Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage

By Michael Thorpe | Go to book overview

26.

Emerson to Clough

1858

From a letter dated 17 May 1858 (Corr. II, 548).

I cannot forgive you for the baulking end or no end of the Amours de Voyage…. I read the first livraison of your poem with joy, and said, Behold that is what cannot be written here. Tis the sincerity of British culture. Here is a man tremulous all over with sensibility, and he holds a fine pen that delicately finds the right word, —gift that brings with it all other gifts. We watched from month to month our beloved star. The hexameters frightened some citizens. But all the good readers I know gave this poem every advantage over all the rest. And when we began to build securely on the triumph of our poet over all gainsayers, suddenly his wing flags, or his whim appears, and he plunges to a conclusion, like the ending of the Chancery suit in Bleak House, or like the denouement of Tennyson’s Princess. How can you waste such power on a broken dream? Why lead us up to the tower to tumble us down? There is a statute of Parnassus, that the author shall keep faith with the reader; but you choose to trifle with him. It is true a few persons compassionately tell me, that the piece is all right, and that they like this veracity of much preparation to no result. But I hold tis bad enough in life, and inadmissible in poetry. And I think you owe us a retribution of music, and to a musical argument. As I wish now to give due emphasis to my objection, I shall say nothing of all the merits that shine in the poem.1

1 Writing in June 1858 to C. E. Norton Clough reported Emerson’s reprimand ‘for the termination of the Amours de Voyage and went on: ‘he may be right and I wrong and all my defence can only be that I always meant it to be so and began it with the full intention of its ending so—but very likely I was wrong all the same…. ’ (Corr. II, 551).

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