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Mr. Lynd's article, 'Why Literature Declines,' in your September number, touched a vibrant chord. It is sad but true that in this world of stark realism and materialism - - the world which has discarded Heaven, Hell, Purity, Sanctity, Ideals, even clothes - there remain, despite its efforts at the extinction of such, some few old fogies who still cling lovingly, in memory at least, to the literature of bygone days; and who still cherish a secret hope that some day men will again write of the things which stir their souls instead of searching for methods of suppressing them or explaining them away in terms of complexes and phobias.

But this age is the avowed enemy alike of him who would read or him who would write any but the literature of its kind. We used to find keen joy in taking flights out of the material world with Dante and Goethe and Shakespeare; but who can crowd one of those flights in, now, between the directors' meeting and the foursome? We used to delight in standing "mid the eternal ways' with Burroughs; but now those ways are overrun by the jostling mobs who know that Heaven is right here on earth and that each must hurry if he wishes to seize a piece for himself. We used to pluck a flower from the 'crannied wall' and thrill, with Tennyson, to hold it in hand, 'root, stem and all'; but now the signs read, 'Do not touch flowers or shrubs.'

And who cares to write what will not be read? There is but one hope! Cæsar did not write his will the day Mark Antony read it to the populace. Our hope must rest in the closets!

Perhaps somewhere, even now, there are some few fine spirits-rarely has an age produced them in numbers who understand that some day this era of sophistication and arrogant rationalism will have passed, that there will come a time when the flight of a spirit into the world of imagery will no longer be cause for an anxious visit to the family psychoanalyst, and who even now are writing truly great literature against that hour.

Would it not be a happy moment in Heaven (though, of course, that is merely a puerile concept) if one might look down (how absolutely absurd!) and hear a critic say, upon bringing to light a beautiful work for the sake of which some genius 'suffered the slings and arrows' of this generation, 'I found it in his closet'? But, of course, apartments and family hotels do not have closets. He will probably merely announce, 'It was in his safe-deposit box.'

Very truly,


Turning back to the eighteenth century, here is the kind of letter a long-lost husband of that period used to send to his wife. The author, a native of Charlestown, Massachusetts, never reached home, as his ship was wrecked. Molly lived to be ninety.



LONDON, June 23, 1766

This will inform you that I am still in the world. I have been so long counted among the Dead that I suppose all the remembrance of me is this viz., that I was a bad husband because I left no Money. I suppose my Character has been canvassed as customary. Some have imputed my Poverty to Extravagance, others to Unskillfulness, and others to Carelessness in busi- very few to the True Cause, the Will of God. You (who knew me best) I hope have done me justice in your Thoughts, in the midst of all your difficulties. I think I was not an Unkind Husband or Father, nor disagreeable Friend and Acquaintance. I do assure you when I expected momentarily to perish I had that consolation that I had endeavored to make you and my children happy. I remembered that I had some oddities in my Behaviour which might not have been always agreeable to you but which I hoped your Goodnature would forgive. I believe I may say the greatest Trouble I had at that Time (for I trusted God would forgive my sins) was the circumstances I should leave you and my children in - but notwithstanding those things and that I have been so long imagined dead that your Grief for the loss of my Person may possibly be

at an End, yet I hope that my Resurrection to you and Life again if it Please God may not be disagreeable to you. I think you loved me and cannot have forgot me so soon.

As you may want to know what has befallen me (for you formerly had curiosity to know things) I will acquaint you. On the 10th of January last in a hard gale of wind a very bad sea struck my vessel and occasioned her to leak very much. We kept continually pumping Night and Day till the 13th, and then the Water had increased so much that the Vessel was just upon sinking when we hoysted our boat out and got into it hardly in expectation of saving our lives but in the Hopes of living a little longer to repent of our Sins and ask Forgiveness, but it pleased God, after we had been 8 days in the boat in very stormy weather, and suffering a great deal for want of Victuals and Drink, to carry us to the Island of Flores inhabited by Portugese and who were exceedingly kind, especially to me. I having by being constantly wet, got the Gout in both Legs and Feet and left Hand so that I was unable to help myself, was taken from the Boat by two of them and carried about a mile, where I had an House and Bed provided for me and where I lay 17 days in great misery. After continuing in that Island (where I was obliged to sell my Hat, Buckles, and Buttons to subsist me) four months, I was carried to Dover in England and thence I came by land to this city, where I cant find that kindness that I have exercised upon many-I mean to let me have a passage without paying for it. I hope under these Frowns of providence that we shall behave suitably with a Religious Resignation, and not one murmuring thought arise. If it be best for us we shall yet meet with prosperity, but let us endeavor to act our part well upon this stage of the World, having this to comfort us that when the Curtain is drawn, he that acts well the part of a beggar will have as much applause as he that acts the part of a King Christians let us run with Patience the Race set before us - not despising the Chastisement of the Lord, but by patient continuance in well doing, let us seek Glory, Honor, and Immortality and in the end we shall undoubtedly obtain Everlasting Life. Then we shall look back upon what we called Troubles and Adversities in this world and wonder we gave them so hard a name. We shall then know that they were only the kind Chastisements of a Beneficent Father, for our Good, to wean us from a Fondness for this World and its Vanities. We shall then glory in the Tribulations we met with seeing they were necessary for us in the Road to Happiness.

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I hope you and my children have health. I long most heartily to see you. If God continues my health I shall come home in Captain Howard who sails in about a week.

I do not know what to say more. Pray give my duty to your Mother; tell her I am sorry I am the cause of so much uneasiness to her as I must necessarily have been. My love to your brother Nathaniel. I wish him happiness. To my Father and Mother give my dutiful regards; my love to all you think will be glad to hear I am alive. Give my blessing to my Children and accept the Love and Esteem of one whose greatest satisfaction is that he was beloved by you, and who is in Life or Death

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I have just read your article in the September Atlantic and my thoughts flew back to more than thirty years ago when, with all the glories of undiscovered Paris beckoning to me, I forced myself to toil in ill-ventilated libraries. When instead of joyously following adventure into unknown paths I doggedly pursued the fate of Latin o in the poems of Gonzalo de Berceo. I could not enjoy the quaint charm of his verse lest I miss one of those pesky little letters. No one could tell what disguise they might have assumed since first they wandered from the Roman moorings, and it was up to me to track them to their Spanish lairs. Six long months I was a Romance sleuth, and when I finally rounded up all my captives my only reward was an enigmatical combination of letters to be suffixed to my name. And in my soul was born a distrust of the value of a certain kind of scholarship. I had sinned against that sweet old poet beyond forgiveness, and my punishment was that I never could read him again.

So your article struck an answering chord in my own experience. I stuck to my job of interpreting (?) literature for over thirty years, but finally gave it up a year ago. I am free! Free to say what I think and do what I want. It's great. Sympathetically yours,

E. W.

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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, December, 1928, Vol. 142, No. 6. Published monthly. Publication Office, 10 Ferry Street, Concord, New Hampshire. Editorial and General Offices, 8 Arlington Street, Boston, Massachusetts. 40c a copy, $4.00 a year, foreign postage $1.00. Entered as second-class matter July 15, 1918, at the Post Office at Concord, New Hampshire, U. S. A. under the Act of March 3, 1879. Printed in the U. S. A.




[AFTER graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Gilfillan began studying for a professional career, but circumstances put him to practical work. He has spent the past dozen years as a sheep herder. -THE EDITOR]


In fairness to the reader it should be stated at the outset that there are two general theories about herding. Some hold that no man can herd for six months straight without going crazy, while others maintain that a man must have been mentally unbalanced for at least six months before he is in fit condition to entertain the thought of herding. Since these theories, taken together, hold out little hope for the steady herder, I ask the reader, in case he should notice any irrationality in the following pages, to impute it to environment rather than to heredity. It is easier on the family.

To a mind uncontaminated by the Higher Criticism, the herding profession, as personified in the second son of Adam, holds a very high and honorable rank in point of antiquity. It is significant that the first herder was killed by his brother. The prejudice against sheep is evidently as old as the profession itself.


And yet the herder, even to-day, has distant relatives - ninety-third cousins, as it were in the higher ranks of life, for every pastor of a church is by his very name and profession a shepherd or herder. But, if it would not be presumptuous, it might be pointed out that the sheep herder has some advantages over even his wealthy and aristocratic kinsman. In the first place the herder can tell his black sheep at a glance, which is something no pastor can do. Furthermore the herder does n't lie awake nights wondering how he can turn his black sheep white. He has sense enough to know that they will remain black to the end of the chapter. Nor does he worry for fear that his black sheep will smudge up some of the white ones, turning them a rich mulatto. Besides all this, the herder's black sheep will average only about one to the hundred. Where is the pastor who can boast a score like that? Lastly, when the whole flock shows a tendency to go wrong, as it frequently does, the herder does n't tearfully beg it to go right, and get in another herder to work over it a week or two. No, he addresses his flock in short, concise phrases. He alludes in passing to certain interesting facts about their ancestry, touches briefly on the present

Copyright 1928, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

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