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#1458: Willa Cather to Ferris Greenslet, October 19, 1939

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ FG Dear F. G.1:

The Swedish books have not just come yet, but and I thank you. Also, I want to thank you for the copy of the "College Reader"3 you sent me.

Will you be annoyed if I call your attention to some errors in the biographical notice4 of William Archer5? Mr. Archer and I were friends from 1908 until the time of his death. When I went to London6 every year then for McClure's7, and he was my guide and advisor whenever while I was there. He took me to George Meredith's8 funeral. We saw the Abbey Theatre Company the first night they ever played in London, sat in Yeats'9 box with Lady Gregory10. When I came back from a stay in Italy11 in January 1921, "The Green Goddess"12 was in full swing in New York2. I found a letter from Archer awaiting me at my house, had dinner with him as soon as possible, and he told me the whole story of "The Green Goddess". He had written me the story of his work on the play, indeed, in 1916 or 1917. The play was written in those years, not in 1920, as this biographer states. He wrote the play to relieve the boredom of his position as censor of the Dublin, Ireland13, post office. Archer's interest was always in plays with a spiritual motive, and a burning purpose. He was one of the first, if not the first English critic to feel the poetry of Synge's14 plays when they were produced in London. But he had also been interested in the pure mechanics of the drama, though he had no admiration for carpenter-made plays. He enlivened his routine in Dublin by making a purely mechanical play15, where the interest was produced by time honored situations dressed in modern clothes. Play carpentry, he called it. He thought its success was due to the fact that Arliss16 played it more than for to any other reason. He rather ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ liked making so much money, of course.

The introductory notice speaks casually of his interest in Ibsen17. Ibsen was the great enthusiasm of his life. He not only edited pushed Ibsen's plays in England, and "edited" them as your biographer says,; but he was the sole translator of many of the best plays, among them: "A Doll's House"18, "Pillars of Society"19, "Ghosts"20, "An Enemy of Society"21. He and Edmund Gosse22 translated "The Master Builder"23. These are the only Ibsen plays I happen to have in my bookcase, but I know that Archer translated still other Ibsen plays. I wonder why your editors chose to use "The Green Goddess" in the "Reader". But since they did, I think the introductory note should have been more accurate. Of course, the play was first produced in Philadelphia24, December 27, 1920, but Archer had written me an outline of it in '16 or '17., and it was written in those years.

I do not suppose you have much to do with the text books section of the publishing house, so perhaps it is foolish in me to trouble you. One does, however, hate to see an old friend presented in such a misleading fashion. The man who first translated and popularized Ibsen in English, did a great service to the English stage. That work was important and formative, and it was the serious work of Archer's life. "The Green Goddess" was the diversion of a dull year or so two.

Faithfully yours, Willa Cather

—a very different job from translating.