[Boston—Wednesday, 7 December 1870]

Dec. 7th Last night Mr. Emerson lectured upon Immortality. The old lecture. I wished to go; but J. was too tired and obliged to rest. Afterward we met Mr. & Mrs E. at Dr. Jackson’s, her brother’s. They both looked old to us. So long a time has passed since all have talked much together that they have passed suddenly for me from the full season of life into age & decadence of strength. They were full of my coffee-room but Mr. Emerson instead of flowing with enthousiasm on the subject as his wife did, listened curiously and with a pleased expression and they passed swiftly back to literature. He talked of Bayard Taylor. Years ago he passed a night at his house. He remembered liking his wife much, thinking her womanly, truthful, intelligent, but he was not interested in him, found him “beefy” and he did not like to say what else evidently. A few days ago, however, he took up the “Atlantic” and read some hexameters upon “November” and “I said to myself—Ah! who is this, this is as good as Clough! Then to my astonishment and not a little to my discomfiture I discovered his name. But how about this “Faust”? We have had Dante done over and over, and even now I see done again by a new hand. And Homer forever being done and now Faust! I quarrel somewhat with the overmuch labor spent upon these translations. But first of all I quarrel with Göthe. Faust is unpleasant to me. The whole flavor of the poem gives me a shudder and makes me wish to turn away.” I asked if the beauty of the poetry did not in any sense redeem it to his mind. “No,—no—I know what are called the fine passages”!—Evidently however he did not know them in the original and I believe no translation can ever convey the fine poetic essence of the original. This and only this, lifting it out of the real into the ideal can make the terrible poem anything but a perpetual terror to the mind. We went on to speak of Dante. He said Dante, too, was a poem too terrible to him to read. He had never been able to finish it. I found there too his unfamiliarity with the original was the trouble. Years ago when quite a child he read portions of Carey’s translation but he had never read anything but extracts from the poem since.

I spoke of his lectures in Cambridge last year which were such a trouble to him from their lack of completeness. He hopes to give them again in town this year and will gladly if Jamie can arrange it for him. I can see that clearly. I told him however of the satisfaction they were to me & the pleasure I had in reading after his suggestions during the summer. This made him uneasy, he hates to be praised and he got up soon and walked away. But he is always sweet & courteous & kind. He talked of H.H. (Mrs Helen Hunt) whom he met at Sarah Clarkes’s once at Newport, he & Mrs Emerson and they all passed a week together. They liked her very much and her poems too, which are just out. They are sincerely anxious to renew their intercourse.

Jamie on the contrary and Whittier cannot like H.H. poetically or personally. Jamie banters her a great deal about this little book of poems of hers wh. he calls her “Pinch of Poetry”. He thinks it silly beyond expression for a woman who is earning her livelihood at the point of her pen to put $520 good hard dollars into printing a fanciful little volume of her own poems which he does not believe will pay for the printing. We shall see who is right. She or he. The writer or the publisher.


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