As usualFitzgerald went back to college early to wrestle with academic deficiencies. During the first weeks of September he was tutored in coordinate geometry by that small, brisk dispeller of darkness, “Johnny” Hun.
“And now do you see it, Mr. Fitzgerald?” Hun would ask, having explained the problem for the third time.
“No, Mr. Hun,” Fitzgerald would reply with a gentle finality that cast no aspersions on Hun, himself, or coordinate.
Somehow he passed the make-up exam, but enough conditions remained in his other subjects to keep him ineligible for the Triangle, which, nevertheless, consumed a large part of his autumn. As secretary of that organization he carried much of the responsibility because the president was out for football. Fitzgerald wrote all the lyrics for The Evil Eye, book by Edmund Wilson. The previous summer Wilson had sent Fitzgerald the script, saying, “I am sick of it myself; perhaps you can infuse into it some of the fresh effervescence of youth for which you are so justly celebrated. The spontaneity of the libretto has suffered somewhat from the increasing bitterness and cynicism of my middle-age.”
Though not allowed to act in the show, Fitzgerald had himself photographed as a chorus girl—his dress drooping off one alabaster shoulder, his features melting in a come-hither smile. The photograph was published in The New York Times and brought a flurry of fan mail. A girl wrote Fitzgerald that hisimpersonation of a woman was wonderfully charming and his impersonation of a man must be even more so. Charles Bornhaupt, impresario, offered to find him a booking on Broadway.
That fall Fitzgerald attended the meetings of the Coffee Club, a group of undergraduates that met periodically to discuss literature. John Peale Bishop was the presiding spirit and pretty much held the floor, though Fitzgerald added a welcome note of lightness and enthusiasm. If his background was spottier than Bishop’s, he fell in love with the things he read and wanted to foist them on others in a breathless way. Coming into the room like an explorer, he would say, “I’ve just finished Cousin Pons, one of the great experiences of my life. What a book! What a writer, Balzac!”
Meanwhile he was taking his prose and verse to Alfred Noyes for criticism (Noyes taught at Princeton from 1914 to 1923). Fitzgerald told Noyes he thought it in his power to write either books that would sell or books of permanent value, and wasn’t sure which he should do. Noyes said he believed Fitzgerald would get more satisfaction in the long run from writing books of permanent value. Fitzgerald looked dubious, later divulging that he had “decided to take the cash and let the credit go.” He wasn’t overly impressed with Noyes. When John Peale Bishop’s mother announced that she had just had tea with Alfred Noyes, the poet, Fitzgerald looked at her blankly and said, “Oh—is he a poet?” [Alfred Noyes is thought to have been the target of “Insidethe Lecture Room,” Fitzgerald’s satirical poem in This Side of Paradise, which begins “Good morning, fool…”]
The fall of junior year Fitzgerald could glance around him and feel he had reached a plateau. A Midwesterner from a small preparatory school, he had made the club he wanted, and his work for the Triangle—and to a lesser extent for The Tiger and the Lit—had brought him popular acclaim. He looked forward to being the Triangle’s next president and even had hopes of being elected to that sacrosanct body, the Senior Council.
He realized, of course, that a story for the Lit or a song for the Triangle was nothing compared to a touchdown run inthe stadium on Saturday afternoon. Athletics remained the highroad to undergraduate prestige—athletics being primarily football in which the Big Three dominated the national scene. It was the “set teeth and clenched fist” era of the game when players wore small battered helmets perched on top of their heads, and in some cases no helmets at all. Tactics were mostly confined to orthodox running plays, though there was much talk of “the open game,” meaning passes and deception. While Fitzgerald wasn’t the enthusiast he had been when a player himself, his blood still rose at the derring-do of a Hobey Baker or a “Buzz” Law—he of the indolent loping walk whom Fitzgerald would never forget kicking from behind his own goal with a bandaged head. Fitzgerald liked to romanticize such individuals as Law, endowing them with a background and superlative qualities which others knew perfectly well they didn’t possess.
Once more Fitzgerald was rooming by himself, though he had moved from distant Patton to 32 Little near the center of the campus. Remarkably outgoing and gregarious for someone so sensitive, he was usually with people—teasing them, cajoling them, searching them out. For friends and acquaintances he always had a pleasant greeting, and if he spotted you across the campus, he would come over on the run to impart some latest anecdote, speculation, or rumor.
Among his favorite haunts was the “Nass,” that great leveler and democratizer of pre-Prohibition Princeton. Connie, the Negro bartender, brought pitchers of beer to the initial-carved tables where undergraduates from all the different clubs and activities gathered pell-mell. As a rule Fitzgerald would be talking intently to one person; he was a button-holer who preferred a tete-a-tete to general debate. He wanted to get to the bottom of things, and if he stopped by a friend’s room to discuss campus politics, he was likely to remain several hours. Following closely with his expressive glance, he really listened while the other person talked, and his answers were whimsical and incisive, with a seriousness back of his fleeting smile. Contemptuous of dullness or hypocrisy, he admired excellence in any field and liked to analyze those who had made their mark. How, he would want to know, had this man become editor of the paper or that man captain of the football team?
He was constantly pumping people, but in an ingratiating way, for he knew, as he afterwards wrote, that “you can stroke people with words.” He drew you to him by his courtesy and consideration and by the penetration of his pale, friendly eyes which seemed to implant something of himself in you—though the same eyes could flash diabolically when, having made a fool of you, he went into his dry noiseless laugh. Some thought him juvenile. He would come back from the Nass where he had been discussing the fine points of why a certain sophomore belonged in a certain club and then complain because he had to sit up all night doing an assignment. One moment he would dazzle you with a brilliant insight, and the next he would be mooning about his desire to be a football hero like a boy of twelve. He couldn’t hold his liquor and liked to appear more drunk than he was. After one beer, he would allow his knees to sag and go into the drunken act that had amused the streetcar passengers in St. Paul. He exaggerated his misdemeanors. Thus he might say he had spent the night in the gutter, when actually he had spent it curled up in a quiet corner of the campus.
Some wrote him off as a lightweight. They linked him with the Triangle, and while conceding him a mild sort of cleverness, they expected real talent to be of knottier grain. But Fitzgerald wasn’t shallow in the obvious sense; he was too romantic for that. He saw the beauty of life and wanted to celebrate it and make others see it. There was something soaring and idealistic in his nature which constantly reached out for the experiences he hadn’t had.
In November he went to the infirmary with malaria, then endemic around Princeton. Charles Arrott, in the class behind him, shared his sickroom and later recalled their conversation which went on desultorily over five or six days. When Fitzgerald began by talking about football, Arrott, a scrub on the varsity, thought it was a gesture to put him at ease. He soon realized, however, that Fitzgerald actually wanted to talk football for as long as Arrott would cooperate. Arrott had been reading Tolstoi’s essays, and when he quoted the Russian as saying that the purpose of a work of art was to convey a moral, Fitzgerald disagreed violently. If such were the case, he argued, then the greatest works of art would be nothing but “damn good sermons.” He thought the artist’s purpose should be to express emotions he had lived through in some palatable disguise.
Fitzgerald told Arrott that the Dean’s office was hounding him about his grades. When Arrott said it took only a little time each day to do passing work, Fitzgerald agreed but said he couldn’t find the time. It seemed likely he would flunk out at midyears, and using his sickness as a pretext he withdrew from college in December, intending to come back the second term and make up the courses he had missed.
When he went to Princeton in February, however, he was told he would have to repeat junior year. Running into Arrott on the campus, he said, “Charlie, they’ve just flunked the brightest man in 1917 back into your class.” Fitzgerald managed to extract a statement from Dean McClenahan to the effect that “Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald withdrew from Princeton voluntarily on January third, nineteen hundred and sixteen, because of ill health and he was fully at liberty, at that time, to go on with his class, if his health had permitted.”
The Dean’s covering note said, “This is for your sensitive feelings. I hope you will find it soothing.”
Fitzgerald went home to await the autumn, home being 593 Summit Avenue to which his family had moved in September, 1914. Summit was St. Paul’s most elegant street, but the Fitzgeralds were living at the less elegant end in a three-story row house with a brownstone front. It was narrow, deep, and dark, the more so because of Mollie’s fondness for keeping the blinds drawn. Scott, as if forced upwards for light and air, occupied the top floor, his bedroom opening on a balcony that overlooked the street.
The years at Newman and Princeton had made him increasingly critical of his mother whose gaucheries were legendary in St. Paul. For example, a gentleman of her acquaintance was ill, and there had been a conspiracy to keep the seriousness of it from his wife. One day Mollie and the wife were riding on the streetcar. When the wife asked Mollie what she was thinking, she replied, “I’m trying to decide how you’ll look in mourning.” Another time Mollie lent a book to a friend and later sent a note asking that the book be returned. The friend, under the impression that she had already sent it back, searched her house from top to bottom. She was about to notify Mollie that the book was lost when she turned over Mollie’s note and saw on the back of it, “I’ve just found the book, but since the messenger is here, I am sending this along anyway to wish you well.”
Up till now Fitzgerald hadn’t had much to do with his sister Annabel, who was five years younger than he. She was quiet and pretty, and he was proud of her and anxious that she make the most of her possibilities. To this end he wrote her lengthy instructions from which these excerpts are taken:
“You are as you know, not a good conversationalist and you might very naturally ask ‘What do boys like to talk about?’ Boys like to talk about themselves—much more than girls. Here are some leading questions for a girl to use. … (a) You dance so much better than you did last year. (b) How about giving me that sporty necktie when you’re thru with it? (c) You’ve got the longest eyelashes! (This will embarrass him, but he likes it.) (d) I hear you’ve got a ‘line’! (e) Well who’s your latest crush? Avoid (a) When do you go back to school? (b) How long have you been home? (c) It’s warm or the orchestra’s good or the floor’s good….
“As you get a little older you’ll find that boys like to talk about such things as smoking and drinking. Always be very liberal—boys hate a pry—tell them you don’t object to a girl smoking but don’t like cigarettes yourself. Tell them you smoke only cigars—Kid them! … Never try to give a boy the affect that you’re popular—Ginevra always starts by saying she’s a poor unpopular woman without any beaux. Always pay close attention to the man. Look at him in his eyes if possible. Never effect boredom. Its terribly hard to do it gracefully. Learn to be worldly. Remember in all society nine out of ten girls marry for money and nine men out of ten are fools….
“Expression, that is facial expression, is one of your weakest points. A girl of your good looks and at your age ought to have almost perfect control of her face. It ought to be almost like a mask. … (a) A good smile and one that could be assumed at will, is an absolute necesity. You smile on one side which is absolutely wrong. Get before a mirror and practice a smile and get a good one, a ‘radiant smile’ ought to be in the facial vocabulary of every girl. Practice it—on girls, on the family. Practice doing it when you don’t feel happy and when you’re bored. When you’re embarrassed, when you’re at a disadvantage. That’s when you’ll have to use it in society and when you’ve practiced a thing in calm, then only are you sure of it as a good weapon in tight places. (b) A laugh isn’t as important but it’s well to have a good one on ice. Your natural one is very good, but your artificial one is bum. Next time you laugh naturally remember it and practice so you can do it any time you want. Practice anywhere. (c) A pathetic appealing look is one every girl ought to have. Sandra and Ginevra are specialists at this: so is Ardita, its best done by opening the eyes wide and drooping the mouth open a little, looking inward (hanging the head a little) directly into the eyes of the man you’re talking to. Ginevra and Sandra use this when getting off their ‘I’m so unpopular’ speeches and indeed they use it about half the time. Practice this. (d) Don’t bite or twist your lips—it’s sure death for any expression. (e) The two expressions you have control over now are no good. One is the side smile and the other is the thoughtful look with the eyes half closed. I’m telling you this because mother and I have absolutely no control over our facial expressions and we miss it. Mother’s worse than I am—you know how people take advantage of whatever mood her face is in and kid the life out of her. Well you’re young enough to get over it—tho you’re worse than I am now….
“With such splendid eyebrows as yours you should brush them or wet them and train them every morning and night as I advised you to do long ago. They oughtn’t to have a hair out of place. … I noticed last Saturday that your gestures are awkward and so unnatural as to seem affected. Notice the way graceful girls hold their hands and feet. How they stoop, wave, run and then try because you can’t practice these things when men are around. It’s too late then. They ought to be incentive then. …
“You see if you get anywhere and feel you look alright then there’s one worry over and one bolt shot for self-confidence— and the person you’re with, man, boy, woman, whether it’s Aunt Millie or Jack Allen or myself likes to feel that the person they’re sponsoring is at least externally a credit.”
Fitzgerald had continued to lose ground with Ginevra. In the fall he had taken her to a football game and after spending the evening with her had ended up “with a pronounced case of melancholy.” In St. Paul he played the field, his situation improved by his parents’ acquisition of a second-hand Chalmers. It was no Stutz Bearcat, but if he were willing to endure its “unaristocratic groanings and vibrations,” he could “torture it up to fifty miles an hour.” To say he knew how to drive was only a manner of speaking. When he wasn’t wool-gathering, he was likely to be crouching at the wheel in imitation of Barney Oldfield, the first great dirt-track auto racer. A friend driving home with him from a dance remembered kicking the car out of gear periodically to hold Fitzgerald to a reasonable speed.
A dancing craze, symbolized by Vernon and Irene Castle, was sweeping the country, and Fitzgerald had begun to realize that enthusiasm was no substitute for expertise. He spent hours before the mirror practicing the Maxixe, the Turkey Trot, and the Aeroplane Glide. It wasn’t that he cared about dancing per se, but he wanted to be admired as he swept around the floor with the prettiest girl. When a road company visited St. Paul, he sent the leading lady a note, asking if he might see her after the show. She accepted, and he and a friend took her and another actress dancing. Next day the four of them lunched at the University Club, creating a good deal of talk though it was all perfectly innocent.
At Princeton Fitzgerald knew boys who picked up girls at Bustanoby’s and spent the night with them, but he would have none of it, for he was romantic and uncynical in his view of the opposite sex. One evening at White Bear Lake “while the moon beat out golden scales on the water,” he had overheard an ex-Princeton athlete propose to the debutante of the year, and he was so intoxicated that he “was all for becoming engaged to almost any one immediately.” Mere carnality, however, had less appeal for him. He was clean-spoken, and referring to Frank Harris’ pornographic memoirs, he told a woman in later years, “It’s disgusting. It’s the kind of filth your sex is often subjected to, the kind of lavatory conversation men indulge in. It bores me—you don’t know how disgusting men can be!” There was no priggishness in it, only honest revulsion, and he added, “Priests on the subject of sex I can’t stand.” [The remark about Frank Harris’ memoirs was made in the mid-twenties to Gerald Murphy’s sister, Mrs. Chester Arthur.]
His aversion to promiscuity comes through in This Side of Paradise, in the scene where Amory and a friend visit the apartment of two girls they have picked up in a night club. “There was a minute while temptation crept over [Amory] like a warm wind, and his imagination turned to fire, and he took the glass from Phoebe’s hand.” Then he saw a man sitting on a sofa across the room, the same man who had been watching them in the night club earlier in the evening. The man’s face had “a sort of virile pallor [as of someone] who’d worked in a mine or done night shifts in a damp climate…. His mouth was the kind that is called frank, and he had steady gray eyes that moved slowly from one to the other of their group, with just the shade of a questioning expression. Amory noticed his hands; they weren’t fine at all, but they had versatility and a tenuous strength … they were nervous hands that sat lightly along the cushions and moved constantly in little jerky openings and closings. Then, suddenly, Amory perceived the feet, and with a rush of blood to his head he realized he was afraid. The feet were all wrong….”
Recognizing the Devil, Amory bolts the apartment.
At an age when the male sex drive is most powerful and disrupting, some shy fastidiousness was holding Fitzgerald back, and as he later described it, despair more than lust now drove him into a woman’s arms. It had been “a year of terrible disappointments & the end of all college dreams,” and “it seemed on one March afternoon that I had lost every single thing I wanted—and that night was the first time I hunted down the spectre of womanhood that, for a little while, makes everything else seem unimportant.” Out of the same despair he wrote a story about his failure at Princeton which he looked back on as his first mature writing, for in “The Spire and the Gargoyle,” published by the Nassau Lit the following winter, the themes and cadences of This Side of Paradise begin to emerge.
Returning to Princeton in the fall, he roomed with Paul Dickey who wrote music for the Triangle. Not only was Fitzgerald ineligible for the third successive year, but by dropping out of college he had lost the Triangle presidency and wasn’t even an officer. Nevertheless he wrote all the lyrics for Safety First, as no one could touch him in this department.
Repeating the courses he had begun the year before, he felt he knew the material and didn’t need to exert himself. An English major, he was irritated by the academic approach to literature and the Edwardian flavor of the Princeton English Department. He liked John Duncan Spaeth, who divided his time between coaching the crew and lecturing on the Romantic Poets, but he characterized his other instructors as “mildlypoetic gentlemen [who] resented any warmth of discussion and called the prominent men of the class by their first names.” In the back of his copy of Sidney’s Defence of Poesie he wrote: “Gee this man —— is terrible. I sit here bored to death and hear him pick English poetry to pieces. Small man, small mind. Snotty, disagreeable. Damn him. ‘Neat’ is his favorite word. Imagine Shakespeare being neat. Yesterday I counted and found that he used the expression ‘Isn’t that so’ fifty four times. Oh what a disagreeable silly ass he is. He’s going to get married. God help his wife. Poor girl. She’s in for a bad time.”
Later Fitzgerald said it was John Peale Bishop who “made me see, in the course of a couple of months, the difference between poetry and non-poetry. After that, one of my first discoveries was that some of the professors who were teaching poetry really hated it and didn’t know what it was about.”
A notable exception to these strictures was Christian Gauss, then a professor of Romance languages and later Dean of the College. Son of a German immigrant, Gauss had worked his way through the University of Michigan in three years and had come to Princeton in 1905 as one of Woodrow Wilson’s “fifty preceptor guys.” A benign little man, with a few strands of blond hair brushed across a balding forehead, Gauss had an underlying seriousness and bite; one felt it in the mild-fierce glint of his eyes behind pince-nez. In preceptorial one quickly discovered that he had been a reporter in Paris at the turn of the century, that he had met Oscar Wilde and had somehow been connected with the Dreyfus Case. His talk ranged far beyond the daily assignment and students found themselves lingering after the hour to continue the debate.
Gauss was Socratic. He suggested trains of thought the student could follow up on his own, calling it his business “to start hares, not to catch them.” Full of dry quotations, he would tell a late arrival, “You are welcome to Elsinore;” or, when a student was making a mess of it, he might interpose, “Dear friend, for Jesus’ sake forebear”—adding under his breath, “Let him not blast in ignorance.” Gauss really liked undergraduates.By believing in them he called forth the best they had to give, and later, as Dean, he won a reputation for salvaging the wayward student and the maverick. He could be stern, yet he was almost sentimental about troublesome boys as if he thought they had more potential than the obedient ones. This may have been a factor in his liking Fitzgerald, who reciprocated the esteem. Gauss became Fitzgerald’s hero in American education and one of the beacons by which he steered his erratic course.
The romance with Ginevra was drawing to a close. The previous summer, when Fitzgerald had been with her at a house party in Lake Forest, someone had remarked that “poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.” In November Ginevra accepted his invitation to the Princeton-Yale game, but immediately afterwards she said good-bye to him at the station and walked around the corner to meet another boy. She stopped writing, and in January Fitzgerald gave up the chase.
Ginevra had been the princess for whom he sought fame and honors at Princeton in the spirit of a knight errant. She belonged to the moneyed aristocracy of Chicago and as such was beyond his grasp. To her he seemed a weak reed to lean upon, and the realization that he was not what she had in mind hurt him profoundly and colored his whole outlook. Who can say how much of his longing for Ginevra went into Gatsby’s timeless and untouchable love for Daisy Fay?
But Fitzgerald, the ironist, saw another side to it. What if he had won Ginevra? He now wrote a story for the Nassau Lit, “The Pierian Spring and the Last Straw,” in which an author wins his lost love and the fulfillment destroys his desire to write. He spends the rest of his days playing mediocre golf and being comfortably bored.
“Slowly and inevitably, yet with a sudden surge at the last, while Amory talked and dreamed, war rolled up the beach and washed the sands where Princeton played. Every night the gymnasium echoed as platoon after platoon swept over the floor and shuffled out the basketball markings.” It was the spring of America’s entry into the conflict. Fitzgerald began to have thoughts of being in it himself, though for the moment he was engrossed in a battle on the campus.
Periodically there had been talk of abolishing the clubs, which were not only wasteful but snobbish in their exclusion of some fifteen per cent of each class. When Woodrow Wilson had been President of Princeton, he had tried to do away with them, and now they were under attack by the students themselves. Three sophomore leaders had refused to join. With support from the Daily Princetonian they led a crusade which reduced the usual number of sophomores entering the clubs by twenty-five per cent. The revolt was intelligently handled and might have wrecked the system, had not the war come along to disrupt college life.
Fitzgerald’s position was that of a fascinated yet detached observer. Viewing the anti-club movement as drama and entertainment, he was chief architect of an issue of The Tiger which burlesqued the clubs and the reformers alike. He considered the clubs part of the established order and was bent on enjoying them, the more so because he had made a good one. At the same time he admired the reformers who were sacrificing social success to ideals of brotherhood and equality gleaned from Whitman, Tolstoi and Thoreau. It was a time for idealism, and one of the sophomore ringleaders, Henry Strater, became the model for Burne Holiday, the rebel and pacifist in This Side of Paradise.
Fitzgerald would look back on this chaotic year as the foundation of his literary life. He had come to Princeton seeking a purchase for his talents and had tapped one avenue of advance after another, beginning with The Tiger and the Triangle. By degrees his center of gravity had shifted toward the Lit, for he had made up his mind to be a great writer, if not in a class with Shakespeare then in the class just below—with Keats, say, or Marlowe. Even friends and well-wishers found his assurance somewhat irritating.
He got a foretaste of the life he anticipated when he visited Edmund Wilson, now a cub reporter in New York. Catching sight of Wilson from his taxi before they met, Fitzgerald formed a new impression of him.
“I saw him walking briskly through the crowd wearing a tan raincoat over his inevitable brown get-up; I noted with a shock that he was carrying a light cane…. He was no longer the shy little scholar of Holder Court—he walked with confidence, wrapped in his thoughts and looking straight ahead, and it was obvious that his new background was entirely sufficient to him. I knew that he had an apartment where he lived with three other men, released now from all undergraduate taboos, but there was something else that was nourishing him and I got my first impression of that new thing—the Metropolitan Spirit….
“That night, in Bunny’s apartment, life was mellow and safe, a finer distillation of all that I had come to love at Princeton. The gentle playing of the oboe mingled with the city noises from the street outside, which penetrated into the room with difficulty through great barricades of books.”
Such delights were far in the future. For the moment Fitzgerald assuaged his fevers by writing for the Lit. “My head ringing with the meters of Swinburne and the matters of Rupert Brooke,” he remembered, “I spent the spring doing sonnets, ballads and rondels into the small hours. I had read somewhere that every great poet had written great poetry before he was twenty-one. I had only a year and, besides, war was impending. I must publish a book of startling verse before I was engulfed.”
Poetry was his passion, yet his masterpiece, it seemed to him, was a story later reprinted in Smart Set with only minor changes—a story which in a way foreshadowed his whole career. “Tarquin of Cheepside”—the reviewer in the Princetonian was sure he might be forgiven for spelling it “Cheapside”— begins with a chase. [John Biggs said he thought he would never hear the end of “Tarquin at Cheapside.” Herbert Eldridge, who roomed near Fitzgerald in Little Hall, remembers him coming in to read parts of it aloud.]
“Running footsteps.—Light, soft-soled shoes, made of queer leathery cloth brought from Ceylon, setting the pace; thick flowing boots, two pairs, dark blue and gilt, reflecting the moonlight in blunt gleams and flashes, following, a hundred yards behind. Soft Shoes cleaves the moonlight for a haggard second, then darts into a blind labyrinth of alleys and becomes merely an unsteady scuffling in the darkness ahead. In go Flowing Boots with swords lurching and with clumsy stumbling, cursing the black lanes of London.”
The scene shifts to the lodgings of Peter Caxter, a friend of the pursued, who bursts in asking for asylum. Peter poles open a trap door in the ceiling, the friend jumps up with the agility of a tumbler, struggles for a moment on the edge of the aperture, and hoists himself into the attic. Moments later the pursuers arrive. As they search the rooms they tell Peter that a lady has been raped, and when they have gone, the friend comes down and asks for pen and paper. Peter rebukes him for his crime but the friend says, “Peter, are you trying to interfere— what right have you? I am responsible only to myself for what I do.” Peter goes to sleep, and hours later the friend wakes him to show what he has written—a poem entitled The Rape of Lucrece. The friend is young William Shakespeare.
From the outset, Fitzgerald adhered to the Renaissance and Romantic conception of the writer as a man of action who experiences his material at first hand—not from lack of imagination, but so he can write about it more intensely. It is a perilous doctrine, even for the strong, and Fitzgerald would not always be as fortunate as the Shakespeare of his yarn.
The spring flowed by with long evenings on the club verandah while the gramophone played “Poor Butterfly,” a wistful ditty that was one of Fitzgerald’s favorites. It seemed like the springs of other years except for the drilling every afternoon, but there was also a sense of finality. One evening Bishop and Fitzgerald roamed the campus, poetizing and philosophizing as “a last burst of singing flooded up Blair Arch—broken voices for some long parting.” There used to be a song in the air at Princeton that has vanished since.
Though Fitzgerald would be back in the autumn to begin his senior year, he entered into the emotions of the class now graduating—his class—and tried to sum them up in a poem which he called “Princeton—the Last Day.”
The last light wanes and drifts across the land,
The low, long land, the sunny land of spires.
The ghosts of evening tune again their lyres
And wander singing, in a plaintive band
Down the long corridors of trees. Pale fires
Echo the night from tower top to tower.
Oh sleep that dreams and dream that never tires,
Press from the petals of the lotus-flower
Something of this to keep, the essence of an hour!
No more to wait the twilight of the moon
In this sequestrated vale of star and spire;
For one, eternal morning of desire
Passes to time and earthy afternoon.
Here, Heraclitus, did you build your fire
And changing stuffs your prophecy far hurled
Down the dead years; this midnight I aspire
To see, mirrored among the embers, curled
In flame, the splendor and the sadness of the world.
Published as Scott Fitzgerald by Andrew Turnbull (New York: Scribners, 1962; London: Bodley Head, 1962).