Friday, January 23, 2015


The Greek Lyrists Are the Thing

Robinson Jeffers, letter to Una Call Kuster (December 14, 1912):
Who is Galey—on Euripides, sweet?—I never heard of him; so you can exult over me. But then I don't care much for Euripides, Una; nor for any Greek drama—save in a spirit of pure dilettantism—except the Prometheus.—Even that has its lonqueurs.

But the Greek lyrists are the thing. Archilochus—Sappho—Alcaeus—so the good pedants have handed us down just a few miserable patches of their old magnificence. A pedant or grammarian, I think, is the worst possible judge of literature—except the general public.
Hat tip: Joel Eidsath, who writes, "Italics stand for underlining in the original. And while it's possible that Jeffers misspelled 'longueurs' in his letter, I would think that it's a transcription error."

"Who is Galey—on Euripides?" Indeed. Who is he? I never heard of him either. I suspect that "Galey" here is a mistake for "Paley," i.e. Frederick Apthorp Paley (1815-1888). Far from a decent academic library, I don't have access to a copy of Jeffers' letters.

From Ian Jackson:
Your conjectural emendation ("Paley" for "Galey") seems convincing but I believe it is wrong. I suggest that the correct reading is "Gayley". Charles Mills Gayley was the author of The Classic Myths in English Literature (1893), a delightful high school textbook that is rather too learned for today's graduate students — I think I gave you a copy a few years ago. (There is also a copy in Jeffers's Tor House library). Gayley lectured on 'Great Books' at the University of California at Berkeley. The classes proved so popular that after 1909 he delivered his lectures in the Greek Theater, often to crowds of 1000 and more. Gayley delivered five lectures on Euripides in the Greek Theater between Sept. 27th and November 22nd, 1912. Jeffers's letter to Una Kuster is dated December 14th, 1912. Between leaving her husband in Los Angeles in 1912 and marrying Jeffers in August of 1913, Una Kuster was enrolled as a graduate student in education at Berkeley. It seems likely that she attended Gayley's lectures or read about them in The Daily Californian, which published lengthy resumés.
I stand corrected, wiping the egg off my face.

Thanks to Joel Eidsath, I have now seen the relevant pages from James Karman, ed., The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers. With Selected Letters of Una Jeffers, Vol. I (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009). Una wrote a week earlier (December 7, 1912), "How very much I wanted you the other afternoon when Galey read Euripides so wonderfully."

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