I WAS articled to a plump and amiable young lawyer named Joseph Sedgwick who was just getting established. I used to go to morning law classes and often doze in my chair—the law came easily to me—and then I would go to the law office. If Joe Sedgwick wanted a title searched I did it for him. Otherwise, with him out on business, I would sit in his office at my typewriter working on a short novel. And wasn’t I businesslike? As soon as I had finished a chapter I would hand it to the secretary, who would type it promptly and cheerfully just to have something to do. In the office even the few clients wanted to hang around and talk, so there was always a lot of laughter and clowning, and Joe, my lawyer, in his amiable chuckling style, would try to tell me about Dickens as I in turn tried to tell him about Dostoevski.
Having finished my short novel and sent it off to Paris, I suddenly found myself reading Hemingway’s The Torrents of Spring. It was a painful experience. How torn I was in my loyalties. My only reader, the only one who believed in me, was satirizing Sherwood Anderson, who, when I was in high school, had brought the world so close. Anderson’s style, God knows, had become more affected. Certainly he was vulnerable to mockery and satire, but the mockery shouldn’t have come from Hemingway. Why did he do it? But wasn’t he also mocking Ford Madox Ford’s style? This puzzled me too. Didn’t friendship count? And one’s own origins? For my part I wanted everybody to know I was grateful to Anderson. ’Someday I would tell it to him, I knew, and I did too, though I had to wait ten years. Yes, I also remember wishing that it had been at the time I had read The Torrents of Spring—not ten years later.
It was at a big cocktail party in Greenwich Village to which I had gone with Bennett Cerf. The apartment was crowded with well-known writers and reviewers, and after an hour of it, I, like all the others, was seeking a little attention. Each new face offered the promise of gratifying recognition. Then I saw that my colleagues were all as self-centred and hopeful as I was. Wryly amused and a little ashamed, I withdrew and stood off by myself, looking out the window. In the hum of voices an older man, probably as restless and bored as I, had left his group and came sauntering aimlessly in my direction. A square-built man with rugged features and a lion’s head. No other man in the world could have looked so much like the pictures of Anderson. All the delight I had got from his work when I had been only nineteen came back to me. Full of affection for this man I had never seen before, I played the clown and did it well. Approaching him with a solemn accusing air, I took him by the arm. “Excuse me, aren’t you Sherwood Anderson?” I asked accusingly.
“That’s right,” he said.
“Good,” I said quietly. “Then you’re my father.”
The look on his face as he drew back uneasily made me want to laugh. I was young enough to be his son. Wild thoughts must have been in his head as he saw the look of recognition on my face. Finally he said, “I don’t understand. What is your name?”
“Morley …” and then he burst out laughing. Delighted, he put his arms around me. “What a wonderful thing to say to me,” he said. After we had laughed and shaken hands again, and stood back looking at each other, he said earnestly, “Don’t make a mistake about it. You would have written the way you write if you had never heard of me.” He was staying at the Washington Mews, he said, insisting I come for dinner next night.
But those years ago in Toronto, reading The Torrents of Spring, I couldn’t understand why Ernest had felt compelled to kill off old Sherwood. To a man of Ernest’s temperament, was it an intolerable frustration to be so definitely linked to Anderson; did he have to kill or reject, or show bis superiority in order to be free himself? A man couldn’t believe these things about a friend who had been kind and incredibly generous in his interest, and as if to bear out my loyal view of Ernest as a generous man there came suddenly the letter from Paris.
Ernest wrote that his affairs had been unsettled, but now everything had straightened out and lie was working rapidly on a novel, writing three thousand words a day. (The novel was The Sun Also Rises.) He had carried my stories and my short novel around in his trunk, he wrote. Now he thought he should hand over all my work to Robert McAlmon, of the Contact Press, in Paris, and I would soon be hearing from McAlmon. Well, I only had to wait a week or so.
Since the Contact Press had been Ernest’s first publisher, I thought McAlmon and Ernest would be close friends. And that hand-printed edition of In Our Time had been dedicated to Robert McAlmon, along with William Bird, and Captain Eric Dormen Smith. Robert McAlmon, publisher of the city of Paris! How sedately impressive it had looked on the Dedication page ! In his letter, the first of so many I was to receive from him, McAlmon wrote that my stories had “the odour and timbre of authenticity.” What a grand phrase it was! All puffed up, I wanted to look down my nose at someone. Then he compared my stories with the stories Hemingway had done up to that time. What he distrusted in Hemingway’s stories, he wrote, was “the hardening process.” But in my case the hardening process wasn’t there, he wrote. Then he told me he was showing my stories to Ezra Pound and to the editors of This Quarter and transition. As for my short novel, the Contact Press would do it if I couldn’t get a New York publisher. Again I was left waiting for news from Paris.
One winter afternoon at twilight when I was in the law office, I phoned home to ask if there was any mail for me. My mother told me a parcel from Paris was there, and I asked her to open it. In a moment she said, “It’s a book or a magazine, and it’s called, This Quarter.” And then I heard her gasp, “Son your name is on the cover!” I hurried home.
That orange-coloured cover of the second number of This Quarter had the names of the contributors in bold black lettering : James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Emmanuel Carnevali, Kay Boyle, Morley Callaghan … My hands trembling, I opened the magazine and there was my. story, “A Girl With Ambition”. After dinner I hurried out to meet Loretto. I think we talked for hours. My confidence had become tremendous.
Within a few months my “Last Spring They Came Over” appeared in the second number of transition, which was edited by Eugene Jolas and Eliot Paul, and McAlmon wrote me that Ezra Pound would be publishing a magazine of his own in Rapallo, Italy, to be called The Exile. Every few weeks now a letter came from McAlmon. And Yvor Winters began to write to me from Palo Alto, California. I remember that in one letter he lectured to me about the danger of becoming, as he called it, “a knickknack for the mantelpiece”, and advised me to read Racine. In my native city, of course, the little magazines of Paris had small importance. To my friends, I was still a lazy student at law who went to all the boxing matches and was always seen at the football games. But dose at hand were friends of my friends in Paris. In New York were friends of McAlmon, who had lived in the Quarter. So that fall I took a four-day trip to New York to see these friends and hear news of Paris.
I was twenty-two, and I remember that I had my return ticket on the train and fifty dollars. I remember too how I went by way of the Lehigh Valley, and how I came out of the Pennsylvania Station and looked up at the skyscrapers against the sky while my heart leaped. A cop told me where Broadway was. Near Times Square would be the kind of hotel I wanted. On Broadway I began to walk in the wrong direction. An hour later I found myself wandering around Wall Street, so I started to walk uptown again, taking my time, looking around carefully. Near Times Square I found a cheap hotel. My heels were so blistered I had to bathe my feet before I could go out and walk down Fifth and make my first call on Josephine Herbst and John Herrman.
Years later Josephine Herbst would laugh as she told of the way I walked in on her. I still don’t know why she laughed. Climbing a long staircase, I knocked and a woman with a good honest face reminding me a little of Lillian Gish’s face opened the door.
In the room with the windows overlooking Fifth was a pretty, fair girl with bandaged wrists: the Follies girl, I found out later, who had just tried to commit suicide, and of whom Edmund Wilson had written in I Thought of Daisy. I was a friend of Hemingway’s and McAlmon’s, I said. Maybe I was just too straightforward and candid, I don’t know, but I remember that as we talked about McAlmon and Hemingway, and life in Montparnasse, Miss Herbst’s fine blue eyes had a grave and sometimes troubled expression. “What’s the news from Paris?” she asked. Well, I had it, didn’t I? I could give her McAlmon’s latest opinion on the literary situation, I could tell her Hemingway had been writing freely and happily at the rate of three thousand words a day, yet I seemed to be making some mistakes. How long since I had been in Paris? she asked. I confessed I had never been in Paris, that I had written my stories in Toronto and that Hemingway had carried them around with him. It was getting darker out and the light in the room had faded, but I kept them there talking to me about Paris. ’The girl with the bandaged wrists remained motionless and quiet, and I forgot she was there. I could tell Miss Herbst had some kind of generosity of spirit or heart while having a grim hard mind. And I liked her. The room was now in twilight and Miss Herbst said she had an engagement, but I wanted to keep her talking about Paris. She and her husband, John Herrman, could see me the following night, she said. And who else had McAlmon asked me to see? Whipping out my list I asked what kind of a guy Nathan Asch was. Nathan, the son of the great Jewish novelist, Sholem Asch, had just written a book called The Office. An amusing and talented man who was a little wistful, she said. She told me how to find his street in the Village.
I left, ate in another cafeteria, read the newspapers and sat for an hour, then walked down to Washington Square. The old neighbourhood, looking so friendly with all the lights on, filled me with a sense of elation and expectancy. On Bank Street, I think it was, I climbed a stair and knocked on the door and there he was, the young friend of Ford Madox Ford, not long from Paris, with his moustache and thick hair and melancholy eyes. Behind him, stretched out on a bed, was a fair girl, his wife. As I looked around the room and saw that they had no money, I told him McAlmon had asked me to look him up. “What’s the news from Paris?” he asked. Again I was the ambassador from Paris. Six months later Nathan told me I had come walking in on them “with all the confidence of a plumber come to fix a pipe.” Naturally he had thought I was from Paris. Soon we were talking eagerly about Ford and McAlmon and Hemingway and corners in Montparnasse. Finally I explained I was from Toronto. The confession seemed to charm Nathan, and he told me that if I had as little as five dollars we could see some of the Village spots, having only coffee at one place, then coffee again at another. We went out happily. What a happy night it was. The whole three days were a delight.
I met Josephine Herbst’s husband, John Herrman, a tall handsome laughing man. Part of each day I spent with Nathan Asch. We all treated each other as important writers. And one evening I went out to Rutherford and had dinner with Dr. William Carlos Williams and his wife. Everyone was so friendly, and all because I had had a few stories in the Paris magazines. No wonder I was back in New York within six months. The places, the faces, are all a little blurred now; a rap on a rooming-house door, Allen Tate, the poet with the scholarly head opening the door; a big party in some kind of a loft with Eddie Cahill suffering from some kind of stomach trouble; sitting beside Katherine Anne Porter at a dinner, wondering why she went home alone; the party where I met Ford Madox Ford and was baffled, wondering why I couldn’t approach him eagerly, but he seemed too impassive, too roundly, solidly imposing with his walrus moustache as he presided port-winedly over the gathering, talking in a hoarse whisper that compelled everyone to lean forward, alert and attentive, to catch the whispered words—he had been gassed in the war you know, How secretly enchanted I was by the experience of being with people who regarded writing as more important than anything else on earth. But, of course, I was the only one who hadn’t been to Europe.
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