This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
(Part One) Milton Hindus
WHILE OTHER WRITERS pride themselves on their inconsistency and self-contradiction as inevitable failings, or as signs of incorruptible honesty, Irving Babbitt more modestly strives for and achieves consistency from his first publications to his last almost four decades later. Long before the appearance of his first little book (Literature and the American College) in 1908,when he was approaching his mid-forties and still not a full professor at Harvard, he had become f the contributor o essays and book reviews to The Atlantic Monthly. Such was their maturity of style and substance f that they lost little o their force when reprinted later, and there is an unbroken continuity between them and his contributions of essays, letters to the editor, and book reviews decades later to such magazines as The Nation and The Forum, from which many of them were collected into his other books, including one (Spanish Characterand otheressays) published in 1941, eight years after his death. In 1897,there appeared in The Atlantic an essay entitled “The Rational Study of the Classics,” which is in no sense inferior to or more callow than Rousseau and Romanticism, published more than twenty years later:
Romanticism may not mean the Commune, as Thiers said it did, but we may at least say that literature of the romantic type, compared with that of the classical tradition, is so deficient in certain qualities of sobriety and discipline as t o make us doubt its value as a formative influence upon the minds o the young.. . . f
Romanticism, at that stage o his thinkf ing, was already characterized by its extreme subjectivity, even violent subjectivity in some cases, while its opposite was distinguished by its objectivity and by its appeal to our higher reason and imagination, which enabled young men, who were in many instances little more than troubled adolescents, to rise above their own personal concerns in order to participate in a larger universal life:
[Classical literature] is thus truly educative in that it leads him who studies it out and away from himself. The classical spirit, in its purest form, feels itself consecrated t o the service of a high, impersonal reason. Hence the sentiment o ref straint and discipline, its sense o proporf tion and pervading law. By bringing our acts into an ever closer conformity with this high, impersonal reason, it would lead us, although along a different path, t o the same goal as religion. . . .
But if Babbitt was anatural admirer of the ancient languages and literatures (despite the fact that it was his own fate to profess their modern offspring-his
field of expertise was French), he was hardly pleased with the “scientific”way they were coming to be studied by what he described as the “philological syndicate”:
As the field of ancient literature is more and more completely covered, the vision of the special investigator must become more and more microscopic. The present generation of classical philologists, indeed, reminds one of a certain sect of Japanese Buddhists which believes that salvation is to be attained by arriving at a knowledge o the infinitely small. Posif tions, it is said, have recently been given in American colleges t o men who have shown their assimilation o the classical f spirit by writing on the ancient horsebridle and on the Roman door knob.
Underneath this jocularity (reminisf cent o the humor of Matthew Arnold), there is aserious concern with the development of “lopsided specialization,” which finds expression in one of his late essays in The Forum in 1929on aspects of the baneful influence exercised by Charles W. Eliot, who had presided over Harvard for forty years (1869-1909) and had died in 1926. More pertinent to the subject of the present discussion is Babbitt’s essay a year later in The Forum (1930) entitled “What I Believe: Rousseau and Religion.” In this essay, he reviews some of the recent literatureabout Rousseau, notes the differences between some of the interpretations and his own, and grants that, with a writer as prolific as Rousseau, virtually any point of view which a critic brings with him can be sustained with enough selected evidence to make it plausible and persuasive. Yet Babbitt is astonished by one writer, who claims simply to set forth Rousseau’s f meaning but manages, in his hundreds o pages, to miss the doctrine that Rousseau himself regarded as central t o his own thought. This was the exciting vision he experienced on the road from Paris to Vincennes in 1749, which in-
spired the initial composition that won him an academic prize and made him famous: “Amongthe multitude of ‘truths’ that flashed upon Rousseau in the sort of trance into which he was rapt at this moment, the truth of overshadowing importance was, in his own words, ‘that man is naturally good and that it is by our institutions alone that men become wicked.”’ Here, for Babbitt, is the real conversion-experience o Rousseau, supersedf ing completely his earlier conversion to Catholicism, which confessedly was venal in motivation and nominal only. The vision on the road to Vincennes is not only the key t o the rest of Rousseau’s life but to the whole heresy (or choice) of modernity, which makes it proper for him to serve as the emblematic figure to represent the ages that followed him. Granted that “there are conservative and even timid elements in his writings, but as a result of the superior imaginative appeal of the new dualism based on the myth of man’s natural goodness, the role he has actually played has been that of the arch-radical.” The new dualism was heretical in the root sense not only because it was opposed to orthodoxCatholic doctrine and calculated to create a maximum of dissension, but also because it was opposed to any other version of the older dualism, humane or religious, which insisted upon personal responsibility as more important than societal responsibility. It was the visionary Rousseau that Madame de Stael had in mind when she said: “Rousseau invented nothing but set everything on fire.” And it was his influence that Gustave Lanson described: “It exasperates and inspires revolt and fires enthusiasms and irritates hatreds;...it launches the simplesouls who give themselves up to its strange virtue upon the desperate quest of the absolute, an absolute to be realized now by anarchy and now by social absolutism.”
According to Babbitt, we are all confronted with an unavoidable choice “between a dualism that affirms a struggle f between good and evil in the heart o the individual and a dualism which, like that of Rousseau, transfers the struggle to f society.” Humanitarians o all types “are hopelessly superficial in their treatment of the problem o evil. The social dualism f they have set up in its ultimate development tends to substitute the class war for what Diderot termed in his denunciaf tion o the older dualism the ‘civilwars in the cave.”’ Against the false prophecy of Rousseau and the fanatical extremes which it has encouraged for several centuries, Babbitt arrays “the humanistic virtuesmoderation, common sense, and common decency-[which], though much f more accessible than those o the saint, still go against the grain of the natural man-terribly against the grain, one is forced to conclude from a cool survey of the facts o history.” And, as everywhere f in his writings, most notably in Democracy and Leadership (1924), he discovers no more potent antisepsis t o the infection of Rousseau, which spread from the French Revolution in the eighteenth century to the Russian and Chinese Revolutions in the twentieth and perhaps even to the unexampled homicidal reactions these inspired in Germany, Italy, and Japan, than the writing of Edmund Burke, whose summary judgment he cites with approval: “Nothing is more certain than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things that are connected with manners and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles, and were f indeed the result o both combined; I mean the spirit of a gentleman and the spirit o religion.” f It was only appropriate and just, therefore, that Babbitt’s compliments be returned eventually t o himself by The British Weekly when it observed that “for
anything comparable to Rousseau and Romanticism and Democracy and Leadership for knowledge and passion and social gravity. . . we have to go as far back as Burke.” f The consistency o Babbitt manifests itself not only in the choice o subjects to f which to address his attention but in his style and manner of approach t o these subjects. Thus he generally sets out in Socratic fashion with an attempt to limit and define an abstraction and to distinguish it from another abstraction often confused with it. In Literature and the American College, his first object was to separate the notions of humanitarianism from humanism. In doing so, he produces a passage which seems to me to bear an unmistakable resemblance to a passage in the Introductory chapter of Rousseau and Romanticism. The first passage hinges on the role which sympathy should play:
Aulus Gellius [a late Latin author], who was a man of somewhat crabbed and pedantic temper, would apparently exclude sympathy almost entirely from his conception o humanitas and confine the f meaning to what he calls cura etdisciplina, and h e cites the authority of Cicero. Cicero, however, seems to have avoided any such one-sided view, Like the admirable humanist that he was, he no doubt knew that what is wanted is not sympathy alone, nor again discipline and selection alone, but a disciplined and selective sympathy. Sympathy without selection becomes flabby, and a selection which is unsympathetic tends to grow disdainful.
It is a distinctive style of thinking that produces a parallel passage in the opening pages o Rousseau and Romanticism: f “Lifedoes not give here an element of oneness and there an element of change. It gives a oneness that is always changing. The oneness and the change are inseparable. . . . Moreover man does not observe t h e oneness that is always changing from the outside; he is himself a
oneness that is always changing. . . and finally the human oneness that is always changing seems to vanish away entirely. . . .”Thisstriking phenomenon does not lead Babbitt t o nihilism but to t h e best-known q u o t a t i o n from Shakespeare’s Tempest, which he describes as the most critical account of man in modern literature:
We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Babbitt comments upon this apothegm: “But though strictly considered, life is but a web o illusion and a dream within f a dream, it is a dream that needs to be managed with the utmost discretion, if it is not to turn into a nightmare.” It is little wonder that Babbitt was moved to complain that his concept of Humanism, which became a fighting word in 1930, was often misunderstood. The year 1930, which marked the onset o the most famous o American ecof f nomic Depressions, was also the annus mirabilis of Babbitt’s career, which saw the publication of two essay collections (Norman Foerster’s Humanism and America and C. Hartley Crattan’s Critique Of Humanism) that centered their attention on Babbitt and made him, for a brief season, almost a household name among American intellectuals, merging f insensibly with the identical name o Sinclair Lewis’s fictional character o a f decade before. The confusion was compounded by the award during the same year of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Sinclair Lewis (the first American to be so honored), who chose the world podium for an attack on the American Humanists. The ensuing journalistic excitement produced an invitation for Babbitt to address a throng of 3,000 persons in New York‘s Carnegie Hall, confounding those Harvard wiseacres who had once mocked him as a local campus luminary
when they announced gravely that “Babbitt’s fame is spreading round the world; it has already left Harvard Yard!” If Babbitt was misunderstood, it is because he is, despite his surface simplicity and clarity, an extremely subtle writer, whose profound complexities sometimes seem to require an almost Hegelian cast of mind to unravel. His complexity is hardly less than the one which confronts us in T.S. Eliot’s early and unsurpassed essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, which has some stylistic resemblance t o such passages as I have quoted and presses his point of view perhaps too far but in a direction in which it was already leaning. The soundness of Babbitt’s work and the honest value it continues to give readers after almost a century are what have made it outlast the objections of most of its critics. Rousseau and Romanticism has never been allowed to go out of print. Its latest edition makes it part of The Library of Conservative Thought under the imprint of Transaction Publishers. It is introduced by Professor f Claes G. Ryn o The Catholic University of America, who has written several times sympathetically about Babbitt before. He finds Babbitt peculiarly prescient and pertinent to a present situation, which can only be depicted in primary colors:
The further deterioration anticipated by Babbitt has come about much as he expected. If some worrisome social trends are to be expected in the best o times, f the signs of decay in the Western world at the end of the twentieth century are myriad and pervasive. Self-indulgenceand irresponsibility, lack o discipline; decline f of family life; crime and other dishonesty; political opportunism and a demagoguery; obtrusive commercialism; financial manipulation; indiscriminate deficitspending and borrowing; political and economic corruption; drug abuse; sexual promiscuity; sexually transmitted disease; academic superficiality,ideologizing
and intolerance; low and sinking educational standards; religious sentimentalism; vulgarity, cruelty and debauchery in art and entertainment; abuse of naturein their glaring and epidemic proportions these phenomena all point in the same direction. In spite of the multiplying evif f dence o a precipitous decline o civilization, many,especially in the United States, hail present-day Western “democracy” as a model and want to bestow it upon all humanity.
American equivalent of a Mussolini; he may be needed to save us from the American equivalent o a Lenin. Such an emerf gency is not to be anticipated, however, unless we drift even further than we have thus far from the principles that underlie our unionist tradition. History has not been kind to this passage, and it did much to compromise Babbitt’s reputation, especially among such left-leaning intellectuals of the 1930s as Sidney Hook (who later became a leading anti-Communist but supported the Communist ticket in the election of 1932), Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, Kenneth Burke, MaxLerner, Harold Laski, and others, whose journalistic prognostications fared even worse than Babbitt’s. There is little justification for singling out such a passage, however objectionable, and using it as a shibboleth to reject the generally sound conservatism o Babbitt, any more than there would be f for using some o the barbed allusions o f f Burke against Jewish stockbrokers to reject the main thrust of his powerful philippics against the French Revoluf tion. Surely, the basic attitude o Babbitt towards all leaders like Mussolini is the f one expressed in a passage o Rousseau and Romanticism in which he speaks of “the most dangerous o all the sham f f religions o the modern age-the relif gion o country, the frenzied nationalism that is now threatening to make an end of civilization itself.” More telling than the criticism of adversaries entirely out of sympathy with Babbitt’s point of view are the occasional reservations o friends who feel f they have learned much from him but are not convinced about the accuracy of his terminology. Thus we find Russell Kirk, who cites a passage in T.S. Eliot, f questioning the definition o so important a word to Babbitt a s “romanticism.” The passage from Eliot is in his 1934 lecture After Strange Gods:
No doubt there is a feeling o elation at f the lifting (however tentative and uncertain) of the oppressive Soviet nightmare from humanity. But in 1919, too, when Rousseau and Romanticism appeared, there was a feeling o relief at the Armif stice ending the Great War, which Babbitt describes in Rousseau and Romantif cism a s “the crowning stupidity o the ages.. . . N o more delirious spectacle has ever been witnessed than that of hundreds of millions o human beings f using a vast machinery o scientific effif ciency to turn life into a hell for one another. . . .The dissolution of civilization with which we are threatened is likely t o be worse in some respects than that of Greece or Rome in view of the success that has been attained in ‘perf fecting the mystery o murder.”’ f The war, instead o realizing the liberal Wilsonian dream o “making the f world safe for democracy,” made the world safe for the monstrous tyrannies of Bolshevism in Russia and National Socialism in Germany. For a brief time in the early 1920s, Italy seemed to present a less malignant alternative, so that Babbitt in 1924 in Democracy and Leadership could write:
f Though the triumph of any type o imperialistic leader is a disaster, especially in a country like our own that has known the f blessings o liberty under the law, nevertheless there is a choice even here. Circumstances may arise when we may esteem ourselves fortunate if we get the
It is true that from time to time writers
have labelled themselves “romanticists” or “classicists,”just as they have from time to time banded themselves together under other names. These names which groups of writers and artists give themselves are the delight of professors and historians of literature, but should not be taken very seriously; their chief value is temporary and political-that, simply, of helping to make the authors better known to a contemporary public.. . .” Reflecting on the difficulty of classifying such pillars of established institutions as Sir Walter Scott and Coleridge alongwith subverters of them likeShelley and Godwin under t h e same rubric, Russell Kirk regretfully concludes that “perhaps Babbitt should have chosen some otherword with which to label the literary and artistic enthusiasts for overthrowing the established order-political, moral, economic, and cultural-in order to shape the world nearer to their heart’s desire.” It is a weighty objection, but I am not convinced by it. Nor am I altogether convinced that Eliot’s words were intenf tionally aimed in the direction o his old mentor; they may have been aimed at f some o his associates with whom some of Babbitt’s insights had turned into cant terms with which to belabor their opponents. Despite its difficulties, it is not easy to find a replacement for the word romanticism that would be equally useful in describing a wide variety of related phenomena. Babbitt himself was not unaware that his b e s t efforts t o deglamorize the word would not sucf ceed in depriving it o its honorific sound and associations, especially in America, which takes pride in being virtually synonymous with the romantic dream. It is not for nothing that, at the very outset, Babbitt should reassure his reader somewhat facetiously: “Those who look with alarm on recent attacks on romanticism should becomforted. All children, nearly
all women, and the vast majority of men always have been, are and probably always will be romantic. This is true even of a classical period like the second half of the seventeenth century in France.” To be romantic in this almost universal sense is evidently what comes naturally to mankind; to become something else requires self-conscious effort and/ or instruction to which we are averse. Only one in thousands would seem capable of satisfying so stringent a requirement, and yet Babbitt strikes us as being the very opposite of a snob. To be a good humanist, in his own sense, he assures us on more than one occasion, means apparently little more than “to be moderate, sensible, and decent.” The definition is so broadly welcoming and democratically inclusive as to exclude virtually no one from the fold. Irving Babbitt was no seeker after a cult following. Babbitt’s interest in literature appears never to have been primarily linguistic. It is hardly accidental that he shares with us an anecdote about the Buddha which has the Enlightened One answering a disciple who inquires about what language is to be used in communicating his gospel by saying that it does not f really signify, since the import o the message is so urgent that hearers are bound t o understand no matter what the language in which it is preached. So much for those who are inclined to make f a fetish o language and its magical powers. The old-fashioned distinction between form and matter, so often denied nowadays, was evidently adhered t o by the Buddha, by Babbitt, and by Alexander rtcs. Pope in his Essay OR C i i i m If language and its problems are of no fundamental interest to Babbitt, neither f I’m afraid is another central interest o many modern philosophers and literary critics, namely pure aesthetics, which tends in the direction of abstraction in modern painting and literature such as Gertrude Stein’s that modeled itself on
it. However deeply sensitive to beauty he may have been, Babbitt would not for a moment join thinkers like Benedetto Croce or his learned American disciple Joel EIias Spingarn, in taking the pleasure produced by formal elements to be f the deepest rationale o literary as well as other art, that aspired to the ideality o abstract music, that told us, as f Archibald MacLeish once did, that a poem must not mean, but BE. Long before them all, o course, there was the f influential example of Edgar Allan Poe, to whom there are not infrequent allusions in Rousseau and Romanticism. Poe carried his aestheticism to the extremes which affected deeply Baudelaire in the middle of t h e nineteenth century, Mallarmit toward t h e end, and Paul ValCry in the twentieth century. It must be noted, however, that, though Babbitt rejects pure aestheticism and abstraction, he is hardly more hospitable than Poe to the naive didacticism that prevailed in America in Poe’s time. But if so much is rejected that is regarded by others as the essence of literature, what is there left more than that ether once postulated in physics, which upon experiment proved nonexistent? That is a question which every conscientious teacher of literature must face if he is not to regard his profession as a form o sophistry. It is at such a moment of f self-questioning and examination that reading Babbitt may become a bracing and meaningful experience. It is possible that Babbitt himself went through such a process before beginning to write at a relatively mature age, and not writing very much thereafter except when he felt he had something urgent to say. The signs of struggle are still palpable in his work, which may be what makes reading him a vital experience, no matter how many times we may have done so before. The reader who feels challenged by him, as he himself perhaps was once challenged, will not perceive him to be insis112
tent in his repetition but full of surprise, which a t times rises to the revelatory. What interests Babbitt in literature most of all are the traces of wisdom discoverable there which may lead not only t o an understanding of life, its possibilities and limitations, but to an intelligent choice among these o the path f likely to lead to a happiness, which, rightly understood in the Aristotelian way, is “the end of ends” of human strivf ing. In “the battle o the books,” the struggle between the ancients and moderns, the advantage for Babbitt is clearly on the side o the ancients. But f this does not mean that he admires all of f the old masters or even any one o them unreservedly. Friendship to Plato does not exclude an even greater adherence to the truth. Babbitt is not inclined to f idolatry even o the great classics. Humanism insists that every claimant t o attention be brought before the bar of individual judgment. The ancients have the advantage, because they have been subject to the most ruthless winnowing, not to speak of the hazards of historical accident and destruction. The classics are what humanity has managed most desperately t o hold on to, through thick and thin, for all the world as if they were spiritual life-preservers. Babbitt calls them simply members of the highest and best class of literary productions. Not the least interesting part of Rousseau and Romanticism is its Appendix. Here in several pages (after almost 400 densely packed pages of the book proper) Babbitt undertakes what would seem to be a Herculean scholarly task, which is to prove that the “romantic” period and culture he has been describing previously are not unprecedented historical phenomena. There was a period in ancient Chinese history in which Taoism, a naturalistic, primitivistic, pantheistic movement opposed to the dominant Confucianism of its time, produced phenomena, events, personalities, and theoWinter 1992
ries strikingly similar t o some o those he f has been describing in Western Eurof pean history o the past several centuries. The effect of this Appendix, brief as it is, is to stress the element of unity in all human history, thesort o thingweshould f expect if reality is, as Babbitt would have it, a oneness that is always changing. In fact, in rereading the book, and it is a book which, if it held our attention through one reading, emphatically demands rereading, we could do worse than to start with this Appendix, which may be helpful in tying together the various strands of Babbitt’s argument. Babbitt seems quite as aware as Eliot f that every period is a mixture o separate and often conflicting intellectual and philosophical tendencies. In the beautiful memorial of Irving Babbitt, which T.S. Eliot wrote in his editorial commentary for the October 1933 issue of The Criterion, he notes that “Those who only know Babbitt through his writings and have had no contact with him as a teacher and friend, will probably not be able to appreciate the f greatness o his work. For he was primarily and always a teacher and talker. He combined r a r e c h a r m and great force. . . .”These words, echoed in various ways by other students and friends of Babbitt in the 1941 volume Irving Bab bitt: Man and Teacher, are calculated to make a reader who has not enjoyed the same advantage keenly regret his deprivation. On the other hand, he is in a better position to refute the unintended imputation, for, if it were really so, we should hardly be discussing Babbitt’s bookseventy-three years later, nor would a publisher be willing to risk his capital in making it possible for us to do so. The honorific but gratuitous comparison made by several of Babbitt’s students (but not by Eliot) between their teacher and Samuel Johnson is hardly illuminating if it reminds us that, owing to the talents of his friend Boswell, JohnModem Age
son for many readers survives mainly as the liveliest of talkers or as the subject of other biographers inspired by Boswell to emulation or, as in the case of Macaulay, to antipathy. Babbitt’s conversational talents, like those o most f teachers who are masters (as he clearly was) of improvisation, are now irrecoverable. But the comparison may also serve to remind us that Johnson’s own writings, though not as popular as those of his enthusiastic friend, are hardly negligible. Alas, for those of us who never saw Babbitt plain or sat spellbound at his feet, only his books and essays remain. And I for one am prepared to say that these are quite sufficient, parted as they are from the fascination of a living voice and the weight exerted by the f spectacle o an integral person. I, too, have my memories o my first f encounter-not with Babbitt but with his writing. It was in a college classroom in 1933 when I was sixteen and enrolled in a course of freshman composition for which the assigned textbook was edited by an admirer of Babbitt. After a full measure of the classic English essayists f and a few Americans o the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were a couple of twentieth-century writers, one o whom was Babbitt. It was the late f essay (mentioned earlier) on President Charles Eliot. The brilliant young instructor of the course was a disciple o Karl f Marx, and it is not surprising that Babbitt should have elicited less sympathy than incomprehension from him, but he was fair in his treatment in that the essay was among the select number that was assigned for both reading and discussion. I wish I could say that I experienced Melville’s “shock of recognition” at this first meeting with so distinguished a mind, but I can’t. It was not the easiest work by Babbitt for an immature and uninitiated student to be able to understand and appreciate, especially when the intermediary presenting it as an
unsympathetic to his point of view as mine was. Fifty years later, I could read it as a confirmation of T.S. Eliot’s observation that “the point at which Babbitt’s ideas converged with the greatest force was the subject of Education.” Unfortunately he has nothing to say about this essay, which deserves both exposition and discussion. Eliot tells us that he first met Babbitt in a Harvard classroom in 1909, when he was twenty-one, and his initial reaction seems to have been far from perfect understanding, judging from his description of Babbitt’s lectures as beginning “anywhere” and ending “anywhere.” We have attended too many lectures ourselves by professors inclined to ramble not to recognize that descrip f tion. What first caught the attention o Eliot and impressed him was the authority, excitement about ideas, and independence with which Babbitt taught, “the impression that a lifetime was too short for telling us all he wanted to say.” To return to my own experiencethough my own first response was more puzzlement than anything else-a seed had obviously been sown which was to flower luxuriantly much later, when my infatuation with Marx and the Revolution had become a dead letter. During that infatuation, however, a flickering interest in Babbitt never quite left me, at least to the extent that I began to regard him, when I read something else he had written or refreshed my recollection of something I had already read, as a notable reactionary thinker, a redoubtable f adversary o all the notions I had fondly entertained. Babbitt’s gravity (of meaning more than of manner) made itself felt, as in the Platonic Dialogues that I encountered around the same time. By an odd but arresting coincidence, Eliot’s tribute to Babbitt in The Criterion was followed by his note directing the reader’s attention to a letter to the editor from Ezra Pound in Rapallo, printed else114
where in the same issue. Pound’s letter turns out to be a caustic rejoinder to another editorial by Eliot in the previous issue of the quarterly (July 1933). In f commenting on the appearance o two new intellectually respectable magazines in America, both of them agitated by the current social crisis, Eliot had ventured to suggest that ethics might precede politics and economics in importance:
The system, which the intelligent economist discovers or invents must immediately be related t o a moral system. I hold that it is ultimately the moralists and philosophers who must supply the foundations o statesmanship, even though f they never appear in the forum. We are constantly told that the economic problem cannot wait. It is especially true that the moral and spiritual problems cannot wait. They have waited too long.
As if this were not provocative enough, he had dared to quote at some length from the Bible a passage about Moses, Aaron, and the Children of Israel wandering in the wilderness and bitterly lamenting their exchange of the security of Egypt for freedom. The suggestion of unity at the heart of all change in the human condition was certainly strong. Too strong for Pound, who exploded in characteristic rage and satirical mockery of his friend’s piety, adding more calmly: “It is not a question of the Editor f believing that ‘a conception o the good life for the individual’ must underly political-economic ideas. The issue, in the f Eleventh Year o the Fascist Revolution is that ‘the good life’ is impossible until certain very simple facts are perceived, [e.g.] That every factory and every inf dustrycreates in agiven period a mass o prices greater than the amount o purf chasing power it puts into circulation.. . .” H e then goes on t o recommend reading C.H. Douglas and Woergl, names familiar t o all readers of his “money pamphlets” as well as his CunWinter 1992
tos, and certainly known t o Eliot who had published many of them in The Criterion and was to call him the next year in After Strange Gods “probably the most important living poet in our language.” This
judgment could have come as no surprise to Pound, but he still felt that Eliot was not paying sufficient attention to the Bibliography he had compiled for him instead of wasting his time on the Bible.
What tributes shall I bring to you My Friend who have now met, as Henry James put it, The Distinguished Thing? Some spontaneous tears for I was not there to press your hand and commit you to a Bon Voyage as you set sail for that other country. But I remember a soft September night when we walked out beyond the village lights to that little park where a caged solitary bear engaged our pity and we spoke of the ways of bears and mennot always to the credit of men. And I remember our Sunday night suppers with Dick and Fritz and Marythe poet, the painter, the pianistwhen eager and contentious we debated those chronic lmponderablesLife, Love, and Artthough reaching no conclusions, Nonot even yet, after these forty years.
f And I remember our summer o canoeing when life was sweet and easy as the little waves that bowed to our paddles.
Now it is another autumn and 1 see you striding across a meadow heavy with sunlight, dappled with golden-rod. Wait for me beside that blazing oak that curves an arm out over the river.
I shall not be long in coming. I am already on the way.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?