Reflections on war, writing, and rivalry
ALS signed "Ernest," three pages, 8.5 x 11, Finca Vigia letterhead, February 7, 1953. Letter to Charles Poore, a New York Times literary critic who wrote extensively on Hemingway and his work. In full: "Thanks very much for the two letters. I'm sorry I took up your time bitching about P[hilip] Young. It will be a long time before he puts me out of business, although I think he had high hopes when he sat down to the typewriter for the first time. It's always funny when they write about something that you really know about.
In Hurtgen the 22nd Inf. Regt. had a liaison officer we called the Human Comet. He was so spooked he drove so fast he couldn't see anything and when he would get to where he was going from the C.P. he was so spooked he couldn't see anything. Then he'd be so spooked he couldn't remember what he hadn't seen. He was bucking to be sent back as a B. F. and in the C. P. he would sit and pick nervously at his uniform until Luke Edwards, who was the S3 and had been put on the staff after (when a Batt. commander) some one had forgot to call off an air-mission on a chateau he had already taken and was holding at Montebourg) said, 'God damn it quit picking at these GI pants. That's not how you show you've got battle fatigue. I've had battle fatigue and I know.'
Charlie I don't want to fool with your stuff. It's yours to say not mine. I'll give you the benefit of any local knowledge. If you want it and I have to always be careful about joking because they think now that any son of a bitch that jokes is not a serious character. Actually I would never hurt anybody in anything bad that couldn't joke.
Thanks about the paragraph about chivalry. Do you remember: from The Twa Corbies?
In behint you auld fail dyke
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
and naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk, his hound and his lady fair.
His hound is to the hunting game,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady's ta'en anither mate
So we may make our dinner sweet.
I'm going to use A New Slain Knight for the title of a novel sometime. Have always been saving it. May use it for the one after the next in the three I have done. Being three ahead makes you feel good. Christ I've worked hard though Charlie or anyway I did for 2 1/2 years.
Now I mark time to get away. Hurry up and wait. Everything is held up by this Leland Hayward deal and he's possibly held up by the possibilities of Auerama. I was to have heard from him last Tuesday and today is Saturday and haven't heard. Haven't heard from Rick, my lawyer, on various things since before Jan 14. When you remember how you would go through the Kraut lines any or every night to keep any word you'd given un-explained delays make you restless. I hate to piss away this good year of my one and only life waiting around to hear from people.
The only good thing is this local Mau-Mau thing at night. Before I started I used to worry when I woke up at night. Or I would think about my sins or how I had not done enough with my life or about my children and their mistakes, defects and follies. Now, in the night, I just listen and think tactically which is the opposite of worrying. It is good for this kind of a time.
I told Mary the other night I had a new metier: I was a sorter-out and classifier of noises. Actually this is an old metier but I'm glad to have it working again.
If you see Harvey Breit give him my best. I always sweat him out. Because I've never met him I don't know his basic troubles or contemporary problems. So I sweat him out blind except for letters. I can't even use my recently re-activated noise-sorter outer. You have to switch to extra-sensory perception for his ruido. We are good friends. But I hate to sweat a friend out blind.
Sometime will you give me one paragraph of true gen I can operate on: subject: How intelligent is Wallace? I like him; know him in the office; trust him altogether. But I could use this paragraph of the true gen.
We are going away for quite a while and I need any gen I can operate on with confidence. One time with Across the River he queried names and places I knew as well as I knew my own. I'd checked them, in case I'd forgotten, on a 1/5000 and he queries them from An Atlas. So I was worried. But he was sound and fast and wonderful on The Old Man and the Sea. Then I warned him that P. Young was no good and up to some. But Young made a good impression on him. I thought Young was moving from the start. But I had only letters and maybe Young has one of those college ingratiating manners. I always would have liked for Young to have met the Human Comet. They must have had a lot in common.
But in this book let's forget Young and all his kind. It is supposed to be a selection of books, stories and parts of books that you and I believe are worth reading. If I did not think they were I would not publish them. If you did not think they were you would not write the introduction nor the prefaces. You tell why you think they are worth reading and any reasons for same and that is all. We both should have our reasons. Whether I have hair on my chest (what a filthy thing for Max Eastman to say) (what does it mean? I have too much. But what importance is there? Some people are hirsute. Some are not. That's not where valor lies) or whether I have testicles in my scrotum is not a matter of argument. A medical examination should decide such things since the use of the pistol has been abrogated. But I would, from pride, submit to no such examination. The facts are too well known.
Whether it is an eccentricity for a writer to fight for his country is none of our concern. All the fuck-offs hate you for that. Let them hand, rattle, and since they are who they are, dangle.
My ancestors used to be hanged on Tyburn Hill and be able to make jokes in the cart and good poetry the night before (Leicesters and Clarences).
They fought since San Ernesto with Richard at acre. He was the only saint canonized in absentia because he stayed on after the crusade withdrew and went on to convert the infidels as far as Persia where they lost track of him. He was a tummy and they say immoral.
The others all fought, always, whether for or against.
None of this has anything to do with P. Young and the League of Educated 1/2 caste hyenas travelling under new names. But Cantwell was not stupid. They could not understand jokes nor intelligence in a soldier. Nor did they even know a fine girl. So they must deny her. I am only a writer. But I know a few things.
Excuse this if it is too stupid. Have been up now 3 nights looking after Miss Mary. She is OK now if she knew it, stiff back, and flu." In fine condition. Accompanied by the original mailing envelope addressed in his own hand.
This magnificent letter is rife with autobiographical details, discussion of writing, and thoughts on his ongoing safari in Africa. He starts off by mentioning Philip Young, a critic who he generally loathed because he attributed some of his writing to trauma suffered during the war. Hemingway goes on to quote a verse of the English folk ballad 'Twa Corbies,' and points out the 'new slain knight' line. He had been considering it as a potential title since the 1920s, when he wrote 50,000 words for a book under that title before abandoning the project; he again considered it for the title of Across the River and into the Trees. "True gen," military slang meaning 'true genuine information,' was one of Hemingway's favorite expressions. He also references the famous incident when he and Max Eastman got into a fist fight in Max Perkins's office at Charles Scribner's Sons in 1937. One of the longest, most interesting Hemingway letters we have encountered.