21 Cortleigh Blvd.
Feb. 25, 1952
My dear John:
Excuse these straggling pencil marks as I am in doors with a cast on my left shoulder. I fell last week and broke the shoulder blade which will keep me in cast and sling for a month yet.
I would not be human if I did not feel grateful for your wonderful tribute. It is refreshing to discover the novelty and variety of the treatment. Your definition of 'heroic' presents a valid differentiation. Criticism generally is obsessed with the Beowulf conception in dealing with the traditional struggles. I hope I am not so immodest as to stretch my own work alongside the historical landmarks, but, if any comparison is made on qualified grounds, it is certainly time that mere glorification of strength was never my intention. As you imply, terror in the presence of power is a concomitant, and it would be a strangely lop-sided interpretation which excluded the outcroppings of the social sympathies. Frye (who by the way is one of your admirers) emphasized the terror factor to balance the power.
This article is the first one to make use of material of which I was more or less unconscious as a shaping force. It is only now in retropect that I can feel the influence of two works which had to be thoroughly studied The 'Principles of Psychology' by Wm James, and 'Immediate Experience' by Wundt. And I might add a third James' 'Varieties of Religious Experience'.
There are several pages of this essay that moved me tremendously pages 14-18 particularly. That figure of 'the slow withdrawal of consciousness from someone who is dying' belongs to the pageant of poetry rather than of prose. It is magnificent.
I had this problem in the 'Titanic.' I had to select from the reports of two Commissions of Inquiry just those facts which, while safeguarding historical objectivity, would impart a unified psychological impression. The extremes of human behaviour were exhibited on that deck self-control at one end, and at the other fear on the verge of panic. The impulsive rush to the boats on the part of a few and the action of the stoker had to be balanced by the conduct of the engineers and bandsmen and of individuals like Ida Straus. I realized the danger of elaborated comment which would sentimentalize these fine elements in human nature, so I tried to give them as much condensation as possible.
Your analysis of the reason-instinct antithesis is masterly. You have made explicit to me what, in part, was only subconsciously implicit in my tackling the 'Great Feud.' The 'Titanic' and the 'Feud' are, in my opinion, the most successful things I have done, more so than Brébeuf which I find on re-reading to be too simple and homogenous through the dominance of the martyr-motif. Besides, it has too much of factual over-burden.
How right you were about the 'Witches Brew.' I had been drifting continually in Newfoundland Verse, but in this fantasy I discovered that the tiller was geared to a rudder, but such a discovery took some time.
(1) Page 2. A slight qualification may be in order here. As far as I know, the important american anthologies like Untermeyer's and Sanders and Nelson do not include the work of any contemporary Canadian.
I have appeared in a few recent anthologies across the Line, but they have been special and topical and not comprehensive: such as 'The Eternal Sea,' 'Religious Poems of the World,' 'The Questing Spirit,' 'The Literary Tradition.'
(2) Page 8. The Titanic sank in 1912.
(3) The order of composition was: (1) The Witches Brew (2) The Cachalot (3) The Great Feud.
It is, however, quite true that (3) was inchoately in my mind as a possible theme before the Cachalot was completed.
(4) Page 36. The final formal induction took place, but I decided against entering the 'active' ministry, preferring a classroom to a pulpit.
May I keep the script for a few days. My wife wants to read it again at greater leisure. By the way the Feud is her favourite too. She found in your exposition just the interlinear significances she had been groping for.
Page 41 (balance of power) is about as fine a piece of writing as I wish to see anywhere. I wonder if you realize how good it is.
Again my thanks, and my apologies for this inadequate scrawl.
Yours with kindest regards
Sanders and Nelson
across the Line