December 18, 2010

Lowell and Cranch: with this abominable pen

In a letter dated December 18, 1868, James Russell Lowell wrote to Christopher Pearse Cranch, "I... would rather have (if I can say so with this abominable pen) one old friend with a silver-mine in his hair, than all the new ones that were ever turned out." Lowell notes that he intends to send "C.P.C." a copy of his new book once it is printed but admits he doesn't care if he likes it, "provided you will continue to like J.R.L." In fact, Lowell says, he almost hopes Cranch will dislike it, saying he'd rather have "a pennyweight of honest friendship than a pound of fame, or — what is about as solid — flattery."

Lowell was approaching 50 years old, as he notes in the letter, and demands a "test of friendship" from Cranch: for his birthday, he wants him to pay a visit at the Lowell home, Elmwood. Though living in New York at the time, Cranch came through, and even wrote a birthday poem for Lowell. Perhaps as a response to Lowell's value of fame mentioned above, the poem concludes that "our love" makes "his fame."

The letter is sincere and warm, reflecting a friendship not generally recognized by history. Cranch, a minister, was also a poet and artist — and deserves the title of best sense of humor among the Transcendentalists. Lowell, for all his varied efforts, was also a humor poet, publishing his A Fable for Critics in 1848 at the age of 29.

As Lowell concludes his letter to Cranch:

My old clock in the entry has just given that hiccup with which tall fellows of their hands like him are wont to prelude the hours — and the hour is midnight. My fire and my pipe are both low. I must say good-night. I have had great difficulty in saying what I wished with this pen, which has served me I know not how long. But I have stood by it, and that should convince you (if you needed convincing, as I am sure you didn't) that I don't give up an old friend even when he has lost his point. But that is something you can never do for me, and I shall expect you on [my birthday]... You shall... have a warm welcome from Mrs. Lowell (who thinks you handsome — that way madness lies!).

No comments:

Post a Comment