In this issue . . . . “Built only for the prince and the peasant”: Carl Schmitt in Korčula | Hart Crane and Carl Schmitt—Part II: Teaching the Poet to See | Carl Schmitt in the Garden
“Built only for the prince and the peasant”: Carl Schmitt in Korčula
The Chapel, gum Arabic print, 1929. This small church sits off cathedral square in the center of the town of Korčula
in Dalmatia (the coastal region of present-day Croatia).
The print was rendered from sketches made three years prior during Schmitt's second visit there.
Carl Schmitt was overwhelmed by the beauty of Dalmatia from the time he first set foot there in January, 1914. His visit was purely serendipitous. Sailing through the Adriatic on its way to Italy, his ship stopped briefly in Split and Schmitt disembarked to explore the ancient city. He heard the ship whistle the “all aboard,” but, enchanted by the people and the scenery, he decided to remain. When he returned to the port, the ship was gone, and thus began Schmitt's first sojourn in Croatia.
Schmitt made the most of his stay, sketching peasants, army officers, musicians, and others he met on the streets and in the cafes of the city. As he described it to Catholic activist and writer Peter Maurin, in Dalmatia “People still combine cult, that is to say liturgy, with culture, that is to say literature, with cultivation, that is to say agriculture.”
Schmitt's constant sketching and his association with some newfound friends of a revolutionary stripe attracted the attention of local authorities. In the politically charged days before the ourbreak of the Great War, they took him for a spy and after a brief interrogation, let him go. He decided to go on to Italy as planned, but always pined for Dalmatia.
The brief sojourn in the city made a deep impression on the artist, and Schmitt even considered settling there with his family after a subsequent visit to the region 1926. The sketches he made of the island of Korčula off the Dalmatian coast during this later trip formed the basis of a series of prints published in the February 1929 issue of Scribners Magazine. In the article Schmitt described his attraction to the picturesque town in almost rhapsodic terms:
“Korčula is a town of 3,000 people on an island of the same name. It is on the regular steamboat route between Split and Dubrovnik. Since I was first in Dalmatia fourteen of the principal cities of the mainland have lost their character of peasant homeliness and something fine is gone out of their hospitality. But not so Korčula.
House in Korčula, 1926 (pastel on paper, 17 x 13 in.) and a contemporary photograph of the same house. The photo was sent to me by Sani Sardelić, curator of Korčula Town Museum, which is publishing a booklet on Carl Schmitt's visit to the the town in 1926. The father-in-law of the book's author hosted Schmitt in this house during his stay there almost 90 years ago.
“I could write at length of the health (and consequent beauty) of the imaginations and bodies of the people of Korčula, due, I think, in part to a providential weakness in modern banking ability and in part to a beneficent sun. But the city, the buildings, the boats, and the indescribable water of the Adriatic are also a part of the picture. The city rises out of this clean blue water of carved white glowing stone and climaxes in the cathedral which was begun in the thirteenth century. There are no automobiles here. The limestone-paved streets rising steep to the cathedral are built only for the prince and the peasant, one on foot, the other on a donkey. For this is the story of Korčula.”
Schmitt would return to his beloved Dalmatia only once more, this time with his wife for a second honeymoon in 1934, shortly after their tenth child's second birthday. For him, the region embodied his ideal of becoming a true “peasant,” one whose role is to “intuitively envision, act, create.” He longed to form a firm “base of culture and religion” for his family by “a long memory and experience of [a] place.” For him, such a place is “where body and soul become one.” Silvermine would fulfill that role for him and his family in the years ahead, but for Schmitt, Europe would always remain “an island of the Fine Arts; the locus of the full liberation of the imagination.”
Carl Schmitt and Hart Crane—Part II: Teaching the Poet to See
Carl B. Schmitt, Jr.
A self-portrait of Schmitt sketched around the time he met Crane in New York.
With Carl Schmitt as his mentor, Hart Cane proved to be a good student. And, according to Crane's biographer, John Unterecker, Schmitt was “a born teacher.” Although Unterecker says that “[Schmitt's] importance [for Crane’s early development] cannot be over-estimated,” it has not been easy for Crane scholars to grasp the artist's influence on the young Crane in deeper areas of aesthetic theory.
Years after Crane's death, Unterecker queried Schmitt on a number of points. He explains, for instance, that Schmitt had explored the relationship between all of the arts and spoke of the ways a practitioner of one art might draw on elements that figure more importantly in another. As a painter, “Schmitt taught Crane how to see,” he says.
Hart Crane’s first letter to Schmitt, probably November, 1916, in the Carl Schmitt Foundation archives.
Crane, writing from Cleveland, seemed content and had not made any plans to leave home. In the aftermath of his parents' divorce, however, the seventeen-year-old Crane was eager to get away. In the next few weeks he came to the fateful decision to drop out of high school and move to New York. Crane's mother agreed to the plan only if Schmitt, who had just established a studio in Manhattan's Stuyvesant Square neighborhood, would keep an eye on him.
The poet and the painter resumed their correspondence after Schmitt left New York for his hometown of Warren, Ohio, in October, 1917. Years later, Schmitt summed up his time with Crane in characteristically modest fashion: "The most I could do would be to try to train him in a few basic techniques and then to part." Crane, for his part, showed real appreciation for Schmitt's efforts. “Carl puts great trust in me,” he wrote to his father, “and if you knew him better, you would soon discover that he is a good critic.”
(The date on the letter is in the hand of Crane’s first biographer, Philip Horton, to whom Schmitt lent his letters from Crane in the 1930s.)
Dearest Carl: -
With pipe, solitude and puppy for company, I am feeling resplendent. After a day’s work in a picture store, selling mezzotints and prints, you may not think it, yet there comes a great peaceful exaltation in merely reading, thinking and writing. For occasionally in this disturbing age of adolescence which I am now undergoing, there come minutes of calm happiness, satisfaction.
I don’t know whether or not I informed you in my last letter, of the step mother and I have taken. Next week mother files her petition in court for her divorce from father. In this I am supporting her. So the first thing to do was to secure some employment. Your poet is now become a salesman, and (it might be worse) a job at selling pictures at Korner and Wood has been accepted.
I have had tremendous struggles, but out of the travail, I think, must come advancement. Working evenings will give me a little time for composing. And even should it not, I have been christened, I think, and am more or less contented with anything. Carl, I feel a great peace; my inner life has balanced as I expected, the other side of the scale. Thank God, I am young! I have the confidence and will to make fate. Someday, perhaps next summer, I shall come to you and we will work together. You understand, I know.
Unterecker’s main inquiry into Schmitt’s ideas focused on “balance,” since some of Crane’s letters at that time mention this as something he was learning from Schmitt. Yet the fact remains that as important as balance might be, it was far from being a weighty element in the artist’s aesthetic.
More than a teacher, Schmitt was a great conversationalist, ever ready to share his ideas. It was these and not the technical exercises that most impressed Crane, whose his first letters to his parents speak of Schmitt’s “splendid ideas,” of what “a tremendous thinker” he was, and tell of the hours the two spent in “aesthetic talk.” Unterecker wrote that Schmitt “was the first of a series of artists who helped Crane work out a basic aesthetic.”
Crane has left various explanations of his poetic intentions, and anyone reading these who is at all familiar with Schmitt’s own thinking, readily finds there ideas that look very much as if they could have germinated and perhaps even have developed strongly in those early conversations he had had with Schmitt. Indeed, there is good evidence that those long hours of “aesthetic talk” between the older artist and the young, “emerging” and impressionable poet may well have shaped Crane’s poetics in more important ways than did the technical exercises Schmitt put him through.
Anyone familiar with Schmitt’s aesthetic could judge from this that there is a good deal more to look into with regard to his influence on Crane. This, in turn, can help us appreciate Crane’s aims and efforts—and his failures.
Carl Schmitt in the Garden
Each summer, Carl Schmitt worked long hours in his large garden to feed his family all the year through. With or without the help of his nine boys, he tended his plot in Silvermine while his wife Gertrude and their daughter canned and preserved the produce for the long winter ahead.
Planting a garden is a risky affair; one never knows whether it will bear enough to last the winter. Schmitt’s daughter Gertrude says that he simply worked and did not worry, even planting extra rows for the rabbits, knowing they would help themselves whether he fretted or no. In art, in life, and in the garden, he worked as hard as he could, ultimately trusting in God to make his work bear fruit.
At the CSF, we are doing some cultivating of our own. And while we do have plans to restore the vegetable garden (and Gertrude’s lovely flower beds, too), much of the cultivating we do is with people. We try simply to plant the seed of Carl Schmitt’s vision with as many people as possible, and to help it grow by the friendships we have made over the years with those who share that vision.
This summer, help the Foundation grow in any way you can—visit our website for some ideas. We will continue our work here, not fret, and look forward to having you join us in the garden.