04 October 2006

Bestir Your Stumps!

Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892) was an American painter, musician, and author. His father was a district court judge, and his grandfather was a Massachusetts official during the Revolutionary War and brother-in-law of Abigail Adams.

William Wetmore Story (1819-1895) was an American sculptor and author. His father was a Supreme Court justice, and his grandfather was a Massachusetts regimental surgeon during the Revolutionary War and an occasional colleague of Samuel Adams.

With all that the two men had in common, it was natural for them to become friends. Here's a letter that Story sent to his pal in Europe on 18 April 1856, soon after Cranch had his biggest publishing success with a children's fantasy adventure called The Last of the Huggermuggers. Story was basically acting as Cranch's literary agent, critique group, and friend all in one:

I have only a minute and a half to write to you, but I have a matter of moment to communicate and will not let the steamer go without it. I have promised on your behalf to Phillips, Sampson & Co. that you will write them another story with illustrations of about the length of "Huggermugger," and send it to them in July. So bestir your stumps.

Now I am going to advise you. Take it kindly, for it is so meant. Your "Huggermugger" was a considerable success in certain quarters, but your friends did not think it up to your mark. We all know that you can do much better if you choose to put your energies to work; and now you must do so.

You must invent a new story, and tell it in a livelier and sharper way. Make the sentences tingle. Don’t get lazy over it, and think it will do itself. Brace up your faculties, and think you touch gold thereby. Here is a chance and a field for you. "Take the instant way" and don’t let the golden apple slip through your hands.

I pray you on my knees, oh! Cranch, wake up to this and do it well. Put as much fun as possible into it. Be gay! You have got humor and we know it. Now dig it up and send it over to us in lumps. Be lively at least in your story, and set about it to-morrow.

Don’t begin till you have settled all your plot in your mind; and if you can, let it hold a double story, an internal one and an external one, as Andersen’s do, so that the wiseacres shall like it as well as the children. Read "The Little Tin Solder" of Andersen’s, "The Ugly Duckling," "The Emperor’s New Clothes." You can do this and you must. Your "Huggermugger" is a little too lachrymose and it isn’t new enough. Still, it has had success. . . .

Now, having made an entering wedge, split open the log. You see the thing is worth while. Had the book been given to Phillips, Sampson & Co. six weeks earlier, all the edition would have been sold at once during the holidays. So you must be beforehand with this new work, and the publishers must have it by the end of July, certainly. You must make the illustrations, and be sure to draw them carefully. That is my advice. I have only your good at heart. You have made your pedestal--now put your statue on it.

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