(Or midsummer or Midnight perhaps)
In the cool of the evening, twixt mess call and taps
The sage grey haired Matty has hailed me “Hey You!”
As he struggles composing a letter or too
And informed me that Mildred the light of his heart
(Whose nose wears no powder who eye brows no art)
Would like to recieve with his bi-weekly note
A poem his brilliant assistant has wrote
(Bad grammar, excuse me I’m crude but I’m cute
And clever and rather good looking to boot)
Well, Stranger, here goes: I am well known to fame
As F. Scott Fitz - Wait! I cant tell you my name
Matty specified this and I had to agree
Lest you transfer your fickle affections to me
Are you dark? are you fair? are you languid or fat?
A pencil brunette or an elderly cat?
Are you mild or “a scream”? quite a wit or a loon?
Do you dress in pale lilac or savor maroon?
Wear Djer Kiss or is there about you a trace
Of that whats-its-name powder that sticks to the face?
Do you smoke, do you read, can you vote, do you swim?
Did Matty abduct you or you capture him?
You see I’ve no dope & I’m a young second lieut
And he is a first, my commander to boot -
And when he whispers “write” (he gets harsh now and then)
I growl, grouch and mutter - and pick up my pen
Now this [is] a secret - its Mathieson’s shame -
He’s afraid lest I tell you my honestly name
Because such a Romeo Brummel as I
Am rather a lure to the feminine eye
So poor incognito I write in my mask
(Is it not just as bad as a gas one? I ask)
And scorned and unknown I splutter and think
As syllables, syllables flow into ink
You think I’m concieted, I’ll bet you are vain
You think I sound silly, I’ll bet you’re inane
You think I’m too fresh — well you’re too overdone
Childish you say — but your just twenty one
Twenty one — Twenty one, you and I, just alike
If I had one I’d give you a ride on my bike
If I knew you I’d love you or hate you or: wait
Perhaps be indifferent and use you as bate
So Mildred don’t cry, you are weeping I’ll bet —
Perhaps it is better we never have met —
No doubt we were made for each other, my dear
But the Lord made the world and Mathieson’s here
To take the most gorgeous queen bees from the hives
And change them to horrible dutiful wives.
I hear you’re a Catholic, so’m I, and I hope
You pray to the saints but don’t worship the pope
Except when we speak ex cathedra (to the crowd)
I’m afraid he’s pro-German (don’t breathe it aloud)
While Matty is struggling and tearing his hair
For me its a cinch just because I don’t care
But then I’m a genius, its pleasant but its
Quite a bore my dear Mid
Yours quite faithfully
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
A recent donation has brought to light a largely unknown episode in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s youthful military career. After leaving Princeton in 1917, Fitzgerald entered the U.S. Army and served on a series of military bases, while still finding time to complete an early version of what would become his first novel, This Side of Paradise. On 15 March 1918 he reported to Camp Zachary Taylor, near Louisville, Kentucky, where he was a member of Headquarters Company, 45th Infantry.
While in Louisville, Fitzgerald penned light-hearted and clever verses in the form of a letter to a 21-year-old Pittsburgh woman named Mildred (“Mid”) McNally, who was engaged to and would later marry his commanding officer, Lieutenant John J. Mathison. (Mathison appears in a group photograph with Fitzgerald.) Many years later, in a 1965 letter to the author’s daughter, Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan, Mathison confessed that he had “paid little or no attention to his reading the manuscript of his first novel ‘This Side of Paradise,’ with which he regaled me night after night in Camp.”
Yet Lieutenant Mathison had been sufficiently impressed with Fitzgerald’s ability with words to order him to pen verses to the commanding officer’s “best girl,” whom the young writer had never met. Fitzgerald’s verses show his customary confidence in what he would later refer to as his “good looks and intelligence” as the source of his success with women. Mildred McNally cherished the poem but never responded to Fitzgerald, who remained with the 45th Infantry in Louisville until the regiment moved in April to Camp Gordon, Georgia, and then in June to Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama. While at Camp Sheridan, of course, he would meet and fall helplessly in love with Zelda Sayre, whom he married two years later.
Whether or not because of Mildred McNally, F. Scott Fitzgerald seemed to associate Louisville in his mind with frustrated love. A few years later he wrote of Jay Gatsby’s desire that, if Daisy Buchanan could be free of her husband Tom, “they [i.e. Jay and Daisy] were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house — just as if it were five years ago.”
The poem “Dear Mid” is published here for the first time, preserving Fitzgerald’s notoriously erratic spelling. Along with the two photographs reproduced here, the manuscript is a recent gift from Patricia Mathison Dvonch, Nancy M. Hennen, and Jane M. Wheeler, the three daughters of John J. Mathison and Mildred McNally Mathison. The manuscript and photographs have been added to the F. Scott Fitzgerald Additional Papers, which are housed in the Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
Published in The Princeton University Library Chronicle magazine (December 1997).