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Galgenberg, Sept. 30th.
Dear Mr. Anstruther,—How nice of you to be so kind, to write so consolingly, to be so patient in explaining where I am thinking wrong. I burned the book in the kitchen fire, and felt great satisfaction in clearing the house of its presence. You are right; I have no concern with the body of a poet—all my concern is with his soul, and the two shall be severely separated. I am glad you agree with me that poets should be anonymous, but you seem to have even less hope that they ever will be than I have. At least I pray that they may; you apparently take no steps whatever to bring it about. You say that experience teaches that we must not expect too much of gods; that the possible pangs of posterity often leave them cold; that they are blind to the merits of bushels, and discern neither honor nor profit in the use of those vessels of extinguishment; you fear that they will not change, and you exhort me to see to it that their weakness shall not be an occasion for my stumbling. That is very sensible advice. But before your kind letter came a few fresh autumn mornings had cleared a good deal of my first dejection away. If the gods won't hide themselves I can after all shut my eyes. If I may not rejoice in the divine in them with undistracted attention I will try at least to get all the warmth I can from its burning. And I can imitate my own dainty and diligent bees, and take care to be absorbed only in their honey. You make me ashamed of my folly in thinking I could never read Burns again now that I know about his sins. I did secretly think so. I was sure of it. I felt quite sick to see him tumbled from his altar into the mud. Your letter shows me that once again I have been foolish. Why, it has verged on idiocy. I myself have laughed at people in Jena, strictly pious people, who will not read Goethe, who have a personally vindictive feeling against him because of his different love-affairs, and I have listened astonished to the fury with which the proposal of a few universal-minded persons to give Heine a statue was opposed, and to the tone almost of hatred with which one man whenever his name is mentioned calls out Schmutzfink. About our poets I have been from the beginning quite sane. But yours were somehow more sacred to me; sacred, I suppose, because they were more mysterious, more distant,—glorious angel-trumpets through which God sent His messages. I was so glad, I whose tendency is, I am afraid, to laugh and criticise, to possess one thing at which I could not laugh, to have a whole tract of beauty in which I could walk seriously, with downcast eyes; and I thought I was never going to be able to be serious there again. It was a passing fit, a violent revulsion. If I like carefully to separate my own soul and body, why should I not do the same with those of other sinners? It has always seemed to me so quaint the way we admit, the good nature with which we reiterate, that we are all wretched sinners. We do it with such an immense complacency. We agree so heartily, with such comfortable, regretful sighs, when anybody tells us so; but with only one wretched sinner are we of a real patience. With him, indeed, our patience is boundless. I know this, I have always known it, and I will not now, at an age when it is my hope to grow every year a little better, forget it and be as insolently intolerant as the man who shudders at the name of Heine, will not read a line of him and calls him Schmutzfink. That writer's books you tell me about, the books the virtuous in England will not read because his private life was disgraceful, beautiful books, you say, into which went his best, in which his spirit showed how bright it was, how he had kept it apart and clean, I shall get them all and read them all. No sinner, cursed with a body at variance with his soul and able in spite of it to hear the music of heaven and give it exquisite expression, shall ever again be identified by me with what at such great pains he has kept white. I know at least three German writers to whom the same thing happened, men who live badly and write nobly. My heart goes out to them. I think of them lame and handicapped, leading their Muse by the hand with anxious care so that her shining feet, set among the grass and daisies along the roadside, shall not be dimmed by the foulness through which they themselves are splashing. They are caked with impurities, but with the tenderest watchfulness they keep her clean. She is their gift to the world, the gift of their best, of their angel, of their share of divinity. And the respectable, afraid for their respectability, turn their backs in horror and go and read without blinking ugly things written by other respectables. Why, no priest at the altar, however unworthy, can hinder the worshipper from taking away with him as great a load of blessings as he will carry. And a rose is not less lovely because its roots are in corruption. And God Himself was found once in a manger. Thank you, and good-by.
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