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Helen Hunt Jackson 2-2-20 transcription

Helen Hunt Jackson Papers, Part 2, Ms 0156, Box 2, Folder 20, letters from Richard Watson Gilder of Scribner's to HHJ, 1873-77.
Transcribed by Mary Rosenblatt, November 2002.

Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Colorado Springs Hotel, Colorado Springs, Colorado Spr., Colorado Sp., Colorado, Col

June 12th 73

My dear H. H.

It was a great deal nicer for you write to the Lady than to me - for of course the Lady is nicer than the Man. I'll have to consider about the publication - I'm afraid it would never do!

For you can send the [illegible] to Newport.

Why not do the suspenders.

O but I'm touched by the sonnets - albeit the lady of the Riddle was an Art creation - or suggested by a lady whom, I think, you do not know & have never seen! I guess maybe you are not quite as wise as you think, my poet! I have not the Basking verses. I hate myself for critic words - and am faithfully yours

Watson Gilder

People talk so that I fear the unseen lady cannot be written to in print anymore - though, bless your heart, there are a many verses finer than those you have seen. Why can't the world look upon a verse-maker as an artist?

Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Howard House, Bethlehem, New Hampshire.

July 3 times -

Do you know that the Dr. don't altogether take to that little song of yours. Would you kill me if I said I didn't either? The thought is just the thing - but the "basking" is just a little rasping. And here I'm sending you my stuff - and you do nothing but praise.

I've written 5 "stunning" sonnets this week. The enclosed is not one of them however. I'll make you hungry for more poems of mine by quoting some detached lines!

- "See-see the wan and whitening window-pane!"
- "Firm set his face against the gathering glory!"
- "And that disdainful rapture of thy hand!"
- "This flower of flowers of all the round year's yield."
- "These are my yesterdays, my morrows, noons and nights - these my old moons and my new moons."
- "Be loved by accident sight divine."

Now - don't you want more?

And wouldn't you like to read the grand, solemn, big poem that is growing? Hush- hush - don't kill it by a whisper -

Thy friend
Watson Gilder

[no envelope]

July 22nd 73

Sister! I think I am making a sister of you. But for the sake of your brother don't make personal applications!

I'm glad you've found out my real name, at last. I love it. Look in Webster & see what it means!

That horrible chorus!

Do you think I would write a line with a wrong - an unhealthy tendency!

My friend - I am brave & bold enough to think that I have one or two missions in this world - and that it is right for me to think so - even though the Almighty should not care for their accomplishment.

I think I know what Hell is - and I want to show the world that Hell the deepest leads straight to Heaven the highest. I think I have seen both - the last through the first. I do not believe a man has a right to inflict his perplexities upon his fellow-men - but I do not know that I agree with MacDonald in saying that nothing should be written without hope. If a man gives rhythmical expression to the Hell of Hells - he comforts me in the fact that he has seen it - and lived!

But that poem is hopeful. It is better to die as the violet died than to live as it lived. Give me a single sharp moment of stinging bliss - and I will set you pleasant centuries of defiance! - There are some souls who can take no comfort from any other mortal soul - or immortal perhaps - unless they know that soul has burned in God's Hell! I can't. And it's my mission to help those who need help in this way. What a Christ it would have been without calvary!

And another mission of mine - to show the world what love is! I think that neither the ancients nor the moderns knew - many of them - much about it & certainly not those old Italians who in some sense knew most. And as for marriage - that is a lost art, I believe- if it ever were found, and marriage is, or ought to be nothing but perfect Love. I don't think the Bible calls it an "Institution."

How fast my book is growing? Why, my dear H.H. I have enough today for a book - divided with two parts - one a long poem in song & sonnet - and the other miscellaneous bits. But I bide my time. These first things I suppose must fall into a volume, so that they may be put utterly behind me - and after that - the Lord willing - ! !
Hard work - honest living - and whatever things the lord may care to say through me.

What awful presumption this sounds like. Take this comfort for me though, my friend, if you ever hear of my being in love you may know that it is time to be glad. People are decided about me - often - because my real friendships are apt to be passions. But when the real thing lives in light of the world - you may know it is passion beyond the dream of passion - a perfectly sane madness - the very flaming essence of philosophy. I know not where the line may run between human & divine love.

I think of publishing a couple of sonnets that contain a part of my beliefs on this subject - in the body of the monthly. They are called "Soul & Body" and the first begins:

O thou my Love, love first my lonely soul
Then shall this too unworthy body of mine,
Be loved by accident & right divine!
Forget the flesh, that the pure spirit's goal may be the spirit etc. etc.

The 2nd begins-

But, Love, for me thy body was the first-

I should like to have these two sonnets live till the Millennium at least. Of the three books I can only give you [Hero Carthew?] - I'm sorry to say. Love in the 19th century (which seems to be a fresh and fine thing) is already noticed & I don't care to notice "50 Days" at all. The sonnets were in the June no. "The Riddle" &c.

I wrote a morning & evening hymn to the days - a stanza of each of 4 lines - these the last two lines:

"Lord take the worship of my sleep;
The praise of my forgetting!"

Stoddard is not on "staff" but is going to write for us. I don't know where Mr. S. is. He couldn't get along with such a rowdy as the Aldine proprietor. On the title page of my books shall be Richard Watson Gilder.

It is the pettest of all my pet names, but one day it may be blazoned. Don't talk either like a genius or a fool?

[no envelope]

Aug 19th 73

Dear Woman,

A thousand thanks for your letter - as two points I remain unconvinced - hopeless things - & the changing ideal. I am old enough to know what you mean by this last. If I had married the girl I once loved (with a love to her untold) it would, I now see, or believe have been suicide - something worse than conscious misery, I think. - But a man who is a doubter of doubters - and who would walk into hell-fire rather than do wrong to any woman - in any way - a man who doubts God, and love - but who is forced to believe in God and in love - if he were forced into loving some woman who could [dome?] any creation of his - could mother any child of his brain - were greater in thought and in passion than any imagining of his - whom he could love sanely and madly, not madly until sanely - is there not more chance for the never dying fire there than elsewhere - This sounds like madness - this dream of mine. Well let me dream & so "swoon on to death."

Thy friend


I was inclined to be angry at someone when I heard that someone had said that - I proclaimed it - I who am killing my conscience daily with the awful S.H. secret.

Notice (briefly) anything but that frightful book of Hopkins[?]!

Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Mt. Pleasant House, Princeton Mass.

Aug 22 73

Dear Friend,

You have said such lovely things about the few things you have seen that my heart opens to you & pours out - a handful only of its treasures! Of these four - you may choose one, to put in that "envelope" - & return the other three to me. Perhaps I'll let you see some of the others - if you will be discreet & not "blab" and make them "personal"-
You can read them to people in summer twilights - or by winter fires - for you will be loyal, I know, in every way. Col. H. or "Fra." might see one of them - sometime -

[page missing? no signature]

Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Mount Pleasant House, Princeton Mass.

Aug 29 73

My dear Poet,

If it were not that I am more & more determined that no verse of mine shall be finished that isn't artistic & about as fine in every way as patient labor can make it - such lovely letters as this of you & Mr. Richard would upset me! But it don't upset me! It encourages & helps me. "Nothing is in escapable but love" says MacD. I love, love, love my sonnets & they must be perfect. See what your letter has made me do! - Send six sonnets to the printer! To go into the body of the Nov. no. - with my name! They are I of other men etc. II. Love me not, Love, for that I first loved thee. III We are alike etc. IV - A night of stars & dreams - V. My love for thee doth march like armed men - VI. Thy lover, Love, would have some nobler way. - They will take two pages, and are a part of the long poem. "In Song & Sonnet." which will make my first book - O won't it be jolly! An introductory piece in terza rima, or something like that, and a finale in the same. The main part divided into four or five movements - the story indicated by the songs & sonnets themselves in connection with their titles (which may occupy an otherwise blank page opposite the sonnet) and by her thought, printed in italics, which will be a minor undertone breaking through to the surface (and once the feeling is so intense that the poem is downright prose) here and there! The whole being a story - but still more a theme discussed in every light, & shadow - the thought evolved clearly, gradually, consecutively. Will I be let do it? I feel like getting on my knees & saying - O Lord, spare me, & lift me to this work!

Really you must send back these three enclosed sonnets without copying! You may keep the other two bits. The last stanza about the doubter - I wish could be written in letters of light against the brazen sky -

I send a part of "Soul & Body" but it does not even yet suit me. Tell me - (I am so greedy) that you like the sonnets I send to-day!

But my stars! There are bushels of them quite as good, I think! But there must be many more, before the book and the old ones must be made better & better

Thy Grateful

Richard Watson Gilder

This is half to "Fra."

Enclosures: printed poems, "Soul and Body, "Morning and Evening, and "Sonnets" with notes "Tell me that these are de-li-cious! The Poet." and "The three first are the cooing kind - feminine - "." last " "trumpeting" - masculine } Love. I will not accent the "E"s.

Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Mt. Pleasant House, Princeton Mass.

Sept. 1st '73

Dear Woman,

If you keep on this way you'll drag my whole long poem from me, bit by bit! - Here are three more pieces - but back they must come! You shall have them all in print one day. (If you don't find the lost I can easily duplicate them.)

Don't talk about wildernesses yet - wait till I finish my first poem - one thing at a time - I was made hungry-wild this morning by reading something about the Colorado Dantesque scenery - Dantesque - only Dante never imagined such things. - One thing at a time. I don't want to turn out a promising young man - with gray hair! Do you know that I have a horrid suspicion that it wouldn't be fair for a fellow to fall in love who could pelt his lady with sonnets - like these. Tell me that it would be fair - that a woman likely to be so pelted would be able to stand it!

But now see here! Are they really critically as good as you & he say? - Stedman who used to be sharp with me, now says Go ahead! - He says I can write better Italian sonnets than anybody in America - & etc. and means it I really believe, although he has seen very few indeed.

We expect Mr. E. W. home soon. The new magazine St. Nicholas will be a jewel!

Hurrah for the new Saxe Holm!



Write to me at Marion, Mass. I go there this week. Let me find a letter there Saturday.

Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Mt. Pleasant House, Princeton Mass.

Sept. 24th 73

Well H.H.

Did you think I was dead?

That sonnet of yours - and it is yours - strong, womanly [illegible] that you are - goes into the same number with mine. It's a jolly number, with an article by Stedman and Mrs. Browning that is exciting - it is so good.

I hear rumor of you coming to New York for the winter. Wouldn't that be jolly! I'd make you tired of me! I'd go on like mad. I'd move & tear my hair, in your room, & scream & argue & read sonnets and roll on the carpet. You don't half know me. I'd make a circus of your room. I'd turn all the chairs upside down. I'd have fun if it cost me my swallow-tail. I'd prove that Truth is truth or I'd go to the devil on the spot. I'd tease the life out of you. I'd write a poem in two seconds that would beat Bryant's Century of rhyme and then I'd burlesque it and turn three somersets backward on the floor, and [bang up?] with my head in the fire, and upset the wash-bowls and the 19th Century together.

There! You'd better come to New York!

I've a letter from Stedman in which he praises these six sonnets like a good fellow. He says that he can't criticise me because "for the life of him" he can't find anything to criticise! "At last" - (listen, young woman!) you are writing flawlessly. xx Certainly no American has written six consecutive love sonnets to compare with these. xxx neither I nor any other poet can equal them. "How high is that! Throw away all your copies, but the enclosed, which has the author's final corrections. Hoop la! Come to New York H.H.

Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Mount Pleasant House, Princeton Mass.

Sept. 27th 73

My dear H.H.

Before receiving this you will have received a long letter from me - & will know that I am not sick or even dead. I have treated you pretty badly though. My excuse is that I've been driving around the country on little vocations at a pretty lively rate and I hate to write to you hurriedly.

Things look pretty blue here this week - yesterday & today especially. People are counting their pennies I tell you. When I got shaved this morning I said - "no bay rum" - & saved 5 cents. Omnibus people take to the cars & car people walk! Every body is waiting. How very miserable and unpoetic it is! I should like to live in the wilderness, without many clothes on!

Are you coming to N.Y. for the winter or any part of it. 3rd class hotel!


It does me great good to find that the critics beside you & Stedman like my sonnets. O my - I hope the Lord may have it in his plans to use me in noble ways.


Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Parker House, Boston Mass.

Oct. 4th 73

Well now My Poet & Applauder, and Sympathiser & friend & Crony - what do you keep sick for! Don't you think that the air of New York would be good for you? Certain friends of yours would then be able to get at you & stir you up! Mrs. Dodge I guess will be in town a good deal this winter. (O but St. Nicholas is going to fine!) Say that you'll spend the winter - or part of it - here!

I've read again four sweet sonnets to the unknown lady. - I've a notion to see if you can guess the color of the hair & eyes of the one that possibly was in my mind!




Didst get a riproarious letter about you coming to New York? O get well!

Envelope: Mrs. Helen Hunt, Colorado Springs Hotel, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Jan. 7th 1874

Dear H.H. -

Can it be six weeks? That seems impossible. - At any rate you have been in my thought & heart every day of the six weeks, and, I think, every day of it on my 'tongue'. I have heard of you from many friends - and am so glad that you stayed. To beat a retreat would have been at least demoralizing to your forces and the air & sun certainly will do you good in spite of yourself. - I'm glad you're meditating a Saxe Holme. It's very strange the book don't go. The stories in the magazine were a real "hit," but in book form they share the fate of all short stories. Perhaps a story in the maga. would start the book. It's a wonder to me that the secret isn't all over. I think the pubs. are very loyal, for of course if it were known that H.H. & Saxe Holme were one, the old thing would jump. There has been only one paragraph in a distant paper, in any way connecting you with it. - Let me see you send a Saxe Holme to the Atlantic! - By the way - young James has just sent us a story unsolicited - and - well I won't tell you any more secrets. When you read Nadal's article on London churches etc. in Feb. Scribner - tell me that I am right in proclaiming a coming man in him! I'll write you a business letter in a few days. - The verses look charming. I am ever and eternally grateful to you for those 3 sonnets. (My sonnet has a mimsy mistake - felt for fell.) It amuses me to think that you are quite sure in your mind of the person who suggested my sonnet - it's very funny - you don't know at all and your 3 sonnets are a shot in the dark - whether they hit or not I shan't tell you! They hit me anyhow & that's enough for you to know. O - if I had you handy - I'd read you some little tragedies of verse - some songs that fairly hiss like red hot iron in a glacier stream. I think when My Poem is published some people in the world, if not the world itself, will tear its hair. I hope so.

Well - how does life look in Colorado. Watch woman - what of the nights! Are any stars in the dark & solemn skies - a comet now & then I think, with its fright & mystery -

But does the morning come? Where are the shadows that the dawn sends before it! Ah comrade - we know the morning by its shadows as well as by its light. Amen. RWG.

[no envelope]

March 2 1874

Dear H.H.,

Well- it is hard to have to talk business - but here goes!

Dr. H. wants me to say that you mustn't mind his not taking all the verses you let us see - its nothing but the hopeless jam. We keep the two short ones & send back the long one. Enclosed is a check for $23 including short notice of Hare - $5 more for "two" & $15 for the [sealed?] order sonnet.

He says that he wants more Saxe Holme very much. That the name is now made and the iron should be struck while it is hot - & "Scrib." who nurtured S. H. in his youth should not be deserted by the grown up man (or woman-)

Ever of thee R.W.G.

[no envelope]

March 2nd 1874

Dear H.H.

Your letter came up to the mark & that is saying a good deal for we expected much. O my friend - O my friend I think neither of us dare let even you know. -


Hush-hush-hush -

Ever of thee


[no envelope]

Aug 26th 75

Dear H.H.-

What a panic over a poem! How do you know I'm not mistaken? Dr. H. says my taste is "not robustuous." Perhaps you'd better print your poem after all. All I say is that if I were H.H. I would be hanged first - by my suspenders- unless I sold my suspenders instead.

I didn't show those sonnets to Lathrop.

If I were at your elbow I'd nag you to death - so don't wish that. But all I would insist upon would be - do every time as well as H.H. does!

What fearful dumps I have over my book. That terrible Shakespeare I have found has said at least three of my things - confound his immortal impertinence. As Warner said of Holmes - Will Shakespeare has done more to spoil other people's originality than any man who ever wrote. But I've about given up trying to say anything that he or some of those other ancient rascals has (or have) not said long ago.

Isn't it queer that Lathrop & I should make our Bows in the same autumn. But no two of my friends could be much more unlike.

My song is not of mid-summer - but of early autumn - as you'll see in the Oct. Scribner - so its all right about the thistle, my beauty. Haven't I been pulling their wings out by the roots to see how many days before they would be able to fly! "Here's to you H. H."!
Did you know that beside that sonnet I sent you once I began another to you about "love making a lovely land in the city's din. I didn't quite like the gait of it & I don't know that it will ever be finished. You had said something about wishing I could see the Western [illegible] - or something of that sort. I hope that you think I am a poet for I should like to be, like Washington, a good & great one. I should like to look upon as much good work as you have done.


Envelope: Mrs. Wm. S. Jackson, Colorado Springs, Colorado

July 9th 1877

Dear Saxe Holm,

You must have missed a letter from here. Dr. Holland told me to say he did want a Saxe Holm story and would enjoy it as much as he ever enjoys any serial: that is - reserving the right to read. This is the way he has already enjoyed & accepted Dr. Eggleston's & Mr. [Brysair?] stories, and more he has made a similar engagement with Mrs. Burnett.
That is all right is it not? If it is on reading definitely taken - time & terms can be at once arranged.

I don't know who the precious Tribune person is; it was not Nadal who wrote for the Post. He is in England now; but has not been on the Post for a year or so & they fairly hate him for his article in the Atlantic on Criticism.

You insisted that if wasn't fair not to notice M. P. C. now that it has been done, I greatly fear you will be hurt by it. But you must not be and really you ought not to be. The review does not extend to the new book.

Murray's idea of literature is thoroughly horsey.

Mrs. deKay has been having fearful asthmas. To-day Helena & the baby, who have been during the warm weather on Staten Island - go to my old home in [Bordeulion?] N.Y.


R.W. Gilder

Envelope: Mrs. Wm. S. Jackson, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

July 24th 1877

My Dear "H.J.,"

We've "got the joke" on Helena now, with a vengeance! But of course I didn't say that the real & true "claimant" had not been mentioned. The piece from the World is going the rounds! I was "interviewed" for the first time in my life!

I think you are unreasonable about the S. H. novel. As I understand Dr. Holland he wants the story just as he did when he made the former offer. That is, he will take it, pay for it & publish it as soon as he can. But he will read it first. He engaged Eggleston's story - but had no thought of not reading it. He has no thought of declining your after reading it - but makes the stipulation for safety's sake; as the longer his experience runs the more that is made necessary. I am afraid that I am bungling this matter, for you letter seems to withdraw your offer of a story. If so, it is my fault, for I do not put it right, to you; and I am mortified & chagrined. I beg you not to withdraw the offer, & not to offer the story elsewhere, for, as I tell you, Dr. Holland does want it. He said lately that it was but just, that we should have the benefit of a S.H. serial. My sister Jean admires the "Stranger" history very much, says it isn't "sentimental" at all! I asked her to tell me the plot - and as she told it, it has not the feature which Dr. H. & I objected to at all. - If so, I can not imagine why you did not let us have it! There! Particularly as my excellent advice made you modify the plot, & therefore better the book!

Now I'm mad.

- There's nothing in that MacMillan rumor - if [you succeed?] "Harry," I will forward the letter you enclose.

Your faithful,

R.W. Gilder

[no envelope]

[note in H.H.'s hand]: A parody by R.W. Gilder on a sonnet sent him by H.H. & returned with these lines -

[last word in each line is circled]

O'er sonnet hammered by H.H. and bent
With great skill (though somewhat rudely strung
the rhymes) - o'er sonnet she had dind of flung
At my meek editorial head, I leant.
It had no doubt, a meaning. What it meant
Twas mine to seek its flowery line among.
Art difficult the task - but why twas sung
listened & said, - why music should be blent
With themes not fitted for much use, my thought
Could compass not. Why had she wrought
In verse what better prose would suit. "Dear heart"
This most good-natured [first?] cried "you sought
To say "no," [illegible - illegible] apart -
If I have really failed, tis not in theme, but art!"

Jan. 11 1883

[on back, in H.H.'s hand]:

H.H.'s reply -

"Meek editorial head" forsooth which bent
[illegible] eyed. & ah my sonnet flung
volleys of swiftest parodies so strung
They mocked its every word & all it meant
And nothing left of all on which it leant
Poor sonnet! in all [illegible] said or sung
Death warrant bearing its own lives among
All unaware hoe fatally it blent
Unsuited theme & [illegible] & errant thought
Poor sonnet! Poorer poet. She who wrought
Such travesties incongruous! Dear Heart
And most good natured Editor who sought
To say no gently (?) courtesies apart
If thou has failed, it was in theme, not art!

Jan. 11. 1883
Union Square Hotel

[no envelope]

Undated printed review of H.H.'s Verses with note "Here is a critic! R.W.G."

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