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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, September 1, 1906


September 1st 1906

Dear Mildred.

They brought me your letter this morning at 12.15. I was in bed, had been since 10 the night before, in such an absolutely desperate temper that I hardly dared to go forth for fear of assaulting my fellow men. The very sight of them infuriated me, and life with its things of beauty and joys forever was as loathsome to my taste as a rotten orange. Your letter was—not the straw that broke the camel’s back—rather an avalanche which descended upon the existing scheme of things and crushed it out of existence.This letter from Mildred Barnes probably discouraged Royall Tyler from coming to America for a visit. I arose, not to try to put the old pieces together, but to begin a new one altogether.

[Written in the margin in pencil:]

Yes, I know GuevaraPossibly Antonio de Guevara (ca. 1481–1545), a Spanish chronicler and moralist. He entered the Franciscan order in 1528, and subsequently accompanied the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V on his travels to Italy and throughout Europe.—he is very boring. Who advised you to waste time on him?

I lunched, and was not moved to any unmanageable state of fury by the commercial gentlemen who spat on the floor round about me. I then set forth to buy Góngora.Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561–1627), a Spanish Baroque lyric poet. The Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea (Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea) (1612) and the Soledades (Solitudes) (1613) are his best-known works. I know him a little, but have only a vaguely unfavourable impression of him. I wished to see if there was any excuse for taking him to America. In the shop, the shop, because

“Sevilla es una ciudád bravía

“Que tiene dos mil tavernas

“Y una sola librería.“Seville is a splendid city / Which has two thousand taverns / And only one bookshop.”

they had no Góngora, but there sat a Canon of the Cathedral, who insisted upon giving me his card, and a volume of his poems, and hoped that I would call, using his name, upon all the literary notabilities of the town. I hardly had two words during all this.

I then went and spent all the money I had hoped to use for the journey to America on antiquities. I have bought some nice things, and I seriously intend going into the business.

You say, if I find anything indispensable for Sharon—but I don’t know really what you want. There are many things here that I would buy if I had the money. However, I think it would be wiser to wait and let you tell me if furniture—hispano-moresque—pictures—church vestments, or what. But enough of antiquities, though amusing there are other things.

One of the chief charms entering the trade—shop and all—would have for me would be the thunderstruck attitude of my friends. But after all, selling antiquities is not a pastime which would amuse me for ever, but my thirst for old things dies not, and I certainly intend to sell everything of value I can buy cheaply in order to be able to buy nice things for myself.

It is horrible to see nice things in museums and to have nothing but truck oneself—relatively. I agree with the merchant who found a pearl of great price.Parable of the Pearl (or the Pearl of Great Price), a parable of Jesus that, according to Matthew 13:45–46 explains the value of the Kingdom of Heaven: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” I don’t remember if I told you that a big dealer in London wants to buy a picture I bought in Spain,Possibly the painting first mentioned in the letter of June 14, 1904. leaving me a good profit of 20%. But I shall not sell.

It is hot as blazes here now—I love it. But I am horribly out of temper with everything—or was until your letter shattered it all to bits. As yet I don’t know whether the new construction will prove a success or not. I rather fear not. I hope and fear alternately that I am sickening for an interior crisis like the one I had three years ago in November.See letter of November 8, 1903. I am sure it would be good for me, but the process is sometimes very painful. I am glad to see, however, that even in medical science, people are beginning to realize that diseases are very often Nature’s reconstructions and improvements. Naturally the house is in a queer condition while they are in process, but what idiocy to try to hinder them. I saw an article much to this effect by a great German physician of late. I talked with many while I was in Germany too and they seem all to be moving in this direction. Morally, of course, it happens thus, and I welcome any signs of such occurrences to myself—with fear and trembling.

How can I tell you in a few words what is ailing me, and why I am so miserable? The horrible emptiness of modern life in Spain, which I have not been willing to look at. I have tied—not rose coloured, because I don’t care for the hue—but delicate veils of many tints over my eyes, and now I am tearing them off, and the white fierce light maddens me with pain. I thought I could lye [sic] to everyone and keep my own head clear, and I found I can’t, and I am so furious over it all that I could dash my head against the walls. If I left myself to myself, I would blow my brains out. (as this is extremely comforting, I go upstairs for more paper—one moment).

On re-reading, I see I said modern life in Spain. When I wrote that, I only meant to open the bag a tiny bit to show you what a pretty pussy there was inside—but she broke away, scattering bandages, veils, and spectacles in mad confusion.

It isn’t modern life in Spain, but my own outlook on the world—another effect of Germany, you will nod—never mind. I am not sorry I went there for that. Above all my outlook upon art, and art itself. Art is not divine, art is human and as full of human pettiness dirtyness [sic] as any of us. And what better proof of it than what comes to pass when certain people try to elevate the masses through art—or when upper middle class hysterical and ignorant mediocrity becomes artistic as it now is in London, America and Germany? Art is debased to the level of the creatures and together they reach a condition of baseness which alone they could never have arrived at.

I myself am desperate. When I think that I have admired the sickly meanderings of Marcel Schwob,Marcel Schwob (1867–1905), a French writer. Royall Tyler had previously encouraged Mildred Barnes to read Schwob, calling his works “delightful.” See the letters of August 1, 1905; September 1, 1905; October 10, 1905; November 1, 1905; and April 11, 1906. I feel humiliated—more humiliated than I feel when some dealer does me, because I know that if a dealer does me I may get experience from the deal which will save me in the future and that sort of experience is a mere matter of knowledge of material things. But to allow that simply nauseating “snob intellectual” to debauch me goes far to show me where I am rotten myself, and makes me look with hatred and fear towards the future.

How people have abused the poor antiquity dealers who do people when they get the chance! They only rid the poor things of money which is bad for them. But the swarms of artistic and literary parasites which fill society poison the very soul while they suck the blood. And it is no consolation that I myself have been within an ace of joining the happy throng. All last winter and much of the year before, I was journeying on the path which leads that way.

Indeed it is time a new religion was founded. Or the leisured class should be killed off or forced to work. But that they should continue—not in dignified idleness—but in feverish cultivation of fleeting and delicate sensations is unthinkable. I am tempted to use a very coarse metaphor. The audience at a bull-fight or the fox-hunter is infinitely more truthful. (This last sentence is not the coarse metaphor—which I omit.)

You see my plight. I have broken away from my former moorings, but am in strange waters and don’t know whether in the way of utter shipwreck or not. But one thing is sure—or—I don’t dare say sure yet—I will never exploit the unclean search for art of the modern aesthete. But sometimes I am in an even worse mood, and long to ply the trade myself, go to America and rake in all that my exquisitely artistic nature would point out to me as saleable. The field may be pretty full, but there is room still. The Baroque in Spain for instance—no one has dared to tackle it yet. And yet I am sure that it would yield a harvest to its patent-holder such as 13th cent. Italy never did. And I am so utterly demoralized that I catch myself assuring myself that I could do it and keep my balance mentally. But I have had one lesson, and I know that I can’t be false to anyone without being false to myself. Mind I don’t say that no one can do it. I can’t, that is all. And as all I care for is to be able to see truly, I trust I may be able to steer clear. It is no moral attitude. If I believed I could do it without blinding myself, I would. And I may find my balance or be fooled into trying it.

In turning over such things in my mind, I pass such time as I do not spend with pictures, ect, [sic] trying to see them truly without drugging myself. I don’t know whether I have made myself at all clear. I did not intend to embark on the subject when I began, as the confused, half-sincere, and ill expressed first two pages will show. But the thing was too strong for me. I can’t undertake to go into it thoroughly in a letter, because it would be really endless and would probably—hideous thought—bore you.

I had hoped I would be able to go over it with you—but I am sure it is better for me to fight it out alone. If I come to any tenable ground, I will tell you. At present I only hope to pull down everything of the old false structure.

I am glad you are writing to the Padre de Lecanda. He and I went to Santiago for the feast of the apostle,See letter of June 23, 1906. but I don’t dare embark on the things we saw for fear of falling into the old tricks. Unamuno and I have also made a long journey together. But the Padre de Lecanda is a hopeless disbeliever in everything. I never saw such utter negation as his. And de Unamuno is so wrapped up in some very bad verse he is writing that we nearly quarreled and I am absolutely alone. I find no solace even in EcclesiastesEcclesiastes, a book of the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament. The book contains reflections on the meaning of life and the best way of life; it emphatically proclaims that the actions of man are inherently “vain,” “futile,” “empty,” and “temporary.”—all that is doubtless his case, but mine is different and no one can help me.

Yours sincerely

Royall Tyler.

But let me thank you, dear Mildred, for having afforded me an opportunity of trying to über mich selbst klar werden“Become clear about myself.”—and I hope you will understand it and, if you care to, write me some comments.

Associated Places: Seville [Sevilla] (Spain)