and the wolf devour
     The lion-heart, the lion-head,
     Be sure that heart and head were laid
       In wisdom down, content to die;
       Be sure he faced the Starless Sky
     Unduped, unmurmuring, unafraid."

In any consideration of the work of Ambrose Bierce, a central question
must be why it contains so much that is trivial or ephemeral. Another
question facing every critic of Bierce, is why the fundamentally
original point of view, the clarity of workmanship of his best
things--mainly stories--did not win him immediate and general

A partial answer to both questions is to be found in a certain discord
between Bierce and his setting. Bierce, paradoxically, combined the
bizarre in substance, the severely restrained and compressed in form.
An ironic mask covered a deep-seated sensibility; but sensibility and
irony were alike subject to an uncompromising truthfulness; he would
have given deep-throated acclaim to Clough's

     "But play no tricks upon thy soul, O man,
     Let truth be truth, and life the thing it can."

He had the aristocrat's contempt for mass feeling, a selectiveness
carried so far that he instinctively chose for themes the picked
person and experience, the one decisive moment of crisis. He viewed
his characters not in relation to other men and in normal activities;
he isolated them--often amid abnormalities.

All this was in sharp contrast to the literary fashion obtaining when
he dipped his pen to try his luck as a creative artist. The most
popular novelist of the day was Dickens; the most popular poet,
Tennyson. Neither looked straight at life; both veiled it: one in
benevolence, the other in beauty. Direct and painful verities were
best tolerated by the reading public when exhibited as instances of
the workings of natural law. The spectator of the macrocosm in action
could stomach the wanton destruction of a given human atom; one so
privileged could and did excuse the Creator for small mistakes like
harrying Hetty Sorrell to the gallow's foot, because of the conviction
that, taking the Universe by and large, "He was a good fellow, and
'twould all be well." This benevolent optimism was the offspring of a
strange pair, evangelicism and evolution; and in the minds of the
great public whom Bierce, under other circumstances and with a
slightly different mixture of qualities in himself, might have
conquered, it became a large, soft insincerity that demanded "happy
endings," a profuse broadness of treatment prohibitive of harsh
simplicity, a swathing of elemental emotion in gentility or moral

But to Bierce's mind, "noble and nude and antique," this mid-Victorian
draping and bedecking of "unpleasant truths" was abhorrent. Absolutely
direct and unafraid--not only in his personal relations but, what is
more rare, in his thinking--he regarded easy optimism, sure that God
is in his heaven with consequently good effects upon the world, as
blindness, and the hopefulness that demanded always the "happy
ending," as silly. In many significant passages Bierce's attitude is
the ironic one of Voltaire: "'Had not Pangloss got himself hanged,'
replied Candide, 'he would have given us most excellent advice in this
emergency; for he was a profound philosopher.'" Bierce did not fear to
bring in disconcerting evidence that _a priori_ reasoning may prove a
not infallible guide, that causes do not always produce the effects
complacently pre-argued, and that the notion of this as the best of
all possible worlds is sometimes beside the point.

The themes permitted by such an attitude were certain to displease
the readers of that period. In _Tales of Soldiers and Civilians_, his
first book of stories, he looks squarely and grimly at one much
bedecked subject of the time--war; not the fine gay gallantry of war,
the music and the marching and the romantic episodes; but the ghastly
horror of it; through his vivid, dramatic passages beats a hatred of
war, not merely "unrighteous" war, but all war, the more disquieting
because never allowed to become articulate. With bitter but beautiful
truth he brings each tale to its tragic close, always with one last
turn of the screw, one unexpected horror more. And in this book--note
the solemn implication of the title he later gave it, _In the Midst of
Life_--as well as in the next, _Can Such Things Be_, is still another
subject which Bierce alone in his generation seemed unafraid to
consider curiously: "Death, in warfare and in the horrid guise of the
supernatural, was painted over and over. Man's terror in the face of
death gave the artist his cue for his wonderful physical and
psychologic microscopics. You could not pin this work down as realism,
or as romance; it was the greatest human drama--the conflict between
life and death--fused through genius. Not Zola, in the endless pages
of his _Debâcle_, not the great Tolstoi in his great _War and Peace_
had ever painted war, horrid war, more faithfully than any of the
stories of this book; not Maupassant had invented out of war's
terrible truths more dramatically imagined plots.... There painted an
artist who had seen the thing itself, and being a genius, had made it
an art still greater.

Death of the young, the beautiful, the brave, was the closing note of
every line of the ten stories of war in this book. The brilliant,
spectacular death that came to such senseless bravery as Tennyson
hymned for the music-hall intelligence in his _Charge of the Light
Brigade_; the vision-starting, slow, soul-drugging death by hanging;
the multiplied, comprehensible death that makes rivers near
battlefields run red; the death that comes by sheer terror; death
actual and imagined--every sort of death was on these pages, so
painted as to make Pierre Loti's _Book of Pity and Death_ seem but
feeble fumbling."

Now death by the mid-Victorian was considered almost as undesirable an
element in society as sex itself. Both must be passed over in silence
or presented decently draped. In the eighties any writer who dealt
unabashed with death was regarded as an unpleasant person.
"Revolting!" cried the critics when they read Bierce's _Chickamauga_
and _The Affair at Coulter's Notch_.

Bierce's style, too, by its very fineness, alienated his public.
Superior, keen, perfect in detail, finite, compressed--such was his
manner in the free and easy, prolix, rambling, multitudinous
nineteenth century.

Bierce himself knew that although it is always the fashion to jeer at
fashion, its rule is absolute for all that, whether it be fashion in
boots or books.

"A correspondent of mine," he wrote in 1887 in his _EXAMINER_ column,
"a well-known and clever writer, appears surprised because I do not
like the work of Robert Louis Stevenson. I am equally hurt to know
that he does. If he was ever a boy he knows that the year is
divided, not into seasons and months, as is vulgarly supposed, but
into 'top time,' 'marble time,' 'kite time,' et cetera, and woe to the
boy who ignores the unwritten calendar, amusing himself according to
the dictates of an irresponsible conscience. I venture to remind my
correspondent that a somewhat similar system obtains in matters of
literature--a word which I beg him to observe means fiction. There
are, for illustration--or rather, there were--James time, Howells
time, Crawford time, Russell time and Conway time, each epoch--named
for the immortal novelist of the time being--lasting, generally
speaking, as much as a year.... All the more rigorous is the law of
observance. It is not permitted to admire Jones in Smith time. I must
point out to my heedless correspondent that this is not Stevenson
time--that was last year." It was decidedly not Bierce time when
Bierce's stories appeared.

And there was in him no compromise--or so he thought. "A great
artist," he wrote to George Sterling, "is superior to his world and
his time, or at least to his parish and his day." His practical
application of that belief is shown in a letter to a magazine editor
who had just rejected a satire he had submitted:

"Even _you_ ask for literature--if my stories are literature, as you
are good enough to imply. (By the way, all the leading publishers of
the country turned down that book until they saw it published without
them by a merchant in San Francisco and another sort of publishers in
London, Leipsig and Paris.) Well, you wouldn't do a thing to one of my

"No, thank you; if I have to write rot, I prefer to do it for the
newspapers, which make no false pretenses and are frankly rotten, and
in which the badness of a bad thing escapes detection or is forgotten
as soon as it is cold.

"I know how to write a story (of 'happy ending' sort) for magazine
readers for whom literature is too good, but I will not do so, so long
as stealing is more honorable and interesting. I have offered you ...
the best that I am able to make; and now you must excuse me." In these
two utterances we have some clue to the secret of his having ceased,
in 1893, to publish stories. Vigorously refusing to yield in the
slightest degree to the public so far as his stories were concerned,
he abandoned his best field of creative effort and became almost
exclusively a "columnist" and a satirist; he put his world to rout,
and left his "parish and his day" resplendently the victors.

All this must not be taken to mean that the "form and pressure of the
time" put into Bierce what was not there. Even in his creative work he
had a satiric bent; his early training and associations, too, had been
in journalistic satire. Under any circumstances he undoubtedly would
have written satire--columns of it for his daily bread, books of it
for self-expression; but under more favorable circumstances he would
have kept on writing other sort of books as well. Lovers of literature
may well lament that Bierce's insistence on going his way and the
demands of his "parish" forced him to overdevelop one power to the
almost complete paralysis of another and a perhaps finer.

As a satirist Bierce was the best America has produced, perhaps the
best since Voltaire. But when he confined himself to "exploring the
ways of hate as a form of creative energy," it was with a hurt in his
soul, and with some intellectual and spiritual confusion. There
resulted a kink in his nature, a contradiction that appears
repeatedly, not only in his life, but in his writings. A striking
instance is found in his article _To Train a Writer_:

   "He should, for example, forget that he is an American and
   remember that he is a man. He should be neither Christian nor
   Jew, nor Buddhist, nor Mahometan, nor Snake Worshiper. To local
   standards of right and wrong he should be civilly indifferent. In
   the virtues, so-called, he should discern only the rough notes of
   a general expediency; in fixed moral principles only time-saving
   predecisions of cases not yet before the court of conscience.
   Happiness should disclose itself to his enlarging intelligence as
   the end and purpose of life; art and love as the only means to
   happiness. He should free himself of all doctrines, theories,
   etiquettes, politics, simplifying his life and mind, attaining
   clarity with breadth and unity with height. To him a continent
   should not seem wide nor a century long. And it would be needful
   that he know and have an ever-present consciousness that this is
   a world of fools and rogues, blind with superstition, tormented
   with envy, consumed with vanity, selfish, false, cruel, cursed
   with illusions--frothing mad!"

Up to that last sentence Ambrose Bierce beholds this world as one
where tolerance, breadth of view, simplicity of life and mind, clear
thinking, are at most attainable, at least worthy of the effort to
attain; he regards life as purposive, as having happiness for its end,
and art and love as the means to that good end. But suddenly the
string from which he has been evoking these broad harmonies snaps with
a snarl. All is evil and hopeless--"frothing mad." Both views cannot
be held simultaneously by the same mind. Which was the real belief of
Ambrose Bierce? The former, it seems clear. But he has been hired to
be a satirist.

On the original fabric of Bierce's mind the satiric strand has
encroached more than the design allows. There results not only
considerable obliteration of the main design, but confusion in the
substituted one. For it is significant that much of the work of Bierce
seems to be that of what he would have called a futilitarian, that he
seldom seems able to find a suitable field for his satire, a foeman
worthy of such perfect steel as he brings to the encounter; he fights
on all fields, on both sides, against all comers; ubiquitous,
indiscriminate, he is as one who screams in pain at his own futility,
one who "might be heard," as he says of our civilization, "from afar
in space as a scolding and a riot." That Bierce would have spent so
much of his superb power on the trivial and the ephemeral, breaking
magnificent vials of wrath on Oakland nobodies, preserving
insignificant black beetles in the amber of his art, is not merely, as
it has long been, cause of amazement to the critics; it is cause of
laughter to the gods, and of weeping among Bierce's true admirers.

Some may argue that Bierce's failure to attain international or even
national fame cannot be ascribed solely to a lack of concord between
the man and his time and to the consequent reaction in him. It is true
that in Bierce's work is a sort of paucity--not a mere lack of
printed pages, but of the fulness of creative activity that makes
Byron, for example, though vulgar and casual, a literary mountain
peak. Bierce has but few themes, few moods; his literary river runs
clear and sparkling, but confined--a narrow current, not the opulent
stream that waters wide plains of thought and feeling. Nor has Bierce
the power to weave individual entities and situations into a broad
pattern of existence, which is the distinguishing mark of such writers
as Thackeray, Balzac, and Tolstoi among the great dead, and Bennett
and Wells among the lesser living. Bierce's interest does not lie in
the group experience nor even in the experience of the individual
through a long period. His unit of time is the minute, not the month.
It is significant that he never wrote a novel--unless _The Monk and
the Hangman's Daughter_ be reckoned one--and that he held remarkable
views of the novel as a literary form, witness this passage from
_Prattle_, written in 1887:

   "English novelists are not great because the English novel is
   dead--deader than Queen Anne at her deadest. The vein is worked
   out. It was a thin one and did not 'go down.' A single century
   from the time when Richardson sank the discovery shaft it had
   already begun to 'pinch out.' The miners of today have abandoned
   it altogether to search for 'pockets,' and some of the best of
   them are merely 'chloriding the dumps.' To expect another good
   novel in English is to expect the gold to 'grow' again."

It may well be that at the bottom of this sweeping condemnation was an
instinctive recognition of his own lack of constructive power on a
large scale.

But an artist, like a nation, should be judged not by what he cannot
do, but by what he can. That Bierce could not paint the large canvas
does not make him negligible or even inconsiderable. He is by no means
a second-rate writer; he is a first-rate writer who could not
consistently show his first-rateness.

When he did show his first-rateness, what is it? In all his best work
there is originality, a rare and precious idiosyncracy; his point of
view, his themes are rich with it. Above all writers Bierce can
present--brilliantly present--startling fragments of life, carved out
from attendant circumstance; isolated problems of character and
action; sharply bitten etchings of individual men under momentary
stresses and in bizarre situations. Through his prodigious emotional
perceptivity he has the power of feeling and making us feel some
strange, perverse accident of fate, destructive of the individual--of
making us feel it to be real and terrible. This is not an easy thing
to do. De Maupassant said that men were killed every year in Paris by
the falling of tiles from the roof, but if he got rid of a principal
character in that way, he should be hooted at. Bierce can make us
accept as valid and tragic events more odd than the one de Maupassant
had to reject. "In the line of the startling,--half Poe, half
Merimee--he cannot have many superiors," says Arnold Bennett.... "A
story like _An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge_--well, Edgar Allan Poe
might have deigned to sign it. And that is something.

"He possesses a remarkable style--what Kipling's would have been had
Kipling been born with any significance of the word 'art'--and a quite
strangely remarkable perception of beauty. There is a feeling for
landscape in _A Horseman in the Sky_ which recalls the exquisite
opening of that indifferent novel, _Les Frères Zemganno_ by Edmond de
Goncourt, and which no English novelist except Thomas Hardy, and
possibly Charles Marriott, could match." The feeling for landscape
which Bennett notes is but one part of a greater power--the power to
make concrete and visible, action, person, place. Bierce's
descriptions of Civil War battles in his _Bits of Autobiography_ are
the best descriptions of battle ever written. He lays out the field
with map-like clearness, marshals men and events with precision and
economy, but his account never becomes exposition--it is drama. Real
battles move swiftly; accounts make them seem labored and slow. What
narrator save Bierce can convey the sense of their being lightly
swift, and, again and again the shock of surprise the event itself
must have given?

This could not be were it not for his verbal restraint. In his
descriptions is no welter of adjectives and adverbs; strong exact
nouns and verbs do the work, and this means that the veritable object
and action are brought forward, not qualifying talk around and about
them. And this, again, could not be were it not for what is, beyond
all others, his greatest quality--absolute precision. "I sometimes
think," he once wrote playfully about letters of his having been
misunderstood, "I sometimes think that I am the only man in the world
who understands the meaning of the written word. Or the only one who
does not." A reader of Ambrose Bierce comes almost to believe that not
till now has he found a writer who understands--completely--the
meaning of the written word. He has the power to bring out new
meanings in well-worn words, so setting them as to evoke brilliant
significances never before revealed. He gives to one phrase the
beauty, the compressed suggestion of a poem; his titles--_Black
Beetles in Amber_, _Ashes of the Beacon_, _Cobwebs from an Empty
Skull_ are masterpieces in miniature. That he should have a gift of
coining striking words naturally follows: in his later years he has
fallen into his "anecdotage," a certain Socialist is the greatest
"futilitarian" of them all, "femininies"--and so on infinitely. Often
the smaller the Biercean gem, the more exquisite the workmanship. One
word has all the sparkle of an epigram.

In such skill Ambrose Bierce is not surpassed by any writer, ancient
or modern; it gives him rank among the few masters who afford that
highest form of intellectual delight, the immediate recognition of a
clear idea perfectly set forth in fitting words--wit's twin brother,
evoking that rare joy, the sudden, secret laughter of the mind. So
much for Bierce the artist; the man is found in these letters. If
further clue to the real nature of Ambrose Bierce were needed it is to
be found in a conversation he had in his later years with a young
girl: "You must be very proud, Mr. Bierce, of all your books and your
fame?" "No," he answered rather sadly, "you will come to know that all
that is worth while in life is the love you have had for a few people
near to you."

  A Memoir of Ambrose Bierce


Though from boyhood a lover of tales of the terrible, it was not until
my twenty-second year that I heard of Ambrose Bierce, I having then
been for ten months a resident of Oakland, California. But in the fall
of the year 1891 my friend Roosevelt Johnson, newly arrived from our
town of birth, Sag Harbor, New York, asked me if I were acquainted
with his work, adding that he had been told that Bierce was the author
of stories not inferior in awesomeness to the most terrible of Poe's.

We made inquiry and found that Bierce had for several years been
writing columns of critical comment, satirically named _Prattle_, for
the editorial page of the Sunday _EXAMINER_, of San Francisco. As my
uncle, of whose household I had been for nearly a year a member, did
not subscribe to that journal, I had unfortunately overlooked these
weekly contributions to the wit and sanity of our western
literature--an omission for which we partially consoled ourselves by
subsequently reading with great eagerness each installment of
_Prattle_ as it appeared. But, so far as his short stories were
concerned, we had to content ourselves with the assurance of a
neighbor that "they'd scare an owl off a tombstone."

However, later in the autumn, while making a pilgrimage to the home of
our greatly worshipped Joaquin Miller, we became acquainted with
Albert, an elder brother of Bierce's, a man who was to be one of my
dearest of friends to the day of his death, in March, 1914. From him
we obtained much to gratify our not unnatural curiosity as to this
mysterious being, who, from his isolation on a lonely mountain above
the Napa Valley, scattered weekly thunderbolts on the fool, the
pretender, and the knave, and cast ridicule or censure on many that
sat in the seats of the mighty. For none, however socially or
financially powerful, was safe from the stab of that aculeate pen, the
venom of whose ink is to gleam vividly from the pages of literature
for centuries yet to come.

For Bierce is of the immortals. That fact, known, I think, to him, and
seeming then more and more evident to some of his admirers, has become
plainly apparent to anyone who can appraise the matter with eyes that
see beyond the flimsy artifices that bulk so large and so briefly in
the literary arena. Bierce was a sculptor who wrought in hardest

I was not to be so fortunate as to become acquainted with him until
after the publication of his first volume of short stories, entitled
_Tales of Soldiers and Civilians_. That mild title gives scant
indication of the terrors that await the unwarned reader. I recall
that I hung fascinated over the book, unable to lay it down until the
last of its printed dooms had become an imperishable portion of the
memory. The tales are told with a calmness and reserve that make most
of Poe's seem somewhat boyish and melodramatic by comparison. The
greatest of them seems to me to be _An Occurrence at Owl Creek
Bridge_, though I am perennially charmed by the weird beauty of _An
Inhabitant of Carcosa_, a tale of unique and unforgettable quality.

Bierce, born in Ohio in 1842, came to San Francisco soon after the
close of the Civil War. It is amusing to learn that he was one of a
family of eleven children, male and female, the Christian name of each
of whom began with the letter "A!" Obtaining employment at first in
the United States Mint, whither Albert, always his favorite brother,
had preceded him, he soon gravitated to journalism, doing his first
work on the San Francisco _NEWS LETTER_. His brother once told me that
he (Ambrose) had from boyhood been eager to become a writer and was
expectant of success at that pursuit.

Isolated from most men by the exalted and austere habit of his
thought, Bierce finally suffered a corresponding exile of the body,
and was forced to live in high altitudes, which of necessity are
lonely. This latter banishment was on account of chronic and utterly
incurable asthma, an ailment contracted in what might almost be termed
a characteristic manner. Bierce had no fear of the dead folk and their
marble city. From occasional strollings by night in Laurel Hill
Cemetery, in San Francisco, his spirit "drank repose," and was able to
attain a serenity in which the cares of daytime existence faded to
nothingness. It was on one of those strolls that he elected to lie for
awhile in the moonlight on a flat tombstone, and awakening late in the
night, found himself thoroughly chilled, and a subsequent victim of
the disease that was to cast so dark a shadow over his following
years. For his sufferings from asthma were terrible, arising often to
a height that required that he be put under the influence of

So afflicted, he found visits to the lowlands a thing not to be
indulged in with impunity. For many years such trips terminated
invariably in a severe attack of his ailment, and he was driven back
to his heights shaken and harassed. But he found such visits both
necessary and pleasant on occasion, and it was during one that he made
in the summer of 1892 that I first made his acquaintance, while he was
temporarily a guest at his brother Albert's camp on a rocky,
laurel-covered knoll on the eastern shore of Lake Temescal, a spot now
crossed by the tracks of the Oakland, Antioch and Eastern Railway.

I am not likely to forget his first night among us. A tent being, for
his ailment, insufficiently ventilated, he decided to sleep by the
campfire, and I, carried away by my youthful hero-worship, must
partially gratify it by occupying the side of the fire opposite to
him. I had a comfortable cot in my tent, and was unaccustomed at the
time to sleeping on the ground, the consequence being that I awoke at
least every half-hour. But awake as often as I might, always I found
Bierce lying on his back in the dim light of the embers, his gaze
fixed on the stars of the zenith. I shall not forget the gaze of those
eyes, the most piercingly blue, under yellow shaggy brows, that I have
ever seen.

After that, I saw him at his brother's home in Berkeley, at irregular
intervals, and once paid him a visit at his own temporary home at
Skylands, above Wrights, in Santa Clara County, whither he had moved
from Howell Mountain, in Napa County. It was on this visit that I was
emboldened to ask his opinion on certain verses of mine, the ambition
to become a poet having infected me at the scandalously mature age of
twenty-six. He was hospitable to my wish, and I was fortunate enough
to be his pupil almost to the year of his going forth from among us.
During the greater part of that time he was a resident of Washington,
D. C., whither he had gone in behalf of the San Francisco _EXAMINER_,
to aid in defeating (as was successfully accomplished) the Funding
Bill proposed by the Southern Pacific Company. It was on this occasion
that he electrified the Senate's committee by repeatedly refusing to
shake the hand of the proponent of that measure, no less formidable an
individual than Collis P. Huntington.

For Bierce carried into actual practice his convictions on ethical
matters. Secure in his own self-respect, and valuing his friendship or
approval to a high degree, he refused to make, as he put it, "a harlot
of his friendship." Indeed, he once told me that it was his rule, on
subsequently discovering the unworth of a person to whom a less
fastidious friend had without previous warning introduced him, to
write a letter to that person and assure him that he regarded the
introduction as a mistake, and that the twain were thenceforth to
"meet as strangers!" He also once informed me that he did not care
to be introduced to persons whom he had criticized, or was about to
criticize, in print. "I might get to like the beggar," was his
comment, "and then I'd have one less pelt in my collection."

In his criticism of my own work, he seldom used more than suggestion,
realizing, no doubt, the sensitiveness of the tyro in poetry. It has
been hinted to me that he laid, as it were, a hand of ice on my
youthful enthusiasms, but that, to such extent as it may be true, was,
I think, a good thing for a pupil of the art, youth being apt to gush
and become over-sentimental. Most poets would give much to be able to
obliterate some of their earlier work, and he must have saved me a
major portion of such putative embarrassment. Reviewing the
manuscripts that bear his marginal counsels, I can now see that such
suggestions were all "indicated," though at the time I dissented from
some of them. It was one of his tenets that a critic should "keep his
heart out of his head" (to use his own words), when sitting in
judgment on the work of writers whom he knew and liked. But I cannot
but think that he was guilty of sad violations of that rule,
especially in my own case.

Bierce lived many years in Washington before making a visit to his old
home. That happened in 1910, in which year he visited me at Carmel,
and we afterwards camped for several weeks together with his brother
and nephew, in Yosemite. I grew to know him better in those days, and
he found us hospitable, in the main degree, to his view of things,
socialism being the only issue on which we were not in accord. It
led to many warm arguments, which, as usual, conduced nowhere but to
the suspicion that truth in such matters was mainly a question of

I saw him again in the summer of 1911, which he spent at Sag Harbor.
We were much on the water, guests of my uncle in his power-yacht "La
Mascotte II." He was a devotee of canoeing, and made many trips on the
warm and shallow bays of eastern Long Island, which he seemed to
prefer to the less spacious reaches of the Potomac. He revisited
California in the fall of the next year, a trip on which we saw him
for the last time. An excursion to the Grand Canyon was occasionally
proposed, but nothing came of it, nor did he consent to be again my
guest at Carmel, on the rather surprising excuse that the village
contained too many anarchists! And in November, 1913, I received my
last letter from him, he being then in Laredo, Texas, about to cross
the border into warring Mexico.

Why he should have gone forth on so hazardous an enterprise is for the
most part a matter of conjecture. It may have been in the spirit of
adventure, or out of boredom, or he may not, even, have been jesting
when he wrote to an intimate friend that, ashamed of having lived so
long, and not caring to end his life by his own hand, he was going
across the border and let the Mexicans perform for him that service.
But he wrote to others that he purposed to extend his pilgrimage as
far as South America, to cross the Andes, and return to New York by
way of a steamer from Buenos Ayres. At any rate, we know, from letters
written during the winter months, that he had unofficially attached
himself to a section of Villa's army, even taking an active part in
the fighting. He was heard from until the close of 1913; after that
date the mist closes in upon his trail, and we are left to surmise
what we may. Many rumors as to his fate have come out of Mexico, one
of them even placing him in the trenches of Flanders. These rumors
have been, so far as possible, investigated: all end in nothing. The
only one that seems in the least degree illuminative is the tale
brought by a veteran reporter from the City of Mexico, and published
in the San Francisco _BULLETIN_. It is the story of a soldier in
Villa's army, one of a detachment that captured, near the village of
Icamole, an ammunition train of the Carranzistas. One of the prisoners
was a sturdy, white-haired, ruddy-faced Gringo, who, according to the
tale, went before the firing squad with an Indian muleteer, as sole
companion in misfortune. The description of the manner--indifferent,
even contemptuous--with which the white-haired man met his death seems
so characteristic of Bierce that one would almost be inclined to give
credence to the tale, impossible though it may be of verification. But
the date of the tragedy being given as late in 1915, it seems
incredible that Bierce could have escaped observation for so long a
period, with so many persons in Mexico eager to know of his fate. It
is far more likely that he met his death at the hands of a roving band
of outlaws or guerrilla soldiery.

I have had often in mind the vision of his capture by such a squad,
their discovery of the considerable amount of gold coin that he was
known to carry on his person, and his immediate condemnation and
execution as a spy in order that they might retain possession of the
booty. Naturally, such proceedings would not have been reported, from
fear of the necessity of sharing with those "higher up." And so the
veil would have remained drawn, and impenetrable to vision. Through
the efforts of the War Department, all United States Consuls were
questioned as to Bierce's possible departure from the country; all
Americans visiting or residing in Mexico were begged for
information--even prospectors. But the story of the reporter is the
sole one that seems partially credible. To such darkness did so
shining and fearless a soul go forth.

It is now over eight years since that disappearance, and though the
likelihood of his existence in the flesh seems faint indeed, the storm
of detraction and obloquy that he always insisted would follow his
demise has never broken, is not even on the horizon. Instead, he seems
to be remembered with tolerance by even those whom he visited with a
chastening pen. Each year of darkness but makes the star of his fame
increase and brighten, but we have, I think, no full conception as yet
of his greatness, no adequate realization of how wide and permanent a
fame he has won. It is significant that some of the discerning admire
him for one phase of his work, some for another. For instance, the
clear-headed H. L. Mencken acclaims him as the first wit of America,
but will have none of his tales; while others, somewhat disconcerted
by the cynicism pervading much of his wit, place him among the
foremost exponents of the art of the short story. Others again prefer
his humor (for he was humorist as well as wit), and yet others like
most the force, clarity and keen insight of his innumerable essays and
briefer comments on mundane affairs. Personally, I have always
regarded Poe's _Fall of the House of Usher_ as our greatest tale;
close to that come, in my opinion, at least a dozen of Bierce's
stories, whether of the soldier or civilian. He has himself stated in
_Prattle_: "I am not a poet." And yet he wrote poetry, on occasion, of
a high order, his _Invocation_ being one of the noblest poems in the
tongue. Some of his satirical verse seems to me as terrible in its
withering invective as any that has been written by classic satirists,
not excepting Juvenal and Swift. Like the victims of their merciless
pens, his, too, will be forgiven and forgotten. Today no one knows,
nor cares, whether or not those long-dead offenders gave just offense.
The grave has closed over accuser and accused, and the only thing that
matters is that a great mind was permitted to function. One may smile
or sigh over the satire, but one must also realize that even the
satirist had his own weaknesses, and could have been as savagely
attacked by a mentality as keen as his own. Men as a whole will never
greatly care for satire, each recognizing, true enough, glimpses of
himself in the invective, but sensing as well its fundamental bias and
cruelty. However, Bierce thought best of himself as a satirist.

Naturally, Bierce carried his wit and humor into his immediate human
relationships. I best recall an occasion, when, in my first year of
acquaintance with him, we were both guests at the home of the painter,
J. H. E. Partington. It happened that a bowl of nasturtiums adorned
the center table, and having been taught by Father Tabb, the poet, to
relish that flower, I managed to consume most of them before the close
of the evening, knowing there were plenty more to be had in the garden
outside. Someone at last remarked: "Why, George has eaten all the
nasturtiums! Go out and bring some more." At which Bierce dryly and
justly remarked: "No--bring some thistles!" It is an indication,
however, of his real kindness of heart that, observing my confusion,
he afterwards apologized to me for what he termed a thoughtless jest.
It was, nevertheless, well deserved.

I recall even more distinctly a scene of another setting. This
concerns itself with Bierce's son, Leigh, then a youth in the early
twenties. At the time (_circa_ 1894) I was a brother lodger with them
in an Oakland apartment house. Young Bierce had contracted a liaison
with a girl of his own age, and his father, determined to end the
affair, had appointed an hour for discussion of the matter. The youth
entered his father's rooms defiant and resolute: within an hour he
appeared weeping, and cried out to me, waiting for him in his own
room: "My father is a greater man than Christ! He has suffered more
than Christ!" And the affair of the heart was promptly terminated.

One conversant with Bierce only as a controversionalist and _censor
morum_ was, almost of necessity, constrained to imagine him a
misanthrope, a soured and cynical recluse. Only when one was
privileged to see him among his intimates could one obtain glimpses of
his true nature, which was considerate, generous, even affectionate.
Only the waving of the red flag of Socialism could rouse in him what
seemed to us others a certain savageness of intolerance. Needless to
say, we did not often invoke it, for he was an ill man with whom to
bandy words. It was my hope, at one time, to involve him and Jack
London in a controversy on the subject, but London declined the oral
encounter, preferring one with the written word. Nothing came of the
plan, which is a pity, as each was a supreme exponent of his point of
view. Bierce subsequently attended one of the midsummer encampments of
the Bohemian Club, of which he was once the secretary, in their
redwood grove near the Russian river. Hearing that London was present,
he asked why they had not been mutually introduced, and I was forced
to tell him that I feared that they'd be, verbally, at each other's
throats, within an hour. "Nonsense!" exclaimed Bierce. "Bring him
around! I'll treat him like a Dutch Uncle." He kept his word, and
seemed as much attracted to London as London was to him. But I was
always ill at ease when they were conversing. I do not think the two
men ever met again.

Bierce was the cleanest man, personally, of whom I have
knowledge--almost fanatically so, if such a thing be possible. Even
during our weeks of camping in the Yosemite, he would spend two hours
on his morning toilet in the privacy of his tent. His nephew always
insisted that the time was devoted to shaving himself from face to
foot! He was also a most modest man, and I still recall his decided
objections to my bathing attire when at the swimming-pool of the
Bohemian Club, in the Russian River. Compared to many of those
visible, it seemed more than adequate; but he had another opinion of
it. He was a good, even an eminent, tankard-man, and retained a clear
judgment under any amount of potations. He preferred wine (especially
a dry _vin du pays_, usually a sauterne) to "hard likker," in this
respect differing in taste from his elder brother. In the days when I
first made his acquaintance, I was accustomed to roam the hills beyond
Oakland and Berkeley from Cordonices Creek to Leona Heights, in
company with Albert Bierce, his son Carlton, R. L. ("Dick")
Partington, Leigh Bierce (Ambrose's surviving son) and other youths.
On such occasions I sometimes hid a superfluous bottle of port or
sherry in a convenient spot, and Bierce, afterwards accompanying us on
several such outings, pretended to believe that I had such flagons
concealed under each bush or rock in the reach and breadth of the
hills, and would, to carry out the jest, hunt zealously in such
recesses. I could wish that he were less often unsuccessful in the
search, now that he has had "the coal-black wine" to drink.

Though an appreciable portion of his satire hints at misanthropy,
Bierce, while profoundly a pessimist, was, by his own confession to
me, "a lover of his country and his fellowmen," and was ever ready to
proffer assistance in the time of need and sympathy in the hour of
sorrow. His was a great and tender heart, and giving of it greatly, he
expected, or rather hoped for, a return as great. It may have been
by reason of the frustration of such hopes that he so often broke with
old and, despite his doubts, appreciative friends. His brother Albert
once told me that he (Ambrose) had never been "quite the same," after
the wound in the head that he received in the battle of Kenesaw
Mountain, but had a tendency to become easily offended and to show
that resentment. Such estrangements as he and his friends suffered are
not, therefore, matters on which one should sit in judgment. It is sad
to know that he went so gladly from life, grieved and disappointed.
But the white flame of Art that he tended for nearly half a century
was never permitted to grow faint nor smoky, and it burned to the last
with a pure brilliance. Perhaps, he bore witness to what he had found
most admirable and enduring in life in the following words, the
conclusion of the finest of his essays:

"Literature and art are about all that the world really cares for in
the end; those who make them are not without justification in
regarding themselves as masters in the House of Life and all others as
their servitors. In the babble and clamor, the pranks and antics of
its countless incapables, the tremendous dignity of the profession of
letters is overlooked; but when, casting a retrospective eye into 'the
dark backward and abysm of time' to where beyond these voices is the
peace of desolation, we note the majesty of the few immortals and
compare them with the pygmy figures of their contemporary kings,
warriors and men of action generally--when across the silent
battle-fields and hushed _fora_ where the dull destinies of nations
were determined, nobody cares how, we hear

         like ocean on a western beach
     The surge and thunder of the Odyssey,

then we appraise literature at its true value, and how little worth
while seems all else with which Man is pleased to occupy his fussy
soul and futile hands!"

  The Letters of Ambrose Bierce

 July 31, 1892.]


You will not, I hope, mind my saying that the first part of your
letter was so pleasing that it almost solved the disappointment
created by the other part. For _that_ is a bit discouraging. Let me

You receive my suggestion about trying your hand * * * at writing,
with assent and apparently pleasure. But, alas, not for love of the
art, but for the purpose of helping God repair his botchwork world.
You want to "reform things," poor girl--to rise and lay about you,
slaying monsters and liberating captive maids. You would "help to
alter for the better the position of working-women." You would be a
missionary--and the rest of it. Perhaps I shall not make myself
understood when I say that this discourages me; that in such aims
(worthy as they are) I would do nothing to assist you; that such
ambitions are not only impracticable but incompatible with the spirit
that gives success in art; that such ends are a prostitution of art;
that "helpful" writing is dull reading. If you had had more experience
of life I should regard what you say as entirely conclusive against
your possession of any talent of a literary kind. But you are so young
and untaught in that way--and I have the testimony of little
felicities and purely literary touches (apparently unconscious) in
your letters--perhaps your unschooled heart and hope should not be
held as having spoken the conclusive word. But surely, my child--as
surely as anything in mathematics--Art will laurel no brow having a
divided allegiance. Love the world as much as you will, but serve it
otherwise. The best service you can perform by writing is to write
well with no care for anything but that. Plant and water and let God
give the increase if he will, and to whom it shall please him.

Suppose your father were to "help working-women" by painting no
pictures but such (of their ugly surroundings, say) as would incite
them to help themselves, or others to help them. Suppose you should
play no music but such as--but I need go no further. Literature (I
don't mean journalism) is an _art_;--it is not a form of benevolence.
It has nothing to do with "reform," and when used as a means of reform
suffers accordingly and justly. Unless you can _feel_ that way I
cannot advise you to meddle with it.

It would be dishonest in me to accept your praise for what I wrote of
the Homestead Works quarrel--unless you should praise it for being
well written and true. I have no sympathies with that savage fight
between the two kinds of rascals, and no desire to assist
either--except to better hearts and manners. The love of truth is good
enough motive for me when I write of my fellowmen. I like many things
in this world and a few persons--I like you, for example; but after
they are served I have no love to waste upon the irreclaimable mass of
brutality that we know as "mankind." Compassion, yes--I am sincerely
sorry that they are brutes.

Yes, I wrote the article "The Human Liver." Your criticism is
erroneous. My opportunities of knowing women's feelings toward Mrs.
Grundy are better than yours. They hate her with a horrible
antipathy; but they cower all the same. The fact that they are a part
of her mitigates neither their hatred nor their fear.

       *       *       *       *       *

After next Monday I shall probably be in St. Helena, but if you will
be so good as still to write to me please address me here until I
apprise you of my removal; for I shall intercept my letters at St.
Helena, wherever addressed. And maybe you will write before Monday. I
need not say how pleasant it is for me to hear from you. And I shall
want to know what you think of what I say about your "spirit of

How I should have liked to pass that Sunday in camp with you all. And
to-day--I wonder if you are there to-day. I feel a peculiar affection
for that place.

Please give my love to all your people, and forgive my intolerably
long letters--or retaliate in kind.

     Sincerely your friend,

[St. Helena,
 August 15, 1892.]

I KNOW, DEAR BLANCHE, of the disagreement among men as to the nature
and aims of literature; and the subject is too "long" to discuss. I
will only say that it seems to me that men holding Tolstoi's view are
not properly literary men (that is to say, artists) at all. They are
"missionaries," who, in their zeal to lay about them, do not scruple
to seize any weapon that they can lay their hands on; they would grab
a crucifix to beat a dog. The dog is well beaten, no doubt (which
makes him a worse dog than he was before) but note the condition of
the crucifix! The work of these men is better, of course, than the
work of men of truer art and inferior brains; but always you see the
possibilities--possibilities to _them_--which they have missed or
consciously sacrificed to their fad. And after all they do no good.
The world does not wish to be helped. The poor wish only to be rich,
which is impossible, not to be better. They would like to be rich in
order to be worse, generally speaking. And your working woman (also
generally speaking) does not wish to be virtuous; despite her
insincere deprecation she would not let the existing system be altered
if she could help it. Individual men and women can be assisted; and
happily some are worthy of assistance. No _class_ of mankind, no
tribe, no nation is worth the sacrifice of one good man or woman; for
not only is their average worth low, but they like it that way; and in
trying to help them you fail to help the good individuals. Your
family, your immediate friends, will give you scope enough for all
your benevolence. I must include your _self_.

In timely illustration of some of this is an article by Ingersoll in
the current _North American Review_--I shall send it you. It will be
nothing new to you; the fate of the philanthropist who gives out of
his brain and heart instead of his pocket--having nothing in that--is
already known to you. It serves him richly right, too, for his low
taste in loving. He who dilutes, spreads, subdivides, the love which
naturally _all_ belongs to his family and friends (if they are good)
should not complain of non-appreciation. Love those, help those, whom
from personal knowledge you know to be worthy. To love and help others
is treason to _them_. But, bless my soul! I did not mean to say all

But while you seem clear as to your own art, you seem undecided as to
the one you wish to take up. I know the strength and sweetness of the
illusions (that is, _de_lusions) that you are required to forego. I
know the abysmal ignorance of the world and human character which,
as a girl, you necessarily have. I know the charm that inheres in the
beckoning of the Britomarts, as they lean out of their dream to
persuade you to be as like them as is compatible with the fact that
you exist. But I believe, too, that if you are set thinking--not
reading--you will find the light.

You ask me of journalism. It is so low a thing that it _may_ be
legitimately used as a means of reform or a means of anything deemed
worth accomplishing. It is not an art; art, except in the greatest
moderation, is damaging to it. The man who can write well must not
write as well as he can; the others may, of course. Journalism has
many purposes, and the people's welfare _may_ be one of them; though
that is not the purpose-in-chief, by much.

I don't mind your irony about my looking upon the unfortunate as
merely "literary material." It is true in so far as I consider them
_with reference to literature_. Possibly I might be willing to help
them otherwise--as your father might be willing to help a beggar with
money, who is not picturesque enough to go into a picture. As you
might be willing to give a tramp a dinner, yet unwilling to play "The
Sweet Bye-and-Bye," or "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay," to tickle his ear.

You call me "master." Well, it is pleasant to think of you as a pupil,
but--you know the young squire had to watch his arms all night before
the day of his accolade and investiture with knighthood. I think I'll
ask you to contemplate yours a little longer before donning them--not
by way of penance but instruction and consecration. When you are quite
sure of the nature of your _call_ to write--quite sure that it is
_not_ the voice of "duty"--then let me do you such slight, poor
service as my limitations and the injunctions of circumstance
permit. In a few ways I can help you.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since coming here I have been ill all the time, but it seems my duty
to remain as long as there is a hope that I _can_ remain. If I get
free from my disorder and the fear of it I shall go down to San
Francisco some day and then try to see your people and mine. Perhaps
you would help me to find my brother's new house--if he is living in

With sincere regards to all your family, I am most truly your friend,


Your letters are very pleasing to me. I think it nice of you to write

[St. Helena,
 August 17, 1892.]


It was not that I forgot to mail you the magazine that I mentioned; I
could not find it; but now I send it.

My health is bad again, and I fear that I shall have to abandon my
experiment of living here, and go back to the mountain--or some
mountain. But not directly.

You asked me what books would be useful to you--I'm assuming that
you've repented your sacrilegious attitude toward literature, and will
endeavor to thrust your pretty head into the crown of martyrdom
otherwise. I may mention a few from time to time as they occur to me.
There is a little book entitled (I think) simply "English
Composition." It is by Prof. John Nichol--elementary, in a few places
erroneous, but on the whole rather better than the ruck of books on
the same subject.

Read those of Landor's "Imaginary Conversations" which relate to

Read Longinus, Herbert Spencer on Style, Pope's "Essay on Criticism"
(don't groan--the detractors of Pope are not always to have things
their own way), Lucian on the writing of history--though you need not
write history. Read poor old obsolete Kames' notions; some of them are
not half bad. Read Burke "On the Sublime and Beautiful."

Read--but that will do at present. And as you read don't forget that
the rules of the literary art are deduced from the work of the masters
who wrote in ignorance of them or in unconsciousness of them. That
fixes their value; it is secondary to that of _natural_
qualifications. None the less, it is considerable. Doubtless you have
read many--perhaps most--of these things, but to read them with a view
to profit _as a writer_ may be different. If I could get to San
Francisco I could dig out of those artificial memories, the catalogues
of the libraries, a lot of titles additional--and get you the books,
too. But I've a bad memory, and am out of the Book Belt.

I wish you would write some little thing and send it me for
examination. I shall not judge it harshly, for this I _know_: the good
writer (supposing him to be born to the trade) is not made by reading,
but by observing and experiencing. You have lived so little, seen so
little, that your range will necessarily be narrow, but within its
lines I know no reason why you should not do good work. But it is all
conjectural--you may fail. Would it hurt if I should tell you that I
thought you had failed? Your absolute and complete failure would not
affect in the slightest my admiration of your intellect. I have always
half suspected that it is only second rate minds, and minds below the
second rate, that hold their cleverness by so precarious a tenure that
they can detach it for display in words.

     God bless you,
       A. B.

[St. Helena,
 August 28, 1892.]


I positively shall not bore you with an interminated screed this time.
But I thought you might like to know that I have recovered my health,
and hope to be able to remain here for a few months at least. And if I
remain well long enough to make me reckless I shall visit your town
some day, and maybe ask your mother to command you to let me drive you
to Berkeley. It makes me almost sad to think of the camp at the lake
being abandoned.

So you liked my remarks on the "labor question." That is nice of you,
but aren't you afraid your praise will get me into the disastrous
literary habit of writing for some _one_ pair of eyes?--your eyes? Or
in resisting the temptation I may go too far in the opposite error.
But you do not see that it is "Art for Art's sake"--hateful phrase!
Certainly not, it is not Art at all. Do you forget the distinction I
pointed out between journalism and literature? Do you not remember
that I told you that the former was of so little value that it might
be used for anything? My newspaper work is in _no_ sense literature.
It is nothing, and only becomes something when I give it the very use
to which I would put nothing literary. (Of course I refer to my
editorial and topical work.)

If you want to learn to write that kind of thing, so as to do good
with it, you've an easy task. _Only_ it is not worth learning and the
good that you can do with it is not worth doing. But literature--the
desire to do good with _that_ will not help you to your means. It is
not a sufficient incentive. The Muse will not meet you if you have any
work for her to do. Of course I sometimes like to do good--who does
not? And sometimes I am glad that access to a great number of minds
every week gives me an opportunity. But, thank Heaven, I don't make
a business of it, nor use in it a tool so delicate as to be ruined by
the service.

Please do not hesitate to send me anything that you may be willing to
write. If you try to make it perfect before you let me see it, it will
never come. My remarks about the kind of mind which holds its thoughts
and feelings by so precarious a tenure that they are detachable for
use by others were not made with a forethought of your failure.

Mr. Harte of the New England Magazine seems to want me to know his
work (I asked to) and sends me a lot of it cut from the magazine. I
pass it on to you, and most of it is just and true.

But I'm making another long letter.

I wish I were not an infidel--so that I could say: "God bless you,"
and mean it literally. I wish there _were_ a God to bless you, and
that He had nothing else to do.

Please let me hear from you. Sincerely,

     A. B.

[St. Helena,
 September 28, 1892.]


I have been waiting for a full hour of leisure to write you a letter,
but I shall never get it, and so I'll write you anyhow. Come to think
of it, there is nothing to say--nothing that _needs_ be said, rather,
for there is always so much that one would like to say to you, best
and most patient of _sayees_.

I'm sending you and your father copies of my book. Not that I think
you (either of you) will care for that sort of thing, but merely
because your father is my co-sinner in making the book, and you in
sitting by and diverting my mind from the proof-sheets of a part of
it. Your part, therefore, in the work is the typographical errors. So
you are in literature in spite of yourself.

I appreciate what you write of my girl. She is the best of girls to
me, but God knoweth I'm not a proper person to direct her way of life.
However, it will not be for long. A dear friend of mine--the widow of
another dear friend--in London wants her, and means to come out here
next spring and try to persuade me to let her have her--for a time at
least. It is likely that I shall. My friend is wealthy, childless and
devoted to both my children. I wish that in the meantime she (the
girl) could have the advantage of association with _you_.

Please say to your father that I have his verses, which I promise
myself pleasure in reading.

_You_ appear to have given up your ambition to "write things." I'm
sorry, for "lots" of reasons--not the least being the selfish one that
I fear I shall be deprived of a reason for writing you long dull
letters. Won't you _play_ at writing things?

My (and Danziger's) book, "The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter," is to
be out next month. The Publisher--I like to write it with a reverent
capital letter--is unprofessional enough to tell me that he regards it
as the very best piece of English composition that he ever saw, and he
means to make the world know it. Now let the great English classics
hide their diminished heads and pale their ineffectual fires!

So you begin to suspect that books do not give you the truth of life
and character. Well, that suspicion is the beginning of wisdom, and,
so far as it goes, a preliminary qualification for writing--books. Men
and women are certainly not what books represent them to be, nor what
_they_ represent--and sometimes believe--themselves to be. They are
better, they are worse, and far more interesting.

With best regards to all your people, and in the hope that we may
frequently hear from you, I am very sincerely your friend,


Both the children send their _love_ to you. And they mean just that.

[St. Helena,
 October 6, 1892.]


I send you by this mail the current _New England Magazine_--merely
because I have it by me and have read all of it that I shall have
leisure to read. Maybe it will entertain you for an idle hour.

I have so far recovered my health that I hope to do a little
pot-boiling to-morrow. (Is that properly written with a hyphen?--for
the life o' me I can't say, just at this moment. There is a story of
an old actor who having played one part half his life had to cut out
the name of the person he represented wherever it occurred in his
lines: he could never remember which syllable to accent.) My illness
was only asthma, which, unluckily, does not kill me and so should not
alarm my friends.

Dr. Danziger writes that he has ordered your father's sketch sent me.
And I've ordered a large number of extra impressions of it--if it is
still on the stone. So you see I like it.

Let me hear from you and about you.

     Sincerely your friend,

     I enclose Bib.

[St. Helena,
 October 7, 1892.]


I've been too ill all the week to write you of your manuscripts, or
even read them understandingly.

I think "Honest Andrew's Prayer" far and away the best. _It_ is
witty--the others hardly more than earnest, and not, in my judgment,
altogether fair. But then you know you and I would hardly be likely
to agree on a point of that kind,--I refuse my sympathies in some
directions where I extend my sympathy--if that is intelligible. You, I
think, have broader sympathies than mine--are not only sorry for the
Homestead strikers (for example) but approve them. I do not. But we
are one in detesting their oppressor, the smug-wump, Carnegie.

If you had not sent "Honest Andrew's Prayer" elsewhere I should try to
place it here. It is so good that I hope to see it in print. If it is
rejected please let me have it again if the incident is not then
ancient history.

I'm glad you like some things in my book. But you should not condemn
me for debasing my poetry with abuse; you should commend me for
elevating my abuse with a little poetry, here and there. I am not a
poet, but an abuser--that makes all the difference. It is "how you
look at it."

But I'm still too ill to write. With best regards to all your family,
I am sincerely yours,


I've been reading your pamphlet on Art Education. You write best when
you write most seriously--and your best is very good.

[St. Helena,
 October 15, 1892.]


I send you this picture in exchange for the one that you have--I'm
"redeeming" all those with these. But I asked you to return that a
long time ago. Please say if you like this; to me it looks like a
dude. But I hate the other--the style of it.

It is very good of your father to take so much trouble as to go over
and work on that stone. I want the pictures--lithographs--only for
economy: so that when persons for whom I do not particularly care want
pictures of me I need not bankrupt myself in orders to the
photographer. And I do not like photographs anyhow. How long, O Lord,
how long am I to wait for that sketch of _you_?

My dear girl, I do not see that folk like your father and me have any
just cause of complaint against an unappreciative world; nobody
compels us to make things that the world does not want. We merely
choose to because the pay, _plus_ the satisfaction, exceeds the pay
alone that we get from work that the world does want. Then where is
our grievance? We get what we prefer when we do good work; for the
lesser wage we do easier work. It has never seemed to me that the
"unappreciated genius" had a good case to go into court with, and I
think he should be promptly non-suited. Inspiration from Heaven is all
very fine--the mandate of an attitude or an instinct is good; but when
A works for B, yet insists on taking his orders from C, what can he
expect? So don't distress your good little heart with compassion--not
for me, at least; whenever I tire of pot-boiling, wood-chopping is
open to me, and a thousand other honest and profitable employments.

I have noted Gertrude's picture in the Examiner with a peculiar
interest. That girl has a bushel of brains, and her father and brother
have to look out for her or she will leave them out of sight. I would
suggest as a measure of precaution against so monstrous a perversion
of natural order that she have her eyes put out. The subjection of
women must be maintained.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bib and Leigh send love to you. Leigh, I think, is expecting Carlt.
I've permitted Leigh to join the band again, and he is very peacocky
in his uniform. God bless you.


[St. Helena,
 November 6, 1892.]


I am glad you will consent to tolerate the new photograph--all my
other friends are desperately delighted with it. I prefer your

But I don't like to hear that you have been "ill and blue"; that is a
condition which seems more naturally to appertain to me. For, after
all, whatever cause you may have for "blueness," you can always
recollect that you are _you_, and find a wholesome satisfaction in
your identity; whereas I, alas, am _I_!

I'm sure you performed your part of that concert creditably despite
the ailing wrist, and wish that I might have added myself to your

I have been very ill again but hope to get away from here (back to my
mountain) before it is time for another attack from my friend the
enemy. I shall expect to see you there sometime when my brother and
his wife come up. They would hardly dare to come without you.

No, I did not read the criticism you mention--in the _Saturday
Review_. Shall send you all the _Saturdays_ that I get if you will
have them. Anyhow, they will amuse (and sometimes disgust) your

I have awful arrears of correspondence, as usual.

The children send love. They had a pleasant visit with Carlt, and we
hope he will come again.

May God be very good to you and put it into your heart to write to
your uncle often.

Please give my best respects to all Partingtons, jointly and


 November 29, 1892.]


Only just a word to say that I have repented of my assent to your
well-meant proposal for your father to write of _me_. If there is
anything in my work in letters that engages his interest, or in my
_literary_ history--that is well enough, and I shall not mind. But
"biography" in the other sense is distasteful to me. I never read
biographical "stuff" of other writers--of course you know "stuff" is
literary slang for "matter"--and think it "beside the question."
Moreover, it is distinctly mischievous to letters. It throws no light
on one's work, but on the contrary "darkens counsel." The only reason
that posterity judges work with some slight approach to accuracy is
that posterity knows less, and cares less, about the author's
personality. It considers his work as impartially as if it had found
it lying on the ground with no footprints about it and no initials on
its linen.

My brother is not "fully cognizant" of my history, anyhow--not of the
part that is interesting.

So, on the whole, I'll ask that it be not done. It was only my wish to
please that made me consent. That wish is no weaker now, but I would
rather please otherwise.

I trust that you arrived safe and well, and that your memory of those
few stormy days is not altogether disagreeable. Sincerely your friend,


 December 25, 1892.]


Returning here from the city this morning, I find your letter. And I
had not replied to your last one before that! But _that_ was because I
hoped to see you at your home. I was unable to do so--I saw no one
(but Richard) whom I really wanted to see, and had not an hour
unoccupied by work or "business" until this morning. And then--it was
Christmas, and my right to act as skeleton at anybody's feast by even
so much as a brief call was not clear. I hope my brother will be as
forgiving as I know you will be.

When I went down I was just recovering from as severe an attack of
illness as I ever had in my life. Please consider unsaid all that I
have said in praise of this mountain, its air, water, and everything
that is its.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was uncommonly nice of Hume to entertain so good an opinion of me;
if you had seen him a few days later you would have found a different
state of affairs, probably; for I had been exhausting relays of vials
of wrath upon him for delinquent diligence in securing copyright for
my little story--whereby it is uncopyrighted. I ought to add that he
has tried to make reparation, and is apparently contrite to the limit
of his penitential capacity.

No, there was no other foundation for the little story than its
obvious naturalness and consistency with the sentiments "appropriate
to the season." When Christendom is guzzling and gorging and clowning
it has not time to cease being cruel; all it can do is to augment its
hypocrisy a trifle.

Please don't lash yourself and do various penances any more for your
part in the plaguing of poor Russell; he is quite forgotten in the
superior affliction sent upon James Whitcomb Riley. _That_ seems a
matter of genuine public concern, if I may judge by what I heard in
town (and I heard little else) and by my letters and "esteemed"
(though testy) "contemporaries." Dear, dear, how sensitive people are

Richard has promised me the Blanchescape that I have so patiently
waited for while you were practicing the art of looking pretty in
preparation for the sitting, so now I am happy. I shall put you
opposite Joaquin Miller, who is now framed and glazed in good shape. I
have also your father's sketch of me--that is, I got it and left it in
San Francisco to be cleaned if possible; it was in a most unregenerate
state of dirt and grease.

Seeing Harry Bigelow's article in the _Wave_ on women who write (and
it's unpleasantly near to the truth of the matter) I feel almost
reconciled to the failure of my gorgeous dream of making a writer of
_you_. I wonder if you would have eschewed the harmless, necessary tub
and danced upon the broken bones of the innocuous toothbrush. Fancy
you with sable nails and a soiled cheek, uttering to the day what God
taught in the night! Let us be thankful that the peril is past.

The next time I go to "the Bay" I shall go to 1019 _first_.

God bless you for a good girl.


[First part of this letter missing.]

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, I know Blackburn Harte has a weakness for the proletariat of
letters * * * and doubtless thinks Riley good _because_ he is "of the
people," peoply. But he will have to endure me as well as he can. You
ask my opinion of Burns. He has not, I think, been translated into
English, and I do not (that is, I can but _will_ not) read that
gibberish. I read Burns once--that was once too many times; but
happily it was before I knew any better, and so my time, being
worthless, was not wasted.

I wish you could be up here this beautiful weather. But I dare say it
would rain if you came. In truth, it is "thickening" a trifle just
because of my wish. And I wish I _had_ given you, for your father,
all the facts of my biography from the cradle--downward. When you come
again I shall, if you still want them. For I'm worried half to death
with requests for them, and when I refuse am no doubt considered surly
or worse. And my refusal no longer serves, for the biography men are
beginning to write my history from imagination. So the next time I see
you I shall give you (orally) that "history of a crime," my life.
Then, if your father is still in the notion, he can write it from your
notes, and I can answer all future inquiries by enclosing his article.

Do you know?--you will, I think, be glad to know--that I have many
more offers for stories at good prices, than I have the health to
accept. (For I am less nearly well than I have told you.) Even the
_Examiner_ has "waked up" (I woke it up) to the situation, and now
pays me $20 a thousand words; and my latest offer from New York is

I hardly know why I tell you this unless it is because you tell me of
any good fortune that comes to your people, and because you seem to
take an interest in my affairs such as nobody else does in just the
same unobjectionable and, in fact, agreeable way. I wish you were my
"real, sure-enough" niece. But in that case I should expect you to
pass all your time at Howell Mountain, with your uncle and cousin.
Then I should teach you to write, and you could expound to me the
principles underlying the art of being the best girl in the world.
Sincerely yours,


 January 4, 1893.]


Not hearing from [you] after writing you last week, I fear you are
ill--may I not know? I am myself ill, as I feared. On Thursday last I
was taken violently ill indeed, and have but just got about. In
truth, I'm hardly able to write you, but as I have to go to work on
Friday, _sure_, I may as well practice a little on you. And the
weather up here is Paradisaical. Leigh and I took a walk this morning
in the woods. We scared up a wild deer, but I did not feel able to run
it down and present you with its antlers.

I hope you are well, that you are all well. And I hope Heaven will put
it into your good brother's heart to send me that picture of the
sister who is so much too good for him--or anybody.

In the meantime, and always, God bless you.


My boy (who has been an angel of goodness to me in my illness) sends
his love to you and all your people.

[Angwin, Cal.,
 January 14, 1893.]


You see the matter is this way. You can't come up here and go back the
same day--at least that would give you but about an hour here. You
must remain over night. Now I put it to you--how do you think I'd feel
if you came and remained over night and I, having work to do, should
have to leave you to your own devices, mooning about a place that has
nobody to talk to? When a fellow comes a long way to see me I want to
see a good deal of him, however _he_ may feel about it. It is not the
same as if he lived in the same bailiwick and "dropped in." That is
why, in the present state of my health and work, I ask all my friends
to give me as long notice of their coming as possible. I'm sure you'll
say I am right, inasmuch as certain work if undertaken must be done by
the time agreed upon.

My relations with Danziger are peculiar--as any one's relations with
him must be. In the matter of which you wished to speak I could say
nothing. For this I must ask you to believe there are reasons. It
would not have been fair not to let you know, before coming, that I
would not talk of him.

I thought, though, that you would probably come up to-day if I wrote
you. Well, I should like you to come and pass a week with me. But if
you come for a day I naturally want it to be an "off" day with me.
Sincerely yours,


 January 23, 1893.]


I should have written you sooner; it has been ten whole days since the
date of your last letter. But I have not been in the mood of letter
writing, and am prepared for maledictions from all my neglected
friends but you. My health is better. Yesterday I returned from
Napa, where I passed twenty-six hours, buried, most of the time, in
fog; but apparently it has not harmed me. The weather here remains
heavenly. * * *

If I grow better in health I shall in time feel able to extend my next
foray into the Lowlands as far as Oakland and Berkeley.

Here are some fronds of maiden-hair fern that I have just brought in.
The first wild flowers of the season are beginning to venture out and
the manzanitas are a sight to see.

With warmest regards to all your people, I am, as ever, your most
unworthy uncle,


 February 5, 1893.]


What an admirable reporter you would be! Your account of the meeting
with Miller in the restaurant and of the "entertainment" are amusing
no end. * * * By the way, I observe a trooly offle "attack" on me in
the Oakland _Times_ of the 3rd (I think) * * * (I know of course it
means me--I always know that when they pull out of their glowing minds
that old roasted chestnut about "tearing down" but not "building
up"--that is to say, effacing one imposture without giving them
another in place of it.) The amusing part of the business is that he
points a contrast between me and Realf (God knows there's unlikeness
enough) quite unconscious of the fact that it is I and no other who
have "built up" Realf's reputation as a poet--published his work, and
paid him for it, when nobody else would have it; repeatedly pointed
out its greatness, and when he left that magnificent crown of sonnets
behind him protested that posterity would know California better by
the incident of his death than otherwise--not a soul, until now,
concurring in my view of the verses. Believe me, my trade is not
without its humorous side.

Leigh and I went down to the waterfall yesterday. It was almost
grand--greater than I had ever seen it--and I took the liberty to wish
that you might see it in that state. My wish must have communicated
itself, somehow, though imperfectly, to Leigh, for as I was indulging
it he expressed the same wish with regard to Richard.

I wish too that you might be here to-day to see the swirls of snow. It
is falling rapidly, and I'm thinking that this letter will make its
way down the mountain to-morrow morning through a foot or two of it.
Unluckily, it has a nasty way of turning to rain.

My health is very good now, and Leigh and I take long walks. And after
the rains we look for Indian arrow-heads in the plowed fields and on
the gravel bars of the creek. My collection is now great; but I fear I
shall tire of the fad before completing it. One in the country must
have a fad or die of dejection and oxidation of the faculties. How
happy is he who can make a fad of his work!

By the way, my New York publishers (The United States Book Company)
have failed, owing me a pot of money, of which I shall probably get
nothing. I'm beginning to cherish an impertinent curiosity to know
what Heaven means to do to me next. If your function as one of the
angels gives you a knowledge of such matters please betray your trust
and tell me where I'm to be hit, and how hard.

But this is an intolerable deal of letter.

With best regards to all good Partingtons--and I think there are no
others--I remain your affectionate uncle by adoption,


Leigh has brought in some manzanita blooms which I shall try to
enclose. But they'll be badly smashed.

 February 14, 1893.]


I thank you many times for the picture, which is a monstrous good
picture, whatever its shortcomings as a portrait may be. On the
authority of the great art critic, Leigh Bierce, I am emboldened to
pronounce some of the work in it equal to Gribayedoff at his best; and
that, according to the g. a. c. aforesaid, is to exhaust eulogium.
But--it isn't altogether the Blanche that I know, as I know her. Maybe
it is the hat--I should prefer you hatless, and so less at the mercy
of capricious fortune. Suppose hats were to "go out"--I tremble to
think of what would happen to that gorgeous superstructure which now
looks so beautiful. O, well, when I come down I shall drag you to the
hateful photographer and get something that looks quite like you--and
has no other value.

And I mean to "see Oakland and die" pretty soon. I have not dared go
when the weather was bad. It promises well now, but I am to have
visitors next Sunday, so must stay at home. God and the weather bureau
willing, you may be bothered with me the Saturday or Sunday after. We
shall see.

I hope your father concurs in my remarks on picture "borders"--I did
not think of him until the remarks had been written, or I should have
assured myself of his practice before venturing to utter my mind o'
the matter. If it were not for him and Gertrude and the _Wave_ I
should snarl again, anent "half-tones," which I abhor. Hume tried to
get me to admire his illustrations, but I would not, so far as the
process is concerned, and bluntly told him he would not get your
father's best work that way.

If you were to visit the Mountain now I should be able to show you a
redwood forest (newly discovered) and a picturesque gulch to match.

The wild flowers are beginning to put up their heads to look for you,
and my collection of Indian antiquities is yearning to have you see

Please convey my thanks to Richard for the picture--the girlscape--and
my best regards to your father and all the others.

     Sincerely your friend,

 February 21, 1893.]


I'm very sorry indeed that I cannot be in Oakland Thursday evening to
see you "in your glory," arrayed, doubtless, like a lily of the field.
However glorious you may be in public, though, I fancy I should like
you better as you used to be out at camp.

Well, I mean to see you on Saturday afternoon if you are at home, and
think I shall ask you to be my guide to Grizzlyville; for surely I
shall never be able to find the wonderful new house alone. So if your
mamma will let you go out there with me I promise to return you to her
instead of running away with you. And, possibly, weather permitting,
we can arrange for a Sunday in the redwoods or on the hills. Or don't
your folks go out any more o' Sundays?

Please give my thanks to your mother for the kind invitation to put up
at your house; but I fear that would be impossible. I shall have to be
where people can call on me--and such a disreputable crowd as my
friends are would ruin the Partingtonian reputation for
respectability. In your new neighborhood you will all be very
proper--which you could hardly be with a procession of pirates and
vagrants pulling at your door-bell.

So--if God is good--I shall call on you Saturday afternoon. In the
meantime and always be thou happy--thou and thine. Your unworthy


 March 18, 1893.]


It is good to have your letters again. If you will not let me teach
you my trade of writing stories it is right that you practice your own
of writing letters. You are mistress of that. Byron's letters to Moore
are dull in comparison with yours to me. Some allowance, doubtless,
must be made for my greater need of your letters than of Byron's. For,
truth to tell, I've been a trifle dispirited and noncontent. In that
mood I peremptorily resigned from the _Examiner_, for one thing--and
permitted myself to be coaxed back by Hearst, for another. My other
follies I shall not tell you. * * *

We had six inches of snow up here and it has rained steadily ever
since--more than a week. And the fog is of superior opacity--quite
peerless that way. It is still raining and fogging. Do you wonder that
your unworthy uncle has come perilously and alarmingly near to
loneliness? Yet I have the companionship, at meals, of one of your
excellent sex, from San Francisco. * * *

Truly, I should like to attend one of your at-homes, but I fear it
must be a long time before I venture down there again. But when this
brumous visitation is past I can _look_ down, and that assists the
imagination to picture you all in your happy (I hope) home. But if
that woolly wolf, Joaquin Miller, doesn't keep outside the fold I
_shall_ come down and club him soundly. I quite agree with your mother
that his flattery will spoil you. You said I would spoil Phyllis, and
now, you bad girl, you wish to be spoiled yourself. Well, you can't
eat four Millerine oranges.--My love to all your family.


 March 26, 1893.]


I am very glad indeed to get the good account of Leigh that you give
me. I've feared that he might be rather a bore to you, but you make me
easy on that score. Also I am pleased that you think he has a
sufficient "gift" to do something in the only direction in which he
seems to care to go.

He is anxious to take the place at the _Examiner_, and his uncle
thinks that would be best--if they will give it him. I'm a little
reluctant for many reasons, but there are considerations--some of them
going to the matter of character and disposition--which point to that
as the best arrangement. The boy needs discipline, control, and work.
He needs to learn by experience that life is not all beer and
skittles. Of course you can't quite know him as I do. As to his
earning anything on the _Examiner_ or elsewhere, that cuts no
figure--he'll spend everything he can get his fingers on anyhow; but I
feel that he ought to have the advantage of a struggle for existence
where the grass is short and the soil stony.

Well, I shall let him live down there somehow, and see what can be
done with him. There's a lot of good in him, and a lot of the other
thing, naturally.

I hope Hume has, or will, put you in authority in the _Post_ and give
you a decent salary. He seems quite enthusiastic about the _Post_
and--about you.

With sincere regards to Mrs. Partington and all the Partingtonettes, I
am very truly yours,


 April 10, 1893.]


If you are undertaking to teach my kid (which, unless it is entirely
agreeable to you, you must not do) I hope you will regard him as a
pupil whose tuition is to be paid for like any other pupil. And you
should, I think, name the price. Will you kindly do so?

Another thing. Leigh tells me you paid him for something he did for
the _Wave_. That is not right. While you let him work with you, and
under you, his work belongs to you--is a part of yours. I mean the
work that he does in your shop for the _Wave_.

I don't wish to feel that you are bothering with him for nothing--will
you not tell me your notion of what I should pay you?

I fancy you'll be on the _Examiner_ pretty soon--if you wish.

With best regards to your family I am sincerely yours,


 April 10, 1893.]


As I was writing to your father I was, of course, strongly impressed
with a sense of _you_; for you are an intrusive kind of creature,
coming into one's consciousness in the most lawless way--Phyllis-like.
(Phyllis is my "type and example" of lawlessness, albeit I'm devoted
to her--a Phyllistine, as it were.)

Leigh sends me a notice (before the event) of your concert. I hope it
was successful. Was it?

It rains or snows here all the time, and the mountain struggles in
vain to put on its bravery of leaf and flower. When this kind of thing
stops I'm going to put in an application for you to come up and get
your bad impressions of the place effaced. It is insupportable that my
earthly paradise exist in your memory as a "bad eminence," like
Satan's primacy.

I'm sending you the _New England Magazine_--perhaps I have sent it
already--and a _Harper's Weekly_ with a story by Mrs. * * *, who is a
sort of pupil of mine. She used to do bad work--does now sometimes;
but she will do great work by-and-by.

I wish you had not got that notion that you cannot learn to write. You
see I'd like you to do _some_ art work that I can understand and
enjoy. I wonder why it is that no note or combination of notes can be
struck out of a piano that will touch me--give me an emotion of any
kind. It is not wholly due to my ignorance and bad ear, for other
instruments--the violin, organ, zither, guitar, etc., sometimes affect
me profoundly. Come, read me the riddle if you know. What have I done
that I should be inaccessible to your music? I know it is good; I can
hear that it is, but not feel that it is. Therefore to me it is not.

Now that, you will confess, is a woeful state--"most tolerable and not
to be endured." Will you not cultivate some art within the scope of my
capacity? Do you think you could learn to walk on a wire (if it lay on
the ground)? Can you not ride three horses at once if they are
suitably dead? Or swallow swords? Really, you should have some way to
entertain your uncle.

True, you can talk, but you never get the chance; I always "have the
floor." Clearly you must learn to write, and I mean to get Miller to
teach you how to be a poet.

I hope you will write occasionally to me,--letter-writing is an art
that you do excel in--as I in "appreciation" of your excellence in it.

Do you see my boy? I hope he is good, and diligent in his work.

       *       *       *       *       *

You must write to me or I shall withdraw my avuncular relation to you.

With good will to all your people--particularly Phyllis--I am
sincerely your friend,


[Angwin, Calif.,
 April 16, 1893.]


I think you wrong. On your own principle, laid down in your letter,
that "every man has a right to the full value of his labor"--pardon
me, good Englishman, I meant "laboUr"--you have a right to your wage
for the labo_u_r of teaching Leigh. And what work would _he_ get to do
but for you?

I can't hold you and inject shekels into your pocket, but if the voice
of remonstrance has authority to enter at your ear without a ticket I
pray you to show it hospitality.

Leigh doubtless likes to see his work in print, but I hope you will
not let him put anything out until it is as good as he can make
it--nor then if it is not good _enough_. And that whether he signs it
or not. I have talked to him about the relation of conscience to
lab-work, but I don't know if my talk all came out at the other ear.

O--that bad joke o' mine. Where do you and Richard expect to go when
death do you part? You were neither of you present that night on the
dam, nor did I know either of you. Blanche, thank God, retains the
old-time reverence for truth: it was to her that I said it. Richard
evidently dreamed it, and you--you've been believing that confounded
_Wave_! Sincerely yours,


 April 18, 1893.]


I take a few moments from work to write you in order (mainly) to say
that your letter of March 31st did not go astray, as you seem to
fear--though why _you_ should care if it did I can't conjecture. The
loss to me--that is probably what would touch your compassionate

So you _will_ try to write. That is a good girl. I'm almost sure you
can--not, of course, all at once, but by-and-by. And if not, what
matter? You are not of the sort, I am sure, who would go on despite
everything, determined to succeed by dint of determining to succeed.

       *       *       *       *       *

We are blessed with the most amiable of all conceivable weathers up
here, and the wild flowers are putting up their heads everywhere to
look for you. Lying in their graves last autumn, they overheard
(_under_heard) your promise to come in the spring, and it has
stimulated and cheered them to a vigorous growth.

I'm sending you some more papers. Don't think yourself obliged to read
all the stuff I send you--_I_ don't read it.

Condole with me--I have just lost another publisher--by failure.
Schulte, of Chicago, publisher of "The Monk" etc., has "gone under," I
hear. Danziger and I have not had a cent from him. I put out three
books in a year, and lo! each one brings down a publisher's gray hair
in sorrow to the grave! for Langton, of "Black Beetles," came to
grief--that is how Danziger got involved. "O that mine enemy would
_publish_ one of my books!"

I am glad to hear of your success at your concert. If I could have
reached you you should have had the biggest basket of pretty
vegetables that was ever handed over the footlights. I'm sure you
merited it all--what do you _not_ merit?

Your father gives me good accounts of my boy. He _must_ be doing well,
I think, by the way he neglects all my commissions.

Enclosed you will find my contribution to the Partington art gallery,
with an autograph letter from the artist. You can hang them in any
light you please and show them to Richard. He will doubtless be
pleased to note how the latent genius of his boss has burst into

I have been wading in the creek this afternoon for pure love of it;
the gravel looked so clean under the water. I was for the moment at
least ten years younger than your father. To whom, and to all the rest
of your people, my sincere regards, Your uncle,


[Angwin, Cala.,
 April 26, 1893.]


       *       *       *       *       *

I accept your sympathy for my misfortunes in publishing. It serves me
right (I don't mean the sympathy does) for publishing. I should have
known that if a publisher cannot beat an author otherwise, or is too
honest to do so, he will do it by failing. Once in London a publisher
gave me a check dated two days ahead, and then (the only thing he
could do to make the check worthless)--ate a pork pie and died. That
was the late John Camden Hotten, to whose business and virtues my
present London publishers, Chatto and Windus, have succeeded. They
have not failed, and they refuse pork pie, but they deliberately
altered the title of my book.

All this for your encouragement in "learning to write." Writing books
is a noble profession; it has not a shade of selfishness in
it--nothing worse than conceit.

O yes, you shall have your big basket of flowers if ever I catch you
playing in public. I wish I could give you the carnations,
lilies-of-the-valley, violets, and first-of-the-season sweet peas now
on my table. They came from down near you--which fact they are trying
triumphantly and as hard as they can to relate in fragrance.

I trust your mother is well of her cold--that you are all well and
happy, and that Phyllis will not forget me. And may the good Lord
bless you regularly every hour of every day for your merit, and every
minute of every hour as a special and particular favor to Your uncle,


 October 2, 1893.]


I accept with pleasure your evidence that the Piano is not as black as
I have painted, albeit the logical inference is that I'm pretty black
myself. Indubitably I'm "in outer darkness," and can only say to you:
"Lead, kindly light." Thank you for the funny article on the luxury
question--from the funny source. But you really must not expect me
to answer it, nor show you wherein it is "wrong." I cannot discern the
expediency of you having any "views" at all in those matters--even
correct ones. If I could have my way you should think of more
profitable things than the (conceded) "wrongness" of a world which is
the habitat of a wrongheaded and wronghearted race of irreclaimable
savages. * * * When woman "broadens her sympathies" they become
annular. Don't.

Cosgrave came over yesterday for a "stroll," but as he had a dinner
engagement to keep before going home, he was in gorgeous gear. So I
kindly hoisted him atop of Grizzly Peak and sent him back across the
Bay in a condition impossible to describe, save by the aid of a wet
dishclout for illustration.

Please ask your father when and where he wants me to sit for the
portrait. If that picture is not sold, and ever comes into my
possession, I shall propose to swap it for yours. I have always wanted
to lay thievish hands on that, and would even like to come by it
honestly. But what under the sun would I do with either that or mine?
Fancy me packing large paintings about to country hotels and places of
last resort!

Leigh is living with me now. Poor chap, the death of his aunt has made
him an orphan. I feel a profound compassion for any one whom an
untoward fate compels to live with _me_. However, such a one is sure
to be a good deal alone, which is a mitigation.

With good wishes for all your people, I am sincerely yours,


 December 27, 1893.]


I'm sending you (by way of pretext for writing you) a magazine that I
asked Richard to take to you last evening, but which he forgot.
There's an illustrated article on gargoyles and the like, which will
interest you. Some of the creatures are delicious--more so than I had
the sense to perceive when I saw them alive on Notre Dame.

I want to thank you too for the beautiful muffler before I take to my
willow chair, happy in the prospect of death. For at this hour, 10:35
p. m., I "have on" a very promising case of asthma. If I come out of
it decently alive in a week or so I shall go over to your house and
see the finished portrait if it is "still there," like the flag in our
national anthem.

     Sincerely yours,

 July 31, 1894.]


If you are not utterly devoured by mosquitoes perhaps you'll go to the
postoffice and get this. In that hope I write, not without a strong
sense of the existence of the clerks in the Dead Letter Office at

I hope you are (despite the mosquitoes) having "heaps" of rest and
happiness. As to me, I have only just recovered sufficiently to be
out, and "improved the occasion" by going to San Francisco yesterday
and returning on the 11:15 boat. I saw Richard, and he seemed quite
solemn at the thought of the dispersal of his family to the four

I have a joyous letter from Leigh dated "on the road," nearing
Yosemite. He has been passing through the storied land of Bret Harte,
and is permeated with a sense of its beauty and romance. When shall
you return? May I hope, then, to see you?

     Sincerely yours,

P.S. Here are things that I cut out for memoranda. On second thought
_I_ know all that; so send them to you for the betterment of your mind
and heart.


[San Jose,
 October 17, 1894.]


Your kindly note was among a number which I put into my pocket at the
postoffice and forgot until last evening when I returned from Oakland.
(I dared remain up there only a few hours, and the visit did me no

Of course I should have known that your good heart would prompt the
wish to hear from your patient, but I fear I was a trifle misanthropic
all last week, and indisposed to communicate with my species.

I came here on Monday of last week, and the change has done me good. I
have no asthma and am slowly getting back my strength.

Leigh and Ina Peterson passed Sunday with me, and Leigh recounted his
adventures in the mountains. I had been greatly worried about him; it
seems there was abundant reason. The next time he comes I wish he
would bring you. It is lovely down here. Perhaps you and Katie can
come some time, and I'll drive you all over the valley--if you care to

If I continue well I shall remain here or hereabout; if not I don't
know where I shall go. Probably into the Santa Cruz mountains or to
Gilroy. If I could have my way I'd live at Piedmont.

Do you know I lost Pin the Reptile? I brought him along in my bicycle
bag (I came the latter half of the way bike-back) and the ungrateful
scoundrel wormed himself out and took to the weeds just before we got
to San Jose. So I've nothing to lavish my second-childhoodish
affection upon--nothing but just myself.

My permanent address is Oakland, as usual, but _you_ may address me
here at San Jose if you will be so good as to address me anywhere.
Please do, and tell me of your triumphs and trials at the Conservatory
of Music. I do fervently hope it may prove a means of prosperity to
you, for, behold, you are The Only Girl in the World Who Merits

Please give my friendly regards to your people; and so--Heaven be good
to you.


[San Jose,
 October 28, 1894.]


How have you the heart to point out what you deem an imperfection in
those lines. Upon my soul, I swear they are faultless, and "moonlight"
is henceforth and forever a rhyme to "delight." Also, likewise,
moreover and furthermore, a ---- is henceforth ----; and ---- are
forever ----; and to ---- shall be ----; and so forth. You have
established new canons of literary criticism--more liberal ones--and
death to the wretch who does not accept them! Ah, I always knew you
were a revolutionist.

Yes, I am in better health, worse luck! For I miss the beef-teaing
expeditions more than you can by trying.

By the way, if you again encounter your fellow practitioner, Mrs.
Hirshberg, please tell her what has become of her patient, and that I
remember her gratefully.

It is not uninteresting to me to hear of your progress in your art,
albeit I am debarred from entrance into the temple where it is
worshiped. After all, art finds its best usefulness in its reaction
upon the character; and in that work I can trace your proficiency in
the art that you love. As you become a better artist you grow a nicer
girl, and if your music does not cause my tympana to move themselves
aright, yet the niceness is not without its effect upon the soul o'
me. So I'm not so _very_ inert a clod, after all.

No, Leigh has not infected me with the exploring fad. I exhausted my
capacity in that way years before I had the advantage of his
acquaintance and the contagion of his example. But I don't like to
think of that miserable mountain sitting there and grinning in the
consciousness of having beaten the Bierce family.

So--apropos of my brother--_I_ am "odd" after a certain fashion! My
child, that is blasphemy. You grow hardier every day of your life, and
you'll end as a full colonel yet, and challenge Man to mortal combat
in true Stetsonian style. Know thy place, thou atom!

Speaking of colonels reminds me that one of the most eminent of the
group had the assurance to write me, asking for an "audience" to
consult about a benefit that she--_she!_--is getting up for my friend
Miss * * *, a glorious writer and eccentric old maid whom you do not
know. * * * evidently wants more notoriety and proposes to shine by
Miss * * * light. I was compelled to lower the temperature of the
situation with a letter curtly courteous. Not even to assist Miss * * *
shall my name be mixed up with those of that gang. But of course all
that does not amuse you.

I wish I could have a chat with you. I speak to nobody but my
chambermaid and the waiter at my restaurant. By the time I see you I
shall have lost the art of speech altogether and shall communicate
with you by the sign language.

God be good to you and move you to write to me sometimes.

     Sincerely your friend,

[First part of this letter missing.]

       *       *       *       *       *

You may, I think, expect my assistance in choosing between (or among)
your suitors next month, early. I propose to try living in Oakland
again for a short time beginning about then. But I shall have much to
do the first few days--possibly in settling my earthly affairs for it
is my determination to be hanged for killing all those suitors. That
seems to me the simplest way of disembarrassing you. As to me--it is
the "line of least resistance"--unless they fight.

       *       *       *       *       *

So you have been ill. You must not be ill, my child--it disturbs my
Marcus Aurelian tranquillity, and is most selfishly inconsiderate of

Mourn with me: the golden leaves of my poplars are now underwheel. I
sigh for the perennial eucalyptus leaf of Piedmont.

I hope you are all well. Sincerely your friend,


[San Jose,
 November 20, 1894.]

Since writing you yesterday, dear Blanche, I have observed that the
benefit to * * * is not abandoned--it is to occur in the evening of
the 26th, at Golden Gate Hall, San Francisco. I recall your kind offer
to act for me in any way that I might wish to assist Miss * * *. Now,
I will not have my name connected with anything that the * * * woman
and her sister-in-evidence may do for their own glorification, but I
enclose a Wells, Fargo & Co. money order for all the money I can
presently afford--wherewith you may do as you will; buy tickets, or
hand it to the treasurer in your own name. I know Miss * * * must be
awfully needy to accept a benefit--you have no idea how sensitive and
suspicious and difficult she is. She is almost impossible. But there
are countless exactions on my lean purse, and I must do the rest with
my pen. So--I thank you.

     Sincerely your friend,

[18 Iowa Circle, Washington, D. C.,
 January 1, 1901.]


This is just a hasty note to acknowledge receipt of your letter and
the poems. I hope to reach those pretty soon and give them the
attention which I am sure they will prove to merit--which I cannot do
now. By the way, I wonder why most of you youngsters so persistently
tackle the sonnet. For the same reason, I suppose, that a fellow
always wants to make his first appearance on the stage in the rôle of
"Hamlet." It is just the holy cheek of you.

Yes, Leigh prospers fairly well, and I--well, I don't know if it is
prosperity; it is a pretty good time.

I suppose I shall have to write to that old scoundrel Grizzly,[1] to
give him my new address, though I supposed he had it; and the old one
would do, anyhow. Now that his cub has returned he probably doesn't
care for the other plantigrades of his kind.

[1] Albert Bierce.

Thank you for telling me so much about some of our companions and
companionesses of the long ago. I fear that not all my heart was in my
baggage when I came over here. There's a bit of it, for example, out
there by that little lake in the hills.

So I may have a photograph of one of your pretty sisters. Why, of
course I want it--I want the entire five of them; their pictures, I
mean. If you had been a nice fellow you would have let me know them
long ago. And how about that other pretty girl, your infinitely better
half? You might sneak into the envelope a little portrait of _her_,
lest I forget, lest I forget. But I've not yet forgotten.

The new century's best blessings to the both o' you.


P.S.--In your studies of poetry have you dipped into Stedman's new
"American Anthology"? It is the most notable collection of American
verse that has been made--on the whole, a book worth having. In saying
so I rather pride myself on my magnanimity; for of course I don't
think he has done as well by me as he might have done. That, I
suppose, is what every one thinks who happens to be alive to think it.
So I try to be in the fashion.

     A. B.

[18 Iowa Circle, Washington, D. C.,
 January 19, 1901.]


I've been a long while getting to your verses, but there were many
reasons--including a broken rib. They are pretty good verses, with
here and there _very_ good lines. I'd a strong temptation to steal one
or two for my "Passing Show," but I knew what an avalanche of verses
it would bring down upon me from other poets--as every mention of a
new book loads my mail with new books for a month.

If I ventured to advise you I should recommend to you the simple,
ordinary meters and forms native to our language.

I await the photograph of the pretty sister--don't fancy I've

It is 1 a. m. and I'm about to drink your health in a glass of
Riesling and eat it in a pâte.

My love to Grizzly if you ever see him. Yours ever,

     A. B.

[Washington, D. C.,
 January 23, 1901.]


Your letter of the 16th has just come and as I am waiting at my office
(where I seldom go) I shall amuse myself by replying "to onct." See
here, I don't purpose that your attack on poor Morrow's book shall
become a "continuous performance," nor even an "annual ceremony." It
is not "rot." It is not "filthy." It does not "suggest bed-pans,"--at
least it did not to me, and I'll wager something that Morrow never
thought of them. Observe and consider: If his hero and heroine had
been man and wife, the bed-pan would have been there, just the same;
yet you would not have thought of it. Every reader would have been
touched by the husband's devotion. A physician has to do with many
unpleasant things; whom do his ministrations disgust? A trained nurse
lives in an atmosphere of bed-pans--to whom is her presence or work
suggestive of them? I'm thinking of the heroic Father Damien and his
lepers; do you dwell upon the rotting limbs and foul distortions of
his unhappy charges? Is not his voluntary martyrdom one of the sanest,
cleanest, most elevating memories in all history? Then it is _not_ the
bed-pan necessity that disgusts you; it is something else. It is the
fact that the hero of the story, being neither physician, articled
nurse, nor certificated husband, nevertheless performed _their_ work.
He ministered to the helpless in a natural way without authority from
church or college, quite irregular and improper and all that. My noble
critic, there speaks in your blood the Untamed Philistine. You were
not caught young enough. You came into letters and art with all your
beastly conventionalities in full mastery of you. Take a purge. Forget
that there are Philistines. Forget that they have put their abominable
pantalettes upon the legs of Nature. Forget that their code of
morality and manners (it stinks worse than a bed-pan) does _not_ exist
in the serene altitude of great art, toward which you have set your
toes and into which I want you to climb. I know about this thing. I,
too, tried to rise with all that dead weight dragging at my feet.
Well, I could not--now I could if I cared to. In my mind I do. It is
not freedom of act--not freedom of living, for which I contend, but
freedom of thought, of mind, of spirit; the freedom to see in the
horrible laws, prejudices, custom, conventionalities of the multitude,
something good for them, but of no value to you _in your art._ In your
life and conduct defer to as much of it as you will (you'll find it
convenient to defer to a whole lot), but in your mind and art let not
the Philistine enter, nor even speak a word through the keyhole. My
own chief objection to Morrow's story is (as I apprised him) its
unnaturalness. He did not dare to follow the logical course of his
narrative. He was too cowardly (or had too keen an eye upon his market
of prudes) to make hero and heroine join in the holy bonds of
_bed_lock, as they naturally, inevitably and rightly would have done
long before she was able to be about. I daresay that, too, would have
seemed to you "filthy," without the parson and his fee. When you
analyze your objection to the story (as I have tried to do for you)
you will find that it all crystallizes into that--the absence of the
parson. I don't envy you your view of the matter, and I really don't
think you greatly enjoy it yourself. I forgot to say: Suppose they had
been two men, two partners in hunting, mining, or exploring, as
frequently occurs. Would the bed-pan suggestion have come to you? Did
it come to you when you read of the slow, but not uniform, starvation
of Greeley's party in the arctic? Of course not. Then it is a matter,
not of bed-pans, but of sex-exposure (unauthorized by the church), of
prudery--of that artificial thing, the "sense of shame," of which the
great Greeks knew nothing; of which the great Japanese know nothing;
of which Art knows nothing. Dear Doctor, do you really put trousers on
your piano-legs? Does your indecent intimacy with your mirror make you

There, there's the person whom I've been waiting for (I'm to take her
to dinner, and I'm not married to even so much of her as her little
toe) has come; and until you offend again, you are immune from the
switch. May all your brother Philistines have to "Kiss the place to
make it well."

Pan is dead! Long live Bed-Pan!

     Yours ever,

 February 17, 1901.]


I send back the poems, with a few suggestions. You grow great so
rapidly that I shall not much longer dare to touch your work. I mean

Your criticisms of Stedman's Anthology are just. But equally just ones
can be made of any anthology. None of them can suit any one. I fancy
Stedman did not try to "live up" to his standard, but to make
_representative_, though not always the _best_, selections. It would
hardly do to leave out Whitman, for example. _We_ may not like him;
thank God, we don't; but many others--the big fellows too--do; and in
England he is thought great. And then Stedman has the bad luck to know
a lot of poets personally--many bad poets. Put yourself in his place.
Would you leave out me if you honestly thought my work bad?

In any compilation we will all miss some of our favorites--and find
some of the public's favorites. You miss from Whittier "Joseph
Sturge"--I the sonnet "Forgiveness," and so forth. Alas, there is no
universal standard!

Thank you for the photographs. Miss * * * is a pretty girl, truly, and
has the posing instinct as well. She has the place of honor on my
mantel. * * * But what scurvy knave has put the stage-crime into her
mind? If you know that life as I do you will prefer that she die, poor

It is no trouble, but a pleasure, to go over your verses--I am as
proud of your talent as if I'd made it.

     Sincerely yours,


About the rhymes in a sonnet:

     "Regular", or           "English"            Modern
      Italian form             form               English
       (Petrarch):         (Shakspear's):            1
            1                    1                   2
            2                    2                   2
            2                    1                   1
            1                    2                   1
            1                    3                   2
            2                    4                   2
            2                    3                   1
            1                    4              Two or three
            3                    5               rhymes; any
            4                    6               arrangement
            5                    5
            3                    6
            4                    7
            5                    7

There are good reasons for preferring the regular Italian form created
by Petrarch--who knew a thing or two; and sometimes good reasons for
another arrangement--of the sestet rhymes. If one should sacrifice a
great thought to be like Petrarch one would not resemble him.

     A. B.

[Washington, D. C.,
 May 2, 1901.]


I am sending to the "Journal" your splendid poem on Memorial Day. Of
course I can't say what will be its fate. I am not even personally
acquainted with the editor of the department to which it goes. But if
he has not the brains to like it he is to send it back and I'll try to
place it elsewhere. It is great--great!--the loftiest note that you
have struck and _held_.

Maybe I owe you a lot of letters. I don't know--my correspondence all
in arrears and I've not the heart to take it up.

Thank you for your kind words of sympathy.[2] I'm hit harder than any
one can guess from the known facts--am a bit broken and gone gray of
it all.

[2] Concerning the death of his son Leigh.

But I remember you asked the title of a book of synonyms. It is
"Roget's Thesaurus," a good and useful book.

The other poems I will look up soon and consider. I've made no
alterations in the "Memorial Day" except to insert the omitted stanza.
Sincerely yours,


 May 9, 1901.]


I send the poems with suggestions. There's naught to say about 'em
that I've not said of your other work. Your "growth in grace" (and
other poetic qualities) is something wonderful. You are leaving my
other "pupils" so far behind that they are no longer "in it."
Seriously, you "promise" better than any of the new men in our
literature--and perform better than all but Markham in his lucid
intervals, alas, too rare.

     Sincerely yours,

 May 22, 1901.]


I enclose a proof of the poem[3]--all marked up. The poem was offered
to the Journal, but to the wrong editor. I would not offer it to him
in whose department it could be used, for he once turned down some
admirable verses of my friend Scheffauer which I sent him. I'm glad
the Journal is _not_ to have it, for it now goes into the Washington
Post--and the Post into the best houses here and elsewhere--a good,
clean, unyellow paper. I'll send you some copies with the poem.

[3] "Memorial Day."

I think my marks are intelligible--I mean my _re_marks. Perhaps you'll
not approve all, or anything, that I did to the poem; I'll only ask
you to endure. When you publish in covers you can restore to the
original draft if you like. I had not time (after my return from New
York) to get your approval and did the best and the least I could.

       *       *       *       *       *

My love to your pretty wife and sister. Let me know how hard you hate
me for monkeying with your sacred lines.

     Sincerely yours,

Yes, your poem recalled my "Invocation" as I read it; but it is
better, and not too much like--hardly like at all except in the
"political" part. Both, in that, are characterized, I think, by decent
restraint. How * * * would, at those places, have ranted and chewed
soap!--a superior quality of soap, I confess.

     A. B.

[1825 Nineteenth St., N. W., Washington, D. C.,
 June 30, 1901.]


I am glad my few words of commendation were not unpleasing to you. I
meant them all and more. You ought to have praise, seeing that it is
all you got. The "Post," like most other newspapers, "don't pay for
poetry." What a damning confession! It means that the public is as
insensible to poetry as a pig to--well, to poetry. To any sane mind
such a poem as yours is worth more than all the other contents of a
newspaper for a year.

I've not found time to consider your "bit of blank" yet--at least not
as carefully as it probably merits.

My relations with the present editor of the Examiner are not
unfriendly, I hope, but they are too slight to justify me in
suggesting anything to him, or even drawing his attention to anything.
I hoped you would be sufficiently "enterprising" to get your poem into
the paper if you cared to have it there. I wrote Dr. Doyle about you.
He is a dear fellow and you should know each other. As to Scheffauer,
he is another. If you want him to see your poem why not send it to
him? But the last I heard he was very ill. I'm rather anxious to hear
more about him.

It was natural to enclose the stamps, but I won't have it so--so
there! as the women say.

     Sincerely yours,

[1825 Nineteenth St., N. W., Washington, D. C.,
 July 15, 1901.]


Here is the bit of blank. When are we to see the book? Needless
question--when you can spare the money to pay for publication, I
suppose, if by that time you are ambitious to achieve public
inattention. That's my notion of encouragement--I like to cheer up the
young author as he sets his face toward "the peaks of song."

Say, that photograph of the pretty sister--the one with a downward
slope of the eyes--is all faded out. That is a real misfortune: it
reduces the sum of human happiness hereabout. Can't you have one done
in fast colors and let me have it? The other is all right, but that is
not the one that I like the better for my wall. Sincerely yours,


[The Olympia, Washington, D. C.,
 December 16, 1901.]


I enclose the poems with a few suggestions. They require little
criticism of the sort that would be "helpful." As to their merit I
think them good, but not great. I suppose you do not expect to write
great things every time. Yet in the body of your letter (of Oct. 22)
you do write greatly--and say that the work is "egoistic" and
"unprintable." If it[4] were addressed to another person than myself I
should say that it is "printable" exceedingly. Call it what you will,
but let me tell you it will probably be long before you write anything
better than some--many--of these stanzas.

[4] "Dedication" poem to Ambrose Bierce.

You ask if you have correctly answered your own questions. Yes; in
four lines of your running comment:

"I suppose that I'd do the greater good in the long run by making my
work as good poetry as possible."

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course I deplore your tendency to dalliance with the demagogic
muse. I hope you will not set your feet in the dirty paths--leading
nowhither--of social and political "reform".... I hope you will not
follow * * * in making a sale of your poet's birthright for a mess of
"popularity." If you do I shall have to part company with you, as I
have done with him and at least _one_ of his betters, for I draw the
line at demagogues and anarchists, however gifted and however

Let the "poor" alone--they are oppressed by nobody but God. Nobody
hates them, nobody despises. "The rich" love them a deal better than
they love one another. But I'll not go into these matters; your own
good sense must be your salvation if you are saved. I recognise the
temptations of environment: you are of San Francisco, the paradise of
ignorance, anarchy and general yellowness. Still, a poet is not
altogether the creature of his place and time--at least not of his
to-day and his parish.

By the way, you say that * * * is your only associate that knows
anything of literature. She is a dear girl, but look out for her; she
will make you an anarchist if she can, and persuade you to kill a
President or two every fine morning. I warrant you she can pronounce
the name of McKinley's assassin to the ultimate zed, and has a little
graven image of him next her heart.

Yes, you can republish the Memorial Day poem without the _Post's_
consent--could do so in "book form" even if the _Post_ had copyrighted
it, which it did not do. I think the courts have held that in
purchasing work for publication in his newspaper or magazine the
editor acquires no right in it, _except for that purpose_. Even if he
copyright it that is only to protect him from other newspapers or
magazines; the right to publish in a book remains with the author.
Better ask a lawyer though--preferably without letting him know
whether you are an editor or an author.

I ought to have answered (as well as able) these questions before, but
I have been ill and worried, and have written few letters, and even
done little work, and that only of the pot-boiling sort.

My daughter has recovered and returned to Los Angeles.

Please thank Miss * * * for the beautiful photographs--I mean for
being so beautiful as to "take" them, for doubtless I owe their
possession to you.

I wrote Doyle about you and he cordially praised your work as
incomparably superior to his own and asked that you visit him. He's a
lovable fellow and you'd not regret going to Santa Cruz and boozing
with him.

Thank you for the picture of Grizzly and the cub of him.

Sincerely yours, with best regards to the pretty ever-so-much-better
half of you,


P.S. * * * * * * * * * * *

[The Olympia, Washington, D. C.,
 March 15, 1902.]


Where are you going to stop?--I mean at what stage of development? I
presume you have not a "whole lot" of poems really writ, and have not
been feeding them to me, the least good first, and not in the order of
their production. So it must be that you are advancing at a stupendous
rate. This last[5] beats any and all that went before--or I am
bewitched and befuddled. I dare not trust myself to say what I think
of it. In manner it is great, but the greatness of the theme!--that is
beyond anything.

[5] "The Testimony of the Suns."

It is a new field, the broadest yet discovered. To paraphrase

     You are the first that ever burst
     Into that silent [unknown] sea--

a silent sea _because_ no one else has burst into it in full song.
True, there have been short incursions across the "border," but only
by way of episode. The tremendous phenomena of Astronomy have never
had adequate poetic treatment, their meaning adequate expression. You
must make it your own domain. You shall be the poet of the skies,
the prophet of the suns. Don't fiddle-faddle with such infinitesimal
and tiresome trivialities as (for example) the immemorial squabbles of
"rich" and "poor" on this "mote in the sun-beam." (Both "classes,"
when you come to that, are about equally disgusting and
unworthy--there's not a pin's moral difference between them.) Let them
cheat and pick pockets and cut throats to the satisfaction of their
base instincts, but do thou regard them not. Moreover, by that great
law of change which you so clearly discern, there can be no permanent
composition of their nasty strife. "Settle" it how they will--another
beat of the pendulum and all is as before; and ere another, Man will
again be savage, sitting on his naked haunches and gnawing raw bones.

Yes, circumstances make the "rich" what they are. And circumstances
make the poor what _they_ are. I have known both, long and well. The
rich--_while_ rich--are a trifle better. There's nothing like poverty
to nurture badness. But in this country there are no such "classes" as
"rich" and "poor": as a rule, the wealthy man of to-day was a poor
devil yesterday; the poor devils of to-day have an equal chance to be
rich to-morrow--or would have if they had equal brains and providence.
The system that gives them the chance is not an oppressive one. Under
a really oppressive system a salesman in a village grocery could not
have risen to a salary of one million dollars a year because he was
worth it to his employers, as Schwab has done. True, some men get rich
by dishonesty, but the poor commonly cheat as hard as they can and
remain poor--thereby escaping observation and censure. The moral
difference between cheating to the limit of a small opportunity and
cheating to the limit of a great one is to me indiscernable. The
workman who "skimps his work" is just as much a rascal as the
"director" who corners a crop.

As to "Socialism." I am something of a Socialist myself; that is, I
think that the principle, which has always coexisted with competition,
each safeguarding the other, may be advantageously extended. But those
who rail against "the competitive system," and think they suffer from
it, really suffer from their own unthrift and incapacity. For the
competent and provident it is an ideally perfect system. As the other
fellows are not of those who effect permanent reforms, or reforms of
any kind, pure Socialism is the dream of a dream.

But why do I write all this. One's opinions on such matters are
unaffected by reason and instance; they are born of feeling and
temperament. There is a Socialist diathesis, as there is an Anarchist
diathesis. Could you teach a bulldog to retrieve, or a sheep to fetch
and carry? Could you make a "born artist" comprehend a syllogism? As
easily persuade a poet that black is not whatever color he loves.
Somebody has defined poetry as "glorious nonsense." It is not an
altogether false definition, albeit I consider poetry the flower and
fruit of speech and would rather write gloriously than sensibly. But
if poets saw things as they are they would write no more poetry.

Nevertheless, I venture to ask you: _Can't_ you see in the prosperity
of the strong and the adversity of the weak a part of that great
beneficent law, "the survival of the fittest"? Don't you see that such
evils as inhere in "the competitive system" are evils only to
individuals, but blessings to the race by gradually weeding out the
incompetent and their progeny?

I've done, i' faith. Be any kind of 'ist or 'er that you will, but
don't let it get into your ink. Nobody is calling you to deliver your
land from Error's chain. What we want of you is poetry, not politics.
And if you care for fame just have the goodness to consider if any
"champion of the poor" has ever obtained it. From the earliest days
down to Massanielo, Jack Cade and Eugene Debs the leaders and prophets
of "the masses" have been held unworthy. And with reason too, however
much injustice is mixed in with the right of it. Eventually the most
conscientious, popular and successful "demagogue" comes into a
heritage of infamy. The most brilliant gifts cannot save him. That
will be the fate of Edwin Markham if he does not come out o' that, and
it will be the fate of George Sterling if he will not be warned.

You think that "the main product of that system" (the "competitive")
"is the love of money." What a case of the cart before the horse! The
love of money is not the product, but the root, of the system--not the
effect, but the cause. When one man desires to be better off than
another he competes with him. You can abolish the system when you can
abolish the desire--when you can make man as Nature did _not_ make
him, content to be as poor as the poorest. Do away with the desire to
excel and you may set up your Socialism at once. But what kind of a
race of sloths and slugs will you have?

But, bless me, I shall _never_ have done if I say all that comes to

Why, of course my remarks about * * * were facetious--playful. She
really is an anarchist, and her sympathies are with criminals, whom
she considers the "product" of the laws, but--well, she inherited the
diathesis and can no more help it than she can the color of her pretty
eyes. But she is a child--and except in so far as her convictions
make her impossible they do not count. She would not hurt a fly--not
even if, like the toad, it had a precious jewel in its head that it
did not work for. But I am speaking of the * * * that _I_ knew. If I
did not know that the anarchist leopard's spots "will wash," your
words would make me think that she might have changed. It does not
matter what women think, if thinking it may be called, and * * * will
never be other than lovable.

Lest you have _not_ a copy of the verses addressed to me I enclose one
that I made myself. Of course their publication could not be otherwise
than pleasing to me if you care to do it. You need not fear the
"splendid weight" expression, and so forth--there is nothing
"conceited" in the poem. As it was addressed to me, I have not
criticised it--I _can't_. And I guess it needs no criticism.

I fear for the other two-thirds of this latest poem. If you descend
from Arcturus to Earth, from your nebulae to your neighbors, from Life
to lives, from the measureless immensities of space to the petty
passions of us poor insects, won't you incur the peril of anti-climax?
I doubt if you can touch the "human interest" after those high themes
without an awful tumble. I should be sorry to see the poem "peter
out," or "soak in." It would be as if Goethe had let his "Prologue in
Heaven" expire in a coon song. You have reached the "heights of dream"
all right, but how are you to stay there to the end? By the way, you
must perfect yourself in Astronomy, or rather get a general knowledge
of it, which I fear you lack. Be sure about the pronunciation of
astronomical names.

I have read some of Jack London's work and think it clever. Of
Whitaker I never before heard, I fear. If London wants to criticise
your "Star poem" what's the objection? I should not think, though,
from his eulogism of * * *, that he is very critical. * * *

Where are you to place Browning? Among thinkers. In his younger days,
when he wrote in English, he stood among the poets. I remember writing
once--of the thinker: "There's nothing more obscure than Browning
except blacking." I'll stand to that.

No, don't take the trouble to send me a copy of these verses: I expect
to see them in a book pretty soon. * * *

     Sincerely yours, AMBROSE BIERCE.

[The Olympia, Washington, D. C.,
 March 31, 1902.]


I am glad to know that you too have a good opinion of that poem.[6]
One should know about one's own work. Most writers think their work
good, but good writers know it. Pardon me if I underrated your
astronomical knowledge. My belief was based on your use of those
names. I never met with the spelling "Betelgeux"; and even if it is
correct and picturesque I'd not use it if I were you, for it does not
quite speak itself, and you can't afford to jolt the reader's
attention from your thought to a matter of pronunciation. In my
student days we, I am sure, were taught to say Procy´on. I don't think
I've heard it pronounced since, and I've no authority at hand. If you
are satisfied with Pro´cyon I suppose it is that. But your
pronunciation was Aldeb´aran or your meter very crazy indeed. I asked
(with an interrogation point) if it were not Aldeba´ran--and I think
it is. Fomalhaut I don't know about; I thought it French and
masculine. In that case it would, I suppose, be "ho," not "hote."

[6] "The Testimony of the Suns."

Don't cut out that stanza, even if "clime" doesn't seem to me to have
anything to do with duration. The stanza is good enough to stand a

"Ye stand rebuked by suns who claim"--I was wrong in substituting
"that" for "who," not observing that it would make it ambiguous. I
merely yielded to a favorite impulse: to say "that" instead of "who,"
and did not count the cost.

Don't cut out _any_ stanza--if you can't perfect them let them go

     "Without or genesis or end."
     "Devoid of birth, devoid of end."

These are not so good as

"Without beginning, without end";--I submit them to suggest a way to
overcome that identical rhyme. All you have to do is get rid of the
second "without." I should not like "impend."

Yes, I vote for Orion's _sword_ of suns. "Cimetar" sounds better, but
it is more specific--less generic. It is modern--or, rather, less
ancient than "sword," and makes one think of Turkey and the Holy Land.
But "sword"--there were swords before Homer. And I don't think the man
who named this constellation ever saw a curved blade. And yet, and
yet--"cimetar of suns" is "mighty catchin'."

No, indeed, I could not object to your considering the heavens in a
state of war. I have sometimes fancied I could hear the rush and roar
of it. Why, a few months ago I began a sonnet thus:

     "Not as two erring spheres together grind,
     With monstrous ruin, in the vast of space,
     Destruction born of that malign embrace--
     Their hapless peoples all to death consigned--" etc.

I've been a star-gazer all my life--from my habit of being "out late,"
I guess; and the things have always seemed to me _alive_.

The change in the verses _ad meum_, from "_thy_ clearer light" to
"_the_ clearer light" may have been made modestly or inadvertently--I
don't recollect. It is, of course, no improvement and you may do as
you please. I'm uniformly inadvertent, but intermittently modest.

       *       *       *       *       *

A class of stuff that I can't (without "trouble in the office") write
my own way I will not write at all. So I'm writing very little of
anything but nonsense. * * *

With best regards to Mrs. Sterling and Miss Marian I am

     Sincerely yours,

Leigh died a year ago this morning. I wish I could stop counting the

[The Olympia, Washington, D. C.,
 April 15, 1902.]


All right--I only wanted you to be _sure_ about those names of stars;
it would never do to be less than sure.

After all our talk (made by me) I guess that stanza would better stand
as first written. "Clime"--climate--connotes temperature, weather, and
so forth, in ordinary speech, but a poet may make his own definitions,
I suppose, and compel the reader to study them out and accept them.

Your misgiving regarding your inability to reach so high a plane again
as in this poem is amusing, but has an element of the pathetic. It
certainly is a misfortune for a writer to do his _best_ work early;
but I fancy you'd better trust your genius and do its bidding whenever
the monkey chooses to bite. "The Lord will provide." Of course you
have read Stockton's story "His Wife's Deceased Sister." But Stockton
gets on very well, despite "The Lady or the Tiger." I've a notion that
you'll find other tragedies among the stars if earth doesn't supply
you with high enough themes.

Will I write a preface for the book? Why, yes, if you think me
competent. Emerson commands us to "hitch our wagon to a star?" and,
egad! here's a whole constellation--a universe--of stars to draw mine!
It makes me blink to think of it.

O yes, I'd like well enough to "leave the Journal," but--

     Sincerely yours,

[The Olympia, Washington, D. C.,
 July 10, 1902.]


If rejection wounded, all writers would bleed at every pore.
Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done. Of course I shall be glad
to go over your entire body of work again and make suggestions if any
occur to me. It will be no trouble--I could not be more profitably
employed than in critically reading you, nor more agreeably.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course your star poem has one defect--if it is a defect--that
limits the circle of understanding and admiring readers--its lack of
"_human_ interest." We human insects, as a rule, care for nothing but
ourselves, and think that is best which most closely touches such
emotions and sentiments as grow out of our relations, the one with
another. I don't share the preference, and a few others do not,
believing that there are things more interesting than men and women.
The Heavens, for example. But who knows, or cares anything about
them--even knows the name of a single constellation? Hardly any one
but the professional astronomers--and there are not enough of them to
buy your books and give you fame. I should be sorry not to have that
poem published--sorry if you did not write more of the kind. But while
it may impress and dazzle "the many" it will not win them. They want
you to finger their heart-strings and pull the cord that works their
arms and legs. So you must finger and pull--too.

The Château Yquem came all right, and is good. Thank you for
it--albeit I'm sorry you feel that you must do things like that. It is
very conventional and, I fear, "proper." However, I remember that you
used to do so when you could not by any stretch of imagination have
felt that you were under an "obligation." So I guess it is all
right--just your way of reminding me of the old days. Anyhow, the wine
is so much better than my own that I've never a scruple when drinking

Has "Maid Marian" a photograph of me?--I don't remember. If not I'll
send her one; I've just had some printed from a negative five or six
years old. I've renounced the photograph habit, as one renounces other
habits when age has made them ridiculous--or impossible.

Send me the typewritten book when you have it complete.

     Sincerely yours,

 August 19, 1902.]


I suppose you are in Seattle, but this letter will keep till your

I am delighted to know that I am to have "the book" so soon, and will
give it my best attention and (if you still desire) some prefatory
lines. Think out a good title and I shall myself be hospitable to any
suggestion of my dæmon in the matter. He has given me nothing for the
star poem yet.

       *       *       *       *       *

You'll "learn in suffering what you teach in song," all right; but let
us hope the song will be the richer for it. It _will_ be. For that
reason I never altogether "pity the sorrows" of a writer--knowing they
are good for him. He needs them in his business. I suspect you must
have shed a tear or two since I knew you.

I'm sending you a photograph, but you did not tell me if Maid Marian
the Superb already has one--that's what I asked you, and if you don't
answer I shall ask her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, I am fairly well, and, though not "happy," content. But I'm
dreadfully sorry about Peterson.

     Sincerely yours,

I am about to break up my present establishment and don't know where
my next will be. Better address me "Care N. Y. American and Journal
Bureau, Washington, D. C."

You see I'm still chained to the oar of yellow journalism, but it is a
rather light servitude.

[Address me at 1321 Yale Street, Washington, D. C.,
 December 20, 1902.]


I fancy you must fear by this time that I did not get the poems, but I
did. I'll get at them, doubtless, after awhile, though a good deal of
manuscript--including a couple of novels!--is ahead of them; and one
published book of bad poems awaits a particular condemnation.

I'm a little embarrassed about the preface which I'm to write. I fear
you must forego the preface or I the dedication. That kind of
"coöperation" doesn't seem in very good taste: it smacks of "mutual
admiration" in the bad sense, and the reviewers would probably call it
"log-rolling." Of course it doesn't matter too much what the reviewers
say, but it matters a lot what the intelligent readers think; and your
book will have no others. I really shouldn't like to write the preface
of a book dedicated to me, though I did not think of that at first.

The difficulty could be easily removed by _not_ dedicating the book to
me were it not that that would sacrifice the noble poem with my name
atop of it. That poem is itself sufficiently dedicatory if printed by
itself in the forepages of the book and labeled "Dedication--To
Ambrose Bierce." I'm sure that vanity has nothing to do, or little to
do, with my good opinion of the verses. And, after all, they _show_
that I have said _to you_ all that I could say to the reader in your
praise and encouragement. What do you think?

As to dedicating individual poems to other fellows, I have not the
slightest hesitancy in advising you against it. The practice smacks of
the amateur and is never, I think, pleasing to anybody but the person
so honored. The custom has fallen into "innocuous desuetude" and there
appears to be no call for its revival. Pay off your obligations (if
such there be) otherwise. You may put it this way if you like: The
whole book being dedicated to me, no part of it _can_ be dedicated to
another. Or this way: Secure in my exalted position I don't purpose
sharing the throne with rival (and inferior) claimants. They be gam

Seriously--but I guess it is serious enough as it stands. It occurs to
me that in saying: "no part of it _can_ be dedicated to another" I
might be understood as meaning: "no part of it _must_ be," etc. No; I
mean only that the dedication to another would contradict the
dedication to me. The two things are (as a matter of fact)

Well, if you think a short preface by me preferable to the verses with
my name, all right; I will cheerfully write it, and that will leave
you free to honor your other friends if you care to. But those are
great lines, and implying, as they do, all that a set preface could
say, it seems to me that they ought to stand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Maid Marian shall have the photograph.

     Sincerely yours,

[1321 Yale Street, Washington, D. C.,
 March 1, 1903.]


You are a brick. You shall do as you will. My chief reluctance is that
if it become known, or _when_ it becomes known, there may ensue a
suspicion of my honesty in praising you and _your_ book; for critics
and readers are not likely to look into the matter of dates. For your
sake I should be sorry to have it thought that my commendation was
only a log-rolling incident; for myself, I should care nothing about
it. This eel is accustomed to skinning.

It is not the least pleasing of my reflections that my friends have
always liked my work--or me--well enough to want to publish my books
at their own expense. Everything that I have written could go to the
public that way if I would consent. In the two instances in which I
did consent they got their money back all right, and I do not doubt
that it will be so in this; for if I did not think there was at least
a little profit in a book of mine I should not offer it to a
publisher. "Shapes of Clay" _ought_ to be published in California,
and it would have been long ago if I had not been so lazy and so
indisposed to dicker with the publishers. Properly advertised--which
no book of mine ever has been--it should sell there if nowhere else.
Why, then, do _I_ not put up the money? Well, for one reason, I've
none to put up. Do you care for the other reasons?

But I must make this a condition. If there is a loss, _I_ am to bear
it. To that end I shall expect an exact accounting from your Mr. Wood,
and the percentage that Scheff. purposes having him pay to me is to go
to you. The copyright is to be mine, but nothing else until you are
entirely recouped. But all this I will arrange with Scheff., who, I
take it, is to attend to the business end of the matter, with, of
course, your assent to the arrangements that he makes.

I shall write Scheff. to-day to go ahead and make his contract with
Mr. Wood on these lines. Scheff. appears not to know who the "angel"
in the case is, and he need not, unless, or until, you want him to.

I've a pretty letter from Maid Marian in acknowledgment of the
photograph. I shall send one to Mrs. Sterling at once, in the sure and
certain hope of getting another. It is good of her to remember my
existence, considering that your scoundrelly monopoly of her permitted
us to meet so seldom. I go in for a heavy tax on married men who live
with their wives.

"She holds no truce with Death _or_ Peace" means that with _one_ of
them she holds no truce; "nor" makes it mean that she holds no truce
with _either_. The misuse of "or" (its use to mean "nor") is nearly
everybody's upsetting sin. So common is it that "nor" instead usually
sounds harsh.

I omitted the verses on "Puck," not because Bunner is dead, but
because his work is dead too, and the verses appear to lack intrinsic
merit to stand alone. I shall perhaps omit a few more when I get the
proofs (I wish you could see the bushels I've left out already) and
add a few serious ones.

I'm glad no end that you and Scheff. have met. I'm fond of the boy and
he likes me, I think. He too has a book of verses on the ways, and I
hope for it a successful launching. I've been through it all; some of
it is great in the matter of thews and brawn; some fine.

Pardon the typewriter; I wanted a copy of this letter.

     Sincerely yours,

[The New York "American" Bureau, Washington, D. C.,
 June 13, 1903.]


It is good to hear from you again and to know that the book is so
nearly complete as to be in the hands of the publishers. I dare say
they will not have it, and you'll have to get it out at your own
expense. When it comes to that I shall hope to be of service to you,
as you have been to me.

So you like Scheff. Yes, he is a good boy and a good friend. I wish
you had met our friend Dr. Doyle, who has now gone the long, lone
journey. It has made a difference to me, but that matters little, for
the time is short in which to grieve. I shall soon be going his way.

No, I shall not put anything about the * * * person into "Shapes of
Clay." His offence demands another kind of punishment, and until I
meet him he goes unpunished. I once went to San Francisco to punish
him (but that was in hot blood) but * * * of "The Wave" told me the
man was a hopeless invalid, suffering from locomotor ataxia. I have
always believed that until I got your letter and one from Scheff. Is
it not so?--or _was_ it not? If not he has good reason to think me a
coward, for his offence was what men are killed for; but of course
one does not kill a helpless person, no matter what the offence is.
If * * * lied to me I am most anxious to know it; he has always
professed himself a devoted friend.

The passage that you quote from Jack London strikes me as good. I
don't dislike the word "penetrate"--rather like it. It is in frequent
use regarding exploration and discovery. But I think you right about
"rippling"; it is too lively a word to be outfitted with such an
adjective as "melancholy." I see London has an excellent article in
"The Critic" on "The Terrible and Tragic in Fiction." He knows how to
think a bit.

What do I think of Cowley-Brown and his "Goosequill"? I did not know
that he had revived it; it died several years ago. I never met him,
but in both Chicago and London (where he had "The Philistine," or "The
Anti-Philistine," I do not at the moment remember which) he was most
kind to me and my work. In one number of his magazine--the London
one--he had four of my stories and a long article about me which
called the blushes to my maiden cheek like the reflection of a red
rose in the petal of a violet. Naturally I think well of Cowley-Brown.

You make me sad to think of the long leagues and the monstrous
convexity of the earth separating me from your camp in the redwoods.
There are few things that I would rather do than join that party; and
I'd be the last to strike my tent and sling my swag. Alas, it cannot
be--not this year. My outings are limited to short runs along this
coast. I was about to set out on one this morning; and wrote a hasty
note to Scheff in consequence of my preparations. In five hours I was
suffering from asthma, and am now confined to my room. But for eight
months of the year here I am immune--as I never was out there.

       *       *       *       *       *

You will have to prepare yourself to endure a good deal of praise when
that book is out. One does not mind when one gets accustomed to it. It
neither pleases nor bores; you will have just no feeling about it at
all. But if you really care for _my_ praise I hope you have quoted a
bit of it at the head of those dedicatory verses, as I suggested. That
will give them a _raison d'être_.

With best regards to Mrs. Sterling and Katie I am sincerely yours,


P.S.--If not too much trouble you may remind Dick Partington and wife
that I continue to exist and to remember them pleasantly.

[N. Y. "American" Bureau, Washington, D. C.,
 [July, 1903].]


I got the proofs yesterday, and am returning them by this mail. The
"report of progress" is every way satisfactory, and I don't doubt that
a neat job is being done.

The correction that you made is approved. I should have wanted and
expected you to make many corrections and suggestions, but that I have
had a purpose in making this book--namely, that it should represent my
work at its average. In pursuance of this notion I was not hospitable
even to suggestions, and have retained much work that I did not myself
particularly approve; some of it trivial. You know I have always been
addicted to trifling, and no book from which trivialities were
excluded would fairly represent me.

I could not commend this notion in another. In your work and
Sterling's I have striven hard to help you to come as near to
perfection as we could, because perfection is what you and he want,
and as young writers ought to want, the character of your work being
higher than mine. I reached my literary level long ago, and seeing
that it is not a high one there would seem to be a certain
affectation, even a certain dishonesty, in making it seem higher than
it is by republication of my best only. Of course I have not carried
out this plan so consistently as to make the book dull: I had to "draw
the line" at that.

I say all this because I don't want you and Sterling to think that I
disdain assistance: I simply decided beforehand not to avail myself of
its obvious advantages. You would have done as much for the book in
one way as you have done in another.

I'll have to ask you to suggest that Mr. Wood have a man go over all
the matter in the book, and see that none of the pieces are
duplicated, as I fear they are. Reading the titles will not be enough:
I might have given the same piece two titles. It will be necessary to
compare first lines, I think. That will be drudgery which I'll not ask
you to undertake: some of Wood's men, or some of the printer's men,
will do it as well; it is in the line of their work.

The "Dies Irae" is the most earnest and sincere of religious poems; my
travesty of it is mere solemn fooling, which fact is "given away" in
the prose introduction, where I speak of my version being of possible
service in the church! The travesty is not altogether unfair--it was
inevitably suggested by the author's obvious inaccessibility to humor
and logic--a peculiarity that is, however, observable in all religious
literature, for it is a fundamental necessity to the religious mind.
Without logic and a sense of the ludicrous a man is religious as
certainly as without webbed feet a bird has the land habit.

It is funny, but I am a "whole lot" more interested in seeing your
cover of the book than my contents of it. I don't at all doubt--since
you dared undertake it--that your great conception will find a fit
interpreter in your hand; so my feeling is not anxiety. It is just
interest--pure interest in what is above my powers, but in which _you_
can work. By the way, Keller, of the old "Wasp" was _not_ the best of
its cartoonists. The best--the best of _all_ cartoonists if he had not
died at eighteen--was another German, named Barkhaus. I have all his
work and have long cherished a wish to republish it with the needed
explanatory text--much of it being "local" and "transient." Some day,
perhaps--most likely not. But Barkhaus was a giant.

How I envy you! There are few things that would please me so well as
to "drop in" on you folks in Sterling's camp. Honestly, I think all
that prevents is the (to me) killing journey by rail. And two months
would be required, going and returning by sea. But the rail trip
across the continent always gives me a horrible case of asthma, which
lasts for weeks. I shall never take _that_ journey again if I can
avoid it. What times you and they will have about the campfire and the
table! I feel like an exile, though I fear I don't look and act the

I did not make the little excursion I was about to take when I wrote
you recently. Almost as I posted the letter I was taken ill and have
not been well since.

Poor Doyle! how thoughtful of him to provide for the destruction of my
letters! But I fear Mrs. Doyle found some of them queer reading--if
she read them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Great Scott! if ever they begin to publish mine there will be a
circus! For of course the women will be the chief sinners,
and--well, they have material a-plenty; they can make many volumes,
and your poor dead friend will have so bad a reputation that you'll
swear you never knew him. I dare say, though, you have sometimes been
indiscreet, too. _My_ besetting sin has been in writing to my girl
friends as if they were sweethearts--the which they'll doubtless not
be slow to affirm. The fact that they write to me in the same way will
be no defense; for when I'm worm's meat I can't present the proof--and
wouldn't if I could. Maybe it won't matter--if I don't turn in my
grave and so bother the worms.

As Doyle's "literary executor" I fear your duties will be light: he
probably did not leave much manuscript. I judge from his letters that
he was despondent about his work and the narrow acceptance that it
had. So I assume that he did not leave much more than the book of
poems, which no publisher would (or will) take.

You are about to encounter the same stupid indifference of the
public--so is Sterling. I'm sure of Sterling, but don't quite know how
it will affect _you_. You're a pretty sturdy fellow, physically and
mentally, but this _may_ hurt horribly. I pray that it do not, and
could give you--perhaps have given you--a thousand reasons why it
_should_ not. You are still young and your fame may come while you
live; but you must not expect it now, and doubtless do not. To me, and
I hope to you, the approval of one person who knows is sweeter than
the acclaim of ten thousand who do not--whose acclaim, indeed, I would
rather not have. If you do not _feel_ this in every fibre of your
brain and heart, try to learn to feel it--practice feeling it, as one
practices some athletic feat necessary to health and strength.

Thank you very much for the photograph. You are growing too
infernally handsome to be permitted to go about unchained. If I had
your "advantages" of youth and comeliness I'd go to the sheriff and
ask him to lock me up. That would be the honorable thing for you to
do, if you don't mind. God be with you--but inattentive.


[Aurora, Preston Co., West Virginia,
 August 15, 1903.]


I fear that among the various cares incident to my departure from
Washington I forgot, or neglected, to acknowledge the Joaquin Miller
book that you kindly sent me. I was glad to have it. It has all his
characteristic merits and demerits--among the latter, his interminable
prolixity, the thinness of the thought, his endless repetition of
favorite words and phrases, many of them from his other poems, his
mispronunciation, his occasional flashes of prose, and so forth.

Scheff tells me his book is out and mine nearly out. But what of
yours? I do fear me it never will be out if you rely upon its
"acceptance" by any American publisher. If it meets with no favor
among the publisher tribe we must nevertheless get it out; and you
will of course let me do what I can. That is only tit for tat. But
tell me about it.

I dare say Scheff, who is clever at getting letters out of me--the
scamp!--has told you of my being up here atop of the Alleghenies, and
why I _am_ here. I'm having a rather good time. * * * Can you fancy me
playing croquet, cards, lawn--no, thank God, I've escaped lawn tennis
and golf! In respect of other things, though, I'm a glittering
specimen of the Summer Old Man.

Did _you_ have a good time in the redwoods?

Please present my compliments to Madame (and Mademoiselle) Sterling.
Sincerely yours,


[Aurora, West Virginia,
 September 8, 1903.]


I return the verses with a few suggestions.

I'm sorry your time for poetry is so brief. But take your pencil and
figure out how much you would write in thirty years (I hope you'll
live that long) at, say, six lines a day. You'll be surprised by the
result--and encouraged. Remember that 50,000 words make a fairly long

You make me shudder when you say you are reading the "Prattle" of
years. I haven't it and should hardly dare to read it if I had. There
is so much in it to deplore--so much that is not wise--so much that
was the expression of a mood or a whim--so much was not altogether
sincere--so many half-truths, and so forth. Make allowances, I beg,
and where you cannot, just forgive.

Scheff has mentioned his great desire that you join the Bohemian Club.
I know he wants me to advise you to do so. So I'm between two fires
and would rather not advise at all. There are advantages (obvious
enough) in belonging; and to one of your age and well grounded in
sobriety and self-restraint generally, the disadvantages are not so
great as to a youngster like Scheff. (Of course he is not so young as
he seems to me; but he is younger by a few years and a whole lot of
thought than you.)

The trouble with that kind of club--with any club--is the temptation
to waste of time and money; and the danger of the drink habit. If one
is proof against these a club is all right. I belong to one myself in
Washington, and at one time came pretty near to "running" it.

       *       *       *       *       *

No, I don't think Scheff's view of Kipling just. He asked me about
putting that skit in the book. It _was_ his view and, that being so, I
could see no reason for suppressing it in deference to those who do
not hold it. I like free speech, though I'd not accord it to my
enemies if I were Dictator. I should not think it for the good of the
State to let * * * write verses, for example. The modern fad Tolerance
does not charm me, but since it is all the go I'm willing that my
friends should have their fling.

I dare say Scheff is unconscious of Kipling's paternity in the fine
line in "Back, back to Nature":

   "Loudly to the shore cries the surf upon the sea."

But turn to "The Last Chanty," in "The Seven Seas," fill your ears
with it and you'll write just such a line yourself.

       *       *       *       *       *

God be decent to you, old man.


[Aurora, West Virginia,
 September 12, 1903.]


I have yours of the 5th. Before now you have mine of _some_ date.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm glad you like London; I've heard he is a fine fellow and have read
one of his books--"The Son of the Wolf," I think is the title--and it
seemed clever work mostly. The general impression that remains with me
is that it is always winter and always night in Alaska.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * * will probably be glad to sell his scrap-book later, to get
bread. He can't make a living out of the labor unions alone. I wish he
were not a demgagoue and would not, as poor Doyle put it, go a-whoring
after their Muse. When he returns to truth and poetry I'll receive him
back into favor and he may kick me if he wants to.

No, I can't tell you how to get "Prattle"; if I could I'd not be
without it myself. You ask me when I began it in the "Examiner." Soon
after Hearst got the paper--I don't know the date--they can tell you
at the office and will show you the bound volumes.

I have the bound volumes of the "Argonaut" and "Wasp" during the years
when I was connected with them, but my work in the "Examiner" (and
previously in the "News Letter" and the London "Fun" and "Figaro" and
other papers) I kept only in a haphazard and imperfect way.

I don't recollect giving Scheff any "epigram" on woman or anything
else. So I can't send it to you. I amuse myself occasionally with that
sort of thing in the "Journal" ("American") and suppose Hearst's other
papers copy them, but the "environment" is uncongenial and

Do I think extracts from "Prattle" would sell? I don't think anything
of mine will sell. I could make a dozen books of the stuff that I have
"saved up"--have a few ready for publication now--but all is vanity so
far as profitable publication is concerned. Publishers want nothing
from me but novels--and I'll die first.

Who is * * *--and why? It is good of London to defend me against him.
I fancy all you fellows have a-plenty of defending me to do, though
truly it is hardly worth while. All my life I have been hated and
slandered by all manner of persons except good and intelligent ones;
and I don't greatly mind. I knew in the beginning what I had to
expect, and I know now that, like spanking, it hurts (sometimes) but
does not harm. And the same malevolence that has surrounded my life
will surround my memory if I am remembered. Just run over in your mind
the names of men who have told the truth about their unworthy fellows
and about human nature "as it was given them to see it." They are
the bogie-men of history. None of them has escaped vilification. Can
poor little I hope for anything better? When you strike you are
struck. The world is a skunk, but it has rights; among them that of
retaliation. Yes, you deceive yourself if you think the little fellows
of letters "like" you, or rather if you think they will like you when
they know how big you are. They will lie awake nights to invent new
lies about you and new means of spreading them without detection. But
you have your revenge: in a few years they'll all be dead--just the
same as if you had killed them. Better yet, you'll be dead yourself.
So--you have my entire philosophy in two words: "Nothing matters."

Reverting to Scheff. What he has to fear (if he cares) is not
incompetent criticism, but public indifference. That does not bite,
but poets are an ambitious folk and like the limelight and the center
of the stage. Maybe Scheff is different, as I know you are. Try to
make him so if he isn't. * * * Wise poets write for one another. If
the public happens to take notice, well and good. Sometimes it
does--and then the wise poet would a blacksmith be. But this screed is
becoming an essay.

Please give my love to all good Sterlings--those by birth and those by
marriage. * * *

My friends have returned to Washington, and I'm having great times
climbing peaks (they are knobs) and exploring gulches and cañons--for
which these people have no names--poor things. My dreamland is still
unrevisited. They found a Confederate soldier over there the other
day, with his rifle alongside. I'm going over to beg his pardon.

     Ever yours,

[Washington, D. C.
 [Postmarked October 12, 1903.]]


I have Jack London's books--the one from you and the one from him. I
thank you and shall find the time to read them. I've been back but a
few days and find a brace of dozen of books "intitualed" "Shapes of
Clay." That the splendid work done by Scheff and Wood and your other
associates in your labor of love is most gratifying to me should "go
without saying." Surely _I_ am most fortunate in having so good
friends to care for my interests. Still, there will be an aching void
in the heart of me until _your_ book is in evidence. Honest, I feel
more satisfaction in the work of you and Scheff than in my own. It is
through you two that I expect my best fame. And how generously you
accord it!--unlike certain others of my "pupils," whom I have assisted
far more than I did you.

My trip through the mountains has done my health good--and my heart
too. It was a "sentimental journey" in a different sense from
Sterne's. Do you know, George, the charm of a new emotion? Of course
you do, but at my age I had thought it impossible. Well, I had it
repeatedly. Bedad, I think of going again into my old "theatre of
war," and setting up a cabin there and living the few days that remain
to me in meditation and sentimentalizing. But I should like you to be
near enough to come up some Saturday night with some'at to drink.
Sincerely yours,


[N. Y. Journal Office, Washington, D. C.,
 October 21, 1903.]


I'm indebted to you for two letters--awfully good ones. In the last
you tell me that your health is better, and I can see for myself that
your spirits are. This you attribute to exercise, correctly, no doubt.
You need a lot of the open air--we all do. I can give myself
hypochondria in forty-eight hours by staying in-doors. The sedentary
life and abstracted contemplation of one's own navel are good for
Oriental gods only. We spirits of a purer fire need sunlight and the
hills. My own recent wanderings afoot and horseback in the mountains
did me more good than a sermon. And you have "the hills back of
Oakland"! God, what would I not give to help you range them, the dear
old things! Why, I know every square foot of them from Walnut Creek to
Niles Cañon. Of course they swarm with ghosts, as do all places out
there, even the streets of San Francisco; but I and my ghosts always
get on well together. With the female ones my relations are sometimes
a bit better than they were with the dear creatures when they lived.

I guess I did not acknowledge the splendidly bound "Shapes" that you
kindly sent, nor the Jack London books. Much thanks.

I'm pleased to know that Wood expects to sell the whole edition of my
book, but am myself not confident of that.

So we are to have your book soon. Good, but I don't like your
indifference to its outward and visible aspect. Some of my own books
have offended, and continue to offend, in that way. At best a book is
not too beautiful; at worst it is hideous. Be advised a bit by Scheff
in this matter; his taste seems to me admirable and I'm well pleased
by his work on the "Shapes"; even his covers, which I'm sorry to learn
do not please Wood, appear to me excellent. I approved the design
before he executed it--in fact chose it from several that he
submitted. Its only fault seems to me too much gold leaf, but that is
a fault "on the right side." In that and all the rest of the work
(except my own) experts here are delighted. I gave him an absolutely
free hand and am glad I did. I don't like the ragged leaves, but he
does not either, on second thought. The public--the reading public--I
fear does, just now.

I'll get at your new verses in a few days. It will be, as always it
is, a pleasure to go over them.

About "Prattle." I should think you might get help in that matter from
Oscar T. Schuck, 2916 Laguna St. He used to suffer from "Prattle" a
good deal, but is very friendly, and the obtaining it would be in the
line of his present business.

How did you happen to hit on Markham's greatest two lines--but I need
not ask that--from "The Wharf of Dreams"?

Well, I wish I could think that those lines of mine in "Geotheos" were
worthy to be mentioned with Keats' "magic casements" and Coleridge's
"woman wailing for her demon lover." But I don't think any lines of
anybody are. I laugh at myself to remember that Geotheos, never before
in print I believe, was written for E. L. G. Steele to read before a
"young ladies' seminary" somewhere in the cow counties! Like a man of
sense he didn't read it. I don't share your regret that I have not
devoted myself to serious poetry. I don't think of myself as a poet,
but as a satirist; so I'm entitled to credit for what little gold
there may be in the mud I throw. But if I professed gold-throwing, the
mud which I should surely mix with the missiles would count against
me. Besides, I've a preference for being the first man in a village,
rather than the second man in Rome. Poetry is a ladder on which there
is now no room at the top--unless you and Scheff throw down some of
the chaps occupying the upper rung. It looks as if you might, but I
could not. When old Homer, Shakspeare and that crowd--building
better than Ozymandias--say: "Look on my works, ye mighty, and
despair!" I, considering myself specially addressed, despair. The
challenge of the wits does not alarm me.

       *       *       *       *       *

As to your problems in grammar.

If you say: "There is no hope _or_ fear" you say that _one_ of them
does not exist. In saying: "There is no hope _nor_ fear" you say that
_both_ do not exist--which is what you mean.

"Not to weary you, I shall say that I fetched the book from his
cabin." Whether that is preferable to "I will say" depends on just
what is meant; both are grammatical. The "shall" merely indicates an
intention to say; the "will" implies a certain shade of concession in
saying it.

It is no trouble to answer such questions, _nor_ to do anything else
to please you. I only hope I make it clear.

I don't know if all my "Journal" work gets into the "Examiner," for I
don't see all the issues of either paper. I'm not writing much anyhow.
They don't seem to want much from me, and their weekly check is about
all that I want from them.

       *       *       *       *       *

No, I don't know any better poem of Kipling than "The Last Chanty."
Did you see what stuff of his Prof. Harry Thurston Peck, the Hearst
outfit's special literary censor, chose for a particular commendation
the other day? Yet Peck is a scholar, a professor of Latin and a
writer of merited distinction. Excepting the ability to write poetry,
the ability to understand it is, I think, the rarest of intellectual
gifts. Let us thank "whatever gods may be" that we have it, if we
haven't so very much else.

I've a lovely birch stick a-seasoning for you--cut it up in the

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 October 29, 1903.]


I return the verses--with apology for tardiness. I've been "full up"
with cares.

       *       *       *       *       *

I would not change "Religion" to "Dogma" (if I were you) for all "the
pious monks of St. Bernard." Once you begin to make concessions to the
feelings of this person or that there is no place to stop and you may
as well hang up the lyre. Besides, Dogma does not "seek"; it just
impudently declares something to have been found. However, it is a
small matter--nothing can destroy the excellence of the verses. I only
want to warn you against yielding to a temptation which will assail
you all your life--the temptation to "edit" your thought for somebody
whom it may pain. Be true to Truth and let all stand from under.

Yes, I think the quatrain that you wrote in Col. Eng's book good
enough to go in your own. But I'd keep "discerning," instead of
substituting "revering." In art discernment _carries_ reverence.

_Of course_ I expect to say something of Scheff's book, but in no
paper with which I have a present connection can I regularly "review"
it. Hearst's papers would give it incomparably the widest publicity,
but they don't want "reviews" from me. They have Millard, who has
already reviewed it--right well too--and Prof. Peck--who possibly
might review it if it were sent to him. "Prof. Harry Thurston Peck,
care of 'The American,' New York City." Mention it to Scheff. I'm
trying to find out what I can do.

I'm greatly pleased to observe your ability to estimate the relative
value of your own poems--a rare faculty. "To Imagination" is, _I_
think, the best of all your short ones.

I'm impatient for the book. It, too, I shall hope to write something
about. Sincerely yours,


[Navarre Hotel and Importation Co., Seventh Avenue and 38th St.,
 New York,
 December 26, 1903.]


A thousand cares have prevented my writing to you--and Scheff. And
this is to be a "busy day." But I want to say that I've not been
unmindful of your kindness in sending the book--which has hardly left
my pocket since I got it. And I've read nothing in it more than once,
excepting the "Testimony." _That_ I've studied, line by line--and
"precept by precept"--finding in it always "something rich and
strange." It is greater than I knew; it is the greatest "ever"!

I'm saying a few words about it in tomorrow's "American"--would that I
had a better place for what I say and more freedom of saying. But they
don't want, and won't have, "book reviews" from me; probably because I
will not undertake to assist their advertising publishers. So I have
to disguise my remarks and work up to them as parts of another topic.
In this case I have availed myself of my favorite "horrible example,"
Jim Riley, who ought to be proud to be mentioned on the same page with
you. After all, the remarks may not appear; I have the _littlest_
editor that ever blue-penciled whatever he thought particularly dear
to the writer. I'm here for only a few days, I hope.

       *       *       *       *       *

I want to say that you seem to me greatest when you have the greatest
subject--not flowers, women and all that,--but something above the
flower-and-woman belt--something that you see from altitudes from
which _they_ are unseen and unsmelled. Your poetry is incomparable
with that of our other poets, but your thought, philosophy,--that is
greater yet. But I'm writing this at a desk in the reading room of a
hotel; when I get home I'll write you again.

I'm concerned about your health, of which I get bad reports. Can't you
go to the mesas of New Mexico and round up cattle for a year or
two--or do anything that will permit, or compel, you to sleep
out-of-doors under your favorite stars--something that will _not_
permit you to enter a house for even ten minutes? You say no. Well,
some day you'll _have_ to--when it is too late--like Peterson, my
friend Charley Kaufman and so many others, who might be living if they
had gone into that country in time and been willing to make the
sacrifice when it would have done good. You can go _now_ as well as
_then_; and if now you'll come back well, if then, you'll not only
sacrifice your salary, "prospects," and so forth, but lose your life
as well. I _know_ that kind of life would cure you. I've talked with
dozens of men whom it did cure.

You'll die of consumption if you don't. Twenty-odd years ago I was
writing articles on the out-of-doors treatment for consumption.
Now--only just now--the physicians are doing the same, and
establishing out-of-door sanitaria for consumption.

You'll say you haven't consumption. I don't say that you have. But you
will have if you listen to yourself saying: "I can't do it." * * *

Pardon me, my friend, for this rough advice as to your personal
affairs: I am greatly concerned about you. Your life is precious to me
and to the world. Sincerely yours,


[Washington, D. C.,
 January 8, 1904.]


Thank you so much for the books and the inscription--which (as do all
other words of praise) affects me with a sad sense of my shortcomings
as writer and man. Things of that kind from too partial friends point
out to me with a disquieting significance what I ought to be; and the
contrast with what I am hurts. Maybe you feel enough that way
sometimes to understand. You are still young enough to profit by the
pain; _my_ character is made--_my_ opportunities are gone. But it does
not greatly matter--nothing does. I have some little testimony from
you and Scheff and others that I have not lived altogether in vain,
and I know that I have greater satisfaction in my slight connection
with your and their work than in my own. Also a better claim to the
attention and consideration of my fellow-men.

Never mind about the "slow sale" of my book; I did not expect it to be
otherwise, and my only regret grows out of the fear that some one may
lose money by the venture. _It is not to be you._ You know I am still
a little "in the dark" as to what _you_ have really done in the
matter. I wish you would tell me if any of your own money went into
it. The contract with Wood is all right; it was drawn according to my
instructions and I shall not even accept the small royalty allowed me
if anybody is to be "out." If _you_ are to be out I shall not only not
accept the royalty, but shall reimburse you to the last cent. Do you
mind telling me about all that? In any case don't "buy out Wood" and
don't pay out anything for advertising nor for anything else.

The silence of the reviewers does not trouble me, any more than it
would you. Their praise of my other books never, apparently, did me
any good. No book published in this country ever received higher
praise from higher sources than my first collection of yarns. But the
book was never a "seller," and doubtless never will be. That _I_ like
it fairly well is enough. You and I do not write books to sell; we
write--or rather publish--just because we like to. We've no right to
expect a profit from fun.

It is odd and amusing that you could have supposed that I had any
other reason for not writing to you than a fixed habit of
procrastination, some preoccupation with my small affairs and a very
burdensome correspondence. Probably you _could_ give me a grievance by
trying hard, but if you ever are conscious of not having tried you may
be sure that I haven't the grievance.

I should have supposed that the author of "Viverols" and several
excellent monographs on fish would have understood your poems. (O no;
I don't mean that your Muse is a mermaid.) Perhaps he did, but you
know how temperate of words men of science are by habit. Did you send
a book to Garrett Serviss? I should like to know what he thinks of the
"Testimony." As to Joaquin, it is his detestable habit, as it was
Longfellow's, to praise all poetry submitted to him, and he said of
Madge Morris's coyote poem the identical thing that he says of your
work. Sorry to disillusionize you, but it is so.

As to your health. You give me great comfort. * * * But it was not only
from Scheff that I had bad accounts of you and "your cough." Scheff,
indeed, has been reticent in the matter, but evidently anxious; and
you yourself have written despondently and "forecasted" an early
passing away. If nothing is the matter with you and your lungs some of
your friends are poor observers. I'm happy to have your testimony, and
beg to withdraw my project for your recovery. You whet my appetite for
that new poem. The lines

     "The blue-eyed vampire, sated at her feast,
     Smiles bloodily against the leprous moon"

give me the shivers. Gee! they're awful! Sincerely yours,


[Washington, D. C.,
 February 5, 1904.]


       *       *       *       *       *

You should not be irritated by the "conspiracy of silence" about me on
the part of the "Call," the "Argonaut" and other papers. Really my
enemies are under no obligation to return good for evil; I fear I
should not respect them if they did. * * *, his head still sore from
my many beatings of that "distracted globe," would be a comic figure
stammering his sense of my merit and directing attention to the
excellence of the literary wares on my shelf.

As to the pig of a public, its indifference to a diet of pearls--_our_
pearls--was not unknown to me, and truly it does not trouble me
anywhere except in the pocket. _That_ pig, too, is not much beholden
to me, who have pounded the snout of it all my life. Why should it
assist in the rite? Its indifference to _your_ work constitutes a new
provocation and calls for added whacks, but not its indifference to

The Ashton Stevens interview was charming. His finding you and Scheff
together seems too idyllic to be true--I thought it a fake. He put in
quite enough--too much--about me. As to Joaquin's hack at me--why,
that was magnanimity itself in one who, like most of us, does not
offset blame against praise, subtract the latter from the former and
find matter for thanks in the remainder. You know "what fools we
mortals be"; criticism that is not all honey is all vinegar. Nobody
has more delighted than I in pointing out the greatness of Joaquin's
great work; but nobody than I has more austerely condemned * * *,
his vanity and the general humbugery that makes his prose so
insupportable. Joaquin is a good fellow, all the same, and you should
not demand of him impossible virtues and a reach of reasonableness
that is alien to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have the books you kindly sent and have planted two or three in what
I think fertile soil which I hope will produce a small crop of

       *       *       *       *       *

And the poem![7] I hardly know how to speak of it. No poem in English
of equal length has so bewildering a wealth of imagination. Not
Spenser himself has flung such a profusion of jewels into so small a
casket. Why, man, it takes away the breath! I've read and reread--read
it for the expression and read it for the thought (always when I speak
of the "thought" in your work I mean the meaning--which is another
thing) and I shall read it many times more. And pretty soon I'll get
at it with my red ink and see if I can suggest anything worth your
attention. I fear not.

[7] "A Wine of Wizardry."

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

["New York American" Office, Washington, D. C.,
 February 29, 1904.]


I wrote you yesterday. Since then I have been rereading your letter. I
wish you would not say so much about what I have done for you, and how
much it was worth to you, and all that. I should be sorry to think
that I did not do a little for you--I tried to. But, my boy, you
should know that I don't keep that kind of service _on sale_.
Moreover, I'm amply repaid by what _you_ have done for _me_--I mean
with your pen. Do you suppose _I_ do not value such things? Does it
seem reasonable to think me unpleasured by those magnificent
dedicatory verses in your book? Is it nothing to me to be called
"Master" by such as you? Is my nature so cold that I have no pride in
such a pupil? There is no obligation in the matter--certainly none
that can be suffered to satisfy itself out of your pocket.

You greatly overestimate the sums I spend in "charity." I sometimes
help some poor devil of an unfortunate over the rough places, but not
to the extent that you seem to suppose. I couldn't--I've too many
regular, constant, _legitimate_ demands on me. Those, mostly, are what
keep me poor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Maybe you think it odd that I've not said a word in print about any of
your work except the "Testimony." It is not that I don't appreciate
the minor poems--I do. But I don't like to scatter; I prefer to hammer
on a single nail--to push one button until someone hears the bell.
When the "Wine" is published I'll have another poem that is not only
great, but striking--notable--to work on. However good, or even great,
a short poem with such a title as "Poesy," "Music," "To a Lily," "A
White Rose," and so forth, cannot be got into public attention. Some
longer and more notable work, of the grander manner, may _carry_ it,
but of itself it will not go. Even a bookful of its kind will not. Not
till you're famous.

Your letter regarding your brother (who has not turned up) was
needless--I could be of no assistance in procuring him employment.
I've tried so often to procure it for others, and so vainly, that
nobody could persuade me to try any more. I'm not fond of the
character of suppliant, nor of being "turned down" by the little men
who run this Government. Of course I'm not in favor with this
Administration, not only because of my connection with Democratic
newspapers, but because, also, I sometimes venture to dissent
openly from the doctrine of the divinity of those in high
station--particularly Teddy.

I'm sorry you find your place in the office intolerable. That is "the
common lot of all" who work for others. I have chafed under the yoke
for many years--a heavier yoke, I think, than yours. It does not fit
my neck anywhere. Some day perhaps you and I will live on adjoining
ranches in the mountains--or in adjoining caves--"the world
forgetting, by the world forgot." I have really been on the point of
hermitizing lately, but I guess I'll have to continue to live like a
reasonable human being a little longer until I can release myself with
a conscience void of offense to my creditors and dependents. But "the
call of the wild" sounds, even in my dreams.

You ask me if you should write in "A Wine of Wizardry" vein, or in
that of "The Testimony of the Suns." Both. I don't know in which you
have succeeded the better. And I don't know anyone who has succeeded
better in either. To succeed in both is a marvelous performance. You
may say that the one is fancy, the other imagination, which is true,
but not the whole truth. The "Wine" has as true imagination as the
other, and fancy into the bargain. I like your grandiose manner, and I
like the other as well. In terms of another art I may say--rear great
towers and domes. Carve, also, friezes. But I'd not bother to cut
single finials and small decorations. However exquisite the
workmanship, they are not worth your present attention. If you were a
painter (as, considering your wonderful sense of color, you doubtless
could have been) your large canvases would be your best.

       *       *       *       *       *

I don't care if that satire of Josephare refers to me or not; it was
good. He may jump on me if he wants to--I don't mind. All I ask is
that he do it well.

       *       *       *       *       *

I passed yesterday with Percival Pollard, viewing the burnt district
of Baltimore. He's a queer duck whom I like, and he likes your work.
I'm sending you a copy of "The Papyrus," with his "rehabilitation" of
the odious Oscar Wilde. Wilde's work is all right, but what can one do
with the work of one whose name one cannot speak before women?

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 April 19, 1904.]


The "belatedness" of your letter only made _me_ fear that _I_ had
offended _you_. Odd that we should have such views of each other's

About Wood. No doubt that he is doing all that he can, but--well, he
is not a publisher. For example: He sent forty or fifty "Shapes" here.
They lie behind a counter at the bookseller's--not even _on_ the
counter. There are probably not a dozen persons of my acquaintance in
Washington who know that I ever wrote a book. Now _how_ are even these
to know about _that_ book? The bookseller does not advertise the books
he has on sale and the public does not go rummaging behind his
counters. A publisher's methods are a bit different, naturally.

Only for your interest I should not care if my books sold or not; they
exist and will not be destroyed; every book will eventually get to

       *       *       *       *       *

It seems to be a matter for you to determine--whether Wood continues
to try to sell the book or it is put in other hands if he is ever
tired of it. Remember, I don't care a rap what happens to the book
except as a means of reimbursing you; I want no money and I want no
glory. If you and Wood can agree, do in all things as you please.

I return Wood's letters; they show what I knew before: that the public
and the librarians would not buy that book. Let us discuss this matter
no more, but at some time in the future you tell me how much you are
out of pocket.

_Your_ book shows that a fellow can get a good deal of glory with very
little profit. You are now famous--at least on the Pacific Coast; but
I fancy you are not any "for'arder" in the matter of wealth than you
were before. I too have some reputation--a little wider, as yet, than
yours. Well, my work sells tremendously--in Mr. Hearst's newspapers,
at the price of a small fraction of one cent! Offered by itself, in
one-dollar and two-dollar lots, it tempts nobody to fall over his own
feet in the rush to buy. A great trade, this of ours!

I note with interest the "notices" you send. The one by Monahan is
amusing with its gabble about your "science." To most men, as to him,
a mention of the stars suggests astronomy, with its telescopes,
spectroscopes and so forth. Therefore it is "scientific." To tell such
men that there is nothing of science in your poem would puzzle them

I don't think poor Lang meant to do anything but his best and
honestest. He is a rather clever and rather small fellow and not to be
blamed for the limitations of his insight. I have repeatedly pointed
out in print that it requires genius to discern genius at first hand.
Lang has written almost the best, if not quite the best, sonnet in the
language--yet he is no genius.

       *       *       *       *       *

Why, of course--why should you not help the poor devil, * * *; I used
to help him myself--introduced him to the public and labored to
instruct him. Then--but it is unspeakable and so is he. He will bite
your hand if you feed him, but I think I'd throw a crust to him

       *       *       *       *       *

No, I don't agree with you about Homer, nor "stand for" your implied
view that narrative poetry is not "pure poetry." Poetry seems to me to
speak with a thousand voices--"a various language." The miners have a
saying: "Gold is where you find it." So is poetry; I'm expecting to
find it some fine day in the price list of a grocery store. I fancy
_you_ could put it there.

       *       *       *       *       *

As to Goethe, the more you read him, the better you will love Heine.

Thank you for "A Wine of Wizardry"--amended. It seems to me that the
fake dictum of "Merlin-sage" (I don't quite perceive the necessity of
the hyphen) is better than the hackneyed Scriptural quotation. It is
odd, but my recollection is that it was the "sick enchantress" who
cried "unto Betelgeuse a mystic word." Was it not so in the copy that
I first had, or do I think so merely because the cry of one is more
lone and awful than the cry of a number?

I am still of the belief that the poem should have at least a few
breaks in it, for I find myself as well as the public more or less--I,
doubtless, less than the public--indisposed to tackle solid columns
of either verse or prose. I told you this poem "took away one's
breath,"--give a fellow, can't you, a chance to recover it now and

     "Space to breathe, how short soever."

Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done, on earth as it is in San
Francisco. Sincerely yours, AMBROSE BIERCE.

[Washington, D. C.,
 May 11, 1904.]


To begin at the beginning, I shall of course be pleased to meet
Josephare if he come this way; if only to try to solve the problem of
what is in a fellow who started so badly and in so short a time was
running well, with a prospect of winning "a place." Byron, you know,
was the same way and Tennyson not so different. Still their start was
not so bad as Josephare's. I freely confess that I thought him a fool.
It is "one on me."

       *       *       *       *       *

I wonder if a London house would publish "Shapes of Clay."
Occasionally a little discussion about me breaks out in the London
press, blazes up for a little while and "goes up in smoke." I enclose
some evidences of the latest one--which you may return if you remember
to do so. The letter of "a deeply disappointed man" was one of
rollicking humor suggested by some articles of Barr about me and a
private intimation from him that I should publish some more books in

Yes, I've dropped "The Passing Show" again, for the same old
reason--wouldn't stand the censorship of my editor. I'm writing for
the daily issues of The American, mainly, and, as a rule, anonymously.
It's "dead easy" work.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is all right--that "cry unto Betelgeuse"; the "sick enchantress"
passage is good enough without it. I like the added lines of the poem.
Here's another criticism: The "Without" and "Within," beginning the
first and third lines, respectively, _seem_ to be antithetic, when
they are not, the latter having the sense of "into," which I think
might, for clearness, be substituted for it without a displeasing
break of the metre--a trochee for an iambus.

Why should I not try "The Atlantic" with this poem?--if you have not
already done so. I could write a brief note about it, saying what
_you_ could not say, and possibly winning attention to the work. If
you say so I will. It is impossible to imagine a magazine editor
rejecting that amazing poem. I have read it at least twenty times with
ever increasing admiration.

Your book, by the way, is still my constant companion--I carry it in
my pocket and read it over and over, in the street cars and
everywhere. _All_ the poems are good, though the "Testimony" and
"Memorial Day" are supreme--the one in grandeur, the other in feeling.

I send you a criticism in a manuscript letter from a friend who
complains of your "obscurity," as many have the candor to do. It
requires candor to do that, for the fault is in the critic's
understanding. Still, one who understands Shakspeare and Milton is not
without standing as a complaining witness in the court of literature.

       *       *       *       *       *

My favorite translation of Homer is that of Pope, of whom it is the
present fashion to speak disparagingly, as it is of Byron. I know all
that can be said against them, and say _some_ of it myself, but I wish
their detractors had a little of their brains. I know too that Pope's
translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey are rather paraphrases than
translations. But I love them just the same, while wondering (with
you, doubtless) what so profoundly affected Keats when he "heard
Chapman speak out loud and bold." Whatever it was, it gave us what
Coleridge pronounced the best sonnet in our language; and Lang's
admiration of Homer has given us at least the next best. Of course
there must be something in poems that produce poems--in a poet whom
most poets confess their king. I hold (with Poe) that there is no such
thing as a _long_ poem--a poem of the length of an Epic. It must
consist of poetic passages connected by _recitativo_, to use an opera
word; but it is perhaps better for that. If the writer cannot write
"sustained" poetry the reader probably could not read it. Anyhow, I
vote for Homer.

I am passing well, but shall soon seek the mountains, though I hope to
be here when Scheff points his prow this way. Would that you were
sailing with him!

I've been hearing all about all of you, for Eva Crawford has been
among you "takin' notes," and Eva's piquant comments on what and whom
she sees are delicious reading. I should suppose that _you_ would
appreciate Eva--most persons don't. She is the best letter writer of
her sex--who are all good letter writers--and she is much beside. I
may venture to whisper that you'd find her estimate of your work and
personality "not altogether displeasing."

Now that I'm about such matters, I shall enclose a note to my friend
Dr. Robertson, who runs an insanery at Livermore and is an interesting
fellow with a ditto family and a library that will make you pea-green
with envy. Go out and see him some day and take Scheff, or any friend,
along--he wants to know you. You won't mind the facts that he thinks
all poetry the secretion of a diseased brain, and that the only
reason he doesn't think all brains (except his own) diseased is the
circumstance that not all secrete poetry.

       *       *       *       *       *

Seriously, he is a good fellow and full of various knowledges that
most of us wot not of.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 June 14, 1904.]


I have a letter from * * *, who is in St. Louis, to which his progress
has been more leisurely than I liked, considering that I am remaining
away from my mountains only to meet him. However, he intimates an
intention to come in a week. I wish you were with him.

I am sending the W. of W. to Scribner's, as you suggest, and if it is
not taken shall try the other mags in the order of your preference.
But it's funny that you--_you_--should prefer the "popular" magazines
and wish the work "illustrated." Be assured the illustrations will
shock you if you get them.

       *       *       *       *       *

I understand what you say about being bored by the persons whom your
work in letters brings about your feet. The most _contented_ years of
my life lately were the two or three that I passed here before
Washington folk found out that I was an author. The fact has leaked
out, and although not a soul of them buys and reads my books some of
them bore me insupportably with their ignorant compliments and
unwelcome attentions. I fancy I'll have to "move on."

Tell Maid Marian to use gloves when modeling, or the clay will enter
into her soul through her fingers and she become herself a Shape of
Clay. My notion is that she should work in a paste made of
ashes-of-roses moistened with nectar.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

P.S. Does it bore you that I like you to know my friends? Professor
* * *'s widow (and daughter) are very dear to me. She knows about you,
and I've written her that I'd ask you to call on her. You'll like them
all right, but I have another purpose. I want to know how they
prosper; and they are a little reticent about that. Maybe you could
ascertain indirectly by seeing how they live. I asked Grizzly to do
this but of course he didn't, the shaggy brute that he is.

     A. B.

[Haines' Falls, Greene Co., N. Y.,
 August 4, 1904.]


I haven't written a letter, except on business, since leaving
Washington, June 30--no, not since Scheff's arrival there. I now
return to earth, and my first call is on you.

You'll be glad to know that I'm having a good time here in the
Catskills. I shall not go back so long as I can find an open hotel.

       *       *       *       *       *

I should like to hear from you about our--or rather your--set in
California, and especially about _you_. Do you still dally with the
Muse? Enclosed you will find two damning evidences of additional
incapacity. _Harper's_ now have "A Wine of Wizardry," and they too
will indubitably turn it down. I shall then try _The Atlantic_, where
it should have gone in the first place; and I almost expect its

I'm not working much--just loafing on my cottage porch; mixing an
occasional cocktail; infesting the forests, knife in hand, in pursuit
of the yellow-birch sapling that furnishes forth the walking stick
like yours; and so forth. I knocked off work altogether for a month
when Scheff came, and should like to do so for _you_. Are you never
going to visit the scenes of your youth?

       *       *       *       *       *

It is awfully sad--that latest visit of Death to the heart and home of
poor Katie Peterson. Will you kindly assure her of my sympathy?

Love to all the Piedmontese. Sincerely yours,


[Haines' Falls, Greene Co., N. Y.,
 August 27, 1904.]


First, thank you for the knife and the distinction of membership in
the Ancient and Honorable Order of Knifers. I have made little use of
the blades and other appliances, but the corkscrew is in constant use.

I'm enclosing a little missive from the editor of _Harper's_. Please
reserve these things awhile and sometime I may ask them of you to
"point a moral or adorn a tale" about that poem. If we can't get it
published I'd like to write for some friendly periodical a review of
an unpublished poem, with copious extracts and a brief history of it.
I think that would be unique.

I find the pictures of Marian interesting, but have the self-denial to
keep only one of them--the prettiest one of course. Your own is rather
solemn, but it will do for the title page of the Testimony, which is
still my favorite reading.

Scheff showed me your verses on Katie's baby, and Katie has since sent
them. They are very tender and beautiful. I would not willingly spare
any of your "personal" poems--least of all, naturally, the one
personal to me. Your success with them is exceptional. Yet the habit
of writing them is perilous, as the many failures of great poets
attest--Milton, for example, in his lines to Syriack Skinner, his
lines to a baby that died a-bornin' and so forth. The reason is
obvious, and you have yourself, with sure finger, pointed it out:

     "Remiss the ministry they bear
       Who serve her with divided heart;
       She stands reluctant to impart
     Her strength to purpose, end, or care."

When one is intent upon pleasing some mortal, one is less intent upon
pleasing the immortal Muse. All this is said only by way of admonition
for the future, not in criticism of the past. I'm a sinner myself in
that way, but then I'm not a saint in any way, so my example doesn't

I don't mind * * * calling me a "dignified old gentleman"--indeed,
that is what I have long aspired to be, but have succeeded only in the
presence of strangers, and not always then. * * *

(I forgot to say that your poem is now in the hands of the editor of
the Atlantic.)

Your determination to "boom" me almost frightens me. Great Scott!
you've no notion of the magnitude of the task you undertake; the
labors of Hercules were as nothing to it. Seriously, don't make any
enemies that way; it is not worth while. And you don't know how
comfortable I am in my obscurity. It is like being in "the shadow of a
great rock in a weary land."

How goes the no sale of Shapes of Clay? I am slowly saving up a bit of
money to recoup your friendly outlay. That's a new thing for me to
do--the saving, I mean--and I rather enjoy the sensation. If it
results in making a miser of me you will have to answer for it to
many a worthy complainant.

Get thee behind me, Satan!--it is not possible for me to go to
California yet. For one thing, my health is better here in the East; I
have utterly escaped asthma this summer, and summer is my only "sickly
season" here. In California I had the thing at any time o' year--even
at Wright's. But it is my hope to end my days out there.

I don't think Millard was too hard on Kipling; it was no "unconscious"
plagiarism; just a "straight steal."

About Prentice Mulford. I knew him but slightly and used to make mild
fun of him as "Dismal Jimmy." That expressed my notion of his
character and work, which was mostly prose platitudes. I saw him last
in London, a member of the Joaquin Miller-Charles Warren
Stoddard-Olive Harper outfit at 11 Museum Street, Bloomsbury Square.
He married there a fool girl named Josie--forget her other name--with
whom I think he lived awhile in hell, then freed himself, and some
years afterward returned to this country and was found dead one
morning in a boat at Sag Harbor. Peace to the soul of him. No, he was
not a faker, but a conscientious fellow who mistook his vocation.

My friends have returned to Washington, but I expect to remain here a
few weeks yet, infesting the woods, devastating the mountain larders,
supervising the sunsets and guiding the stars in their courses. Then
to New York, and finally to Washington. Please get busy with that fame
o' yours so as to have the wealth to come and help me loaf.

I hope you don't mind the typewriter--_I_ don't.

Convey my love to all the sweet ladies of your entourage and make my
compliments also to the Gang. Sincerely yours,


 October 5, 1904.]


Your latest was dated Sept. 10. I got it while alone in the mountains,
but since then I have been in New York City and at West Point
and--here. New York is too strenuous for me; it gets on my nerves.

       *       *       *       *       *

Please don't persuade me to come to California--I mean don't _try_ to,
for I can't, and it hurts a little to say nay. There's a big bit of my
heart there, but--O never mind the reasons; some of them would not
look well on paper. One of them I don't mind telling; I would not live
in a state under union labor rule. There is still one place where the
honest American laboring man is not permitted to cut throats and strip
bodies of women at his own sweet will. That is the District of

I am anxious to read Lilith; please complete it.

I have another note of rejection for you. It is from * * *. Knowing
that you will not bank on what he says about the Metropolitan, I
enclose it. I've acted on his advising and sent the poem. It is about
time for it to come back. Then I shall try the other magazines until
the list is exhausted.

Did I return your Jinks verses? I know I read them and meant to send
them back, but my correspondence and my papers are in such hopeless
disorder that I'm all at sea on these matters. For aught I know I may
have elaborately "answered" the letter that I think myself to be
answering now. I liked the verses very temperately, not madly.

Of course you are right about the magazine editors not knowing poetry
when they see it. But who does? I have not known more than a
half-dozen persons in America that did, and none of them edited a

       *       *       *       *       *

No, I did not write the "Urus-Agricola-Acetes stuff," though it was
written _for_ me and, I believe, at my suggestion. The author was
"Jimmy" Bowman, of whose death I wrote a sonnet which is in Black
Beetles. He and I used to have a lot of fun devising literary
mischiefs, fighting sham battles with each other and so forth. He was
a clever chap and a good judge of whiskey.

Yes, in The Cynic's Dictionary I did "jump from A to M." I had
previously done the stuff in various papers as far as M, then lost the
beginning. So in resuming I re-did that part (quite differently, of
course) in order to have the thing complete if I should want to make a
book of it. I guess the Examiner isn't running much of it, nor much of
anything of mine.

       *       *       *       *       *

I like your love of Keats and the early Coleridge.

     Sincerely yours,

[The N. Y. American Office, Washington, D. C.,
 October 12, 1904.]


The "bad eminence" of turning down Sterling's great poem is one that
you will have to share with some of your esteemed fellow
magazinists--for examples, the editors of the Atlantic, Harper's,
Scribner's, The Century, and now the Metropolitan, all of the élite.
All of these gentlemen, I believe, profess, as you do not, to know
literature when they see it, and to deal in it.

Well I profess to deal in it in a small way, and if Sterling will let
me I propose some day to ask judgment between them and me.

Even _you_ ask for literature--if my stories are literature, as you
are good enough to imply. (By the way, all the leading publishers of
the country turned down that book until they saw it published without
them by a merchant in San Francisco and another sort of publishers in
London, Leipzig and Paris.) Well, you wouldn't do a thing to one of my

No, thank you; if I have to write rot, I prefer to do it for the
newspapers, which make no false pretences and are frankly rotten, and
in which the badness of a bad thing escapes detection or is forgotten
as soon as it is cold.

I know how to write a story (of the "happy ending" sort) for magazine
readers for whom literature is too good, but I will not do so so long
as stealing is more honorable and interesting.

I've offered you the best stuff to be had--Sterling's poem--and the
best that I am able to make; and now you must excuse me. I do not
doubt that you really think that you would take "the kind of fiction
that made 'Soldiers and Civilians' the most readable book of its kind
in this country," and it is nice of you to put it that way; but
neither do I doubt that you would find the story sent a different kind
of fiction and, like the satire which you return to me, "out of the
question." An editor who has a preformed opinion of the kind of stuff
that he is going to get will always be disappointed with the stuff
that he does get.

I know this from my early experience as an editor--before I learned
that what I needed was, not any particular kind of stuff, but just the
stuff of a particular kind of writer.

All this without any feeling, and only by way of explaining why I must
ask you to excuse me.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 December 6, 1904.]


       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, I got and read that fool thing in the August Critic. I found in
it nothing worse than stupidity--no malice. Doubtless you have not
sounded the deeper deeps of stupidity in critics, and so are driven to
other motives to explain their unearthly errors. I know from my own
experience of long ago how hard it is to accept abominable criticism,
obviously (to the criticee) unfair, without attributing a personal
mean motive; but the attribution is nearly always erroneous, even in
the case of a writer with so many personal enemies as I. You will do
well to avoid that weakness of the tyro. * * * has the infirmity in an
apparently chronic form. Poets, by reason of the sensibilities that
_make_ them poets, are peculiarly liable to it. I can't see any
evidence that the poor devil of the Critic knew better.

The Wine of Wizardry is at present at the Booklovers'. It should have
come back ere this, but don't you draw any happy augury from that: I'm
sure they'll turn it down, and am damning them in advance.

I had a postal from * * * a few days ago. He was in Paris. I've
written him only once, explaining by drawing his attention to the fact
that one's reluctance to write a letter increases in the ratio of the
square of the distance it has to go. I don't know why that is so, but
it is--at least in my case.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, I'm in perfect health, barring a bit of insomnia at times, and
enjoy life as much as I ever did--except when in love and the love
prospering; that is to say, when it was new.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 December 8, 1904.]


This is the worst yet! This jobbernowl seems to think "The Wine of
Wizardry" a story. It should "arrive" and be "dramatic"--the
denouement being, I suppose, a particularly exciting example of the
"happy ending."

My dear fellow, I'm positively ashamed to throw your pearls before any
more of these swine, and I humbly ask your pardon for having done it
at all. I guess the "Wine" will have to await the publication of your
next book.

But I'd like to keep this fellow's note if you will kindly let me have
it. Sometime, when the poem is published, I shall paste it into a
little scrap book, with all the notes of rejection, and then if I know
a man or two capable of appreciating the humor of the thing I can make
merry over it with them.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 My permanent address,
 February 18, 1905.]


It's a long time since the date of your latest letter, but I've been
doing two men's work for many weeks and have actually not found the
leisure to write to my friends. As it is the first time that I've
worked really hard for several years I ought not to complain, and
don't. But I hope it will end with this session of Congress.

I think I did not thank you for the additional copies of your new
book--the new edition. I wish it contained the new poem, "A Wine of
Wizardry." I've given up trying to get it into anything. I related my
failure to Mackay, of "Success," and he asked to be permitted to see
it. "No," I replied, "you too would probably turn it down, and I will
take no chances of losing the respect that I have for you." And I'd
not show it to him. He declared his intention of getting it,
though--which was just what I wanted him to do. But I dare say he

Yes, you sent me "The Sea Wolf." My opinion of it? Certainly--or a
part of it. It is a most disagreeable book, as a whole. London has a
pretty bad style and no sense of proportion. The story is a perfect
welter of disagreeable incidents. Two or three (of the kind) would
have sufficed to _show_ the character of the man Larsen; and his own
self-revealings by word of mouth would have "done the rest." Many of
these incidents, too, are impossible--such as that of a man mounting a
ladder with a dozen other men--more or less--hanging to his leg, and
the hero's work of rerigging a wreck and getting it off a beach where
it had stuck for weeks, and so forth. The "love" element, with its
absurd suppressions and impossible proprieties, is awful. I confess to
an overwhelming contempt for both the sexless lovers.

Now as to the merits. It is a rattling good story in one way;
something is "going on" all the time--not always what one would wish,
but _something_. One does not go to sleep over the book. But the great
thing--and it is among the greatest of things--is that tremendous
creation, Wolf Larsen. If that is not a permanent addition to
literature, it is at least a permanent figure in the memory of the
reader. You "can't lose" Wolf Larsen. He will be with you to the end.
So it does not really matter how London has hammered him into you. You
may quarrel with the methods, but the result is almost incomparable.
The hewing out and setting up of such a figure is enough for a man to
do in one life-time. I have hardly words to impart my good judgment of
_that_ work.

       *       *       *       *       *

That is a pretty picture of Phyllis as Cleopatra--whom I think you
used to call "the angel child"--as the Furies were called Eumenides.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm enclosing a review of your book in the St. Louis "Mirror," a paper
always kindly disposed toward our little group of gifted obscurians. I
thought you might not have seen it; and it is worth seeing. Percival
Pollard sends it me; and to him we owe our recognition by the

I hope you prosper apace. I mean mentally and spiritually; all other
prosperity is trash.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 April 17, 1905.]


I've reached your letter on my file. I wonder that I did, for truly
I'm doing a lot of work--mostly of the pot-boiler, newspaper sort,
some compiling of future--probably _very_ future--books and a little
for posterity.

Valentine has not returned the "Wine of Wizardry," but I shall tell
him to in a few days and will then try it on the magazines you
mention. If that fails I can see no objection to offering it to the
English periodicals.

I don't know about Mackay. He has a trifle of mine which he was going
to run months ago. He didn't and I asked it back. He returned it and
begged that it go back to him for immediate publication. It went back,
but publication did not ensue. In many other ways he has been
exceedingly kind. Guess he can't always have his way.

       *       *       *       *       *

I read that other book to the bitter end--the "Arthur Sterling" thing.
He is the most disagreeable character in fiction, though Marie
Bashkirtseff and Mary McLean in real life could give him cards and
spades. Fancy a poet, or any kind of writer, whom it hurts to think!
What the devil are his agonies all about--his writhings and twistings
and foaming at all his mouths? What would a poem by an intellectual
epileptic like that be? Happily the author spares us quotation. I
suppose there are Arthur Sterlings among the little fellows, but if
genius is not serenity, fortitude and reasonableness I don't know what
it is. One cannot even imagine Shakespeare or Goethe bleeding over his
work and howling when "in the fell clutch of circumstance." The great
ones are figured in my mind as ever smiling--a little sadly at times,
perhaps, but always with conscious inaccessibility to the pinpricking
little Titans that would storm their Olympus armed with ineffectual
disasters and pop-gun misfortunes. Fancy a fellow wanting, like Arthur
Sterling, to be supported by his fellows in order that he may write
what they don't want to read! Even Jack London would gag at such
Socialism as _that_.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm going to pass a summer month or two with the Pollards, at
Saybrook, Conn. How I wish you could be of the party. But I suppose
you'll be chicken-ranching then, and happy enough where you are. I
wish you joy of the venture and, although I fear it means a meagre
living, it will probably be more satisfactory than doubling over a
desk in your uncle's office. The very name Carmel Bay is enchanting.
I've a notion I shall see that ranch some day. I don't quite recognize
the "filtered-through-the-emasculated-minds-of-about-six-fools"
article from which you say I quote--don't remember it, nor remember
quoting from it.

I don't wonder at your surprise at my high estimate of Longfellow in a
certain article. It is higher than my permanent one. I was thinking
(while writing for a newspaper, recollect) rather of his fame than of
his genius--I had to have a literary equivalent to Washington or
Lincoln. Still, we must not forget that Longfellow wrote "Chrysaor"
and, in narrative poetry (which you don't care for) "Robert of
Sicily." Must one be judged by his average, or may he be judged, on
occasion, by his highest? He is strongest who can lift the greatest
weight, not he who habitually lifts lesser ones.

As to your queries. So far as I know, Realf _did_ write his great
sonnets on the night of his death. Anyhow, they were found with the
body. Your recollection that I said they were written before he came
to the Coast is faulty. Some of his other things were in print when he
submitted them to me (and took pay for them) as new; but not the "De

I got the lines about the echoes (I _think_ they go this way:

                             "the loon
     Laughed, and the echoes, huddling in affright,
     Like Odin's hounds went baying down the night")

from a poem entitled, I think, "The Washers of the Shroud." I found it
in the "Atlantic," in the summer of 1864, while at home from the war
suffering from a wound, and--disgraceful fact!--have never seen nor
heard of it since. If the magazine was a current number, as I suppose,
it should be easy to find the poem. If you look it up tell me about
it. I don't even know the author--had once a vague impression that it
was Lowell but don't know.

The compound "mulolatry," which I made in "Ashes of the Beacon," would
not, of course, be allowable in composition altogether serious. I used
it because I could not at the moment think of the right word,
"gyneolatry," or "gynecolatry," according as you make use of the
nominative or the accusative. I once made "caniolatry" for a similar
reason--just laziness. It's not nice to do things o' that kind, even
in newspapers.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had intended to write you something of "beesness," but time is up
and it must wait. This letter is insupportably long already.

My love to Carrie and Katie. Sincerely yours,


[Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 May 16, 1905.]


Bailey Millard is editor of "The Cosmopolitan Magazine," which Mr.
Hearst has bought. I met him in New York two weeks ago. He had just
arrived and learning from Hearst that I was in town looked me up. I
had just recommended him to Hearst as editor. He had intended him for
associate editor. I think that will give you a chance, such as it is.
Millard dined with me and I told him the adventures of "A Wine of
Wizardry." I shall send it to him as soon as he has warmed his seat,
unless you would prefer to send it yourself. He already knows my whole
good opinion of it, and he shares my good opinion of you.

I suppose you are at your new ranch, but I shall address this letter
as usual.

       *       *       *       *       *

If you hear of my drowning know that it is the natural (and desirable)
result of the canoe habit. I've a dandy canoe and am tempting fate and
alarming my friends by frequenting, not the margin of the upper river,
but the broad reaches below town, where the wind has miles and miles
of sweep and kicks up a most exhilarating combobbery. If I escape I'm
going to send my boat up to Saybrook, Connecticut, and navigate Long
Island Sound.

Are you near enough to the sea to do a bit of boating now and then?
When I visit you I shall want to bring my canoe.

I've nearly given up my newspaper work, but shall do something each
month for the Magazine. Have not done much yet--have not been in the
mind. Death has been striking pretty close to me again, and you know
how that upsets a fellow.

     Sincerely yours,

 June 16, 1905.]


I'm your debtor for two good long letters. You err in thinking your
letters, of whatever length and frequency, can be otherwise than
delightful to me.

No, you had not before sent me Upton Sinclair's article explaining why
American literature is "bourgeois." It is amusingly grotesque. The
political and economical situation has about as much to do with it as
have the direction of our rivers and the prevailing color of our hair.
But it is of the nature of the faddist (and of all faddists the ultra
socialist is the most untamed by sense) to see in everything his
hobby, with its name writ large. He is the humorist of observers. When
Sinclair transiently forgets his gospel of the impossible he can see
well enough.

I note what you say of * * * and know that he did not use to like me,
though I doubt if he ever had any antipathy to you. Six or eight years
ago I tackled him on a particularly mean fling that he had made at me
while I was absent from California. (I think I had not met him
before.) I told him, rather coarsely, what I thought of the matter. He
candidly confessed himself in the wrong, expressed regret and has
ever since, so far as I know, been just and even generous to me. I
think him sincere now, and enclose a letter which seems to show it.
You may return it if you will--I send it mainly because it concerns
your poem. The trouble--our trouble--with * * * is that he has
voluntarily entered into slavery to the traditions and theories of the
magazine trade, which, like those of all trades, are the product of
small men. The big man makes his success by ignoring them. Your
estimate of * * * I'm not disposed to quarrel with, but do think him
pretty square.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bless you, don't take the trouble to go through the Iliad and Odyssey
to pick out the poetical parts. I grant you they are brief and
infrequent--I mean in the translation. I hold, with Poe, that there
are no long poems--only bursts of poetry in long spinnings of metrical
prose. But even the "recitativo" of the translated Grecian poets has a
charm to one that it may not have to another. I doubt if anyone who
has always loved "the glory that was Greece"--who has been always in
love with its jocund deities, and so forth, can say accurately just
how much of his joy in Homer (for example) is due to love of poetry,
and how much to a renewal of mental youth and young illusions. Some
part of the delight that we get from verse defies analysis and
classification. Only a man without a memory (and memories) could say
just what pleased him in poetry and be sure that it was the poetry
only. For example, I never read the opening lines of the Pope
Iliad--and I don't need the book for much of the first few hundred, I
guess--without seeming to be on a sunny green hill on a cold windy
day, with the bluest of skies above me and billows of pasture below,
running to a clean-cut horizon. There's nothing in the text
warranting that illusion, which is nevertheless to me a _part_ of the
Iliad; a most charming part, too. It all comes of my having first read
the thing under such conditions at the age of about ten. I _remember_
that; but how many times I must be powerfully affected by the poets
_without_ remembering why. If a fellow could cut out all that
extrinsic interest he would be a fool to do so. But he would be a
better critic.

You ought to be happy in the contemplation of a natural, wholesome
life at Carmel Bay--the "prospect pleases," surely. But I fear, I
fear. Maybe you can get a newspaper connection that will bring you in
a small income without compelling you to do violence to your literary
conscience. I doubt if you can get your living out of the ground. But
I shall watch the experiment with sympathetic interest, for it
"appeals" to me. I'm a trifle jaded with age and the urban life, and
maybe if you can succeed in that other sort of thing I could.

       *       *       *       *       *

As to * * * the Superb. Isn't Sag Harbor somewhere near Saybrook,
Connecticut, at the mouth of the river of that name? I'm going there
for a month with Percival Pollard. Shall leave here about the first of
July. If Sag Harbor is easily accessible from there, and * * * would
care to see me, I'll go and call on her. * * * But maybe I'd fall in
love with her and, being now (alas) eligible, just marry her
alive!--or be turned down by her, to the unspeakable wrecking of my
peace! I'm only a youth--63 on the 24th of this month--and it would be
too bad if I got started wrong in life. But really I don't know about
the good taste of being jocular about * * *. I'm sure she must be a
serious enough maiden, with the sun of a declining race yellow on her
hair. Eva Crawford thinks her most lovable--and Eva has a clear,
considering eye upon you all.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm going to send up my canoe to Saybrook and challenge the rollers of
the Sound. Don't you fear--I'm an expert canoeist from boyhood. * * *


[Washington, D. C.,
 December 3, 1905.]


I have at last the letter that I was waiting for--didn't answer the
other, for one of mine was on the way to you.

       *       *       *       *       *

You need not worry yourself about your part of the business. You have
acted "mighty white," as was to have been expected of you; and, caring
little for any other feature of the matter, I'm grateful to you for
giving my pessimism and growing disbelief in human disinterestedness a
sound wholesome thwack on the mazzard.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, I was sorry to whack London, for whom, in his character as
author, I have a high admiration, and in that of publicist and
reformer a deep contempt. Even if he had been a personal friend, I
should have whacked him, and doubtless much harder. I'm not one of
those who give their friends carte blanche to sin. If my friend
dishonors himself he dishonors me; if he makes a fool of himself he
makes a fool of me--which another cannot do.

       *       *       *       *       *

Your description of your new environment, in your other letter, makes
me "homesick" to see it. I cordially congratulate you and Mrs.
Sterling on having the sense to do what I have always been too
indolent to do--namely as you please. Guess I've been always too busy
"warming both hands before the fire of life." And now, when

   "It sinks and I am ready to depart,"

I find that the damned fire was in _me_ and ought to have been
quenched with a dash of cold sense. I'm having my canoe decked and
yawl-rigged for deep water and live in the hope of being drowned
according to the dictates of my conscience.

By way of proving my power of self-restraint I'm going to stop this
screed with a whole page unused.

     Sincerely yours, as ever,

[Washington, D. C.,
 February 3, 1906.]


I don't know why I've not written to you--that is, I don't know why
God made me what I have the misfortune to be: a sufferer from

       *       *       *       *       *

I have read Mary Austin's book with unexpected interest. It is
pleasing exceedingly. You may not know that I'm familiar with the
_kind_ of country she writes of, and reading the book was like
traversing it again. But the best of her is her style. That is
delicious. It has a slight "tang" of archaism--just enough to suggest
"lucent sirups tinct with cinnamon," or the "spice and balm" of
Miller's sea-winds. And what a knack at observation she has! Nothing
escapes her eye. Tell me about her. What else has she written? What is
she going to write? If she is still young she will do great work; if
not--well, she _has_ done it in that book. But she'll have to hammer
and hammer again and again before the world will hear and heed.

As to me I'm pot-boiling. My stuff in the N. Y. American (I presume
that the part of it that you see is in the Examiner) is mere piffle,
written without effort, purpose or care. My department in the
Cosmopolitan is a failure, as I told Millard it would be. It is
impossible to write topical stuff for a magazine. How can one discuss
with heart or inspiration a thing that happens two months or so before
one's comments on it will be read? The venture and the title were
Hearst's notion, but the title so handicaps me that I can do nothing
right. I shall drop it.

I've done three little stories for the March number (they may be
postponed) that are ghastly enough to make a pig squeal.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 March 12, 1906.]


First, about the "Wine," I dislike the "privately printed" racket. Can
you let the matter wait a little longer? Neale has the poem, and Neale
is just now inaccessible to letters, somewhere in the South in the
interest of his magazine-that-is-to-be. I called when in New York, but
he had flown and I've been unable to reach him; but he is due here on
the 23rd. Then if his mag is going to hold fire, or if he doesn't want
the poem for it, let Robertson or Josephare have a hack at it.

Barr is amusing. I don't care to have a copy of his remarks.

About the pirating of my stories. That is a matter for Chatto and
Windus, who bought the English copyright of the book from which that
one story came. I dare say, though, the publication was done by
arrangement with them. Anyhow my interests are not involved.

I was greatly interested in your account of Mrs. Austin. She's a
clever woman and should write a good novel--if there is such a thing
as a good novel. I won't read novels.

Yes, the "Cosmopolitan" cat-story is Leigh's and is to be credited to
him if ever published in covers. I fathered it as the only way to get
it published at all. Of course I had to rewrite it; it was very crude
and too horrible. A story may be terrible, but must not be
horrible--there is a difference. I found the manuscript among his

It is disagreeable to think of the estrangement between * * * and his
family. Doubtless the trouble arises from his being married. Yes, it
is funny, his taking his toddy along with you old soakers. I remember
he used to kick at my having wine in camp and at your having a bottle
hidden away in the bushes.

I had seen that group of you and Joaquin and Stoddard and laughed at
your lifelike impersonation of the Drowsy Demon.

I passed the first half of last month in New York. Went there for a
dinner and stayed to twelve. Sam Davis and Homer Davenport were of the

Sam was here for a few days--but maybe you don't know Sam. He's a
brother to Bob, who swears you got your Dante-like solemnity of
countenance by coming into his office when he was editing a newspaper.

You are not to think I have thrown * * * over. There are only two or
three matters of seriousness between us and they cannot profitably be
discussed in letters, so they must wait until he and I meet if we ever
do. I shall mention them to no one else and I don't suppose he will to
anyone but me. Apart from these--well, our correspondence was
disagreeable, so the obvious thing to do was to put an end to it. To
unlike a friend is not an easy thing to do, and I've not attempted to
do it.

Of course I approve the new lines in the "Wine" and if Neale or
anybody else will have the poem I shall insert them in their place.
That "screaming thing" stays with one almost as does "the blue-eyed
vampire," and is not only visible, as is she, but audible as well. If
you go on adding lines to the poem I shall not so sharply deplore our
failure to get it into print. As Mark Twain says: "Every time you draw
you fill."

The "Night in Heaven" is fine work in the grand style and its swing is
haunting when one gets it. I get a jolt or two in the reading, but I
dare say you purposely contrived them and I can't say they hurt. Of
course the rhythm recalls Kipling's "The Last Chanty" (I'm not sure I
spell the word correctly--if there's a correct way) but that is
nothing. Nobody has the copyright of any possible metre or rhythm in
English prosody. It has been long since anybody was "first." When are
you coming to Washington to sail in my canoe?

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 April 5, 1906.]


I've been in New York again but am slowly recovering. I saw Neale. He
assures me that the magazine will surely materialize about June, and
he wants the poem, "A Wine of Wizardry," with an introduction by me. I
think he means it; if so that will give it greater publicity than what
you have in mind, even if the mag eventually fail. Magazines if well
advertised usually sell several hundred thousand of the first issue;
the trick is to keep them going. Munsey's "Scrap Book" disposed of a
half-million. * * *

* * * was to start for a few weeks in California about now. I hope
you will see him. He is not a bad lot when convinced that one respects
him. He has been treated pretty badly in this neck o' the woods, as is
every Western man who breaks into this realm of smugwumps.

My benediction upon Carmelites all and singular--if any are all.

     Sincerely yours,

Doubleday, Page & Co. are to publish my "Cynic's Dictionary."

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 April 20, 1906.]


I write in the hope that you are alive and the fear that you are

[8] The San Francisco earthquake and fire had occurred April 18, 1906.

Please let me know if I can help--I need not say how glad I shall be
to do so. "Help" would go with this were I sure about you and the
post-office. It's a mighty bad business and one does not need to own
property out there to be "hit hard" by it. One needs only to have
friends there.

We are helpless here, so far as the telegraph is concerned--shall not
be able to get anything on the wires for many days, all private
dispatches being refused.

Pray God you and yours may be all right. Of course anything that you
may be able to tell me of my friends will be gratefully received.
Sincerely yours, AMBROSE BIERCE.

[Washington, D. C.,
 May 6, 1906.]


Your letter relieves me greatly. I had begun to fear that you had
"gone before." Thank you very much for your news of our friends. I had
already heard from Eva Croffie. Also from Grizzly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thank you for Mr. Eddy's review of "Shapes." But he is misinformed
about poor Flora Shearer. Of course I helped her--who would not help a
good friend in adversity? But she went to Scotland to a brother long
ago, and at this time I do not know if she is living or dead.

But here am I forgetting (momentarily) that awful wiping out of San
Francisco. It "hit" me pretty hard in many ways--mostly indirectly,
through my friends. I had rather hoped to have to "put up" for you and
your gang, and am a trifle disappointed to know that you are all
right--except the chimneys. I'm glad that tidal wave did not come, but
don't you think you'd better have a canoe ready? You could keep it on
your veranda stacked with provisions and whiskey.

My letter from Ursus (written during the conflagration) expresses a
keen solicitude for the Farallones, as the fire was working westward.

If this letter is a little disconnected and incoherent know, O King,
that I have just returned from a dinner in Atlantic City, N. J. I saw
Markham there, also Bob Davis, Sam Moffett, Homer Davenport, Bob
Mackay and other San Franciscans. (Can there be a San Franciscan when
there is no San Francisco? I don't want to go back. Doubtless the new
San Francisco--while it lasts--will be a finer town than the old, but
it will not be _my_ San Francisco and I don't want to see it. It has
for many years been, to me, full of ghosts. Now it is itself a ghost.)

I return the sonnets. Destruction of "Town Talk" has doubtless saved
you from having the one on me turned down. Dear old fellow, don't take
the trouble to defend my memory when--or at least until--

           "I am fled
     From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell."

I'm not letting my enemies' attitude trouble me at all. On the
contrary, I'm rather sorry for them and their insomnia--lying awake o'
nights to think out new and needful lies about me, while I sleep
sweetly. O, it is all right, truly.

No, I never had any row (nor much acquaintance) with Mark Twain--met
him but two or three times. Once with Stoddard in London. I think
pretty well of him, but doubt if he cared for me and can't, at the
moment, think of any reason why he _should_ have cared for me.

"The Cynic's Dictionary" is a-printing. I shall have to call it
something else, for the publishers tell me there is a "Cynic's
Dictionary" already out. I dare say the author took more than my
title--the stuff has been a rich mine for a plagiarist for many a
year. They (the publishers) won't have "The Devil's Dictionary." Here
in the East the Devil is a sacred personage (the Fourth Person of the
Trinity, as an Irishman might say) and his name must not be taken in

No, "The Testimony of the Suns" has not "palled" on me. I still read
it and still think it one of the world's greatest poems.

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, God be wi' ye and spare the shack at Carmel,

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 June 11, 1906.]


Your poem, "A Dream of Fear" was so good before that it needed no
improvement, though I'm glad to observe that you have "the passion for
perfection." Sure--you shall have your word "colossal" applied to a
thing of two dimensions, an you will.

I have no objection to the publication of that sonnet on me. It may
give my enemies a transient feeling that is disagreeable, and if I can
do that without taking any trouble in the matter myself it is worth
doing. I think they must have renewed their activity, to have provoked
you so--got up a new and fascinating lie, probably. Thank you for
putting your good right leg into action themward.

What a "settlement" you have collected about you at Carmel! All manner
of cranks and curios, to whom I feel myself drawn by affinity. Still I
suppose I shall not go. I should have to see the new San
Francisco--when it has foolishly been built--and I'd rather not. One
does not care to look upon either the mutilated face of one's mashed
friend or an upstart imposter bearing his name. No, _my_ San Francisco
is gone and I'll have no other.

       *       *       *       *       *

You are wrong about Gorky--he has none of the "artist" in him. He is
not only a peasant, but an anarchist and an advocate of
assassination--by others; like most of his tribe, he doesn't care to
take the risk himself. His "career" in this country has been that of a
yellow dog. Hearst's newspapers and * * * are the only friends that
remain to him of all those that acclaimed him when he landed. And all
the sturdy lying of the former cannot rehabilitate him. It isn't
merely the woman matter. You'd understand if you were on this side of
the country. I was myself a dupe in the matter. He had expressed high
admiration of my books (in an interview in Russia) and when his
Government released him from prison I cabled him congratulations. O,

Yes, I've observed the obviously lying estimates of the San Franciscan
dead; also that there was no earthquake--just a fire; also the
determination to "beat" the insurance companies. Insurance is a hog
game, and if they (the companies) can be beaten out of their dishonest
gains by superior dishonesty I have no objection; but in my judgment
they are neither legally nor morally liable for the half that is
claimed of them. Those of them that took no earthquake risks don't owe
a cent.

Please don't send * * *'s verses to me if you can decently decline. I
should be sorry to find them bad, and my loathing of the Whitmaniacal
"form" is as deep as yours. Perhaps I should find them good otherwise,
but the probability is so small that I don't want to take the chance.

       *       *       *       *       *

I've just finished reading the first proofs of "The Cynic's Word
Book," which Doubleday, Page & Co. are to bring out in October. My
dealings with them have been most pleasant and one of them whom I met
the other day at Atlantic City seems a fine fellow.

I think I told you that S. O. Howes, of Galveston, Texas, is compiling
a book of essays and sich from some of my stuff that I sent him. I've
left the selection entirely to him and presented him with the profits
if there be any. He'll probably not even find a publisher. He has the
work about half done. By the way, he is an enthusiastic admirer of
you. For that I like him, and for much else.

I mean to stay here all summer if I die for it, as I probably shall.
Luck and love to you.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 June 20, 1906.]


I am more sorry than I can say to be unable to send you the copy of
the Builder's Review that you kindly sent _me_. But before receiving
your note I had, in my own interest, searched high and low for it, in
vain. Somebody stole it from my table. I especially valued it after
the catastrophe, but should have been doubly pleased to have it for

It was indeed a rough deal you San Franciscans got. I had always
expected to go back to the good old town some day, but I have no
desire to see the new town, if there is to be one. I fear the fire
consumed even the ghosts that used to meet me at every street
corner--ghosts of dear dead friends, oh, so many of them!

Please accept my sympathy for your losses. I too am a "sufferer," a
whole edition of my latest book, plates and all, having gone up in
smoke and many of my friends being now in the "dependent class." It
hit us all pretty hard, I guess, wherever we happened to be.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C,
 August 11, 1906.]


       *       *       *       *       *

If your neighbor Carmelites are really "normal" and respectable I'm
sorry for you. They will surely (remaining cold sober themselves)
drive you to drink. Their sort affects _me_ that way. God bless the
crank and the curio!--what would life in this desert be without its
mullahs and its dervishes? A matter of merchants and camel drivers--no
one to laugh with and at.

Did you see Gorky's estimate of us in "Appleton's"? Having been a few
weeks in the land, whose language he knows not a word of, he knows (by
intuition of genius and a wee-bit help from Gaylord Wilshire and his
gang) all about us, and tells it in generalities of vituperation as
applicable to one country as to another. He's a dandy bomb-thrower,
but he handles the stink-pot only indifferently well. He should write
(for "The Cosmopolitan") on "The Treason of God."

Sorry you didn't like my remarks in that fool "symposium." If I said
enough to make it clear that I don't care a damn for any of the
matters touched upon, nor for the fellows who _do_ care, I satisfied
my wish. It was not intended to be an "argument" at all--at least not
on my part; I don't argue with babes and sucklings. Hunter is a
decentish fellow, for a dreamer, but the Hillquit person is a
humorless anarchist. When I complimented him on the beauty of his neck
and expressed the hope of putting a nice, new rope about it he nearly
strangled on the brandy that I was putting down it at the hotel bar.
And it wasn't with merriment. His anarchist sentiments were all cut

I'm not familiar with the poetry of William Vaughan Moody. Can you
"put me on"?

I'm sending you an odd thing by Eugene Wood, of Niagara Falls, where I
met him two or three years ago. I'm sure you will appreciate it. The
poor chap died the other day and might appropriately--as he doubtless
will--lie in a neglected grave. You may return the book when you have
read it enough. I'm confident you never heard of it.

Enclosed is your sonnet, with a few suggestions of no importance. I
had not space on it to say that the superfluity of superlatives noted,
is accentuated by the words "west" and "quest" immediately following,
making a lot of "ests." The verses are pleasing, but if any villain
prefer them to "In Extremis" may he bite himself with a Snake!

If you'll send me that shuddery thing on Fear--with the "clangor of
ascending chains" line--and one or two others that you'd care to have
in a magazine, I'll try them on Maxwell. I suspect he will fall dead
in the reading, or possibly dislocate the jaw of him with a yawn, but
even so you will not have written in vain.

Have you tried anything on "Munsey"? Bob Davis is the editor, and we
talked you over at dinner (where would you could have been). I think
he values my judgment a little. * * *

I wish I could be blown upon by your Carmel sea-breeze; the weather
here is wicked! I don't even canoe.

My "Cynic" book is due in October. Shall send it to you.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 September 28, 1906.]


Both your letters at hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Be a "magazine poet" all you can--that is the shortest road to
recognition, and all our greater poets have travelled it. You need not
compromise with your conscience, however, by writing "magazine
poetry." You couldn't.

What's your objection to * * *? I don't observe that it is greatly
worse than others of its class. But a fellow who has for nigh upon
twenty years written for yellow newspapers can't be expected to say
much that's edifying on that subject. So I dare say I'm wrong in my
advice about the _kind_ of swine for your pearls. There are probably
more than the two kinds of pigs--live ones and dead ones.

Yes, I'm a colonel--in Pennsylvania Avenue. In the neighborhood of my
tenement I'm a Mister. At my club I'm a major--which is my real title
by an act of Congress. I suppressed it in California, but couldn't
here, where I run with the military gang.

You need not blackguard your poem, "A Visitor," though I could wish
you had not chosen blank verse. That form seems to me suitable (in
serious verse) only to lofty, not lowly, themes. Anyhow, I always
expect something pretty high when I begin an unknown poem in blank.
Moreover, it is not your best "medium." Your splendid poem, "Music,"
does not wholly commend itself to me for that reason. May I say that
it is a little sing-songy--the lines monotonously alike in their
caesural pauses and some of their other features?

By the way, I'd like to see what you could do in more unsimple meters
than the ones that you handle so well. The wish came to me the other
day in reading Lanier's "The Marshes of Glynn" and some of his other
work. Lanier did not often equal his master, Swinburne, in getting the
most out of the method, but he did well in the poem mentioned. Maybe
you could manage the dangerous thing. It would be worth doing and is,
therefore, worth trying.

Thank you for the Moody book, which I will return. He pleaseth me
greatly and I could already fill pages with analyses of him for the
reasons therefore. But for you to say that he has _you_
"skinned"--that is magnanimity. An excellent thing in poets, I grant
you, and a rare one. There is something about him and his book in the
current "Atlantic," by May Sinclair, who, I dare say, has never heard
of _you_. Unlike you, she thinks his dramatic work the best of what he
does. I've not seen that. To be the best it must be mighty good.

Yes, poor White's poetry is all you say--and worse, but, faith! he
"had it in him." What struck me was his candid apotheosis of piracy on
the high seas. I'd hate the fellow who hadn't some sneaking sympathy
with that--as Goethe confessed to some sympathy with every vice.
Nobody'll ever hear of White, but (pray observe, ambitious bard!) he
isn't caring. How wise are the dead!

       *       *       *       *       *

My friend Howes, of Galveston, has, I think, nearly finished compiling
his book of essaylets from my stuff. Neale has definitely decided to
bring out "The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter." He has the plates of
my two luckless Putnam books, and is figuring on my "complete works,"
to be published by subscription. I doubt if he will undertake it right

_Au reste_, I'm in good health and am growing old not altogether

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington,
 October 30, 1906.]


I'm pained by your comments on my book. I always feel that way when
praised--"just plunged in a gulf of dark despair" to think that I took
no more trouble to make the commendation truer. I shall try harder
with the Howes book.

       *       *       *       *       *

I can't supply the missing link between pages 101 and 102 of the "Word
Book," having destroyed the copy and proofs. Supply it yourself.

You err: the book is getting me a little glory, but that will be
all--it will have no sale, for it has no slang, no "dialect" and no
grinning through a horse-collar. By the, way, please send me any
"notices" of it that you may chance to see out there.

       *       *       *       *       *

I've done a ghost story for the January "Cosmopolitan," which I think
pretty well of. That's all I've done for more than two months.

I return your poem and the Moody book. Sincerely yours,


[The Army and Navy Club, Washington,
 December 5, 1906.]


Your letter of Nov. 28 has just come to my breakfast table. It is the
better part of the repast.

       *       *       *       *       *

No, my dictionary will not sell. I so assured the publishers.

I lunched with Neale the other day--he comes down here once a month.
His magazine (I think he is to call it "The Southerner," or something
like that) will not get out this month, as he expected it to. And for
an ominous reason: He had relied largely on Southern writers, and
finds that they can't write! He assures me that it _will_ appear this
winter and asked me not to withdraw your poem and my remarks on it
unless you asked it. So I did not.

       *       *       *       *       *

In your character of bookseller carrying a stock of my books you have
a new interest. May Heaven promote you to publisher!

Thank you for the Moody books--which I'll return soon. "The Masque of
Judgment" has some great work in its final pages--quite as great as
anything in Faust. The passages that you marked are good too, but some
of them barely miss being entirely satisfying. It would trouble you to
find many such passages in the other book, which is, moreover, not
distinguished for clarity. I found myself frequently prompted to ask
the author: "What the devil are you driving at?"

I'm going to finish this letter at home where there is less talk of
the relative military strength of Japan and San Francisco and the
latter power's newest and most grievous affliction, Teddy Roosevelt.


P.S. Guess the letter is finished.

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 January 27, 1907.]


I suppose I owe you letters and letters--but you don't particularly
like to write letters yourself, so you'll understand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hanging before me is a water-color of a bit of Carmel Beach, by Chris
Jorgensen, for which I blew in fifty dollars the other day. He had a
fine exhibition of his Californian work here. I wanted to buy it all,
but compromised with my desire by buying what I could. The picture has
a sentimental value to me, apart from its artistic.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am to see Neale in a few days and shall try to learn definitely when
his magazine is to come out--if he knows. If he does not I'll withdraw
your poem. Next month he is to republish "The Monk and the Hangman's
Daughter," with a new preface which somebody will not relish. I'll
send you a copy. The Howes book is on its travels among the
publishers, and so, doubtless, will long continue.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 February 5, 1907.]


Our letters "crossed"--a thing that "happens" oftener than not in my
correspondence, when neither person has written for a long time. I
have drawn some interesting inferences from this fact, but have no
time now to state them. Indeed, I have no time to do anything but send
you the stuff on the battle of Shiloh concerning which you inquire.

I should write it a little differently now, but it may entertain you
as it is.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

       *       *       *       *       *

 February 21, 1907]


If you desert Carmel I shall destroy my Jorgensen picture, build a
bungalow in the Catskills and cut out California forever. (Those are
the footprints of my damned canary, who will neither write himself nor
let me write. Just now he is perched on my shoulder, awaiting the
command to sing--then he will deafen me with a song without sense. O
he's a poet all right.)

I entirely approve your allegiance to Mammon. If I'd had brains enough
to make a decision like that I could now, at 65, have the leisure to
make a good book or two before I go to the waste-dump. * * * Get
yourself a fat bank account--there's no such friend as a bank account,
and the greatest book is a check-book; "You may lay to that!" as one
of Stevenson's pirates puts it.

       *       *       *       *       *

No, sir, your boss will not bring you East next June; or if he does
you will not come to Washington. How do I know? I don't know how I
know, but concerning all (and they are many) who were to come from
California to see me I have never once failed in my forecast of their
coming or not coming. Even in the case of * * *, although I wrote to
you, and to her, as if I expected her, I _said_ to one of my friends:
"She will not come." I don't think it's a gift of divination--it just
happens, somehow. Yours is not a very good example, for you have not
said you were coming, "sure."

So your colony of high-brows is re-establishing itself at the old
stand--Piedmont. * * * But Piedmont--it must be in the heart of
Oakland. I could no longer shoot rabbits in the gulch back of it and
sleep under a tree to shoot more in the morning. Nor could I traverse
that long ridge with various girls. I dare say there's a boulevard
running the length of it,

     "A palace and a prison on each hand."

If I could stop you from reading that volume of old "Argonauts" I'd do
so, but I suppose an injunction would not "lie." Yes, I was a slovenly
writer in those days, though enough better than my neighbors to have
attracted my own attention. My knowledge of English was imperfect "a
whole lot." Indeed, my intellectual status (whatever it may be, and
God knows it's enough to make me blush) was of slow growth--as was my
moral. I mean, I had not literary sincerity.

Yes, I wrote of Swinburne the distasteful words that you quote. But
they were not altogether untrue. He used to set my teeth on
edge--could _not_ stand still a minute, and kept you looking for the
string that worked his legs and arms. And he had a weak face that gave
you the memory of chinlessness. But I have long renounced the views
that I once held about his poetry--held, or thought I held. I don't
remember, though, if it was as lately as '78 that I held them.

You write of Miss Dawson. Did she survive the 'quake? And do you know
about her? Not a word of her has reached me. Notwithstanding your
imported nightingale (upon which I think you should be made to pay a
stiff duty) your Ina Coolbrith poem is so good that I want to keep it
if you have another copy. I find no amendable faults in it. * * *

The fellow that told you that I was an editor of "The Cosmopolitan"
has an impediment in his veracity. I simply write for it, * * *, and
the less of my stuff the editor uses the better I'm pleased.

       *       *       *       *       *

O, you ask about the "Ursus-Aborn-Gorgias-Agrestis-Polyglot" stuff. It
was written by James F. ("Jimmie") Bowman--long dead. (See a pretty
bad sonnet on page 94, "Shapes of Clay.") My only part in the matter
was to suggest the papers and discuss them with him over many mugs of

       *       *       *       *       *

By the way, Neale says he gets almost enough inquiries for my books
(from San Francisco) to justify him in republishing them.

       *       *       *       *       *

That's all--and, as George Augustus Sala wrote of a chew of tobacco as
the price of a certain lady's favors, "God knows it's enough!"


[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 April 23, 1907.]


I have your letter of the 13th. The enclosed slip from the Pacific
Monthly (thank you for it) is amusing. Yes, * * * is an insufferable
pedant, but I don't at all mind his pedantry. Any critic is welcome to
whack me all he likes if he will append to his remarks (as * * * had
the thoughtfulness to do) my definition of "Critic" from the "Word

Please don't bother to write me when the spirit does not move you
thereto. You and I don't need to write to each other for any other
reason than that we want to. As to coming East, abstain, O, abstain
from promises, lest you resemble all my other friends out there, who
promise always and never come. It would be delightful to see you here,
but I know how those things arrange themselves without reference to
our desires. We do as we must, not as we will.

I think that uncle of yours must be a mighty fine fellow. Be good to
him and don't kick at his service, even when you feel the chain. It
beats poetry for nothing a year.

Did you get the "Shiloh" article? I sent it to you. I sent it also to
Paul Elder & Co. (New York branch) for their book of "Western
Classics," and hope it will meet their need. They wanted something,
and it seemed to me as good, with a little revision, as any of my
stuff that I control. Do you think it would be wise to offer them for
republication "In the Midst of Life"? It is now "out of print" and on
my hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm glad of your commendation of my "Cosmopolitan" stuff. They don't
give me much of a "show"--the editor doesn't love me personally as he
should, and lets me do only enough to avert from himself the attention
of Mr. Hearst and that gentleman's interference with the mutual
admiration game as played in the "Cosmopolitan" office. As I'm rather
fond of light work I'm not shrieking.

       *       *       *       *       *

You don't speak of getting the book that I sent, "The Monk and the
Hangman's Daughter"--new edition. 'Tisn't as good as the old. * * *

I'm boating again. How I should like to put out my prow on Monterey

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 June 8, 1907.]


Your letter, with the yerba buena and the spray of redwood, came like
a breeze from the hills. And the photographs are most pleasing. I note
that Sloot's moustache is decently white at last, as becomes a fellow
of his years. I dare say his hair is white too, but I can't see under
his hat. And I think he never removes it. That backyard of yours is a
wonder, but I sadly miss the appropriate ash-heaps, tin cans, old
packing-boxes, and so forth. And that palm in front of the
house--gracious, how she's grown! Well, it has been more than a day
growing, and I've not watched it attentively.

I hope you'll have a good time in Yosemite, but Sloots is an idiot not
to go with you--nineteen days is as long as anybody would want to stay

I saw a little of Phyllis Partington in New York. She told me much of
you and seems to be fond of you. That is very intelligent of her,
don't you think?

No, I shall not wait until I'm rich before visiting you. I've no
intention of being rich, but do mean to visit you--some day. Probably
when Grizzly has visited _me_. Love to you all.


[Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 June 25, 1907.]


       *       *       *       *       *

So * * * showed you his article on me. He showed it to me also, and
some of it amused me mightily, though I didn't tell him so. That
picture of me as a grouchy and disappointed old man occupying the
entire cave of Adullam is particularly humorous, and so poetic that I
would not for the world "cut it out." * * * seems incapable (like a
good many others) of estimating success in other terms than those of
popularity. He gives a rather better clew to his own character than to
mine. The old man is fairly well pleased with the way that he has
played the game, and with his share of the stakes, thank'ee.

I note with satisfaction _your_ satisfaction with my article on you
and your poem. I'll correct the quotation about the "timid
sapphires"--don't know how I happened to leave out the best part of
it. But I left out the line about "harlot's blood" because I didn't
(and don't) think a magazine would "stand for it" if I called the
editor's attention to it. You don't know what magazines are if you
haven't tested them. However, I'll try it on Chamberlain if you like.
And I'll put in "twilight of the year" too.

       *       *       *       *       *

It's pleasing to know that you've "cut out" your clerical work if you
can live without it. Now for some great poetry! Carmel has a
fascination for me too--because of your letters. If I did not fear
illness--a return of my old complaint--I'd set out for it at once.
I've nothing to do that would prevent--about two day's work a month.
But I'd never set foot in San Francisco. Of all the Sodoms and
Gomorrahs in our modern world it is the worst. There are not ten
righteous (and courageous) men there. It needs another quake, another
whiff of fire, and--more than all else--a steady tradewind of
grapeshot. When * * * gets done blackguarding New York (as it
deserves) and has shaken the dung of San Francisco from his feet I'm
going to "sick him onto" that moral penal colony of the world. * * *

I've two "books" seeking existence in New York--the Howes book and
some satires. Guess they are cocks that will not fight.

     Sincerely yours,

I was sixty-five yesterday.

[Washington, D. C.,
 July 11, 1907.]


I've just finished reading proofs of my stuff about you and your poem.
Chamberlain, as I apprised you, has it slated for September. But for
that month also he has slated a longish spook story of mine, besides
my regular stuff. Not seeing how he can run it all in one issue, I
have asked him to run your poem (with my remarks) and hold the spook
yarn till some other time. I _hope_ he'll do so, but if he doesn't,
don't think it my fault. An editor never does as one wants him to. I
inserted in my article another quotation or two, and restored some
lines that I had cut out of the quotations to save space.

It's grilling hot here--I envy you your Carmel.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.]


I guess several of your good letters are unanswered, as are many
others of other correspondents. I've been gadding a good deal
lately--to New York principally. When I want a royal good time I go to
New York; and I get it.

       *       *       *       *       *

As to Miller being "about the same age" as I, why, no. The rascal is
long past seventy, although nine or ten years ago he wrote from Alaska
that he was "in the middle fifties." I've known him for nearly thirty
years and he can't fool me with his youthful airs and tales. May he
live long and repent.

Thank you for taking the trouble to send Conan Doyle's opinion of me.
No, it doesn't turn my head; I can show you dozens of "appreciations"
from greater and more famous men. I return it to you corrected--as he
really wrote it. Here it is:

"Praise from Sir Hugo is praise indeed." In "Through the Magic Door,"
an exceedingly able article on short stories that have interested him,
Conan Doyle pays the following well-deserved tribute to Ambrose
Bierce, whose wonderful short stories have so often been praised in
these columns: "Talking of weird American stories, have you ever read
any of the works of Ambrose Bierce? I have one of his books before me,
'In the Midst of Life.' This man (has)[9] had a flavor quite his own,
and (is)[9] was a great artist. It is not cheerful reading, but it
leaves its mark upon you, and that is the proof of good work."

[9] Crossed out by A. B.

Thank you also for the Jacobs story, which I will read. As a
_humorist_ he is no great thing.

I've not read your Bohemian play to a finish yet, * * *. By the way,
I've always wondered why they did not "put on" Comus. Properly done it
would be great woodland stuff. Read it with a view to that and see if
I'm not right. And then persuade them to "stage it" next year.

I'm being awfully pressed to return to California. No San Francisco
for me, but Carmel sounds good. For about how much could I get ground
and build a bungalow--for one? That's a pretty indefinite question;
but then the will to go is a little hazy at present. It consists, as
yet, only of the element of desire. * * *

The "Cosmopolitan," with your poem, has not come to hand but is nearly
due--I'm a little impatient--eager to see the particular kind of
outrage Chamberlain's artist has wrought upon it. He (C.) asked for
your address the other day; so he will doubtless send you a check.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now please go to work at "Lilith"; it's bound to be great stuff, for
you'll have to imagine it all. I'm sorry that anybody ever invented
Lilith; it makes her too much of an historical character.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The other half of the Devil's Dictionary" is in the fluid state--not
even liquid. And so, doubtless, it will remain.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 September 7, 1907.]


I'm awfully glad that you don't mind Chamberlain's yellow nonsense in
coupling Ella's name with yours. But when you read her natural opinion
of your work you'll acquit her of complicity in the indignity. I'm
sending a few things from Hearst's newspapers--written by the
slangers, dialecters and platitudinarians of the staff, and by some of
the swine among the readers.

Note the deliberate and repeated lying of Brisbane in quoting me as
saying the "Wine" is "the greatest poem ever written in America." Note
his dishonesty in confessing that he has commendatory letters, yet not
publishing a single one of them. But the end is not yet--my inning is
to come, in the magazine. Chamberlain (who professes an enthusiastic
admiration of the poem) promises me a free hand in replying to these
ignorant asses. If he does not give it to me I quit. I've writ a
paragraph or two for the November number (too late now for the
October) by way of warning them what they'll get when December comes.
So you see you must patiently endure the befouling till then.

       *       *       *       *       *

Did you notice in the last line of the "Wine" that I restored the word
"smile" from your earlier draft of the verses? In one of your later (I
don't remember if in the last) you had it "sigh." That was wrong;
"smile" seems to me infinitely better as a definition of the poet's
attitude toward his dreams. So, considering that I had a choice, I
chose it. Hope you approve.

I am serious in wishing a place in Carmel as a port of refuge from the
storms of age. I don't know that I shall ever live there, but should
like to feel that I can if I want to. Next summer I hope to go out
there and spy out the land, and if I then "have the price" (without
sacrificing any of my favorite stocks) I shall buy. I don't care for
the grub question--should like to try the simple life, for I have
already two gouty finger points as a result of the other kind of life.
(Of course if they all get that way I shan't mind, for I love
uniformity.) Probably if I attempted to live in Carmel I should have
asthma again, from which I have long been free.

     Sincerely yours,

[Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 October 9, 1907.]


Whether you "prosper" or not I'm glad you write instead of teaching. I
have done a bit of teaching myself, but as the tuition was gratuitous
I could pick my pupils; so it was a labor of love. I'm pretty well
satisfied with the results.

No, I'm not "toiling" much now. I've written all I care to, and having
a pretty easy berth (writing for The Cosmopolitan only, and having no
connection with Mr. Hearst's newspapers) am content.

I have observed your story in Success, but as I never never (sic) read
serials shall await its publication in covers before making a meal of

You seem to be living at the old place in Vallejo Street, so I judge
that it was spared by the fire. I had some pretty good times in that
house, not only with you and Mrs. Morrow (to whom my love, please) but
with the dear Hogan girls. Poor Flodie! she is nearly a sole survivor
now. I wonder if she ever thinks of us.

I hear from California frequently through a little group of
interesting folk who foregather at Carmel--whither I shall perhaps
stray some day and there leave my bones. Meantime, I am fairly happy

I wish you would add yourself to the Carmel crowd. You would be a
congenial member of the gang and would find them worth while. You must
know George Sterling: he is the high panjandrum and a gorgeously good
fellow. Go get thee a bungalow at Carmel, which is indubitably the
charmingest place in the State. As to San Francisco, with its
labor-union government, its thieves and other impossibilities, I could
not be drawn into it by a team of behemoths. But California--ah, I
dare not permit myself to remember it. Yet this Eastern country is not
without charm. And my health is good here, as it never was there.
Nothing ails me but age, which brings its own cure.

God keep thee!--go and live at Carmel.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 October 29, 1907.]



It is a matter of no great importance to me, but the republication of
the foolish books that you mention would not be agreeable to me. They
have no kind of merit or interest. One of them, "The Fiend's Delight,"
was published against my protest; the utmost concession that the
compiler and publisher (the late John Camden Hatten, London) would
make was to let me edit his collection of my stuff and write a
preface. You would pretty surely lose money on any of them.

If you care to republish anything of mine you would, I think, do
better with "Black Beetles in Amber," or "Shapes of Clay." The former
sold well, and the latter would, I think, have done equally well if
the earthquake-and-fire had not destroyed it, including the plates.
Nearly all of both books were sold in San Francisco, and the sold, as
well as the unsold, copies--I mean the unsold copies of the
latter--perished in the fire. There is much inquiry for them (mainly
from those who lost them) and I am told that they bring fancy prices.
You probably know about that better than I.

I should be glad to entertain proposals from you for their
republication--in San Francisco--and should not be exacting as to
royalties, and so forth.

But the other books are "youthful indiscretions" and are "better

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 December 28,1907.]


       *       *       *       *       *

Please send me a copy of the new edition of "The Testimony." I
borrowed one of the first edition to give away, and want to replace
it. Did you add the "Wine" to it? I'd not leave off the indefinite
article from the title of that; it seems to dignify the tipple
by hinting that it was no ordinary tope. It may have been

I don't "dislike" the line: "So terribly that brilliance shall
enhance"; it seems merely less admirable than the others. Why didn't I
tell you so? I could not tell you _all_ I thought of the poem--for
another example, how I loved the lines:

     "Where Dawn upon a pansy's breast hath laid
     A single tear, and _whence the wind hath flown
     And left a silence_."

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm returning you, under another cover (as the ceremonial slangers
say) some letters that have come to me and that I have answered. I
have a lot more, most of them abusive, I guess, that I'll dig out
later. But the most pleasing ones I can't send, for I sent them to
Brisbane on his promise to publish them, which the liar did not, nor
has he had the decency to return them. I'm hardly sorry, for it gave
me good reason to call him a peasant and a beast of the field. I'm
always grateful for the chance to prod somebody.

       *       *       *       *       *

I detest the "limited edition" and "autograph copies" plan of
publication, but for the sake of Howes, who has done a tremendous lot
of good work on my book, have assented to Blake's proposal in all
things and hope to be able to laugh at this brilliant example of the
"irony of fate." I've refused to profit in any way by the book. I want
Howes to "break even" for his labor.

By the way, Pollard and I had a good time in Galveston, and on the
way I took in some of my old battlefields. At Galveston they nearly
killed me with hospitality--so nearly that Pollard fled. I returned
via Key West and Florida.

You'll probably see Howes next Summer--I've persuaded him to go West
and renounce the bookworm habit for some other folly. Be good to him;
he is a capital fellow in his odd, amusing way.

I didn't know there was an American edition of "The Fiends' Delight."
Who published it and when?

Congratulations on acceptance of "Tasso and Leonora." But I wouldn't
do much in blank verse if I were you. It betrays you (somehow) into
mere straightaway expression, and seems to repress in you the glorious
abundance of imagery and metaphor that enriches your rhyme-work. This
is not a criticism, particularly, of "Tasso," which is good enough for
anybody, but--well, it's just _so_.

I'm not doing much. My stuff in the Cosmo. comes last, and when
advertisements crowd some of it is left off. Most of it gets in later
(for of course I don't replace it with more work) but it is sadly
antiquated. My checks, though, are always up to date.

     Sincerely[10] yours,

[10] I can almost say "sinecurely."

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 January 19, 1908.]


I have just come upon a letter of yours that I got at Galveston and (I
fear) did not acknowledge. But I've written you since, so I fancy all
is well.

You mention that sonnet that Chamberlain asked for. You should not
have let him have it--it was, as you say, the kind of stuff that
magazines like. Nay, it was even better. But I wish you'd sent it
elsewhere. You owed it to me not to let the Cosmopolitan's readers
see anything of yours (for awhile, at least) that was less than
_great_. Something as great as the sonnet that you sent to McClure's
was what the circumstances called for.

"And strict concern of relativity"--O bother! that's not poetry. It's
the slang of philosophy.

I am still awaiting my copy of the new "Testimony." That's why I'm

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 April 18, 1908.]


I'm an age acknowledging your letter; but then you'd have been an age
writing it if you had not done it for "Sloots." And the other day I
had one from him, written in his own improper person.

I think it abominable that he and Carlt have to work so hard--at
_their_ age--and I quite agree with George Sterling that Carlt ought
to go to Carmel and grow potatoes. I'd like to do that myself, but
for the fact that so many objectionable persons frequent the place:
* * *, * * * and the like. I'm hoping, however, that the ocean will
swallow * * * and be unable to throw him up.

I trust you'll let Sloots "retire" at seventy, which is really quite
well along in life toward the years of discretion and the age of
consent. But when he is retired I know that he will bury himself in
the redwoods and never look upon the face of man again. That, too, I
should rather like to do myself--for a few months.

I've laid out a lot of work for myself this season, and doubt if I
shall get to California, as I had hoped. So I shall never, never see
you. But you might send me a photograph.

God be with you.


[Washington, D. C.,
 July 11, 1908.]

N.B. If you follow the pages you'll be able to make _some_ sense of
this screed.


I am sorry to learn that you have not been able to break your
commercial chains, since you wish to, though I don't at all know that
they are bad for you. I've railed at mine all my life, but don't
remember that I ever made any good use of leisure when I had
it--unless the mere "having a good time" is such. I remember once
writing that one's career, or usefulness, was about ended when one
thought less about how best to do his work than about the hardship of
having to do it. I might have said the hardship of having so little
leisure to do it. As I grow older I see more and more clearly the
advantages of disadvantage, the splendid urge of adverse conditions,
the uplifting effect of repression. And I'm ashamed to note how little
_I_ profited by them. I wasn't the right kind, that is all; but I
indulge the hope that _you_ are.

No I don't think it of any use, your trying to keep * * * and me
friends. But don't let that interfere with your regard for him if you
have it. We are not required to share one another's feelings in such
matters. I should not expect you to like my friends nor hate my
enemies if they seemed to you different from what they seem to me; nor
would I necessarily follow _your_ lead. For example, I loathe your
friend * * * and expect his safe return because the ocean will refuse
to swallow him.

       *       *       *       *       *

I congratulate you on the Gilder acceptance of your sonnet, and on
publication of the "Tasso to Leonora." I don't think it your best work
by much--don't think any of your blank verse as good as most of your
rhyme--but it's not a thing to need apology.

Certainly, I shall be pleased to see Hopper. Give me his address, and
when I go to New York--this month or the next--I'll look him up. I
think well of Hopper and trust that he will not turn out to be an 'ist
of some kind, as most writers and artists do. That is because they are
good feelers and poor thinkers. It is the emotional element in them,
not the logical, that makes them writers and artists. They have, as a
rule, sensibility and no sense. Except the _big_ fellows.

       *       *       *       *       *

Neale has in hand already three volumes of the "Collected Works," and
will have two more in about a month; and all (I hope) this year. I'm
revising all the stuff and cutting it about a good deal, taking from
one book stuff for another, and so forth. If Neale gets enough
subscriptions he will put out all the ten volumes next year; if not I
shall probably not be "here" to see the final one issued.

       *       *       *       *       *

Glad you think better of my part in the Hunter-Hillquit "symposium."
_I_ think I did very well considering, first, that I didn't care a
damn about the matter; second, that I knew nothing of the men I was to
meet, nor what we were to talk about, whereas they came cocked and
primed for the fray; and, third, that the whole scheme was to make a
Socialist holiday at my expense. Of all 'ists the Socialist is perhaps
the damnedest fool for (in this country) he is merely the cat that
pulls chestnuts from the fire for the Anarchist. His part of the
business is to talk away the country's attention while the Anarchist
places the bomb. In some countries Socialism is clean, but not in
this. And everywhere the Socialist is a dreamer and futilitarian.

But I guess I'll call a halt on this letter, the product of an idle
hour in garrulous old age.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 August 7, 1908.]


Your note inquiring about "Ashes of the Beacon" interests me. You
mention it as a "pamphlet." I have no knowledge of its having appeared
otherwise than as an article in the Sunday edition of the "N. Y.
American"--I do not recall the date. If it has been published as a
pamphlet, or in any other form, separately--that is by itself--I
should like "awfully" to know by whom, if _you_ know.

I should be pleased to send it to you--in the "American"--if I had a
copy of the issue containing it, but I have not. It will be included
in Vol. I of my "Collected Works," to be published by the Neale
Publishing Company, N. Y. That volume will be published probably early
next year.

But the work is to be in ten or twelve costly volumes, and sold by
subscription only. That buries it fathoms deep so far as the public is

Regretting my inability to assist you, I am sincerely yours,


[Washington, D. C.,
 August 14, 1908.]


I am amused by your attitude toward the spaced sonnet, and by the
docility of Gilder. If I had been your editor I guess you'd have got
back your sonnets. I never liked the space. If the work naturally
divides itself into two parts, as it should, the space is needless; if
not, it is worse than that. The space was the invention of printers of
a comparatively recent period, neither Petrarch nor Dante (as Gilder
points out) knew of it. Every magazine has its own _system_ of
printing, and Gilder's good-natured compliance with your wish, or
rather demand, shows him to be a better fellow, though not a better
poet, than I have thought him to be. As a victory of author over
editor, the incident pleases.

I've not yet been in New York, but expect to go soon. I shall be glad
to meet Hopper if he is there.

Thank you for the article from "Town Talk." It suggests this question:
How many times, and covering a period of how many years, must one's
unexplainable obscurity be pointed out to constitute fame? Not
knowing, I am almost disposed to consider myself the most famous of
authors. I have pretty nearly ceased to be "discovered," but my
notoriety as an obscurian may be said to be worldwide and apparently

The trouble, I fancy, is with our vocabulary--the lack of a word
meaning something intermediate between "popular" and "obscure"--and
the ignorance of writers as to the reading of readers. I seldom meet a
person of education who is not acquainted with some of my work; my
clipping bureau's bills were so heavy that I had to discontinue my
patronage, and Blake tells me that he sells my books at one hundred
dollars a set. Rather amusing all this to one so widely unknown.

I sometimes wonder what you think of Scheff's new book. Does it
perform the promise of the others? In the dedicatory poem it seems to
me that it does, and in some others. As a good Socialist you are bound
to like _that_ poem because of its political-economic-views. I like it
despite them.

     "The dome of the Capitol roars
     With the shouts of the Caesars of crime"

is great poetry, but it is not true. I am rather familiar with what
goes on in the Capitol--not through the muck-rakers, who pass a few
days here "investigating," and then look into their pockets and write,
but through years of personal observation and personal acquaintance
with the men observed. There are no Caesars of crime, but about a
dozen rascals, all told, mostly very small fellows; I can name them
all. They are without power or influence enough to count in the scheme
of legislation. The really dangerous and mischievous chaps are the
demagogues, friends of the pee-pul. And they do all the "shouting."
Compared with the Congress of our forefathers, the Congress of to-day
is as a flock of angels to an executive body of the Western Federation
of Miners.

When I showed the "dome" to * * * (who had been reading his own
magazine) the tears came into his voice, and I guess his eyes, as he
lamented the decay of civic virtue, "the treason of the Senate," and
the rest of it. He was so affected that I hastened to brace him up
with whiskey. He, too, was "squirming" about "other persons'
troubles," and with about as good reason as you.

I think "the present system" is not "frightful." It is all right--a
natural outgrowth of human needs, limitations and capacities, instinct
with possibilities of growth in goodness, elastic, and progressively
better. Why don't you study humanity as you do the suns--not from the
viewpoint of time, but from that of eternity. The middle ages were
yesterday, Rome and Greece the day before. The individual man is
nothing, as a single star is nothing. If this earth were to take fire
you would smile to think how little it mattered in the scheme of the
universe; all the wailing of the egoist mob would not affect you. Then
why do you squirm at the minute catastrophe of a few thousands or
millions of pismires crushed under the wheels of evolution. Must the
new heavens and the new earth of prophecy and science come in _your_
little instant of life in order that you may not go howling and
damning with Jack London up and down the earth that we happen to have?
Nay, nay, read history to get the long, large view--to learn to think
in centuries and cycles. Keep your eyes off your neighbors and fix
them on the nations. What poetry we shall have when you get, and give
us, The Testimony of the Races!

       *       *       *       *       *

I peg away at compilation and revision. I'm cutting-about my stuff a
good deal--changing things from one book to another, adding,
subtracting and dividing. Five volumes are ready, and Neale is engaged
in a "prospectus" which he says will make me blush. I'll send it to
you when he has it ready.

Gertrude Atherton is sending me picture-postals of Berchtesgaden and
other scenes of "The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter." She found all
the places "exactly as described"--the lakes, mountains, St.
Bartolomae, the cliff-meadow where the edelweiss grows, and so forth.
The photographs are naturally very interesting to me.

     Good night.

[Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 September 12, 1908.]


Thank you for your good wishes for the "Collected Works"--an
advertisement of which--with many blushes!--I enclose.

     Sincerely yours,

P.S.--The "ad" is not sent in the hope that you will be so foolish as
to subscribe--merely to "show" you. The "edition de luxe" business is
not at all to my taste--I should prefer a popular edition at a
possible price.

[New York,
 November 6, 1908.]


Your letter has just been forwarded from Washington. I'm here for a
few days only--"few days and full of trouble," as the Scripture hath
it. The "trouble" is mainly owling, dining and booze. I'll not attempt
an answer to your letter till I get home.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm going to read Hopper's book, and if it doesn't show him to be a
* * * or a * * * I'll call on him. If it does I won't. I'm getting
pretty particular in my old age; the muck-rakers, blood-boilers and
little brothers-of-the-bad are not congenial.

By the way, why do you speak of my "caning" you. I did not suppose
that _you_ had joined the innumerable caravan of those who find
something sarcastic or malicious in my good natured raillery in
careless controversy. If I choose to smile in ink at your
inconsistency in weeping for the woes of individual "others"--meaning
other _humans_--while you, of course, don't give a damn for the
thousands of lives that you crush out every time you set down your
foot, or eat a berry, why shouldn't _I_ do so? One can't always
remember to stick to trifles, even in writing a letter. Put on your
skin, old man, I may want to poke about with my finger again.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 December 11, 1908.]


       *       *       *       *       *

I'm still working at my book. Seven volumes are completed and I've
read the proofs of Vol. I.

Your account of the "movement" to free the oppressed and downtrodden
river from the tyranny of the sand-bar tickled me in my lonesome rib.
Surely no colony of reformers ever engaged in a more characteristic
crusade against the Established Order and Intolerable Conditions. I
can almost hear you patting yourselves on your aching backs as you
contemplated your encouraging success in beating Nature and promoting
the Cause. I believe that if I'd been there my cold heart and
indurated mind would have caught the contagion of the Great
Reform. Anyhow, I should have appreciated the sunset which
(characteristically) intervened in the interest of Things as They Are.
I feel sure that whenever you Socialers shall have found a way to make
the earth stop "turning over and over like a man in bed" (as Joaquin
might say) you will accomplish all the reforms that you have at heart.
All that you need is plenty of time--a few kalpas, more or less, of
uninterrupted daylight. Meantime I await your new book with impatience
and expectation.

I have photographs of my brother's shack in the redwoods and feel
strongly drawn in that direction--since, as you fully infer, Carmel is
barred. Probably, though, I shall continue in the complicated life of
cities while I last.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 January 9, 1909.]


I've been reading your book--re-reading most of it--"every little
while." I don't know that it is better than your first, but to say
that it is as good is praise enough. You know what I like most in it,
but there are some things that you _don't_ know I like. For an
example, "Night in Heaven." It Kipples a bit, but it is great. But I'm
not going to bore you with a catalogue of titles. The book is _all_
good. No, not (in my judgment) all, for it contains lines and words
that I found objectionable in the manuscript, and time has not
reconciled me to them. Your retention of them, shows, however, that
you agree with me in thinking that you have passed your 'prentice
period and need no further criticism. So I welcome them.

I take it that the cover design is Scheff's--perhaps because it is so
good, for the little cuss is clever that way.

       *       *       *       *       *

I rather like your defence of Jack London--not that I think it valid,
but because I like loyalty to a friend whom one does not believe to be
bad. (The "thick-and-thin" loyalty never commended itself to me; it is
too dog-like.) I fail, however, to catch the note of penitence in
London's narratives of his underlife, and my charge of literary
stealing was not based on his primeval man book, "Before Adam."

As to * * *, as he is not more than a long-range or short-acquaintance
friend of yours, I'll say that I would not believe him under oath on
his deathbed. * * * The truth is, none of these howlers knows the
difference between a million and a thousand nor between truth and
falsehood. I could give you instances of their lying about matters
here at the capital that would make even your hair stand on end. It is
not only that they are all liars--they are mere children; they don't
know anything and don't care to, nor, for prosperity in their
specialties, need to. Veracity would be a disqualification; if they
confined themselves to facts they would not get a hearing. * * * is
the nastiest futilitarian of the gang.

It is not the purpose of these gentlemen that I find so very
objectionable, but the foul means that they employ to accomplish it. I
would be a good deal of a Socialist myself if they had not made the
word (and the thing) stink.

Don't imagine that I'll not "enter Carmel" if I come out there. I'll
visit you till you're sick of me. But I'd not _live_ there and be
"identified" with it, as the newspapers would say. I'm warned by
Hawthorne and Brook Farm.

I'm still working--a little more leisurely--on my books. But I begin
to feel the call of New York on the tympani of my blood globules. I
must go there occasionally, or I should die of intellectual torpor.
* * * "O Lord how long?"--this letter. O well, you need not give it
the slightest attention; there's nothing, I think, that requires a
reply, nor merits one.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 March 6, 1909.]


       *       *       *       *       *

Did you see Markham's review of the "Wine" in "The N. Y. American"?
Pretty fair, but--if a metrical composition full of poetry is not a
poem what is it? And I wonder what he calls Kubla Khan, which has a
beginning but neither middle nor end. And how about The Faerie Queene
for absence of "unity"? Guess I'll ask him.

Isn't it funny what happens to critics who would mark out meters and
bounds for the Muse--denying the name "poem," for example, to a work
because it is not like some other work, or like one that is in the
minds of them?

I hope you are prosperous and happy and that I shall sometimes hear
from you.

Howes writes me that the "Lone Hand"--Sydney--has been commending you.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 October 9, 1909.]


I return the poems with a few random comments and suggestions.

I'm a little alarmed lest you take too seriously my preference of your
rhyme to your blank--especially when I recall your "Music" and "The
Spirit of Beauty." Perhaps I should have said only that you are not so
_likely_ to write well in blank. (I think always of "Tasso to
Leonora," which I cannot learn to like.) Doubtless I have too great
fondness for _great_ lines--_your_ great lines--and they occur less
frequently in your blank verse than in your rhyme--most frequently in
your quatrains, those of sonnets included. Don't swear off
blank--except as you do drink--but study it more. It's "an hellish

It looks as if I _might_ go to California sooner than I had intended.
My health has been wretched all summer. I need a sea voyage--one _via_
Panama would be just the thing. So if the cool weather of autumn do
not restore me I shall not await spring here. But I'm already somewhat
better. If I had been at sea I should have escaped the Cook-Peary
controversy. We talk nothing but arctic matters here--I enclose my
contribution to its horrors.

I'm getting many a good lambasting for my book of essays. Also a sop
of honey now and then. It's all the same to me; I don't worry about
what my contemporaries think of me. I made 'em think of _you_--that's
glory enough for one. And the squirrels in the public parks think me
the finest fellow in the world. They know what I have in every pocket.
Critics don't know that--nor nearly so much.

Advice to a young author: Cultivate the good opinion of squirrels.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 November 1, 1909.]


European criticism of your _bête noir_, old Leopold, is entitled to
attention; American (of him or any other king) is not. It looks as if
the wretch may be guilty of indifference.

In condemning as "revolutionary" the two-rhyme sestet, I think I could
not have been altogether solemn, for (1) I'm something of a
revolutionist myself regarding the sonnet, having frequently expressed
the view that its accepted forms--even the number of lines--were
purely arbitrary; (2) I find I've written several two-rhyme sestets
myself, and (3), like yours, my ear has difficulty in catching the
rhyme effect in a-b-c, a-b-c. The rhyme is delayed till the end of the
fourth line--as it is in the quatrain (not of the sonnet) with
unrhyming first and third lines--a form of which I think all my
multitude of verse supplies no example. I confess, though, that I did
not know that Petrarch had made so frequent use of the 2-rhyme sestet.

I learn a little all the time; some of my old notions of poetry seem
to me now erroneous, even absurd. So I _may_ have been at one time a
stickler for the "regular" three-rhymer. Even now it pleases my ear
well enow if the three are not so arranged as to elude it. I'm sorry
if I misled you. You'd better 'fess up to your young friend, as I do
to you--if I really was serious.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course I should be glad to see Dick, but don't expect to. They
never come, and it has long been my habit to ignore every "declaration
of intention."

I'm greatly pleased to know that you too like those lines of Markham
that you quote from the "Wharf of Dreams." I've repeatedly told him
that that sonnet was his greatest work, and those were its greatest
lines. By the way, my young poet, Loveman, sends me a letter from
Markham, asking for a poem or two for a book, "The Younger Choir,"
that he (M.) is editing. Loveman will be delighted by your good
opinion of "Pierrot"--which still another magazine has returned to me.
Guess I'll have to give it up.

I'm sending you a booklet on loose locutions. It is vilely gotten
up--had to be so to sell for twenty-five cents, the price that I
favored. I just noted down these things as I found them in my reading,
or remembered them, until I had four hundred. Then I took about fifty
from other books, and boiled down the needful damnation. Maybe I have
done too much boiling down--making the stuff "thick and slab." If
there is another edition I shall do a little bettering.

I should like some of those mussels, and, please God, shall help you
cull them next summer. But the abalone--as a Christian comestible he
is a stranger to me and the tooth o' me.

I think you have had some correspondence with my friend Howes of
Galveston. Well, here he is "in his habit as he lives." Of the two
figures in the picture Howes is the one on top.[11] Good night.

[11] Howes was riding on a burro.

     A. B.

[Washington, D. C.,
 January 29, 1910.]


Here are your fine verses--I have been too busy to write to you
before. In truth, I've worked harder now for more than a year than I
ever shall again--and the work will bring me nor gain nor glory. Well,
I shall take a rest pretty soon, partly in California. I thank you for
the picture card. I have succumbed to the post-card fashion myself.

As to some points in your letter.

I've no recollection of advising young authors to "leave all heart and
sentiment out of their work." If I did the context would probably show
that it was because their time might better be given to perfect
themselves in form, against the day when their hearts would be less
wild and their sentiments truer. You know it has always been my belief
that one cannot be trusted to feel until one has learned to think--and
few youngsters have learned to do that. Was it not Dr. Holmes who
advised a young writer to cut out every passage that he thought
particularly good? He'd be sure to think the beautiful and sentimental
passages the best, would he not? * * *

If you mean to write really "vituperative" sonnets (why sonnets?) let
me tell you _one_ secret of success--name your victim and his offense.
To do otherwise is to fire blank cartridges--to waste your words in
air--to club a vacuum. At least your satire must be so personally
applicable that there can be no mistake as to the victim's identity.
Otherwise he is no victim--just a spectator like all others. And that
brings us to Watson. His caddishness consisted, not in satirizing a
woman, which is legitimate, but, first, in doing so without sufficient
reason, and, second, in saying orally (on the safe side of the
Atlantic) what he apparently did not dare say in the verses. * * *

I'm enclosing something that will tickle you I hope--"The Ballade of
the Goodly Fere." The author's[12] father, who is something in the Mint
in Philadelphia, sent me several of his son's poems that were not
good; but at last came this--in manuscript, like the others. Before I
could do anything with it--meanwhile wearing out the paper and the
patience of my friends by reading it at them--the old man asked it
back rather peremptorily. I reluctantly sent it, with a letter of high
praise. The author had "placed" it in London, where it has made a heap
of talk.

[12] Ezra Pound.

It has plenty of faults besides its monotonous rhyme scheme; but tell
me what you think of it.

God willing, we shall eat Carmel mussels and abalones in May or June.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 March 7, 1910.]


My plan is to leave here before April first, pass a few days in New
York and then sail for Colon. If I find the canal work on the Isthmus
interesting I may skip a steamer from Panama to see it. I've no notion
how long it will take to reach San Francisco, and know nothing of the
steamers and their schedules on the Pacific side.

I shall of course want to see Grizzly first--that is to say, he will
naturally expect me to. But if you can pull him down to Carmel about
the time of my arrival (I shall write you the date of my sailing from
New York) I would gladly come there. Carlt, whom I can see at once on
arriving, can tell me where he (Grizzly) is. * * *

I don't think you rightly value "The Goodly Fere." Of course no ballad
written to-day can be entirely good, for it must be an imitation; it
is now an unnatural form, whereas it was once a natural one. We are
no longer a primitive people, and a primitive people's forms and
methods are not ours. Nevertheless, this seems to me an admirable
ballad, as it is given a modern to write ballads. And I think you
overlook the best line:

     "The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue."

The poem is complete as I sent it, and I think it stops right where
and as it should--

     "I ha' seen him eat o' the honey comb
     Sin' they nailed him to the tree."

The current "Literary Digest" has some queer things about (and by)
Pound, and "Current Literature" reprints the "Fere" with all the
wrinkles ironed out of it--making a "capon priest" of it.

Fo' de Lawd's sake! don't apologise for not subscribing for my
"Works." If you did subscribe I should suspect that you were "no
friend o' mine"--it would remove you from that gang and put you in a
class by yourself. Surely you can not think I care who buys or does
not buy my books. The man who expects anything more than lip-service
from his friends is a very young man. There are, for example, a
half-dozen Californians (all loud admirers of Ambrose Bierce) editing
magazines and newspapers here in the East. Every man Jack of them has
turned me down. They will do everything for me but enable me to live.
Friends be damned!--strangers are the chaps for me.

       *       *       *       *       *

I've given away my beautiful sailing canoe and shall never again live
a life on the ocean wave--unless you have boats at Carmel.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 Easter Sunday.]


Here's a letter from Loveman, with a kindly reference to you--that's
why I send it.

I'm to pull out of here next Wednesday, the 30th, but don't know just
when I shall sail from New York--apparently when there are no more
dinners to eat in that town and no more friends to visit. May God in
His infinite mercy lessen the number of both. I should get into your
neck o' woods early in May. Till then God be with you instead.


Easter Sunday.

[Why couldn't He stay put?]

[Washington, D. C.,
 March 29, 1910.]


I'm "all packed up," even my pens; for to-morrow I go to New
York--whence I shall write you before embarking.

Neale seems pleased by your "permission to print," as Congressmen say
who can't make a speech yet want one in the Record, for home


[Guerneville, Cal.,
 May 24, 1910.]


You will probably have learned of my arrival--this is my first leisure
to apprise you.

I took Carlt and Lora and came directly up here--where we all hope to
see you before I see Carmel. Lora remains here for the week, perhaps
longer, and Carlt is to come up again on Saturday. Of course you do
not need an invitation to come whenever you feel like it.

I had a pleasant enough voyage and have pretty nearly got the "slosh"
of the sea out of my ears and its heave out of my bones.

A bushel of letters awaits attention, besides a pair of lizards that I
have undertaken to domesticate. So good morning.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Key Route Inn, Oakland,
 June 25, 1910.]


You'll observe that I acted on your suggestion, and am "here."

Your little sisters are most gracious to me, despite my candid
confession that I extorted your note of introduction by violence and

Baloo[13] and his cubs went on to Guerneville the day of their return
from Carmel. But I saw them.

[13] Albert Bierce.

I'm deep in work, and shall be for a few weeks; then I shall be off to
Carmel for a lungful of sea air and a bellyful of abalones and

I suppose you'll be going to the Midsummer Jinks. Fail not to stop
over here--I don't feel that I have really seen you yet.

With best regards to Carrie.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Laguna Vista, Oakland,
 Sunday, July 24, 1910.]


Supposing you to have gone home, I write to send the poem. Of course
it is a good poem. But I begin to want to hear your larger voice
again. I want to see you standing tall on the heights--above the
flower-belt and the bird-belt. I want to hear,

       "like Ocean on a western beach,
     The surge and thunder of the Odyssey,"

as you _Odyssate_.

I _think_ I met that dog * * * to-day, and as it was a choice between
kicking him and avoiding him I chose the more prudent course.

I've not seen your little sisters--they seem to have tired of me. Why
not?--I have tired of myself.

Fail not to let me know when to expect you for the Guerneville trip.
* * *

     Sincerely yours,

[The Laguna Vista,
 October 20, 1910.]

I go back to the Inn on Saturday.


It is long since I read the Book of Job, but if I thought it better
than your addition to it I should not sleep until I had read it
again--and again. Such a superb Who's Who in the Universe! Not a
Homeric hero in the imminence of a personal encounter ever did so fine
bragging. I hope you will let it into your next book, if only to show
that the "inspired" scribes of the Old Testament are not immatchable
by modern genius. You know the Jews regard them, not as prophets, in
our sense, but merely as poets--and the Jews ought to know something
of their own literature.

I fear I shall not be able to go to Carmel while you're a widow--I've
tangled myself up with engagements again. Moreover, I'm just back from
the St. Helena cemetery, and for a few days shall be too blue for

"Shifted" is better, I think (in poetry) than "joggled." You say you
"don't like working." Then write a short story. That's work, but
you'd like it--or so I think. Poetry is the highest of arts, but why
be a specialist?

     Sincerely yours,

[Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 November 11, 1910.]


It is nice to hear from you and learn that despite my rude and
intolerant ways you manage to slip in a little affection for me--you
and the rest of the folk. And really I think I left a little piece of
my heart out there--mostly in Berkeley. It is funny, by the way, that
in falling out of love with most of my old sweethearts and
semi-sweethearts I should fall _in_ love with my own niece. It is
positively scandalous!

I return Sloot's letter. It gave me a bit of a shock to have him say
that he would probably never see me again. Of course that is true, but
I had not thought of it just that way--had not permitted myself to, I
suppose. And, after all, if things go as I'm hoping they will,
Montesano will take me in again some day before he seems likely to
leave it. We four may see the Grand Cañon together yet. I'd like to
lay my bones thereabout.

The garments that you persuaded me were mine are not. They are
probably Sterling's, and he has probably damned me for stealing them.
I don't care; he has no right to dress like the "filthy rich." Hasn't
he any "class consciousness"? However, I am going to send them back to
you by express. I'll mail you the paid receipt; so don't pay the
charge that the company is sure to make. They charged me again for the
two packages that you paid for, and got away with the money from the
Secretary of my club, where they were delivered. I had to get it back
from the delivery man at the cannon's mouth--34 calibre.

With love to Carlt and Sloots,

     Affectionately yours,

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 November 14, 1910.]


       *       *       *       *       *

You asked me about the relative interest of Yosemite and the Grand
Cañon. It is not easy to compare them, they are so different. In
Yosemite only the magnitudes are unfamiliar; in the Cañon nothing is
familiar--at least, nothing would be familiar to you, though I have
seen something like it on the upper Yellowstone. The "color scheme" is
astounding--almost incredible, as is the "architecture." As to
magnitudes, Yosemite is nowhere. From points on the rim of the Cañon
you can see fifty, maybe a hundred, miles of it. And it is never twice
alike. Nobody can describe it. Of course you must see it sometime. I
wish our Yosemite party could meet there, but probably we never will;
it is a long way from here, and not quite next door to Berkeley and

I've just got settled in my same old tenement house, the Olympia, but
the club is my best address.

       *       *       *       *       *


[Washington, D. C.,
 November 29, 1910.]


Thank you very much for the work that you are doing for me in
photography and china. I know it is great work. But take your time
about it.

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving at Upshack. (That is my name
for Sloots' place. It will be understood by anyone that has walked to
it from Montesano, carrying a basket of grub on a hot day.)

I trust Sterling got his waistcoat and trousers in time to appear at
his uncle's dinner in other outer garments than a steelpen coat. * * *
I am glad you like (or like to have) the books. You would have had all
my books when published if I had supposed that you cared for them, or
even knew about them. I am now encouraged to hope that some day you
and Carlt and Sloots may be given the light to see the truth at the
heart of my "views" (which I have expounded for half a century) and
will cease to ally yourselves with what is most hateful to me,
socially and politically. I shall then feel (in my grave) that
perhaps, after all, I knew how to write. Meantime, run after your
false fool gods until you are tired; I shall not believe that your
hearts are really in the chase, for they are pretty good hearts, and
those of your gods are nests of nastiness and heavens of hate.

Now I feel better, and shall drink a toddy to the tardy time when
those whom I love shall not think me a perverted intelligence; when
they shall not affirm my intellect and despise its work--confess my
superior understanding and condemn all its fundamental conclusions.
Then we will be a happy family--you and Carlt in the flesh and Sloots
and I in our bones.

       *       *       *       *       *

My health is excellent in this other and better world than California.

God bless you.


[Washington, D. C.,
 December 22, 1910.]


You had indeed "something worth writing about"--not only the effect
of the impenitent mushroom, but the final and disastrous overthrow of
that ancient superstition, Sloots' infallibility as a mushroomer. As I
had expected to be at that dinner, I suppose I should think myself to
have had "a narrow escape." Still, I wish I could have taken my chance
with the rest of you.

How would you like three weeks of nipping cold weather, with a foot of
snow? That's what has been going on here. Say, tell Sloots that the
front footprints of a rabbit-track

[Illustration: Rabbit tracks]

are made by the animal's hind feet, straddling his forelegs. Could he
have learned that important fact in California, except by hearsay?
Observe (therefore) the superiority of this climate.

       *       *       *       *       *


[Washington, D. C.,
 January 26, 1911.]


I have just received a very affectionate letter from * * * and now
know that I did her an injustice in what I carelessly wrote to you
about her incivility to me after I had left her. It is plain that she
did not mean to be uncivil in what she wrote me on a postal card which
I did not look at until I was in the train; she just "didn't know any
better." So I have restored her to favor, and hope that you will
consider my unkind remarks about her as unwritten. Guess I'm addicted
to going off at half-cock anyhow.


[Washington, D. C.,
 February 3, 1911.]


I have the Yosemite book, and Miss Christiansen has the Mandarin coat.
I thank you very much. The pictures are beautiful, but of them all I
prefer that of Nanny bending over the stove. True, the face is not
visible, but it looks like you all over.

I'm filling out the book with views of the Grand Cañon, so as to have
my scenic treasures all together. Also I'm trying to get for you a
certain book of Cañon pictures, which I neglected to obtain when
there. You will like it--if I get it.

Sometime when you have nothing better to do--don't be in a hurry about
it--will you go out to Mountain View cemetery with your camera and
take a picture of the grave of Elizabeth (Lily) Walsh, the little deaf
mute that I told you of? I think the man in the office will locate it
for you. It is in the Catholic part of the cemetery--St. Mary's. The
name Lily Walsh is on the beveled top of the headstone which is shaped
like this:

[Illustration: Headstone]

You remember I was going to take you there, but never found the time.

Miss Christiansen says she is writing, or has written you. I think the
coat very pretty.


[Washington, D. C.,
 February 15, 1911.]


As to the "form of address." A man passing another was halted by the
words: "You dirty dog!" Turning to the speaker, he bowed coldly and
said: "Smith is my name, sir." _My_ name is Bierce, and I find, on
reflection, that I like best those who call me just that. If my
christen name were George I'd want to be called _that_; but "Ambrose"
is fit only for mouths of women--in which it sounds fairly well.

_How_ are you my master? I never read one of your poems without
learning something, though not, alas, how to make one.

Don't worry about "Lilith"; it will work out all right. As to the
characters not seeming alive, I've always fancied the men and women of
antiquity--particularly the kings, and great ones generally--should
not be too flesh-and-bloody, like the "persons whom one meets." A
little coldness and strangeness is very becoming to them. I like them
to _stalk_, like the ghosts that they are--our modern passioning seems
a bit anachronous in them. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm sure you will
understand and have some sympathy with the error.

Hudson Maxim takes medicine without biting the spoon. He had a dose
from me and swallowed it smiling. I too gave him some citations of
great poetry that is outside the confines of his "definition"--poetry
in which are no tropes at all. He seems to lack the _feel_ of poetry.
He even spoils some of the "great lines" by not including enough of
the context. As to his "improvements," fancy his preference for "the
fiercest spirit of _the warrior host_" to "the fiercest spirit _that
fought in Heaven_"! O my!

Yes, Conrad told me the tale of his rescue by you. He gave me the
impression of hanging in the sky above billows unthinkably huge and
rocks inconceivably hard.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course I could not but be pleased by your inclusion of that sonnet
on me in your book. And, by the way, I'm including in my tenth volume
my _Cosmopolitan_ article on the "Wine" and my end of the controversy
about it. All the volumes of the set are to be out by June, saith the
publisher. He is certainly half-killing me with proofs--mountains of
proofs! * * *

Yes, you'll doubtless have a recruit in Carlt for your Socialist
menagerie--if he is not already a veteran exhibit. Your "party" is
recruited from among sore-heads only. There are some twenty-five
thousand of them (sore-heads) in this neck o' woods--all disloyal--all
growling at the Government which feeds and clothes them twice as well
as they could feed and clothe themselves in private employment. They
move Heaven and Earth to get in, and they never resign--just "take it
out" in abusing the Government. If I had my way nobody should remain
in the civil service more than five years--at the end of that period
all are disloyal. Not one of them cares a rap for the good of the
service or the country--as we soldiers used to do on thirteen dollars
a month (with starvation, disease and death thrown in). Their
grievance is that the Government does not undertake to maintain them
in the style to which they choose to accustom themselves. They fix
their standard of living just a little higher than they can afford,
and would do so no matter what salary they got, as all salary-persons
invariably do. Then they damn their employer for not enabling them to
live up to it.

If they can do better "outside" why don't they go outside and do so;
if they can't (which means that they are getting more than they are
worth) what are they complaining about?

What this country needs--what every country needs occasionally--is a
good hard bloody war to revive the vice of patriotism on which its
existence as a nation depends. Meantime, you socialers, anarchists and
other sentimentaliters and futilitarians will find the civil-service
your best recruiting ground, for it is the Land of Reasonless
Discontent. I yearn for the strong-handed Dictator who will swat you
all on the mouths o' you till you are "heard to cease." Until
then--How? (drinking.)

     Yours sincerely,

[Washington, D. C.,
 February 19, 1911.]


Every evening coffee is made for me in my rooms, but I have not yet
ventured to take it from _your_ cup for fear of an accident to the
cup. Some of the women in this house are stark, staring mad about that
cup and saucer, and the plate.

I am very sorry Carlt finds his position in the civil service so
intolerable. If he can do better outside he should resign. If he
can't, why, that means that the Government is doing better for him
than he can do for himself, and you are not justified in your little
tirade about the oppression of "the masses." "The masses" have been
unprosperous from time immemorial, and always will be. A very simple
way to escape that condition (and the _only_ way) is to elevate
oneself out of that incapable class.

You write like an anarchist and say that if you were a man you'd _be_
one. I should be sorry to believe that, for I should lose a very
charming niece, and you a most worthy uncle.

You say that Carlt and Grizzly are not Socialists. Does that mean that
_they_ are anarchists? I draw the line at anarchists, and would put
them all to death if I lawfully could.

But I fancy your intemperate words are just the babbling of a
thoughtless girl. In any case you ought to know from my work in
literature that I am not the person to whom to address them. I carry
my convictions into my life and conduct, into my friendships,
affections and all my relations with my fellow creatures. So I think
it would be more considerate to leave out of your letters to _me_ some
things that you may have in mind. Write them to others.

My own references to socialism, and the like, have been jocular--I did
not think you perverted "enough to hurt," though I consider your
intellectual environment a mighty bad one. As to such matters in
future let us make a treaty of silence.


[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 March 1, 1911.]


It is pleasant to know that the family Robertson is "seeing things"
and enjoying them. I hate travel, but find it delightful when done by
you, instead of me. Believe me, I have had great pleasure in following
you by your trail of words, as in the sport known as the "paper

And now about the little story. Your refusal to let your father amend
it is no doubt dreadfully insubordinate, but I brave his wrath by
approval. It is _your_ work that I want to see, not anybody's else.
I've a profound respect for your father's talent: as a litérateur, he
is the best physician that I know; but he must not be coaching my
pupil, or he and I (as Mark Twain said of Mrs. Astor) "will have a
falling out."

The story is not a story. It is not narrative, and nothing occurs. It
is a record of mental mutations--of spiritual vicissitudes--states of
mind. That is the most difficult thing that you could have attempted.
It can be done acceptably by genius and the skill that comes of
practice, as can anything. You are not quite equal to it--yet. You
have done it better than I could have done it at your age, but not
altogether well; as doubtless you did not expect to do it. It would be
better to confine yourself at present to simple narrative. Write of
something done, not of something thought and felt, except
incidentally. I'm sure it is in you to do great work, but in this
writing trade, as in other matters, excellence is to be attained no
otherwise than by beginning at the beginning--the simple at first,
then the complex and difficult. You can not go up a mountain by a leap
at the peak.

I'm retaining your little sketch till your return, for you can do
nothing with it--nor can I. If it had been written--preferably
typewritten--with wide lines and margins I could do something _to_ it.
Maybe when I get the time I shall; at present I am swamped with
"proofs" and two volumes behind the printers. If I knew that I should
_see_ you and talk it over I should rewrite it and (original in hand)
point out the reasons for each alteration--you would see them quickly
enough when shown. Maybe you will all come this way.

You are _very_ deficient in spelling. I hope that is not incurable,
though some persons--clever ones, too--never do learn to spell
correctly. You will have to learn it from your reading--noting
carefully all but the most familiar words.

You have "pet" words--nearly all of us have. One of yours is
"flickering." Addiction to certain words is an "upsetting sin" most
difficult to overcome. Try to overcome it by cutting them out where
they seem most felicitous.

By the way, your "hero," as you describe him, would not have been
accessible to all those spiritual impressions--it is _you_ to whom
they come. And that confirms my judgment of your imagination.
Imagination is nine parts of the writing trade. With enough of _that_
all things are possible; but it is the other things that require the
hard work, the incessant study, the tireless seeking, the indomitable
will. It is no "pic-nic," this business of writing, believe me.
Success comes by favor of the gods, yes; but O the days and nights
that you must pass before their altars, prostrate and imploring! They
are exacting--the gods; years and years of service you must give in
the temple. If you are prepared to do this go on to your reward. If
not, you can not too quickly throw away the pen and--well, marry, for

     "Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring."

_My_ vote is that you persevere.

With cordial regards to all good Robertsons--I think there are no
others--I am most sincerely your friend,


[Washington, D. C.,
 April 20, 1911.]


Thank you for the pictures of the Sloots fire-place and "Joe Gans." I
can fancy myself cooking a steak in the one, and the other eating one
better cooked.

I'm glad I've given you the Grand Cañon fever, for I hope to revisit
the place next summer, and perhaps our Yosemite bunch can meet me
there. My outing this season will be in Broadway in little old New
York. That is not as good as Monte Sano, but the best that I can do.

You must have had a good time with the Sterlings, and doubtless you
all suffered from overfeeding.

Carlt's action in denuding the shaggy pelt of his hands meets with my
highest commendation, but you'd better look out. It may mean that he
has a girl--a Jewess descended from Jacob, with an hereditary
antipathy to anything like Esau. Carlt was an Esaurian.

You'll have to overlook some bad errors in Vol. V of the C. W. I did
not have the page proofs. Some of the verses are unintelligible.
That's the penalty for philandering in California instead of sticking
to my work.

       *       *       *       *       *


[Washington, D. C.,
 April 28, 1911.]


I've been having noctes ambrosianæ with "The House of Orchids," though
truly it came untimely, for I've not yet done reading your other
books. Don't crowd the dancers, please. I don't know (and you don't
care) what poem in it I like best, but I get as much delight out of
these lines as out of any:

     "Such flowers pale as are
     Worn by the goddess of a distant star--
     Before whose holy eyes
     Beauty and evening meet."

And--but what's the use? I can't quote the entire book.

I'm glad you did see your way to make "Memory" a female.

To Hades with Bonnet's chatter of gems and jewels--among the minor
poetic properties they are better (to my taste) than flowers. By the
way, I wonder what "lightness" Bonnet found in the "Apothecary"
verses. They seem to me very serious.

Rereading and rerereading of the Job confirm my first opinion of it. I
find only one "bad break" in it--and that not inconsistent with God's
poetry in the real Job: "ropes of adamant." A rope of stone is
imperfectly conceivable--is, in truth, mixed metaphor.

I think it was a mistake for you to expound to Ned Hamilton, or
anybody, how you wrote the "Forty-third Chapter," or anything. When
an author explains his methods of composition he cannot expect to be
taken seriously. Nine writers in ten wish to have it thought that they
"dash off" things. Nobody believes it, and the judicious would be
sorry to believe it. Maybe you do, but I guess you work hard and
honestly enough over the sketch "dashed off." If you don't--do.

       *       *       *       *       *

With love to Carrie, I will leave you to your sea-gardens and

     Sincerely yours,

I'm off to Broadway next week for a season of old-gentlemanly revelry.

[Washington, D. C.,
 May 2, 1911.]


In packing (I'm going to New York) I find this "Tidal" typoscript, and
fear that I was to have returned it. Pray God it was not my neglect to
do so that kept it out of the book. But if not, what did keep it out?
Maybe the fact that it requires in the reader an uncommon acquaintance
with the Scriptures.

If Robertson publishes any more books for you don't let him use
"silver" leaf on the cover. It is not silver, cannot be neatly put on,
and will come off. The "Wine" book is incomparably better and more
tasteful than either of the others. By the way, I stick to my liking
for Scheff's little vignette on the "Wine."

In "Duandon" you--_you_, Poet of the Heavens!--come perilously near to
qualifying yourself for "mention" in a certain essay of mine on the
blunders of writers and artists in matters lunar. You must have
observed that immediately after the full o' the moon the light of that
orb takes on a redness, and when it rises after dark is hardly a
"towering glory," nor a "frozen splendor." Its "web" is not
"silver." In truth, the gibbous moon, rising, has something of menace
in its suggestion. Even twenty-four (or rather twenty-five) hours
"after the full" this change in the quality and quantity of its light
is very marked. I don't know what causes the sudden alteration, but it
has always impressed me.

I feel a little like signing this criticism "Gradgrind," but anyhow it
may amuse you.

Do you mind squandering ten cents and a postage stamp on me? I want a
copy of _Town Talk_--the one in which you are a "Varied Type."

I don't know much of some of your poets mentioned in that article, but
could wish that you had said a word about Edith Thomas. Thank you for
your too generous mention of me--who brought you so much vilification!

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 May 29, 1911.]


You are a faithful correspondent; I have your postals from Athens and
Syracuse, and now the letter from Rome. The Benares sketch was duly
received, and I wrote you about it to the address that you
gave--Cairo, I think. As you will doubtless receive my letter in due
time I will not now repeat it--further than to say that I liked it. If
it had been accompanied by a few photographs (indispensable now to
such articles) I should have tried to get it into some magazine. True,
Benares, like all other Asiatic and European cities, is pretty
familiar to even the "general reader," but the sketch had something of
the writer's personality in it--the main factor in all good writing,
as in all forms of art.

May I tell you what you already know--that you are deficient in
spelling and punctuation? It is worth while to know these things--and
all things that you can acquire. Some persons can not acquire
orthography, and I don't wonder, but every page of every good book is
a lesson in punctuation. One's punctuation is a necessary part of
one's style; you cannot attain to precision if you leave that matter
to editors and printers.

You ask if "stories" must have action. The name "story" is preferably
used of narrative, not reflection nor mental analysis. The
"psychological novel" is in great vogue just now, for example--the
adventures of the mind, it might be called--but it requires a
profounder knowledge of life and character than is possible to a young
girl of whatever talent; and the psychological "short story" is even
more difficult. Keep to narrative and simple description for a few
years, until your wings have grown. These descriptions of foreign
places that you write me are good practice. You are not likely to tell
me much that I do not know, nor is that necessary; but your way of
telling what I do know is sometimes very interesting as a study of
_you_. So write me all you will, and if you would like the letters as
a record of your travels you shall have them back; I am preserving

I judge from your letter that your father went straight through
without bothering about me. Maybe I should not have seen him anyhow,
for I was away from Washington for nearly a month.

Please give my love to your mother and sister, whom, of course, you
are to bring here. I shall not forgive you if you do not.

Yes, I wish that you lived nearer to me, so that we could go over your
work together. I could help you more in a few weeks _that_ way than
in years _this_ way. God never does anything just right.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 July 31, 1911.]


Thank you for that Times "review." It is a trifle less malicious than
usual--regarding _me_, that is all. My publisher, Neale, who was here
last evening, is about "taking action" against that concern for
infringement of his copyright in my little book, "Write It Right." The
wretches have been serving it up to their readers for several weeks as
the work of a woman named Learned. Repeatedly she uses my very
words--whole passages of them. They refused even to confess the
misdeeds of their contributrix, and persist in their sin. So they will
have to fight.

* * * I have never been hard on women whose hearts go with their
admiration, and whose bodies follow their hearts--I don't mean that
the latter was the case in this instance. Nor am I very exacting as to
the morality of my men friends. I would not myself take another man's
woman, any more than I would take his purse. Nor, I trust, would I
seduce the daughter or sister of a friend, nor any maid whom it would
at all damage--and as to _that_ there is no hard and fast rule.

       *       *       *       *       *

A fine fellow, I, to be casting the first stone, or the one-hundredth,
at a lovelorn woman, weak or strong! By the way, I should not believe
in the love of a strong one, wife, widow or maid.

It looks as if I may get to Sag Harbor for a week or so in the middle
of the month. It is really not a question of expense, but Neale has
blocked out a lot of work for me. He wants two more volumes--even five
more if I'll make 'em. Guess I'll give him two. In a week or so I
shall be able to say whether I can go Sagharboring. If so, I think we
should have a night in New York first, no? You could motor-boat up and

     Sincerely yours,

[14] Addressed to George Sterling at Sag Harbor, Long Island.

[Washington, D. C.,
 Monday, August 7, 1911.]


In one of your letters you were good enough to promise me a motorboat
trip from New York to Sag Harbor. I can think of few things more
delightful than navigating in a motorboat the sea that I used to
navigate in an open canoe; it will seem like Progress. So if you are
still in that mind please write me what day _after Saturday next_ you
can meet me in New York and I'll be there. I should prefer that you
come the day before the voyage and dine with me that evening.

I always stay at the Hotel Navarre, 7th avenue and 38th street. If
unable to get in there I'll leave my address there. Or, tell me where
_you_ will be.

     Sincerely yours,

If the motorboat plan is not practicable let me know and I'll go by
train or steamer; it will not greatly matter. A. B.

[Washington, D. C.,
 Tuesday, August 8, 1911.]


       *       *       *       *       *

Kindly convey to young Smith of Auburn my felicitations on his
admirable "Ode to the Abyss"--a large theme, treated with dignity and
power. It has many striking passages--such, for example, as "The Romes
of ruined spheres." I'm conscious of my sin against the rhetoricians
in liking that, for it jolts the reader out of the Abyss and back to
earth. Moreover, it is a metaphor which belittles, instead of
dignifying. But I like it.

He is evidently a student of George Sterling, and being in the
formative stage, cannot--why should he?--conceal the fact.

My love to all good Californians of the Sag Harbor colony.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 November 16, 1911.]


It is good to know that you are again happy--that is to say, you are
in Carmel. For your _future_ happiness (if success and a certain
rounding off of your corners would bring it, as I think) I could wish
you in New York or thereabout. As the Scripture hath it: "It is not
good for a man to be in Carmel"--_Revised Inversion_. I note that at
the late election California damned herself to a still lower
degradation and is now unfit for a white man to live in. Initiative,
referendum, recall, employers' liability, woman suffrage--yah!

       *       *       *       *       *

But you are not to take too seriously my dislike of * * *[15] I like
him personally very well; he talks like a normal human being. It is
only that damned book of his. He was here and came out to my tenement
a few evenings ago, finding me in bed and helpless from lumbago, as I
was for weeks. I am now able to sit up and take notice, and there are
even fears for my recovery. My enemies would say, as Byron said of
Lady B., I am becoming "dangerously well again."

[15] Excised by G. S.

       *       *       *       *       *

As to harlots, there are not ten in a hundred that are such for any
other reason than that they wanted to be. Their exculpatory stories
are mostly lies of magnitude.

Sloots writes me that he will perhaps "walk over" from the mine to
Yosemite next summer. I can't get there much before July first, but if
there is plenty of snow in the mountains next winter the valley should
be visitable then. Later, I hope to beguest myself for a few days at
the Pine Inn, Carmel. Tell it not to the Point Lobos mussel!

My love to Carrie.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 December 27, 1911.]


As you do not give me that lady's address I infer that you no longer
care to have me meet her--which is a relief to me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, I'm a bit broken up by the death of Pollard, whose body I
assisted to burn. He lost his mind, was paralyzed, had his head cut
open by the surgeons, and his sufferings were unspeakable. Had he
lived he would have been an idiot; so it is all right--

     "But O, the difference to me!"

If you don't think him pretty bright read any of his last three books,
"Their Day in Court," "Masks and Minstrels," and "Vagabond Journeys."
He did not see the last one--Neale brought down copies of it when he
came to Baltimore to attend the funeral.

I'm hoping that if Carlt and Lora go to Wagner's mine and we go to
Yosemite, Lora, at least, will come to us out there. We shall need
her, though Carrie will find that Misses C. and S. will be "no
deadheads in the enterprise"--to quote a political phrase of long ago.
As to me, I shall leave my ten-pounds-each books at home and, like
St. Jerome, who never traveled with other baggage than a skull, be
"flying light." My love to Carrie.


[Washington, D. C.,
 January 5, 1912.]


It is good to hear from you again, even if I did have to give you a
hint that I badly needed a letter.

I am glad that you are going to the mine (if you go)--though Berkeley
and Oakland will not be the same without you. And where can I have my
mail forwarded?--and be permitted to climb in at the window to get it.
As to pot-steaks, toddies, and the like, I shall simply swear off
eating and drinking.

If Carlt is a "game sport," and does not require "a dead-sure thing,"
the mining gamble is the best bet for him. Anything to get out of that
deadening, hopeless grind, the "Government service." It kills a man's
self-respect, atrophies his powers, unfits him for anything, tempts
him to improvidence and then turns him out to starve.

It is pleasant to know that there is a hope of meeting you in
Yosemite--the valley would not be the same without you. My girls
cannot leave here till the schools close, about June 20, so we shall
not get into the valley much before July first; but if you have a good
winter, with plenty of snow, that will do. We shall stay as long as we
like. George says he and Carrie can go, and I hope Sloots can. It is
likely that Neale, my publisher, will be of my party. I shall hope to
visit your mine afterward.

       *       *       *       *       *

My health, which was pretty bad for weeks after returning from Sag
Harbor, is restored, and I was never so young in all my life.

Here's wishing you and Carlt plenty of meat on the bone that the new
year may fling to you.


[Washington, D. C.,
 February 14, 1912.]


I'm a long time noticing your letter of January fifth, chiefly
because, like Teddy, "I have nothing to say." There's this difference
atwixt him and me--I could say something if I tried.

* * * I'm hoping that you are at work and doing something worth while,
though I see nothing of yours. Battle against the encroaching abalone
should not engage all your powers. That spearing salmon at night
interests me, though doubtless the "season" will be over before I
visit Carmel.

Bear Yosemite in mind for latter part of June, and use influence with
Lora and Grizzly, even if Carlt should be inhumed in his mine.

We've had about seven weeks of snow and ice, the mercury around the
zero mark most of the time. Once it was 13 below. You'd not care for
that sort of thing, I fancy. Indeed, I'm a bit fatigued of it myself,
and on Saturday next, God willing, shall put out my prow to sea and
bring up, I hope, in Bermuda, not, of course, to remain long.

You did not send me the Weininger article on "Sex and Character"--I
mean the extract that you thought like some of my stuff.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 April 25, 1912.]


I did not go to Bermuda; so I'm not "back." But I did go to Richmond,
a city whose tragic and pathetic history, of which one is reminded by
everything that one sees there, always gets on to my nerves with a
particular dejection. True, the history is some fifty years old, but
it is always with me when I'm there, making solemn eyes at me.

You're right about "this season in the East." It has indeed been
penetential. For the first time I am thoroughly disgusted and
half-minded to stay in California when I go--a land where every
prospect pleases, and only labor unions, progressives, suffragettes
(and socialists) are vile. No, I don't think I could stand California,
though I'm still in the mind to visit it in June. I shall be sorry to
miss Carrie at Carmel, but hope to have the two of you on some
excursion or camping trip. We _want_ to go to Yosemite, which the
girls have not seen, but if there's no water there it may not be
advisable. Guess we'll have to let you natives decide. How would the
Big Trees do as a substitute?

       *       *       *       *       *

Girls is pizen, but not necessarily fatal. I've taken 'em in large
doses all my life, and suffered pangs enough to equip a number of
small Hells, but never has one of them paralyzed the inner working
man. * * * But I'm not a poet. Moreover, as I've not yet put off my
armor I oughtn't to boast.

So--you've subscribed for the Collected Works. Good! that is what you
ought to have done a long time ago. It is what every personal friend
of mine ought to have done, for all profess admiration of my work in
literature. It is what I was fool enough to permit my publisher to
think that many of them would do. How many do you guess have done
so? I'll leave you guessing. God help the man with many friends, for
_they_ will not. My royalties on the sets sold to my friends are less
than one-fourth of my outlay in free sets for other friends. Tell me
not in cheerful numbers of the value and sincerity of friendships.

       *       *       *       *       *

There! I've discharged my bosom of that perilous stuff and shall take
a drink. Here's to you.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 June 5, 1912.]


       *       *       *       *       *

Thank you for the poems, which I've not had the time to
consider--being disgracefully busy in order to get away. I don't
altogether share your reverence for Browning, but the primacy of your
verses on him over the others printed on the same page is almost
startling. * * *

Of course it's all nonsense about the waning of your power--though
thinking it so might make it so. My notion is that you've only _begun_
to do things. But I wish you'd go back to your chain in your uncle's
office. I'm no believer in adversity and privation as a spur to
Pegasus. They are oftener a "hopple." The "meagre, muse-rid mope,
adust and thin" will commonly do better work when tucked out with
three square meals a day, and having the sure and certain hope of
their continuance.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm expecting to arrive in Oakland (Key Route Inn, probably) late in
the evening of the 22d of this month and dine at Carlt's on the
24th--my birthday. Anyhow, I've invited myself, though it is possible
they may be away on their vacation. Carlt has promised to try to get
his "leave" changed to a later date than the one he's booked for.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Sincerely yours,

P.S.--Just learned that we can not leave here until the 19th--which
will bring me into San Francisco on the 26th. Birthday dinner served
in diner--last call!

I've _read_ the Browning poem and I now know why there was a Browning.
Providence foresaw you and prepared him for you--blessed be
Providence! * * *

Mrs. Havens asks me to come to them at Sag Harbor--and shouldn't I
like to! * * * Sure the song of the Sag Harbor frog would be music to
me--as would that of the indigenous duckling.

[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 December 19, 1912.]


I thank you for the article from _The Argonaut_, and am glad to get it
for a special reason, as it gives me your address and thereby enables
me to explain something.

When, several years ago, you sent me a similar article I took it to
the editor of The National Geographical Magazine (I am a member of the
Society that issues it) and suggested its publication. I left it with
him and hearing nothing about it for several months called at his
office _twice_ for an answer, and for the copy if publication was
refused. The copy had been "mislaid"--lost, apparently--and I never
obtained it. Meantime, either I had "mislaid" your address, or it was
only on the copy. So I was unable to write you. Indirectly, afterward,
I heard that you had left California for parts to me unknown.

Twice since then I have been in San Francisco, but confess that I did
not think of the matter.

Cahill's projection[16] is indubitably the right one, but you are "up
against" the ages and will be a long time dead before it finds favor,
or I'm no true pessimist.

[16] The Butterfly Map of the World.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Olympia Apartments, Washington, D. C.,
 January 17, 1913.]


It's "too bad" that I couldn't remain in Oakland and Berkeley another
month to welcome you, but I fear it will "have to go at that," for
I've no expectation of ever seeing California again. I like the
country as well as ever, but I _don't_ like the rule of labor unions,
the grafters and the suffragettes. So far as I am concerned they may
stew in their own juice; I shall not offer myself as an ingredient.

It is pleasant to know that you are all well, including Johnny, poor
little chap.

You are right to study philology and rhetoric. Surely there must be
_some_ provision for your need--a university where one cannot learn
one's own language would be a funny university.

I think your "Mr. Wells" who gave a course of lectures on essay
writing may be my friend Wells Drury, of Berkeley. If so, mention me
to him and he will advise you what to do.

Another good friend of mine, whom, however I did not succeed in seeing
during either of my visits to California, is W. C. Morrow, who is a
professional teacher of writing and himself a splendid writer. He
could help you. He lives in San Francisco, but I think has a class in
Oakland. I don't know his address; you'll find it in the directory.
He used to write stories splendidly tragic, but I'm told he now
teaches the "happy ending," in which he is right--commercially--but
disgusting. I can cordially recommend him.

Keep up your German and French of course. If your English (your mother
speech) is so defective, think what _they_ must be.

I'll think of some books that will be helpful to you in your English.
Meantime send me anything that you care to that you write. It will at
least show me what progress you make.

I'm returning some (all, I think) of your sketches. Don't destroy
them--yet. Maybe some day you'll find them worth rewriting.

     My love to you all.

[The Olympia, Euclid and 14th Sts., Washington, D. C.,
 January 20, 1913.]


It is pleasant to know that you are not easily discouraged by the
croaking of such ravens as I, and I confess that the matter of the
"civic centre" supplies some reason to hope for prosperity to the
Cahill projection--which (another croak) will doubtless bear some
other man's name, probably Hayford's or Woodward's.

I sent the "Argonaut" article to my friend Dr. Franklin, of
Schenectady, a "scientific gent" of some note, but have heard nothing
from him.

I'm returning the "Chronicle" article, which I found interesting. If I
were not a writer without an "organ" I'd have a say about that
projection. For near four years I've been out of the newspaper game--a
mere compiler of my collected works in twelve volumes--and shall
probably never "sit into the game" again, being seventy years old. My
work is finished, and so am I.

Luck to you in the new year, and in many to follow.

     Sincerely yours,

[The Olympia Apartments, Washington, D. C.,
 I prefer to get my letters at this address. Make a memorandum of it.
 January 28, 1913.]


I have been searching for your letter of long ago, fearing it
contained something that I should have replied to. But I don't find
it; so I make the convenient assumption that it did not.

I'd like to hear from you, however unworthy I am to do so, for I want
to know if you and Carlt have still a hope of going mining. Pray God
you do, if there's a half-chance of success; for success in the
service of the Government is failure.

Winter here is two-thirds gone and we have not had a cold day, and
only one little dash of snow--on Christmas eve. Can California beat
that? I'm told it's as cold there as in Greenland.

Tell me about yourself--your health since the operation--how it has
affected you--all about you. My own health is excellent; I'm equal to
any number of Carlt's toddies. By the way, Blanche has made me a
co-defendant with you in the crime (once upon a time) of taking a drop
too much. I plead not guilty--how do _you_ plead? Sloots, at least,
would acquit us on the ground of inability--that one _can't_ take too
much. * * *

     Affectionately, your avuncular,

[Washington, D. C.,
 March 20, 1913.]


I'm returning your little sketches with a few markings which are to be
regarded (or disregarded) as mere suggestions. I made them in pencil,
so that you can erase them if you don't approve. Of course I should
make many more if I could have you before me so that I could explain
_why_; in this way I can help you but little. You'll observe that I
have made quite a slaughter of some of the adjectives in some of your
sentences--you will doubtless slaughter some in others. Nearly all
young writers use too many adjectives. Indeed, moderation and skill in
the use of adjectives are about the last things a good writer learns.
Don't use those that are connoted by the nouns; and rather than have
all the nouns, or nearly all, in a sentence outfitted with them it is
better to make separate sentences for some of those desired.

In your sketch "Triumph" I would not name the "hero" of the piece. To
do so not only makes the sketch commonplace, but it logically requires
you to name his victim too, and her offense; in brief, it commits you
to a _story_.

A famous writer (perhaps Holmes or Thackeray--I don't remember) once
advised a young writer to cut all the passages that he thought
particularly good. Your taste I think is past the need of so heroic
treatment as that, but the advice may be profitably borne in memory
whenever you are in doubt, if ever you are. And sometimes you will be.

I think I know what Mr. Morrow meant by saying that your characters
are not "humanly significant." He means that they are not such persons
as one meets in everyday life--not "types." I confess that I never
could see why one's characters _should_ be. The exceptional--even
"abnormal"--person seems to me the more interesting, but I must warn
you that he will not seem so to an editor. Nor to an editor will the
tragic element seem so good as the cheerful--the sombre denouement as
the "happy ending." One must have a pretty firm reputation as a writer
to "send in" a tragic or supernatural tale with any hope of its
acceptance. The average mind (for which editors purvey, and mostly
possess) dislikes, or thinks it dislikes, any literature that is not
"sunny." True, tragedy holds the highest and most permanent place in
the world's literature and art, but it has the divvel's own time
getting to it. For immediate popularity (if one cares for it) one must
write pleasant things; though one may put in here and there a bit of

I think well of these two manuscripts, but doubt if you can get them
into any of our magazines--if you want to. As to that, nobody can help
you. About the only good quality that a magazine editor commonly has
is his firm reliance on the infallibility of his own judgment. It is
an honest error, and it enables him to mull through somehow with a
certain kind of consistency. The only way to get a footing with him is
to send him what you think he wants, not what you think he ought to
want--and keep sending. But perhaps you do not care for the magazines.

I note a great improvement in your style--probably no more than was to
be expected of your better age, but a distinct improvement. It is a
matter of regret with me that I have not the training of you; we
should see what would come of it. You certainly have no reason for
discouragement. But if you are to be a writer you must "cut out" the
dances and the teas (a little of the theater may be allowed) and
_work_ right heartily. The way of the good writer is no primrose path.

No, I have not read the poems of Service. What do I think of Edith
Wharton? Just what Pollard thought--see _Their Day in Court_, which I
think you have.

I fear you have the wanderlust incurably. I never had it bad, and
have less of it now than ever before. I shall not see California

My love to all your family goes with this, and to you all that you
will have.


[The Army and Navy Club, Washington, D. C.,
 May 22, 1913.]


[17] The editor was Curtis J. Kirch ("Guido Bruno") and the weekly had
a brief career in Chicago. It was the forerunner of the many Bruno
weeklies and monthlies, later published from other cities.

Will I tell you what I think of your magazine? Sure I will.

It has thirty-six pages of reading matter.

Seventeen are given to the biography of a musician,--German, dead.

Four to the mother of a theologian,--German, peasant-wench, dead.

(The mag. is published in America, to-day.)

Five pages about Eugene Field's ancestors. All dead.

17 + 4 + 5 = 26.

36 - 26 = 10.

Two pages about Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

Three-fourths page about a bad poet and his indifference to--German.

Two pages of his poetry.

2 + ¾ + 2 = 4¾.

10 - 4¾ = 5¼. Not enough to criticise.

What your magazine needs is an editor--presumably older, preferably
American, and indubitably alive. At least awake. It is your inning.

     Sincerely yours,

[Washington, D. C.,
 May 31, 1913.]


You were so long in replying to my letter of the century before last,
and as your letter is not really a reply to anything in mine, that I
fancy you did not get it. I don't recollect, for example, that you
ever acknowledged receipt of little pictures of myself, though maybe
you did--I only hope you got them. The photographs that you send are
very interesting. One of them makes me thirsty--the one of that
fountainhead of good booze, your kitchen sink.

What you say of the mine and how you are to be housed there pleases me
mightily. That's how I should like to live, and mining is what I
should like again to do. Pray God you be not disappointed.

Alas, I cannot even join you during Carlt's vacation, for the mountain
ramble. Please "go slow" in your goating this year. I _think_ you are
better fitted for it than ever before, but you'd better ask your
surgeon about that. By the way, do you know that since women took to
athletics their peculiar disorders have increased about fifty per
cent? You can't make men of women. The truth is, they've taken to
walking on their hind legs a few centuries too soon. Their in'ards
have not learned how to suspend the law of gravity. Add the jolts of
athletics and--there you are.

I wish I could be with you at Monte Sano--or anywhere.

Love to Carlt and Sloots.


[Washington, D. C.,
 September 10, 1913.]


Your letter was forwarded to me in New York, whence I have just
returned. I fancy you had a more satisfactory outing than I. I never
heard of the Big Sur river nor of "Arbolado." But I'm glad you went
there, for I'm hearing so much about Hetch Hetchy that I'm tired of
it. I'm helping the San Francisco crowd (a little) to "ruin" it.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm glad to know that you still expect to go to the mine. Success or
failure, it is better than the Mint, and you ought to live in the
mountains where you can climb things whenever you want to.

Of course I know nothing of Neale's business--you'd better write to
him if he has not filled your order. I suppose you know that volumes
eleven and twelve are not included in the "set."

If you care to write to me again please do so at once as I am going
away, probably to South America, but if we have a row with Mexico
before I start I shall go there first. I want to see something going
on. I've no notion of how long I shall remain away.

With love to Carlt and Sloots,


[Washington, D. C.,
 September 10, 1913.]


[18] To Mrs. Josephine Clifford McCrackin, San Jose, California.

The reason that I did not answer your letter sooner is--I have been
away (in New York) and did not have it with me. I suppose I shall not
see your book for a long time, for I am going away and have no notion
when I shall return. I expect to go to, perhaps across, South
America--possibly via Mexico, if I can get through without being stood
up against a wall and shot as a Gringo. But that is better than dying
in bed, is it not? If Duc did not need you so badly I'd ask you to get
your hat and come along. God bless and keep you.

[Washington, D. C.,
 September 13, 1913.]


Thank you for the book. I thank you for your friendship--and much
besides. This is to say good-by at the end of a pleasant
correspondence in which your woman's prerogative of having the last
word is denied to you. Before I could receive it I shall be gone. But
some time, somewhere, I hope to hear from you again. Yes, I shall go
into Mexico with a pretty definite purpose, which, however, is not at
present disclosable. You must try to forgive my obstinacy in not
"perishing" where I am. I want to be where something worth while is
going on, or where nothing whatever is going on. Most of what is going
on in your own country is exceedingly distasteful to me.

Pray for me? Why, yes, dear--that will not harm either of us. I loathe
religions, a Christian gives me qualms and a Catholic sets my teeth on
edge, but pray for me just the same, for with all those faults upon
your head (it's a nice head, too), I am pretty fond of you, I guess.
May you live as long as you want to, and then pass smilingly into the
darkness--the good, good darkness.

     Devotedly your friend,

[The Olympia, Euclid Street, Washington, D. C.,
 October 1, 1913.]


I go away tomorrow for a long time, so this is only to say good-bye. I
think there is nothing else worth saying; _therefore_ you will
naturally expect a long letter. What an intolerable world this would
be if we said nothing but what is worth saying! And did nothing
foolish--like going into Mexico and South America.

I'm hoping that you will go to the mine soon. You must hunger and
thirst for the mountains--Carlt likewise. So do I. Civilization be
dinged!--it is the mountains and the desert for me.

Good-bye--if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone
wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way
to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the
cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico--ah, that is euthanasia!

     With love to Carlt, affectionately yours,

[Laredo, Texas,
 November 6, 1913.]


I think I owe you a letter, and probably this is my only chance to pay
up for a long time. For more than a month I have been rambling about
the country, visiting my old battlefields, passing a few days in New
Orleans, a week in San Antonio, and so forth. I turned up here this
morning. There is a good deal of fighting going on over on the Mexican
side of the Rio Grande, but I hold to my intention to go into Mexico
if I can. In the character of "innocent bystander" I ought to be
fairly safe if I don't have too much money on me, don't you think? My
eventual destination is South America, but probably I shall not get
there this year.

Sloots writes me that you and Carlt still expect to go to the mine, as
I hope you will.

The Cowdens expect to live somewhere in California soon, I believe.
They seem to be well, prosperous and cheerful.

     With love to Carlt and Sloots, I am affectionately yours,

P.S. You need not believe _all_ that these newspapers say of me and my
purposes. I had to tell them _something_.

[Laredo, Texas,
 November 6, 1913.]


I wrote you yesterday at San Antonio, but dated the letter here and
today, expecting to bring the letter and mail it here. That's because
I did not know if I would have time to write it here. Unfortunately,
I forgot and posted it, with other letters, where it was written. Thus
does man's guile come to naught!

Well, I'm here, anyhow, and have time to explain.

Laredo was a Mexican city before it was an American. It is Mexican
now, five to one. Nuevo Laredo, opposite, is held by the Huertistas
and Americans don't go over there. In fact a guard on the bridge will
not let them. So those that sneak across have to wade (which can be
done almost anywhere) and go at night.

I shall not be here long enough to hear from you, and don't know where
I shall be next. Guess it doesn't matter much.


  _Extracts from Letters_

You are right too--dead right about the poetry of Socialism; and you
might have added the poetry of wailing about the woes of the poor
generally. Only the second- and the third-raters write it--except
"incidentally." You don't find the big fellows sniveling over that
particular shadow-side of Nature. Yet not only are the poor always
with us, they always _were_ with us, and their state was worse in the
times of Homer, Virgil, Shakspeare, Milton and the others than in the
days of Morris and Markham.

But what's the use? I have long despaired of convincing poets and
artists of anything, even that white is not black. I'm convinced that
all you chaps ought to have a world to yourselves, where two and two
make whatever you prefer that it _should_ make, and cause and effect
are remoulded "more nearly to the heart's desire." And then I suppose
I'd want to go and live there too.

Did you ever know so poor satire to make so great a row as that of
Watson? Compared with certain other verses against particular
women--Byron's "Born in a garret, in a kitchen bred"; even my own skit
entitled "Mad" (pardon my modesty) it is infantile. What an
interesting book might be made of such "attacks" on women! But Watson
is the only one of us, so far as I remember, who has had the
caddishness to _name_ the victim.

Have you seen Percival Pollard's "Their Day in Court"? It is amusing,
clever--and more. He has a whole chapter on me, "a lot" about Gertrude
Atherton, and much else that is interesting. And he skins alive
certain popular gods and goddesses of the day, and is "monstrous

As to * * *'s own character I do not see what that has to do with his
criticism of London. If only the impeccable delivered judgment no
judgment would ever be delivered. All men could do as they please,
without reproof or dissent. I wish you would take your heart out of
your head, old man. The best heart makes a bad head if housed there.

The friends that warned you against the precarious nature of my
friendship were right. To hold my regard one must fulfil hard
conditions--hard if one is not what one should be; easy if one is. I
have, indeed, a habit of calmly considering the character of a man
with whom I have fallen into any intimacy and, whether I have any
grievance against him or not, informing him by letter that I no longer
desire his acquaintance. This, I do after deciding that he is not
truthful, candid, without conceit, and so forth--in brief, honorable.
If any one is conscious that he is not in all respects worthy of my
friendship he would better not cultivate it, for assuredly no one can
long conceal his true character from an observant student of it. Yes,
my friendship is a precarious possession. It grows more so the longer
I live, and the less I feel the need of a multitude of friends. So,
if in your heart you are conscious of being any of the things which
you accuse _me_ of being, or anything else equally objectionable (to
_me_) I can only advise you to drop me before I drop you.

Certainly you have an undoubted right to your opinion of my ability,
my attainments and my standing. If you choose to publish a censorious
judgment of these matters, do so by all means: I don't think I ever
cared a cent for what was printed about me, except as it supplied me
with welcome material for my pen. One may presumably have a "sense of
duty to the public," and the like. But convincing one person (one at a
time) of one's friend's deficiencies is hardly worth while, and is to
be judged differently. It comes under another rule. * * *

Maybe, as you say, my work lacks "soul," but my life does not, as a
man's life is the man. Personally, I hold that sentiment has a place
in this world, and that loyalty to a friend is not inferior as a
characteristic to correctness of literary judgment. If there is a
heaven I think it is more valued there. If Mr. * * * (your publisher
as well as mine) had considered you a Homer, a Goethe or a Shakspeare
a team of horses could not have drawn from _me_ the expression of a
lower estimate. And let me tell you that if you are going through life
as a mere thinking machine, ignoring the generous promptings of the
heart, sacrificing it to the brain, you will have a hard row to hoe,
and the outcome, when you survey it from the vantage ground of age,
will not please you. You seem to me to be beginning rather badly, as
regards both your fortune and your peace of mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

I saw * * * every day while in New York, and he does not know that I
feel the slightest resentment toward you, nor do I know it myself. So
far as he knows, or is likely to know (unless you will have it
otherwise) you and I are the best of friends, or rather, I am the best
of friends to you. And I guess that is so. I could no more hate you
for your disposition and character than I could for your hump if you
had one. You are as Nature has made you, and your defects, whether
they are great or small, are your misfortunes. I would remove them if
I could, but I know that I cannot, for one of them is inability to
discern the others, even when they are pointed out.

I must commend your candor in one thing. You confirm * * * words in
saying that you commented on "my seeming lack of sympathy with certain
modern masters," which you attribute to my not having read them. That
is a conclusion to which a low order of mind in sympathy with the
"modern masters" naturally jumps, but it is hardly worthy of a man of
your brains. It is like your former lofty assumption that I had not
read some ten or twelve philosophers, naming them, nearly all of whom
I had read, and laughed at, before you were born. In fact, one of your
most conspicuous characteristics is the assumption that what a man who
does not care to "talk shop" does not speak of, and vaunt his
knowledge of, he does not know. I once thought this a boyish fault,
but you are no longer a boy. Your "modern masters" are Ibsen and Shaw,
with both of whose works and ways I am thoroughly familiar, and both
of whom I think very small men--pets of the drawing-room and gods of
the hour. No, I am not an "up to date" critic, thank God. I am not a
literary critic at all, and never, or very seldom, have gone into that
field except in pursuance of a personal object--to help a good writer
(who is commonly a friend)--maybe you can recall such instances--or
laugh at a fool. Surely you do not consider my work in the
Cosmopolitan (mere badinage and chaff, the only kind of stuff that the
magazine wants from me, or will print) essays in literary criticism.
It has never occurred to me to look upon myself as a literary critic;
if you _must_ prick my bubble please to observe that it contains more
of your breath than of mine. Yet you have sometimes seemed to value, I
thought, some of my notions about even poetry. * * *

Perhaps I am unfortunate in the matter of keeping friends; I know, and
have abundant reason to know, that you are at least equally luckless
in the matter of making them. I could put my finger on the very
qualities in you that make you so, and the best service that I could
do you would be to point them out and take the consequences. That is
to say, it would serve you many years hence; at present you are like
Carlyle's "Mankind"; you "refuse to be served." You only consent to be

I bear you no ill will, shall watch your career in letters with
friendly solicitude--have, in fact, just sent to the * * * a most
appreciative paragraph about your book, which may or may not commend
itself to the editor; most of what I write does not. I hope to do a
little, now and then, to further your success in letters. I wish you
were different (and that is the harshest criticism that I ever uttered
of you except to yourself) and wish it for your sake more than for
mine. I am older than you and probably more "acquainted with
grief"--the grief of disappointment and disillusion. If in the future
you are convinced that you have become different, and I am still
living, my welcoming hand awaits you. And when I forgive I forgive all
over, even the new offence.

Miller undoubtedly is sincere in his praise of you, for with all his
faults and follies he is always generous and usually over generous to
other poets. There's nothing little and mean in him. Sing ho for

If I "made you famous" please remember that you were guilty of
contributory negligence by meriting the fame. "Eternal vigilance" is
the price of its permanence. Don't loaf on your job.

I have told her of a certain "enchanted forest" hereabout to which I
feel myself sometimes strongly drawn as a fitting place to lay down
"my weary body and my head." (Perhaps you remember your Swinburne:

     "Ah yet, would God this flesh of mine might be
     Where air might wash and long leaves cover me!
     Ah yet, would God that roots and stems were bred
     Out of my weary body and my head.")

The element of enchantment in that forest is supplied by my wandering
and dreaming in it forty-one years ago when I was a-soldiering and
there were new things under a new sun. It is miles away, but from a
near-by summit I can overlook the entire region--ridge beyond ridge,
parted by purple valleys full of sleep. Unlike me, it has not visibly
altered in all these years, except that I miss, here and there, a thin
blue ghost of smoke from an enemy's camp. Can you guess my feelings
when I view this Dream-land--my Realm of Adventure, inhabited by
memories that beckon me from every valley? I shall go; I shall retrace
my old routes and lines of march; stand in my old camps; inspect my
battlefields to see that all is right and undisturbed. I shall go to
the Enchanted Forest.

  No. 208

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