Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski



Letter 15

B.C.
New Canaan, Connecticut

4. October. 1927

 

 

Dear Margaret:

 

I hasten to say what I think of the essays,1 which I have just read. In the first place I admire their cleverness, and like the ironic note—for myself. But I doubt whether young readers would quite get the story. Don’t think you rather take too much knowledge for granted in your readers? If you were writing for historians, of course you would be on your mettle to show what you think of the times and characters. But for ignorant readers there is needed more explicit narrative and description, with only the occasional satiric touch. Also I think that your brief sentences are very telling, but perilous when used too freely, and possibly there is a danger here too. A crack on the head is very effective once in a while, but what the poor student needs more usually is a firm slow long push. I would like more long sustained colorful sentences. More savorsome delight in the gorgeous romance and scenes of the times. Mind, I relish the irony to the full, as it plays over the silly kings and tinsel courts. But the heart of the matter was and is in the hearts of your heroes. They doubtless suffered from the irony of fate, but it was pure tragedy to them, and the pity of it should get to your readers—as it hardly does. You are rather too "Off with his head! So much for Buckingham"2 for young readers, it seems to me. Where are all the glory and the glamour of the "spacious times".3 They don’t look so spacious to a Lindbergh age,4 and maybe the hectic youth of to-day whose one joy is speed will like your ironic brevities. The jazzy staccato may just suit it. But I doubt.

Have you read any of Charles J. Finger’s stuff about famous ruffians?5

I fancy your fuller accounts will be more to my liking, and what-ever you make of it, I shall be tickled to death to be the dedicatee.

Now I will get off this topic and write you next a love letter— And the Lord have mercy on your soul!

 

C.

  1. Carman is apparently referring to some of Lawrence’s essays on Canadian "explorers and pioneers" (see Introduction xi and xix n.5). [back]

  2. A notorious addition to Shakespeare’s Richard III, iv. iii by Colley Cibber (1671-1757): "Off with his head—so much for Buckingham." [back]

  3. Carman is quoting from the third line of the second stanza of Tennyson’s "A Dream of Fair Women" (1832):

    Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath
       Preluded those melodious bursts that fill
    The spacious times of great Elizabeth
       With sounds that echo still. [back]

  4. The American aviator Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902-1974) made his historic solo flight from New York to Paris on May 20-21, 1927 and immediately became a hero on both sides of the Atlantic. "He was literally worshipped and adored," Modris Eksteins suggests, "because his achievement and character seemed to satisfy two worlds, one in the throes of decline and the other in the process of emergence. The one was a world of values, of decorum, of positive accomplishment, of grace. . . . It was a world in which man used the machine and technology to conquer nature, in which means were subordinated to ends. It was a world of positive values, revolving around family, religion, nature, and the good and moral life. . . . The modern sensibility, however, was equally exhilarated. It was enchanted above all by the deed . . . . The purpose was immaterial. The act was everything . . . . [Linbergh] flew for no one not even for mankind. He flew for himself . . . . He was not the creation of an old world; he was a harbinger of a new dawn" (Rites of Spring: the Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age [Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1989), 247, 250-31). [back]

  5. Carman is probably referring to Romantic Rascals (1927) by the American travel and adventure writer Charles Joseph Finger (1871-1941). [back]