Letter to George Sterling

From Clark Ashton Smith

Auburn, Calif.
Apr. 12th, 1912

My Dear Friend:

I must first thank you for your lovely sonnets. I blush to think that "The Coming Singer" is meant for me, for I have not the courage to hope that I may fulfil such a prophecy. Nothing could be more sublime than the ending of that sonnet and I think it the better of the two, though the last lines of "The Muse of the Incommunicable" have been chanting themselves in my ears all day, to a ghostly music. You are one of the few masters of the sonnet.

I am extremely sorry that you think it necessary to withdraw the Dedication and the personal poems. But I understand the situation well enough, and have observed the temper and characteristics of the "many-headed beast". Only I had not expected that you would be required to act as my press-agent-and I don't like the idea any too well. But as you, in your friendship and kindliness, have offered to do so, I cannot be so ungrateful as not to accept it. The only way that I can repay the debt will be by living long enough to pass it on to someone else.

Of course, I understand how it is with Mr. Robertson-and I am not including him among the "sharks." But I have one remark to make on publishers in general: Their principal defense is that they must give the public what it wants-but are they not in many ways responsible for the taste of the public-are not they, in company with the periodicals, theaters, etc, largely the creators of the present depraved standards? If all were to band together to refuse the publication of the torrents of wish-wash-and worse-that are rotting the appreciation of anything better in so many minds-could they not educate their readers (and audiences) to something higher? Most people are neither better nor worse, mentally or any other way, than their environment-and literature and its counterparts are a potent part of environment. Perhaps, though, I am overestimating the latent capacities of the public, perhaps it's as imbecile as the publishers seem to think it is. If it is imbecility, it's a dangerous and violent form. But its present literary diet must be having some effect on the Beast, if only to impair its digestion. There is not a volume of Ambrose Bierce among the two thousand-odd in the local Carnegie Library-and I suppose Auburn is average enough in its tastes. I told a local debating-club that Bierce was the greatest living American of letters, and they were too much surprised, I suppose, to dispute me. Possibly they thought it safer to humor the lunatic! But what's the use? Demoralization has the stronghold, and you and I and a few other eccentrics to whom no one pays attention, are on the outside.

I do not care so much for "Drake" on re-reading it. The faults are all painfully evident, but still I think it notable work. I have not read much else of Noyes. I spoke of Phillips from a reading of three plays-"Nero", "Ulysses", and "Paolo and Francesca." I thought "Nero" much the best of the three. If Noyes is "playing to the gallery", it counts a great deal against him. I fear I speak of current poetry from too little knowledge. I have to depend too much on "Current Literature" and "The Literary Digest{"}, for I can't afford to buy much, and the books are most unobtainable here otherwise.

As you suggest, I shall transfer the Dedication of "The Star-Treader" to my parents. But my second book will certainly be dedicated to you-and I shall try to write a better poem to go with it.

Who is Mr. Ross? He was in Auburn some time ago, and introduced himself to me as a friend of yours and of Mr Robertson's. He talked mostly on political economy.

In all sincerity and gratitude,
Your friend,
Clark Ashton Smith

Originally published in Mirage, 10 (1971), pp. 63-70.

Printed from: www.eldritchdark.com/writings/correspondence/3
Printed on: November 25, 2017