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THE LAST SUNSET FROM EAST ROCK.
Behold! Below, empurpled by the height,
Spreads out the soft green shore to touch the sea. The blue expanse shows forth a sail of white, The plain is silent as a plain can be. Above, a lonely cloud drifts idling by Mosaic in the early starréd dome. Upon the east horizon crimsons lie
Reflected from the sun's gold western home.
And there have been four sweet full years below there
My other life may be as pure and true
-There is such a thing as an itch for writing. "Cacoethes scribendi," Latinists would call it. In our own day this quality or perversion-according to your viewpoint-exists in a decidedly rarefied form. For we of this age of modernism have more of a mania for Mammon than for writing; but perhaps in consideration of the engulfing literature about a certain recent war I should qualify this statement and say that when I refer to writing I mean that which is recognized by such forms as "Dear So and So," "Yours So and So." Letterwriting, then, is this caviar to the general. One hates the mention of it; it is relegated, like one's bath, to Saturday night, or, like one's golf, to Sunday morning. But it seems that whenever I want to do anything with a friend, he always has "a pile of letters to write" if the work-excuse has failed; for he is too clever not to know that though I outwardly curse I inwardly praise this stern daughter of the voice of God which his scrivener habits so clearly unveil.
This is all very well, this desire to cross the Rubicon of our correspondence, but after we have taken our cold plunge and find ourselves in the bath-tub, what are we going to do? We shall have to beat about a bit to keep our circulation a-tingling and yet we do not want either to inundate the floor or to chill to death through insufficient inaction. So with our letters. It is easy enough to take up our pen, but what are we then going to say and how will we say it?
What we are going to say Charles Lamb, the peer of letterwriters, can tell us. In that delightful essay of his, "Distant Correspondents," he writes that there are three types of epistolary matter, news, puns, and sentiment; that of these the first two, although they might hold the chief interest for the writer, still they may have lost the force of their facts and humor by the time they reached the reader. Therefore, we must sift both our facts and humor through the sieve of our own criticism before we write. Ideas, of course, are different. Turning on the hydrant of this third type will harm no one. But the rub comes because most of us are too conventional-we shy from selfexpression like a skittish horse from a motor-cycle; we fear the ravenous, overwhelming number of daws that would peck at our hearts should we sew them to our sleeves. A pox on our puling natures. We must be responsive and responsible, or nothing.
Well, if we cannot work the vein of our own personalities deep enough, there are still plenty of grand prototypes for any mood in which we may wish to write. If we desire to hold forth with our best friend, we shall do well to choose Lamb's letters and the "Essays of Elia"; if we are panic-stricken to know what to say in love-letters and have neither Richardsons nor Coleridges to write them for us, "The Letters of a Portuguese Nun" will reward perusal; if we are fathers with matriculating sons, what better mentors than Polonius or Chesterfield, and I surmise that of the bread-and-butter letter Sir Roger de Coverley is as much as anyone else the patron saint.
There are as many styles for as many temperaments. Of course we must know what we are about when one is chosen. We do not want to be like one of Thomas Hardy's heroines, a girl who for fun wrote a valentine love-letter to an exceedingly imaginative bachelor with such untoward results as bringing down upon herself his impassioned wooing. And all her letter had said was, "I love you"! For young men who are having many probationary affaires the type of love-letter recommended is a happy pitch between the polished, aristocratic diction of Henry James and the uncouth realism of "Love Letters of a Rookie." Only they must avoid being Johnsonian. And for
young men who wish to appeal to the heartstrings—or pursestrings!—of a patroness of society, a hostess or a chaperone, they should know that there is an unrivaled excellence in the adoption of a coldly formal tone of reserve such as officialdom enjoins, and if they are fledgling diplomats, they will conclude their letters thus: "I beg you to accept, dear Madam (or Your Excellency or Highness), the assurances of my highest consideration." Such is the cleverness of this non-committal effluvium!
"Ah!" but you will say, "you yourself are getting too Johnsonian. You are like the bluestockings of the Renaissance and the Eighteenth Century." Well, just there is the point. Though these people were précieuses, they at least knew the value of words. Do not we of to-day have too many velleities to express ourselves well on paper? Have we not still a bit of the Victorian self-repression in us? It might be well to remember then that it is the Romanticist in us who creates, and though he may be imaginative and flowery-a rather damning word-still he is himself, simple or ornate, in and beneath his style.
Such is one side of the true charm of letters: they reveal personality—and as psychologically as the pen-prints of which they are composed. You may say letters are enigmas to you, but certainly no more so than mere chit-chat between people. As such they are the flying buttresses, the supports of all autobiography and biography. Did you ever hear of a "Life" of such and such a great statesman without letters, and usually the title is "The Life and Letters" of the worthy in question. When the minutes of the Peace Conference are published we shall want to go behind them and read the letters and notes of Premier to Premier, invitations to call and to lunches at which not inconceivably the most important solutions may have been reached. And so from the terse social note and the sloppy scrawl to parents and friends to the verbose and meticulously planned and penned love-letter the gamut of style and script is long, but for all that it makes an excellent corollary to Pope's famous dictum of the proper study of mankind.
James W. Lane, Jr.
-I rebel, I slam down my books, I break forth with arms. uplifted from the sulphurous vale of application A STUDENT'S (wherein an unnatural atmosphere as of sickening ether lingers), onto the slopes of liberty. I flee as one would from the poisonous fumes of Vesuvius. Behind is all the pounding, the boring, the rasping of self-indoctrination. Behind, all the impossibility of absorbing, of analyzing, of committing, of dissecting; of building up card-houses of memory inevitably overthrown by "the unimaginable touch of time." The wrinkles are left behind to multiply between the covers of text-books. Behind are the clenched teeth, the strained eyes, the nervous movement of the fingers through the moist hair, and all the other symptoms and concomitants of the Unnatural Process. Behind me is the Aristophanean laughter of a jaded Minerva from above the book-case; the madhouse laughter of Father Time on the mantel, where he spills gold that becomes dust and ashes; the fiendish laughter of Euclid, Caesar, Cicero, the holy fathers, prophets, priests and sages, down to Taussig and Bryce, all exulting horribly as they pass on (with interest!) the Great Delusions which they received (with interest!) from other fiendish laughters in a nightmare, lunatic world. What was that that echoed and died along the sky but a tremendous laugh from some mad god, hooting earth's aspirations, and anticipating with huge delight the wailing and gnashing of teeth when comes disillusionment.
What release there is, on the open road! Miles behind and miles before, but what are half a hundred miles to the exultant stride of youth and freedom? Stretch it out then, throw back the shoulders, and breathe in the whole atmosphere. The wind scampers ahead and back, jumps up at you and tugs at your clothes, for all the world like a terrier. Farm houses, fields, fences and poles vanish behind, while clouds and the distance race one up the road. The exercise sends the blood coursing through the veins, and the dizzy eyes behold the skies swirling and rushing as though composed of matter. Stop a minute and see the fields and skies whirling along while you steady yourself.
So when at last there comes relief, when the road is clear and the spirit has sunk to the sea-level of all nature, we can look back