Selected Letters of Hamlin Garland

Edited by Keith Newlin and Joseph B. McCullough


Two of Garland's letters, the earliest extant letter and the letter he left unmailed when he died (which are the first and last letters of Selected Letters of Hamlin Garland).

Garland's first letter:

1.   to Edmund Clarence Stedman

als, Columbia

Jamaica Plain.
Boston.

12/16/85

Mr. E. C. Stedman:1

Dear Sir: Holding you as the most authoritative of our critics I write on a matter which will at once concern you, and ask your consideration. I enclose a few poems by an author who is a stranger to me but one which I do not think you can afford longer to remain ignorant of.

I ask your careful attention to these poems. They were published in the "Providence Sunday Journal" and attracted my attention and finally affected me so power fully that I sought to know more of the author. I found Mr. Burleigh to be one of the well-known Burleigh family of Connecticut.2 His hair has grown white in literary work. For forty years he has been writing and has published but a mere tithe of his work. Latterly he has sent out some extracts from his longer poems. By the merest chance I met him here in the city, and as we talked together he opened up the plan of his works which are prodigious. I do not conceive that you could have left him unmentioned in your late work had you known of his writings. I ask you to read the "Song of Beauty"3 and the "Song of the Architect" with this plan in your brain:-

The scene opens on a high wooded height, at still noon. The poet lies gazing into the sky. Suddenly a light, brighter than the noonday sun, announces the approach of a lovely female figure floating at will, without wings. Upon the fillet on her head a single star blazes still more brightly. Behind her an innumerable train floats, till lost in the upper deeps. It is Alèthè and her attendant spirits.

--"The glorious company who keep
The worlds in rhythmic march."

As the dreamer questions concerning life and its mysteries, Alèthè and her spirits of Wisdom, Beauty, Love, etc answer.--The slips sent contain two of these songs which will faintly indicate the splendid character of the rhythm and music, and grandeur of the thought. I have no hesitancy in saying that I believe this poetry to bear the characteristics of the poetry which shall spring "like an Alpine torrent from the glacial facts of science." Mr. Burleigh strikes me as an Evolutionistic Hugo. However my opinion is of no consequence--what do you think of it? It is probable that you will wonder why he has not published more and all I could reply is, he seems a very retiring man and--is poor. Friends are now urging him to print and "Alethe" is the particular poem, we urge. It seems to me that our literature can ill afford to lose work of the character of "Song of the Architect" and "Silence of the Stars" which are mere fragments. His range is enormous: running from poems for the "Nursery" and "St. Nicholas" up to the poems enclosed. Are we deceived or is this a remarkable genius? Is that "Silence of the Stars" a mighty hymn of a soul filled with the glory of science or is it rhymed dissertation? It pleases me so well that I dare not say whether it is poetry to Smith or Hobbes. What shall we say of a man who catches and swings the "Nebular Hypothesis" thus.

"The fine mist of primeval time
My breath condensed like summer rain
Swept on as by a hurricane
Each drop a burning world sublime"

Or this:

"I sunk the glooming gulfs of space
Down which the stellar maelstrom whirls;
That for its seething foam-crest, hurls
The pallid nebulae in heaven's face
."

Observe the contrast of the great and small in each stanza.--But nothing I can say will add to them, they will speak to you in their own fashion. Believing that you will feel an interest much greater than my own I have written thus freely. I should be very glad to hear from you, or a letter directed to Mr. Burleigh at this point would be pleasant. Any questions from you would be gladly answered.

Mr. Burleigh is here for a few days. As I indicated he is in no way connected with me except as a congenial mind.

Most respectfully
Hamlin Garland

Will you please return slips. They are all I have and are valuable to me.


    1. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833-1908), genteel poet, editor, and stockbroker, whose Poets of America (2 vols., 1885) Garland refers to. This is apparently the earliest surviving letter by Garland.
    2. George Shepard Burleigh (1821-1903) published poems chiefly in magazines and newspapers.
    3. Full title: "A Song of Beauty in her Winter Realm."


Garland's last letter:

405.   to Eldon Hill

al, Miami U

[ca. March 1940]

Dear Mr. Hill:

When you reach a discussion of my psychic work, I want you to understand that I regard it as a legitimate subject for literary treatment. It is not a religious subject with me nor a wholly scientific pursuit--it is an extension of my work as a writer. Put out of your mind all the religious prejudices which color so much of the psychic poetry, drama[,] fiction and history and write of my books on the subject as you would deal with a book by me on a new continent or a new school organization. For nearly fifty years it has been a part of my work as a writer and now it becomes even more important as an exploration into unexplored biology. As a man of eighty I now ask naturally without awe or sorrow "where do I go from here?"

You are free to express your own feeling on this phase of my work but it is well for you to understand that I had no sense of abandoning my skill or sincerity of purpose when I took up this subject in "The Tyranny of the Dark" and "The Shadow World"--and in 1936, I entered to write as historian and fictioneer not as a convert to a new religion or as an opponent. In truth it had become [one] of the most important subjects of my world. Even now at eighty I am neither awed nor rebellious--I am curious, just as I used to be when crossing a range into an unknown valley. Each year lessens my regret at leaving the third dimension behind for my friends and relatives are now mainly in the unknown valley--and my work is less and less valuable to the public.

If you can honestly follow me into this final exploration of mine, do so--If not I shall not complain.1


    1. According to a letter from Constance Garland Harper to Eldon Hill (15 March 1940, Miami U), Garland was apparently at work on this letter but died, on 4 March, of a cerebral hemorrhage, before he was able to complete it.


back from pp. 9-11 & 433-34 of Selected Letters of Hamlin Garland, ed. Keith Newlin and Joseph B. McCullough (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998)
 

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