Wednesday, January 13, 2016
FMFord meets Joyce meets Proust
I was engaged in avoiding Mr. Quinn whom I disliked because he had pretended to mistake me for George Moore. I was also engaged in trying not to be near Mr. Joyce. For Mr. Joyce's work I had the greatest admiration and for his person the greatest esteem. I also liked his private society very much. He made then little jokes, told rather simple stories and talked about his work very enlighteningly. But to be anywhere near Mr. Joyce at any sort of reception or public event was embarrassing. I should be at once seized on by the hostess, two stiff chairs would be placed side by side and, surrounded by a ring of Mr. Joyce's faithful, we should be expected to talk. To Mr. Joyce this was by no means embarrassing. He was used to it. But to me, as a young man from the country it was very trying. Mr. Joyce would maintain an easy but absolute silence, the faithful hanging on his lips. I would try to find topics of conversation to which the author of "Ulysses" would reply with a sharp "yes" or a "no." . . . At last I found a formula. I used to beseech Mr. Joyce to drink red, not white, wine. I was really very much in earnest and not quite with-out official warrant. I have always held a brief against white wine. Its whiteness is caused by the absence of
tartaric acid that renders red wine assimilable. I never drink white wine except when politeness demands it and then, if I take only a small glass, I find myself troubled with depression of a gouty nature. And it happened that, on Joyce's own recommendation I had gone to a great oculist in Nice. The oculist had operated on Joyce. He told me that there was nothing the matter with my eyes, recommended me when I smoked cigarettes to do so at the end of the longest cigarette holder possible. The smoke if it gets into your eyes will damage them—like any other smoke. Otherwise smoking does no harm at all. He added: "And never drink white wine. It is ruinous to the eyesight. . . ." And then: "If Mr. Joyce had never drunk white wine his eyes would not be as bad as they are. I beg you, if you have any influence at all with Mr. Joyce, to beseech him never to drink white wine. Let him drink three, five, seven, ten times as much red wine. It will not harm him. But white is poison." I fancy that oculist was guilty of professional indiscretion. But his concern for his patient was so genuine that it may well be pardoned to him. I could not, even for his sake, warn Mr. Joyce against drinking white wine on every occasion that I met him. But I thought the topic would be an admirable one for public ceremonials. I was a little guileful too. I imagined that if some 'I of the faithful heard me they might repeat my plea and, being nearer as it were to the throne, might be listened to. I had of course misestimated the nature of Faith. . . . The faithful would rather see their divinity die than that he should be ministered to by a stranger from without the gates. That was seen when Pope Leo, being very sick, called in secret a Saracen leech who came under safeguard to Rome from Tarascon. The Cardinals poisoned the Pope. So when on the boulevards I would meet one or other of them and told them that Joyce was dining with me at 7.30 in order to taste my Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1885 they would cry with one accord: "Mr. Joyce never dines with anybody. He never dines before 9.3o. He never drinks anything but white wine. .. ." On the occasion of the Pound's reception—it was in honour of Mr. Quinn—the Faithful were not present and I found myself at last beside Mr. Joyce. I took the occasion to tell him that I would like to print in my Review some pages of the book he was writing. I was going to devote a section of my magazine to Work in Progress of persons like himself and Picasso so as to make it a real chronicle of the world's artistic activities. He said it was a pity that I had not been in time to ask that of Proust. He had been told that a single sentence of Proust would fill a whole magazine. Not that he had read any Proust to speak of. His eyes would not let him read any work of other people. He could just see to correct his own proofs. I said that I myself had read no Proust. I may add that I have since. A French critic having said that I was one of Proust's closest imitators I was in a position to say—though of course I did not say it! —that I had never
read a word of Proust. And having then worked myself in my mind into the strategic strongpoint that I desired to occupy I at once bought a copy of "A Cote de Chez Swann." I read it and "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu," in one weekend at Guermantes and I found in Proust's work all the supernatural hypnosis that his most devoted followers obtain from it. But I do not think I have imitated him since. . . . When he heard me say that I had read no Proust he confirmed for me a story of his meeting Proust that I had heard from the lips of the lady in whose house it had happened. Let her be called, in honour of another novelist, Mrs. Leo Hunter. .. . The lady had asked Joyce to a reception to meet Proust. Joyce, knowing nothing of Proust's habits and no hour having been named, attended at about eleven. Proust in those days rose at four in the morning. But in honour of Mr. Joyce he had got up that night at two and arrived about two-thirty. Mr. Joyce was then tired. Two stiff chairs were obtained and placed, facing the one the other, in the aperture of a folding doorway between two rooms. The faithful of Mr. Joyce disposed themselves in a half circle in one room; those of M. Proust completed the circle in the other. Mr. Joyce and M. Proust sat upright, facing each other and ver-tically parallel. They were incited to converse. They did. Said M. Proust: "Comore j'ai dit, Monsieur, dans 'A Cote de Chez Swann' que sans doute vous avez lu. . . ." Mr. Joyce gave a tiny vertical jump on his chair seat and said: "Non, monsieur. . . ." Then Mr. Joyce took up the conversation. He said: "As Mr. Blum says in my 'Ulysses,' which, Mon-sieur, you have doubtless read. . . ." M. Proust gave a slightly higher vertical jump on his chair seat. He said: "Mais, non, monsieur." Service fell again to M. Proust. He apologised for the lateness of his arrival. He said it was due to a malady of the liver. He detailed clearly and with minuteness the symptoms of his illness. ". . . Tiens, monsieur," Joyce interrupted. "I have almost exactly the same symptoms. Only in my case the analysis. . . ." So till eight next morning, in perfect amity and enthusiasm, surrounded by the awed faithful they discussed their maladies.