To any one of several editors.
Dear Sir: I paid a visit to your city several days since and humored myself with ambitious thoughts in the contemplation of your editorial windows. I was tempted to rap at your door and request an audience but modesty held me off. Once by appointment I passed an hour in your office pleasantly and profitably and even so tardily do I acknowledge your courtesy and good-nature. But a beggar must choose his streets carefully and must not be seen too often in a neighborhood as the same door does not always offer pie. So this time your brass knocker shows no finger-marks of mine.
You did not accept for publication the last paper I sent to you. (You spread an infinite deal of sorrow in your path.) On its return I re-read it and now confess to concurrence with your judgment. Something had gone wrong. It was not as intended. Unlike Cleopatra, age had withered it. Was I not like a cook whose dinner has been sent back untasted? The best available ingredients were put into that confection and if it did not issue from the oven with those savory whiffs that compel appetite, my stove is at fault. Perhaps some good old literary housewife will tell me, disconsolate among my pots and pans, how long an idea must be boiled to be tender and how best to garnish a thought to an editor’s taste? And yet, sir, your manners are excellent. It was Petruchio who cried:
What’s this? Mutton?–
‘Tis burnt; and so is all the meat.
Where is the rascal cook?
Manners have improved. In pleasant contrast is your courteous note, signifying the excellence of my proffered pastry, your delight that you are allowed to sniff and your regret for lack of appetite and abdominal capacity. Nevertheless, the food came back and I poked at the broken pieces mournfully. It is a witch’s business presiding at the caldron of these things and there is no magic pottage above my fire.
And yet, kind sir, with your permission I shall continue in my ways and offer to you from time to time such messes as I have, hoping that some day your taste will deteriorate to my level or that I shall myself learn the witchcraft and enter your regard.
Up to this present time only a few of my papers have been asked to stay. The rest have gone the downward tread of your stair carpet and have passed into the night. My desk has become a kind of mausoleum of such as have come home to die, and when I raise its lid a silence falls on me as on one who visits sacred places.
There is, however, another side of this. Certain it is that thousands of us who write seek your recognition and regard. Certain it is that your favorable judgment moves us to elation, and your silence to our merits urges us to harder endeavors. But for all this, dear sir, and despite your continued neglect, we are a tolerably happy crew. It may be that our best things were never published–best, because we enjoyed them most, because they recall the happiest hours and the finest moods. They bring most freshly to our memories the influences of books and friends and the circumstances under which they were written. It is because we lacked the skill to tame our sensations to our uses, the patience to do well what we wished to do fast, that you rightly judged them unavailable. We do not feel rebellious and we admit that you are right. Only we do not care as much as we did, for most of us are learning to write for the love of the writing and without an eye on the medal. With no livelihood depending, with no compulsion of hours or subject, under the free anonymity of sure rejection, we have worked. It has been a fine world, these hours of study and reflection, and when we assert that one essay is our best, we are right, for it has led us to happiness and pleasant thoughts and to an interpretation of ourselves and the world that moves about us. In these best moods of ours, we live and think beyond our normal powers and even come to a distant kinship with men far greater than ourselves. Knowing this, prudence only keeps us from snapping our fingers at you and marking each paper, as we finish it, “rejected,” without the formality of a trip to you, and then happily beginning the next. We are learning to be amateurs and although our names shall never be shouted from the housetops, we shall be almost as content. Still will there be the morning hours of study with sunlight across the floor, the winding country roads of autumn with smells of corn-stacks and burdened vineyards, the fire-lit hours of evening. Still shall we write in our gardens of a summer afternoon or change the winter snowstorm that drives against our windows into the coinage of our thoughts.
We shall be independent and think and write as we please. And although we enclose stamps for a mournful recessional, please know, dear sir, that even as you dictate your polite note of refusal, we are hard at it with another paper.