Farewell to Europe



Farewell TO EUROPE


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

Now an American citizen by adoption, Richard Aldington was born in 1892, in the almost mythical serenity of Edwardian England. By the time he entered University College, his ideas of life were already crystallizing. The passion for freedom of living, freedom of thinking, burned in him then, and has never deserted him. When he graduated he resisted advice to take a ‘promising’ business job; instead he determined to try writing. He worked as a sports reporter, wrote verse when he had time, lived on next to nothing, and made the friends who were to enrich and influence his life. When, by the spring of 1912, he went to Paris, Ezra Pound, H. D., Harold Monro, and Yeats were all his intimates. Amy Lowell appeared on the scene, and the Imagist magazine, with Pound and H. D. and Aldington as the nucleus of the group, was launched. Young D. H. Lawrence was with Aldington in Paris the night when the newsboys called the extra announcing that Germany and Russia were at war.

Aldington served through the war as an infantryman, emerging a lieutenant and having survived such jobs as runner in the front-line trenches and repairer of barbed wire in No Man’s Land. His Death of a Hero contains, he thinks, almost everything he has to say about 1914-1918. After the Armistice he, along with thousands of his generation, attempted to pick up life again in the unfamiliar post-war world. Some of the poems he had written in his small black notebook at the front were sold; his services were sought as a translator, and the London Times invited him to do a weekly article on French literature. D. H. Lawrence and Frieda, who had been hounded by the spy hysteria during the war, determined to leave England, and offered Aldington the use of their little house in Berkshire, and he moved down in December of 1919. One of his most welcome visitors was T. S. Eliot. The years that followed were made up of prodigious literary work, of long country walks, of deepening and renewing his understanding of England and those men who, like himself, were adjusting themselves to a post-war existence. . . .




I HAVE never known Florence and Rome so pleasant, so positively seductive as they were in the summer of 1922. I was in a mood to enjoy foreign travel, having been deprived of it for nearly ten years; foot-slogging up and down muddy trenches with a rifle and pack is not foreign travel, even if it did happen in France.

Everything conspired in my favor. The great summer heat was over, and we were spared the prolonged and repeated thunderstorms which are apt to disrupt an Italian autumn. That autumn they seemed to arrive in the afternoon just in time to wake one from the siesta and be over in an hour, leaving a cool, sweetened world for the evening. The Italians were recovering from the war, and were amiable again. The Socialists and Communists were piping down, and everybody profoundly hoped the Fascists would do likewise. At least all the Italians I talked with did.

My intention in stopping a week in Florence was to refresh my memory of the great obvious sights, but to concentrate on the quattrocento; and I bought and also read modern editions of Poliziano, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and the carnival songs. But I was a little diverted from this purpose by the magnificent exhibition of cinquecento painting gathered that year in the Pitti. For some time I had suspected that Italian painting did not expire with Raphael, as Ruskinians believed, and that show convinced me I had been right. To see the merits of Caravaggio, the Carracci, and Guido Reni was not only a pleasure in itself and a welcome enlargement of experience; it was flavored by willful defiance of those detestable pedants, the art critics.

More fascinating than the galleries, which after all are desperately fatiguing, were the squares and streets of Florence. For once in my experience, the Florentines had their city to themselves, and seemed to have staged a discreet spontaneous carnival — a carnival of Venus, which might have been presided by Botticelli’s Venus herself if she had consented to be clad. In the evenings the streets were thronged with girls in brightly flowered thin summer dresses, their hair braided in the old Florentine style, with a flower in it—a parade of young Venuses and Graces, passing with talk and laughter, arm-in-arm in threes or fours, and of course never for one second perceiving the many pairs of male eyes directed at them.

It was charming. Even Giotto’s rather overrated bell tower seemed to be humming: —

‘Chi vuol esser lieto, sia;
Di doman non c’è certezza.'

And it was perfectly discreet. Many a clergyman could have passed the fiery temptation unscathed, for he would not have noticed it. But the air was electric with challenge and response. The girls paraded, and the men sat silent and intent at the café tables on the pavement, watching and appraising. It was evidently the unofficial festa of Santa Venere. As the darkness fell and there was a general move in the direction of dinner, one suspected that many late lovers lingered and murmured: ‘Flower of the clove, all the Latin I construe is amo, I love.’ I am very glad to have seen that autumn in Italy, a last fleeting visit from the gods in exile before they were banished once more to the deceptive strains of ‘Giovinezza.’

If Venus reigned over Florence, Bacchus that year was triumphant in Rome. The miraculous drought of 1921 resulted in a notable accession to the wine stocks of the world. France alone produced about 1,500,000,000 gallons, with Italy not far behind. And what was more to the point, it was the best European vintage in point of quality for a century. I arrived in Rome ignorant of this important fact, and also of the fact that since much Italian wine is light, fragile, and quick in maturing, it is best drunk within the year and as close to its native vineyard as possible.

I despair of conveying in words the quality of the white Castelli wines that year, especially to a generation that knows not Sion. The humblest wineshop poured fragant nectar in your glass for a few soldi. There are many years of my life I would gladly live again, but few periods so willingly as those two months of 1922, before the pure sky of Rome was darkened by clouds of black shirts. One very hot afternoon in an excess of antiquarian zeal — it strikes me now as really excessive — I dragged my friend far out on the old Appian Way, looking for somebody’s unrecognizable tomb; that of Atticus, perhaps — I always admired him for his contempt of political factions. Fainting with heat and exhaustion, we turned into a dirty, ruinous wineshop filled with flies, just to get out of the sun. To justify our presence I ordered a quartino, and to my surprise it was brought on a clean tray with a snowy white napkin and glasses polished like crystal — a peasant who knew how signoria should be honored. Doubtfully I took a sip. Per Bacco! We ordered some more.

By this time we were aware that something unusual was happening, and became enthusiastic collectors of Roman wines, from Frascati to Grottaferrata, from Marino to Ariccia. I laid in some flasks of Trebbiano and Aleatico, the latter a sweet but delicious red wine, much despised by connoisseurs who go to books instead of life for their winebibbing. Aleatico goes extremely well with late Renaissance poetry, particularly Tasso. It tastes almost exactly like the Aminta. I have a pleasant memory of reading the ‘linkèd sweetness long drawn out’ of the Aminta over a glass of Aleatico, after a visit to Sant’ Onofrio, where Tasso is buried and where he spent the last few months of his unhappy life as a guest of the monks. Surprisingly enough, there are still monks there, and we were taken round by one, who gave us the usual Tasso legends with a few more bred of his own hagiographical genius. But who reads Tasso now, even though Milton did so obviously imitate him? Come to that, who reads Milton? ‘It is surprising,’ says Dr. Johnson, ‘that there is so little literature in the world,’ meaning by ‘literature’ love and knowledge of literature. Evidently the behemoth of Fleet Street knew more about books than human beings.

Enchanted days. I had the erroneous but pleasing illusion that the horrible chasm of the World War had been bridged, at any rate for me, and that I had managed to link up my preand post-war lives. It really looked to me as if there might again be a civilized Europe. Pre-Fascist Rome was a peculiarly comforting city in that respect. It had seen so much, had known such disasters and collapses, had so skillfully turned very unpromising material to its own civilized purposes. The original brigands of the seven hills, so inferior in every respect but warlike outrage to the Greeks and Etruscans, were eventually transformed into the amiable people of the late Republic and the age of the Antonines.

The fine arts are openly despised by the majority; and, as satirists like Osbert Sitwell and Aldous Huxley have showed, the minority which admires is too often either pretending or riddled with affectations. But this was plainly not the case in Italy, where an enormous amount of art of all kinds survived generations of poverty and neglect and more recently a positive dislike. For centuries life was esteemed in terms of æsthetic values, as in ancient Japan; it is only prejudice and that provincialism of Time so characteristic of halfeducated communities which suppose that ethical or utilitarian values are superior or more durable. It is obvious that what I call the ‘æsthetic communities’ made the greatest contribution to human civilization. But they may be murdered, as Greece and Italy were; or compelled to adopt the barbarism of their enemies, like the Japanese. When the spokesmen of the contemporary mobs tell me how superior their ‘civilization’ is to anything that has ever existed, I laugh.

Two days after I left Rome for England, work, and sobriety, the Fascisti marched, and that brief delusive interlude was over. But I am glad I had the experience. It was one of those glimpses which make us less forlorn.


Owing to a naturally cheerful temperament and the fact that I resisted early conditioning, I am very little afflicted with what is now called a guilt complex, and used to be more mysteriously called a sense of sin. But I do regret one persistent sin of which I was guilty during the first ten years of t he long armistice — I worked too hard. I am still infected by this vice. Try as I may to live a life of decent and rational idleness, I soon feel guilty if I don’t spend at least part of the day spoiling white paper with black words. The only way I can escape is at sea, or on a long walking or motor tour — which reduces one to the state of a contemplative cabbage. True, in the early days I had the base excuse of necessity, and always that some of my ‘work’ was voluntary and disinterested — without hope or intention of earning money. But I have to admit that I did too much work merely because it was paid.

Be sure your sin will find you out. I was punished in a way so comparatively mysterious that an uncritical age might easily have seen the finger of offended deity — Comus perhaps, or Laughter holding both his sides.

This is what happened. I had expended a good deal of nervous and emotional energy in writing a long poem. Before it was finished I had undertaken to do a long translation and a book on Voltaire, with rather short time limits. In addition I had my regular work for the Times and Nation. By working all day and every day for the four months allotted, I could just do it. (An editor has every reason for setting a time limit, but why should publishers? Especially as they frequently spend more time getting a book out than it would take me to write another one.) By some perversity of fate, at that moment a number of editors suddenly conceived the idea that they wanted articles from me. The London edition of Vogue wanted a series; the Spectator suggested I review regularly for them; Jack Squire wanted five thousand words on Napoleon Bonaparte; my old friend Amy Loveman wrote that the Saturday Review would like another article. I foolishly accepted these kindly meant offers, toiled madly, cut down my sleep and walks, and generally lived with an asceticism I should have mocked at in somebody else.

Well, I succeeded in this imbecility, and, feeling as virtuous as a wagonload of sheep, I mailed the last typescript — the book on Voltaire — the day before it was due. I then took a deep breath and a five-mile walk. On the way back, about a mile from my cottage, I suddenly began to feel very queer. My heart behaved in the most extraordinary manner, leaping and fluttering and then apparently dying away altogether. The sunny landscape grew dim and I could hardly drag one foot past the other. At first I had that incredulous, it-can’t-happen-here feeling which very healthy people experience during their rare illnesses. But almost immediately I had to sit down by the roadside, with the unpleasant sensation that I was about to disgrace myself by swooning in the manner of Victorian ladies.

My companion was greatly alarmed, and so was I, for according to several Army doctors — who had commented with cynical geniality on the fact — I was medically supposed to have an A 1 heart. But my father had died of heart failure, and I gloomily supposed I was about to imitate him prematurely.

I spent the next two weeks in a detestable state of inaction. As long as I remained in bed, I felt perfectly well; but the moment I got up and made any physical exertion I felt like a sick puppy somebody has just trodden on. The only consolations were that, like Charles II, I seemed to be an unconscionably long time a-dying, and that I did a lot of reading for pure pleasure.

This psychological disturbance, simulating a real illness, was a strong indication of inner discontents and disharmonies. I had an obvious hint of this earlier in writing the long poem I mentioned. I take it that there is a genuine difference between deliberate and impulsive writing; for in the first case we consciously set ourselves a task, such as an essay or a biography, and in the second case the writ ing seems suggested and controlled by subconscious influences. There is a sensation, which many writers have mentioned, that what is written comes from the dictation of an inner voice. There is nothing supernatural about this; it is merely our subconscious life getting a chance to express itself.

Even if fatiguing, this experience is almost always pleasurable. But the writing of this poem had been accompanied by moods of depression which were quite alarming. I foolishly disregarded these warnings, and set them down as aftereffects of the war. No doubt that was an important factor, but there were others. I failed to see that by devoting myself to purely literary studies to the extent of continuous overwork I was frustrating a whole series of impulses, and condemning myself to a life of unnecessary monotony.

For me, the greatest event of 1926 was the return of the Lawrences from America. I had not seen Lawrence since 1919, and our correspondence had been extremely irregular. At one time he took a strong dislike to European things and people, and one heard only rumors of his wanderings to Ceylon and Australia and his settling in New Mexico. And now, most surprisingly, he wrote from London suggesting a meeting. I promptly wrote and invited them for a long week-end, and in accepting Lawrence sent me some of his recent books, which I had not read.

I had long admired Lawrence’s work and, with sundry disagreements, liked him personally very much. But on reading these books and rereading some earlier works I had, it seemed to me that I had underrated him. Seven years’ close study of literature had sharpened my perceptions or, at least, taught me the rather rare accomplishment of how to read a book. Seven years of experience had made me more and more discontented with the Olympian, impersonal, and supposedly objective critical attitude adopted by the Times. I was more and more inclining to Norman Douglas’s opinion that we should take up an author with the implied question: ‘What has this fellow to say to me?’ and give him the fairest chance of saying it. Lawrence seemed to have a good deal to say to me, and I liked what he had to say all the more because he went his own way so perkily and with so much originality.

The visit began a little inauspiciously, as Lawrence declared the cottage was ‘sinister.’ I can’t imagine why, as it was sunny and full of books, with bright window curtains and a smiling head of Voltaire over the piano; and the garden was brilliant with late summer flowers. But then I had forgotten that in the Midlands you show your respect to a guest by loading the high-tea table with enough provisions to stuff a dozen policemen; so Lawrence was greatly offended by a modest and wineless meal. All this was happily settled by a bottle of whiskey for him to have a hot toddy at bedtime, a habit of his which was new to me and had apparently been acquired in America. After that he was in the best of spirits for the remainder of his stay.

As I knew he was contemplating a book on the Etruscans, I had a dozen standard works on the subject sent down from the London Library; and we spent a good deal of time turning them over and discussing Etruria, which was very important at that time in Lawrence’s private mythology. We went for walks, and it was fascinating to see how quick Lawrence was in noticing things and making them seem interesting. Yet he could be devastating in his judgments of human beings. A neighbor of ours, an intellectual climber, had begged to be allowed a glimpse of him, and we contrived some excuse for a brief meeting. After she had gone Lawrence merely said: ‘Dreary little woman.’ I liked him for that, for I was thoroughly sick of the way the London literati would suck up to the humblest of avowed or potential admirers. And it would have been just the same if she had been the most potent of salon rulers.

In private talks Lawrence and I agreed that so far as we were concerned something had gone wrong with England, our England, so that we felt like aliens in our own home. The only thing to do, Lawrence insisted, was to get out and stay out. In Mexico he had felt he ought to make one more attempt to fit into English life, but already he saw it was impossible, and was planning to go away and never return. (He went, and never did return.) He was evidently pining for his New Mexico ranch and regretted having left it, for he talked of it constantly and with a nostalgic regret which made me quite unhappy on his behalf. But meanwhile, before everything crashed, — and he was intuitively certain it would crash sooner or later, — we must have just a little more of Italy. Soon it would be vendemmia. As he talked he evoked for me so vividly the pine woods and the olive gardens and the vineyards of the Florentine contrada, the great creamwhite Tuscan oxen with their wide horns and scarlet muzzle shields against flies slowly dragging the big tubs of grapes to the press, the men and women singing and laughing and joking as they gathered the big purple clusters, the men and boys dancing on the grapes to crush out the wine, the vino santo heating over an open fire, and the air sweet and heavy with the scent of crushed grapes as the vintagers sat down to their evening soup and bread and wine . . . And yes, I said, I would come to Scandicci for vendemmia.

The English, he said, had become halfangels, half-idiots. And he made us laugh till we cried with stories of the half-angelic, half-idiotic things they had done to him in the past few days. As David Garnett truly says, Lawrence was a born copycat. He amused us by mimicking a dialogue between himself and a woman in the train who tried to lend him her copy of the Daily Mirror, and another between himself and an obsequious butcher boy. Curious that Lawrence, who was such a good satirist in conversation, was a comparatively poor one in writing. The reason is, I think, that in talk his satire was mostly laughter, whereas in print he scolded.

Best of all perhaps were the evenings when we sang old English and German folk songs, according to the Laurentian custom, and Lorenzo and Frieda talked of their wanderings and adventures. There was a haunted look in Frieda’s eyes when she spoke of Lawrence’s illness in Mexico City, and of her dreadful experiences in getting him back to the ranch. Lorenzo, it appeared, refused to have a mosquito curtain, maintaining that if you muffled yourself up in the bedclothes the mosquitoes couldn’t get you. But, as thousands of mediæval angels danced on the point of a needle, thousands of anopheles danced and fed on the tip of Lorenzo’s nose — with the natural result of a smart attack of malaria, which in turn aroused his latent tuberculosis. At the height of his illness he insisted on returning to the ranch, and was held up at the frontier by immigration officers; but for the prompt and humane intervention of the American Consul, he would probably have died there. I think that was the real reason why Lawrence never went back to the ranch he loved so much; he would not have been allowed to cross the frontier.

Apart from this unhappy episode, their wandering adventurous life sounded wholly fascinating and rewarding. Most travelers quite fail to interest me in their experiences, especially if I haven’t been to the places they talk about. But Lawrence had the remarkable gift — in his writing and especially in his talk — of evoking his experiences so vividly and accurately that his listeners felt as if they had been present themselves, with the supreme advantage of being gifted with Lawrence’s unique perceptions. It would be useless for me to try to reproduce Lawrence’s talk; first, because I can’t remember his exact words, and anything short of that would be a travesty; second, because he has luckily left written accounts of many of these experiences in his books and letters.

He talked of that primitive, ice-cold, remote village of the Abruzzi where he and Frieda almost froze to death (end of The Lost Girl); of their life in Sicily and the trip to Sardinia (poems, letters, introduction to the memoirs of Maurice Magnus, and Sea and Sardinia); of Ceylon, with bloodcurdling imitations of night noises from the jungle and satirical acting of an American friend burning joss sticks to Buddha (letters and poems); of Australia (The Boy in the Bush, Kangaroo); and of the ranch (end of St. Mawr, last essay in Mornings in Mexico, letters). Some of this was already published and I had read it, though not all; and much was either unpublished or unwritten. As he related these things, they became almost epic to his listeners. So might the Ithacans have sat enraptured by the tales of wandering Odysseus. What was remarkable, I reflected, was Lawrence’s immense capacity for experience and almost uncanny power of reliving it in words afterwards. Of all human beings I have known he was by far the most continuously and vividly alive and receptive. ‘What man most wants is to be alive in the flesh,’ he wrote when almost on his deathbed; and certainly few men and women can have been so much ‘alive in the flesh’ as he was. To say that he enjoyed life intensely would be misleading, because the phrase inevitably suggests all the luxuries and amusements and gratifications Lawrence despised. And, on the other hand, Shelley’s ‘pard-like spirit, beautiful and swift,’ is too abstract and ethereal. The truth lay somewhere in between those extremities.

In the summer of 1928, Lawrence published Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a grave error from the point of view of his reputation — as the Huxleys, I believe, tried to tell him. But once the book was out, there was nothing to do but support it, especially as those infallible critics, the policemen of England and America, were trying to destroy it. For a series of reasons too complicated to explain I was temporarily back in my English cottage, and naturally undertook to help distribute the book to subscribers. This was very easy, since I was constantly receiving and sending off books. The fact that I rendered myself liable to a fine or even imprisonment didn’t trouble me in the least. Every writer worth his salt knows that he and other writers are serving — or ought to try to serve — a higher cause than any government: human civilization, which owes precious little to governments. Censorship and suppression of books were invented by the Borgias, who doubtless had their own reasons for so behaving, but they should not have been allowed to go any further. The whole conception is theocratic, and has no place in the common law of a free country.

One trouble with Lady Chatterley is that it isn’t a very good novel. And Lorenzo showed a strange lack of artistic tact in trying to revive in their primitive Anglo-Saxon sense certain words which have unhappily acquired for many people associations of vulgarity and vice. Many writers and readers are fully aware of the associations of meaning which in an ancient language like ours inevitably cluster round words. Indeed, part of the fun of writing is to arrange words so that an attentive reader will enjoy all the suggested overtones and undertones. But no writer can present his readers with words supercharged with associations and expect them to be ignored. It takes a thundering puritan to attempt such a fantastic and hopeless task with grave sincerity.


Those who live through an epoch necessarily have a different idea of its literary and artistic achievements from those who come after. Within half a century or less the whole output has been rigorously hand-picked, imitators and mediocrities ruthlessly cast out, and a coherent scheme imposed. These judgments, in turn, are subject to revision and fluctuations of taste. But these arrangements, apparently so obvious in retrospect, are by no means clear at the time, particularly in such an epoch as the long armistice, which was marked by an enormous output. In my judgment the 1920’s formed a brilliant but anarchic period fully deserving both in a bad and in a good sense its favorite adjective, ‘amusing.’ The ideals and differences of artists were largely æsthetic only. In reaction, the 1930’s gave themselves up to political fanaticism, and were consequently duller and less sincere — they all quacked what the big duck trumpeted. Moreover, the decade became more and more clouded with menaces and fears, so that many artists were tempted beyond the boundaries of their legitimate activities, and in some countries were forced over them. But the mere volume of production, especially in the 1920’s, was baffling. So many new books poured in on me that I could not possibly have read them if I had given my whole time to the task. As I was mostly occupied with books of earlier epochs, I could only take a lucky dip here and there; and on my shelves were many uncut books I hoped some day to read, but never did.

I now regret that too close an observance of the Times ban against reviewing personal friends led me to decline repeatedly the offered civilities of French authors. Luckily, however, this ban did not apply to James Joyce, whom I saw from time to time. Unfortunately I have little of interest to report, since we established no intimacy, and I soon limited myself to a formal visit of respect on reaching and before leaving Paris. Mr. Joyce struck me as a man of great personal dignity, with a fine ascetic face, but very much thrown back on himself by partial or complete blindness. He was very much the vogue at the time, and surrounded by followers who, I thought, seemed rather jealous of each other. On the other hand, one must recognize their genuine devotion in reading to or otherwise amusing their incapacitated hero.

I admired Ulysses as a work of great originality and power and permanent value, though I thought it overlabored and prolix in parts, and more uniformly filled with pessimism and disgust than is justified by the experience of life. If the last paragraph of the book may be interpreted as saying ‘Yes’ to life in spite of everything, it is too brief and belated after so many hundreds of pages of ‘No.’ And I lost interest in Joyce when he invented a complicated and polyglot language of his own, which concealed rather than expressed what he had to say. Just as Ulysses suffered from the excess of disgust typical of its epoch, so the fragments of his new book showed the other defect of a willful darkness and difficulty, a veil not of profundity but of emptiness. It was a brilliant device for concealing the fact that the author had nothing more to say.

Among the Frenchmen I came to know personally was M. Jean Paulhan, editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française. In the summer of 1928 I received a letter from him in which he offered to lend me for the months of October and November the vigie of Port Cros, which he and some friends had rented from the French Government. A vigie is a small lookout fort with a signal station, and there are several obsolete ones on the French Riviera. Port Cros is the middle one of the three islands of Hyères, and from M. Paulhan’s description sounded both remote and beautiful. From the very accurate plan of the accommodation he sent, I saw there was plenty of room, and eventually arranged with the Lawrences and another old friend in London that we should all meet there.

The habitations of Port Cros consist of one hotel, one château, thirteen fishermen’s cottages, and two or three old forts converted into residences. The vigie was six hundred feet above the sea, a mile and a half from the nearest cottage, and looked over stupendous vistas of Mediterranean sea and mountainous coast. The island itself is broken into steep ridges and valleys, covered with magnificent Mediterranean pines, strawberry trees, wild lavender, rosemary, lentisk, cistus, and other aromatic plants and herbs; so that on a hot October afternoon the gentle sea air seemed scented with fresh incense. It breeds all kinds of rare flowers, plants, insects, and even fungi practically extinct on the mainland. And we had it practically to ourselves.

For sheer natural beauty and climate I know nothing to equal it; and I was not surprised in later years when the great French Hellenist, Victor Bérard, told me he spent as much time as he could there because it was exactly like Greece before the various brands of barbarians destroyed the trees. We were able to bathe almost every day in a remote, absolutely uninhabited bay, fringed on the landward side by wild canes, ant! blocked on either flank by steep wooded cliffs. The walk down and back was under tall feathery pines and strawberry trees, thick with clusters of round fruit which pass through a whole range of color from clear lemon and orange to a rich red. Through gaps we had glimpses of the island, the sea, and the distant coast line. As there were no roads on the island there were no vehicles; and our water and provisions came up on Jasper, the donkey, who was governed by a Sicilian manservant.

Eventually the Lawrences turned up. Lorenzo’s tuberculosis was active, and he was far too ill to take any part in our expeditions. I used to listen to his dreadful hollow cough at night and wonder what on earth I should do if he got worse — how I could get him carried down a mile and a half of steep rocky path, transported across twelve miles of sea in an open boat, and thence to a sanatorium. Luckily his marvelous vitality made yet another recovery, but naturally he was not in the best of spirits and apt to be bad-tempered. His talk also was too often on a lower level than his best, too personal and satirical, sharp with the reckless hatred of those about to die.

We did our best to make him comfortable, but, as somebody had always to stay with him, our long bathing expeditions were rather spoiled. Moreover, just at this moment when he needed quiet and gentleness, his publishers elected to send him an enormous wodge of English press cuttings about Lady Chatterley. We all read them one evening sitting in front of a pine-log fire. I have never seen such an exhibition of vulgarity, spite, filth, and hatred as was contained in those innumerable diatribes. Every editor and peddling reviewer had eagerly seized the opportunity to vilify and if possible crush into ignominy and poverty a man who had done — what? Publish a book whose obvious intention was to rescue sex from both prudery and nastiness. Now, we writers may be fools, but we are not such utter fools as to be taken in by such stuff. I had lived with men, I knew what their talk and lives were, I knew the cynicism and depravity of journalists, I knew some of the men who had written this malevolent twaddle; and I knew they were not worthy to black Lawrence’s boots. Miserable canaille, spawn of the creatures who spat their venom at Shelley and Keats and for the same reason — base instinctive hatred of a higher, finer nature. Moreover, exactly the same thing happened when Lawrence died in 1930, and again in 1935 when Frieda published her memories of him.

It seems to me distinctly one up to Lawrence that he went tranquilly on with his writing although he was so ill, and was angry and bitter about the attacks on him in England. Every morning he sat up in bed, wearing an old hat as protection against an imaginary draft, and produced a short story, and some of the little essays of Assorted Articles. I distinctly remember his writing an article about a book of Morris Ernst’s in the blank leaves of the copy which Mr. Ernst sent him. He must also have been working secretly on Pansies, for two of the poems were inspired by books he read on the island. One was Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point and the other a book on Attila from the pile of new French books I had with me. He enjoyed the Attila book very much, as it jumped with a temporary mood of destructiveness in him.

In spite of my anxiety about Lawrence’s illness and the disagreeables resulting from it, I was very happy on Port Cros and full of energy. The complete detachment of the place and almost complete leisure (I had only one article a week to do for the Times and the Boccaccio translation in hand) enabled me to make a real start on my long-cherished project of a book, a novel, about the war, the old war of '14-'18. Some of the main themes and emotions I had already put down in poems, but I wanted to do something on a larger scale. As I mentioned, I wrote and destroyed part of such a book in 1919; and in 1925 and 1927 I made other abortive starts. It was really lucky that I didn’t get it done sooner, for the book eventually came out just as the boom in war books started.

I was held up by several considerations during the years 1919-1928. Though I didn’t realize it, time was needed for the assimilation and arrangement of these experiences. I was always occupied with other work, and did not feel justified in taking time to write a long book which I didn’t think anyone would publish. Moreover, I doubted my own abilities. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to give entirely free expression to the feelings and ideas of one very minor actor in that great tragedy, but I wanted to do this in terms of satire. I wanted the writing to give the effect of the different movements of a symphony — I had the ‘Fifth’ and the ‘Eroica’ in mind. And I wanted the construction to follow the main lines of a Greek tragedy, with the catastrophe fully revealed in the Prologue, to avoid any cheap effects of suspense and surprise. The whole plot was to be revealed in the first pages, so that if anybody read on it would not be for the trivial purpose of finding out what happened, but because he was interested in what I had to say and the way I said it.

The project was very much in my mind on the boat going up to Marseille and during the first weeks on Port Cros. Indeed I found that all unconsciously I had irritated my companions by continually humming over the old war songs. And then quite suddenly one morning I discovered that what had held me up was the failure to hit the right keynote in the opening sentence — so important in every long book. A sentence came into my mind: ‘The casualty lists went on appearing for a long time after the Armistice — last spasms of Europe’s severed arteries.’ The effect was like that of moving the key log in a lumber jam on a river. The moment I had that sentence down, the whole book began to flow with irresistible force, and I had nothing to do but write it down each morning until I felt tired. I wrote the Prologue and Part One in ten days, and then stopped dead. The mysterious sense of somebody dictating vanished, and I was cautious enough not to force matters.

It was interesting to see the reaction of the others to this piece of writing, which I modestly believed had some energy and point. Lawrence was entirely against it, gave me the now familiar warning that if I published it I should lose what little reputation I had, and added the original threat that I was on the way to an insane asylum. One never knows; but that was twelve years ago, and I have managed to keep at large so far. As a matter of fact, I took this for what it was — the querulousness of a very sick man. The women, on the other hand, were for it, especially Frieda. I shall always feel grateful to her for the encouragement and indeed inspiration she was at that critical time. An author is wise to knock off about 95 per cent of all commendations made to his face, but it was impossible to doubt Frieda’s sincerity and enthusiasm.

In November the weather deteriorated. We had mistrals, and a wet southern wind from the sea which smothered us in cloud so much that Lawrence said it was ‘sciroccissimo’; and indeed it was. For my part, I liked Port Cros so much and was in such excellent health that I should have been glad to stay the whole winter there — never before had I known the experience of living in natural surroundings of almost perfect beauty without the intrusion of any unwanted humans. The only people who bothered us were some staff officers who came to investigate the suspicious alien character, Lawrence — and weren’t allowed by me to see him. But they came only once, and evidently regarded the matter as absurd. It was a real wrench for me to leave, but I saw Lawrence couldn’t stand the exposure any longer and must be taken to the mainland, doctors, and central heating at once.

I said good-bye to Lawrence in the ugly little salon of the Select Hotel just opposite the station at Toulon. I never saw him again, for our paths went in different directions, and within sixteen months he was dead. Yet in the hundreds of times I have since passed the windows of that room I have never failed to think of him — a most remarkable man, the most interesting human being I have known.


After Port Cros, everywhere else seemed dull and overpopulated. I got rid of my Berkshire cottage and rather foolishly sold my excellent library. But I was so determined to get free from all shackles that I was prepared for any sacrifice. Then, having done this, I remained in Paris, rather at a loose end. Such was my state of mind when, late in February 1929, I went to an appointment with my American publisher, Donald Friede. He and I discussed various plans for books, and then he asked me if I had any other work done. This reminded me of my unfinished novel, which I had forgotten; and Friede asked to see it. I hesitated a little, as I had only one second copy, and he was just off to London. But it seemed a good idea to get a publisher’s opinion on my reckless adventure towards the insane asylum; so I handed him the script. Two or three days later I was a little startled to receive from London a long cable such as only Americans send, in which Friede expressed the warmest interest in the book and bade me get on with it at once. How often since then have I blessed the impulse in him which dictated that warm-hearted cable, and still more the readiness with which he gave me an advance on the book out of his own pocket (having spent all the firm’s money he had with him), and that with no more contract than my bare word that the book should be completed as soon as possible. It is very likely that if Friede hadn’t been willing to take that chance (remember only about a quarter of the book was written) and given me that very tangible vote of confidence I might never have finished the book, and so should have missed my opportunity.

Friede’s slap on the back was what I needed. My highly encouraged daimon again began dictating at a furious speed, and the book simply galloped off the typewriter. On the last day I wrote without a break for eight hours, and finished the book feeling a little dazed after its emotional tempests. I wandered about the streets for a time, feeling as if my legs would telescope at any moment, and then dropped in on a young American friend, who contemplated me with a critical eye and then silently mixed and handed me a tremendous eggnog, after which I felt very much better.

By writing Death of a Hero, I purged my bosom of perilous stuff which had been poisoning me for a decade. When I had finished, had said my say and cussed my cusses, I felt the lightness and tranquillity of a morning after a thunderstorm. It is a fact, I think, that the literary life has become more strenuous than it was in the mid-nineteenth century. I recollect reading, in the life of some Victorian worthy, this impressive sentence: ‘The whole of this summer was spent in the active labor of correcting proofs of his new book’ — the work in question being about a hundred pages. A whole summer, you observe. Now, when the delays of the French Customs had operated as usual, I found I had exactly twenty-four hours to read and correct the 140,000 words of my novel, and deposit the packet in the late mail bag for the Mauretania at the Gare St. Lazare. I went to the Café Voltaire, and worked continuously from 10 A.M. to 10 P.M., drinking a good deal of coffee, and having my meals served as I worked. I chose the Café Voltaire because it was old-fashioned and not expensive, and served excellent food and wine, which caused it to be entirely neglected by everyone likely to interrupt me.

I then went in quest of an unfashionable bathing place. Eventually I found a tiny hamlet on a large calanque not far from Toulon, and there I spent the rest of the summer, swimming a great deal, walking in the scented maquis, translating the Alcestis, and writing short stories on war themes — a kind of hangover from Death of a Hero. The days went by serenely, with cloudless skies and crystal-clear water and little excursions, the sort of easy idling time one would like to last forever. And then suddenly these calm waters were ruffled by a breeze from the outer world.

One day late in September an American mail came in with two very large envelopes stuffed with press clippings. They were all either violently for or against Death of a Hero — just the kind of press one wants. Friede cabled that he had sold five thousand copies, had a reprint just off the press and another ordered, and that the novel was a bestseller in — I forget which cities. This was interesting news. I had decided that if this novel failed I should have to return to the literary drudgery; but that if it succeeded I would write some more, and I already had two in mind.

Before making any final decision, I wanted to know what had happened to the book in England. Friede had asked me to give first refusal to Chatto and Windus, with whom he wanted to establish good relations. I agreed, of course, but not very hopefully. Chatto and Windus had a high reputation, but as their authors were people like Marcel Proust, Aldous Huxley, David Garnett, Roger Fry, Clive Bell, I didn’t think they would like my plain and simple tale. But the partners of the firm, Charles Prentice and Harold Raymond, were both ex-soldiers, and therefore rather enjoyed my invectives and flourishes. At any rate, they promptly accepted the book on my terms, and Prentice wrote a very amiable letter.

For some reason the English edition was scheduled for two weeks after the American; and as the summer weather had broken, I thought I might as well trot up to Paris to be nearer the scene of operations. I arrived on a warm September evening, and after dinner sat at a table outside the Closerie des Lilas under the trees of the Petit Luxembourg. It was a pleasant scene. Here and there an electric light showed a vivid patch of autumn leaves in the dark trees. Waiters bustled about with a clatter of saucers and glasses; the buzz of talk was woven in and out with the noise of traffic on the boulevards and snatches of dance tunes from the Bal Tabarin. Some Quartier types, straight out of Anatole France’s Le Chat Maigre, were settling the future of art.

When I arrived at Cook’s next morning for my mail, the clerk handed me such a large package of letters and telegrams I thought at first he must have given me by mistake the begging-letter mail of a visiting millionaire. But no, they were for me, and I carried them to the nearest café. With the self-centred vanity of the true artist, I first hunted through this mass for letters from Chatto and Windus, easily recognizable because they modestly use the head of Pallas Athene as their crest. The news was reassuring — a modest subscription of only 1600, but such a rapid crescendo of ‘repeats’ that they had already decided to order a second 5000 copies. The press, as was natural and I had expected, was hostile — with the very important exception of Arnold Bennett, the only English reviewer in my experience who could really induce people to read the books he praised. I read the telegrams and letters from friends, glanced through the letters of abuse or commendation from strangers, noted with great pleasure a kindly letter from H. G. Wells with an invitation to come and see him — and then leaned back and lit a cigarette.

That was a pleasant moment. I am careful never to count chickens before they are hatched, but a far more resolute pessimist than I am would have been contented by that batch of mail. The figures cabled and written by Friede and Prentice showed that in less than a week the book had earned its advances and was making me about sixty dollars a day. Put into francs, it sounded quite impressive, though possibly not to Mr. Ford. Exactly twenty years had elapsed since my first poem crept into print in an obscure periodical. I could at least say that I had flattered no man and no party, had used no intrigue or influence, had said my say right or wrong without fear or favor to anything or anyone on earth, respecting only the memory of great men and those ideals of civilization I had learned from the Masters. I had started on my own way early in life against the wishes of my family and the advice of older friends; I had persevered in it in spite of many obstacles and interruptions; and I had never borrowed or been given a cent since I was twenty-one. If I had succeeded in interesting a portion of the very little world which reads new books, and receiving the tangible expression of their interest in pounds and dollars, I owed it to my own unceasing efforts. There was a time in the world when governments and men of power in the world thought it a pleasure and a duty to assist men of letters. From governments I had received little but demands for taxes and military service, and various restrictions on the elementary privilege of moving about the world at will. And, like Samuel Johnson, I could say: ‘I never had a patron.’ I was aware that there was a certain fortuitous clement in the success of a war book at that time, but I thought I’d probably be able to write some of the other novels I had in mind.

Et zut alors! — that’s what happens on a fine autumn morning in Paris when the small-town boy makes good.

There I rather naïvely supposed the matter would rest. I made no change in my way of life, for I was already living as I wished to live — a process one cannot begin too early. But I did plan to take a real vacation of several months without doing any work at all — a plan I failed to carry out in its integrity. I went to rather better restaurants, and I did a little modest exploration of vintage wines, but otherwise I remained in that mobile and unencumbered state which befits a pilgrim. It was just as well that I had decided not to do any writing for a time, for what with the number of friends who turned up and the amount of mail I received, I was kept pretty busy. Never had I imagined there were so many charitable organizations in England with such bizarre objects. And then there were the curiosity boxes, who must know at once what the asterisks in the book meant.

Those asterisks! I don’t apologize for them, but I will explain them. When Chatto’s sent me a list of proposed excisions, I felt very contemptuous. There wasn’t a word or phrase in the book which couldn’t be printed in France — and in fact the original text was printed in France in both English and French. If the English are such babies, give them asterisks, I said; and let them see how absurd this cutting and slashing is. Being comparatively uninhibited myself, I overlooked the morbid emotions of a repressed public which, to judge from my mail, worried itself sick trying to fit the same few words into the context. Alas, they were not at all what the public supposed. Thus, one sentence in the book runs: ‘Prehistoric beasts, like the icthyosaurus and ***** ******** . . .’ When you have tried to fit all the dirty words you think you know to that, I will reveal the fact that they represent the horrible obscenity, ‘Queen Victoria’ — it being the opinion of some sapient fathead in Chatto’s office that the sentence constituted the crime of lèse-majesté. Except for a few soldiers’ remarks (not altogether inappropriate in a book about a war) many of the cuts were made for no better reason than the one I have given. By far the longest, which I fought hard to save, was a series of cracks at a canaille of the canaille, a British journalist who had been allowed to print the vilest things about Lawrence. All I said was that I should like to kick him where he kept his intelligence — in the seat ot his pants. That is offensive, — it was meant to be, — but it cannot be called obscene, unless the object against which it is directed makes it so.

H. G. Wells, who was in Paris, was very kind and hinted at social obligations. I have a high esteem for H. G. Wells, and feel annoyed when pip-squeak Communists try to belittle him. No man can be complete in every respect short of being another Leonardo da Vinci (and there’s a good deal of legend in his case), so that I easily forgive Wells his indifference to poetry and painting, and his slightly philistine view of life. He has a great mental energy, and a power of bringing together numbers of facts in a stimulating way. He insisted on the importance of science during a long epoch when men of letters were heinously ignorant of it. His sense of the continuity and logical development of human destiny is valuable, and enabled him to make shrewd guesses at future happenings which sometimes have been impressively right. Let us not forget that Wells in the imagination fought battles with tanks and planes long before the practical military men anywhere had an inkling of them. If the British Army had read and meditated Wells instead of playing so much polo . . .

The motto of Stendhal, ‘Ne pas être dupe,’ has long seemed to me an excellent one, if one interprets it as ‘not to deceive oneself, not to be deceived, not to deceive others.’ For this reason certain kinds of optimism seem to me to verge on feeble-mindedness; and I am always extremely interested when I meet a highly intelligent and gifted man like Wells who appears to be an optimist.

I thought about this a lot, and just as he was leaving after paying me a visit I plucked up courage to say: —

‘Wells, when I was a boy I read a book of yours called Anticipations, which made a great impression on me. But I should like to know if you now feel as optimistic as you did then?’

He gave me a very queer look, and then turned and went away without saying a word. But I was satisfied; I had my answer.

Maddening as the senseless optimism of morons is, there is a great deal to be said for all courageous souls who see the truth but still keep hope and a brave front. That look in Wells’s eyes reminded me of Mac, a man I knew in barracks. As unluckily happens whenever men are gathered together, the thirty men in that barrack room fought and wrestled for supremacy (regardless of formal rank) until only Mac and I were left. We wrestled every night for a week, and then, as neither could beat the other, formed a kind of dual monarchy in the manner of Sparta, and ruled the room from either end. Mac was an Irishman, a coal miner, always laughing and whistling and joking and apparently oblivious of the fact that there was a war on and we were for it. One day I said to him: —

‘Look here, Mac, you and I have both been in the line for months, and we’ll soon be back. Don’t you ever think of what depends on us, what a serious bloody business this is?’

He gave me a queer look, almost exactly like that in Wells’s eyes those many years later, and his reply astonished me: —

‘Ach, because I laugh ye needn’t think I haven’t black despair in me heart.’

When I think of the many real friends I made through the publication of Death of a Hero, I realize that more than ever I must exercise what Pater calls ‘the subtle tact of omission’ if these reminiscences are ever to end. There is, for instance, Tom McGreevy, a paradox of a man if ever there was one. He looked like a priest in civvies, and I think would have made a good one, since he possessed all the necessary qualities, not excluding a certain indolence; but some niceties of conscience caused him to let that bus go by. He had served in the British Army and Admiralty, but the wrongs of Ireland got him out of that career. Then he held an official post in Ireland, and, although a Catholic, promptly resigned when they starting kicking out Protestants. He was a patriot who lived out of his own country, and although he carried it so far as to write his name in hotel registers in Irish (the extent of his knowledge of his native tongue) he invariably traveled with a British passport. When I asked him why he didn’t have an Irish passport, he said: —

‘Ach, now, d’you think I’d be traveling with a passport from a little wee country like that?’

He was a graduate of Trinity College and, when I first knew him, Lecteur d’Anglais at the École Normale Supérieure, the most high-brow establishment in France.

Though Tom spent so much of his time with skeptical young Frenchmen who riddled every prejudice and superstition with witty satire, and though he was as much a man of the world as one so pure in heart could be, he had some singular views. Thus he astounded me by declaring emphatically that the Gunpowder Plot never existed and was entirely invented by the Protestants — a piece of Jesuit propaganda long ago exploded by competent historians. Again, we were at the house of a French professor, looking over his books, and I lighted on a book of mediæval black magic. Turning over the leaves I discovered a spell potent enough to evoke Satan in person, and therefore at once began reciting it; but before I had gone far Tom turned pale and exclaimed, ‘Holy Mother of God!’ and snatched the book from my hand. He was also convinced that all Englishmen of genius were Irish. Shakespeare, he said, came from County Cork. And when I mentioned Gibbon, ‘Ach, sure,’ said Tom, ‘he was nothing but a playboy!’

Tom McGreevy had all the gifts of a writer, except the urge to write. Neither his prose nor his poetry is negligible, but he hadn’t in him that aggressive daimon who after each comparative failure to reach the imagined height drives a man back to his desk to try once again. His creative impulse was satisfied by the undoubted influence his talk had on a sympathetic audience; and that is the danger of having the gift of conversation. Moreover, Tom is the kind of man whose brains are picked by other people. He once wrote a very good poem about driving in a cab through Dublin and imagining the historic scenes and people called up by each street, and showed it to Joyce. Bang it went into Finnigans Wake in the paragraph beginning ‘Mr See-QueerSights was rolling in his tumbril.’ ‘The crayture,’ said Tom, laughing goodnaturedly, when he found it out; but it seemed to confirm my theory that Joyce has nothing of his own to say in Finnigans Wake, since he was thus reduced to accepting hints from less famous friends.

One of the best of my other friends was a book publisher. Before I succumb to the accusation of fraternizing with the enemy there is something to be said. Any cracks against publishers in this book are to be taken with several pinches of salt. My settled opinion is that the professional author’s best friend can be and should be his publisher. Apart from the author’s own family, nobody is so deeply interested in the success of a book as the publisher. I don’t want to go into the complicated subject of the business side of writing, but I do want to say emphatically that few things can be as harmful financially to an author as the besotted belief that ‘the publisher is out to do’ him. Of course, if an author chooses to sign disadvantageous agreements, that’s his lookout; and if his average sales are about 1500 he can’t expect the kind of contract Mr. Sinclair Lewis can get. Publishers don’t pay for literary merit — a patron would do that; they pay for actual or potential sales. Publishers are business men, governed by business ethics and custom; and a reputable publisher would no more think of practising the absurd and petty frauds attributed to him by the smaller fry of writers than any other business man.

On the other hand, there are plenty of authors who look on publishers merely as men to supply them with money, and are none too scrupulous about how they get it. Isn’t it dishonest to tell a new publisher that the sales of books with other publishers were higher than they actually were? Isn’t it dishonest to accept an advance for a book, and then knock off a slovenly piece of work or even not produce it at all? I have heard of only three authors who wished to repay a publisher that part of an advance a book failed to earn. They are Michael Arlen, Israel Zangwill, and Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield.

In Charles Prentice, of Chatto’s, I found what was for me the ideal publisher, a scholar whose advice in literary matters was of great value and a man of such gentle sweetness and charm that I came to feel the greatest affection for him. His early letters after the publication of my first novel were more attentive and detailed than one has a right to expect of any publisher. At least once and sometimes oftener in the week he gave me a full report of the book’s progress with exact figures, and of what he was doing and planning to extend operations. I could not have been better informed if I had been a partner in the firm. During the whole long period of our association he never once failed me in this or in any other respect; and his advice and encouragement were of inestimable value. If I may misquote Horace: ‘Non sum qualis eram boni sub regno Prentici.’

It is something to be able to send your publisher a translation of a Greek classic and know that he will read it with the original before him, and unerringly spot the errors which will creep into such work. And it was perfectly delightful to realize that one’s first (and most important) reader would at once grasp the purpose and structure of a book and at the same time not miss a single allusion or hidden jest. We had many happy days together in Paris and on the Riviera, in Venice, Florence, Calabria, and Sicily, and during my brief visits to London.


During 1930 I wrote my second novel, partly on the French Riviera and partly in Venice, where Charles Prentice and Tom McGreevy came and stayed near me. When they had departed, leaving me with about the last third of my book to write, I took a boat down to Brindisi, and went and stayed at Lecce in Puglia, the extreme heel of Italy. I went there partly because Sachie Sitwell’s description of the place had aroused my curiosity, and partly because I found that the farther I was from England and the more alien my surroundings, the more vividly I could picture English scenes and people.

Lecce is a most interesting town, almost entirely baroque, an architect’s dream. The streets and squares and palaces group themselves into new strange harmonies at almost every step; the churches have very original structural designs and are profusely decorated with carvings, especially window frames and altarpieces of lovely children and fruits and garlands. A local industry is making religious statues, which oddly enough are very tasteful; and the streets are filled with pretty Madonnas and Saints drying their colors in the sun outside the workshops.

Unfortunately, Lecce has one drawback — the food is atrocious. It was getting on in December, and the thought of all the people in the world who were going to have real Christmas dinners was almost more than we could bear. Luckily, I put an end to this emaciating feast of culture by finishing my book. Came the question: Where to go to get something to eat? Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose — Florence and Norman Douglas, food for body and mind together.

I had long before abandoned my youthful interest in merely knowing people eminent in literature. Staged meetings start out on a basis of falsity and make any genuine friendship almost impossible. It is much better to trust to the hazards of life. And I must confess that my feelings towards most of my living seniors had long settled into placid indifference. Norman Douglas was an exception. I had read most of his books, and found in them a man with a sane, intelligent view of life, wit and high spirits, an astonishing variety of interests, and a fund of valuable and unusual knowledge. Here was somebody, I thought, who had not allowed life to push him around, but had forced life to give him what he wanted, and had wanted many different things. A masculine adult mind and a writer of almost classical proportion.

It is impossible for me to separate Douglas and Orioli, for they were inseparable companions during the years when I visited Florence regularly, chiefly to see Douglas. I had known Orioli slightly before the war, when I used to drop in at his bookshop to pick up any neo-Latins which were going cheap. And during the war he tried hard to get me out of the trenches and into the Italian mission in London — on what pretext I can’t imagine. Orioli’s books, good as they are and a tour de force for an Italian writing in English, fail to do him justice. He is an immensely entertaining companion, always alert, witty, and observant, and above all intensely alive. Without falling into extravagancies, I can only say that heaven wouldn’t be heaven for me without Pino. No man has ever given me more of the priceless gifts of laughter and good-fellowship.

I wrote to Pino from Lecce, and he got me a large front room in the Grande Bretagne, looking over the Arno between the Ponte Vecchio and the Trinità. Then, a few days after I arrived, Pino said to me: ‘Norman think he will like you and want to meet you. Go to Bianca’s in Via Porta Rossa tomorrow, and Norman will lunch at your table.’

Naturally we were there, and presently a man came in whom I should have known to be Norman Douglas, even if I hadn’t been familiar with his photographs. This tall, strongly built, very erect Scottish laird, with a slightly stern face, very firm mouth, and beautiful white hair, could have been no one else — in Florence. (The motto of the Douglas clan, ‘tender and true,’ is not applicable to Norman — ‘hard as nails, my dear’ is his version, though that isn’t true either.) As I stood up expectantly, his expression suddenly lost all sternness as he smiled and greeted us with that urbanity which will disappear from the earth with his generation of men trained in the diplomatic corps.

I remember some of the topics we discussed, though unfortunately none of Douglas’s exact words. We talked of Lecce, which very strangely he had not visited. He immediately made a note of it (very characteristic this) in a small black pocket book, which I was to see very often in the future. That naturally led to a discussion of southern Italy, which Douglas knows as well as any man living, and on which he has written the best book since the Frenchman, Lenormant. It is only the fear of being influenced by the partiality of friendship which makes me refrain from saying that I think Douglas’s Old Calabria the better book, because, while he is as much a savant as Lenormant, he is also the adventurous and fearless Briton of the George Borrow kind, tramping across mountain ridges and into remote places Lenormant never visited. He gave me a good deal of information about places to see, urging me to ‘make a note of it.’

What was once Magna Græcia inevitably brought up Greek literature, with remarks on the birds mentioned in the Greek Anthology — this apropos of the fact that the coast of Calabria is the main line of European bird migration. At the same time Douglas lamented that a friend of ours, who was running a small hand press in Paris, should waste time issuing ‘trash’ (that is, George Moore, Douglas, and myself) instead of an edition of Athenæus ‘with plenty of notes.’

I mentioned that Professor Gulick of Harvard had begun publishing an excellent translation of Athenæus, and down that went in the little black book. Somehow we got on to early German epic poetry, and he wrote down for me several passages in some primitive German dialect. He also touched on the deforestation of the Mediterranean, the geology of those parts of Asia Minor he had ridden through, the wines of Italy, limericks, the possibility of recovering the library of Herculaneum (‘never, if it’s left to Italians’), D. H. Lawrence, and the right way to make a potato salad — which he demonstrated with admirable results. All this without a trace of pedantry and affectation, thrown off lightly, and generally with some amusing turn of phrase — the talk of a man intelligently interested in the world he inhabits.

During the many months I was in Florence I lunched or dined with Douglas practically every day, and we covered a great deal of ground in our talk. I regret now that I didn’t make notes of what he said, but I’ve a prejudice that I would rather be Dr. Johnson than Boswell, even to Norman. Norman, too, had his prejudices, as I gradually discovered. Though his knowledge of biology and geology was quite encyclopædic, he disliked mathematics and mathematical physicists, and I totally failed to interest him in Whitehead and Eddington. Darwin was his hero, and of course he was unanswerable when he said we had no biologist of his stature — you can’t expect a theory of evolution in every generation. He had a great contempt for the young men who had grown up since the war — ‘blood two degrees under normal.’ He had a strong prejudice in favor of Austrian cooking (his mother was Austrian) and would eat with relish a veal cutlet smothered in paprika and those abominable white truffles which taste like acetylene. He had other prejudices, but, as I shared them to some extent, they did not seem so much like prejudices. But I could never go along with him in his advocacy of the revival of slavery; there his partly German ancestry and his German training peeped out, as they did in a slightly grotesque quality in his humor.

In his youth he had been a good shot and a daring chamois hunter in the Austrian Alps. He had ridden one of those penny-farthing bicycles over the three highest passes of Europe in a day — a prodigious feat of endurance. All his life he was a great walker, which enabled him to see so much of the remote and neglected parts of Europe. He had the steady unflagging gait of the mountaineer, and climbed mountains until his seventieth year. I think he might have made a good soldier, if he had not considered such activities absurd and tedious. The only things he feared were poverty and the malevolence of human stupidity as embodied in governments, bureaucrats, armies, and officials. But he was far indeed from conforming to the absurd conventions of the he-man. He loved flowers, and perfumes, and precious stones, and jewelry and fine linen. But he was equally far from being a fop. Indeed, as he insisted on wearing Scottish tweeds cut by an Italian tailor, I could not admire his wardrobe.

I liked him for being such a perfect specimen of his type. He was a complete contrast both to the professional writers who live by flattering the middle classes, and to the little high-brows with their cliques and affectations and lack of a sense of proportion. Like Somerset Maugham, Douglas is a man of the world, not to be imposed on by fads and pretenses. The fact is that both Maugham and Douglas have a far wider and deeper knowledge of European literature than the people who give themselves airs about their knowledge. Douglas’s knowledge is scientific and historical as well as merely literary.

Our conversation was usually directed by the exuberant and inexhaustible Pino Orioli, a kind of Boccaccio junior; and Norman limited himself to occasional pungent comments. Never before had I heard so many scandalous stories or heard them told so well. Pino is a born raconteur, and his gusto for living, his perpetual interest in human beings and their queer ways, made him a wonderful companion. He is an example of the vitality, good humor, and genius of the Italian people which are still there in spite of all the nonsense imposed on them by centuries of imbecile governors. May that genius once more be free, as it was in the Renaissance!

Before quitting Florence and its many happy memories, one or two things must be said. I have treated Norman Douglas briefly, because at some fitting time I hope to write a biographical and critical essay on him. Adequate treatment would demand far more space than this book can afford. Curiously enough, the most realistic (though satirical) portrait of Norman Douglas is the Argyle of Lawrence’s novel, Aaron’s Rod. This was the real cause of the breach between those two and of Norman’s anti-Lawrence pamphlet, though the ostensible casus belli was Lawrence’s superbly written introduction to the memoirs of Maurice Magnus, who served in the French Foreign Legion and eventually committed suicide in Malta.

It would never have done for those two rare spirits to remain estranged, and fortunately dear Pino was there to reconcile them. He talked them both over to a recognition of their sins, and staged a meeting at his bookshop on the Lungarno. It was done admirably. Lawrence and Frieda were there talking to Pino, and in came Norman, as arranged. There was a moment of embarrassed silence, and then Norman made a gesture which with him means he accepts you as a friend — he offered Lawrence his snuffbox.

‘Have a pinch of snuff, dearie.’

Lawrence took it. ‘Isn’t it curious’ (sniff), he said, ‘only Norman and my father’ (sniff) ‘ever gave me snuff.’

That was all, and they were as good friends as ever.


A tentative title for these reminiscences was ‘Farewell to Europe,’ for my intention was to describe the evolution of an insular provincial schoolboy into an adult European, at home in any part of western and central Europe. In the long and diverse history of that continent the wandering student is a familiar character. From the Dark Ages onwards, monks and students from the British Isles wandered over the great pilgrim routes, visiting monasteries, shrines, and universities. Generations of Englishmen made the grand tour in their traveling carriages, and some of them settled more or less permanently in nooks which pleased them. In another epoch and in my own way I followed in their tracks.

Reversing Johnson’s dictum, I would say that ‘seldom any true story is wholly splendid.’ I did succeed in living the life of a European for a number of years; and I had the satisfaction of seeing my books translated into the languages of ten or a dozen countries, and of knowing they were read not as journalism but as possible contributions to literature. Yet scarcely had these little successes been achieved when they began to crumble away under the impact of the public events which are familiar to everybody. In September 1929, when I sat in the Paris café reading the letters and telegrams about Death of a Hero, it seemed reasonable to think that I had achieved such ambitions as I possessed. By September 1939, nothing was left.

When men go sour on you, there are always Nature and other men; and though the world shrinks like Balzac’s peau de chagrin, it is still a respectably large oblate spheroid. It seemed to me that, at any rate for the time being, I had finished with Europe. After all, from the point of view of the schoolboy looking longingly through a telescope at Calais from the cliffs of Dover, I hadn’t done so badly. I had been in every province of Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain; I knew Paris and Rome as well as I knew London; I had seen Belgium, Switzerland, the Rhine, the Schwarzwald, Bavaria, and Austria. The whole experience, extended over many years, had been of inestimable value. If I never traveled another mile, never read another book in any language, never saw another fine building, statue, or picture, I was rich enough in memories to last the rest of my life.

But I saw no reason why I should abandon my little investigations of our planet, and drop back into the sedentary provincial life of a London littérateur, to escape from which I had worked so hard and taken such risks. If my colleagues preferred to vegetate between the club, the country cottage, and the usual London round, that was their affair. For me, as on my first walk, it was still: ‘Allans, en route! Afoot and light-hearted we take to the open road.’

I feel ashamed of mentioning such personal and selfish trifles against a background of such immense calamity; but if I had allowed that sense of disproportion to weigh on me, these pages could not have been written.

This little story might very well end with my departure for the western world in 1935, for out of that came my decision to spend the rest of my life there. But it would be a little unfair to take leave of any reader who has followed me thus far from the deck of a banana boat somewhere between Bristol and the Western Isles. I can’t gratify the reader with a report of my last dying words and funeral, but I can round the story out a little.

It is a common experience for the human creature to find his emotions and intuitions running prophetically ahead of his conscious mind and what he imagines to be the exercise of free will. In the autumn of 1934, all the way up from St. Emilion to Calais, I had a sense of valediction, of saying farewell to France. It was useless for me to tell myself that it was absurd, that I was free to return at any moment I wanted; the feeling persisted. It returned even more persistently on the railway journey from Paddington to Bristol, where my banana Mayflower awaited me.

On that February day all England was held by frost and mist and looked inexpressibly dreary. Frieda Lawrence’s honest and touching account of her life with Lorenzo had just been published, and all the newspapers carried violent and mendacious onslaughts on the memory of Lawrence. It saddened me to think that the journalistic canaille could still be allowed to misrepresent so vilely and without contradiction a ‘starry genius of our time.’ I didn’t realize then, as I do now, that this mob hatred was an unconscious tribute to Lawrence’s greatness. Both in his life and in his writings, Lawrence had vehemently denied all the values of mechanized living, and this vilification from the robots was part of his glory.

I threw the papers contemptuously aside, and looked from the train window at the gray cold landscape. The forty miles to Reading were entirely familiar — I had passed up and down that line hundreds of times when I lived in Berkshire. I thought of my cottage under the tall willows by the canal, and wondered who now lived in it, and how it looked without my solid walls of books. Then the train diverged towards Didcot, but through the mist I could easily imagine the summer landscape. As we rushed through Uffington, I could see through the wall of mist the sunlit downs I had so often walked, the great prehistoric earthwork, the White Horse, Wayland Smith’s Cave, and the little road winding down the Lambourn valley. And at one moment my heart seemed breaking, and the next I was filled with exultation at the thought of the thousands of miles of ocean and lands to me unknown which lay ahead.

The eighteenth-century graces of Bath were hidden in mist; and the new docks at Avonmouth, which prolong the old port of Bristol, were cold. I made my way very cautiously over the icy puddles to the ship’s gangway, and went early to bed, before the ship left port.


Tobago turned out to be a lucky dip in Fortune’s bag. I managed to rent an old plantation house, six hundred feet up, with a tremendous vista across steeply sloping country to the Caribbean Sea. A wide gallery occupied the whole front of the house, and near one corner grew a vast saman tree which nourished a whole garden of curious parasitic plants and was always lively with tropical birds. Except for the car of an occasional visitor and the infrequent mails, there was no sound or contact from the human world. For days the only sounds were the calls of birds and insects, the sough of the wind, and the music of a passing shower which began like a long-drawn sigh increasing to a hiss and sudden sharp patter on the roof, and then died away distantly in another diminishing sigh.

In a screened nook of this gallery I wrote nearly all the essays contained in Artifex, and made an anthology of the most beautiful prose passages from Lawrence’s books. There are two or three pieces about Tobago in Artifex, and I don’t want to repeat what I said in them. I soon fell into the easy rhythm of life in the tropics, varied only by excursions about the very beautiful island, and bathing picnics, where I swam in a sea as clear and warm as the Mediterranean. But the most valuable part of that three or four months’ experience was the living so close to Nature, in an exuberant phase which was entirely new to me.

‘Isn’t it very quiet up here?’ a chance tourist visitor asked.

‘Beautifully quiet!’ I said enthusiastically; and then, seeing the astonishment on her face, I realized that for some people ‘quiet’ is not synonymous with happiness, but with dullness.

My two books were finished in a long spurt of concentration, and then I idled away some days or weeks, with no mental effort beyond reading a few modern books in English. I didn’t want to write anything; I felt as if I should never want to write again. . . . And then suddenly I became aware of a danger lurking in this seductive life of the tropics. It was delightful, rapturous even, to live so natural a rhythm; but it was Nature in the mood of the Lotus-eaters. On arrival I had noticed with surprise the languor of some of the old-established whites, and I saw, or thought I saw, that I was just beginning to go the same way.

Much could be said in defense of such an abdication. Respectable philosophers had described such a condition as the highest good. The poets abounded in apposite quotations. Why should one be ever climbing up a climbing wave? Why not daff the world aside, and bid it pass? Having come unto these yellow sands, why not stay there? What was wrong with the obliviscendus meorum et oblitus illis? In Tobago living was cheap, pleasant, and supremely irresponsible. That word ‘irresponsible’ brought me up with a jerk. I didn’t like to think I might deserve it. Something decisive had to be done, some potent counter-influence was indicated.

That afternoon I booked passage to New York by radiogram from the radio station at Scarborough, the ‘capital’ of Tobago. I was sorry to go, but I was far more glad to think that at last I was to see the United States.

The usual method for a foreign author to see America is to do if at the expense of his hosts by lecturing across the country. I was ambitious of holding the record as the only British author who had never made a lecture tour of America, and therefore had invariably turned down all proposals to that effect. Two rather important factors seem to be forgotten by those who so blithely accept these engagements; they themselves are usually incompetent lecturers, and the audiences they propose to address are accustomed to hear trained speakers. All I had done in that line was to read papers to university clubs and societies, which is not lecturing. Moreover, in my time I had drawn a good deal of money from America in fees and royalties; and it seemed only proper that I should pay my own way.

It seems to me that the lecture-tourist gets a very lopsided view of America. He arrives in New York, as green as a cabbage, and is met at the dock by his agent and publisher. He is immediately plunged into a series of parties, gives one or two lectures in New York, and then sets off on his tour. He goes from one large town to another, meeting hundreds of very amiable people, swallowing more cocktails than are good for him, and growing more and more weary. He boards his return ship with a hangover and the impression that America consists of thousands of miles of railways, huge industrial towns, and one long Mad Hatter’s cocktail party. He then proceeds to write a series of articles or a book, entitled ‘My American Tour.’ All this is referred to by people who should know better as spreading the light of culture and fostering international goodwill.

What I have just been saying should explain the reluctance I feel to telling the world about America. I think that is better left to people who really know something about the subject. On that first visit to America I followed a rough scheme which experience has made me think is sensible when living in a country for the first time. I think one should avoid trying to see too much, for that only leads to a confusion of impressions and dim memories. It is better to spend a month or so in a big town, and then stay in one country place, making excursions on foot and by car until the area becomes familiar. While such an experience is limited, it is more authentic and valuable than chasing around a continent. You get some idea of what living in the community would be.

In New York I made the acquaintance of Dr. Bertrand Eskell, who appeared to have read my books, and through his kindness I was able to rent exactly the sort of house I should have chosen myself in a beautiful piece of country on the Connecticut River. In later years I have explored some of northern New England, and freely admit that it is more dramatic, with a grander beauty of mountain and forest and lake. But I liked that nook of Connecticut so well that I was very happy to return to it.

There, under the crystal-blue sky of autumn, when the woods are aflame with color and the light cold wind brings the first wild duck from Canada, I made up my mind that henceforth I would make my headquarters in America. So far from feeling alien, as I had been repeatedly warned by well-wishers, I felt very much at home, perhaps because of some experience in moving about the world. Twice the complications of life took me back to Europe for rather long periods; but at the third attempt I succeeded in 1938 in getting permanently free from European entanglements.

The trail which in the course of many years has led me from the coast of Kent to the banks of the Connecticut River has been long and devious, with many unexpected turns and some checks and misfortunes, but it has been interesting, and, I should say, upon the whole both fortunate and happy. I have not yet succeeded in writing either a poem or a prose book which satisfied me entirely, but it is fun to go on trying. I can say truthfully that during approximately half a century of infesting this planet I have very seldom indeed been bored; and that is as good as any other definition of success in life.

(The End)

Beginning in the January Atlantic


By Rebecca West