Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 28

Jena, April 26th.

Dear Mr. Anstruther,—You seem to be incurably doleful. You talk about how nice it must be to have a sister, a mother, some woman very closely related to whom you could talk. You astonish me; for have you not Miss Cheriton? Still, on reflection I think I do see that what you feel you want is more a solid bread-and-butter sort of relationship; no sentiment, genial good advice, a helping hand if not a guiding one—really a good thick slice of bread-and-butter as a set-off to a diet of constant cake. I can read between your lines with sufficient clearness; and as I always had a certain talent for stodginess I will waste no words but offer myself as the bread-and-butter. Somehow I think it might work out my soul's release from self-reproach and doubts if I can help you, as far as one creature can help another, over some of the more tiresome places of life. Exhortation, admonishment, encouragement, you shall have them all, if you like, by letter. In these my days of dignified leisure I have had room to think, and so have learned to look at things differently from the way I used to. Life is so short that there is hardly time for anything except to be, as St. Paul says—wasn't it St. Paul?—kind to one another. You are, I think, a most weak person. Anything more easily delighted in the first place or more quickly tired in the second I never in my life saw. Does nothing satisfy you for more than a day or two? And the enthusiasm of you at the beginnings of things. And the depression, the despair of you once you have got used to them. I know you are clever, full of brains, intellectually all that can be desired, but what's the good of that when the rest of you is so weak? You are of a diseased fastidiousness. There's not a person you have praised to me whom you have not later on disliked. When you were here I used to wonder as I listened, but I did believe you. Now I know that the world cannot possibly contain so many offensive people, and that it is always so with you—violent heat, freezing cold. I cannot see you drown without holding out a hand. For you are young; you are, in the parts outside your strange, ill-disciplined emotions, most full of promise; and circumstances have knitted me into an unalterable friend. Perhaps I can help you to a greater stead-fastness, a greater compactness of soul. But do not tell me too much. Do not put me in an inextricably difficult position. It would not of course be really inextricable, for I would extricate myself by the simple process of relapsing into silence. I say this because your letters have a growing tendency to pour out everything you happen to be feeling. That in itself is not a bad thing, but you must rightly choose your listener. Not every one should be allowed to listen. Certain things cannot be shouted out from the housetops. You forget that we hardly know each other, and that the well-mannered do not thrust their deeper feelings on a person who shrinks from them. I hope you understand that I am willing to hear you talk about most things, and that you will need no further warning to keep off the few swampy places. And just think of all the things you can write to me about, all the masses of breathlessly interesting things in this breathlessly interesting world, without talking about people at all. Look round you this fine spring weather and tell me, for instance, what April is doing up your way, and whether as you go to your work through the park you too have not seen heavy Saturn laughing and leaping—how that sonnet has got into my head—and do not every day thank God for having bothered to make you at all.

Yours sincerely,


Elizabeth von Arnim