“When I left you I found an organ-grinder in Russell Square playing to a child; and the simple fact that there was a child listening to him, that he was giving this pleasure, entitled him, according to my theory, as you know, to some money; so I put some coppers on the ledge of his organ, without so much as looking at him, and I was going on when a woman said to me: ‘Yes sir, he do look bad, don’t he? scarcely fit like to be working.’ And then I looked at the man, and O! he was so ill, so yellow and heavy-eyed and drooping. I did not like to go back somehow , and so I gave the woman a shilling and asked her to give it to him for me. I saw her do so and walked on; but the face followed me, and so when I had got to the end of the division, I turned and came back as hard as I could and filled his hand with money — ten to thirteen shillings, I should think. I was sure he was going to be ill, you know, and he was a young man; and I dare say he was alone, and had no one to love him.”
— Letter from Robert Louis Stevenson to Mrs. Sitwell, November, 1874
In the last year of his life he wrote his daughter, “I wish now I’d never relaxed or looked back – but said at the end of “The Great Gatsby”: I’ve found my line – from now on this comes first. This is my immediate duty – without this I am nothing.”
— Arthur Mizener, “Gatsby, 35 Years Later”
Almost ten years ago I participated in the conference whose proceedings would become the volume “Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies: Consequences of Skepticism.” Stanley sat directly in front of me and listened attentively to my talk, thrilling and scary, not to say awkward, reading out “Cavell writes…” and “Cavell says…” with the man right there. After the Q and A, someone, I don’t remember who, brought me over and introduced us. Stanley shook my hand and with the other patted my shoulder and said, with a broad smile, “Stay on your path, young man.”
I go on my way to-night, If I can; if not, to-morrow; emigrant train ten to fourteen days’ journey; warranted extreme discomfort… I have been steadily drenched for twenty-four hours; water-proof wet through; immortal spirit fitfully blinking up in spite… I am not beaten yet, though disappointed. If I am, it’s for good this time; you know what “for good” means in my vocabulary— something inside of 12 months perhaps; but who knows? At least, if I fail in my great purpose, I shall see some wild life in the West and visit both Florida and Labrador ere I return. But I don’t yet know if I have the courage to stick to life without it. Man, I was sick, sick, sick of this last year.
—Letter from Robert Louis Stevenson to Sidney Colvin (on board s.s. “Devonia,” an hour or two out of New York, August, 1879)
“My life consists, and has essentially always consisted, of attempts at writing, largely unsuccessful. But when I don’t write, I wind up on the floor at once, fit for the dustbin…it soon became evident that I had to spare myself on all sides, relinquish a little everywhere to retain just enough strength for what seemed to me my main purpose…I once made a detailed list of the things I have sacrificed to writing and the things that were taken from me for the sake of writing or rather whose loss could be endured only with this explanation…So If there is a higher power that wishes to use me, or does use me, I am at its mercy, at least as a well-crafted instrument; if not, I am nothing at all and will find myself in a frightful void.”
—Letter from Franz Kafka to Felice Bauer, November 1, 1912
“…So I call on you once more to think and reflect about the cause of this unfortunate incident, namely the fact that I voiced my disapproval that you had been so impudent and inconsiderate as to tell your sisters—Nota bene, in my presence—that you allowed some Chapeaux to measure the calves of your legs…But it’s over now—and a mere acknowledgment of this unwise exhibition would have been enough to make everything all right and—if you don’t take it amiss, dearest friend—would still make it all right.—You can see from this how much I love you…”
Letter from Mozart to Constanze Weber (April 29, 1782)
(Cambridge, September 1864) Susan Gilbert Dickinson
at Centre of the Sea – I am glad Mrs. Gertrude lived – I believed she would – Those that are worthy of Life are of Miracle, for Life is Miracle, and Death, as harmless as a Bee – except to those who run
It would be best to see you – it would be good to see the Grass, and hear the Wind blow the wide way in the Orchard – Are the Apples ripe – Have the Wild Geese crossed – Did you save the seed to the Pond Lily?
Love for Mat, and John, and the Foreigner – And kiss little Ned in the seam in the neck, entirely for Me – The Doctor is very kind – I find no Enemy – Till the Four o’Clocks strike Five, Loo will last, she says. Do not cease, Sister. Should I turn in my long night, I should murmur “Sue”
“It seems as though we were all on a boat now together, a good boat still, that we have made but that we know now will never reach port. There will be all kinds of weather, good and bad, and especially because we know now that there will be no landfall we must keep the boat up very well and be very good to each other.”
—Ernest Hemingway, Letter to Gerald and Sara Murphy, March 19, 1935 on the death of their son.
“Austin’s Family went to Geneva, and Austin lived with us four weeks. It seemed peculiar-pathetic-and Antediluvian. We missed him while he was with us and missed him when he was gone. All is so very curious…”
–Emily Dickinson, letter to Mrs. J.G. Holland, late January 1875