BEAUTIFULLY EDUCATED--Hotchkiss, Yale, Harvard Law--heir to a department store fortune (Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. of Chicago), Archibald MacLeish entered adulthood on the eve of America's entry into World War I with high ideals and much confusion over whether to seek a career in teaching, the law, journalism, or poetry--"one cannot sit him down in the shade of a single oak if he will know the forest." Ultimately he tried all four pursuits, and in the course of a long and productive life--he died only last April a short time before his 90th birthday--excelled in each.
In his personal beliefs and public actions, he stood for the best in American life. As he told his friend and employer, Henry Luce, "If instead of thinking of freedom as a possession and trying to defend it with extra-legal police . . . we would think of it the way the founders of the Republic thought of it--as something to be created and something to be used: if instead of trying to build a wall around our freedom to keep others out we would increase our freedom until it overflowed the world." But he never did become the major poet he passionately wanted to be; he started late and his verse was swamped in the tidal wave of modernism. He did become court poet to the New Deal, a sort of eagle-scout Walt Whitman, though Ezra Pound witheringly wrote his editor, "MacL's best is quite as good as the best writer's good."
Nevertheless, MacLeish used the influential jobs his Skull & Bones classmates found for him for decent ends, most impressively in the successful campaign to secure Pound's release from St. Elizabeths Hospital. After a career as expatriate, staff writer at Fortune, Librarian of Congress, assistant secretary of state for public and cultural relations, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard, and speechwriter to Adlai Stevenson, MacLeish retired for good to his North Conway, Massachusetts, farm. There he became an icon, a last link with the fabled Lost Generation he had known in Paris in the '20s, for a number of former students, among them Edward Hoagland and Donald Hall. For them, and for older friends, too, a letter from "Archie" was an event, a clean, loving, and honest missive, sparkling and friendly as a New England log fire on a cold day.
R.H. Winnick, who is writing the authorized biography, has assembled a file of MacLeish's letters that reflects the friendships of a crowded life: Dean Acheson, Amy Lowell, Ernest Hemingway, Harry Crosby, Felix Frankfurter, Alexis Saint-L,eger L,eger (the Nobel laureate poet St.-John Perse). It must be said that these letters, though well-written and often heartfelt, are not exceptionally interesting, their chief interest being the name of the addressee. The best one, because virtually alone in this collection it shows so much naked emotion, is the letter MacLeish wrote on May 31, 1924, to his sister Ishbel after visiting the military cemetery in Belgium where their brother Kenneth lay buried. "I feel the most withering bitterness. It seems to me grotesque, absurd, silly that that beautiful boy should be lying under the sand in a field he never saw--for nothing--for nothing. It is no longer even sad. It is horrible. Absurd. The lynx face & the grey beau-brummel hair of Senator (Henry Cabot) Lodge dance in front of my eyes. He suddenly becomes--what I suppose he is--the type, the epitome, of the cowardly, selfish, cold-blooded stupidity of the old men who make wars. His face crinkles.It crumbles. He stinks. THE HOUND & HORN LETTERS. Edited by Mitzi Berger Hamovitch. Foreword by Lincoln Kirstein. University of Georgia Press. 247 pp. $25 I
IN 1927 two extraordinarily cosmo-
politan Harvard undergraduates, Lincoln Kirstein and Varian Fry, miffed at not being named to the editorial board of the Harvard Advocate, the student literary magazine, founded their own literary quarterly which they called Hound & Horn from two lines in Ezra Pound's poem, "The White Stag": 'Tis the white stag, Fame, we're a-hunting Bid the world's hounds come
to horn! Before it folded in 1934, Hound & Horn by some lights was the best American magazine of its time, or anyway the best highbrow American magazine. It was one of a number of "little" magazines that printed avant-garde writing-- Criterion under T.S. Eliot, the Dial under Marianne Moore, the Little Review, and transition were more prestigious rivals. An idea of the riches at the disposal of all these magazines can be obtained from two submissions Hound & Horn's editors rejected: the "Tunnel" section from Hart Crane's "The Bridge" and an album of photographs by EugMene Atget.
This bright, highly readable collection of letters between Hound & Horn's editors and contributors-- among them, Pound, Eliot, e.e. cummings, R.P. Blackmur, Caroline Gordon, Katherine Anne Porter, William Carlos Williams, S,ean O'Faol,ain, and Allen Tate--is much more than a minor chapter in literary history. From the opening pages, the reader gets caught up in the excitement of the major literary movement of this century as experienced at the time by a number of talented and sometimes quarrelsome people, who had the luck to be geniuses together. The graceful, nostalgic foreword by Kirstein ("I was an adventurer; Hound & Horn was my passport") has great charm; the editor's introduction and annotation are perfectly executed, and the book itself is a small masterpiece of design.
The precocity, or alternatively, the immaturity, of the letter-writers can startle. Here, for instance, is a 24- year-old Stephen Spender writing to a 26-year-old Kirstein: "Will you . . . apologize to (Archibald MacLeish) for my extremely inadequate and inaccurate review of his poem Conquistador. I was given only three days to review it in, and some of my review was omitted. I made the mistake of describing the metre as founded on blank verse when of course it is a form of terza rima. I am really extremely sorry." Astonishing tidbits of scholarship surface in remote footnotes: Leon Edel relates that Edna Kenton "was way ahead of her time in her work on Henry James and . . . was so devoted a Jamesian that she almost thought she was James, even to dying on the date of his death." The irascible Pound repays the compliment of the magazine's name by referring to it as the "Bitch and Bugle." The volume also unfolds an episode in the life of one of the most interesting of 20th-century Americans, for an epilogue relates the beginning of Kirstein's next interest--the founding, with George Balanchine, of the School of American Ballet, the forerunner of the New York City Ballet. BERNARD SHAW AND ALFRED DOUGLAS: A Correspondence. By Mary Hyde. Ticknor & Fields. 237 pp. $25
LORD Alfred Douglas was the young esthete for whom
Oscar Wilde developed the disastrous infatuation. By middle age, as self-depicted in these letters, he is broke, whiny, cadging, and pedantic, a minor poet down on his luck, but, like Baron Charlus in Proust's great novel, possesses certain steely shreds of dignity. In 1931 he begins a 15-year off-and-on again correspondence with a leprechaun-like, 75-year-old George Bernard Shaw, who keeps up his side of the correspondence in part out of simple kindness: he knows his letters fetch a handsome price at autograph dealers. If this does not sound like promising material, the reader could be suprised: the unlikely combination of decadent and vegetarian vastly entertains, amuses and delights, Douglas' foppish silliness perfectly balanced by Shaw's abusive common sense. The two trade opinions on the notorious Wilde affair ("You had much better have been at the street-corner with me, preaching Socialism," writes Shaw) and there are some further revelations of that lavender heel mob. But many other subjects are di namscussed, too, starting with religion and politics; and it is not always the overbearing Shaw who scores the most points. G.B.S., incidentally, comes off as something of a legal expert: "The law of libel is very tricky. Almost any remark that you can make about a living man may be construable as libel. I, as a critic, have been libelling people all my life . . . you may vituperate with impunity provided you do not suggest that your adversary has had his cheque dishonoured, or carries on two domestic establishments: above all, that you have not done him out of his job, which a jury never pardons." The editor (and now owner of these letters) is the peerless collector who endowed the Hyde rooms in the Houghton Library at Harvard and whose Four Oaks Farm and Library at Somerville, New Jersey, is a mecca for scholars.