I HAVE to tell how Paris came to have such importance as a place for me, and if possible, what I was “like too in those days. It can only be done by telling where I was and what I was doing in 1923 when I was twenty and in my second year at College in Toronto. Five foot eight, with dark brown curly hair and blue eyes, I was not overweight then. I was fast with my tongue and, under pressure, fast with my fists, but they tell me that I moved around rather lazily. At college I played football and boxed. For years I had played baseball in the city sandlot leagues. That summer in the holidays my cousin got me a job in a lumberyard ‘slugging’ lumber with five husky immigrant labourers. We unloaded six-by-two scantling from boxcars. At the time, I was also reading wildly. I read Dostoevski, Joseph Conrad, Sinclair Lewis, Flaubert; The Dial, The Adelphi, and the old Smart Set, edited by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan; Katherine Mansfield, D. H. Lawrence—everything. Yet in the summer it was baseball that absorbed me. I was a pitcher. My brother, a catcher on the same team, was a singer, bent in studying opera. Our ball team, a very good one, one of the best in the city, had some rough tough players with a rich fine flow of language who were not concerned with my interest in Conrad and Dostoevski or my brother’s beautiful voice—only in my curve ball and my brother’s batting average. After I had been working two weeks in the lumberyard, my turn came to pitch a game. In the first inning I noticed that my arm felt unusually light; coming around on the pitch it felt weightless, and yet I had no speed. ’To hell with that lumberyard,” I said.
A friend of my boyhood, Art Kent, had a job reporting on a morning paper. Sometimes at night, for the sake of his company, I had gone with him on his assignments. Reporting, I told myself, would be much easier on a pitching arm than slugging lumber, so I paid a visit to the Toronto Doily Star. The elderly gentleman at the reception desk, impressed by my earnestness, and believing I had a big story to report to the city editor, called a Mr. Harry Johnston. This stocky, plump, long-nosed man with hair greying at the temples and a deliberately alert manner, came out to the desk and said brusquely, “The city editor, Mr. Hindmarsh, is on his holidays. I’m Mr. Johnston. What is it, young fellow?” I told him I was from the university and was a very good reporter and wanted a job. The disgusted expression on his face as he looked at the old gentleman abashed me. “We’re not hiring anybody. I’m busy,” he said. But when he opened the city room door I followed. With a knowing air that must have carried a strong conviction I added urgently that a newspaper could always use a good reporter, wasn’t that right? As he half turned I said, “Let me work around here for a week. If at the end of the week you think I’m no good, don’t pay me anything. Let me go. What have you got to lose?” A flicker of interest in his eyes, he said. “I’ll think about it. Come in tomorrow,” and he got away from me.
At the same hour next day I was back at the reception desk, expecting to be led into the editor’s office. Instead, Mr. Johnston, now in his shirt sleeves and with an impatient air, came again to the hall desk. He was sorry, but they weren’t taking on any more summer replacements. This time I walked right into the city room with him. “Look here,” I insisted, “What I said yesterday must have sounded good or you wouldn’t have told me to come back. If it was good yesterday isn’t it good today? I’ll work for nothing for a week. If I’m any good, keep me on and when . the city editor comes back you have in me another pretty good reporter. What do you lose if it doesn’t cost you anything?”
My effrontery had seemed to attract him. Smiling a little he asked, “What’s your name?” and he wrote it down. “You won’t be on the salary list but come in at seven in the morning,” and he walked away abruptly.
I had never been in a newsroom. This one had a row of desks running the length of the room and a big round city desk at which were four deskmen. At seven in the morning Mr. Johnston was one of them. He hardly spoke to me. I sat down nervously. In a little while one of the deskmen came hurrying to me with a small sheaf of clippings from the morning newspaper. “Scalp these obituaries,” he said. For two hours I rewrote obituaries.
When the assignment book was made up and brought out from the city editor’s office, I gathered around it with the other reporters, my heart jumping. My name was there. I was to cover a druggists’ convention at the King Edward Hotel, just along the street. Hurrying over to the hotel I found hundreds of druggists assembling in the lobby. Out of this morning assembly, I thought, I had to get a witty story about druggists and drugstores. Back in the city room I wrote in long hand what I was sure was an elegant and amusing story and handed it to a young deskman named Jimmy Cowan, who began to read it. I watched him drop the first page in the basket. The second page got only a glance from him. There was no change of expression on his face. As my pages one by one went into the basket I waited for him to speak derisively to Mr. Johnston. Instead, he simply went on with his work. I was so worried I could hardly eat any lunch. My druggists were getting down to business in the convention hall right after lunch.
At the reporters’ table I found myself sitting beside an older man from the morning paper. Without any shame I told him how green I was. I told him I didn’t know what kind of story to write or what to do, or even what was expected of me. A few “sticks” were needed for the afternoon edition, he said, and a few more for the later one. He even told me the deadlines of my own paper. An hour later, after glancing at his watch, he wrote two little paragraphs of hard cold news and told me to get it over to my city desk and come back. I didn’t even bother rewriting the paragraphs. Two hours later I was back in the office with three more paragraphs in the same hand. That day I learned something I never forgot. Wherever I have been in the world and have wanted to know something or get something done I have gone to a newspaperman and confessed my utter ignorance, and have always been helped.
Whenever I think of Mr. Johnston now I think of those short legs of his in rapid motion. At the end of the week the legs moved rapidly in my direction, then stopped. “I’ve put you on the salary list at twenty a week,” he said. I went to the telephone, called home and said quietly to my mother, “I got on the Star.” “I knew you would, Son,” she said. So I went out and loafed along King Street, nursing my delight and vaguely aware that I might be coming to a turning point in my life.
In those days the Toronto Daily Star was as aggressive and raffish a newspaper as you could find in any North American city. Its newsroom was the kind of place Napoleon must have had in mind when he spoke of a career open to talent and ambition. It had a promotion department that went in for baby elephants, balloons and Santa Claus funds. Star reporters moved on great disasters in far places like shock troops poured into a breach by an excited general. A reporter might get a quick salary increase or be fired promptly. Since I didn’t have a family to support, or a mortgage to pay off, I loved this turbulent arena. In the freebooting society of our room each man was intent on looking after himself and I got two salary increases in a month.
One day on the street I had encountered an older man I had known in a YMCA when I had been in high school. He was a good earnest likeable man. How astounded I was to learn from him that he had become the secretary of the newly formed Communist party of Canada. We looked at each other and laughed. I called him a dirty Red; he called me a cheap hireling of the dirty capitalist press. Yet he said he might have stories for me if I didn’t distort them. For example, W..Z. Foster, the leader of the American Communist party, was being smuggled into Canada that week-end to make a speech. Would I like to meet Foster, who was crashing the immigration barrier? Hurrying back to my Mr. Johnston, I electrified him, telling him Foster would be in Toronto and I would be led to him by an emissary who would meet me at a street comer on Saturday night at nine.
“Good, good,” said Harry, his eyes shining. “Our Mr. Reade will be there. You take our Mr. Reade with you. It’s a scoop, a great story.” Our Mr. Reade, a man about twenty years older than I, a Rhodes scholar, wrote all the fancy special stories.
On Saturday night I appeared at the street meeting, and while listening to revolutionary speeches, I circled warily around the crowd. But of course I was such an unimportant figure on the paper that our Mr. Reade couldn’t be expected to know me. I was supposed to know him. Everyone on the Star was expected to know Bobby Reade. Then a young Communist whom I had never seen before grabbed my arm. “You’re Morley Callaghan, aren’t you? Come on.” And he took me to a store about a mile away along King Street and in the back room with his devotees was W. Z. Foster. I spent the whole evening with him. Afterwards I went back to the city room, worked all night on the story, then went home.
My mother had left a note for me: Call Mr. Johnston, but by that time it was nearly dawn. I went to bed. At nine the phone rang and it was Harry Johnston. “Why didn’t you meet Mr. Reade?” he shouted angrily. I said, “I was there. Why wasn’t Mr. Reade there?” But he screamed, “Mr. Reade was there,” and I said, “Why didn’t Mr. Reade speak to me?” and he yelled, “Mr. Reade says he doesn’t know you.” And I yelled, “What makes Mr. Reade think I should know him? The story is in your box.” “It is? Well, we’ll see,” he said threateningly. “A Star man doesn’t have to be told things, Callaghan. If he can’t pick up things in a week, a simple thing like knowing who our Mr. Reade is, we don’t want him around.” And he hung up. But when I went into the office on Monday he told me he had put me down for a five-dollar raise. Only then did he introduce me to the scholarly Mr. Reade.
I was getting along. In the mornings there was the hotel beat, and loafing from hotel to hotel, in the hope of encountering a visitor who might make a good interview, my thoughts were usually on writing. Visitors to the hotels might be strange characters I could use in stories. Why did I dislike so much contemporary writing? I would wonder. The popular writers of the day like Hergesheimer, Edith Wharton, James Branch Cabell, Galsworthy, Hugh Walpole, H. G. Wells—except for Tono Bungay—I had rejected fiercely. Show-off writers; writers intent on proving to their readers that they could be clever and had some education, I would think. Such vanities should be beneath them if they were really concerned in revealing the object as it was. Those lines, A, primrose by a river’s brim a yellow primrose was to him, and it was nothing more, often troubled me, aroused my anger. What the hell else did Wordsworth want it to be? An orange? A sunset? I would ask myself, Why does one thing have to remind you of something else? Going from hotel to hotel on my job I would brood over it.
I remember deciding that the root of the trouble with writing was that poets and storywriters used language to evade, to skip away from the object, because they could never bear to face the thing freshly and see it freshly for what it was in itself. A kind of double talk; one thing always seen in terms of another thing. Criticism? A dreary metaphor. The whole academic method! Of course there were lines like Life’s but a walking shadow… Just the same, I’d be damned if the glory of literature was in the metaphor. Besides, it was not a time for the decorative Renaissance flight into simile. Tell the truth cleanly. Weren’t the consequences of fraudulent pretending plain to anyone who would look around? Hadn’t the great slogans of the first World War become ridiculous to me before I had left high school? Wilsonian idealism! Always the flight of fancy. And Prohibition. Another fantasy. It was hilarious, a beautiful example of the all-prevailing fraudulent morality; and at college it had become a social obligation to go to a bootlegger’s, and a man came to have a sneaking respect for those who openly broke the law—not for the policeman standing on a corner.
And the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas which I got in my college classroom? All the big words, the metaphysics, were to be treated with grudging suspicion. Nothing could be taken for granted. Nothing could be taken on authority. A craving for authority had led to Prohibition and stupid censorship in Boston. Orthodoxy was for fat comfortable inert people who agreed to pretend, agreed to accept the general fraud, the escape into metaphor. All around me seemed to be some kind of a wild energy that could be tapped and controlled. In the dance halls I heard the jazz sounds coming from Chicago. That town, Chicago; The bootleggers, the shootings, the open disrespect for all that had been thought of as socially acceptable. And Sherwood Anderson and Carl Sandburg had lived in Chicago.
Yet Chicago didn’t beckon to me. Nor did Greenwich Village. Edna Millay, Eugene O’Neill, Floyd Dell, Max Bodenheim. I knew all the names. But the Village seemed to me to be a place full of characters. I was against all writers who wanted to become “characters.” The whole contemporary world was full of characters. Women rode on the wings of aeroplanes, men sat on flagpoles, there were stunt men of all kinds, jazz musicians, young ladies going gallantly to hell on bathtub gin. But there was also the way Jack Dempsey fought. His brutal mauling style seemed to be telling me something: do the thing you want to do in your own way. Be excellent at it. Seek your own excellence. Having no use for pure aesthetes or aloof intellectuals, I went on playing ball, and enjoyed the skill required of a pitcher working on a hitter. I tell this to show the kind of thinking, the thoughts about writing, of a young reporter doing the hotel beat. In the hotels I sat talking far too long with opera singers or visiting senators.
In the hotel one day I remember encountering a British author, a nice middle-aged grey-haired man. And in no time I was telling him firmly that writing had to do with the right relationship between the words and the thing or person being described: the words should be as transparent as glass, and every time a writer used a brilliant phrase to prove himself witty or clever he merely took the mind of the reader away from the object and directed it to himself; he became simply a performer. Why didn’t he go on the stage? The elderly British writer, regarding me thoughtfully, asked me how old I was. “An interesting view of style. Look here,” and he took a page out of his notebook and wrote on it his name and the address of an English publisher. If I ever wrote anything I was to send this note along with it to the English publisher.
I remember one time at twilight, sitting at the typewriter in the sunroom of my parents’ home. I could smell the lilacs. A night bird cried. A woman’s voice came from a neighbour’s yard. I wanted to get it down so directly that it wouldn’t feel or look like literature. I remembered too being with a girl one night, and on the way home, walking alone, I felt the world had been brought close to me; there seemed to be magic in the sound of my own footsteps, even in the noise of the streetcars—all mingled with the girl’s kiss, the memory of the little run I had noticed in her stocking, the way she said good-bye to me. None of it had to be written up. There it was, beautiful in itself. A “literary guy” would spoil it
I was not at all lonely. I liked my father, mother and brother, and felt under no compulsion to leave home. I liked the university and had learned mere that if I just passed my exams, no professor could get on my back and I had time to get my own education. I loved working on the Star, went to the dance hall, always had a girl.
In my city were many poets, a group of painters called the Group of Seven, and no doubt many great readers and scholars. But in those days it was a very British city. I was intensely North American. It never occurred to me that the local poets had anything to do with me. Physically, and with some other part of me, the ball-playing, political, debating, lovemaking, family part of me, I was wonderfully at home in my native city, and yet intellectually, spiritually, the part that had to do with my wanting to be a writer was utterly, but splendidly and happily, alien. It was something like this: my father had no interest in baseball; I never bothered him about it; he never bothered me about it That was the way it was with me as a student, a young reporter interested in his own view of writing in this city. If I had to become a lawyer, all right, I would practise law. And then I met our real city editor, the fearsome Mr. Hindmarsh, who had come back from his holidays.
I have to tell you about this man, Harry Hindmarsh. If it hadn’t been for Hindmarsh, Hemingway might have remained a year in Toronto, he might not have written The Sun Also Rises, and I might have settled into newspaper work. Hindmarsh was the grand antagonist. But I never hated him as Hemingway did. There was always some sardonic humour in my view of him. All the duels with him really pushed me closer to Paris. Hemingway maintained that Hindmarsh was a bad newspaperman. It wasn’t true. Hindmarsh was a hard-driving, good, ruthless newspaperman. But as the general of the Star army, always on the move, he had some failings. Perhaps it wasn’t such an advantage to him after all that he had married the daughter of the president of the Star Publishing Company, Joseph Atkinson. Perhaps it had something to do with his refusal to permit any one of his employees to enjoy his own sense of security. With his anger, childish petulance and inexplicable moodiness, he seemed to be driven to break any proud man’s spirit. And yet he was sentimental. He was capable of gusts of inexplicable moody kindness. When a man was really broken, an alcoholic or a debt-ridden fool or some other lost soul, helpless and on his knees, Hindmarsh would be there with a helping hand, saying in effect, “Rise, my son, I am with you. Let me look after things for you.”
One morning Hindmarsh, accompanied by his assistant Johnston, came walking along the aisle from the city desk past the row of reporters’ desks on his way to his office. The big heavy-shouldered man with close-cropped hair and an assured, dominating manner, stopped in front of me. Astonished, I stood up slowly. “Mr. Callaghan,” said my Mr. Johnston, “meet Mr. Hindmarsh.” I put out my hand warily, but the big fellow was smiling at me benevolently.
“You were ‘hired as a summer replacement,’ he said.
‘Yes, Mr. Hindmarsh,’ and I saw that Mr. Johnston, who had gambled and hired me, was not looking unhappy.
‘Well, my boy,’ said Mr. Hindmarsh, with a surprisingly warm grin, ‘I understand you wrote that story about W. Z. Foster. I have decided you’re cut out to be a newspaperman. You can join the permanent staff.’
Embarrassed, I told him I hadn’t finished my university course and would have to go back to college.
Whirling on my Mr. Johnston, Hindmarsh growled, ‘I thought you told me this man was a varsity graduate?’
‘Mr. Callaghan, didn’t you tell me you were a graduate?’ asked Johnston, and I saw by the expression on his face that he was scared stiff of Hindmarsh. ‘You didn’t ask me,’ I said nervously. ‘Nobody asked me.’
‘Nobody asked you?’ and Mr. Hindmarsh, grunting, drew back and brooded over both me and Mr. Johnston, then shook his head sadly.
‘I assumed…’ began Mr. Johnston nervously. But then Mr. Hindmarsh half smiled. ‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘Go back to college. Graduate. We’ll work something out for you to keep you on the paper.’ As Mr. Hindmarsh strode away Mr. Johnston remained studying me with a perplexed air. But I hurried out. My God, I thought, what will Hindmarsh say when he discovers that I have still another year to go at college?
By this time that thin, whispering deskman, Jimmy Cowan, the only one I talked to about writing, would pass on to me bits of local gossip in his sinister mutter. Cowan read all the American writers, kept track of Mencken in the old Smart Set, could talk about the Greenwich Village crowd, and even read the theatrical paper, Variety. One day, near the end of summer he whispered to me, his eye rolling around the newsroom as if he had to make sure no one was listening, ‘A good newspaperman is coming from Europe to join the staff. Our European correspondent, Ernest Hemingway.’ Then he told me that Hemingway had been in Toronto some four years ago when he had done some work for the Star Weekly. Since I had never heard of this Mr. Hemingway I could only say ‘Oh.’
A few weeks later, one noontime, crossing the street to the Star building, I saw a tall, broad-shouldered, brown-eyed, high-coloured man with a heavy black moustache coming out of the building. He was wearing a peak cap. He smiled at me politely. He had a quick, eager, friendly smile and looked like a Latin, No Toronto newspaperman would be wearing that peak cap, and I knew he must be the new man from Europe, Ernest Hemingway.
Next morning when the assignment book was brought from H. C. Hindmarsh’s office and the reporters gathered around, I ran my eye down the page and saw Hemingway’s name in at least five places. Fascinated, I looked to see what kind of assignment was being given the big correspondent from Europe. Five inconsequential jobs such as I might be asked to do myself! While I stood there Hemingway came in, looked at the book, muttered a terse four-letter word and hurried out white-faced. I could see what was happening. Our Mr. Hindmarsh was determined that no one should get the impression that he was going to be coddled. But Hemingway’s startled curse, muttered over my shoulder, was the only word I heard from him for over a month.
In those weeks I don’t think I saw him more than once or twice; for he was busy galloping around the country in the Hindmarsh harness. But I had heard—I was always hearing things about him—that he’d brought from Paris a book of his called Three Stories and Ten Poems, privately printed. My friend Jimmy Cowan lent me this book for one night. I can remember being in the city room long after midnight, finishing up an assignment, and across from me sat two older, learned and well-paid colleagues. I couldn’t resist asking them if they had read Three Stories and Ten Poems. They had. And what did they think of it? Their supercilious contempt enraged me. When I argued with them, they dismissed me good humouredly. After all, they didn’t even know my name. I can still remember the patient smile of the older one as he said, ‘Remember this, my boy. Three swallows never made a summer.’
‘All right, I think he’s a great writer,’ I said belligerently.
‘Now just wait and see.’
So far I hadn’t even shaken hands with Hemingway, and yet I would pick up bits of information about him. He had a peculiar and, for him, I think, fatal quality. He made men want to talk about him. He couldn’t walk down the street and stub his toe without having a newspaperman who happened to be walking with him magnify the little accident into a near fatality. How he was able to get these legends going I still don’t know. But I would hear of the dramatic tension developing between him and Mr. Hindmarsh. How magnified all this was I can’t say. I do say, even in those days everything that was happening to Hemingway was magnified by someone. I heard that he had hardly time to be with his wife, Hadley, when she was having her baby. And yet he was suddenly moved downstairs to enjoy the leisurely life on the Star Weekly.
At this time I went back to school for the fall term. But three times a week I would come down to the editorial room where I got my assignment, then I would go downstairs to the library and sit writing my story. One afternoon I looked up and there was Hemingway, watching me. I imagine he had time on his hands and was looking for someone to talk to. Though years have passed I still wonder what brought him to me.
He was sitting across from me, leaning close, and there was real sweetness in his smile and a wonderful availability, and he made me feel that he was eagerly and deeply involved in everything. We began to talk. He told me that he had come to Toronto because his wife was having a baby and he had heard Toronto doctors were very good. As soon as possible, he said vehemently, he’d go back to Paris. He couldn’t write in Toronto. There is a story that while he was in Toronto he was sending out stories to the little magazines in Paris. This is nonsense. Those Paris magazines, the Transatlantic Review, Transition, This Quarter and Ezra Pound’s Exile hadn’t even been launched.
He had come to Toronto with good expectations, and now he seemed to feel smothered, though he had good friends here. I could see it wasn’t only the job that was bothering him. I didn’t know what it was. Yet he had a strange and delightful candour, and every time I looked at his warm, dark face with the restless eyes I liked him more.
Words came from him not in an eloquent flow but with a quiet, tense authority. He gave me a quick rundown on the talents of the better-known reporters. This one was ‘a good newspaperman.’ Another one—‘There’s no one better at the kind of thing he’s doing.’ But with some he was brutal. ‘Him? He simply has no shame.’ This one had a homosexual style. Then we began to talk about literature. All his judgements seemed to come out of an intense and fierce conviction, but he offered them to you as if he were letting you in on something. ’James Joyce is the greatest writer in the world,” he said. Huckleberry Finn was a very great book. Had I read Stendhal? Had I read Flaubert? Always appearing to be sharing a secret; yet watching me intently. He seemed pleased that I was so approving of the intention behind the great Stendhal style. And there was Melville; if I was interested in symbolism, Moby Dick was the great work. And what did I think of Stephen Crane? Did I agree that The Red Badge of Courage was a great war book? I was to wonder about his enthusiasm for The Red Badge of Courage, especially when, later on, he made such a point about a writer needing to experience for himself the scenes he described. Crane’s book was a work purely of the imagination.
Suddenly he asked how old I was, and I told him, and he said he was seven years older. Then he said solemnly, “You know, you are very intelligent.”
“Well, thanks,” I said uncomfortably, for people I knew in Toronto didn’t say such things to each other.
“Do you write fiction?” he asked.
“Have you got a story around?”
“As a matter of fact, I have.”
“When do you come down here again?”
“Bring the story along,” he said. “I’ll look for you,” and he got up and left.
But my Friday assignment took me out of the office. The following Monday afternoon I passed Hemingway on the stairs. Wheeling suddenly four steps above me, looming over me, big and powerful, he growled, “You didn’t bring that story down.”
“No, I was busy.”
“I see,” he said, then rude and brutal, he added, “I just wanted to see if you were another god-damned phony.”
His brutal frankness shocked me, and I felt my face burning. “I’m retyping the story,” I said curtly. “I’ll bring it down. Don’t worry. I’ll be in there Wednesday at three.”
“We’ll see,” he said, and as he hurried up the stairs, anyone watching would probably have thought I owed him some money and had been ducking him.
On Wednesday I was waiting in the library with my story, and within five minutes Hemingway appeared. He had some proofs in his hand. “Did you bring the story?” he asked. I handed it to him. “I brought these along,” he said, handing me the proofs. They were proofs of the first edition of In Our Times, the little book done in Paris on special paper with hand-set type. “I’ll read your story,” he said, “and you read these.”
We sat across from each other at the table, reading, and not a word was said. His work was just a series of long paragraphs, little vignettes. They were so polished they were like epigrams, each paragraph so vivid, clean and intense that the scene he was depicting seemed to dance before my eyes. Sitting there I knew I was getting a glimpse of the work of a great writer.
When he saw that I had finished with his proofs he put down my story and said quietly, “You’re a real writer. You write big time stuff. All you have to do is keep on writing.”
He spoke so casually, but with such tremendous authority, that I suddenly couldn’t doubt him? Without knowing it, I was in the presence of that authority he evidently had to have to hold his life together. He had to believe he knew, as I found out later, or he was lost Whether it was in the field of boxing, or soldiering, or bullfighting or painting, he had to believe he was the one who knew. And he could make people believe he did, too. “Now what about my proofs?” he asked. Fumbling a little, and not sounding like a critic, I told him how impressed I was. “What do your friends in Paris say about this work?” I asked.
“Ezra Pound says it is the best prose he has read in forty years,” he said calmly.
At that time the poet Ezra Pound was not a big name in Toronto, but to young writers in English, whether they lived in New York, Paris or London, he was the prophet, the great discoverer, the man of impeccable taste. I think I saw then why Hemingway wanted to get out of Toronto like a bat out of hell. He had a kind of frantic pride, and though he had good friends among his colleagues in Toronto, they couldn’t imagine they were in the presence of a man who was writing the best prose that had been written in the last forty years. Was that why he said to me so firmly, “Whatever you do, don’t let anyone around here tell you anything”?
From then on, whenever I came down to the Star I would wait around in the library and often Hemingway would show up and we would talk about writers and writing. My life was taking a new turn in those encounters, for at last I had found a dedicated artist to talk to. He would say such things as, “A writer is like a priest He has to have the same feeling about his work.” Another time he said, “Even if your father is dying and you are there at his side and heartbroken you have to be noting every little thing going on, no matter how much it hurts.” Words wouldn’t pour out of him; sometimes he would talk haltingly as if he stuttered. But he made me feel that he was willing to be ruthless with himself or with anything or anybody that got in the way of the perfection of his work.
Yes, at that time the dedicated artist, but not the big personality. I think at that time he would have scoffed at the notion of ever becoming such a big public personality for people who hardly knew his work. And as for me—I couldn’t even imagine him ever letting it happen to him. The work was the thing, he seemed to say with every gesture. When I think of some of those absurd pictures I’ve seen of him in these last few years, or recall now how he went in for that Indian talk, one-syllable grunts, my mind goes back to those conversations years ago in the Star library.
What seems incredible now, almost mysterious, is that we . would talk about Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Scott Fitzgerald—then at the height of his fame—all far away from me in Toronto, and yet it turned out that we were talking about people I was to know and be with in a few short years.
I was the one who mentioned Fitzgerald. I had been reading him in the Hart House library at college. I was dazzled by his quick success. Some of his stories meant nothing to me at all. But I had just read “The Diamond As Big As The Ritz.” I had liked it. I had begun to wonder about him. I said I thought This Side of Paradise too literary a production, yet it was bright and fresh and engaging. Ernest seemed to be on the fence about that early Fitzgerald work. Not grudging, but somewhat dubious about the direction Fitzgerald might take. But he did make it clear that Fitzgerald wasn’t exciting him at all. There in the library, talking so dispassionately, so judicially about Scott, how could we have imagined that a little time would pass and we would be with Scott, and our lives would become tangled in a swirl of fierce passions and wounded pride?
I remember our last conversation before he went away. When we met in the afternoon he asked me if I had a copy of his Three Stories and Ten Poems. I hadn’t. At that time there was a little bookstore at Bay and Bloor where Hemingway had left some copies. “Let’s walk up there,” he said. It was a long walk and we loafed along slowly, absorbed in our conversation. I remember we were talking about the great Russian, Dostoevski, and I said, “The way he writes—it’s like a forest fire. It sweeps indiscriminately over everything.”
“That’s pretty good,” he said, pondering. Then he stopped on the street. “You know Harry Greb,” he said, referring to the wonderful middleweight champion with the windmill style. “Well, Dostoevski writes like Harry Greb fights,” he said. “He swarms all over you. Like this.” And there on the street he started shadowboxing.
We got his little book from the bookshop, then walked over to Yonge and Bloor for a coffee. He wrote in the book, To Callaghan with best luck and predictions, and while he was doing it I said wryly that now he was going away it looked as if I was losing my reading public of one—him. “No,” he said. “Remember this. There are always four or five people, somewhere in the world, who are interested in good new writing. Some magazines are starting up in Paris,” and he sounded like a bishop and again I believed I only needed to wait.
On his last day at the Star I went down to the Weekly and walked in boldly to say good-bye to him. I remember he was sitting with the three top writers of the Star Weekly: Greg Clark, who was his friend, Charlie Vining and Fred Griffin. As I approached Hemingway to say good-bye, these, three men looked at me in surprise, for they didn’t even know me.
“Write and let me know how you’re doing and as soon as you get anything done, shoot it to Paris,” he said. “I’ll tell them about you.”
“I’ve got your address. I’ll see you in Paris.”
“Care of the Guaranty Trust That’s right.”
As I shook hands with him my face was burning, for I knew the others were looking at me in some wonder.
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