A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To James CatherJuly 12 [1934?]UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Is writing from a bank vault, where she is doing some business before leaving for Canada. Must tell Jim something: would not respect him more if he hit it big in the oil business. Chance and accomplishment are not the same thing. To work a steady job and support one's family is an accomplishment. That is what Roscoe has done. Making money in gold or oil or stocks is just chance. Real accomplishment is only achieved with persistent hard work. Doesn't mean to lecture, but Jim mentioned he would like to tell her of an accomplishment, and he needs to know that working, staying healthy, and raising children is enough. Jim's children [Helen and Charles Cather], who seem wonderful, would not value their father more if he was rich. Californians value chance too much. Tell the children if they begin to evaluate people based upon their wealth instead of their character she will stop loving them. Doesn't believe it will come to that, but is sincere.   Willie 

To John C. Slack [of Fidelity Title and Trust Co., Pittsburgh, PA]November 22, 1906, on McClure's Magazine letterhead ; UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Has given his name to George K. Turner of McClure's, who is coming to Pittsburgh for a few days. Hopes he will introduce Mr. Turner to some businessmen. Mr. Turner is a man of great character who will only ask relevant questions and who will use that information appropriately, something Mr. Slack will see for himself. Mr. Turner's piece on Galveston's municipal government was recently published to much attention, and he also is the author of The Taskmasters. Wishes she could have seen Mr. and Mrs. Slack when in Pittsburgh last, but was so bombarded by former students that had little time for anything else but recovery. When she visits again in the winter, plans on seeing the Slacks.   Willa Sibert Cather 

To Douglass CatherJuly 8, 1916, from Taos, NM on letterhead of the Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, CO; ; UNL-Southwick 

Has returned to Taos with Edith after days in the heat of Denver. Taos has very mild evenings and only brief periods of heat during the day. Fine horses are available; Edith is an accomplished rider, and Cather can get along well enough to handle irregular terrain. Is Douglass still coming north this July? How far? To Albuquerque? If it is possible to see him, would like to, but otherwise won't travel far, though if Edith is up to it they might drive near Espa´┐Żola around the Rio Grande pueblos. Edith has to return to New York by July 25, and her holiday, though fascinating, has not been relaxing. When she leaves, Cather might travel to Lander, and will get to Red Cloud as some point. Hopes to convince mother to spend some time in Denver with her, since Elsie reports that she isn't in good health. Would like to be in Red Cloud for several weeks, but won't do it if no one wants her around. Regrets coming home the previous summer. Her very being seemed to annoy everyone. Douglass shouldn't think her too smug, it's just that writers have to promote themselves or forget about it. Doesn't self-promote near as much as most. Doesn't believe it would do family any good for her to give up, though quitting is tempting sometimes. Had a difficult winter and wrote very little, just two short stories [possibly "The Bookkeeper's Wife" and "The Diamond Mine"], and one of them was really weak. The death of Judge McClung and the marriage of Isabelle were big blows and gave her the unsettling sense of losing a home. Will survive, but is not too enthusiastic. Maybe going on trying after losing interest is a sign of character. Doesn't want to dwell on depressing facts, though. Why can't she and Douglass have fun together more? Yes, is difficult to be around, but any woman who has made good money in a business is difficult and she's no different. Nevertheless, the two of them still ought to enjoy one another's company, as they did in Denver the year before. Likes Douglass more than nearly everyone else, except when he's grumpy; and when he's grumpy, will just leave and accept it with detachment. Will, however, relish all positive feelings from her family, all of whom she likes very much, even more so now than when she was young and tried to change everybody. Still tends to believe in her own way of thinking first, but now tempers it with the knowledge of past errors. Has mellowed since last year. Three close friends died [?], and the family's displeasure last summer may have helped too. Is drained of spirit now--but that's bad for writing. Will probably never write well again. One needs to be transfixed with the material to write well. Hopes at least to be able to support herself still. Two stories were rejected recently for being dull, and the editors were right. Please plan on meeting somewhere—really has gotten more easy going.   Willie 

To Carroll WilsonMarch 18, 1926Drew U (Adams 168.1) 

In response to his inquiry, insists that Georgine Milmine is a very real person and did a good deal of work collecting information for the history [The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy, first published in McClure's January 1907 through June 1908; published in book form as The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science by Georgine Milmine, New York: Doubleday, Page, & Co., 1909]. Milmine did not really write it, but four or five people, including herself, worked on it in the editorial room of McClure's. Does not wish to be identified with the book, for was never interested in it except editorially and shared the work with others. Mr. Smith was not there at the time, if memory serves, so he must have heard his stories from somebody else. Please keep this information quiet. Wilson's profession assures his prudence, one would think.   Willa Cather 

To Leonard Charles Van NoppenJanuary 5, 1899, from 341 Sheridan Ave, East End, Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaDrew U (Adams 141) 

He must be inundated with praise since the publication of his [translation of Joost van den Vondel's] Lucifer [New York, London: Continental Publishing Co., 1898]. Hopes he does not mind another. Has been following the positive reception with some surprise at the success, for it is rare that an old, non-English language text can inspire such enthusiasm. Liked the review in the Critic; it was as positive as Vance Thompson's but more focused and intelligent. Had hoped to review it herself and regrets being gone and missing the chance. Wants him to know of her honest approval of his work. And now, though still so young, he is going to talk at Columbia! Hopes his success has made him content. Though he used to doubt his abilities, she never did. With support of cousin Dr. James Howard Gore of Columbian University, Washington, D.C., is hoping to publish a book of essays on theater soon, and hopes he will look at it for her. Wishes him the best. P.S.: Is boarding with some young women from Pittsburgh he met at the Chicago World's Fair, the Miss Davises. Unusual to associate him with those uncomplicated girls. It is an association Balzac would have appreciated.  Willa Cather 

To Leonard Charles Van NoppenJanuary 26, 1900, on "Editorial Rooms, Pittsburgh Leader" letterhead ; Drew U (Adams 141) 

Congratulations and welcome back. Does not think they can find an audience for a lecture on Dutch literature in Pittsburgh; cannot even find enough interested in English literature. Zangwill can't attract a dozen people. Has refused to let cousin Dr. Gore even try. Stedman has done nothing with the manuscript [unpublished Player Letters], but Ladies Home Journal has published a piece ["The Man Who Wrote 'Narcissus,'" Ladies Homes Journal (November 1900): 11], a story will be out soon in the New England Magazine ["El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional," New England Magazine 24 (June 1901): 481-488], a poem in the Critic ["Grandmother, Think Not I Forget," Critic 36 (April 1900): 308], and poems in the Criterion [?], and McClure's [?], as well as several minor periodicals [the Pittsburgh Leader and Lincoln Courier both published poems by Cather in 1900]. Clearly she has not been lazy. R. H. Russell and Co. of New York now has the Player Letters; does Van Noppen know anyone there? If so, please put in a good word for her. Rupert Hughes of the Criterion thinks they have a future. Hopes everything is going well. Mr. Couse and the others send greetings.   Willa Cather 

To Earl and Achsah Barlow BrewsterJuly 1, 1934Drew U (Brewster 22) 

Injured hand has kept her from writing to express her admiration for their book on D. H. Lawrence [D. H. Lawrence: Remembrances and Correspondence, London: M. Secker, 1934]. The book reveals a kinder aspect of Lawrence and is much more truthful than the rest, though Brett's was sincere in its way [Lawrence and Brett: A Friendship, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1933]. Isabelle Hambourg writes that she feels it is the best book about Lawrence. Is going with Edith to Grand Manan the second week of July. Has been stuck in the city finishing her book which was, unfortunately, interrupted for months when her hand was so poor. Hopes to see them soon.   Willa Cather 

To Roscoe Cather [pm May 6, 1912] on postcard showing 'Spanish Bayonet' plant in the desert of the American Southwest ; UNL-Roscoe 
Image of front of postcard showing 'Spanish Bayonet' plant in the desert of the
      American Southwest
Front of postcard #2068

Publisher is Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 4 Park Street, Boston, Massachusetts. Since she arrived, Douglass has been at work constantly, but they are going to search for the cliff dwellings on Wednesday. Will write to him about it.   W. S. C. 

To Roscoe Cather,  Wednesday [August 31? or Sept 6?, 1927?] , on letterhead of the Hotel Webster, Forty West Forty-fifth Street, New YorkUNL-Roscoe 

Has learned from Edith's aunt's will that the executor of a will benefits from having a trust company. So now he and the American-Irving Trust Company are co-executors. Hopes he will not have to give it any attention for some time yet. Will be staying at the Shattuck Inn in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, for a few weeks.   Willa. 

To Roscoe CatherJune 29, 1938UNL-Roscoe 

Wants to tell him of few things confidentially: 1) Is sending a letter from Mary Virginia with a marked passage he should read. Did not, nor did Edith hear Douglass mention a will that time, but they perhaps missed it amid the laughter and conversation. Certainly Mary Virginia would not make it up, so she must have heard something. He could have been speaking only figuratively, though, to explain his concern. Must be honest in recalling the speech of a man who can speak no more. 2) Went with Douglass to Tiffany's to pick out a bracelet for Miss Rogers, but not one in the case was attractive. Suggested Douglass consider one of the lovely rings, but he thought it a little too committal. While at the sanitarium, saw Miss Rogers often, and she seemed inoffensive enough. She wasn't dumb, could do her job well, was polite, and was prettier than Douglass's other sweethearts. Douglass was coming on strong with her, and she seemed to like him, too. He told her the spring before their mother died that he was thinking about marrying Miss Rogers. Did not object. It is difficult for a young working woman to bear six or seven years of courting. Believes she lost her job at Las Encinas because of gossip about her and Douglass. Never considered Miss Rogers as someone who was after Douglass's money; she behaved like a woman who believes she is in love with a man and wants to please him. In the subsequent six years or so Miss Rogers may have worsened; such an unsettled relationship is wearing for a woman her age. She is definitely worse off now than when Douglass first met her: she's lost several jobs, been gossiped about, and is now past thirty (which makes it harder to get a job and get married). Hopes Douglass was openhanded with her when he was alive, for his will does not repay all she's lost. Jessica and Elsie, who are now so upset, were a burden to Douglass in the years Miss Rogers was a comfort. Does not mind if Douglass treated her lavishly, as she did more for him than his own family did. They should look at this from her perspective. Wouldn't Roscoe be troubled if one of his own daughters was treated like that? The letter from Elsie, which she has enclosed, speaks for itself. Miss Rogers was a decent young woman in those years, and she trusted Douglass's devotion even if it did not profit her. 3) Doesn't want to write about the next topic, but feels obligated to: all of Jim's letters since he left Nebraska to work with Douglass reek of betrayal except the one since Douglass's death. He complains endlessly that Douglass duped him out of his share of their father's estate! Has told Jim that she would trust Douglass with her own money at the drop of a hat. The few recent ones—maybe two a year—also whined that he was treated like an underling when he understood the oil industry perfectly well. He didn't believe the oil industry took any expertise, just luck, and he planned to speculate independent from Douglass. Roscoe would be affected by these letters as much as she. She thought they were so spiteful, she only kept them a few days before destroying them. Jim has positive qualities and she is very fond of him when he is near, but he is arrogant and provoked by a malicious wife full of cheap aspirations. Knows that Ethel was understanding with Jim for a good while, but when she soured, she turned to poison. It is Roscoe's duty to prevent these angry, self-centered women from harming Miss Rogers any further. Their father would have been kind toward her. If Miss Rogers has a different version of the will that is fully legal, it must be honored. Elsie's theory that Miss Rogers goaded Douglass into drinking is silly. All knew his heart was weak, and he wasn't the kind of man that retired to his bed. He liked a drink, as it allowed him to feel more lighthearted about his future. He was pushing away his fears with his drinking. 4) Usually does not reveal the secrets of others, but thought Roscoe needed to understand Jim's character. Neither he nor Jack should be trusted very far. Better to place confidence in Douglass's business partners. Jack is sweet, but careless and now too old to change. Jim never could handle serious men; his type is Roy Oatman or Russell Amack. Douglass's partners aren't sophisticated men, but they understand the oil business. Will not write about this any more. Is soon going to Grand Manan with no typewriter or secretary. Knows that Roscoe wants to support Jim and Jack, but he should keep in mind Jim's disloyalty to Douglass while Douglass lived. Jim treats his children well, but he doesn't seem to love them more than Douglass did. When acquainted with Miss Rogers, did not think she was pursuing men, but her career. During the trip to Caliente, she never behaved vulgarly, but was a straightforward, smart Western woman. She didn't moon over Douglass, and was always well-behaved. Is grieved to see her life ruined. Roscoe should act as their father would have. P.S.: After reading Elsie's letter, get rid of it.  Willie. 

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