Transcribed From Period Piece by Jenny Ballou.
Excerpts from letters originally published in an unknown work. Comments are Ballou's.

[The original letters likely dating from May through September 1913 (Joaquin Miller having died February 13th of that year and Picked Poems having been published in 1912 and her next book published in 1914 and she did have several poems published in Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan in 1913). -- Rich Edwards] critic asked:

[Probably in the May issue of the New York Journal - Rich Edwards]

   How may a man be a popular poet and yet save
his soul and his art? This is a question which only
the select few of any group or period are called upon
to answer. Some popular poets, of course, have no
souls to save -- none at least which emerge above
the milk and water current of their verse -- the
Tuppers and Ella Wheeler Wilcoxes of their genera-
tion. Others have no trouble with their souls; they
just sing naturally about the common sights and sounds,
the things all men know or feel or think they know
and feel -- like James Whitcomb Riley, Eugene
Field, Bret Harte in his brief lyric moods, or, now
and then, Joaquin Miller, that high-hearted old
democrat who now sleeps in his Sierras.

Ella's reply is worth its weight in gold:

   I have just chanced upon your reference to me in
your periodical. It gave me a sharp hurt. Skilled
criticism is as needed in the world of art as skilled
surgery in the world of medicine. But the doctor
who thrusts a rusty nail into the flesh of a patient
because he chances not to like him is not practising
surgery. You thrust a rusty pen into a poet you
chance not to like. That is not criticism. It is spite-
   Poetry to me is a divine thing. I love it with all
my heart (yes, even with my soul, which I dare be-
lieve is well evolved). There are as many kinds of
poetry as there are of intellects in men. I have fol-
lowed the bent of my own talents since I first thought
in verse as a child, and have worked according to my
own light. I have never made a bid for popularity.
If I chance to be a popular poet it is because I have
loved God and life and people, and expressed senti-
ments and emotions which found echoes in other
hearts. If this is a sin against art, let me be unregen-
erate to the day of my death!
   What have you read of my works? No critic is
justified in making such an assertion publicly as
yours unless the author has been thoroughly read.
Have you read my last collection, Picked Poems, and
my recent poems in the Cosmopolitan Magazine and
Good Housekeeping? If you have, and call any or all
of these poems milk and water, then there is some-
thing the matter with your brain, as well as your
heart. If you call my early poems milk and water,
then I think you are suffering from arrested emo-
tional development. Something weaker than milk
and water must run in your veins in place of blood.
That I have written many real poems of literary and
artistic value, even while of human interest, I also
know. There is no more conceit in such knowledge
or its avowal than in saying I know my eyes are
brown. I am as capable of judging the difference
between verse and poetry, even when my own, as of
knowing the shades of colors, even in my own eyes.
   Hoping you may develop a sense of responsibility
which will cause you to study your poets before
criticizing them, and that you may grow at least a
sage bush of a heart to embellish your desert of in-
tellect, I am,
                               Sincerely yours...

She even expected the critics to put heart above
art! Moreover, her eyes were not brown; and the
critic answered:

   Dear Madam: Pardon this delay in answering
your letter of September 8th, which was mislaid.
   I can only say that, while I have not read all your
poems, I have rarely been able to admire those I have
read. They seem to be a kind which lovers of the art
must resent; in fact, I have thought of you as so
eager for popularity and its rewards as to work solely
toward that end.
   We all have our standards, and if your verse is not
according to ours, yet it has such a vogue as not to
be quite negligible -- hence my remark in our May
number, which was intended, of course, not for you
personally, but for you as an artist. If your feelings
were hurt, I am sorry, but the integrity of the art is
more important than anybody's feelings. I am,
                    Yours very sincerely...

Ella's answer would have looked well in the New
York Journal:

   The fact that you have read a few of my verses
and have not liked them, as you say, is not an excuse
for you in the capacity of a critic to speak publicly of
my work in your magazine as you did. No critic has
a right to make such assertions without having read
all of a poet's work. Your assumption that 'lovers
of the art resent my kind of work' is only true when
these lovers chance to be of your special make of
mind. There are other kinds! Not knowing me in
the least, you have no right to think of me as you say
you have 'eager for popularity and its benefits and
working solely for those ends.'  This should not be
the reputation of a worthy critic. Something is ex-
pected of the critic in the way of 'noblesse oblige' as
well as of the poet. Criticism should be big, broad,
fearless and kind; just as the surgeon is kind to the
patient, although obliged to wound. If you had
taken poems of mine (my Sonnets of Abelard and
Heloise, for instance, which are regarded as my most
ambitious work in a literary way) and then dissected
them according to your standards, that would be
criticism, even though it might not be univer-
sally convincing. What you did was not criticism.
Except that I adore cats, I would call it 'cattish.'
You lowered your standard as a self-made critic by
giving me a nasty stab, without cause or sense. It
cannot harm me, because my gifts are too well
known, my work too well appreciated, and my own
reverence and love for my growing poetical powers
too great to be affected by such a stab; but it does
harm to you as a critic; and both these letters are
written to you with the hope of giving you higher
ideals of criticism rather than of in any way chang-
ing your point of view toward myself. That does
not matter; it is as if I had dropped a wisp of dried
grass out of a big glorious bouquet; but it matters
much to you to be decent and dignified in your
magazine, if you wish to prove your devotion to the
'integrity' of your art.
   America has many poets who are giving the world
specimens of real poetry. It has few CRITICS WHO
   Try to do as earnest a work for your chosen art as
I am trying to do for mine, and then we may meet
on even ground. But at present you are not even
trying to do anything but indulge in personal preju-
dice. This puts you at a disadvantage, and gives me
the position of the true critic with a purpose. For
that purpose I am,
                            Sincerely yours,
                              Ella Wheeler Wilcox