Correspondence in 'The New Age' "Letters to the Editor" column

By Malloch, Pteleon, Bunting, Danielson, Sinclair and Hereward


Sir,-Perhaps your correspondent will give us some more information about George Sterling, for in these days it's a long, long way to the British Museum. The only Literary Dictionary I have does not mention him, though it devotes some space to Carlyle's friend. Did he publish, and are his books obtainable? And am I right in placing him among the Victorians? Is the punctuation of the second sonnet,, as printed in your columns, correct? How is it that such a man has been overlooked ? Where once the armies of Assyria trod With younger sunlight splendid on their spears. Great music! Pray give us some more.

vol. 16, no. 3, Nov. 19, 1914


Sir,-I am sorry that I am unable to give Mr. Malloch more of the poetry of George Sterling. I know little of him. The two sonnets I gave belonged to a sequence of three on the same theme-Oblivion. My transcript of the third I have unfortunately lost. I discovered them years ago in an old number of, I think, "Scribner's." Like Mr. Malloch, I was eager for more, but have so far failed to pleasure myself in this respect.

Sterling was mentioned some years ago in THE NEW AGE, in an article on Ambrose Bierce, whose colleague in San Francisco journalism in the old days he was stated to have been, and to whom it was mentioned he (Sterling) had dedicated a volume of his poems. But any volumes he may have published are unknown to me even by name, and do not seem to be obtainable in this country (but, then, I have not had many chances of prosecuting such a search for this hidden treasure as I should have liked!). Why, Mr. Malloch, asks in conclusion, has Sterling been so neglected in this country? As a Scotsman, I may be permitted to answer in Scots fashion by asking in return—Is not a certain "unknowableness" the common characteristic of all American artists worth knowing? What, for instance, is known in this country of Emma Lazarus, "H. H." (Helen Jackson), Sidney Lanier, Bliss Carman, Richard Hovey, and others? Your "Readers and Writers" feature is poorly served in its American notes. As to the punctuation of the second sonnet, it is, of course, altogether wrong, but the matter is too complex to go into here. If Mr. Malloch cares to write to me privately, I will send him an accurate transcript. In conclusion, Sir, may I be permitted to express my pleasure at having been able, through the medium of your columns, to introduce Mr. Malloch (whose work is well known to me, and who, if I have not been grievously mistaken, is the "G.R.M." whose excellent verses have been for me one of the recurring delights of the "Glasgow Herald") to two of the few good things that have come out of the land of the Almighty Dollar? to the imagination, as in the case of Mrs. Roberts, of

vol. 16, no. 5, Dec. 3, 1914


Sir,-From an advertisement in Michael Monahan's "Phoenix," I gather that George Sterling is a contributor to "The International" (715, Broadway, New York City), edited by George Sylvester Viereck. By the way, in a review, quoted from the New York "Evening Mail," of Mr. Monahan's book of essays, "At the Sign on the Van," one reads, "There is the charm of the old sod over it all." I did not know that was an Americanism !

vol. 16, no. 6, Dec. 10, 1914

Sir,-George Sterling's three sonnets on Oblivion are to be found in the author's "A Wine of Wizardry and Other Poems." He has published at least two other books, namely, "The Home of Orchids and Other Poems," and "The Testimony of the Suns and Other Poems." Only the last is in the library of the British Museum. They mere all published in San Francisco, and do not seem to be obtainable in this country. George Sterling was born, I believe, in 1869. If Mr. Malloch or "Pteleon" were to write to me, personally, I will lend them my copies of "A Wine of Wizardry" and "The Home of Orchids."

vol. 16, no. 6, Dec. 10, 1914


Sir,-I am glad to have the information given in the letters of Messrs. Bunting and Danielson. Since my last letter re Sterling, I have found work of his in two magazines. Last month's "Smart Set" gives the following aphorisms under the heading, "Says George Sterling" :-

When woman yawns the Devil becomes alert.
Free will ; an egg saying, "Now, I will lay me."
Happiness is the missing link between hope and experience.
Roast; that which we sometimes eat and always read.
Life is a readjustment of adjectives.

Why these precious sayings were not put into another feature of the magazine which is a sort of "Current Cant" and labelled "The Purling of the Platitudinarians," I cannot understand.

I had scarcely recovered from the shock, however, when I received a worse one by coming across a set of war verses in the current "Munsey's," entitled "Night Sounds," and telling how

''Forth from the room a woman dashed
To see the life-blood of her mate.
Above his silent breast she screamed.
His setter sprang against its chain,
As, shaft by shaft, beyond the grain
The battle's sudden searchlights gleamed."

Poor Belgium !

Sterling has apparently worked out his seam of gold. But I expect, on assay of the two sonnets I know, to find work of more "sterling" quality in the volumes Mr. Danielson so kindly promises to lend me. Finally, this correspondence has been unfruitful if it does not awaken the writer of the American "Readers and Writers" notes to a sense of the space he is wasting by useless gibes and jeers when he might tell us instead of the hidden (to us, but surely not to him) treasures of American literature.

vol. 16, no. 8, Dce. 24, 1914


Sir,-There is a poet in the woods alongside our bungalow, hewing at a chestnut-tree; and I open some copies of THE NEW AGE, and in one of them find your readers speculating as to whether or not he can be a "Victorian, and searching for him in reference tomes in the British Museum! No, you have many poets, but this one is ours. It will be a trial, I know, to some of your critics to learn that the maker of these marvellous melodies is an American, born on commonplace Long Island, locality of potato-farms and summer-hotels; and that he has never been abroad to acquire any refinement. I notice another of your correspondents, taking part in the discussion of the mystery, complaining how hard it is to find out about the real writers in America. Might I, without seeming to be nasty, suggest that a part of the difficulty comes from the ill-reception you give to those who try to tell you about them? I recall years ago some letters from Michael Williams, telling that we had some writers here- George Sterling being in the list. I remember also that your critics and readers were severe upon Mr. Williams for his presumption.

Sterling is something over forty, and has published four small volumes, which I think may be called the most distinguished that we have to send abroad. His work possesses the qualities of the greatest poetry ; sublimity of thought, intensity of emotion, enchanting melody, and severe and reverent workmanship. He is especially sensitive to the sensuous elements of life; for instance, no painter glories more in the magic of colour. But he has also a stern sense of the dignity of his art, and of the value of his gift; so that the lures of nature have not proven a snare to his feet. There is almost nothing of the note of decadence in his work. As it happens, his reputation in this country (which, considering the supreme nature of his gift, is astonishingly high) began with one poem which hardly does him justice. I refer to the "Wine of Wizardry," which might better have been entitled the "Wizardry of Wine"-for it is a kind of half sublime and half grotesque elaboration of the ecstasies which lure poets into the Kingdom of Alcoholia. What is most representative of Sterling's work is his thrilling sense of the infinite-of the starry spaces, and the equally vast spaces within the soul of man. "The Testimony of the Suns" was the title of his first book; and "Beyond the Breakers" is his last. He loves the sea with a passionate and almost mystical love; but he loves it from the shore-as one who does not go to sea, and for whom therefore it is one of the symbols of our human limitations. "The Muse of the Incommunicable" is the title of one of his greatest sonnets; and I might mention that he is a master of the sonnet-form. He has written some sonnets on the war, which he might send you if you asked him for them; we have had all the best of the English poetry cabled over here, and there has been nothing so fiercely passionate and at the same time so coldly masterful.

There is another aspect of his work, his sense of what is vital and of his own time. He is not saying what other poets have taught him to say. He is an ardent Socialist, but has only written upon current events when he has found himself able to make great literature out of them. Last spring he was one of those who walked up and down before the offices of the Standard Oil Company, and caused America's leading philanthropist to run like a whipped cur. This behaviour on the part of a great poet was a cause of dismay to our literati, who have drawn a charitable curtain over it. I suspect, however, that there have been worse things known about some of the poets whom we, nevertheless, manage to read.

George Sterling's poetry is published by A. M. Robertson, of San Francisco, California. I will suggest to this publisher that he send the books to THE New AGE, hoing that the editor will put them into the hands of some critic who is willing to admit the possibility that great literature might be produced in America.

vol. 16, no. 10, Jan 7, 1915.


Sir,-The earliest recognition of George Sterling in English literature that I have seen was in the "Contemporary Review," September, 1907, in an article on "The Purpose of Art," by E. Wake Cook. He says: "There are some young Californian poets who have the same mystic gleam. Take this from a hymn to 'Music, by George Sterling :-

'Lo! her ascensions and exalted thrones !
Ah, ringing of the swift, celestial feet
On unconjectured heights of harmony !
Silence and she are sisters. Silence waiteth
Ever beyond her ultimates of flight,
With gentle arms, and breast compassionate,
In welcome. Music hath forever there
A refuge tender, when, upborne afar,
Beyond the stress of thought, and reach of woe,
And past all travailing of finite things,
Swooning she faltereth of the Infinite,
Within the adumbration of whose light
Standeth the Archangel Pain, whose holy eyes
Hold buried nights and seas; for whom, with her,
We take thro' storm and mystery the toils
Of life ascendant unto thrones afar,
And for whose shadows come the eternal stars
Of sympathy and peace.'"

On this Mr. Wake Cook remarks : "Whatever may be the technical criticism of such work, there is the energy of inspiration, a certain freshness of phrase and idea; a sense of mystic vastness, a stretching out to the infinities, and an effort to make language go beyond itself and express the ineffable. These overlooked poets appeal to me strangely; but perhaps my eagerness to hail the earliest beams of a new dawn may have misled me."

vol. 16, no. 12, Jan. 21, 1915.

From: The New Age: A Weekly Review Of Politics, Literature And Art.