THERE were afternoons when I would meet Scott for a drink, just the two of us. He no longer suggested we all get together with the Hemingways. Knowing how stubborn he was, I still waited confidently for him to say, “I think I’ll come along with you and Ernest. Tell me where to meet you.” If either Ernest or Scott had by any single gesture indicated I was not wanted around, I would have fled and said, “To hell with them.” But Scott seemed to believe that his own loyalty to Ernest and his admiration for him would have to bring them together. Yet Scott and I, by this time, always seemed to find other things to talk about. He was a delight to me. I could tell him about a story I was planning and he would seem to be absorbed in it. I liked, too, the way he tossed of irrelevant bits of information. People should feel free with each other, he would say. Did I know why Louis XIV established the code of manners? So his subjects, whether eating or meeting each other, would know how to behave; if they were all required to do the same thing on a given occasion, then they were free from the embarrassment of wondering what to do; thus, they enjoyed a kind of freedom and ease with each other. A splendid idea! How often this matter of a code of behaviour seemed to come up around the Quarter. What was it? A disguised search for right action? Or the inevitable snobbery. As I have said, we were all dreadful snobs.
At other times Scott would startle me. “Tell me something,” he would say. “Do you feel you’re a great man?”
Thinking he was kidding me, I would laugh. “It’s not worrying me, Scott.”
“Is it so important?”
“I think it’s very important,” he insisted. “False modesty is not involved. A great writer, a great man must, I’m convinced, know himself he’s a great man.” And there at the cafe that afternoon he sounded so quiet and sensible and he looked so distinguished as he meditated, his eyes turned inward, I almost agreed with him. But all the way down the line I was really at odds with him. To be great without ever wondering if you were great, that was the thing, I said. To be original without ever trying to be original. But a man had to have some arrogance; it was his defensive weapon.
Those afternoons with Scott were all good sunlit afternoons. At first, some of his opinions would seem to me to be childish—like his theory about Hemingway needing a new woman for every big book. After pondering over one of these insights, I would see that he always had some basis for his judgment.
One day he asked, “How carefully do you read reviews?”
“I read the first five or six reviews very eagerly just to see how the book is going to be received,” I said.
“But how carefully do you go over them?”
“Unless some rare bit of insight catches my eye I don’t read them carefully,” I admitted.
It had always seemed to me that writing was like painting; only a few people knew when a painting was really good. In a publishing house there might be one man. In all America how many critics were there who were capable of submitting themselves to the object—thing written—and judging it for what it was? I grew more eloquent. I sounded vehement. What was the whole academic training? I asked. A discipline in seeing a thing in terms of something else. Always the compa|rison. The poem, the story, had to be fitted into the familiar scheme of things, or it didn’t exist and the academic man was lost. A work had be brushed off it the critic couldn’t comfortably make it look like something familiar to him. It had always seemed to me that most reviewers were simply protectors of the known things.
But Scott, was impatient. Of course I was right, but I was missing the point. Didn’t I ever learn anything from the bad reviews?
“Never,” I said, “unless I have some extraordinary respect for the reviewer.”
Well, it wasn’t like that with him, he said. He read all reviews carefully; no matter where they came from, or how bad they were, he read them carefully. No, it wasn’t a waste of time. There was always the chance that some reviewer, even missing the point, might make one helpful remark.
As he sat there talking so sincerely I seemed to see him alone at night in his study. I looked at him in wonder, the author of The Great Gatsby, poring over some dumb unsympathetic review, hoping for one little flash of insight that might touch his own imagination, make him aware of some flaw in his work, make him a better artist
The afternoon which was to reshape my relationship with both my two friends, Ernest and Scott, was a little different right from the beginning from the other afternoons. My wife and I were meeting Scott at his place and we were to sit at the Deux Magots. Zelda was busy with her ballet lessons. I have a clear picture now of the three of us, Scott, Loretto and myself, coming from the direction of his place. Then we stopped, looking at St. Sulpice with its tower rising against the blue sky, and I muttered something about St. Sulpice art. It was a name for bad Catholic art. Though Loretto and I had passed this church again and again, we hadn’t gone in. I made a joke about Scott living in the shadow of bad Catholic art. It amused him. Then he said that he liked living near the church; he liked the neighbourhood; he was always aware he was in the shadow of the church.
Close to the entrance now, he asked if we knew that this church had columns larger in circumference than any in Paris. And my wife said, “Why don’t we go in and look at them? Come on, Scott”
“No,” he said, half-irritably, he wouldn’t go into the church. If we wanted to go in and walk around a column, he would gladly wait outside for us. “Oh, come on,” my wife said, taking his arm. Firmly he detached his arm as he shook his head stubbornly. Since we were at the door of the church, going in with us wasn’t much to ask of him, was it? A little thing like looking at the pillars. So we kidded and coaxed him. “I never go into the church,” he said quietly. Suddenly his manner embarrassed us. We felt apologetic. “All right, Scott. But what’s the matter?”
“I simply won’t go into it,” he said. “Don’t ask me about it. It’s personal. The Irish-Catholic background and all that. You go ahead.”
So we left him standing in the sunlight while we went into the church. Rather quickly we paced around the circumference of one of the columns, then hurried out to Scott who was waiting, solemn and terribly unyielding. But his grim refusal to go in seemed to me to be a betrayal of some deep religious sentiment in him. We made some cheerful comment about the columns and went on our way.
As we were crossing the square he said quietly, “I was going to take your arm, Morley…”
“Remember the night I was in bad shape? I took your arm. Well, I dropped it. It was like holding on to a cold fish. You thought I was a fairy, didn’t you?”
“You’re crazy, Scott,” I said. But I wished I had been more consoling, more demonstrative with him that night.
In the sunlight on the Deux Magots terrace we could see the old square-towered church of St. Germain des Pres. At night, when there was moonlight, the church was always a ghostly white. Was Descartes buried there? And to the right was the boulevard. The great houses there used to make me think of Balzac’s duchesses, and the world of Proust. Then, without noticing how it happened, we found ourselves talking about Ernest. At first it was just an idle conversation. No one could have said that Scott was giving any sign of being under the power of a strange compulsion to be enjoying again the companionship of Ernest. He asked when I had last seen him and if we had been boxing. A few days ago, I said.
Then he began to reveal that no matter what might have happened between them, he still kept some wide-eyed loyalty to his own view of Ernest. Whether he was secretly hurt, feeling pushed aside and not needed, didn’t matter. He began to tell me about all Ernest’s exploits and his prowess and his courage. He told the stories as if he were making simple statements of fact. It seemed to give him pleasure to be able to tell stories about a man whose life was so utterly unlike his own. He gave Ernest’s life that touch of glamour that he alone could give, and give better than any man. Ernest and the war. His wound. The time when Ernest thought he was dead. As he talked about bravery and courage, I grew impatient. These legends, this kind of talk, spoiled Ernest for me. I had as much affection for him as Scott had. I liked him for being the poet and storyteller he was, and I liked him for his warmth and availability to me, and the sweetness in him. I wanted to cut Scott off, but was afraid of offending him.
So I sat there, feeling that Scott was belittling himself. A lot of men had been close to death, a lot of men had been wounded, a lot of men realized they were going to die. Why should Scott or anybody else make such a big thing of it? And as for courage, I didn’t like all the talk about the loneliness of courage. It is outrageously untrue to pretend that the world is in a conspiracy to break a man’s physical courage. Courage is the one virtue that has had universal approval. I never knew anyone who was against it and wanted to see it broken. Even our worst enemies admire it in us, if we show it. Courage was life, and cowardice was death of the spirit, but it had always seemed to me the more you talked about courage the more you lost it and the more you began to fear cowardice. You feared yourself. And if you went around testing your courage, sooner or later you would drive yourself frantic and do some suicidal thin. A man who went around looking for challenges to his courage was right out of the phony days of chivalry, the days when men looked for fancied insults to an imaginary sense of honour. Cervantes in Don Quixote had destroyed forever all that nonsense. When I was with Ernest I never had these thoughts. I had them now, listening to Scott, who was making Ernest himself an unreal figure for me.
Then Scott began to repeat to me the story I had got from Max Perkins about Hemingway jumping into the ring and knocking out the middleweight champion of France. He told it as if he were letting me in on something, and he sounded a little awed. I could hardly conceal my exasperation with him. “Do you really think Ernest is that good?” I asked.
It didn’t seem to occur to him that I might know better than he did. With a judicial air he pondered. “Ernest is probably not good enough to be the heavyweight champion,” he said gravely. “But I would say that he is about as good as Young Stribling.”
Young Stribling was a famous first-class light heavyweight fighter who was so good he was forced to fight heavyweights. “Look, Scott,” I said to him, “Ernest is an amateur. I’m an amateur. All this talk is ridiculous. But we do have fun.”
Not convinced at all, he shook his head. But then at last he said it; what he had been wanting to say for weeks. “Could I come along with you sometime?”
“Why don’t you ask Ernest?”
“Is it all right with you? Do you think Ernest would object?”
Suddenly it seemed ridiculous to me that Scott, my friend, and Ernest’s admirer, shouldn’t be allowed to come with us some afternoon and be part of our common friendship. “Why don’t you get hold of Ernest?” I said bluntly. “Get hold of him and say you were talking to me. Tell him point-blank you’d like to come along with us. Miro came with us. Why shouldn’t you?”
Published as That Summer In Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald by Morley Callaghan (New York: Coward-Mccann, 1963).