Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski

Letter 17


New Canaan, Connecticut

6. Oct. 1927



Margaret dearest:


This morning comes your not[e] about the last letter.1 I doubt if it was lost. Yesterday morning the one telling of the unpleasant incident, and in the evening a heavenly one about my voice. Heavenly not because of my vanity, but because of your pleasure.

I was incensed at the swinish thoroughly Jewish procedure, and had many appropriate and violent things I could have said. But after twenty four hours I will merely say that it would be a preferable world if they were circumcised at the neck, at eight days old, and both parts disposed of in the incinerator. In New York and hereabout white people understand them. Socially they are forced to segregate themselves to a large extent. In "Twilight" they are not admitted.2Your only recourse is to keep away from gatherings where you are likely to meet such people. I have no dislike of Miss Goldman,3 and sympathise with her altruistic passion for betterment. I met her here once with Alden Freeman,4 an angelic spirit. But I don’t accede to Socialistic philosophy, much less to Communism. Not because I am hard-boiled, I am not. Nor am I a timid worshipper of wealth and ease and Philistine smugness. Yet being like you an artist, I believe in inequality and aristocracy—the aristocracy of birth, breeding, brains, character, personality, and above all spirit. Nothing less. I loathe violence and war, and see in patriotism only too often nothing but selfish commercial greed. Assinine to prate of peace and limitation of armaments, as long as we preach protection and keep up tariff barriers. I am a free-trade Tory. I love many sorts of people including Indians, Chinese, Negroes, and some Christians. But I abhor religious fanatics, and political humbugs, and narrow respectability. I believe life should be free and happy, and I try to live mine that whay [sic]. When I can’t go through an obstacle, a silly convention, or a virulent prejudice, I go around it. The gentle art of side-stepping. I have no desire to be an outcast, and I won’t stir up unnecessary troubles for the sake of a principle. But I won’t sacrifice a principle nor modify a statement of truth as I see it—not for all hell and Toronto combined. And believe me that is some combination.

The inner life, the spiritual life, is a sacred[,] hidden, and private thing. Only a man’s work and social behavior [sic] belong to the public. The rest is his own. That is why the Prohibitionist is a damn pest.

As this grows quite fretful, I will send you some cooler stuff later.



  1. Carman appears to be referring to a "note" that has not survived. His subsequent references are to Lawrence’s two letters of October 3 (see Letter 16 n.2). In an undated response to Letters 17 and 18, Lawrence clarifies Carman’s reference to a letter being lost by reiterating her sense that it had fallen out of her pocket before being stamped and mailed. [back]

  2. As the exclusion of Jews from "Twilight Park" indicates, the anti-Semitic attitudes expressed by Carman in this letter were all-too common in the United States and Canada at this time (see also Letters 16 and 66). [back]

  3. Emma Goldman (1869-1940) emigrated from her native Lithuania to the United States at the age of seventeen and thereafter became an anarchist. Associated with Alexander Berkman both before and after his imprisonment for an attempted assassination in 1892, she was herself imprisoned for interfering with the American war effort and in 1919 both were deported from the United States. After visiting Russia and travelling to England, they settled in Canada in 1926. "Red Emma" continued her anarchist activities in the late ’twenties and ’thirties, lecturing in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and elsewhere. She died in Toronto on May 14, 1940. Lawrence’s undated reply to Letters 17 and 18 contains a flat rejection of Carman’s advice to avoid "gatherings where [she] is likely to meet [Jewish] people" and a ringing endorsement of the intellectual depth and appeal of Jews. It also contains a rejection of Carman’s categorization of Goldman as a communist. [back]

  4. Alden Freeman (1862-1937) was an American architect, author, and social reformer who wrote numerous articles on political subjects, as well as two books: A Year in Politics (1906) and, with Hester E. Hosford, The Forerunners of Woodrow Wilson (1914). [back]