Miss Simpson's Impression of Stribling as a Student
MISS SIMPSON'S IMPRESSION OF HIM AS A STUDENT
Tom Stribling was a student in the Normal College for the two years required at that time for a diploma. Tall and rather loosely put together, with an air of perfect indifference to most things that others were eager about, he lounged through the day's schedule. Capable of brilliant work in whatever interested him, and equally capable of completely ignoring whatever failed to interest him, made him something of a problem in the college. Just how he passed finals in science, I have never known. He announced to me after his examination that he had failed. It did not particularly interest him, but since I was claiming in faculty meetings and elsewhere that he was a genius, he said he thought I might like to know. Whether this science teacher had softening of heart or whether Tom Stribling really bent to it for a short time, and learned enough to pass, I never knew, but he graduated on schedule time. He could not be bothered with such things as science; he was writing an essay on "Southern Literature", an essay afterwards published by "Poet Lore" and paid for too - a very high achievement. We sent some of his poetry to Bliss Perry for criticism. It attracted Mr. Perry's attention, and he wrote a very flattering letter, asking that he might see some more, for in his judgment the writer had a rare lyric power. But just about that time Tom decided he must make his living by writing, and nothing but novels could make a champagne living, the only kind that interested him.
He claimed in a recent letter that he had a crow to pick with the Normal College, because it had not taught him any of the history of his own country - "You can take a horse to water" you know. Nothing even faintly could attract him except English and amateur theatricals.
Again in this last he did some brilliant work. Never really interested in girls or love, he tried his hand at "affairs of the heart", more in a professional attitude to know from experience how to tell of it in his writing. He was described by one teacher as a man without soul - But in spite of his Puckish humor, which expresses itself as satire, he understands and can express great tenderness, see "Fombombo". Love affairs were to him matters for analysis not for passion. He really lived in the world created by his imagination, and was always happy. His sense of humor was the richest I have ever known, because so unselfconscious. When the joke was on him it was just the same as if it was on someone else, just so it was clever and really funny. His humor was due to his detached outlook on life that made him see it as pageant, often grotesque, at times pathetic, but always absorbingly interesting.
In spite of appearance he had as little self conceit as anyone I ever knew. His insight was too clear for that. He was interesting to himself, so was everyone else he met, but only for professional purposes.
I regarded him then, as I do now, as a genius, trusting his own intuitions utterly, guided by his whims, if you might call them so, but dead sure they could not lead him astray. Life was as interesting to him as was one of his own novels.