Thursday, October 13, 2016

John Hay to Miss Mary Ridgely, 1861

Washington, 1861.

I send you this book1 because it is new — that is its only recommendation. It sketches with the most miraculous fidelity characters that are not worth sketching. It reminds me of a satiric cartoon of a Dutch painter, representing Art knocking in vain at his door, and the artist within industriously engaged in drawing an old shoe. This woman has wonderful power but is wasting it on unworthy subjects.

There is something strange, almost startling in this story. There is not one single character in it who is not below mediocrity in mind, morals and manners. Yet these people, so drearily commonplace, in actual life, move us strongly in the book. It is not sympathy with the people; it is sympathy with the success of the portraits.

When women write books they make young people fall in love very foolishly. I want to write a novel on common-sense principles and change all that, some day, when I have grown rich and idle, and have forgotten to-day and yesterday.

We are very jolly here now, on a warfooting. We are hoping for a little brush with the traitors, but are very much afraid they will deprive us of that pleasure.

. . . . I wish I were in Springfield for a little while. I am afraid to leave here just now, lest I should lose some fun in my absence.

Your friend.

1 George Eliot's Silas Marner.

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p.7-8

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