Four Unposted Letters To Catherine

A Mannered Grace

Four Unposted Letters To Catherine

With a Postscript by Laura (Riding) Jackson and an afterword by Elizabeth Friedmann and Alan J. Clark

Published by Persea Books Inc, New York 1993
First published Paris: Hours Press, 1930

Dear Catherine,

Do you remember the time you asked me about policemen? And I told you about police­men? And when I had finished you said: "Do you know, Laura, sometimes I know everything about everything too?"

When I told you about policemen you did not say "How do you know that?" or "Where did you learn that?" You believed me. And you be­lieved me because I told you what I thought about policemen. I told you why I thought that they were good and why 1 thought that they were bad. I did not tell you that in New York police­men carried clubs or that in France policemen wore capes. If I had told you things like that instead of what I thought, you would not have believed me. You would have thought that I was telling you a story.

Yes, I too know everything about every­thing. But only, of course, if I stop to think about it-only sometimes, like you, though more often, of course. You are only a little girl, and so when you stop to think it is more often to think about yourself than about everything. But as you grow up you will get to know yourself so well that you will not have to stop to think about it at all. You will just be yourself all the time and sometimes stop to think about everything. And if you really are yourself all the time, when you do stop to think about everything you will certainly know everything about it-as you do now, only more often. For if you know everything about yourself, then you are so clear and bright that you light up everything around you. And when you stop to look at it you naturally see everything there is to see about it.

The good thing about children is that if no­one interferes with them they do stop to think about themselves. Childhood is the time when people should be bothered with nothing but themselves. After childhood there is a time be­tween childhood and grown-up-hood called adolescence, just before you begin frequently knowing everything about everything. It is a rather awkward time because people treat you sometimes like a child and sometimes like a grown-up, and you yourself are not sure which you are. I think the best way out of it is not to worry which you are, but to be yourself, and then it will not matter how people treat you. For if you are yourself being yourself or being a grown-up is all the same thing as far as you yourself are concerned. A grown-up who doesn't first know everything about himself can't know everything about everything. And even if a grown-up does know everything about everything, the important thing is knowing everything about oneself, be­cause that is where knowing everything about everything must begin from.

The trouble is that people interfere with chil­dren-not because people are wicked but be­cause of the way of the world. The way of the world is to do a lot of unnecessary things. And so there is less time than there should be-I mean less laziness. And so children are hurried along and made to grow up and start doing things before they really start doing things, that is, before they have finished with knowing about themselves. And so there are a great many grown-ups who don't know everything about themselves. And so they do not light up every­thing around them. And so, however well they may do things, it is as if they did them in a dim light. They do things hurriedly and blurredly in order to seem to be people, though not definite people. And so, dear Catherine, it is the world it is.

A child should be allowed to take as long as she needs for knowing everything about herself, which is the same as learning to be herself Even twenty-five years if necessary, or even forever. And it wouldn't matter if doing things got delayed, because nothing is really important but being oneself People may call you a lazy girl, and so you are, and so you should be. You do less than the other children, you take longer to do things than they do, you are not clever at carpentering like David or at sewing like Jenny.