Farewell to Europe

BY RICHARD ALDINGTON

CHAPTERS 6-10

Farewell TO EUROPE

BY RICHARD ALDINGTON

The story of a man of letters, bred in the old world and finding freedom in the new

RICHARD ALDINGTON, poet and novelist, infantryman survivor of the First World War, friend of many of the distinguished literary figures of the last half century in England and America, brings to the writing of his autobiography the skill of the proved craftsman, the keen palate for ideas and personal independence, which, in his own words, are ‘nearly everything that has made life valuable — freedom of living, thinking, and utterance; the exercise of a natural aptitude and talent; disinterested friendship, passionate love, travel, the arts, idleness.’

On his first visit to the United States he fell in love with the Connecticut River Valley. Living there now in a little farmhouse, an American citizen by adoption, he is writing Farewell to Europe. . . .

Born in 1892, he passed his childhood and youth among the green fields, on the sea-swept cliffs, in the leisured, fog-bound London streets of Edwardian England. He remembers patriotic pictures on the nursery walls, and people talking about the Boer War, and a black band put on the arm of his sailor suit because the Queen was dead, and being told he must play nicely and quietly. A blissful, adventurous day spent in Calais, in the company of his father and uncle, set stirring in him the urge for travel which has never left him. A letter from G. B. Shaw, commenting with Shavian obliqueness on a poem he wrote at the age of fifteen, stirred equally the urge for letters and for the world of creative arts. These two dominant passions infuse all the pages of his story, and made him a far from usual student figure when his family moved to London and young Richard was enrolled at University College. . . .

FAREWELL TO EUROPE

BY RICHARD ALDINGTON

VI

IF there was ever any danger of my falling a victim to respectability, it was averted by a sudden change in the family fortunes which took me to London. This change, so eagerly looked forward to, was at first a disappointment. I had few friends, and apart from the public galleries and the bookshops in the Charing Cross Road (an Alma Mater to those who know how to use them) London gave me little. I dropped into moods of melancholy when I would walk up to Harrow churchyard and sit on the Byron tomb, finding the present distasteful and the future unattractive. So great is the vitality of youth, so immense its imaginary expectation of life, that it plays willingly with the idea of death, an abstract etherialized death: —

Now more than ever seems it rich to die.

When too soon the harsh reality came upon him, Keats found nothing rich in death, only a bitterness of frustration which is hardly to be borne.

My enrollment at University College, London, put a period to this morbid gestation. I was living then at Teddington. Near at hand were Mr. Pope’s Twit’nam and Mr. Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill and once aristocratic Richmond, all grown shabby and abandoned to the little people who dominate our age. There was the Thames, where one could be very happy pottering about in a canoe on summer afternoons and evenings. But the greatest asset was that we were only a couple of hundred yards from the entrance to Bushey Park, where you may walk to Hampton Court on turf under trees planted by Charles II. True, it is one of the common playgrounds of London and much scorned by intellectuals who probably never visited it except on a bank holiday, but I loved it. Even when it was thronged with people, something of its charm remained, but at various times during a couple of years I had it more to myself than the Kings of England ever had.

The recipe for this is no secret. The Park and the Palace gardens are open at 6 A.M. in summer, and there is seldom anyone about much before ten. In the early morning, when the dew was still on the grass, there was a wonderful freshness under that majestic avenue of elms and chestnuts, four deep on either side. Out in the sunlight moved little groups of red and fallow deer. At the end of a mile or more of avenue come the Palace gate, the so-called wilderness with its daffodils and primroses and crocuses and hyacinths, then the main garden with its great herbaceous border, which must surely be the longest in the world. Throughout the year it was a changing wonderland of flowers, which were raised in large greenhouses and then bedded out. It was said that in pre-1914 days the flowers alone cost six thousand pounds a year, and the money was well spent, not only because of the superbly beautiful result, but because of the effect on the surrounding country. In the autumn the royal gardeners gave away the surplus of roots, cuttings, and bulbs, and for twenty miles round every garden, big and little, was enriched with the spoils of Hampton Court and the good taste of its gardeners.

In addition there was the great lawn, with more flower beds, ending in a terrace overlooking the river; the Long Water, reminiscent in a small way of Versailles; and the Privy Garden where the melancholy King Charles walked under guard when he was a prisoner. Now to have all this to oneself, by the simple process of getting up two hours earlier, was a very great privilege. Moreover, there were often times when one could be almost alone in the state apartments, and study in peace the Mantegna cartoons, the Raphael tapestries, and the pictures. There are finer buildings and better galleries in Europe, but I never enjoyed any quite so well as Hampton Court.

Hampton Court gardens were a contrast to the arid precinct of University College. The fagade of that learned institution is classical, but it was designed by an architect who either didn’t know or forgot two essential facts about Greek architecture. In the first place, Greek buildings were designed for a land of vivid sunshine; in the second place, they were brilliantly colored. Under the influence of the soot and acids of London air, the columns and pediment were dark gray streaked with unnatural white, so that the place looked like the rusty skeleton of a Greek temple. And there was a similar rustiness about what went on inside. In a laudable effort to set a higher standard of learning than the two old universities, London went Teutonic. I should say that it was designed to turn out philologists rather than genial scholars, and ten thousand pedants for one poet. Somewhere about the place is a plaque recording that Robert Browning spent a year as a student there. I think I know why he only stayed one year.

I am not going to criticize London University. I am convinced that no ideal solution of the problems of education is possible, and the most a university can hope is to show a few lucky students how they may educate themselves. There seems to be a superstition about universities and their degrees, on which topic the remarks of Gibbon are still entirely cogent. Moreover, popular clamor urges them to contradictory aims. They are expected to give their students a superior training, technical or otherwise, which will enable them later to make more money than non-university students; and at the same time the cry is that everybody ought to be allowed to go to a university. Where, then, will the material advantage be? They are expected to produce men who are at once independent thinkers and docile acceptors of the status quo. They are supposed to be able to test intelligence and knowledge by an ancient Chinese custom of written examinations. If they raise their standards and plough the incompetent, they are called high-brow; and if they yield to popular demand and bestow degrees on everybody who can read and cipher, they are accused of quenching the torch of culture.

The result of the wholesale cheapening of learning will be exactly the same as the wholesale vulgarizing of European art — destruction. The idea of having a whole nation of scholars is not only impossible but monstrous. The production of a nation of sciolists with no scholars at all is merely another form of barbarism. Pure scholarship, like pure science and art, is entirely useless. That is why it is admirable, a demonstration that civilized man is neither an animal nor a savage nor a peasant, for whom nothing exists but what is useful.

Among the sensible ideas of the Catholic Church is that which makes a distinction between the man and his priestly office. The efficacy of sacraments is not impaired by an unworthy officer. We can reverse this, and see merit in an individual while not wholly approving the system under which he functions. At any rate, that was how I felt about the professors I knew at London. They inspired a respect and sometimes even affection.

The two most eminent were A. E. Housman and Ker, with whom, unluckily for me, I had little contact. Housman was to be seen occasionally cruising gloomily about the corridors, probably depressed by the sins of German commentators on Manilius. It seems to me that he was the one member of the faculty (apart from the Provost) who was regarded with more awe than liking. We knew he was a poet and probably the greatest Latin scholar in England, but he was too shyly aloof to be likable. Yet he never refused to sign copies of the Shropshire Lad for his own students.

There was a legend about Ker which made him very popular. In those days London had a Poets Club, and for some mysterious reason they invited Ker to one of their dinners. I cannot imagine why he went, unless maliciously egged on by Housman. At any rate the old gentleman got into his evening clothes and trotted off to the dinner, only to be bored for hours by having to listen to compositions by the sort of poet who belongs to Poets Clubs. Ker had a masklike face, and nobody noticed his indignant anguish. Finally somebody condescendingly suggested that perhaps Professor Ker would like to recite one of his poems. Whereupon Ker rose and in a sepulchral tone said: —

‘I’d rather be an emu
Than a sea mew;
I’d rather be an eagle
Than a sea gull.’

And then sat down, leaving a very perplexed audience.

Two or three years later I met Ker again, when he was acting as chairman to a lecture on Provençal poetry, delivered by Ezra Pound in Lady Glenconner’s drawing-room. As the lecturer tied himself into a series of inextricable knots consisting largely of ‘I mean to say,’ ‘What I mean is, er — er,’ I found myself watching Ker, who was one of the best mediæval and Provençal scholars in Europe. It was the first time I had ever seen a real expression on his features. His wrinkled, slightly acid face seemed petrified with incredulous astonishment.

The Lecturer in English at London was Gerald Gould, at that time a white hope of English poetry. He was a most amiable fellow and a good lecturer, though as far as I was concerned he had to expound authors already familiar. We all read and admired his poems and believed he had a brilliant career before him. He didn’t quite achieve it. For years he had the dreadful job of reviewing half a dozen or more novels every week. Moreover, he tied himself up with Socialism, which has destroyed many poets but never made one.

So far as I know, the name of Platt, the Professor of Greek, never appeared in the newspapers, though it may be found in the rather more permanent pages of the Classical Review. Every genuine don seems to affect an eccentricity, and Platt’s was Aristophanes. He used to put up the most disingenuous arguments to prove that Aristophanes was superior in every way to Shakespeare. Since Aristophanes hated Euripides, so did Platt. I read Hippolytus and Medea with him, and he had the strangest method of inspiring his pupils with a love for classical literature. Every now and then he would interrupt with a remark of this sort: ‘What nonsense! No human being but Euripides could perpetrate trash like this.’

The other classical don, Solomon, had a very winning nature and took great pains with us. His eccentricity was acrobatics. He generally lectured, not from the dais, but from the right-hand corner of the room, twisting himself in and out and up and down a rope which hung down from the lofty window. It was a strange spectacle to see him hanging by one arm and leg from the rope like a learned chimpanzee in blue serge, declaiming lines from Catullus or Vergil with unflagging gusto. His taste was as catholic as Platt’s appeared to be narrow, and he had an enthusiasm for poetry which brought the classics vividly alive. A good many famous passages in English poetry are in fact translations or imitations of the classics. Whenever we came on the original of one of these, Solomon would challenge me to quote the English poet. If I couldn’t, he always could.

I have forgotten the name of the mathematics man, from whom I took extra coaching in private. We soon became friendly, and one evening he lamented his inability to enjoy poetry and asked me to recommend something which might interest him. Without reflecting I mentioned Browning because he had belonged to the University, and suggested ‘The Bishop Orders His Tomb,’ because Ruskin says somewhere that the poem is an epitome of the whole Renaissance. At our next meeting I noticed an unaccountable stuffiness and coldness. What had happened was this: he had read along calmly, though probably without much real comprehension, until he came to the lines, —

And hear the blessed mutter of the Mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long.

As a Christian he was scandalized by what he thought a horrid blasphemy, cast Browning to perdition as an atheist, and entertained the gloomiest suspicions about me for having recommended him. It was useless to point out that Browning was a devout, a too devout, Christian; that the offending lines were not Browning’s opinion but a piece of dramatic imagination, showing marvelous insight into the mind of the Renaissance. No, they were blasphemous and Browning shouldn’t have written them. When people tell me that higher mathematics and poetry are closely akin, I am a little skeptical.

VII

Leaving University College for the last time, I walked, as I had so often walked before, down Gower Street towards Bloomsbury, Soho, and Charing Cross. In this I detect an accidental symbolism which is rather pleasing — the departure from buttressed respectability towards the freer if frowstier fields of bohemianism. Not that I ever wholly shuffled off the bourgeois. Certain prejudices or standards of behavior and material conditions clung to me. I could not, for instance, give up my daily bath and clean pocket handkerchief; nor could I ever endure the downright squalor in which some of my artist friends lived with satisfaction. I am convinced they really liked squalor, because when they did get money they merely increased their huggermugger without any attempt at tidying up their lives or their surroundings. I should say I was naturally the eremitical kind of bohemian, far more akin to Mr. Eames in Douglas’s South Wind than to the loafers who sat about gossiping and drinking Parker’s poison at the Nepenthe Club.

By means of a complicated series of speculations my father contrived to lose his money, and was practising his profession in London, not very successfully. With characteristic energy and good sense my mother eventually solved that problem by buying and running a famous old Sussex inn. Obviously I could not continue to be an expense to my parents. What was to be done?

This is an ancient and fishlike problem, which in its innumerable forms will continue to occupy countless young men and women until such time as all humanity is enslaved by giant corporations and everybody does, not what he wants to do, but what he is forced to do. In spite of all the talk about liberty and opportunity, I have a suspicion that this is exactly what the great majority really desires: a mediocre security, a prescribed routine and no responsibility — above all, no responsibility for its own individual life. Such was not my view, either then or now.

It is with a feeling of gratitude and affection that I speak of Mr. Beare and his kindness to me. At that time he was sports editor of one of the big London dailies, and I had met him more or less casually through friends with whom I went rowing on the Thames. I won’t flatter either him or me by suggesting that he had any particular sympathy with my studies or literary plans or with the way of life I had in mind, but he had some respect for literature and he was a good-hearted man, very willing to help a beginner.

We had many talks together, and I now see that by innumerable anecdotes he tried to give me the advantage of his experience of life and his homely, sensible wisdom. As a respectable journalist, who for many years had earned a good income in his profession, Mr. Beare naturally did not take the gloomy view of all forms of writing for a living which was held by my other advisers. He warned me that nobody could make a living out of poetry, though he thought he could help me to pick up a few guineas. He was proposing to take a flat in Bloomsbury and offered to let me share it on terms very advantageous to me, on condition that for two or three afternoons a week I acted as his assistant in covering sporting events he couldn’t find time to attend, and for which I was to be paid the usual space rates. And he made this proposal just at the moment when others were trying to bully me into an office.

I was still living at home and still had not given notice of leaving University College when I secretly made a first experiment as Mr. Beare’s assistant. The secrecy was because I knew everybody about me would be scandalized and furious at me for doing anything so low and vulgar as sporting journalism. Primed with a press pass and Mr. Beare’s instructions, I went off to see Blackheath play the Harlequins, and was not a little disconcerted to find that the Blackheath captain was no other than the man who had been captain of the First XV at my own school. One of the real newspaper men — I’m almost sure it was the Times correspondent — saw I was a novice and helped me. I had taken one of Maurice Hewlett’s novels to read, and in the intervals we discussed his work and Thomas Hardy’s, which somehow was a comfort.

It seems to have been a Victorian tradition, still lively in those days, that sordid surroundings and dirt were a necessary guarantee of all serious business. The filthiest and most squalid holes I have ever seen outside a really bad slum were the chambers of highly successful barristers. The next worst were pre1914 newspaper offices. Bare dingy walls that had once been whitewashed, unscrubbed carpetless floors covered with an insane litter of newspapers, spoiled sheets of paper, ticker tape, and what not trampled by muddy feet, and a hurricane of drafts — such was my impression of the Fleet Street office where I found Mr. Beare that evening, chewing a cigarette and writing his article on a long inky deal table. I asked how much I should write and he, lost in the reveries of composition, answered absently: ‘Stick — stick and a half.’

I stared at him, not having the least idea what a stick was, whether five lines or five hundred. I sat down and filled what seemed to me a more than adequate amount of space for a particularly futile form of human restlessness; and this turned out to be all right, though a bit on the short side. It seemed to me contemptible that grown men should waste their time playing a children’s game and even more contemptible that other grown men should want to waste time reading about the event; but I kept this to myself.

Before rejecting all other kinds of work, I thought I should at least see another editor to whom I had a letter of introduction. I took with me a portfolio containing, among other things, twenty or thirty of my poems and translations of poems, and also two or three letters of introduction to editors given me by Mr. Beare. On an impulse I took a bus to Fleet Street, and, choosing one of the letters at random, presented it and asked boldly for an interview.

Unfortunately I don’t remember this editor at all clearly, because he has got mixed up with several others whom I saw in those days. I have a composite memory of a middle-aged Scot in goldrimmed glasses, with an air of severity and philistine narrowness which failed to conceal the fact that he was intelligent and good-humored. Instead of putting on airs and asking me how many dukes and beadles I knew, he questioned me sensibly about my education, and had me repeat an ode of Horace and some lines from Homer. I should almost doubt my own recollection, were it not that the Scots have always had a high regard for education. But how that respect for the classics marks an epoch!

As a matter of fact, my Scotsman had an original idea and warned me that poetry didn’t pay. I seemed to have heard that remark before. Having paid this lip service to the ventripotent god of business, he proceeded to falsify it by immediately buying two of my poems.

On my way home that evening I did a little calculating. By giving up a couple of afternoons to reporting and by selling two poems which I should have written anyway, I had made very nearly as much as I could have earned by giving all my time for a month to a City dungeon, supposing that I knew enough respectable people to achieve that slavery.

Long before this I had given some attention to the problem of what I did and did not want in life. I had no objection, on moral, political, or any other grounds, to the unlimited enjoyment of filthy lucre. I regretted my father’s carelessness in losing so much money; but as I have myself since been robbed of considerable sums by honest English lawyers, I can scarcely blame him. He, poor man, could not, like his son, laugh at it and point a pen.

Even at that early age I saw through the bourgeois swindle, which in essence consists of enslaving oneself to their machine by acquiring multitudes of unnecessary objects and consumable goods, merely for the purpose of enriching a host of commercial parasites. I had read my Walden, and realized that my frugality was a supremely valuable asset. As Socrates walked through the agora, I could walk down Bond Street and perceive how many things there were which I didn’t want. What I wanted was freedom, and for me ‘freedom’ meant the disposal of my days and hours and thoughts as I wanted. I saw clearly that this would involve a certain amount of sacrifice.

I was fed to the teeth with bourgeois snobbishness. In religion and even in politics I was more or less a Gallio, caring nothing. What I wanted to do was to enjoy life, to enjoy my life in my way; and that in no wise depended on the three fatal vices — the exercise of power, the possession of property, the esteem of other featherless bipeds. I was not only willing but determined to make great exertions, but not for the financial benefit of the bourgeoisie; and I would add that I consider them decent and tolerable human beings in comparison with the various brands of totalitarians, who will get nothing out of me but my corpse to bury.

What interested me above all was a way of life, the way of life of the cultivated good European. I wanted to know and to enjoy the best that had been thought and felt through the ages — architecture, painting, sculpture, poetry, literature, food and wine, France and Italy, women, old towns, and beautiful country. Greek was not too good, nor the refined civilization of Catholicism too delicate, for me. By the luck of a shuffle of genes I was one for whom the visible world existed. So long as I could keep myself wholly intact and preserve most of my time, it was a matter of indifference that I should record the talents of cretins throwing and kicking a leather ball about.

The essential fact is that life was regimented, and I fled from it in horror.

An escapist, of course; taking risks which now look insanely reckless. (But who then foresaw two European wars?) Never, I reflected as I hastened down Gower Street, should I trouble the tranquil graphs of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb.

VIII

Hinc incipit vita nova. . . .

For some minutes I have been wondering why at this moment I should want to quote Dante’s Vita Nuova, a book I have not looked into for years. Gradually I have recollected. In those days, as now, there existed a snob culture, emanating from university sets and London cliques, which refined all literature to three or four authors. An exaggerated and simulated admiration for these chosen preciosities alone constituted intellectual salvation.

Believe it or not, the three indispensable books were Fitzgerald’s Omar, Rossetti’s Vita Nuova, and Andrew Lang’s Aucassin and Nicolette — all translations, you perceive. Illustrated editions of these works were freely handed about at Christmas, concrete evidences of extreme good taste, much as an edition of Gerard Manley Hopkins and a bottle of gin would be now. Being ambitious, I determined to study these works in the original, though after a glance at the original of Omar I wisely decided that I was both unwilling and incompetent to study Persian without a teacher. But I plugged away at Dante and Aucassin, and felt rather grand about it, though obviously it was a senseless way to study Italian and old French.

But that is why a quotation from the Vita Nuova came so unexpectedly to mind at this point.

Somebody at this time took me to my first literary party. It was in the flat of an ardently climbing lady novelist, and to get in at all you had to know the passwords — Omar, Vita Nuova, Aucassin, which was pronounced ‘Awcassin.’ It was whispered to me that the inner room contained a Great Poet, and I gradually realized that in this salon there was an outer room for the unknown and an inner shrine for the illustrious.

So high-brow was this salon that there was talk of French poetry, and the ladies shivered chastely as they denounced a dreadful man with the mysterious name of Bawdy L’Air. An elderly gentleman in a dinner jacket opined gravely that he was ‘very Gallic,’ and the ladies said, ‘How true!’ At that moment Edward Clodd was announced. Clodd was a survivor of the Darwinian epoch, and bore the stigmata through his pronounced likeness to the missing link. He was hustled off to join the Great Poet, and after a certain time was reconducted to the outer door by the hostess with profuse expressions of extreme, not to say fulsome, politeness, while we sat in frozen awe. Returning to the centre of the room, the hostess clasped her hands, and in tones of religious pride uttered an oracle: —

‘Ker-wight a Celebrity.’

A couple of years later I met that Great Poet on more equal terms at Violet Hunt’s, and he had to listen to Ezra Pound, Gaudier, and myself playing verbal ninepins with the Post-Victorians, the Royal Academy, and a variety of other pompiers institutions. Ford Hueffer saw him down to the door, and came back chuckling. We asked what the joke was, and he said: —

‘When we got to the front door he asked very anxiously, “Are all the young men like that?” and I said, “Oh, they’re comparatively mild,” and he said, “Oh, my God!” and ran away.’ The first months of this vita nuova were lonely. But I was very far indeed from being unhappy. There is a wonderful happiness and satisfaction in taking full responsibility for one’s own life. Except for a couple of afternoons a week and an occasional evening, I disposed of my time exactly as I wished. I hasten to add — in view of the human aptness for swift and charitable judgments — that I did not prize this liberty because it gave opportunities for what are known as vicious courses.

On the contrary, I was too absorbed in other interests to think about such things, even if I had had the money for them. In order to have more money for books, I cut my diet down almost dangerously, and gave up smoking and drinking entirely. A lifetime of such asceticism would be dull, though it might be good for one’s health; but a year or two of it, especially in the late teens, is excellent discipline. The insolence and selfishness of very young men and women, children of wealthy parents who have never denied them anything, make a very unpleasant spectacle. Nobody has a right to wealth who has not experienced poverty, or to privilege if he has not known labor.

On the whole I greatly enjoyed this period of quasi-solitude, and got through a prodigious amount of work. I had to, because it was my chief recreation. The only thing that bothered me at first was what used to be called the Sabbath peace of London. If that’s the Lord’s day, he can keep it. The lifeless streets, inhabited only by a few people creeping about disconsolately in Sunday clothes, needed only a howling dog and an occasional corpse to reach a peak quotation in dismalness. Except for an occasional concert of a supposedly improving kind, every form of civilized occupation was suppressed.

‘Where never bells have knolled to church’ — how thoroughly enjoyable such places are! Very likely campanology is a fascinating study, but it repels me; and if there is one thing worse than church bells it is a carillon playing hymns on one finger, so to speak. This dislike for bells is one of the few prejudices I share with Mohammed; the other being his respect for cats. Another anti-bell person is Ezra Pound. When he lived near St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, he engaged in fierce guerrilla warfare of letters with the vicar on the subject.

This solitude was short-lived, and before I was weary of it I began to meet people of my own sort and time. Within a few days, and almost by accident, I came across Ezra Pound, H.D., and Harold Monro, poets who were to have some influence on the development of the art, people who had personalities of their own and were not just echoes.

Ezra was the first real poet I met on equal terms. There are apparent contradictions and perhaps a real disharmony in Ezra which make him one of the problem children of modern poetry. It seems to me impossible to deny his flair, or that he has at least a streak of genius. In proof of the first I would cite the number of writers, from Joyce to Hemingway, whom he picked out and boosted when they were practically unknown. I think he lacks fundamental originality and self-confidence, which explains why he has put up so many stunts. He has tasted an enormous number of books, yet I doubt if he has ever read one with real concentration from cover to cover. There are lovely things in his short poems and astonishing flashes in the Cantos; yet it must be admitted that most of his poems are derived or even paraphrased from earlier poets and that the structure and aim of the Cantos are, to put it gently, not immediately apparent. His prose is often so violent, so mannered, so incoherent and lacking in judgment, that it seems senseless. Ford Hueffer used to say that Ezra was so ignorant of the English language that it was often impossible to understand him. I should say myself that Ezra would rather perplex his readers than enchant them.

Yeats used to worry himself a lot about Ezra, who seemed to support one of Yeats’s numerous fads, the theory of the antithetical self. In the winter of 1928, Mr. and Mrs. Yeats dined with me at my hotel in Rapallo. We were given a room to ourselves, I fear because Yeats was an Irish senator, but I hope because he was a great poet. It was a cold night, and Yeats arrived with his hands thrust into a pair of grey woolen socks, because he had lost his gloves. Recovering from this shock, we went to dinner. But with the spaghetti a long thin lock of Yeats’s hair got into the corner of his mouth, and the rest of us watched with silent awe his efforts to swallow it. Giving this up in despair, he suddenly turned to me and said in portentous tones: ‘How do you account for Ezra?’

I still don’t know what the answer to that is; so I said nothing. Fortunately with Yeats that never mattered. He immediately proceeded in his pontifical style: —

‘ Here is a man who produces the most distinguished work and yet in his behavior is the least distinguished of men. It is the antithetical self. . . Und so weiter.

I am not competent to say whether Ezra or anyone else has an antithetical self. In the first place, I don’t see the antithesis. In his work Ezra can be abrupt and barbarous; when he wants he can be a charming companion, and he is the most generous of men. My own view is that he is sensitive, highly strung, and irascible. All this throwing down of fire irons and sputtering of four-letter words are merely Ezra’s form of defense against a none too considerate world. I should say Ezra has had to put up with far worse annoyances from other people than they ever have from him.

At all events, in 1912 Ezra was great fun, a small but persistent volcano in the dim levels of London literary society. Chiefly through Ezra, but partly through Harold Monro, I soon got to know quantities of people in very different social sets. One of the advantages of an artist’s life in England is that he can be on friendly terms with practically every social group except the working class, who are dreadfully exclusive. Nothing less than a European war was needed for me with my middle-class manners, accent, and standards to be accepted on terms of equality by working men. The aristocracy, on the other hand, were extremely easy — up to a point. There always came a moment when you felt that their charm, high spirits, and wit were a kind of gracious electioneering or slumming with intellectuals. It isn’t, really the haughtiness or class prejudice imagined by tweedy socialists. Or it wasn’t then. They were so certain of their own position they never bothered about it. But owing to their rigid training all other people seemed dim and fabulous, and their attitude towards these surprising phenomena was dictated by the fact that Cousin Dick, Uncle Arthur, and Brother Aubry would need votes at the next election, and by a naif and obsolescent tradition that the aristocracy are obliged to be the patrons of the arts.

Vastly more entertaining were the evenings in Yeats’s bachelor diggings in Woburn Place. The talk was often good, though after a time one grew a little weary of spooks, fairies, elemental, sorcerers, Lady Gregory, and the feud with George Moore. Yeats specialized in anecdotes and gnomic remarks, most of which have already been printed either by him or by others. A curious trait in Yeats, which I have not seen mentioned, was a misplaced intellectual loyalty. Every influence, however distant, which had come into his poetical life had to be cherished and somehow reconciled with all the later influences and Yeats’s own continuous development. He seemed quite unable to take the more rational position of admitting frankly that such people had once been valuable to him, but that, while he was grateful to them, he had gone on to something new. This persisted even in Yeats’s later years when he made that remarkable recovery and wrote some of the most beautiful lyrics of our time.

Thus, he was cluttered up with defunct tinkers who had said something funny in Sligo in the eighties, with hoary Irish liars who had positively seen a fairy, with Rossetti and Morris and Wilde, and a hundred other persons and artists from whom he had long since emancipated himself. He would talk frequently and admiringly of ‘my friend MacGregor,’much to the perplexity of the newcomer until he discovered gradually that MacGregor had been a Scotch sorcerer of the nineties in Paris when Huysmans had made satanism a fad. I never heard any evidence of Mr. MacGregor’s powers as a sorcerer, except that he caused two ‘elementals’ to appear on Yeats’s bed, a contretemps which the poet solved happily by pushing the elementals out of the window. Or perhaps it was ‘my friend MacGregor’ who pushed the elementals. It doesn’t matter.

One of the most difficult evenings I spent with Yeats was when a party of us took Marinetti, the Italian Futurist, to see him. Sturge Moore, Ezra, and I acted as interpreters, for Marinetti spoke no English and Yeats would not talk a language of which he was not a master. Yeats read some of his own poems, which Marinetti would have thought disgustingly passéistes if he had understood them, and then through Sturge Moore asked Marinetti very politely to recite something of his. Whereupon Marinetti sprang up and in a stentorian Milanese voice began bawling: —

’Automobile,
Ivre d’espace,
Qui piétine d’angoisse . . .’

until Yeats had to ask him to stop because neighbors were knocking in protest on the floor, ceiling, and party walls.

Another trying time was when the inner group of London literati decided to put over Tagore. Of course, he hit Yeats bang in the Blavatsky. Ezra too had a streak of superstition — hence, perhaps, his kinship with Alberta rain-makers. We had pi-jaw stuff about Tagore for weeks, and Yeats would read the same things over and over from Gitanjali, as if they had been the Book of Common Prayer and we a congregation of fanatical Episcopalians. I wasn’t allowed to see Tagore, as being too profane; but I could always tell when Ezra had been seeing him, because he was so infernally smug. The snob appeal was worked with consummate skill, and the first edition of Tagore was limited to five hundred expensive copies. May Sinclair gave me one, which was stolen long ago — anyway, I didn’t want it. But by the time the popular edition was out all the cliques were chattering Tagore like mad, though most of them had never seen a word he had written. Naturally it was a best seller, and Tagore got a knighthood. But he blotted his official copybook by taking up an anti-British attitude in India, and the Tagore boom collapsed as quickly as it had been manufactured.

One of my best evenings with Yeats happened because I mistook the date of one of his evenings and found him alone. He wouldn’t hear of my leaving, and we spent a couple of hours together by his fireside. He could not. have been more pleasant and unaffected, and told me a lot about his early life in Ireland and London. During the evening he offered to read me a lyric he had finished that morning. It was: —

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave . . .

Something worth remembering.

Above all I was fortunate in close friendship with Ezra and H. D. It may seem strange that, with most of my English prejudices still strong, I should turn away from the English poets who became ‘the Georgians’ and wholeheartedly throw in my lot with the two Americans. I can give one first clue. At a ‘Dutch’ Soho dinner collected by Harold Monro, everyone was deploring Ezra and running him down. Finally I could stand it no longer. I stood up and said, ‘Ezra Pound has more vitality in his little finger than the whole lot of you put together,’ and walked out. That queered my pitch with a large and powerful clique, but I have never regretted it.

There was more to it than that. The Georgians were regional and in love with littleness. They took a little trip for a little week-end to a little cottage where they wrote a little poem on a little theme. Ezra was a citizen of the world, both mentally and in fact. He went off to Paris or Venice with vastly less fuss than a Georgian affronted the perils of the Cotswolds. True, he was bigoted, dogmatic, and capricious, but he did not say, —

A little seed best fits a little soil,
A little trade best fits a little toil:
As my small jar best fits my little oil.

On the contrary, he talked of Arnault Daniel and Guido Cavalcanti, of Homer and Dante, of Ronsard and El Cid — in short, of the European tradition. Instead of pap, he fed me meat. We have come to differ over a lot of things, but — I find I’m a bit like Yeats in this respect — I can’t go back on the Ezra of 19121914.

I would say of H. D. that she was more distinguished (to use one of Yeats’s favorite adjectives) than Ezra, both as a person and as a mind. I have never known anybody, not even Lawrence, with so vivid an æsthetic apprehension. Lawrence was more keenly aware of the living world, but he was almost blind to the world of art. To look at beautiful things with H. D. is a remarkable experience. She has a genius for appreciation, a severe but wholly positive taste. She lives on the heights, and never wastes time on what is inferior or in finding fault with masterpieces. She responds so swiftly, understands so perfectly, relives the artist’s mood so intensely, that the work of art seems transformed. You too respond, understand, and relive it in a degree which would be impossible without her inspiration.

Addington Symonds said that nobody could hope to understand Italian poetry unless he were exceptionally gifted æsthetically. The same is true of H. D.’s poetry. It is the expression of a passionate contemplation of the beautiful, as the young Plato must have felt before Socrates lured him into the fictitious world of abstractions.

IX

In the spring of 1912 I went to Paris.

Needless to say, this harmless step was strongly opposed by those who had my best interests at heart.

It did seem rather silly, but a stubborn mule of a daimon in me insisted on going. The mule-daimon might not have been so confident if at that time I had not been given a small monthly allowance by my parents.

An old friend, Mr. Grey, fully approved this expedition, sent me his blessing and the large edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek dictionary, which I had long coveted. But he disapproved strongly of some free verse I sent him. ‘You were once a singing bird, Dickey,’ he wrote sadly, ‘and now you’re just a beastly modem poet.’

Mr. Grey also advised me to stay in the Rue de la Grande Chaumière, to avoid all cafes, and not to miss Versailles and Fontainebleau. My father told me to visit the Musée de Cluny, to study the stained glass in la Sainte Chapelle, and to stay at a ‘nice quiet little hotel’ in the Rue de Rivoli, the name of which I forget; it may have been — I suspect it was — the Meurice. As was proper, I began by obeying my father and booked a room at his hotel, only to find that its cost was exactly equivalent to my whole daily income.

Slightly incensed by this further though unnecessary proof of my father’s practical ideas, I went forth with a map to seek the Rue de la Grande Chaumière, and almost at once found myself in the Jardin des Tuileries. The late sunshine of a cloudless May afternoon was warm and golden, and there was the faint but unforgettable smell of Paris in the air — a delicate mixture of savon de Marseille, hot rolls, lilac, and sewers. There were grave gentlemen with red rosettes in their buttonholes, high stiff collars, and Henri IV beards, but not, alas, the sharp moustaches, pointed beards, and slightly conical top hats I had been led to expect by illinformed cartoonists. There were pretty ladies with very long skirts, which they held daintily, with very wide-brimmed hats and parasols. As they passed, the gentlemen looked hard at the ladies, and the ladies pretended neither to see nor to be seen, but saw everything, especially that they were looked at. There were many mothers and nursemaids with children, who played without screaming, fighting, or quarreling. There were two hand-worked merry-go-rounds with tricolor flags, one for little children which went gently, and one for older children which went faster. In the distance stood a classical triumphal arch and statues and the long facades of the Louvre.

‘ Linnæus fell on his knees and wept when he saw for the first time the long slope of some English upland made yellow by the tawny aromatic blossoms of the common furze.’

I did nothing so timely and dramatic, but I fell in love with Paris at first sight. Perhaps it is a little fanciful to say that central Paris looks the most intelligent of cities, where people not only work and strive and suffer, but live, love, and think. Yet vaguely, confusedly, I felt something of the sort. More keenly in retrospect I feel the vivacious peace of that moment. The phrase is not really an oxymoron. There was the vivacity of a race intelligently in love with life, and at the same time they were tranquil and assured, at peace with themselves and the world. It has not been the same since 1914. Even during the best years of the long Armistice, there was something a little hectic, uneasy, menacing. Shall we ever see again the peace and the vivacity?

That day I didn’t get as far as the Rue de la Grande Chaumière; there were too many distractions on the way. But I moved in there next morning. Much amusement and some horror were caused by my insisting on a cold bath every morning, and, as there was some difficulty in pronouncing my name, I was known as le-monsieur-qui-prend-le-tub, a rather startling side-light on the other guests.

I wrote a few poems and made some translations, but most of the time was given up to seeing Paris and living the rhythm of its life. Ezra and H. D. were there, so I didn’t lack companionship. Ezra took me to see the composer Walter Morse Rummel, who has since made a reputation in France as an interpreter of Debussy. Walter was taking us on to see a Frenchwoman who lived in a house which had been Maeterlinck’s, and in which he was alleged to have written La Vie des Abeilles. I was much interested in this, for in those days Maeterlinck was a big name in England. As Rummel was in his working clothes, he retired to change, and by way of passing the time Ezra started playing Debussy with one finger on the open grand piano. Suddenly Rummel, dressed only in his underclothes, rushed furiously in, shouting, ‘Ezra! Ezra! If you touch that piano once more I’ll throw you out the window!’ I expected an explosion, but Ezra merely blinked and desisted. Later on, at Rummel’s request, H. D. and I wrote some children’s verse for him, and he made charming settings of them which Augener published.

But the greatest piece of luck on this trip happened when by accident I ran into Henry Slonimski just outside the Luxembourg Garden. He was a Polish American who had recently taken his degree as Doctor of Philosophy at Marburg, with a thesis on Parmenides and Heraclitus. I had met him earlier in the year in London, and had been impressed by his skill and eloquence in refuting the arguments of the English Bergsonian, T. E. Hulme.

Of course I am incompetent to discuss Slonimski as a philosopher, but as a personality he stands for me alongside Yeats and Lawrence. He is one of those great men who by accident are known only to a comparatively small circle. He is the victim of our infatuation with the printing press and the written word. Slonimski talks books far better than most people write them, but though you listen spell-bound and enchanted by his grave eloquent voice and marvelous gift of finding the right phrase, the brilliant image, the books vanish with the sound of his voice. He should have walked and talked with the Peripatetics in Athens, before professorships were invented and when the human intelligence was undimmed by cloudy theologies. I am glad to think now that at nineteen I had the sense to appreciate him and to respond to the stimulus of his thought and talk.

Ezra never really appreciated Slonimski, because Ezra never really listened to him. But H.D., with her swift unerring response to whatever is beautiful and lofty, at once comprehended his greatness and his charm. What evenings we spent listening to him in Paris! Nodes Atticœ. On a bench under the trees in the Petit Luxembourg, away from the noise and glare of the cafes, we would sit for hours while he talked to us of Hellas and Hellenism, of Pythagoras and Plato, — ‘a kingly man,’ — of Empedocles and Heraclitus, of Homer and Thucydides, of Æschylus and Theocritus.

Curiously enough, it was from Slonimski that I first heard of the possibility, even the probability, of a European war. The French, he said, were convinced it would happen soon. I listened incredulously, and dismissed it as mere gossip. I knew, of course, that the newspapers occasionally started such scares, but nobody I knew ever believed them. There was a general idea that the age of any but colonial wars was finished forever. Like all such popular delusions, this was embodied in a catch phrase — in this case, ‘war between civilized nations is unthinkable.’ I heard it, I believed it, and I repeated it. But, unlike a good many of my contemporaries, I had lost entirely the romanticheroic idea of war inculcated by histories and adventure stories.

It happened this way. While at London University, I was invited to read a paper on some poet to the Literary Society. At that moment I had just come across Whitman, and was greatly excited about him. While preparing my paper I read Specimen Days, and the pages recording Walt’s experiences in the Civil War made an unforgettable impression on me. I reread Drum Taps with a totally different viewpoint. Up to then, the killings, the mannings, all the sufferings and miseries of war, had been as unreal and conventional to me as the murders in a detective story. Whitman made me see the reality, and I believe he has the honor of being the only poet of the nineteenth century to tell the truth about war. This partial realization of war made it all the easier for me to believe the ‘war is unthinkable’ stuff.

So, when I returned from France and was offered a part-time job on the Garton Peace Foundation, I accepted. These worthy people were not pacifists in the more recent sense of non-resisters. The textbook of the group was Norman Angell’s Great Illusion, which at that time was about the most intelligent contribution to this hitherto unsolved problem. As I lacked the knowledge necessary for any serious criticism of the book, I was naturally convinced by it. But, so far as I was concerned, Mr. Angell soon lost prestige. He was being asked questions at a conference and somebody (probably a submerged socialist) suggested that war would be less likely if human life were better and happier. Mr. Angell replied rather to this effect: —

‘Well, after all, what is human life but getting up in the morning and having breakfast, going to work, and coming back at night to slippers and the newspaper?’

That wasn’t my ideal of human life, and I couldn’t help thinking that if it was no more than that we were taking a lot of unnecessary trouble to try to preserve it. That chance remark, which was most probably merely intended to squelch an irrelevant question, made such a deep impression on me that eventually I left the group. Meanwhile another group, far more interesting to me, had been got together by Ezra and called the Imagists; and that enabled me at last to go to Italy.

One morning I sat at the large work table in Mr. Beare’s apartment. There was a heavy brownish fog outside, a Holmes and Watson fog, and a steady drizzle muddied the pavements. By an almost sardonic irony I was working in this murk and gloom on a verse translation of Charles d’Orléans’ Les courriers d’été sont venus, — ‘The heralds of summer are here,’ — which some forwardlooking editor thought he would like on hand for ‘ the first real spring day.’ The postman rat-tatted at the door, and I found a letter and a picture postcard in the box.

The postcard came from a friend in Genoa and showed a hillside of blossoming almond trees on the Italian Riviera. The letter was from Chicago, with a draft in English currency for the equivalent of forty dollars, in payment for my first free-verse poems.

The thought, ‘How pleasant to be in Italy!’ was followed by the more daring one: ‘Why not go?’ I felt quite rich. Moreover, Orage of the New Age had published some of my translations of Neo-Latin poetry without payment, but had promised to publish and pay for a series of articles if I found an attractive subject. Perhaps . . .

To my delight Orage consented to take a series of articles on Italy. This was generous, because neither the subject nor my treatment of it could have interested his sedentary Guild Socialists.

Italiam petimusl This has been the cry for centuries of thousands of enthusiastic Northern pilgrims, but it can seldom have been echoed with more excitement. However much we may gain in knowledge and width of appreciation with time, we can never quite regain the first fine careless rapture of discovering Italy.

In his inimitable way Gibbon has described how he ‘trod the Forum with a lofty step’ and visited every Roman ruin with a Scotch antiquarian. My first day and night in Rome were less dignified and ideal. My friend John Cournos had given me a little book of addresses of lodgings frequented by American students and artists. In a fine frenzy of economy I chose the cheapest, which turned out to be in a swarming tenement on the Via Principe Amedeo. The room was clean enough, but those who have ever looked closely at an Italian tenement will not need to be told that it is not an ideal spot for literary work. I looked out disconsolately on a vast panorama of washing over a courtyard littered with debris. Slatternly women screamed information or insult at each other, and more children than I had ever beheld in my life played, fought, and shrieked with a demoniac energy. Was it for this I had so hopefully abandoned my quiet if murky room in Bloomsbury?

Fortunately I had brought some letters of introduction from London, including two from Violet Hunt — to R. B. Cunninghame Graham and to an English resident in Rome, Mrs. Gibson. As soon as I decently could I presented myself to her, explained the situation, and by afternoon was installed in the Via Sistina. I had a large though plain room, with a prospect of blue sky and a large quiet garden of orange trees and cypresses. There was still music in the Italian populace of those days. One evening in the Piazza di Venezia a boy began playing a violin. In half a minute a listening crowd was round him. ‘Bello, bello,’ they said as he finished, and his cap was almost filled with soldi which had not been easily earned.

About four in the afternoon the daily promenade of carriages rolled up and down Valadier’s ascent from the Corso to the Pincio. There were few motorcars in Rome then, partly because of the bad state of the roads but also because the Romans could not bear to give up their handsome equipages. As I watched this cavalcade of cheerful, gesticulating, laughing people I had no idea that I was seeing the very end of a venerable custom.

In Rome, as in London, I touched simultaneously very different strata of society. I was taken on excursions by Mrs. Gibson, to see some of the places then practically unknown to tourists. Through Graham I was introduced to some of the Roman aristocracy, who lived in great outward splendor of marble stairways and columns, frescoed ceilings, and white-gloved footmen.

From these opulent places I would plunge directly into t he life of the people. Most nights when I was alone I dined at a little trattoria (long ago vanished) in a street behind Via Sistina.

If I had stayed a week or a fortnight in Rome I might have thought I had seen it; but I stayed eight weeks and knew that I had barely begun. Fortunately, I was going south; it would have been miserable to leave Italy so soon. There was no need to throw a coin into the great Trevi fountain; I knew I should come back to Rome.

The air was fresh, almost keen, on the high ground which was Tusculum, where Cicero had a house; and the sky was very blue. In the soft turf grew wild crocuses, and there was a tiny Greek theatre; beyond that a shepherd’s hut built of rubble. And — happy fool I never dreamed that the destructive brute in men would break loose again.

In Pompeii the bees hummed softly over the dwarf wild flowers among the ruins, while we rested and looked drowsily at the white smoke ebbing from Vesuvius. At. Sorrento there was the freesia under the orange trees of the Cocumella garden. At Amalfi the twosailed fishing boats rested like dark moths on the calm sea, and there was a crescent moon. At Cava in the pension they gave you large bowls of scented honey at breakfast.

At Pæstum the mourning asphodel grew profusely and there were tiny wild roses — descendants, I liked to think, of the once famous rose gardens. On the squalid track to the station a haggard beggar whined incessantly: ‘Cieco, signori, cieco,' — ‘Blind, gentlemen, blind,’ — and so we were, but didn’t know it.

In Anacapri, time stood still between Monte Solaro and the blue waves far below. When I got back to Naples the locust trees were in flower along the Mergellina, and after dark the people strolled there. There were warmth and friendliness, nothing tense, no hatred.

At Fiesole a Franciscan monk showed me the not very interesting church, but the cloisters, as nearly always, were attractive. Later, looking down on the dome and towers of Florence, I saw the cool violet evening slowly gather over the Val d’Arno. In Venice there was brilliant sunshine on the Grand Canal, and in the narrow streets a slowly moving, chattering crowd, while the black swifts screamed and darted overhead. Heavy serious Germans bearing rucksacks crunched in their huge hobnailed boots over the pavement of the Piazza and the ancient floor mosaics of St. Mark’s. These are a few, a very few of the picture thoughts I brood over between the paragraphs. To live at all in these agonizing days of Europe’s torture I have to live in these memories, and try to persuade myself that they may come again, if not for me, then for others. In those days one could say ’Yes’ to life with no hesitation, and there was a near infinity of hope ahead. What freedom we enjoyed, what tranquillity! I had no passport and was never asked for one; I was never questioned by an immigration officer, never required to report to the police. Except in Russia and the remote parts of Spain, we traveled as freely in Europe as in our own country. The sense of stability, of security, was complete.

But undoubtedly the evil game of power politics was being played. There had been the Boer War, the RussoJapanese War, the Balkan war, the Italian-Turkish war, the Agadir incident; but none of these things had touched the essential camaraderie of Europe, the unquestioned belief of the educated classes that we were all part of a common civilization. The stay-athomes and the cranky supernationtlist minorities were disregarded. My impression was that on the continent the arts were taken far more seriously, were much more widely and sincerely practised and enjoyed, than in England, where sport usurped their place in all classes. Certainly there was in England no respect for the artist such as existed in France and Italy. On the contrary, the artist in England was an object of suspicion, dislike, and contempt unless he happened to make money. Of course there was a highly civilized and cultivated minority surrounded by a host of pretenders, but the minority was small and the pretenders irritating.

X

Imagism is now a matter of literary history, but it occurs to me that none of the English members of the group or tribe has yet told his tale of transactions which had some effect on the course of recent poetry, particularly in America. What did the Imagists achieve between 1912 and 1917? Well they did some useful pioneering work. They dealt a blow at the post-Victorian magazine poets, whose unappeased shades still clamor for Imagist blood. They livened things up a lot. They made free verse popular—it had already been used by Blake, Whitman, and Henley and by many of the French Symbolists. And they tried to attain an exacting if narrow standard of style in poetry.

It will doubtless be an instant relief to the reader to be told that I don’t claim to be the Fiihrer of the Imagist. The fame or otherwise of Duce-dom must go to Ezra, who invented the ‘movement’ (how often would Ezra obliterate a literary figure by the simple constatation ‘il n’est pan dong le mouvemong’), and to Amy Lowell, who put it across.

That I can swear to, but I wouldn’t, take an affidavit that I remember all that happened concerning the ‘mouvemong’ or exactly what was said.

Like other American expatriates, Ezra and H. D. developed an almost insane relish for afternoon tea, a meal with which I can most willingly dispense. Moreover, they insisted on going to the most fashionable and expensive teashops (which I thought a sad waste of money) not only in London, but in Paris. Being merely an oppressed minority, I had to yield. Thus it came about that our meetings nearly always took place in the rather prissy milieu of some infernal bunshop full of English spinsters. However, an extremely good time was had by all, and we laughed until we ached — what at, I haven’t the faintest recollection.

Naturally, then, the Imagist movement was born in a teashop — in the Royal Borough of Kensington. For some time Ezra had been butting in on our studies and poetic productions, with alternate encouragements and the reverse, according to his mood. H.D. produced some poems which I thought excellent, and she either handed or mailed them to Ezra. Presently each of us received a ukase to attend the Kensington bunshop. Ezra was so much worked up by these poems of H.D.’s that he removed his pince-nez and informed us that we were Imagists.

According to the record, Ezra swiped the word from T. E. Hulme; and anyone who can find a copy may read in Ezra’s Ripostes the five or six poems Hulme wrote to illustrate his theories. Ezra’s note on Hulme’s poems contains t he ominous threat:‘As to the future, that is in the hands of the Imagists.’ But who and where were the Imagists? My own belief is that the name took Ezra’s fancy, and that he kept it in petto for the right occasion. If there were no Imagists, obviously they would have to be invented. Whenever Ezra has launched a new movement he has never had any difficulty about finding members. He just called on his friends.

I have no exact memory of what was said at this bunshop meeting, but I do remember that H.D. looked very much pleased by the praise Ezra generously gave her poems. I didn’t like his insistence that the poems should be signed ‘H.D., Imagist,’ because it sounded a little ridiculous. And I think H.D. disliked it too. But Ezra had the bulge on us, because it.was only through him that we could get our poems into Harriet Monroe’s Poetry, and nobody else at that time would look at them.

If I am not mistaken, these poems of H.D.’s were the first to appear with the Imagist label. Three of mine (which launched me on my Italian trip) had appeared a month or two before without the label, though Ezra afterwards included them in the first Imagist anthology. I think this fact (which can be established from ihe early files of Poetry) lends considerable support to those who say the Imagist movement was H.D., and H.D. the Imagist movement.

Ezra proposed we should all three publish a book of our poems together. H.D. and I were in favor of this. But Ezra soon changed his mind. He gravely pointed out to us that he was internationally famous, while we were miserable unknowns, and that consequently the whole attention of the world’s press would go to his poems and ours would not even be noticed.

Ezra was having a good time. With Fletcher he discovered a poet we were glad to welcome, and he accepted our friend, John Cournos. We liked F. S. Flint. Ford Madox Ford (né Hueffer) was a well-established author, and we liked his poems, though there was nothing very imagistic about them until lie started to imitate H.D. Joyce and Carlos Williams were also most acceptable. But we objected to Allen Upward, Skipwith Cannell, and Amy Lowell.

This may sound ungrateful to Amy, in view of what she afterwords did, but at that time she had published only one book which H.D. and I agreed was the fluid, fruity, facile stuff we most wanted to avoid. True, the poem of Amy’s Ezra showed us seemed to demonstrate a sudden conversion to free verse and (probably owing to Ezra’s blue pencil) a more austere style, but would they last ? But it would have been difficult to resist that vivacious intelligence, and her conversion was obviously sincere. She lacked H. D.’s classical knowledge and taste, but she knew French better than any of us, except Flint. He introduced her to a whole new generation of French writers, the foundation of her book on that subject.

Ezra’s collection of Imagists appeared in New York in February 1914 under the fantastic title Des Imagistes. What Ezra thought that meant remains a mystery. Amy’s anthologies were called Some Imagist Poets, so she may have supposed that Ezra thought Des Imagistes meant Quelques Imagistes. But why a French title? Search me. Ezra liked foreign titles. It seems a rather childish form of high-hatting, especially since Ezra was apt to get into ludicrous difficulties with his languages. Thus, in his Propertius, he rendered node canes by the schoolboy howler‘night dogs,’and in the text of his Cavalcanti, instead of Donna mi prega, he printed Donna mi pregna.

Under that ridiculous ensign, Des Imagistes, our little boatful of poets was launched, only to come at once under fire from apparently the whole American fleet of critics. Columnists parodied the poems, or reproduced them (without payment) accompanied by derisive remarks. I seem to remember that the poem which gave most offense was a lovely little epigraph by H.D. which revolted the journalists by its perfection of taste and sobriety. The edition sold out. Evidently we were at least a succès de scandale.

Very likely some of the sales were to the kind of people who will always pay two bits to see a bunch of freaks. The serious part of the success was very largely due to H. D. Genuine obtuseness to art, such as is requisite in a successful journalist, was needed to overlook the fact that. H. D. showed an original sensitive mind and an almost faultless craftsmanship.

This craftsmanship was the result of infinite pains. Version after version of a poem was discarded by H. D. in the search for perfection. I was staggered by this relentless artistic conscience. I think it significant that H.D. was a close student of Saint Paul, but her version of the famous tirade ran: ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not style . .

In the summer of 1914, Amy was again in London. With her usual energy and vivacity she had been battling valiantly for us all, but was fed up with Ezra. So were others. Moreover, Ezra had now attached himself to the Blast group, and was busy patenting a new movement, Vorticism. The first number of Blast was indeed a brilliant production, but most of the brilliance was due to the editor and chief contributor, P. Wyndham Lewis, and to a short story which I think one of the best ever produced by that gifted writer, Rebecca West.

Amy arrived with certain proposals, to which she had evidently given a good deal of thought. She proposed a Boston Tea Party for Ezra, the immediate abolition of his despotism, and the substitution of a pure democracy. There was to be no more of the Duce business. We were to publish quietly and modestly. Each poet was to choose for himself what he considered best in his year’s output, and the anthology would appear annually. Names would appear in alphabetical order. Amy undertook to get the books published in Boston and London, and to account to us for the royalties. And well and loyally she discharged that task.

On these terms Ezra was invited to contribute, but refused. I seem to remember that H. D. and I pleaded with Ezra to stay in, but he refused to play ball. But if we lost Ezra, we gained a much greater writer, D. H. Lawrence. The whole credit for this is due to Amy. Lawrence was already publishing in the anthologies of the Georgians, who affected great scorn for the Imagists, so the situation looked delicate. Luckily, Lawrence was such an individualist that he didn’t care a hoot about groups and their principles.

I have one or two vivid memories of that evening when I first met Lawrence. It was the end of a sunny tranquil July day, and, if we had been able to see into the future, the end of tranquillity in Europe for many a long and bitter year. There were several people in Amy’s large private room, where the Austrian waiters (already called to the colors) were setting out an elaborate dinner table with ominously quiet deftness. At the corner of the Ritz opposite was a news stand, with a flaring poster: ‘Germany and Russia at War, Official.’ The newsman unfolded another poster. It read: ‘British Army Mobilized.’

Until that moment I had felt certain that England would not be involved (‘war is unthinkable,’and so forth) in these senseless European squabbles. That mobilization poster was the first stab of doubt. I looked back at the room where friendly people were talking unhurriedly of civilized things. At that moment 1 he door opened, and a tall slim young man, with bright red hair and the most brilliant blue eyes, came in with a lithe, springing slop. As a rule I don’t remember people’s eyes, but I shall not forget Lawrence’s.

Before Amy could start the introductions he said quickly, ’I say, I’ve just been talking to Eddie Marsh, and he’s most depressing. He says we shall be in the war.'

Plucking up courage, we all said it was nonsense. Did we all believe it ? I know I had a sickening feeling of doubt.

As guest of honor, Lawrence sat next to Amy, and they made a curious contrast, if only because one was so lean and the other so plump. Probably Fletcher and H. D. appreciated more than I did the spectacle of the coal miner’s son sitting at the right hand of a Lowell.

Amy came out well that evening. She expressed her warm admiration for Lawrence’s work without flattery or insincerity and without embarrassing him.

The sales of the new Imagist anthologies greatly exceeded our hopes. The anthologies were certainly widely read, and Amy kept the publicity going with superb generalship.

She did one thing I can’t approve. She published her Critical Fable (or was it Fable for Crities?) anonymously, and then broadly insisted that it was in fact the work of Leonard Bacon. That was putting a gentleman on the spot with a vengeance, for Mr. Bacon highly disapproved of the Imagists.

When America entered the war in 1917, Amy decided that we had better quit, and each go his own way. The Imagist ‘movement ' then was at an end, and it was left to others to carry on.

In order to round off the little episode of Imagism I have gone ahead in time, but I should like to return for a little while longer to those days when we were all laboriously marching or gaily capering on our way to the precipice of August 1914.

My own life was fairly occupied. I wrote poems, and did a lot of reading in the British Museum. I had articles in some of the lilerary weeklies and was literary editor of the Egoist, a job inherited by T. S. Eliot when I joined the army. I should not say I was a good editor, but, as I had practically no funds to pay contributors, it was something of an achievement to keep the paper going at all. At the same time I was planning a series of very cheaply priced translations of minor Greek and Latin authors, with the intention of leading up later to the more important works. The nearest we got to that, owing to the war, was H. D.’s choruses from Euripides.

Among the avant-gardistes and leftists of that time there was a superstition about the ‘brilliance’ of Orage as editor and writer, which I could never wholly share, in spite of his kindness to me personally. True, he published a number of young writers, but there have been ten new brands of socialism since then, and we shall have more anon.

On the Friday before England went to war in 1914, Orage published a ‘strong’ editorial proving that there would be no war, it was a capitalist ramp to play the stock market, and so forth. That article wrecked Orage’s reputation, much as the far superior and more solid writer, Hilaire Belloc, damaged his by his omniscient but, alas too often falsified analyses of war strategy in Land and Water. In point of fact, neither Orage nor Belloc knew much, if anything, more about their subjects than other people; they were good hard-hitting journalists who happened to guess wrong. In both eases it was bad luck. If they had guessed right, they would have been revered as prophets.

Alas, what perils do environ
The journalist who makes a try-on.

So far as the New Age was concerned, I was always a fish in the wrong tank. Nevertheless, I liked Orage personally and was grateful to him for printing me.

I had some fleeting acquaintance with the Georgian poets, such as De la Mare, Hodgson, Brooke, Abercrombie, Gibson, Squire, and Shanks. I had a last glimpse of Rupert Brooke when Flint and I bumped into him in Piccadilly, not long after the outbreak of war. He was dressed in a shabby mackintosh, and looked a little sallow and less handsome than his pictures. He at once informed us that he had a commission and was about to join the Naval Division at Antwerp. We wished him luck — the last English poet who really believed in the romance and chivalry of war.

I was so little intimate with these poets and saw them at such rare intervals that I have only vague and possibly inaccurate impressions of them. Hodgson invariably wore a bowler hat, a briar pipe, and a large saliva-dripping bull t(Trier, and affected or felt a great interest in boxing. Gibson was a kindly, cherubic person with a troubled social conscience, which vented itself in poems about bread and coal and similar domestic commodities. De la Mare was gentle as well as kindly, immersed, so it. seemed, in a dim other-worldliness which left him with an imperfect grasp of realities. Squire also was kindly, but definitely one of the world’s less gifted poets.

All these people struck me as insular, not to say provincial, with little interest in what was being done on the continent. If one ventured a mild disapproval of the poetry of one of their innumerable friends, the answer invariably was, ‘Oh, but he’s such a nice fellow.’

So what?

Vastly more entertaining to me were the people round Ford Madox Ford, and above all Ford himself.

I have known many men in my time, but few so fundamentally innocent of real harm as Ford. His often slender purse was always at the disposition of friends and brother writers. He took great pains, devoted much time to helping young or poor or neglected writers. True, a did hanker after women. Who but a fool will hold that against him?

The grounds on which the public forms its opinion of writers are often mysterious and seemingly irrelevant. Thus, many English writers take great pains to reassure their public that they are not artists at all (perhaps an unnecessary precaution), but healthy happy grown-up schoolboys, who do a little modest writing on the side. The truly successful also develop a complicated literary strategy which demands a heavy toll of time and tact. A strenuous, exacting life. Some day, I hope, an enthusiastic but discriminating Fordian will select and reprint the best of Ford’s output.

I don’t know anyone else who did so much to help other writers, with the possible exception of Ezra. But Ford’s ideals, his way of looking at life and art, belong to a vanished world. In the catastrophe of chaos they have become meaningless.

(To be contintued)

With each twelve months of the Atlantic

THREE GREAT BOOKS OF THE YEAR