January 22, 2010

Taylor responds to criticism from Fields

The travel writer, critic, and editor Bayard Taylor wrote to James T. Fields on January 22, 1869. Writing from his home in Kennett Square, PA named Cedarcroft (seen here as it looks today, from the side), Taylor was responding to constructive criticism Fields offered in preparation for publishing a poem in the Atlantic Monthly. A respected publisher and editor, Fields often gave very specific advice to his contributors; Taylor's poem "Notus Ignoto" was no exception. Its author, however, did not seem to take Fields's advice too kindly.

Each poet has his own individual mode of expressing his conceptions, and now and then inevitably makes use of words, lines, and rhymes which others would wish to see changed. Who does this more than Browning? Who in America, more than Lowell? Even the patient and fine-minded Longfellow sometimes commits flagrant offenses against my sense (and no doubt yours) of beauty. It is so, and must be so, with all poets.

Taylor also notes that two other poets (unnamed) agreed with the original wording. Taylor stubbornly notes, "I know perfectly well that I shall not change the line." His friends happen to think this poem better than his previous poem "The Sunshine of the Gods." Despite completely dismissing Fields's opinion, Taylor asks "don't let my paternal zeal prevent you from giving your views always and freely."

Fields responds by writing back:

I never quarrel with a poet's individuality, and offer any strictures on a piece of verse with great editorial modesty, but if the poem is really better than "The Sunshine of the Gods," I will eat a complete set of your works.

1 comment:

  1. I still can't quite make out how Fields intended the last comment about Taylor's works. I think it's two-handed: on the one hand, he's paying a compliment; on the other, he's telling him he's wrong.