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#0881: Willa Cather to Will Owen Jones, March 22 [1927]

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ My Dear Mr. Jones1;

Certainly3 I wish to send my congratulations4 to the Journal5 on it's sixtieth birthday. I have many pleasant memories connected with it,- with the Journal, I mean, not with its birthday. You see I still write as badly as ever.

The first time I was ever confronted by myself in print was one Sunday morning (please don't append an editorial note here, stating just how many years ago it was) when I opened the Sunday Journal and saw, stretching out through a column or two, z2zz an essay on "Some Personal Characteristics of Thomas Carlyle"6 which Professor Hunt7 had given you to publish, quite without my knowledge. That was the beginning of many troubles for me. Up to that time I had planned to specialize in science; I thought I would like to study medicine. But what youthful vanity can be unaffected by the sight of itself in print! It has a kniind of hypnotic effect. I still vaguely remember that essay, and it was a splendid example of the kind of writing I most dislike; very florid and full of high-flown figures of speech,and, if I recall aright, not a single 'Personal Characteristic' of the gentleman8 was mentioned! I wrote that title at the top of the page, because it was the assigned subject, and then poured out, as best I could, the feelings that a fervid reading of "The French Revolution"9 and "Sartor Resartus"10 had stirred up in me. Come to think of it, that flowery effusion had one merit,- it was honest. Florid as it was, it didn't over color the pleasure and delightful ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ bitterness that Carlyle can arouse in a very young person. It makes one feel so grown up to be bitter!

A few years after this, I began to write regularly for the Sunday Journal, you remember, and I was paid one dollar a column, which was certainly quite all my high-stepping rhetoric was worth. Those out-pourings were pretty dreadful, but I feel indebted to the Managing Editor11 of that time that he let me step as high as I wished. It was rather hard on his readers, perhaps, but it was good for me, because it enabled me to riot in fine writing until I got to hate it, and began slowly to recover. I remember that sometimes a bright twinkle in Mr. Gere12's fine eyes used to make me feel a little distrustful of my rhetorical magnificence. He never corrected me, he was much too wise for that; he knew that you can't hurry hurry nature. But I think his kindness, his easy wit, the ease and charm of his personality, helped me all the time. When he was listening, with such lively sympathy and understanding, to one's youthful troubles, he would sometimes sit stroking his dark beard with his hands. No one who ever saw Mr. Gere's hands could ever forget them, surely. Even in those days, when I was sitting in his library, it more than once came over me, that if one could ever write anything that was like Mr. Gere's hands in character, it would be the greatest happiness that could befall one. They were dark and sinewy and so much alive; in a whole world-full of hands I've not seen any others that seemed to me to have such a singular elegance. (None in the least like them, indeed.) You see, even very stupid young people addicted to fine cheap rhetoric, are yet capable of perceiving fineness, of feeling it very poignantly. I was very fortunate in my first ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ editor. He let me alone, knowing that I must work out my own salvation; and he was himself all that I was not and that I most admired. Isn't it too bad that after we are much older, and a little wiser, we cannot go back to those few vivid portraits persons of our early youth and tell them how they have always remained with us, how much pleasure th their fine personalities gave us, and give us to this very day. But, after all, it's a good fortune to have Mr. Gere li alive in one's memory,not one but a thousand characteristic pictures of him, and I congratulate the Nebraska State Journal and myself that we both had such an editor in our early activities.

You told me in your letter, dear Mr. Jones, that you did not wish me to make yourself the subject of my letter, but I am sure you will have no objection to my recalling Mr. Gere to the many friends who felt his quality as much or more than I.

With pleasant memories of the past and good wishes for the future of the Nebraska State Juoournal, I am

Most Cordially yours Willa Cather