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#0204: Willa Cather to Norman Foerster, September 6, 1911

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My dear Professor Foerster1:

I am so sorry that I did not get the wedding card, as I should like to have added my congratulations to those which you received last February. I had, however, heard from Pittsburg3 that you were married; but I did not know that you were in Wisconsin4. You were certainly fortunate to begin teaching in so live an institution5. It is the one university in the middle West, I think, that pretty much everyone here knows and keeps an eye on.

I am sorry, but we never use articles on literary men, or articles that concern themselves with literary criticism. You probably realize that articles of that kind would be out of tone with the rest of the Magazine6, which really has not the slightest thing in common with a review. I hope I may have the pleasure of seeing your thesis in some shape or other when it is completed, and I shall keep an eye on the Atlantic Monthly7, where I think they might be glad to use such a paper. I suppose there has been more absolutely worthless stuff written about Browning8 than about any other man of letters. You must often have wished, in the course of your work, that you could annihilate a good many thousand pages of the stuff that has already been published. I think Mr. James9 got a better perspective on Browning, although he has not written much about him. I suppose you know that evasive, but, I think, rather just estimate10 published in a volume called “Essays in London and Elsewhere.”11

If you are asking people why Browning is popular, you will get an interesting collection of opinions; but don’t you think that the real truth of the matter is that he is popular because, behind his rather chaotic manner of expressing them, his ideas are sound and robust, and generally so simple as to be not far from commonplace? I think the reader who has education and intelligence but no particular literary feeling loves to arrive at “The Psalm of Life”12 by way of a tropical jungle or a Venetian water-way; he likes the perplexities and perils of the passage thither, (and sometimes even feels the beauty of it,) but, above all, he likes to find his MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE
2."Psalm of Life" safe and sound and all there when he gets to the journey's end. I think that it is this sound core, and the fact that he has been used as a course in mental gymnastics, a good deal more than his bursts of fine imagination, that go to make Browning, in the real market sense, "popular".

Always cordially yours, Willa Sibert Cather Mr. Norman Foerster, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.13