There is the recipe by one of the masters of the craft. A letter written in this vein annihilates distance; it continues the personal gossip, the intimate communion, that has been interrupted by separation; it preserves one’s presence in absence. It cannot be too simple, too commonplace, too colloquial. Its familiarity is not its weakness, but its supreme virtue. If it attempts to be orderly and stately and elaborate, it may be a good essay, but it will certainly be a bad letter.
ON READING IN BED
Among the few legacies that my father left me was a great talent for sleeping. I think I can say, without boasting, that in a sleeping match I could do as well as any man. I can sleep long, I can sleep often, and I can sleep sound. When I put my head on the pillow I pass into a fathomless peace where no dreams come, and about eight hours later I emerge to consciousness, as though I have come up from the deeps of infinity.
That is my normal way, but occasionally I have periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night. My sleep is then divided into two chapters, and between the chapters there is a slab of unmitigated dreariness. It is my hour of pessimism. The tide has ebbed, the water is dead-low, and there is a vista of endless mud. It is then that this tragi-comedy of life touches bottom, and I see the heavens all hung with black. I despair of humanity, I despair of the war, I despair of myself. There is not one gleam of light in all the sad landscape, and the abyss seems waiting at my feet to swallow me up with everything that I cherish. It is no use saying to this demon of the darkness that I know he is a humbug, a mere Dismal Jemmy of the brain, who sits there croaking like a night owl or a tenth-rate journalist. My Dismal Jemmy is not to be exorcised by argument. He can only be driven out by a little sane companionship.