#1939: Willa Cather to Theodore Hornberger, May 1946

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On anthologies
D R A F T
Dear Professor Hornberger1:

I sincerely regret that I can not reconsider, and that my decision to keep Death Comes for the Archbishop3 out of anthologies and textbooks will remain unchanged for the future. I object to anthologies not only as a very cheap form of publishing, but as a superficial method educationally. During the last twelve years I have talked with so many young graduates from our colleges, and I have come to doubt the wisdom of encouraging students to read contemporary writers. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that during the few years a young man spends in college, he should have an opportunity to seriously consider the so-called "classics" of English literature. If he is a lively boy, he will read contemporary books for amusement - - - because he hears them talked about.

After I was graduated from college4 I taught English for two years5 in the Pittsburgh6 High School. At that time the required reading for second-year students came in the form of bound pamphlets — thick or thin, according to the length of the work. As I remember, the list was something like this:

There was nothing remarkable about such a list, certainly. But I still hear from some of the interested boys and girls who read those old-fashioned books with me. I wonder wether you would be brave enough to put Silas Marner in your anthology. I still think it a rather relaxing book; slow in tempo, rich in detail, good for young people in a hurried, feverish age.

I had no choice in the above list. I have no idea who chose the required reading for the second year. The books were handed out to me as the months went round and I was asked to read them with the students, and to examine the boys and girls on this list at the end of the term or at the end of the year. I do not think a high school course in English can do more than this. If a hundred boys and girls are exposed to the influence of a great writer, or even a very accomplished writer, probably two out of the hundred will get something, something which will always be precious to him. The other ninety-eight will certainly not be hurt by anything in such a course. At worst, he can only be bored. In such a course there was no press agent, no writer was 'sold', in the business man's sense, to the young and guileless.

Every anthology that I have seen is a form of salesmanship, and not one absolutely honest except Field-Marshal Wavell's14. Sometimes his15 comment is even better than the subject of his comments. Cut out the heavy overweight of Browning16, and I certainly would not quarrel with him anywhere. He thinks The Hound of Heaven17 is the "greatest of all lyrics", and he says so. He wasn't afraid of Rommel18, and he isn't afraid of scholarship.

P.S. If you would send me a list of the writers included in your Volume I19, it would assist me in considering the second one.