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Henry Miller on the Beautiful Osmosis of Giving and Receiving

“It’s only when we demand that we are hurt.”

In The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (public library) — which gave us her timeless and ever-timely meditations on self-publishing, what maturity really means, the difference between Paris and New York came — Nin shares a letter she received in the summer of 1942 from Henry Miller, with whom she’d been closely involved creatively, intellectually and, for a long time, romantically.

Miller, passionately articulate as ever, gets to the heart of the paradox of altruism and the beautiful osmosis of giving and receiving.

He writes:

By choosing to live above the ordinary level we create extraordinary problems for ourselves. The ultimate goal is to make this earth a paradise.


For me it is no problem to depend on others. I am always curious to see how far people will go, how big a test one can put them to.

Certainly there are humiliations involved, but aren’t these humiliations due rather to our limitations? Isn’t it merely our pride which suffers? It’s only when we demand that we are hurt. I, who have been helped so much by others, I ought to know something of the duties of the receiver. It’s so much easier to be on the giving side. To receive is much harder — one actually has to be more delicate, if I may say so. One has to help people to be more generous. By receiving from others, by letting them help you, you really aid them to become bigger, more generous, more magnanimous. You do them a service.

And then finally, no one likes to do either one or the other alone. We all try to give and take, to the best of our powers. It’s only because giving is so much associated with material things that receiving looks bad. It would be a terrible calamity for the world if we eliminated the beggar. The beggar is just as important in the scheme of things as the giver. If begging were ever eliminated God help us if there should no longer be a need to appeal to some other human being, to make him give of his riches. Of what good abundance then? Must we not become strong in order to help, rich in order to give and so on? How will these fundamental aspects of life ever change?

Complement with Amanda Palmer, many decades later, on the art of asking. More of Nin and Miller’s correspondence can be found in A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, 1932-1953.

Published August 6, 2012




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