Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski



Letter 20

B.C.

New Canaan, Connecticut

13. October. 1927

 

 

Margaret dearest: "Poets need to write love letters" says you! Indeed it seems so. But other things first. (Don’t be impatient, darling, lover will be there in a minute!!!) I am just back last night from a reading at Dartmouth College in Hanover. The journey, some six or seven hours by train, is very lovely, specially at this colorful time of year. The railway follows up the beautiful Connecticut valley all the way, Vermont to the West and N.H. to the East. The days were adorable, and I had a very good reading indeed. I stopped off at Northampton, Mass., to see my brother-in-law1 who is in Smith College (a huge wonderful place now). I used to go there often when my sister was alive,2 but only seldom now. It is far too trying. I nearly perish. That is why (for similar reasons) I never really want to go back to N.B. I can’t bear things after the people are gone.

Well, my dear, I have a very delightful letter to greet my returning. And I want to say at once that I am sure much of these hurried scratches and dashed-off dashes of mine, should not be too gravely considered when they seem critical or didactic. Truth is I am the least censorious person imaginable. Though I often sputter quite violently and have far too quick a temper, I am very tolerant, and never voluntarily criticise others or offer advice. I seldom analyze, for in the first place I have no ability for it, and then I don’t care. I have not the least innate wish to reform people or things, nor to see people grow. Too indifferent for that.

So never mind what I say about history, or the Jews, or Miss Goldman,3 it is only splutter. I am glad you have Miss Goldman. I am sure I should enjoy her, too.

As to the matter of incarnation—or—"nationS"[.] How should I know? As I understand the Theosophs,4 they say the spirit incarnates in order to redeem the animal being with which it manifests itself, or is associated. And that every time we behave in a low down manner or do what we are ashamed of, the spirit is crucified afresh. But whose fault is that? Certain it is that our chief task is in keeping the spirit supreme, and not giving way to our less admirable impulses.

But I am not at all sure that this dualistic notion is true. I am very convinced that the most important thing is to harmonize ourselves, to think and act as a unit, to spiritualize the physical, and embody the spiritual, in all daily life and doing, and never to divorce body from soul, nor soul from body, nor either from reason, (or mind.) I incline to a triune philosophy of this sort.5 You know, among the Navajo Indians, to lose one’s temper or self-control is considered a most dreadful thing,—one of the worst faults. As it is. To do, or say, or think anything which our inmost spirit (commonly called conscience) does not approve,—that is evil. Perhaps the only evil.

When I used the phrase "perhaps it doesn’t matter in the end"— I don’t remember the context. Generally speaking, what we do not only matters in the end, but matters instantly, and eternally if it is good. I also think that evil probably works itself out, and does not persist eternally, being due to our mistakes and ignorance of the law, and not in harmony with the Goodness, which is the prime cause. See Thomas Troward’s works.6

Now I have great and untarnished happiness in your friendship and caring, because of your great understanding and your singleness and clearness of spirit. It is a great pleasure and a solace. And I never have the least impulse to be other than unselfish with you and tenderly helpful or protective whenever I can, if I can. Not to ask, not to give, and to enjoy a clear glad companionship. This is almost all there is of love, except its mystic (slightly insane) side, when it becomes a possession, and carries one away body and mind! A dangerous whirlpool, which ought to be marked "Danger!" but isn’t.

I promise not to philosophise any more, until the next time.

 

Lovingly ever

 

C


  1. William Francis Ganong (1864-1941), the New Brunswick-born husband of Carman’s sister Jean Murray (Muriel), was the first Professor of Botany and the Director of the Botanic Garden at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts between 1893 and his retirement in 1932. See William Francis Ganong Memorial, ed. J.C. Webster (Saint John: New Brunswick Museum, 1942). [back]

  2. Muriel Ganong died in 1920. [back]

  3. Emma Goldman. See Letter 17 n.3. [back]

  4. Theosophists: proponents of the views associated with Madame H.P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), Col. H.S. Olcott (1832-1907) and their followers, including C.W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant (see Letter 2 n.1). The Theosophical Society arose out of meetings in New York in 1875, at which time the term "theosophy," meaning divine wisdom, was adopted to express the group’s purpose and methodology, namely, the search for "esoteric truth . . . [through] occult research" (Bruce F. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: a History of the Theosophical Movement [Berkeley: U of California P, 1980], 28). In 1878, Olcott, with Blavatsky’s assistance, established the three graduations of the Society (Brothers or Adapts, "chelas" or pupils [see Letter 5 n.7] and ordinary members) and its threefold purpose: "1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color. 2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science. 3. To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man" (qtd. in Kuhn, Theosophy, 113). Among the tenets and characteristics of theosophy are a belief in the transmigration of souls, a denial of the existence of a personal god, and preference for elaborate systems of psychology and cosmology. According to Gundy, Letters, 316, "it was Ernest Fewster [see Letter 8 n.13] and A.M. Stephen [see Letter 47 n.6] who ‘converted’ [Carman] to theosophy. The conversion, however, was insecure and incomplete, for although he found much to admire in theosophical thought, his scepticism and his sense of humour kept breaking through [see Letter 28 n.3]." See also Michele Lacombe, "Theosophy and the Canadian Idealist Tradition: a Preliminary Investigation," Journal of Canadian Studies, 17.2 (1982), 100-18. [back]

  5. See Letter 18 n.2. [back]

  6. See Letter 5 n.6. [back]